On the back of her film ‘I Am Jesus’ winning the inaugural Short Film Slam at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh, IFTN talks to writer/director/producer/actress Caroline Grace-Cassidy.
With the Fleadh’s short film slam, the first two minutes of each short film was played and then the audience voted on whether or not to watch the rest of it – with Cassidy’s short ‘I Am Jesus’ not only being voted to finish but also winning the event. It was not the only short Cassidy had playing at the Fleadh this year with Steve Gunn’s ‘The Caller’ and her own 60 second short ‘Love At First Light’ also on the slate.
Here, the talented multi-hyphenate (co-founder of Smart Blondes Productions) talks ‘I Am Jesus’, ‘The Caller’, aiming for the Galway Film Fleadh every year and the production of her debut feature film ‘Girls Weekend’.
IFTN: Your film ‘I Am Jesus’ won the first ever Short Film Slam at the Fleadh - it can be kind of daunting I am sure to put any short film out there but to be judged on only the first two minutes must have been a very interesting experience. How did it feel not only to have the audience vote to see the rest of the film but also to win the contest outright?
Caroline Grace-Cassidy: ‘To win the first ever European Short Film Slam at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh with ‘I Am Jesus’ was just fantastic. The film, as with ‘Princess Rehab’ and ‘Even Droids Have Friends’ was written by my company, Smart Blondes Productions, and produced by Park Pictures. There was so much wonderful, powerful work shown on the day. Mary Kate O’ Flanagan brought the event – she played the first 2 minutes of each film and then stopped the film – the audience voted on whether or not they wanted to see the rest of the film. I have to say that audience, a huge crowd, was harsh enough and the majority of films didn’t make it past the two minute mark. I was thrilled when ‘I Am Jesus’ was voted for to be played fully and then to win the whole slam outright was really amazing for us. Obviously the thousand euro prize fund was well dipped into at the bar in the Radisson!’
Has the win renewed or increased interest in the short film?
‘The film had already played most of the home festivals and went across to San Francisco and Toronto but since the win we have been approached by a couple of very large International festivals that we didn’t even consider entering before - so fingers crossed, it would be great for it to continue on its journey. I’m really proud of this film as it was made on a wing and a prayer (pardon the pun!) - it’s very visual and conceptual with a beautiful performance by Steve Wilson. We founded Smart Blondes Productions, as four actresses, to write and produce work for ourselves but so far we have only mainly managed to write for men! ‘I Am Jesus’ will air on December 28th on RTE 2.
Another short film of yours - The Caller - was also screening in competition at the Fleadh. Can you tell us about the audience reception of ‘The Caller’?
‘The Caller’ was incredibly well received at the Fleadh. The reaction to it in the Town Hall Theatre was brilliant – it got huge laughs and so many people stopped me after it to say how much they enjoyed it. I produced with Steve Gunn directing his adaptation of David Fennelly’s stage play ‘Fishes’. Steve and I have been collaborating for about five years now so we know how one another see things, we have similar tastes and we work very well together. Steve also starred in ‘Love At First Light’, a 60 second film I wrote and directed with Park Pictures producing that also played at the One Minute Film Festival at the Fleadh this year in both the Town Hall Theatre and the cinemobile.
This is of course your third consecutive year producing shorts that have made it into competition at the Fleadh - do you make it your mission every year to produce something of real quality or is it all just happy coincidences?
‘I absolutely, wholeheartedly make it my mission every year to produce the best work I can and the Galway Film Fleadh is always my muse. Inclusion in the festival is a constant goal. To be included the last three years has been incredible for me. I always work best to a deadline so from August to May my schedule is write, plan, pre-production, shoot and edit with Galway as my target deadline. This year was the first year I also did the Marketplace with a couple of new script ideas and a TV series. I have huge admiration for Miriam Allen and Gar O’ Brien and all the team for the work they put up for us all to see and the support they have given me as a new filmmaker. I want to make films that are important to me as a storyteller and that are of the best possible production values given my resources. As a filmmaker I learn so much from sitting through the programme every year, luckily I always leave Galway with my head spinning with creative thoughts (and a hangover).’
As with any ambitious producer - the production of these shorts must be a stepping stone for feature film production down the line? Northern Ireland Screen devoted a whole event to the importance of short films in shaping feature filmmakers of the future. Do you think this is true of your career?
‘For me, certainly that is true and that has always been the ultimate goal. I feel I have cut my cloth on the first two shorts and I‘ve learned so much – the latest and third short had quite a substantial self-raised budget so I feel I am moving up another level again. I look at the works of short film makers like Paddy Slattery and Tristan Heanue, who I know will go on to create wonderful features and I hope I will fly alongside them. Actually, we have a great little community of short film makers right now who are all hugely supportive of one another. I have always said and truly believe if you really want to be a filmmaker you can, you can make a short. I’m constantly inspired by Terry McMahon who never took no for an answer and went on to make a piece of work as utterly magnificent as ‘Patrick’s Day’ – that’s the goal! With a film industry that can be financially supportive of vapid work I think the people who claw their way to the big screen are to be hugely applauded.’
I know one feature film you have in development is ‘Girls Weekend’ which was pitched at the 2014 Fleadh - we understand an LA based company has just picked that one up?
‘Yes, ‘Girls Weekend’ was selected as one of the ten scripts for the pitching competition last year, most terrifying experience of my career to date – and after the pitch went so well a couple of Irish Productions companies expressed interest but from the offset I had been approached by an Irish producer in LA who loved the script – we all had a meeting in London after the Fleadh and we signed up. It’s a project that I have co-written with my LA based writing partner Lisa Carey – as I speak we are on what I hope is the absolute Final Draft. We are having so much fun writing it I just don’t want to sign off; it’s like saying a final farewell to someone who really makes you laugh stepping away from it. We are so excited for the film – it’s completely female driven with a lot of laughs but also a lot of real, honest and emotive writing.’
‘Girls Weekend’ doesn’t go into production until July 2016 - are you working on any other projects in the meantime?
‘Pre-production starts in early March and we shoot June/July 2016 – shooting the first block in Dublin and the rest in Co. Clare. Some of the cast are already attached we will announce that before Christmas. As well as writers, Lisa and I will also be Executive Producers.’
‘Aside from ‘Girls Weekend’ I am working away with my company Smart Blondes Productions on a six part drama series called RTC (Reduced To Clear). The series is again female driven, set in Dublin in the midst of the recession, and takes a look at the lives of three very different women who are all affected in the same way. It questions how they have been living their lives and how when money is taken away what values they are left with? People who you once presumed you had absolutely nothing in common with become your saviour. It’s an important piece of social work I think and its giving a voice to women in our society who I feel are not heard or seen enough on our screens. Finally there is a new short I have almost down, again with Park Pictures on board, that we are hoping to shoot in Donegal this Christmas … Christmas who said Christmas?!’