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Frank Berry Speaks With IFTN Ahead Of 'Michael Inside' Irish Cinema Release This Friday – April 6th
03 Apr 2018 : Nathan Griffin
IFTN Journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Irish director Frank Berry (‘I Use to Live Here’) about his new IFTA winning film, ‘Michael Inside’, ahead of its national release this Friday, April 6th.

Written and directed by Frank Berry, ‘Michael Inside’ stars Dafhyd Flynn, Moe Dunford and Lalor Roddy and tells the story of Michael McCrea, an impressionable 18-year-old living with his grandfather Francis in a Dublin housing estate, who gets caught holding a bag of drugs for his friend's older brother and is sentenced to three months in prison.

The film premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh last summer where it won Best Irish Film and Dafhyd picked up the Bingham Ray New Talent Award.  Since then it's been wowing audiences and critics alike.  It picked up the IFTA for ‘Best Film’ in February, and has garnered numerous five-star reviews.  The film had its UK premiere at the highly regarded Glasgow Film Festival last month where it received fantastic reactions from the festival audience. 

Produced by Donna Eperon, Tristan Orpen Lynch and Aoife O'Sullivan for Subotica and Write Direction Films, the film was made with funding from the Irish Film Board.

IFTN: Can you tell me a little bit about how you first met Dafhyd Flynn during your first feature, and what exactly stood out for you with him originally?

Frank: “Sure, well at that moment when he was 12 years old, I was doing workshops in the Killinarden commission centre for my first film, ‘I Used to Live Here’ and, he took part in a workshop that we were doing outside the centre, we decided to take the workshops outside. I just developed them a little bit more on the streets and he came along as an extra in the background with one of his friends and I just noticed him and asked a youth worker about him and the youth worker told me that he was a lovely young lad, he's quite quiet and may not be a first choice for a lead role in a film, but, I just approached David and asked him, would you like to take part in a workshop in the centre and he said yes.

“So he came down and I didn't noticed first of all, he was, as I was told extremely, personable and nice, but also, very intelligent and, I just noticed immediately that he had a unique talent and that he was really able to act with subtlety and to express emotions and I really kind of felt that very, very earlier on, I felt that he had something special. He also, although we're from different backgrounds, reminded me a little bit of myself as a teenager, and I felt that together we could explore those years.

“So I gave him the supporting role in ‘I Used to Live Here’ and he did a fantastic job.

IFTN: I know you did a lot of research with the pathways program whenever you were developing the story for ‘Michael Inside’, did you always have Dafhyd in mind to be lead role , and furthermore for it to be so centred on one character?

Frank:Yes, it was always going to be centred on one character and I did have Dafhyd in the back of my mind the whole time, but I wasn't sure whether I'd be allowed to cast him because of his level of experience only ever being in one film, which was my last one. So what I did was, I went out to the community centre and I was just very honest with Dave. I said, you know, I'm not sure whether they'll let us, but I'd like to try and bring some workshops to our production company and to the funders in the Irish Film Board and see if people can see what I can see and he agreed.

And so I did that, I did three workshops within different scenes and brought them in to Subotica and then brought them in to the Irish Film board and got a very encouraging response. They responded in the same way as I did so I was absolutely delighted to be able to put him in the lead role.”

IFTN: And can you tell me a little bit more about the pathways program and how that assisted with getting an accurate portrayal of life inside the prison?

Frank: The Pathway Centre is part of the CDETBs prison education service so basically if a prisoner starts an educational program and is then released, well the Pathway Centre is a second coach who'd continue that qualification, it could be a literacy qualification, it could be the Leaving Cert. or the Junior Cert., but the teachers in pathways will sit down with you and explain to you your options, it's a fantastic centre, a very positive environment, and really helpful.

So when I went to the Irish Prison Service with the idea to make this film, they directed me to the Pathway Centre. It was a great recommendation. I went in there and I found, a group of former prisoners who were, I guess you could say, in a reflective place in their lives where they're on a positive path, they had educational journeys that they were engaged in and they were very open to talking about the subject of the film with a view to maybe helping connect with other young people, and to hopefully make a positive impact so that they won't go down same road as they did.”

IFTN: With regards to your approach to the film, I heard that you took quite a unique approach with Dafhyd, where you essentially kept him in the dark about the scenes that he was about to shoot so as to get the most authentic reaction. Is that correct?

Frank: Yes, it didn't feel like a big idea at the time, as it was a continuation of the process that I'd used in ‘I Used to Live Here’. The idea is that the actor doesn't read the script, but instead what happens is that they're given individual scenes, and on the day of shooting, we warm them up and then they just feel more natural and more real. With Dafhyd I just continued that process and I felt that he knew a lot about the character of Michael because the character of Michael is close to a lot of people that he knows and in his community that he's known in his lifetime and we uphold the character of Michael together, but what he didn't know was what it's like to be to prison and I felt that somebody like, Dafhyd, wouldn't know that either. So by talking to Dafhyd about the issues of the film, work-shopping a couple of scenes, and primarily discussing his character and the environment that the character comes from, then we could take that, and guide that character toward a prison system and see and let the camera witness that genuine reaction to the environment.”

IFTN: And can you give me a little bit of insight into how you developed the script. Was it predominantly completed during your research phase or did it continue to develop during filming?

