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2015-04-13 : Paul Byrne
Making his feature debut with Spiders Trap, Alan Walsh set out to make a different kind of Dublin crime story. Paul Byrne does the forensics.

It’s the same old story - your almost-respectable budget goes AWOL, and you’re forced to shoot your beloved film on a shoestring budget. Once you can borrow some shoestrings, of course.
For Irish filmmaker Alan Walsh, building up a reputation through his short films - with 2006’s What If picking up awards in New York, Chicago and LA, and 2010’s No Justice scoring at the Underground Cinema Festival - meant his feature film debut, Spiders Trap, had a comfortable €2.5m budget and an 8-week shoot. On paper. As so very often happens, the budget, and that luxurious shooting schedule, soon vanished, and Walsh was forced to make his film on weekends. With a budget that those in the Irish film industry like refer to as ‘Feck all’.
That Spiders Trap got made at all is a miracle. That it picked up the Award For Excellence at LA’s Indiefest has meant it may even be seen by an audience too.
Glen Baker plays the singer who’s just about to sign a record deal and lift himself out of the pain of losing the love of his life, but his old partner-in-crime Jack (Alan Sherlock) is just out of prison, and determined to get the old gang back together for one last, big diamond heist. Shockingly, his cunning plan doesn’t go quite to plan...

PAUL BYRNE: So, the mean streets of Dublin have been getting quite a bit of attention on screen of late - what was the inspiration for Spiders Trap? Homegrown crime, or could this be anywhere on the globe with some diamonds and a gun?
ALAN WALSH:
Spider's Trap could be set in any city. The characters are universal. Shortly after I finished the screenplay we talked about how it would be great to shoot this in New York and we had some interest from the States, but the lack of funding would change the journey the film would take. I realised that I didn't want to make a copy of Love/Hate or a film that says this is an Irish story - I just wanted a film that can carry an audience along without us waiting to spot the GPO or The Spire.
 
 
Where did the story stem from? Any truth there? Have you considered such a move when it comes to financing a movie?
The story came about after a meeting with the musician/actor Don Baker. We met for dinner to talk about writing his life story, and after talking for three hours, we found ourselves drifting apart on the story. Don thought the film should be about music, but I was now already thinking more about the storyline that would become Spiders Trap. It would take another few years - and many rewrites for different producers who thought there should be more action, more music, and “let’s set the film in New York”. They were all good ideas but we still had no money. So I decided to make Spider’s Trap, no matter what. I had to strip the film back to my original Idea; a simple story about three main characters. The script ready, I met with John Phelan at Bootstrap Films. John had produced my award-winning short What If, and soon put together a plan to get independent finance. Six months later, we didn't have enough money but we had a cast and crew ready to go. So we put the film into production. The cast and crew were great - these actors gave us one-hundred percent. We were lucky. Spiders Trap is also a great showcase for many of these actors and crew, both in production and post-production. It’s been a great privilege to work with everyone involved in this film.
 
Shot in black & white - giving Spider the sheen of a Raging Bull McCabe early on - a nod to noir again...?
I am a big fan of old Hollywood gangster films. As a kid, I was mainly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock, with films like Strangers on a Train, Dial M For Murder, North by Northwest. During pre-production, my cinematographer, Matt Skinner, and I put together a visual plan for Spider’s Trap, inspired in part by the visual look of film noir The Maltese Falcon (1941), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), The Woman in the Window (1944). Matt did a great job on Spiders Trap to capture that unique look and style.
 
Glen Baker’s first acting gig, only a few years after his debut album, My Blood - did he take much convincing? Or was it you who had to be convinced?
Glen Baker's first feature and starring role. I met Glen some years before we started getting serious about Spiders Trap, I was shooting a short film No Justice, and I had Glen playing a young soldier who is killed by a gang after witnessing a murder. It was a small part but I liked him and the way he handled himself in front for the camera. So when it came to the feature film and we needed an actor who could perform the musical numbers, we just said, Glen Baker.
 
