13 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“It was very full-on, as you might expect” director Patricia Kelly and producer Paul Fitzsimons discuss Verdigris
01 Aug 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Geraldine McAlinden and Maya O'Shea in Verdigris
We caught up with director Patricia Kelly and producer Paul Fitzsimons, following their film’s premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Verdigris is Patricia Kelly’s directorial debut. She also serves as writer, editor, and as a producer on the project, alongside producer Paul Fitzsimons (The Gift). Kelly has previously written and directed a number of shorts including When Possible, Take a U-Turn, Ronya, Cost You Nothing, and most recently Very Slightly Included. Kelly’s first feature received the Best Independent Film award at the 35th Galway Film Fleadh last month.

The film follows a recently retired woman in a controlling marriage, who becomes a census enumerator and forms an unlikely friendship with a young working class girl.

The cast includes Geraldine McAlinden (Sucking Diesel), Maya O’Shea (Made in Dublin), Kyle Hixon (The Last Duel), Michael James Ford (Becoming Jane), Andrew Kingston (Black Eyes), and Killian Filan (Normal People). O’Shea was nominated for the Bingham Ray New Talent award at this year’s Fleadh.

Director Patricia Kelly and producer Paul Fitzsimons sat down with us to discuss their new film Verdigris, premiering at the Galway Film Fleadh, and shooting on a microbudget.

IFTN: Verdigris premiered at The Galway Film Fleadh, how satisfying was it to see a packed audience’s reaction to the film?

PATRICIA: “It was so satisfying to experience the film with 400 people who didn't know much about the story. Witnessing people's engagement, hearing them responding with laughter, and gasps at times, was very special. There's really nothing like the shared cinema experience. I hope we have many more opportunities to enjoy it with a crowd.”

PAUL: “It was incredible seeing and hearing the audience enjoying the film, especially in the fabulous Town Hall Theatre. I’ve been coming to the festival at the Town Hall for 10 years so it was particularly special to be watching Verdigris there. And to hear everyone’s enthusiasm for the film that night and over the weekend was amazing. It reminded me why I love working in this industry.”

IFTN: As independent filmmakers, what is the significance of winning an award at the Fleadh?

PATRICIA: “It is unquestionably very helpful. Being accepted into the Galway Film Fleadh in and of itself really helped to get people's attention. We all know how competitive it is, how much content there is out there competing for people's time and interest and it was massively rewarding to find that there was a genuine buzz surrounding Verdigris. Coming away with the award for Best Independent Film builds on this and will ultimately help us to find Verdigris' audience going forward.”

PAUL: “It means a huge amount, and I’m still realising just how much – to me personally, for this film and for my production company. Having our first film accepted into the Fleadh was a victory in itself, so to win the award on Sunday night was an amazing experience. And it has definitely helped us move things along. We have been having great meetings since the festival, both for Verdigris and for our upcoming projects.”

IFTN: Where did the initial idea for the film come from?

PATRICIA: “In 2016 I was a census enumerator in the north inner city, both in Jewel's neighbourhood and her flat complex. I found this to be a hugely interesting experience and absolutely knew I would write about it someday. How different social classes perceive each other is something that always interests me and I knew this could be explored in this story.”

“The coercive control element of abuse in Marian's marriage stems from the experience of somebody very close to me. In addition, I heard a Women's Aid representative a number of years ago saying that most people consider domestic abuse to be a working-class problem but that it is very much a feature of middle and upper class life. I thought this was definitely worth examining in Verdigris.

IFTN: You received funding from Fingal County Council through their Artists’ Support Scheme, how did that impact the project’s development?

PATRICIA: “After writing the first few drafts of the screenplay, I wanted to try workshopping the two main characters with professional actors. Receiving this small bursary from Fingal County Council allowed me to rent a studio in the Lab in Foley Street and to hire a number of actors of both Marian's and Jewel's ages to improvise scenes and tease out their dynamic. This was hugely helpful to the next draft of the script. Additionally, the bursary allowed me to take part in Mary Kate O'Flanagan's Making A Scene course, which really helped me to hone a draft ready for casting and crewing.”

IFTN: At what point did you decide to finance the production independently, and how did you make the most of your budget?

