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Interview with Michael Lennox – Director of Oscar-nominated ‘Boogaloo and Graham’
20 Jan 2015 : Seán Brosnan
'Boogaloo and Graham' nominated for an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film
With Northern Irish short film ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ - the Troubles-set tale of two young boys being given two chicks to mind by their soft-hearted father – getting nominated for an Oscar, IFTN caught up with its’ director Michael Lennox to talk Oscars, working with kids and animals, and the rise of Northern Irish filmmakers on the world stage.

With his debut feature ‘A Patch of Fog’ currently being edited and slated to be unveiled to the world in the summer and plenty more projects in the pipeline, Michael Lennox will undoubtedly have a busy 2015. For now though, he has recognized the magnitude of what he and all involved with ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ have achieved and he is determined to take the time to enjoy it.

IFTN: There’s an age old adage in the movie business that says “don’t work with kids or animals” – you have done both here and still managed to turn it into an Oscar nomination.

MICHAEL LENNOX: ‘Everyone was actually saying that to me before the shoot and saying “you’re mad” [laughs]. But I have to say it was one of the most fun shoots I have ever been a part of! First of all, animals don’t talk back [laughs] so that makes things easier! And there is something wonderful about working with young actors because they are just so full of energy and very natural. It creates a really lovely working atmosphere on the set so I found the shoot really enjoyable. The toughest thing about working with kids and animals is you can’t film for as many hours as you’d like so that was probably the main difficulties with our tight budget and short schedule. But other than that – it was an absolute pleasure.’

What drew you to the script by Ronan Blaney?

‘I have worked with Ronan numerous times before. I love his material – this story in particular because there is a lot of truth to it. It was actually based on a childhood story of his so it was quite personal to him – I just found it a really charming story about the importance of innocence and family. And I know people will say “ah, it’s about the Troubles – not another Troubles film” but I wanted to do something different – The Troubles is only a backdrop really. The main story is family and conflict which is a more universal story so I think we took a more positive and slightly more enthusiastic approach to this era.’

Other than the child actors, you have drawn two heavyweight Irish actors in Martin McCann and Charlene McKenna to this film..

‘They are the two of the best actors in Ireland. I had never worked with Charlene before but it was just an absolute pleasure. I mean, she is just brilliant. She made my job very, very easy. I had met Charlene once before as she worked for a friend on a project in London so we just contacted her agent and sent her the script and she really enjoyed the script. She only had two days to spare in her hectic schedule to fly to Belfast for the shoot! And I think she was good friends with Martin McCann so I think that helped get her on board – a kind of reunion of sorts of old friends. I had worked with Martin before (on the short film ‘The Back of Beyond’) so those familiar relations made this shoot a joy. So, they worked really well together as mother and father. They both have a great sense of humour which worked really well on this.’

The producer Brian Falconer (of Out of Orbit Productions) is quoted as saying when the Oscar nominations were announced that “the first thing I said to Michael was if we do this right, we could win the Oscar”, did you have that feeling here from the start?

‘No way! I think I just laughed at Brian when he said that! I did think straight away that it was a great script and I thought if I did this script right then hopefully an audience can respond to it. But did I think we would be heading to the Oscars? Absolutely not – not in a million years! I would like to meet the person that starts out making a film saying “yeah, I am going to be at the Oscars next year”. I don’t think that happens [laughs].’

An Oscar nomination is obviously such a huge achievement - you are going to have this Oscar nominee tag next to your name now for the rest of your career, how does that make you feel?

‘It feels great! I think for me it’s a sense of validation that this is what I am supposed to be doing so that I can move forward and move on with my career. I mean you make jokes that “someday I will be at the Oscars”! But this year, the stars aligned and people across the water really liked the film which is great. I’ll enjoy that fact and my hope is that this will open some doors to other projects that I want to do. Bottom line is I want to make films and I want to be back on set as soon as I can. So, if this helps me open the next door then I am very thankful for that and I will use it as much as I can.’

