11 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network

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“We’ve tried to portray real life, real relationships, and all the complexity that comes with that;” Producer Collie McCarthy discusses his debut Netflix Original, I Used To Be Famous
21 Sep 2022 : Nathan Griffin
I Used To Be Famous.
We spoke with Irish producer Collie McCarthy ahead of the release of his debut feature and Netflix Original Film, I Used To Be Famous, which is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.

Produced by Collie McCarthy for Forty Foot Pictures, and starring Ed Skrein (Deadpool), Leo Long (making his screen debut), Eleanor Matsuura (The Walking Dead), Lorraine Ashbourne (Bridgerton), Eoin Macken (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) and Stanley Morgan (Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher), I Used to Be Famous is the debut feature from director Eddie Sternberg.

The film follows Vince (Ed Skrein), who used to be in the hottest boy band around, now he’s alone and desperate. An impromptu jam with Stevie (newcomer Leo Long), an autistic drummer with an incredible gift for rhythm, sparks an unexpected friendship. Together they form a unique bond through the power of music.

I Used to Be Famous is written by Eddie Sternberg and Zak Klein, and produced by Collie McCarthy. The film is executive produced by Damien Jones (The Lady In The Van) and Paul Grindey of Viewfinder Film (The Father).

McCarthy caught up with IFTN after the IFTA & Netflix screening, which took place at the Savoy Cinema in Dublin last week.

“There have been some kind reviews, some really thoughtful articles particularly focused on the representation side of things, and the audience reaction to our screenings in the UK and here in Ireland has been fantastic,” McCarthy tells IFTN, when asked about the reaction so far. “At the IFTA screening in the Savoy, there were lots of laughs and tears, and a really engaging Q&A with the audience afterwards - exactly the kind of response you hope for.”

It’s rare that a filmmaker has an opportunity to make their debut feature film as a Netflix Original, but this is indeed the case for McCarthy and Sternberg, who were commissioned by Fiona Lamptey, Netflix’s Director of UK Features, to become one of the first films to come out of Netflix’s UK Original Slate. “To be able to reach that many viewers all at once is mind blowing,” McCarthy tells IFTN.

“We spent four years developing the script and attaching various cast and crew, musicians and exec producers, anything that would bolster our package in order to get the film financed,” the producer explains, when discussing the origins of the deal. “Eddie met Fiona when we had the majority of those pieces in place and Fiona - new to the role at Netflix - was looking for films that she could get off the ground in her first year. So, it was a mix of hard work and right place right time.”

McCarthy moved to London almost a decade ago and started working as a junior production executive for Joe Wright's Shoebox Film, under the guidance of producers Paul Webster and Guy Heeley.   “I was doing everything from making tea to drafting budgets and schedules before moving into post-production for Working Title on the likes of Johnny English with Rowan Atkinson, the Danny Boyle film Yesterday, and separately on Lenny Abrahamson’s The Little Stranger,” Collie tells IFTN.

During that time, McCarthy also produced a handful of shorts, the latest of which was a Screen Ireland backed film called Time Traveller by writer/director Steve Kenny that received an IFTA nomination in 2018. “Since then, I’ve been building a slate of feature films, and I Used to Be Famous is the first of them to come to life,” the producer explains.

“A mutual friend introduced me to Eddie back in 2016 after I had seen the short and thought it had legs as a feature. I especially loved the central relationship, the music and Eddie’s ability to pull off big cathartic moments without them feeling too cheesy,” McCarthy continues. “Eddie and co-writer Zak were already plotting to expand the story when we met so we joined up and started what became a five-year development process with just about every high and low you can go through on that journey.”

“I knew he was talented off the back of his shorts but then we also got on really well once we met, which is arguably more important for me. Eddies just a lovely genuine guy who’s loves the process of making films so the atmosphere he creates in meetings and on set is a really enjoyable one,” McCarthy tells IFTN. “He’s great at including others, taking their opinions or expertise on board, but at the same time he knows exactly what he’s trying to make and doesn’t take his eye off that. I’ve loved working with him.”

The production team worked closely with the National Autistic Society and Access All Areas, who create theatre and performances that feature learning disabled and autistic artists. “We were very lucky to have the support of the NAS and AAA. Portraying autism authentically and respectfully on screen, as well as creating the right environment on set for those with additional needs was an absolute priority for us,” McCarthy explains.

“We were consulting the NAS from very early on in the script process and they have been on hand to guide through decisions in the edit and now the marketing and release phase also in terms of our messaging to the autism community and beyond,” he continues. “Where the NAS offer that kind of macro level support, AAA handle the micro. They are the boots on the ground support during production. They introduced us to Tricia Hitchcock who was Leo’s Acting Coach as well as his Creative Support through prep, production, and post. Through various talks and sessions, they were also essential in giving all cast and crew the tools and confidence to work with autistic actors and vice versa. I can’t thank both organisations enough.”

The film boasts a tightknit ensemble cast that deliver several powerful performances throughout the film, led by Ed Skrein (Deadpool) and Leo Long, with support from Eleanor Matsuura (The Walking Dead), Lorraine Ashbourne (Bridgerton), Eoin Macken (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter), and Stanley Morgan (Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher).

“We struck gold with Ed Skrein, we really did. He’s so talented, so dedicated, so generous with his time, and he turns up every day ready to muck in and set an example for everyone else. Genuinely, he’s everything you could hope for in your lead actor. I can’t wait for everyone to see how he has brought Vince to life,” McCarthy exclaims.

“Leo Long who plays Stevie is another gem. We cast Leo after conducting a nationwide search for an neurodivergent teenager who could not only act but also play the drums. It was a tall order, and we were blessed when Leo walked through the door. I’m chuffed it’s our film that will introduce him to the world and I can’t wait to see where his career takes him next,” McCarthy adds.

“Eleanor Matsuura who plays Amber was another coup for us. So generous with her time and energy, she really took Leo under her wing. Eleanor’s a real pro and she gives a knockout performance,” McCarthy continues. Casting Austin was tricky, as you need an actor who has the looks and star power of a famous musician, but also the vulnerability to let the audience know that they may not believe the hype surrounding them. Our casting director introduced us to Eoin, who is such a lovely guy and was gracious enough to tape for us - it was clear he could offer all that complexity and then some.”

The film Prep and production ran from July to November 2021 in the middle of heightened Covid restrictions, yet McCarthy and Sternberg were able to rope in some musical help from some high profile UK artists. “Aside from all the usual work done in prep, ours was heavily focused on the music side of things. We had London Grammar’s Dan Rothman and Hannah Reid writing the original songs played by our duo in the film, and Ed and Leo had weeks of working with vocal and instrument coaches,” McCarthy tells IFTN. “The shoot itself was seven weeks long. We shot mostly around South London, specifically Peckham, with a few days down in Hastings on the south coast. We shot in some landmark locations like the Brixton Academy, Metropolis Recording Studios, and Dulwich College.”

When we ask about what he hopes audiences take from the film, McCarthy says: “We’re likely to be called a feelgood film and rightly so because the story ends on a cathartic note, but I really hope audiences feel a range of emotions. We’ve worked hard to balance the celebratory stuff with some more dramatic scenes that will hopefully make just as big an impact on the audience. We’ve tried to portray real life, real relationships, and all the complexity that comes with that.”

“Ultimately for me, it’s a film about connection. Connection to yourself and to the people around you. I hope as a result of watching, people are inspired to connect, or reconnect, with others in their lives.”

I Used To Be Famous is now streaming on Netflix worldwide.

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