PAUL: “By the time I came on, a lot of our financing options were exhausted, and with the budget we were looking at, it was decided the lion’s share of the budget would be best covered by a loan. It got us going: completion of the script, hiring of cast and key crew. The rest of the budget came from our generous crowdfunding donators and investments from myself and Patricia. We definitely learned to be economical, everyone got paid of course, but we were able to save costs on locations, equipment and processes such as editing.”

IFTN: You shot the film over the course of only fifteen days, what was that experience like?

PATRICIA: “It was very full-on, as you might expect. But the cast and crew were all ready for it. I had spent a good deal of time rehearsing in our shoot locations with the actors, liaising with the HODs and breaking down the script with our 1st AD. Everyone knew we'd be hitting the ground running and were prepped for it. We had Plan Bs for if the wheels came off weather-wise or anything else went seriously awry. But we got massively lucky, no-one came down with Covid or any other illness and the sun shone, albeit in -4 Celsius!”

PAUL: “Without Patricia’s leadership, I don’t think we could have done it in those 15 days, it was really a 20-22-day shoot. She really knew how to motivate everyone – cast, crew, even the caterers – to work fast, bring their best and, importantly, enjoy themselves. My job during the shoot was very simple, stay out of the way! And turn up occasionally with chocolate.”

IFTN: How did you and DoP Tania Freimuth approach the cinematography of this film?

PATRICIA: “Independently we both envisaged the film in the handheld, social-realist docu-style. From the outset we discussed how to make a feature of our extreme financial and time limitations. We agreed we needed to be light on our feet, responsive and adaptable, using natural and source lighting where possible, supplementing it only where absolutely necessary. We spent a number of months discussing the aesthetic of comparable films and working out appropriate framing and shot-sizes.”

“There were core elements that we continually came back to, such as how Verdigris as a film about contrasts - Marian's leafy suburb and claustrophobic marriage versus Jewel's concrete jungle and enviable freedom. And of course we spent a number of days walking the streets of Dublin 1 location scouting and shot-listing. We both felt that having a solid shooting plan would allow us to feel free to come up with better ideas on set.”

IFTN: How did you find the transition from directing shorts to directing your first feature?

PATRICIA: “Honestly it wasn't as daunting as I thought it might be. From the outset it felt like the right thing to do. It helped that I had, and have, such a terrific and supportive producer in Paul. As this is a debut feature for both of our companies, we really are learning together and I've never felt that I had to pretend to be more experienced or knowledgeable than I was. Having completed four shorts, which have travelled to film festivals around the world and broadcast on TV, gave me the confidence to bring a terrific crew together who have also been wonderfully supportive and collaborative throughout. I'm so proud of all of our team and seeing Verdigris' success to date, and its promising future, is a lovely reward for everyone involved.”

IFTN: When casting the film, what were you looking for in your two main leads?

PATRICIA: “Primarily actors that we could easily identify with, for very different reasons. Actors who really show us the vulnerability and strength of Marian and Jewel and who make it so easy for us to care deeply about them and their struggles. Again I was looking for contrast and we really have this with Geraldine and Maya. Geraldine brings a gorgeous softness to the role of Marian but she is capable of showing her strength when she needs to. Maya's Jewel is a chameleon, constantly changing from bolshy to empathetic and from innocent to incredibly wise.”

IFTN: How important was the chemistry of the two leads to the film’s success?

PATRICIA: “Verdigris is at heart a buddy movie, so both characters have to be more susceptible to each others' humanity than anyone else around them. Geraldine and Maya really hit it off in their call-back chemistry audition and it was obvious straight away just how powerful a force they would be together. Since our Fleadh screening they are both all anybody is talking about, which is right and proper. They are both stunning in their roles.”

IFTN: What can you tell us about your upcoming short 40 Irish Summers?

PATRICIA: “40 Irish Summers is a short documentary that is still a work-in-progress. It's about my mother's experience judging the national Tidy Towns Competition for the past 40+ summers. Her own family hailed from Dublin's north inner city and it was a very big deal that she went to college and became a planner and travelled all around the country for most of her professional life. I am hoping to complete this in the coming months but I'm also developing my next feature script and two TV series, so it's tricky enough to fit it all in.”

For more information on Verdigris, click here.

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