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'Headrush' Hits Irish Cinemas This Week
23 Jun 2005 :

It’s been 11 years in the making and Irish feature film ‘Headrush’ finally hits theatres nationwide this weekend. Director Shimmy Marcus and producer Edwina Forkin tell IFTN about their experiences making their first feature film…

Everyone is interested about what goes on “behind the scenes” of a film , as quite often the making of the film is equally entertaining as the film itself. The making of ‘Headursh’ is an epic. What began as an idea in the mind of a disgruntled, unemployed actor has emerged as one of the countries brightest movie prospects this year.

In 1994 Shimmy Marcus was working in music, but with his mind always fixed on the movies he began making home music documentaries in his spare time. “I knew I really wanted to be involved in film, I just didn’t know which part of it,” says Marcus, so he started acting and ultimately found himself living in a prosperous Celtic Tiger Ireland frustrated, unemployed and broke. “I wrote Headrush as a vehicle for myself but then by the time we got the money to make it, I was too old to play the lead role,” he says. In fact, it took over eight years of development until cameras began rolling on ‘Headrush’, during which time Marcus had the good fortune to win the prestigious Miramax Screenwriting Award and meet his producing partner Edwina Forkin.

Wuzza Conlon & Gavin Kelty

Shimmy Marcus describes ‘Headrush’ as a “tongue in cheek caper comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously”. The film follows the adventures of Charlie & T-Bag (Wuzza Conlon & Gavin Kelty), who embark on a get rich quick scheme involving insane gangsters, charity scratch cards, some pensioners, a trip to Amsterdam and a cross dressing drug dealer, played by high heeled clad Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman Huey Morgan.

With no prior experience in filmmaking or screenwriting, writing the script was a tiresome and lengthy task for Marcus. It took 14 drafts and five years to complete, but the director understands his personal development continued with each draft produced. “When I wrote the first draft I wasn’t in the film industry, I’d never written anything! So when it got picked up by a producer a few weeks later, I thought I’d be in Hollywood the year after that, little did I know (smiles). If I knew then what I know now, I probably would’ve ran a million miles from the film industry… It wasn’t until I started to re-write that I realised how scientific and technical screenwriting is. Learning about personal journey of the hero and structure, I had to know this stuff. I tried to work outside those techniques because I wanted to do something different but I realised the only way to beat that technique is to learn it first and then subvert it. I think the problem with filmmaking in this country is that we don’t put enough importance on the script. We don’t understand how technical it is and we don’t have a tradition of that and unless you’ve a great script, you’ve got nothing.”

During this period directors like Quentin Tarantino, Danny Boyle and Guy Ritchie were working on similar films, getting them made and making their mark in the industry. As Marcus watched his contemporaries become incredibly successful, he began to feel as if his time was passing him by, his original film was dating fast and he was caught in development hell.

“I started seeing all those movies coming out and I had to make these wholesale changes to

Huey Morgan in Headrush

the script," he says. "I felt that people would say ‘this is dated’ without having even seen it. I decided to focus less on genre and look more at the quirkiness of the characters and push my own style.” Another reason for making the film was to provide a fresh look at Irish storytelling. “There were no Irish films speaking to my generation or representing an Ireland that I was living in. I don’t know anything that went on in the Civil War, whatever? We have to get that out of the system, fine. There were so many manically depressing films being made and I thought ‘man, where are the comedies, where’s the youth culture?’”

Meeting Edwina Forkin was the driving force that catapulted Shimmy out of his rut. The pair finally crossed paths on a Filmbase community employment scheme, “which is a nice way of saying the dole” says Marcus. They discovered a shared passion for filmmaking and quickly formed a partnership that would see them set up the independent production company Zanzibar Films. Together they made the short film ‘7th Heaven’ and Marcus believes it was Forkin’s attitude, honesty and guts that raised the bar in Irish short filmmaking forevermore.

