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Ian Fitzgibbon Talks About 'A Film With Me In It'
16 Oct 2008 :
Having premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year as well and at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival, new Irish feature ‘A Film With Me In It’ will go on nationwide release on Friday 17 October. IFTN talks to director Ian Fitzgibbon on his attraction to the unusual script and why the film easily ‘gets away with murder’.
Produced by Alan Moloney and Susan Mullen of Parallel Films, the film stars Irish comedian Dylan Moran (Run Fat Boy Run), Mark Doherty (who penned the script) Amy Huberman (The Clinic), Aisling O'Sullivan (The Clinic) and Keith Allen (Robin Hood). The story follows Mark (Doherty), a struggling actor, who can’t seem to pull any plan into action. With his flat falling apart, his girlfriend (Huberman) about to walk out on him and his landlord (Allen) ready to evict him, Mark has only his friend Pierce (Moran) and their joint ambition of writing a career-breaking film to keep him going. This is until an accident sets off a bizarre series of events….

The film was lensed by Seamus Deasy (Tigers Tail), production design by Eleanor Wood (Strength and Honour) and also features scenes with director Neil Jordan and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

Ian, who among many titles wrote and directed ‘Spin the Bottle’ is weeks away from filming his latest project ‘Perrier’s Bounty’ scripted by BAFTA and IFTA winner Mark O’Rowe. IFTN catches up with the director to talk about directing Moran and Doherty and creating the distinct visual style for the film.

Ian, how did you come into contact with the script for – ‘A Film With Me In It'?
I was working on a BBC pilot that had cast Mark Doherty. I knew that he had written a very successful play in Edinburgh. It won lots of awards and I was asking him over lunch if he had any screenplays. He said well I do have this thing that has been sitting in a drawer for a couple of years and you might want to check it out. I actually read the script on the train from Dublin to Belfast and I just remember laughing out loud, which is kind of really unusual when you read a script. I was really drawn to the two main characters that Dylan Moran and Mark Doherty play.

How did Parallel Films come on board to produce the film?
I took the script to Alan Moloney who is somebody I have worked with a fair bit in television. I said to him if we retain creative control of this, it could be a really, really fun and interesting film. What I was anxious about was that we would go into development and other people would get involved and start telling you what your script should be and I felt there was something about the centre conceit of the film that some people would find it hard to accept because it is quite an unusual script. Alan liked it, and like myself, thought it the most demented thing he had ever read. So he said lets make it and the Irish Film Board came in. I read that script in February and we were shooting in October.

So it was quite a quick turnaround producing wise?
The great thing about that is when you have creative instincts you are allowed followed them through - obviously because of the budget there were certain constraints but Alan really understood what I wanted to do and he truly supported that. He was skilled and dynamic enough to make it happen very quickly and efficiently and that really helped us and really helped the film.

The film is definitely an unusual script. Why do you think it works so well?
You can imagine what six people like a committee were thinking – “You can’t have people die like that, it’s just not real”. But I felt the moment when Mark says in the film “You can’t have four people die in half an hour, that’s just not feasible” and Dylan says “Well actually it’s four minutes” - you just know the script editors everywhere going “Oh no, no you can’t do that!”. So that is what I mean by keeping the demented quality to the film, not compromising in any way.

It works so well because the moment you let the audience know, and you are expressing exactly what the audience is thinking, I think you are taking care of that anxiety. As Dylan says, "That simply cannot happen". One accident fine, two maybe, three is just crazy. Nobody is going to buy that and I think because the audience is thinking exactly the same thing, the line gets a huge response.

Behind all the bizarre occurrences that the two leads are faced with, what is the underline theme of the film?
At some level it is really about the frustrations of the fevered imaginations of failed screen writers. Then on another level it is about male inertia. Whether it is Irish male inertia or just male inertia, it really is about men who are boys and if you look at Mark’s character he is somebody who is avoiding reality at every turn. He won’t deal with the list of things to do. He’s behind on his rent; he has been dumped by his girlfriend. His whole life is falling apart but his only response seems to be to hide behind his clarinet. I think there is something about that certainly, that struck a chord with me.