Frank: Yeah, it didn't evolve much during shooting, but it evolved a lot during the research. So when I went to pathways, I worked with a group of former prisoners for about 18 months and it was a case of meeting them once a week, sometimes twice a week around this big table. We would talk about this central idea that I had about a young man who doesn't necessary have an interest in being a criminal, but gets caught up in other people's activities and end with a conviction and how it would affect his life. They responded very enthusiastically to that and that resonated with a lot of their own experiences and experiences of people that they knew.

“Together, we evolved the story based on their life experiences and it evolved through discussions, through script readings and then we acted out the scenes as well. The former prisoners are special actors in the film, but they actually acted out a lot of the major scenes for the purposes of just authenticating them emotionally, factually, getting their opinion on key discussion points, you know. I think a feeling of purposefulness and importance grew around the film for them. When we were doing all of these, they started to see the value, the potential value of putting this story up on the screen for people to see.”

IFTN: Yes, absolutely, you seem to have a very communal and grassroots approach to your research whenever you're doing your projects. Can you tell me a little bit about why that appeals to you?

Frank: “Yeah, well, it's kind of developed from a period of work that I did with community video. I did a lot of community work, educational videos, community videos, and they're all of different themes. I did one for young offenders. I did one about putting computers into the ground floor of black complex in noble city. I did charity videos so lots of this work was just listening to people who want a DVD, who want to promote themselves and to have a message or something they wanted to say and we'd make a little film for them basically.

"I did a lot of that work and that's how I found my feet as a filmmaker. I found that so satisfying too because the people I was meeting, I found very interesting, I was very motivated to do that work so then one of those films was a film in Ballymun that we made in 2004. That was about a music teacher and then five years later, I got a phone call from the same group. They wanted another video and I stayed in contact with that teacher, Ron Cooney over the years. And that's when I made my first feature doc and it went to cinemas. We made it with the tools that we're using to make the community videos and I felt that the work had evolved. Now I feel like the first of those first three films are, in terms of process, they're like feature length versions of that type of work. They're collaborative, and involved a lot of listening, and a lot of – ‘okay, what's the story here and how do we express it?’

IFTN: Yeah, It stops the creative process from getting too out of hand..

Frank: “Yes, I didn't want that film to feel like it came from a tradition of gangster films. It comes more from a tradition of social reform I suppose, and dramas. Dramas that actually want to take a look at society, you know. I think that's why the film doesn't focus on violence,  it definitely depicts some of Michael's exposure to violence, but the camera generally turns and looks at his reaction as suppose to focusing on the act itself. So the idea is that you could always look at how it would affect him and how he changes really.”

IFTN: Absolutely, even looking at other Irish films last year such as Cardboard Gangsters, it's all centred on a suburb of Dublin. It’s not a big glorified Hollywood showcase of crime; instead it’s focused on the unglamorous world of drug dealing at grassroots level.

Frank: Yes, I mean the scene early on in the film when Michael actually takes the bag, I wanted that to feel almost like, Michael didn't really think too much about it, it almost felt like it wasn't even a decision. It was more like just activity going on around him and so he didn't see that act as being a major decision, but an actual fact, it's a huge decision in the context of his life.”

“So to be able to make the film and to put the small act like that upon the screen, and be able to see the impact it makes. I think hopefully will have a positive impact and will be beneficial for young people as well as a wider audience.”

IFTN: I also want to quickly mention the performances by Lalor Roddy and Moe Dunford. Can you tell me about how they got involved in the project?

Frank: Yes, Lalor Roddy, I think he's one of our very, very finest actors. I absolutely love him as an actor and we just contacted him and offered it to him straight away, and I'm so grateful that he took it. He is wonderful to work with. My style of directing is that I talk about the subject away from the film set and of course, Lalor started his career as a counsellor. So we had some wonderful conversations about the lives of young people, about society. About the aims of the film and what I do then is that we will talk about the character of course, and Lalor is always asking questions, always searching as great artists do. Once we got on set, I would try not to get in the way and be too impositional as a director, but to be there and support him for whatever he needed. That was my approach to directing Lalor.”

“And very similar for Moe Dunford, in that, I was a fan of Moe's. I think he's one of our finest young actors and we offered him the part straight away. Well, first of all, actually after my last film, he wrote me a letter saying he was a fan of it, and he responded very authentically to the subject matter of ‘I Used to Live Here’, and I always had him in the back of my mind. I offered him, this role and he rang me up and he again, was so interested in the former prisoner's lives and expressing what they had said during my research authentically and he just came into the film from a very authentic place, and similarly to working with Lalor, myself and Moe, talked a lot about life and society and the lives of the young people in the film. Again on set, I was there to assist in any way I could but, I try not to get in the way too much, I don't really like to be too impositional as a director in terms of telling people how to say lines and that type of direction because I feel like if you do that, well then, the proper ground work hasn't really been done.”

“So we do the work away from the set and then it’s just there, and it's an environment where we can discuss nuances of the performance together based on what the actor needs, really, and that's how I like to work with them.”


Wildcard Distribution will be releasing ‘Michael Inside’ in Irish cinemas on Friday 6th April 2018.

Alan Maher on Producing
Fiona Graham on Cinematography
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