“She really set a standard that I think was important to be set for future filmmakers," says Marcus. "The thing that I love most about working with her is that she kept raising the stakes which was important to me. She gave me the freedom to create what I wanted to create. Like saying ‘What film do you want to make? And I will do everything I can to make that happen.’…We’re not in this for the money, we never got the idea ‘lets set up a production company so we can make money’ it was ‘lets see if we can make some amazing films’. The thing I especially like about Edwina is her honesty. She has this complete inability to lie to anyone or bullshit anyone, which some people think you need in the film industry. I think a lot of people respect her and she’s able to get the most ridiculous deals because people admire that honesty in her and they know that they are not being shafted or had the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Shimmy on the set of Headrush

Marcus’ directorial development continued at the Moonstone Directors Lab in 1999. Working with directors like Michael Hoffman and John Irvin he recalls his time there as “amazing”. “It was the first chance I really had to work with quality actors and crew and to find out whether or not this script was actually working. The greatest thing I got from it was the confidence and belief in myself, that I can do this because the

reaction to the tests I shot were amazing. It was kind of an indication too because it’s very difficult when you are constantly getting doors slammed in your face over here, you begin to question your own talent and ability which is the worst thing about that process. This, for me, restored the confidence to know that I had something that would work.”

Growing in confidence and with a producer and script in place, work began to find funding for the ambitious ‘Headrush’ project, which carried a €4.3 million price tag. In early 2001 the film had attracted the interest of investors in Canada and Germany and it looked as if the greenlight was imminent. Then came September 11 th. After the terrorist attacks, investors began to stall and with the financial markets in flux they finally pulled out, contracts unsigned, and the deal was off. “It was a house of cards falling, once one pulled out everything started to collapse,” recalls Marcus. “Rock bottom came about a year after that when we were still trying to get the money and we both said ‘either we make this film now or that’s the end of it’. I was working on it about seven years at that stage and Edwina was on it about four years and we said ‘y’know what, lets just get a HI8 camera, a bunch of people and lets make it anyway’ and that’s when the Film Board announced their low budget scheme.”

Producer Edwina Forkin remembers her mixed feelings at that time. “The Irish Film Board had approached me about doing the €1million route and I said ‘listen, if I don’t have it financed by May we’ll go the low budget’. So by the 1 st of May we were broke and still no further along, we owed 50 grand and we decided to bite the bullet and go the low budget route.”

Edwina gives Shimmy some bad news

So what is involved in cutting a budget from €4.3 million to €800,000? A lot of hard work says Edwina, but work that would eventually pay off. “I think it just made us more creative in how we shot the film. When we realised we’d only have €1million it was quite hard because I had to do budgets and it was really impossible. The only way I could do it was by working backwards saying ‘how much is it

going to cost us to finish this film, like post-production. And then, how much do we have left to make the film…Really it was dividing the budget up as fairly and evenly as possible. It wasn’t much to go around and everybody just gave us 110%. The art dept really begged, borrowed and stole; Ardmore Studios were fantastic and Panavision were amazing also.”

With all this compromise was there ever a moment where the producer thought they should hold on and rebuild their lost budget from scratch? “The minute we decided to go low budget it was a great relief. It was probably the hardest decision for me because I felt like ‘have I failed?’ But in a way we hadn’t because we made the film. It didn’t matter if we’d made it on half a million, we would have done it no matter what and it’s a great achievement.”

With lenses borrowed from the set of ‘Star Wars’ the production was the first Irish film to shoot on Hi Def. Principal photography took five weeks to complete with locations taking in Dublin and Amsterdam. Needless to say, with their track record the smooth sailing route was far from the road taken by the ‘Headrush’ team.

One instance whilst shooting a scene on a derelict roof, the cast and crew were evacuated when it almost gave way. Disaster averted, crew and equipment intact, the director explains his frame of mind: “You’re so focused on what you are doing, it's like, ‘did someone almost die? Did we save him? Okay, let’s move on’. You don’t have time. People were like ‘you must be so excited’ but we were like ‘no we don’t have time’. Literally 20 hours a day.” Add illness, endless cashflow problems, Marcus almost going blind, broken arms plus an extra set on fire and you have more than your average set of anecdotes for the industry campfire.

