26 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Stephen Fingleton talks to IFTN – writer/director of Oscar-shortlisted ‘SLR’
13 Jan 2015 : Sean Brosnan
Fingleton and Martin McCann shooting the upcoming feature film 'The Survivalist'
Just about ready to break on to the international scene with dystopian thriller ‘The Survivalist’ (his debut feature film starring Martin McCann) set to be released to the world, writer/director Stephen Fingleton talks to IFTN about his short film ‘SLR’, which has been shortlisted for the 2015 Oscar for Best Short Film.

‘SLR’ is a short thriller set in Northern Ireland (though Fingleton is quick to point out the universality of the story) which sees Liam Cunningham play a man who is obsessed with voyeur pornography who becomes determined to track down a photographer by the codename ANORAK after making a shocking discovery.

With the announcement of the Oscar nominations just days away (January 15th), IFTN caught up with Fingleton to talk about the film.

IFTN: First off, was the premise of this film a hard sell for you – I can’t imagine it’s too easy to go to a potential investor talking about a protagonist who is addicted to voyeur pornography..

STEPHEN FINGLETON:‘It was a hard sell. It took several years to get funded – it was continuously turned down by funding bodies. When we did make it then, it was quite difficult getting it into film festivals, even though it was made in Northern Ireland and funded by the British Film Institute (BFI). For example, no festival in England would accept the film. I think that is quite interesting and I think it’s possibly because the film touched a nerve. You almost think it was too close to the nerve for a lot of people – looking at sexuality in this way. It was a difficult subject but I think that’s why it’s quite interesting – we have never seen a film set in this world before.’

So what ignited the spark for you then – writing a thriller set in this dark world?

‘Well, I heard of the principle of these voyeur websites and I realised it would be interesting if someone watching these websites saw someone they knew on the sites – and the moral implications of that so I was able to mould a thriller around that premise.’

You have assembled a fantastic cast for this short – Liam Cunningham in the lead and Richard Dormer supporting – how did they come on board?

‘Well, Liam is represented by my agency so I was fortunate to be able to get him to read the script – which he really liked. I’m a massive fan of Richard Dormer and I wrote him a letter saying that it was a small role but I needed a fantastic actor to play it and you know, you’re fantastic! [laughs] So he luckily agreed to do it’.

So after all the effort in getting the film made and the difficulties with the subject matter – did all the critical success and in particular the Oscar shortlist come as a shock?

'Well basically, we qualified for consideration with the Academy through winning an award at the Foyle Film Festival. So, we were technically eligible but 141 films were eligible this year. So, I still thought it was a very difficult subject matter and I wasn’t sure if the Academy shorts panel would respond to it. But, what I did think of the film was that it was a very good genre piece in a short film. There’s not actually a huge amount of short films that tell a thriller in a short amount of time so I think that’s perhaps why it’s been recognised.’

We have a real pedigree in short films on these shores with Northern Irish film ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ also shortlisted this year and films like ‘Six Shooter’ and ‘The Shore’ winning over the past decade, what do you think makes filmmakers from our small island so adept at making films in the short form?

‘I would say one of the reasons is the way that funding is structured in Ireland and in the north. You have the funds and the cast available to make some of the world’s best short films but the flip side of that is that you are less likely to see Irish films in contention for feature film Oscars. The hope is that the industry will continue to mature and our short films do well so that our films will be able to compete in long form categories as well on an international stage.’

You’re currently embarking on your first feature film with ‘The Survivalist’ which has already gained buzz as it topped the 2013 Brit List – a list of some of the world’s best unproduced screenplays (ahead of thriller ‘Hanna’ which was later made into a film with Saoirse Ronan in the lead) and I believe K5 International has already bought international rights to the film....

‘We have almost finished the film and we are currently submitting it to festivals. It’s been something that has been in development for a long time and actually the whole reason that ‘SLR’ got funded was that the BFI was interested in ‘The Survivalist’. They suggested initially that I apply for their short film scheme so that they could work with me as a director – ‘SLR’ was a script that was in my drawer for four years. What was interesting that it was something that was still quite relevant – in fact probably more relevant when you take into account the celebrity hacking scandals of last year.’

‘I think ‘The Survivalist’ is a really unusual film. What we have done is we have made a film for an international audience. There is very little dialogue and very little political context for what’s going on. I think a lot of Northern Irish films in the past have been quite domestic – they haven’t been films that were made for people everywhere unless they were something about the Troubles. This film is kind of a change in the groove. I’ll be very interested to see the reaction to it. It kind of came out of nowhere. I think at the minute there are a lot of young Northern Irish filmmakers coming through alongside me – one being my friend Michael Lennox (director of Oscar shortlisted ‘Boogaloo and Graham’) and he just made his first feature as well (‘A Patch of Fog’ starring Stephen Graham). We very much come from a background where we see ourselves as part of a cinema culture worldwide rather than just a local filmmaking culture.’

This breakthrough of Northern Irish filmmakers has come inevitably because of Northern Ireland Screen and all the offshoots of it – your film could get an Oscar nomination because of winning at Foyle which would also get a cut in funding should the proposed cuts go ahead...

‘I think the decision should be reversed. It’s absolutely idiotic. One of the areas that Northern Ireland excels in is culture. It creates a lot of inward investment – boosts tourism and creates a raft of highly skilled jobs in an increasingly international labour market. Aside from the economic factors, it’s vital for the country to have its voice on screen through nurturing talent and introducing young people to film in order to find the next Neil Jordan or the next great filmmaker who will be able to express the consciousness of the country. It’s a philistine decision – a really, really awful decision and should be changed immediately.’

Finally, with the CAO deadline looming – do you have any advice for any budding writer/directors out there?

‘It’s extremely satisfying making films and doing it for a living but it’s also very challenging in terms of the things you have to overcome to make sure that the things that you want actually reach the screen. It’s really important that you’re prepared to do what it takes to make that happen. You need to have a very specific personality set to be in this business. I would do my best to test myself to see if it’s something I really want to pursue because it’s the people that can’t be dissuaded from continuing that are going to succeed.’

The Oscar nominations will be announced on Thursday, January 15th with Northern Irish films ‘SLR’ and ‘Boogaloo and Graham’ shortlisted to the last 10 in the Best Live Action Short Film category.

SLR from Stephen Fingleton on Vimeo.

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