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‘Black Ice’ Director Johnny Gogan talks to IFTN Ahead of Film’s Release on 20th September
2013-09-17 10:50 : by Kevin Cronin
'Black Ice' director Director Johnny Gogan and his cast Killian Scott and Jane McGrath
Johnny Gogan –director, producer and co-writer of ‘Black Ice’ – is about to see his cinematic tale of illegal race car driving and the people addicted to its adrenaline rush hit Irish cinema screens on 20th September.

A Bandit and Still Films co-production, the film screened at the Jameson International Film Festival and the Galway Film Fleadh earlier this year, and features strong chemistry between its two young leads Killian Scott and Jane McGrath.

Mr Gogan chatted to IFTN this week about shooting in Leitrim and Sligo; the culture of ‘petrol heads’; the fractured romance at the heart of the story; and other projects in the pipeline.

Mr Gogan, based on feedback from screenings at JDIFF and the Galway Film Fleadh, what aspects of ‘Black Ice’ have connected most strongly with audiences so far?
There’s a really strong drama at the heart of the story, which is about a young woman and her first love that goes wrong. What people are getting as well is that we characterised the world of ‘petrol-heads’, which we wanted to portray onscreen, in a very authentic way. It’s a world that people haven’t seen in Irish cinema before. Also, we’ve made an action film. We don’t make a lot of action films in Ireland and we’ve really achieved that with ‘Black Ice’. In Galway, we had the screening at the IMC cinema, where they were able to gauge audience interest first-hand, and it got picked up after that. Now we’re opening in a number of IMC cinemas in Dublin and Galway, so we’ve had a very good response.

What interested you most in making the film - the prospect of examining the culture of ‘petrol-heads’ in closer detail or the human relationships affected by their way of life?
I suppose it was a question of how do you make it a drama? Obviously the film is about cars but I’m interested in the drama behind them and of trying to get a sense of why young men in particular get involved in this world. It was also the ‘black ice’ notion of not just a group of kids gradually going out of control but a community going out of control. On one level it is a story of a group of young people and their cars, but it can also be viewed as a reflection of their parents’ generation. The original story was conceived and written at the end of the boom - as a dark side of the boom story - and then the collapse happened and we thought that maybe we were onto something. Hence, we configured the story within these two time frames - before and after.

Why do you believe these young men become involved in illegal car racing in the first place - is it out of boredom or the thrill of risk-taking?
There’s a bit of that but also an incredible ambivalence towards the activity. In the wider community, the racing is often seen as a kind of rite of passage for these young men. My co-writer Brian Leyden said it is analogous to bull-fighting in Spain. I’ve talked to people about it and some were in situations where ultimately tragedy has happened. And people have said yeah, we did that when we were young too - that’s very much the attitude. I suppose there’s an element of territorialism in it as well. One of the things we found is that these characters find it quite difficult to articulate themselves verbally and they let their cars do the talking for them. It’s a form of expression and rebellion. I thought it was an activity that would die away in the recession but it hasn’t. It’s still very powerful in its hold on people. Your two leads Killian Scott and Jane McGrath - what qualities did they possess that convinced you they were right for Jimmy and Alice?
I saw Killian Scott in ‘Love/Hate’ and I sent him the script with a straight offer. I was impressed by his unspoken ability to say a lot without saying anything. That’s a real skill to have as an actor. There’s a lot going on in his performance and that was a key thing with the Jimmy character. He’s not very articulate and he’s got this clandestine side to him. In the case of Jane, she just did an extraordinary audition. It hit me between the eyes! Initially when we were writing the script, we were telling the story from various perspectives and then we decided let’s just tell it from her point of view. We were so fortunate to find an actress who could carry the film in that way. And I would not understate the extent to which she does carry it.

How difficult was it to shoot the racing scenes and how did you manage to pull them off so successfully?
We shot the film on 5D, which is very mobile, so we were able to multi-cam a lot of the action scenes. And we shot it in North Leitrim, where we are based, so got a lot of local cooperation in terms of road closures. Also, the car community - the rally scene, people into modified cars and ‘petrol heads’- they said yeah, we’re up for this. We couldn’t have done it in such an authentic way without that involvement. We had a casting session for the cars about three weeks before the shoot, and all sorts of people turned up. It was just brilliant, that level of cooperation. I think they appreciated that - while the film deals with the circumstances around an accident - that we weren’t going to take the piss out of them.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can tell us about at the moment?
I’m doing a documentary on the making of Ken Loach’s new film ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, up here in Leitrim. From an industry point of view, they’re shooting in the same parish where we made ‘Black Ice’- Kilanummery parish in Dromahair, Leitrim. It’s a great follow-on for the industry here in the North-West that they saw what we did with ‘Black Ice’, looked at the locations here, and ended up doing ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ here too. At the Galway Film Fleadh this year, they had a ‘Meet the Film Board’ event where the question was raised about incentivising regional film making and James Hickey noted that something’s going on in Sligo-Leitrim. And that’s very much us trying to build the industry here! Next year we’re going to do a four-part TV drama written around Jane’s character from ‘Black Ice’, so that’s in development at the moment too. ‘Black Ice’ is co-produced by Trevor Curran and Nicky Gogan, with other crew members including composer Glenn Garrett, director of photography Peter Martin and editor Patrick O’Rourke.

The film is out in Irish cinemas on 20th September and, for anyone who missed it, the trailer is available to view below:

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