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'Trouble With Sex' In Irish Cinemas
05 May 2005 :

‘Trouble With Sex’, the latest Irish feature film opens at Dublin’s IFI and UGC cinemas this weekend. IFTN catches up with director Fintan Connolly on the eve of its Irish release.

Fintan Connolly began his career in 1987 making documentary films, in 2000 he made his feature film debut with edgy drugs drama ‘Flick’. The film captured the imagination of audiences across the globe becoming a low budget tour de force and traveling to festivals in LA, London, Seattle, Edinburgh and Paris. Five years on comes Connolly’s second feature film offering ‘Trouble With Sex’.

Another upshot of the Irish Film Board’s low budget initiative, ‘Trouble With Sex’ carries a €600,000 price tag. Shot on location in Dublin in late 2003, the film follows a burgeoning relationship between Michelle, a high flying solicitor with a docklands apt, and Conor, a lonely barman who is stuck in rut. ‘Queer As Folk’ favourite Aidan Gillen skillfully plays the role of Conor while relative newcomer Renee Weldon unveils her abundant talent in the part of Michelle.

"Trouble With Sex is that you fall in love" says the poster tagline but as IFTN soon finds out, the trouble with Fintan Connolly right now is ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, Ridley Scott’s epic juggernaut arriving at cinemas on the same day as his small, simple romantic Irish film…

So Fintan, are you looking forward to the release this weekend?

I’m cautiously optimistic. It can only do so much being in two cinemas but I suppose if people get in to see it the first weekend, that’s normally the key weekend. It’s still very difficult to get into the cinemas in Ireland, I mean ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ opens the same day as us, rolling out all over the world on about 8,000 screens, so we’re up against some massive advertising. We don’t have TV or radio advertising so it’s mostly press or word of mouth that we are using, and apparently those bus ads are about 10 – 15 grand per month, which might be our total budget.

Can you tell us a bit about the film ‘Trouble With Sex’?

It’s an adult love story that charts the ups and downs of a relationship that is starting out. I did a film called ‘Flick’ and I found the relationship part of the film quite interesting. So when I was thinking of an idea for another film, I just thought a love story was so obvious and they are not very common in Irish film.

So essentially it’s a romantic movie, have you gone for the title ‘Trouble With Sex’ to be a bit controversial?

Not really no. It originally had a working title of ‘Bite’ and when we shot it ‘Bite’ was on the clapper board. Then when the film was in post production so much attention was focused on the release and sales and the feeling was ‘Bite’ was too vague. I mean we had someone say they thought ‘Bite’ was a vampire movie... ‘Trouble With Sex’ was an early title that I had, so I went back to that. I think its quite straightforward and memorable, I mean when you book on the phone its easy for someone to say “two tickets for Trouble With Sex please” or will they just say “Kingdom of Heaven” at the last minute, (laughs) who knows?

A sceen from Trouble With Sex

The film has been described as the anti-Bridget Jones, how do you feel about that?

Certainly I never envisioned ‘Trouble With Sex’ as a romantic comedy although they are two words that easily go together.

It’s more of a romantic movie I think. I saw the first Bridget Jones and I thought it was very enjoyable and a big crowd pleaser but in this film there is a modern Irish woman whereas Bridget Jones is all over the place.

It’s not a traditional romantic comedy, but it is a love story. It’s not driven by plot necessarily, I thought it was quite a simple tale and it was more the making of it that interested me as well as the story. I had the opportunity to shoot on 35mm, a descent enough budget and access to good actors.

Michelle embodies some traditional male characteristics of aggressor, pursuer, bread winner and emotionally unattached, was that something you thought about whilst writing her character?

That idea is gathering momentum alright but it’s not something that I was conscious of before. I think it’s good that it has worked out that way because it draws a lot of attention to her character and a lot of female characters, not just in Irish movies, are just support in the background. There was always something about her in the way that she was perhaps more confident, but she has her issues as well. Aidan, I discovered while I was working with him developing the characters, is a more reserved sort than I’d imagined and you always play to an actors strength. Perhaps that’s the perception but it’s not something that was intentional, maybe it’s because there aren’t very many characters like that.

