New low budget Irish feature film, ‘Situations Vacant’ hits selected cinemas nationwide on Friday, December 4th. To mark the film’s opening, IFTN caught up with director Lisa Mulcahy (The Clinic) to talk egotistical actors, Irish cinema and ‘hand sex’!
‘Situations Vacant’, a feature length Irish comedy, centres around Dave Bracken (Diarmuid Noyes), a young man living the corporate high life by day and loving some gorgeous girl in a penthouse by night. In his dreams.
Dave is unleashed on Dublin’s employment market with his effervescent imagination, his father’s memory and the high hopes of his mother (played by Maria McDermott Roe). His best friend, Vinny Burke (Shaun Dunne) also jobless and loveless, receive some unorthodox advice from Whack (Brendan Conroy), the barstool sage, and from their friend Tom Farrell (Sam Corry), who seems to have it all, except they haven’t noticed that having it all is making Tom miserable.
Whack’s advice is simple. It’s his fail-safe two-point-plan. Before an interview have two pints and then start lying. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially when it comes to employment in Dublin.
IFTN: Lisa, how did you get involved in the project?
Lisa Mulcahy: Well I absolutely love comedy. And I was shown Steve’s script and I thought it was a great story. We did have to work on the script quite a bit though because it was a bit too ‘celtic tiger’. And there were some scenes that were a bit unbelievable, so we tweaked that a bit.
How were the film’s three main couples (Dave and Lauren, Vinny and Janice and Tom and Rachel) chosen and then paired up?
LM: I gave Mary Murray the part of Rachel without an audition, I think she’s a fantastic actress and then we had her do scenes with many, many would-be Toms and eventually found our man in Sam Corry and they work so well together. Then with Vinny and Jackie I knew Shaun had to be Vinny (I didn’t let him know for a while though!) and then Lorna Dempsey came in to me and she is just so spunky, so sure of herself, that I knew they’d go perfectly together. And then with our lead character Dave and Lauren we got down to two actors and two actresses and so I brought them all in together (which was possibly a bit unfair) and tried them doing different scenes in different pairs and I finally decided on Diarmuid Noyes and Julie O’Halloran.
And what did you do to give the impression of a relationship between each pair?
LM: Well, I had been to a director’s workshop before I started rehearsals where I came across an approach to creating sexual tension and credible relationship vibes called ‘hand sex’. And basically what you do is you get your actors and get them to simulate sex using only their hands. And it works fantastically well and you have an immediate bond. And it’s a cool thing to say to your actors on the first day of rehearsals “We’re going to do hand sex today”.
The film had a budget of just €200,000 – what were the biggest challenges of making a feature with such a minute fund behind it?
LM: I think the most important element of working with such a small budget is to plan ahead. You don’t have the luxury of trying new things out with a small budget film that you would have with a blockbuster with €50 million to play with. I’m not going to do another film with such a small budget for a long, long time - if ever - but I will say that the great thing about having such a small allowance is that every member of the cast and crew for ‘Situations Vacant’ were in it for the right reasons. They all knew they were working on something professional, they know that this is what I do for a living so they treated the project as they would any other film. What was important for me was that this film not be treated like a student film, not to disrespect student made films but this was always a very professional project. That said, the actors in the film were only paid about a quarter of what they should have got really.
How long did it take to make ‘Situations Vacant’?
LM: We had the auditions for the leads in late February and then we rehearsed with the actors for two weeks in March. And then we had 18 days to shoot, which was madness, and a rush from start to finish but I loved it. The rehearsals were helpful because it meant I didn’t have egotistical actors stopping the filming of a scene to say things like “I don’t think my character would respond like this” which would have used up time we didn’t have with this film.
The film was shot in and around Dublin city and you made use of offices, conference rooms, houses and retail areas – how was this possible on such a small budget?
LM: Well the house we used as Tom and Rachel’s house (a house where, in one scene, mud is applied liberally to the walls of the hallway) is actually the writer, Steve’s house and he has a little boy so, quite conveniently, has wipe-clean wallpaper in the house. Which was very necessary. Our location manager, Brendan O’Sullivan was amazing – I tried my hand at his job a few years ago and I don’t envy him in the slightest. He found us board rooms overlooking the city and we got very lucky in one because had the sun been shining it would have played havoc with the lighting but it was a really cloudy day so we actually didn’t need to light the scene at all – we just switched on the normal lights in the room. So we had a mixture of Brendan’s talent and really good luck for a lot of our locations. We also had a scene in a graveyard with an angry mob chasing Dave and Vinny and that worked really well.
The characters in the film are very realistically flawed and, occasionally, quite hard to like – was this done to challenge your audience?
LM: This was a big concern for me at the start and throughout making the film because, for me, there are two characters who the audience possibly won’t like: the lead character, Dave, and Mary Murray’s character, Rachel. This played on my mind a lot but I think that you ultimately do like them because they are doing things and they are reacting in such a realistic way. I mean, there is one scene where Dave urinates in a potted plant at a job interview and when I first read it I said “No, we can’t include that, it’s disgusting!” but I’m not a 19 year old. And I’m not a guy. And that is a hilarious scene for most of the young guys who have seen the film so I had to keep reminding myself of our audience. And I think people realise that Dave is doing the right thing – he’s just going about it the wrong way. And he’s lovely to his mother.
One memorable scene towards the end of the film features a company called the G Corporation who introduce speed-interviewing to find new employees – where did that idea come from?
LM: Well I have never had to go through any of these corporate interviews but Steve Murray, the writer has. Almost all of the interviews and work situations depicted in the film - Steve has personally experienced. On a different topic about that scene I do have to mention that the answers that the extras give to the speed interviewers were not scripted – they were all made up on the spot and they’re hilarious!
What’s your favourite scene?
LM: My favourite scene is one we shot non-stop and we didn’t edit it. It screens the way we shot it – we put the camera in the room and let the actors take it from there. It’s a scene where Vinny has come to give Dave some bad news and they’re watching some music show on the telly and Dave’s mother, played fantastically by Maria MacDermott Roe, starts talking about rap music. And it such a brilliant scene with really excellent acting, I love it.
Finally, what was the goal in making the film?
LM: Firstly, I should point out that this is not a film about the recession – it’s just about a group of guys and girls who are looking for employment and a chance to see what goes on in the life of a job-seeker. I also wanted this film to have a specific audience group – young adults who like comedy. A lot of Irish comedy doesn’t have a specific audience target which can be a problem. I’m someone who loves comedy and I enjoy making comedy just as much so the goal really is to get people into the cinema to watch the film and to enjoy it!
’Situations Vacant’ is a Park Films and Grand Pictures production and is written by Steven Murray and produced by AnneMarie Naughton (Tara Road). For more information about the film, cast, crew and cinema listings visit www.situationsvacantthemovie.com