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INTERVIEW: Five Minutes with... 'The Irish Pub' Director Alex Fegan
27 Sep 2013 : By Julie Browne
Alex Fegan, the director of 'The Irish Pub' which will be in Irish cinemas on 4th October
Alex Fegan’s heart-warming documentary film ‘The Irish Pub’, is about to be released in Irish cinemas by Element Pictures on 4th October.

The film consists of interviews with pub owners all over Ireland, exploring the unique place of pubs in Irish society. The characters in this film all run and own pubs that have been in their families for generations and it is through their warmth, wit and wisdom that we gain an insight into the heart and soul of ‘The Irish Pub’.

A qualified lawyer, Mr. Fegan directed, produced, edited and completed the sound for ‘The Irish Pub’. Speaking to IFTN this week, Mr. Fegan discussed what inspired him to make ‘The Irish Pub’, his experience of interviewing pub owners all over Ireland and he offers some advice to filmmakers…

Mr Fegan, can you tell us a bit about the inspiration and background to ‘The Irish Pub’? It was a combination of wanting to tell the story of the country through something that binds it all together. The pub seemed appropriate because it reaches out to people not only today but to people ten years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago even 100 years ago – also people abroad. As well as that there are so many aspects of Irish culture that are connected to that institution – chat, song, story-telling – they all happen in the pub. You might have a point of view but you will go into a pub and find people who are 20 years of age or 60 years of age all having a conversation about the happenings of the day and hearing different points of view which is really healthy for society. The alternative is sitting at home having a pint in one hand, laptop in the other and watching ‘The X Factor’.

How did the project get off the ground? How was it funded? The project wasn’t funded or supported in any way really and no one knew about it until it was finished apart from people who know me personally. It was something I just did in my spare time.

How did Element Pictures come on board? I put a trailer online and the next day I got a call from Element saying they loved the trailer and wanted to see the film so I showed them it and they were behind it immediately. I just got lucky I suppose.

You visit traditional pubs from all over Ireland in the film from Cork, Kerry, Cavan and Dublin… Did you source the locations yourself? Ye I did. It was a combination of books, talking to people and deciding upon what types of pubs I wanted to film. Pubs that I really wanted to film were ones that had at least three generations behind them and the types of pubs that you wouldn’t see elsewhere in England or America. I chose pubs which were specific and unique to Ireland.

How long was the process from the first day of shooting to the finished edit? The whole thing took a year from beginning to end. I did it in my spare time over the weekends when I had a chance. It could’ve taken a lot sooner. I probably spent four hours in each pub between interviewing the owner, filming the inside and outside of the pub and getting set up. The editing went quite fast because I had done all of the filming myself so I knew where everything was and I wasn’t having to explain things to someone else.

Did you have a lot of material? I had a lot of material. The film could’ve been cut in a million different ways like any documentary because the story really comes together in the edit. It was just a case of I have to start somewhere so I started with ‘snugs’. It just seemed like an interesting place in a pub.

How did you cast the men and women you interview in the film? It was just a case of arriving at each pub and saying, “hello can I interview you,” and on every single occasion they said go ahead and we got started.

Was the interviewing a fly-on-the wall process? Did you interact much with the people you were interviewing? I tried not to interact with them at all really. The great thing about pub owners is that they are talking to people all day long so they are brilliant conversationalists, the best you will ever meet, so when you ask a question they just talk freely.

That is what makes the film so endearing and relatable, how you captured normal people talking to the camera freely. In the film the bar-owners say that the customers are like their extended family… Absolutely and that’s true! There were one or two pubs that I had to go back to because I missed a shot and the pub was exactly the way it was when I left. The same customer was sitting at the bar chatting away about politics or the sporting happenings over the weekend. When I went back it felt like I was walking onto a film set because I was so used to looking over the edit.

Did you face any challenges in making the film? No not really, fortunately it was fairly plain sailing. The main challenge was in the early days but once I got the fundamental rules down the rest of it was easy enough. Then it was a matter of pulling to together it into a coherent story which was hardest part but also the most enjoyable because you are starting to connect the whole thing.

According to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland (DIGI) 957 pubs closed down 2007-2012. Do you think old traditional pubs will become a bygone era replaced with modern pubs? I hope not I think it would be terrible where every small shop is the same, where every supermarket is the same and where every pub is the same. I think what will end up happening is it will have the soul completely taken out of it. There are pubs I did where a customer will get a free glass of beer every time he comes in. It isn’t a charitable thing it is a community thing. And if that goes, that small community connection… well hopefully it won’t happen.

What are you hoping to move onto next? We are going to do a TV series next called ‘Salt and Vinegar’ which we are going to start in 2014.

And finally, at the end of the film, the barmen and women give advice on life. What advice would you give young filmmakers? It’s funny you asked that because I actually put together on YouTube, at the beginning of the year, a short documentary called ‘In Your Hands; Advice to Filmmakers’. Basically what I did is I got every piece of advice from every filmmaker I could find, downloaded it on New Year’s Day. And they all say the same thing, “you just have to go out, pick up your camera and just do it.”

‘The Irish Pub’, an Atom Films production in association with the Irish Film Board, is released in Irish cinemas from the 4th October and the trailer can be seen below:

Contact details for Atom Films on IFTN .


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