26 October 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
'Standby' Interview
14 Nov 2014 : Deirdre Molumby
‘Standby’ follows the story of down-on-his-luck Alan (Brian Gleeson), who lives with his bartender dad and works with his mother as a part-time tourist advisor at Dublin Airport. One fateful day at work, he comes face to face with first love Alice (Jessica Paré), who is stuck on standby for a flight home to New York. Seizing his chance, Alan convinces a reluctant Alice to stay one more night in Dublin. They spend an unforgettable evening together in Ireland’s city capital.

‘Standby’ marks the feature debut of director brothers Rob and Ronan Burke, the two-time IFTA winners behind the short ‘Runners’ and television series ‘The Importance of Being Whatever’. IFTN speaks with Rob Burke about the film’s feel-good factor, hilarious cast and sentimental message:

It’s such a relief to see a fun, heart-warming Irish comedy – so many Irish films these days are quite heavy and serious. Was this part of the reason why you and Ronan chose the story of ‘Standby’ for your first feature?

“It was one of the things that really attracted us to the script. The story was very funny and charming, and the characters were very warm, realistic and relatable. We could identify with them. We were also attracted to the project because we thought that people would find the story enjoyable and feel-good, and that people would want to watch it. We feel very strongly about making films for a mainstream audience so that was in the back of our minds too.”

You’d previously worked with Pierce Ryan on ‘Runners’. What was your process like of working with him again?

“There was a lot of development, a lot of talking about the script, going back and forth, and giving Pierce notes. The three of us spent a lot of time together just sitting around a table, and John [Wallace, the producer] would often join us as well. We’d spit ball ideas and give feedback on Pierce’s latest draft. It was a give-and-take kind of process where we offered up ideas, as would he, and we all discussed the merits of the ideas. Ultimately it was Pierce’s, story but we gave him a lot of feedback.

“We worked well together in the past and had used a similar process with the shorts. Obviously though, this was a much bigger undertaking and we worked even more together for this film.”

I understand that ‘Standby’ was a co-production with Luxembourg. How did this affect the production of the film?

“It made it tricky in terms of logistics like scheduling, because part of the requirement to qualify for their co-production deal was to shoot 51% of the film in Luxembourg. Shooting more than half the film over there was a big challenge because a lot of the film is set outdoors, and it is very much a film centred on the locale of Dublin. So we shot most of the interiors in Luxembourg, then we did all of the exteriors here and we did the pub interiors here as well as the airport scenes here. Anything we could do in Luxembourg we did, but it was important for the pubs and airport to be identified as Irish pubs and Dublin Airport.

“Another difficulty was that the architecture in Luxembourg is very different, so even interior-wise we shot away from certain parts of buildings or walls that might look out of place.”

There’s great chemistry in the film between Brian and Jessica. How did you develop that relationship between them as the leads?

“It was tricky because we didn’t have a lot of time with them before we shot, as is the case with a lot of films these days. We flew Brian and Jessica into Luxembourg, where we were shooting first, a good few days before production started. The four of us just started hanging out, reading through the script and talking about the characters. We got to know them and the two of them got to know one another which put everyone at ease and made them feel comfortable. It’s important to create an atmosphere where actors can go on a set and feel confident and comfortable in each other’s presence.

“Brian and Jessica got on really well together, they’re both easy-going people. It is always a concern with romantic comedies that the two leads need to have a spark and you never really completely know what’s going to happen until you start shooting. Once we shot the first day and we watched the footage back, we were so relieved because we thought ‘This is brilliant, this is going to work!’”

There are some great supporting cast members too, such as Stanley Townsend as Alan’s father and Ian Lloyd Anderson as Alan’s best friend. They’re all very funny. How did the remainder of the casting work out?

“We didn’t have anyone particular in mind for specific characters. We cast the film with Louise Kiely, who was brilliant – she would make suggestions and was really helpful at identifying actors we wouldn’t be familiar with who would be strong. We saw an awful lot of actors for each part and she really helped us narrowing these down.

