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'Studs' In Cinemas This Week
15 Mar 2006 : By Tanya Warren


With a budet of €1.1millon and a 50 screen distribution deal with BVI, 'Studs' producers, Fiach and Cúán Mac Conghail of Brother Films, take IFTN inside the financial set up of their debut feature film.

In December 1997, the two producers commissioned Paul Mercier to adapt his hit stage play ‘Studs’ for the big screen and set out upon an seven year journey generating finance and developing the film which arrives at Irish cinemas this weekend.

Both established in their own right outside the realms of producing film, (Fiach, former artistic director of Project Arts Centre (1992-1999) and the current Director of The Abbey Theatre and Cúán, a successful editor of ‘The Snip’, ‘Underworld’ and ‘Only Fools Buy Horses’) the two money men talk to IFTN about their experiences making the film and what their roles as producers entailed…

IFTN: So the budget for ‘Studs’ was €1.1 million, how does that break down?

Fiach: Broadly speaking it breaks down about 70% cash and 30% deferrals. Of that 70% cash our largest investor would be the Irish Film Board. Then we had a pre-sale for Irish territories from Buena Vista Ireland who are also picking up the DVD in the Irish territory. We had an advance from our Sales Agent MovieHouse and TV3 came in with the license fee.

The first to come in was TV3 and that was Jane Gogan, who is now gone to RTE. Then we had a very strong relationship with BVI from when we did our short film, they’d distributed ‘Lip Service’ and ‘Tupperware’ with their features ‘Sweety Barrett’ and ‘ Sweet Home Alabama’. The key for us was the Irish Film Board brokered those relationships and brokered potential investors for us.

And you were happy with that?

Fiach: The thing was, for a low budget film, before we shot an single frame, we knew we had the distribution deal in Ireland.

Cúán: We’d be in the cinema and, you know, so many films in the past that have been made, and good ones at that, have never seen the light of day. It’s hard enough making it but the disappointment of it not being seen by anybody is a shocker.

During the development process, the Irish Film Board gave you €10,000 to shoot a pilot for the film, what were your ambitions for the film at that stage and have they changed now?

Cúán: It was a slightly different film back then. Football is difficult to shoot, which we have discovered. We knew that at the time but it was a more adventurous approach to it. Probably a more formulaic one and by doing the pilot we realised that we couldn’t do it how we’d planned. Basically we saw the mistakes that every other football film had made - that you can’t follow the flight of a football… The pilot allowed us in effect to see how not to make it.

Fiach: It was a very important element in the development of the script too. We only really started raising money 18 months before we started shooting, and up to that point was the development of the script. It did take us seven years to make the movie but only about 18 months to raise the money.

And Irish director Pat O’Connor (Dancing at Lughnasa, Circle of Friends, Cal, Ballroom of Romance) acted as a “mentor” in the project, what did that entail?

Cúán: He came on board about 6-8 months before we filmed and he was great. We needed to have somebody whose work we admired but also, for Paul, somebody who wasn’t going to try and make his own film. He was very supportive and had great common sense. Film has a lot of bullshit attached to it at some level but when you’re talking to somebody like him, who has made them for both big and small money, he was just able to be very practical at various crucial points during the making of the film.

Fiach: He provided an artistic framework for investors who felt, perhaps at times because we were first time producers and particularly because Paul was a first time director, we suggested Pat O’Connor to just come over at key moments during production. He came over at prep and looked at the script and had long conversations with Paul, he came over during the shoot to look at the rushes and again advise us. I suppose his role as a mentor was more about asking us questions than answering questions. It was a good way to have a person who was not emotionally involved and to have a person with such a great amount of experience and generosity to give to us as well, fantastic.

Eamma MacLiam & David Wilmot

And BVI and TV3, did they have any creative input or creative control on the film?

Cúán: BVI yes, at the early stages of the script. But once the script was signed off they had no issues with it and they let Paul make the film he wanted to make.

Fiach: Frankly, for BVI, we had to deliver Brendan Gleeson. The film would not have been financed without Brendan and I think BVI have a relationship with Brendan Gleeson, from ‘I Went Down’ to ‘Sweety Barrett’, and I think they saw Brendan as a key element in the deal.

Cúán: TV3, again once the script was signed off they trusted it to Paul and the rest of us. They weren’t interfering in the sense that somebody would come into cutting rooms and be questioning and changing the end, there was nothing like that.

And what has been your most memorable moment since you began working on the film?

Fiach: Mine was when we were going to see football matches, about a year and a half before we shot it. We were going through watching them and we suddenly realised that we were going to shoot this through hand held camera.

Cúán: Yeah, we went out the Phoenix Park, myself, Fiach and Paul, with three mini DV cameras. We had “Cúán Cam”, “Fiach Cam” and “Paul Cam” (laughs), and we shot footage of amateur teams. It was great because we started to really see how it could be done and equally how it couldn’t be done. Also, it re-vitalised the sense in the project, actually at one stage when we watched Carlton FC, their manager and their players at half time you’d nearly swear they were at Wembley or Lansdowne Road, yet they were literally in the middle of the Phoenix Park with nobody watching them! It was great to see it, that this story was real.

