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“To premiere it at the Fleadh was a nice full circle moment”, director George Kane discusses Apocalypse Clown
31 Aug 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Natalie Palamides, David Earl, and Fionn Foley in Apocalypse Clown
We caught up with George Kane, the writer-director of Apocalypse Clown, ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

Apocalypse Clown is George Kane’s sophomore feature, following many years of directing television series such as Timewasters, Crashing, Brassic, Wedding Season, and Inside No. 9

Kane’s debut feature Discoverdale, a Spinal Tap-style rock mockumentary from the same writing team as his latest film (Kane, Demian Fox, Shane O'Brien, James Walmsley), premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2013. It was here that Apocalypse Clown began, with the writing team discussing how they could take the characters of their Dublin Fringe play Clowns and insert them into West Africa as part Clowns Without Borders, a charity bringing joy to refugee children. In the years since then, the project has continued to evolve from that initial conception.

Apocalypse Clown follows a group of failed washed up clowns traversing Ireland for one last shot at their dreams, following a mysterious technological blackout plunges the country into anarchy and chaos.

The film’s ensemble includes David Earl (Brian & Charles, After Life), Natalie Palamides (Nate - A One Man Show), Amy De Bhrún (The Bachelor Weekend), Fionn Foley (Dublin Oldschool), Tadhg Murphy (Brassic) and Ivan Kaye (Gunpowder Milkshake).

Apocalypse Clown was produced by Morgan Bushe and James Dean for Fastnet Films (Black 47, What If) in co-production with Namesake Films and Cloé Garbay and Beata Saboova of uMedia. Ed Caffrey and Rupert Preston of Vertigo Releasing, Patrick O’Neill of Wildcard, Celine Haddad of Screen Ireland and John Gleeson and Oisín O’Neill of BCP Asset Management serve as executive producers. Production investment was provided by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, RTÉ, Section 481, Vertigo Releasing, BCP, the Belgian tax shelter and Screen Ireland.

Director George Kane sat down with us to discuss the origins of Apocalypse Clown, how the project evolved from script to screen, and the various challenges the production overcame.

IFTN: First of all, congratulations! Apocalypse Clown won Best Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh this year, how did that feel?

GEORGE: “It was fantastic to win, we were delighted to screen at the Fleadh in the first place. As I said on the day before we introduced the film, this project began at the Fleadh out the back of the rowing club in 2013. So we just won an award for Discoverdale, the same writers, and afterwards we were trying to decide what we should do next. James brought up the Clowns play they'd written and this idea of plunging them into this Hollywood adventure scenario in West Africa.”

“We've just been working on it, chipping away, and adapting it ever since. So to premiere it at the Fleadh was just a very nice full circle moment, and to win was the cherry on top.”

IFTN: This project has its origins in Clowns, a play from comedy troupe Dead Cat Bounce, how has the project changed and developed since then?

GEORGE: “Clowns was a semi-autobiographical play about the arguments Dead Cat Bounce would have after rough gigs. The characters Bobo, Pepe and Funzo were there from the beginning. There was a great dynamic that was very well worked out from the off, so it was great to be able to just put that dynamic into the worst possible scenarios we could.”

“So Apocalypse Clown began as this uninvited humanitarian adventure in West Africa. It was a bit Tropic Thunder, a bit of a Three Amigos kind of vibe. That developed over time, and changed.”

“When you're making an independent Irish comedy movie, you're always straining to pull the money together, and we got close a few times but COVID happened as well as several other things, so we just had to bite the bullet and go ‘Right, this is not going to be what we thought originally’. We decided to rethink it, maintain the structure of the film, maintain all the dynamics between the characters, and make something in Ireland that was just as striking and preserve this great material that we had.”

IFTN: Since your first film Discoverdale, you’ve continued to direct a lot  of TV. How has your experience directing television informed your approach to directing this film?

GEORGE: “I’ve done a lot of ensemble shows. I have an editing background. So having to work fast with a comedic ensemble and limited resources obviously primed me to do this. In more recent years, I've done things like Brassic and Wedding Season, which meant that I got to do more stunt work and drama elements which I hadn't really done before. A lot of the sketch stuff I’d done, like Mitchell and Webb, is very much dialogue, not car chases.”

“So to shoot Apocalypse Clown in essentially 23 days, with the big ensemble, the set pieces at the end, the stunt work, the VFX work, the past two to four years experience completely fed into that.”

“In the second week of Apocalypse Clown, David Earl got COVID, so I had to shoot some climactic scenes with pretty much the entire cast and figure out a way to shoot that whole scene without him there, without a body double, and then be able to pick it up again when he was back with us. So using the editing, shot-listing side of my brain meant I was able to pull it off.”

IFTN: There isn’t really anything else like Apocalypse Clown, was it difficult to find funding for the film?

GEORGE: “The script was very popular. I think it was very well written, it was different, so people were attracted to it.”

“The hard part was attracting the right amount of money, because you're not going to find all that money within Ireland. So Morgan Bushe and James Dean, our producers, worked to find the right collaborators. For instance, we ended up working with the Belgians with Umedia. So it was kind of like a house of cards where we had to pull together eight or nine different sources to keep nudging it up.”

“If you fall into a strange bracket between like 1.8 and 3 million, it’s a difficult amount to raise. Something smaller is easier, something bigger is somehow easier sometimes. So it was a challenge to pull it all together, but we found all the right people. Screen Ireland stuck with us from the beginning through all the changes in the script. Different project managers came and went and they just kept backing us all the way.”

IFTN: So what’s next for you in film and television?

GEORGE: “Feature Film-wise, I'm working with my friends in Tailored Films on something I've written myself. It's mildly comedic, but it's more of a psychological drama. We’ve been putting that together over the past few years.”

“In TV, I'm in final post at the moment. I did three episodes of a new Apple series called The Completely Made-Up Adventures of Dick Turpin, starring Noel Fielding. They've got everybody in it: Hugh Bonneville, Tamsin Greig, Joe Wilkinson, Diane Morgan, Asim Chaudhry. Set in the 1700s, it’s this very silly, family-friendly, historical sitcom. It’s a bit surreal, as you'd imagine, with Noel Fielding in the middle of it.”

Apocalypse Clown releases in Irish cinemas on September 1st, 2023.

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