“With Stanley, we weren’t that familiar with his work, but she was very fond of him and she highly recommended him. We started looking at his stuff and realised he was more of a Dubliner than we thought so that really convinced us. Louise was instrumental in bringing Stanley in.

“With Ian Lloyd Anderson, we hadn’t worked with him before and he just kind of came in and made us laugh. He really blew us away and someone like him made our work easy.

“For John Lynn [Alan’s other friend], we were looking at comedians as well and inviting them in to audition. He sent us a self-tape, where he went completely off-script and started improvising and we ended up falling around the place laughing watching it. We knew instantly he’d be brilliant.

“One of the most difficult characters to find was Beatrice [Alan’s co-worker]. She is played by Francesca Cherruault, who is a relative newcomer. We probably saw more people for her than for anyone else, apart from Alan. She just ended up being very difficult to find. We got her tape in, amongst a few number of self-tapes we’d been watching, and she just nailed it, without any notes from us or anything. Especially when you’re watching a bunch of tapes that just aren’t right for the character, it becomes more obvious who is right.”

Our leads end up in a variety of places – clubs, pubs, house parties – and anything could happen next. Did you and Ronan draw from your own experiences for the film?

“I think so. We tried to keep it grounded, though obviously there are heightened adventures that they go on too. We felt that part of the in-joke about the film is that the characters say there isn’t that much to do in Dublin, and they just go around drinking, but then they actually discover that there is fun to be had and they fall into these adventures.

“Ronan and I grew up abroad and came back to Dublin when we were eighteen, around the time when you start going out and experiencing night life. So I suppose that was playing at the back of our minds. The film is an odyssey through the city and it’s a bit of a love-letter to the city, so we did draw from our own experiences in a certain way.”

The reality in the film is the reality for a lot of Irish people at the moment – living with their parents, struggling to find work that excites them, struggling to get themselves motivated. Do you think that this is a film that speaks to our times?

“I hope so. I hope that people can identify with it, because that was the idea behind the original design of the character.

“You have certain ideas when you leave college of what you want to be at the end of your twenties or the beginning of your thirties, and often things don’t work out the way you planned. You may eventually get to where you want to be, but it may take longer than you expected or you end up going down a path you didn’t expect.

“So Alan is experiencing this – he is stuck in a rut, stuck in a place in his life where things have really gone the wrong street. He’s a bit lost and he’s trying to figure out where he is. I think that’s something that people can relate to these days.”

What do you hope that audiences will take away from the film?

“I hope that they will be entertained and that they feel that it’s been an hour and a half well spent. I hope they become slightly more optimistic about their chances in relationships and love, and that they will take that leap of faith. The poster says ‘First Love, Second Chance’, and I hope that people will come away open to that possibility of second chances.”

You and Ronan also directed the second series of ‘Damo & Ivor’, which recently finished transmitting on RTÉ2. Have you been happy with its reception?

“Absolutely, it’s gone really well and we’re thrilled. We were very excited to be working on it and it’s proved to be a big hit this year, as with the last season, with strong ratings. RTÉ are very happy and we’re over-joyed, especially for Andy Quirke and Jules Coll [the writers of the series], who worked so hard to it. We’re also grateful to everyone at Parallel and [producer] Ruth Carter, who brought us on board.”

You and Ronan have worked in both television and film now, mostly in the area of comedy. What’s next for you two?

“I think we’d like to branch out a little into more straight drama but we’re not going to jump ship from comedy because comedy is where we started to make our mark. We’re starting to develop an Irish sports comedy at the moment, as well as an Irish teen comedy. We’re definitely going to do more television and it might be in this area where we’ll branch out into drama. Cinema usually takes a long time to get off the ground, but TV is a great way to keep your powder dry and it’s very fulfilling too. So overall, we’re happy to continue in the direction we’re going but also to expand in other ways.”

‘Standby’ is out in cinemas today, November 14th.

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