A door that has already opened is the one to your first feature film ‘A Patch of Fog’ – a psychological thriller starring Stephen Graham (‘Boardwalk Empire’) and Conleth Hill (‘Game of Thrones’) – which you have just finished shooting – what can you tell us about that?

‘Yeah, ‘A Patch of Fog’ is produced by Robert Jones of the Fyzz Facility in London. We shot that before Christmas. Stephen is one of my favourite actors – he is an absolute joy to work with – he is one of the most creative actors I have ever worked with in terms of his passion and his ideas. He always gives you more than what you expected. You always know Stephen is going to be great but then he always gives you that little bit more that you never would have thought of and if I ever got the chance to work with him again I would jump at it! Then, Conleth Hill is obviously a fantastic, Northern Irish actor from ‘Game of Thrones’ so getting that combination together for this film was really a dream come true. We are deep into the edit at the minute but I am very happy with what we have got and we will hope to get this out by the summer to festivals worldwide. Hopefully we will get a similar reaction that we got to ‘Boogaloo and Graham’.

When we spoke to Stephen Fingleton (who was shortlisted for the Short Film Oscar for ‘SLR’), he said there is a proliferation of Northern Irish filmmakers at the minute – he talked of a huge community spirit but also of seeing yourselves making films for a worldwide audience rather than just as local filmmakers.

‘Oh, absolutely. I have known Stephen since I was 18 and he is one of the most talented filmmakers I know – not just in Northern Ireland but worldwide. I can’t wait to see what he has done with ‘The Survivalist’ (Stephen’s first feature film also starring Martin McCann). Filmmaking and storytelling are such universal things. We have unique stories here but those stories can be universal and should reach everyone else. I think the more we make films here that reach beyond Ireland, UK and Europe the better. It will be better for the next generation of independent filmmakers. We have done very well in the last couple of years in short films – with Cathy Brady (‘Small Change’, ‘Wasted’) winning numerous IFTA’s, Stephen Fingleton and Andrea Harkin also doing well – and my next wish is that we start to do well and have a real voice with feature films. I think we have the talent and storytelling ability to do so and I am really excited to be a part of it.’

You talk about the next generation of filmmakers, but these proposed 50% budget cuts will surely have an adverse effect on any progress you are talking about…

‘I think the cuts are an awful, horrendous idea. When you think of all the fantastic film festivals here in Northern Ireland and ‘Game of Thrones’ being filmed here – all the progress we have made. To make these cuts now is sending us back 10 years rather than pushing us forward which is what we should be doing. Now is the time in my eyes to put more in. When you have momentum - that is not the time to take away. I think we should all shout even louder to make sure it doesn’t happen.’

You mentioned moving further into feature films - other than ‘A Patch of Fog’ then, do you have anything else planned?

‘Myself and Ronan Blaney (writer of ‘Boogaloo and Graham’) have a couple of projects at script stage that we talking about to numerous people about – and will be over the course of the month of February – not just in Northern Ireland but in America too. We are going to enjoy this and rest but as well as that we are keen to get as many projects out there when we can as well.’

Finally – as an Oscar-nominated filmmaker now – do you have any advice for any budding directors reading?

‘Make films and dream big. That’s what I did. From the very start I did that – I made a lot of films and made a lot of mistakes but I got better because of all that. A lot of new filmmakers make films at the start and it doesn’t turn out the way they expect and they get disheartened. But my answer to this is that you can’t expect to pick up a guitar and be Van Halen. You need patience and perseverance to stay at it – the more you make films the better you get. Also, it’s a tough industry so you need to love it and be prepared to get your hands dirty to do anything to stay in it. You need great ethic and passion to make it. I feel like I am at the start of my career still and if I can be making films, then there are so many talented people in Ireland that can be making films as well.’

The Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 22nd, with ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ screening in over 450 US theatres over the next month in the lead up to the ceremony.

IFTA Q&A Series: Kev Cahill on VFX
IFTA Q&A Series: Stephen Jones on Acting
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