How would you describe the friendship between the two leads?
It is more than just a friendship, it was the fact that they lived in a kind of state of inertia. These guys were incredible - awful losers who really couldn’t muster up a coherent plan to get through a day never mind anything else and I was just really, really warmed to them. Mark has got an incredible ear for dialogue and there was something about it that I felt had a very distinctive feel. I felt it had a real voice. They are trying to find meaning, a frame work for their lives but they are just drifting, gambling and drinking and not dealing with reality. A lot of women came up to me about those two men and said they would love to take them home and clean them up or tell them to call the police and behave themselves.

How did Dylan Moran come on board?
I can’t remember if Mark said Dylan would be good or did I just start hearing Dylan was good as he is a friend of mine anyway. I’m not sure but clearly there couldn’t be anybody else playing that role.

A lot of improvisation takes place in the film. For you how did that affect your direction?
My feeling about improvisation is that as long as it forms a story and doesn’t become indulgent then I think it can be very powerful and it can really give your script an added depth and richness. I am all for it but what I don’t like is people going off on a tangent and you have to say hold on a minute that is not what that scene is about. The story is very firmly set and there is logic to it and you can’t mess around with it too much or it falls apart. Dylan was only improvising within very specific scenes and he knew where he was headed with everything. I think that really helps give his and Mark’s improvisation a kind of sense focus and framing so they knew their limits to it.

The flat in which the film is based has a huge role to play in the occurrence of events. Can you tell me how you created such an edgy environment?
I said very early on to Mark and the production designer, Eleanor, that I wanted the house to have a presence in the story and I wanted it to be almost like a breathing presence. In the mix we did put in abstract layers of sound to suggest certain things. We put in a lot of ship noises for examples like ropes being pulled or wood creaking and lots of little sounds. I couldn’t even tell you what they were but I just thought if we threw that in there it would do something. Like in the bathroom we put a very distinct layer of sound in there like taps dripping and radiators rumbling and weird noises so subtly that you are slightly on edge in that environment.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with DOP Seamus Deasy to achieve this style?
You know Seamus is such an experienced cinematographer and he has worked with so many great directors. There is very little you could tell him that he doesn’t already know. I basically talked him through the pallet of colours that I felt the story should be confined to especially in the flat. I was also very keen on the kind of lighting that emphasised a shadow. I suppose the most extreme instances of that is in the kitchen with the bulb flickering on and off and the way the hall is lit with the pools of light. I just felt it gave the apartment a dark atmosphere and gave us depth as well in the shots. We shot it on tape so the images weren’t too flat. When you are shooting at night with artificial light everywhere it’s much easier and copes with it much better than when you go into day time shots- which tends to flatten the image. At night when your light is very controlled it can look really, really good.

How did you get Neil Jordan to star in the movie?
The audition in the beginning with Neil is based on Marks audition for ‘Breakfast on Pluto’. There are actually plenty of layers of Mark’s life in there, strangely enough. Alan Moloney is a good friend of Neil’s and had produced ‘Breakfast on Pluto’ so he made that phone call and Neil very kindly agreed to do that role. I think Neil has a great sense of humour about himself and it was interesting talking to him about it last night. He just really enjoyed the central conceit of the script and was very happy to be part of it.

You brought the film to the Toronto Film Festival. What was the response to the film there?
It was fantastic. The audience’s reaction there was phenomenal. They were just laughing, laughing and laughing and the darker it got the louder the laughing got. It was kind of incredible. I thought they would be “Hang on a minute there” but they just totally went for it.

Your next project is the feature ‘Perrier’s Bounty’. Have you begun filming yet?
No we are four weeks away from shooting ‘Perrier’s Bounty’. Cillian Murphy and Jim Broadbent are playing the leads in it and it’s shooting in Dublin and London.

What can audiences expect when the film goes on release nationwide?
I’m really excited we are going with a generous nationwide release and I’m sure when people go along they will really enjoy it and have a good laugh.

'A Film With Me In It' goes on general release on Friday 17th October.

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