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Director Paul Mercier discusses Prospect House
19 Dec 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Barry Ward in Prospect House.
We spoke with director Paul Mercier to discuss his latest feature film, Prospect House. The film recently won the Best New Irish Feature award at CIFF.

Writer-director Paul Mercier’s latest feature film, Prospect House, received the award for Best New Irish Feature at the Cork International Film Festival earlier this year, where the film had its world premiere.

Prospect House follows a group of protesters filming a period re-enactment in a dilapidated 18th century house in a last ditch effort to save it from demolition.

The cast includes Barry Ward (Sunlight), Dara Devaney (Arracht), Cira Ivie (Vikings), Paul Reid (Flora and Son), Liam Alex Heffron (Fair City), and more. The film was produced by Anne Gately, who has produced previous Mercier films Pursuit and We Ourselves. Colm Hogan and Trevor Laffey serve as cinematographers, Eamonn Cleary edited the film, and the score was composed by Mel Mercier.

We caught up with Paul Mercier to discuss the influence of site-specific theatre on Prospect House, working with an ensemble of actors, and the impact Covid-19 had on the production.

IFTN: Your first short, Before I Sleep, screened at CIFF in 1997. How did it feel to have Prospect House receive the Best New Irish Feature award at the festival this year?

PAUL: “Before I Sleep was the first film I did. Cork International Film Festival was the first screening of that film and when it received the Claire Lynch Award it was special and encouraging. So having a feature selected for Cork years later was significant for us.”

“It was an honour to receive the inaugural Best New Irish Feature award and credit goes to the many who were involved in the film. We pay tribute also to the other nominated features because they too are independent Irish productions by Irish voices and creators.”

IFTN: As well as directing you also wrote the film. Can you tell us about where the original idea for the film came from?

PAUL: “The idea came from Anne Gately, the producer of the film. It is a story that she always wanted to tell. In developing a screenplay, I couldn’t help thinking that the story was as much about Anne’s own journey with it and how it influenced her sense of place as it was about an actual event that happened in Cork more than two centuries ago. It was a thought that would not go away. And what became of it all in the end was the Prospect House film.” 

“What also evolved was a treatment that would make the film universal and contemporary. In a way, there is a Prospect House experience in many communities across the country. Our place names, townlands and vistas, mention ‘prospect’ here and there, sounding idealistic, romantic and alien. I felt the name evoked the contrast between planter and native. It also represents the conflict between heritage and development, and all that.”

“So before long we had a story that provided the space and dimension to tackle such themes, and also to look at how we treat history and the past, as well as the opportunity to write about the act of make-believe and how the first casualty of story-telling is truth.”

IFTN: Prospect House follows a group of activists filming a period re-enactment in a dilapidated 18th century house. Did your background in theatre have an influence on the film-within-a-film aspect of this project?

PAUL: “It did, yes. Can’t imagine we would have done it if we hadn’t the background in theatre. But then I can’t imagine I would be making films anyway if it weren’t for theatre. It’s something the Passion Machine Theatre Company might have attempted. A number of years ago, Anne and I staged a project with the company called P. It was a walking history tour set in a multi-storey car-park in Galway city centre. If that weren’t enough, an Atlantic storm hit the building during the performance. What’s that got to do with Prospect House, you might ask. If you were in that car park on the night you would know.”

“I love site-specific theatre, the occasion and energy of it. Not to mention the uncertainty. It comes close to the dynamic of film-making, weather and all. It’s the way it makes theatre an immediate and immersive experience and I was only thinking recently that Corcadorca are no longer in existence and what a loss that is.”

“But the co-star in any site specific work is the location. And in the case of Prospect House the location was critical in providing the stage for the film-within-a-film aspect of the project.”

IFTN: The drama of the film, a group of people discussing how a story should be told, is a lot like a rehearsal. What was the rehearsal process for this film like?

PAUL: “This is where we had the rehearsal-within-a-rehearsal. Bit of a head wreck. But the cast were onto it, and into it. Their theatre experience and instincts were critical in getting to grips with the material. It helped that it was an ensemble effort. It helped too that post-production was attuned to the process. Our post-production supervisor had the foresight to see where the madness was headed and enabled us to translate it onto the screen. We have John Talbot to thank for that.”

IFTN: How did you go about funding the film?

PAUL: “We sought the support of Coimisiún na Meán and the application was successful. Without Coimisiún na Meán’s leap of faith, the film wouldn’t have got off the ground. We asked TG4 to be the broadcaster and fair play to them they backed it. But once we had that foothold, the other vital funding would come from The Department of Tourism, Culture, and Arts, Section 481 and the added support of the Regional Uplift, which enabled us to do the film in Mayo and also as a community orientated project providing training and experience in the region.”

“The film’s budget was €505,000. Covid-19 impacted the finances greatly because we had to absorb the cost of meeting the Covid guidelines and keeping everyone safe. As well as having to change the entire location and model of production during the course of the pandemic.”

IFTN: Can you tell us a bit about the location the film is set in and how you came across it?

PAUL: “Enniscoe House in Mayo became the location of the film. Anne Gately approached the Kellett family and they agreed to let us shoot there. More than that, they agreed to let us turn their house and home upside down. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Not if you’ve a protected building. The last shower to do that in Enniscoe were the French in 1798 and they took the wine. But Susan Kellett and DJ Kellett let us in. And, unlike the French, we did put the place back the way we found it. Ironically, the townland that Enniscoe House is situated in is called Prospect. I didn’t know this until we did a mail order for hard drives. So there you go.”

“We also shot in the North Mayo region, including Ballina. Mayo’s a great place to work. And there was further shooting in Cork and, of course, in Galway where we are based.”

IFTN: What was it like working with your brother Mel Mercier on the score for the film?

PAUL: “I was thrilled to get the chance and Mel did a super job on a very small budget. The music was recorded in The Rise Studio in Cork by Donncha Moynihan with musicians that Mel has collaborated with on many other occasions.”

IFTN: Are you working on any projects at the minute that we should keep an eye out for?

PAUL: “Anne and I are working on a number of projects with our own company An Pointe Productions. What we do next will be determined by funding but we have new work that is ready.”

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