Posting the film took just under 16 weeks with Shimmy working alongside his brother Joe, an experienced editor, at his studio in Downpatrick. Using Avid hardware and software, the first cut of 2.5 hours was whittled down to its existing 85 minutes and the end was finally in sight for Marcus and Forkin. Award winning festival screenings included the Best Feature Film Award at the New York Film Fleadh, Best Unreleased Feature Film at the East Lansing Film Festival, Michigan, Best Soundtrack - Seagate Foyle Film Festival, Ireland and 2 nd Best Debut Feature Film – Galway Film Fleadh narrowly beaten by the 2003 hit ‘Intermission’.

With awards in the can and a growing fanbase across the globe, a home box office release was high on the agenda. This last step was to prove one of the most difficult for Marcus and Forkin as they failed for three years to secure a deal. This final hurdle came crashing down when

they decided to independently fund the nationwide release, without backing from the Irish Film Board or any distribution company. Edwina Forkin explains their situation: “We tried to go down the conventional route and Shimmy kept saying ‘Edwina lets just do it ourselves, do it ourselves,’ but it is such hard work to do it yourself that I kept saying ‘well, lets just try and go with Eclipse or BVI because that’s their job.’ So we waited to get answers, but the answer came back no…The Irish Film Board have a scheme where if a distributor comes on board they will match the fund by 50%, so they had said to me ‘if you find a distributor to take it on we will match the P&A’. We talked to Eclipse and said ‘look we’ve found private investors, we’ll raise €30,000, you bring it to the IFB and get another €30,000’. But we told the Film Board the truth that we had done this deal and they said ‘Oh no, you can’t do that’. For some reason it didn’t qualify through the rules and regulations.”

Marcus adds: “Apparently the distributor has to take the risk themselves out of their own money… Even though it’s public money that’s funding S481 and the IFB budgets, it’s not good enough to go into distribution. So they wanted Eclipse to take the risk out of their own pocket.”

As it was the distribution company Eclipse liked the film but were not prepared to take that kind of risk with ‘Headrush’, so Marcus and Forkin were faced with a dilemma; either release it themselves or send it straight to video. They decided to raise some cash and go for broke with a theatrical release, but more resistance was to come.

“About six months of going backwards and forwards,” says Marcus, “we went to the film board and said ‘Well we’ve now raised €50,000, we are the distributors, will you match us? We’ll put it out ourselves, we’re taking the risk’. No, no, no, no, no, no. They said it was not within their guidelines to allow a production company to put their own film out. Which I don’t understand because anyone who is going to try hardest to put a film out is the people who are making it, as opposed to any other distributor who has got six or seven films.”

So by calling in favours and making proposals to rich people, ‘Headrush’ now bears a release budget of €55,000 and is being independently released by Zanzibar Films on 12 screens nationwide. A UK release is also in the works and the film has been released in Australia on DVD and video.

An admirable feat for sure, but how has the close knit Irish industry reacted to this maverick move to go it alone? “The industry don’t want to know us,” says Marcus. Edwina amicably adds “I think they are quite intrigued by it. They want to see how well we do with putting this out…They want to see if we can do it. If we pull it off people will be ‘oh, fantastic.’ I think it’s a good little film, we know the audience and to put it this way, we’ve done an amazing job, as good as any distributor in Ireland could have done, for less money. We’ve probably gotten €200,000 worth for €60,000.” Releasing on the 24 th of June, the box office takings for ‘Headrush’ will prove them right or wrong.

Finally, the future looks bright for Zanzibar Films with countless short films wrapped and two major feature projects currently in the pipeline. Forkin is busily prepping Paddy Jolley’s debut feature ‘Lingling’ which is scheduled to begin shooting in India in December and Shimmy Marcus is developing his second film another comedy entitled ‘Northern Soul’. Whatever happens the pair have no regrets when it comes to their debut film.

“It was the best thing we ever did, it took us a while,” Edwina says with a smile. Marcus adds; “It took us a lot longer than we’d planned but we’ve met so many different people on the way, built up a huge amount of contacts. I think we’ve got, certainly on the international radar, a lot of respect for having persevered for as long as we did and to see it through to the very end, including having to distribute it ourselves which I don’t think a lot of people thought we could do. We’re not here for the short term, we’re here to stay.”




By Tanya Warren

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