Fiach: We’re kind of hands on creative producers, in a sense that we got very much involved in the process.

Cúán: Well his camera work wasn’t great...

Fiach : No it wasn’t, I missed the goals all the time. (laughs)

Director Paul Mercier on set

The film was shot in Ireland, early 2005, when the climate in the industry was feeling pretty grim. When crewing the film, did you get a sense that lots of people just wanted to be apart of it?

Fiach: To be honest with you, because it was such a long process, we wanted to pick the best crew

possible so nothing was going to f*ck up our movie. We had the good fortune of having a brilliant Line Producer, Susan Holmes, and she’d built good relationships with various Heads of Department. We knew the type of people we were looking for too, we knew we were looking for the best. Somebody like David Wilson (Omagh) as Production Designer, what he did with the amount of money he had was extraordinary. Essentially we had to target the kind of people we were looking for and shooting in February, the cold, early part of the year, we knew we’d have a better chance of crewing than before. We had about 22-25 people working on location. It was a fast shoot so we were able to move locations fast, with the snow, and, if it rained, from outside to inside. So it was very fluid.

Cúán: We almost cast the crew as much as we cast the actors.

Fiach: We had Ronan Fox as DOP and we made the decision to shoot it on High Def which was a significant for us. I suppose another key thing, it’s a boring producers thing but it cost us an extra €80,000, was that we decided to shoot it in five weeks, do it a five day five week rather than a six day four week. I think just in terms of morale, commitment and energy, that was €80,000 well spent.

So the crew worked on deferrals and I understand everyone who worked on the film now owns a piece of it and will benefit from profits it might make?

Fiach: Once all the costs are cleared in terms of Sales & Distribution, everybody is equal. There is a certain investment and then all, both the film Board and cast and crew are equal. So therefore if it gets into a profit scenario everybody gets an equal share…we stuck with regular hours, we didn’t abuse that and we were very clear. I think that perhaps since it wasn’t as busy, or I think because of Paul Mercier, or because the cast and crew knew or that Brendan Gleeson was in it, they gave a big commitment, and they had that on board. We were straight up and fair and everybody was on the recommended rate that the Film Board suggested, so there were no secrets.

And moving from producing short films to producing a feature, what was the biggest learning curve that the two of you had to face?

Cúán: The funny thing is, before we did the first short ‘Before I Sleep’, had we known how difficult it was we wouldn’t have done it. Then that goes back to doing the feature, if you knew how difficult it was, you wouldn’t even start. So ignorance is bliss. It’s the same principles but it’s just slightly longer time and you have to make sure your story is right.

Fiach: We’re unusual producers in that we don’t have an enormous slate of films and we’re not necessarily interested in an enormous slate of films. We work with a particular group of people, at the moment it’s Paul and we’ll be working with Pat O’Connnor in the future too. The idea is that we work with the directors, I mean, that Paul drives it. We have other jobs, Cúán has a successful film editing career and is just about to start directing a documentary and I’m working in theatre. Between us that allows a certain objectivity. Maybe some film producers might think what we’re doing is a cop out, but I think that we’re able to successfully look at a film like ‘Studs’ and say “well its getting 50 screens, and that’s something we’re proud of”.

With the emergence of talents like Paul Mercier, Martin McDonagh and the other directors from the low budget scheme, do you think there is a hope in the industry that another big director, to rival Jordan and Sheridan, might be close at hand?

Cúán: Yeah, Jim Sheridan started on a not dissimilar scale as this film. ‘My Left Foot’ was a low budget film at the time and he’s obviously gone on to do the films that he has done. From the last ten years, most of the films that were shot, quite a number of Irish films, most of the big ones were American. So to an extent there’s an honesty with the low budget films because you can’t lie, you have no money. Also you make the film that you actually want to make because you are not making it for a big cheque, which hopefully then allows you to be a little more honest. The Irish audience want to see themselves up on screen.

Fiach: Culturally low budget film is the way forward. Financially, it’s a different argument because low budget films will not sustain a film industry here. So there has to be a combination of co-productions with the UK or America, but culturally the low budget initiative allows Irish filmmakers to develop their own sense of themselves.

And what are the plans for an international deal for ‘Studs’?

Fiach: We are waiting to see what the response is from audiences in Ireland before we actively, aggressively go out to the market. And we’ll be selling it in Cannes.

And finally, how do you think international audiences will respond to the film?

Fiach: I’ve no idea. We’ve made this film for a local Irish audience…

Cúán: That was absolutely clear from the very start, in terms of the language, in terms of the accents; all those elements; it was made for an Irish audience. If it travels, nobody can predict what flies or what doesn’t fly.

Fiach: I’m going to go down to Mullingar on the 16 th of Marchto watch it with an Irish audience. I think Paul, and ourselves as producers, made it for an Irish audience. That is ultimately the freedom of the low budget initiative.

Cúán: The other thing in terms of the low budget structure is that we have a possibility to make money domestically. I’m not saying it’s going to do that but we were less concerned with it, I mean obviously we’d love if it sells and we’d love it to go abroad, but first and foremost we’re making films for an Irish audience.

‘Studs’ is released across Ireland from the 16 th of March through BVI Ireland.


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