Spiders Trap has been referred to as an Irish Film Noir, but the plotting sometimes veers closer to Mexican daytime soap. Were there reference points here for the cast and crew, movies that offered up a few pointers?
I met the cast individually and discussed the look and style we were aiming to achieve. When you take an eight-week shoot and a €2.5 million budget and then you’re forced to shoot on a shoe-string budget - and I mean one shoe - in sixteen days in the middle of winter, the narrative of your story will falter under these conditions.
 
Creating on-screen music maestros rarely works - did Glen’s involvement swing the plot to singers, or was a singer-on-the-verge always the intention...?
You know that this film could have been the down on his luck boxer with one last fight; the thing is, I like these kind of films. A simple story about three main characters, Jack, Steve, and Jazzer, childhood friends and petty criminals. ‘A man returns from prison with a plan to finish the very heist that got him sent away. With no option, Steve and Jazzer must do what they can to help Jack get what he wants in order to get their lives back.’ So, yes, the main character was always a singer and musician, it just helped that Glen Baker could sing and play the harmonica as good as his father.
 
It’s pretty much everyone’s last night here - embrace all the cliches and coincidences (such as all the main players end up unwittingly connected), or did you feel the need to bring as much realism as possible here?
Realism, every film has its clichés. Our characters are connected as you say unwittingly and this was always the link through the story I wanted.
 
Just want to make sure - we're supposed to believe that Sarah Carroll has let herself go, right, thanks to all those nasty drugs...?
 
Within the story Sharon (Sarah Carroll) was never written as the cliché junkie; bad skin greasy hair dressed in a hoodie. Sharon is a character using cocaine, she is on the edge, she is trying to cope with the death of her sister, and her feelings for Steve. I'm sure we all know someone close to us where we are shocked when we hear that they are actually taking cocaine, or some other hard drug.
 
What was the budget, and timeframe, here...?
The budget was low. Independent film making is hard, we were forced to shoot over weekends.
 
Was the shoot a journey into the heart of darkness, or a piece of piss?
The shoot was a tough journey for all involved. It was the heart of winter and we were on the streets of Dublin in all sorts of weather with no cover, nowhere to hide but the crew cars. Food was eaten on the run. One night the rain and wind never stopped, we were on the roof of a building cold and soaked to the skin. I looked around at our young crew and cast and they were all smiling. They wanted to be there they believed in the story.
 
Winner of the Award For Excellence at LA’s Indiefest - how much has that accolade helped?
Any award is a help to an independent film. How much it helps us only time will tell. We need that lucky break, just like Steve, in Spiders Trap.
 
Given how rough and ready The Blackwall Gang are once they’ve reformed for this one final job, they verge on Bottom of The Ocean’s 11 once the robbery finally gets underway. With Simon Delaney as our broken-nosed security guard reading a self-defence book, always a danger that the comedy could outweigh the criminal cool?
I felt we always needed a bit of comedy in the story and Simon's character - Nigel, a wannabe police officer - was enough humour to relieve the tension and violent moments.
 
In memory of Paul M. Kelly & Robert O’Connor - Robert played the Studio Manager. And Paul - part of the crew, or the family...?
Robert O'Connor was part of the cast, he played the studio technician. Paul M Kelly was a friend and took part in early test shooting.
 
The inevitable double-ups on a small cast and crew - Zoe Gibney doing making and playing the rehab nurse. Mario Bortas being Visual Effects Supervisor and Editor, Paul Nolan is Gaffer and Second Unit Camera...
On the technical side Mario, had the skills and knew what I wanted, so it made sense. Paul is a great gaffer, and he knew how to operate. Zoe was a great nurse. It was a quick decision made in the moment. In these kind of films, necessity is the mother of invention.
 
Finally, anything else you want to share with the group?
There is a moment when you feel the film is going to work, that something good might come of it, but you’re counting your fingers all the time. It never stops until it’s over. My hope it that people will respond to the film. At the end of the day we all have dreams but life presents us with obstacles. Overcoming these is the challenge and sometimes people succeed. That’s it…
 




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