Casting the roles of Michelle and Conor must have been tough…

Casting is really tricky especially when you are meeting people for the first time, I knew Aidan but Renee basically came through on audition. Maureen Hughes was the casting director and she was doing a project in London so I kinda piggy backed on that. As I was watching Renee’s tape I thought there was something there that was good and I was mostly thinking “why haven’t I heard of her before”. Aidan I had met on and off over the years. He works in London as well and he’s always busy enough. He got a script early on and he was juggling a few things. I think he liked ‘Flick’ when he saw it, so he came on board. Of course, your main concern as a filmmaker on something like this is the chemistry. It’s hard to judge. It doesn’t mean that they have to be off camera going out and having drinks and stuff, it’s just what happens on screen when you cut it all together, I think they do.

Renee as Michelle in Trouble With Sex

Aidan as Conor in Trouble With Sex

Are Michelle and Conor in love or lust?

Before I made it I had this line, “she falls for him just as he falls out of love with her”. So that always stuck in my mind. In love is very hard to define, I don’t know. When you first start a relationship it can start and end very quickly or it can be the beginning of a long term relationship so the film is ambiguous enough, it seems like they are back together in the end but they could break up again the next day. I think they are in those first flushes of a relationship.

These were Renee’s first on screen sex scenes, how did you prepare her for this?

I suppose they were always there in the script so when talking to her about taking the part, it was discussed. As a filmmaker having done a sex scene in ‘Flick’ it turned out to be quite straightforward. They take a certain amount of set up but once you are actually shooting they don’t take long. You don’t do too many takes. There wasn’t much preparation needed with Renee and having seen Aidan in things like ‘Queer As Folk’ the issue didn’t even arise. Aidan made a point one time, he said, “if you are going to use it, I’ll do it but if you are just shooting it for the sake, there’s no need”.

Did you try to find a balance between the physical and emotional aspects of the story?

I think so yeah, probably the emotional is harder to convey. Obviously we’ve seen a thousand movies where people kiss and make love, so the rest of the story was trying to broach the gap between those things. In the early stages of a relationship I think sex is quite important. It’s the way people get to know each other and then the next jump is where they have their first argument because obviously everything isn’t quite ideal as it is in some movies.

How does this film appeal to both women and men?

For women, well I don’t like the phrase ‘chick flick’, but some people see it as that. I suppose because the female character shares half the screentime with the male character and she is a certain type of woman; great wardrobe, good at her job and essentially she’s looking for a relationship and looking for love. So I think that touches a core with women.

For men, I think they will have a more mixed reaction but I think it’s just as interesting for a male to watch an Irish representation of themselves on screen as it is for women. It would be nice if women could go and bring their boyfriends or brothers along with them and they can both enjoy it. There were a couple of older people at the premiere, some of them were relatives now, but I was quite surprised how an eighty year old uncle got it, he quite liked it and thought it was quite discreet.

Some of the Dublin locations used in the film are very well known, were you conscious of that becoming an issue?

We tried to keep it geographically intact, there’s a famous Roddy Doyle movie where somebody is going up Fitzwilliam Square and next minute they are arriving at the Rotunda, we didn’t want to do that. Also, it’s probably going to be done to death now, but the Financial Services Centre a couple of years ago was like a new town they were building. Dublin is pretty film friendly still but like everything it’s getting more expensive. People are wise now to movies and a big movie or advert can pay a lot, plus not everybody wants a film crew arriving on top of them which I can’t really blame them, we can be quite destructive. (laughs)

Trouble With Sex

Being a low budget feature, why did you decide to shoot on 35mm and not HD?

We did some tests and probably in hindsight HD would have worked because the budget was very tight and film is that much more expensive. Having said that, it was still a lot more than we had on ‘Flick’, and we shot

that on 16. For this film we got some good deals and we just decided, why not? I’m glad we did because I think everyone will agree film has a better quality at the end of the day, especially for shadows and night time shooting. We used Panavision for cameras, lighting Cine-Electirc, Fuji stock, Soho images as the lab and posted at The Farm, they all clicked really well.

Was it hard working with such a tight budget?

The budget was enough. There is always a temptation to get more money but we felt that would just take longer. I think it’s fair to say that any filmmaker working today has a huge economic factor to consider. Your budget does limit and dictate what you can do. Below the line costs of movies are kindof the same, it’s attracting the cast usually that brings it up. We were on very modest equity minimums but I don’t know if I’d do that much different if I had a bigger budget in terms of getting different actors, I’d certainly have made much more money myself!

Is it frustrating for a director to be limited by financial constraints like that?

Not really because you go into it with your eyes open, because you know that getting to make any film is rare enough so if somebody says to you “we can get €600,000”, that sounds great. I could do another movie for that, I’ve no problem there because it’s enough to get the movie done on a professional basis. Budgets do determine a lot of movies, they are so bananas now, like our budget is really the equivalent of the First Aid budget on a Hollywood movie.

So do you count yourself lucky to have had this opportunity?

It’s kinda up-sided that I feel. I don’t know if lucky is the word but I’m glad it happened because it’s touch or go whether you get into film. It’s not terribly hard work but there are a lot of things that still have to happen. You can see at the end of the day there are maybe only a dozen or so movies made every year in Ireland and it’s not necessarily that you will graduate from shorts to features.

Also, it’s pretty hard core, we’d all like to think its all art and so on, but there is a pretty hard core commercial aspect of it these days that you have to be aware of. When we made Flick we thought “oh yeah a movie about drugs everybody will be interested in that” but drug movies don’t really sell. There’s ferocious competition, Irish films are competing with the best of the rest of the world, not Hollywood because we don’t really compete with them, it’s a choice between the next Wong Kar-Wai movie or an Irish movie. Everyone is pitted against each other. The American’s dominate but the machine is just so vast now. It’d be nice on the next one to actually have a million bucks (pause) and Sean Penn.

You’ve done a lot of documentary before, do you ever see yourself going back to that?

Features is a tricky business. I think the more practice you get the better and more confident you become. Certainly I’m over the hump and I don’t envy young people coming into it today because it’s very tricky to get up and running. I’d like to make maybe one film every couple of years, and I’d like to make one really good one.

So your next feature ‘Blown In’, how far into development are you with that?

As we were doing the poster for ‘Trouble With Sex’ I got into the whole idea of how to market ‘Blow In’ and the tagline is “they came looking for the good life”. It’s something I’ve been working on and I’d like to get out of Dublin for the next movie and bring in some non Irish characters in. He’s Irish, she’s English and they have a kid. They are doing okay in London but he has a hankering to do something different, write a book, so he returns to a place where he has spent a number of summers when he was a kid and picks up on an old relationship, an old feud and it just goes wrong for them.

It’s a departure in a way and certainly a bigger canvas. It’s an ensemble cast and it would be just great to make, and as everybody is obsessed with genres I suppose its a thriller. It’s quite a trend in Ireland now to live down the country and it’s not all its cracked up to be sometimes. At the moment the script is signed off so it’s out there to raise money, Movie House the ‘Trouble With Sex’ sales agent is going to handle it and meanwhile we will start showing the script to actors. It’d be nice to get it to some people and see what the response is, feel the waters a little bit.

You mentioned before that you want to make one really good film…

I’d like to, yeah.

You don’t think Trouble With Sex is that film?

I don’t think it’s going to be my best one no, but I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just more that I think you can only get better, I think the fourth one is supposed to be your crossover one, if you have that luxury, (speaks louder and closer to the mic) if the Film Board allow me that.

Finally, do you think Conor and Michelle will last?

No, I never thought they’d last, no happy ever after. Originally I was going to have a line at the end saying “it didn’t last” but I thought it was too abrupt because we hadn’t really built it up, but no I don’t think so, does anybody?


Trouble With Sex is released in the IFI and UGC from the 6th of May 2005 through Eclipse Pictures.

Check out the Trouble With Sex Trailer in the IFTN Preview Theatre

Trouble With Sex Official Website www.troublewithsex.com

by Tanya Warren

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