25 March 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
‘Maze’ Director Stephen Burke talks IFTN through the Development, Finance & Filming of his latest Project
10 Jul 2017 : Katie McNeice
Still, 'Maze'
The director’s second feature film is set to screen at the upcoming Galway Film Fleadh, with its truly impressive cast boasting Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Love/Hate), Barry Ward (Jimmy’s Hall) and Martin McCann (The Survivalist).

Another impressive feat of ‘Maze’ is its use of the Cork Prison to recreate the infamous Maze Prison (aka Her Majesty’s Prison Maze) in Co. Down, from which thirty-eight IRA prisoners escaped in 1983.

His location is an element he describes as “a stroke of luck”, lending the film a keen hand in crafting its tense political atmosphere and placing the team in the supports of Cork City and County Councils, with additional support from Film in Cork.

Burke directs his own script, with Brendan J. Byrne and Jane Doolan (Bobby Sands: 66 Days) producing. ‘Maze’ screens in Galway on Saturday July 15th, with director and cast in attendance.

IFTN: Before we get into ‘Maze’, can you tell me a little about your other historic projects, such as ‘81’ and ‘After 68’, and how they may have led you to your latest feature?

“My first short film ‘After ’68’ was set around the civil rights movement in Derry in the 60’s, and ‘81’, my second was set in Belfast during the hunger strike. I wouldn’t say that ‘Maze’ is a follow on from them, but it’s a subject I know well, and feel comfortable with. Brendan Byrne, one of the producers, had made a documentary for BBC about the Maze escape called ‘Breakout’, and he approached me with the idea of making a feature film. We worked on the script for a number of years, with support from the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen and then producer Jane Doolan came on board at a later stage.

IFTN: I understand ‘Maze’ is an Irish/Swedish co-production; what were your first steps in making the film and how did all the key players get involved?

“IFB supported ‘Maze’ through its development and stayed with us during a bumpy financing period. Producer Jane Doolan pulled together RTÉ, BAI, and our sales agent Visit Films. But it reached a stage where we were missing a significant piece of finance and it looked like the film could fall through. Then Jane went to Sweden and met with the company that became our co-producer Filmgate Films, and together they secured the finance we needed from Film Vast. We shot in Cork prison and around Cork city and county for four weeks, including places like Blarney Castle. Then we moved to Gothenburg Studios where we had built a small set to match Cork prison, and shot for a further week with a mix of Irish and Swedish crew. The Cork shoot was mad with quite a few big action sequences with loads of people involved. And Sweden, by contrast, was a reduced crew, and completely chilled. LionsGate came in just as we wrapped, buying UK and Irish rights.”

IFTN: Your cast is a great mix of well-known and award-winning actors. What was the casting process like?

“We offered the part of Larry Marley to Tom Vaughan-Lawlor quite early on and he was very supportive throughout. I had to tell him a couple of times that we couldn’t shoot on the dates we hoped due to financing delays. But he stuck by the film through thick and thin. Tom is amazing to work with, he really puts his head and heart into his work. We were big fans of Barry Ward already, he plays Warder Gordon. Barry had been in our previous film, the Irish/Italian co-production ‘L’Accabadora’, which recently had great success in Italy. Oscar, the part that Martin McCann plays was originally intended as a bit older, but when Martin said he was interested, we were delighted to adjust the part for him. For the rest of the cast we worked with casting director Maureen Hughes, putting together a great ensemble. Then in Cork, extras co-ordinator Patricia Dennehy found a fantastic bunch of people, I wouldn’t call them extras, as they were wonderful performers in their own right. They had so much energy and enthusiasm, they add a great deal to the film.”

IFTN: Talk me through the supports you got to film in Cork such as Irish Prison Services, Film in Cork and the Cork Councils.

“Literally, a couple of months before we were to shoot, Cork Prison became vacant. It’s hard to even imagine a stroke of luck like that. At the time, we were planning to build a section of the Maze prison on a much too tight budget. I shudder to think what that might have looked like. Our production designer Owen Power still had to do a lot of work to transform Cork Prison into the Maze but the outcome is visually very strong. Having a real prison for a set adds an authentic atmosphere that would have been difficult to recreate. The Irish prison service and Cork Prison management and staff were hugely helpful and great to deal with. We were able to work without interfering in the new prison’s day to day life. And Tom Vaughan-Lawlor did some workshops with the prisoners in his spare time.”

“Rossa Mullin and Film in Cork were also fantastic. Rossa discussed the film with Cork City and Cork County Councils on our behalf. From day one, they were very supportive of the film shooting there and they offered us some funding which was crucial to our decision to move the whole Irish shoot to the city. We used a lot of Cork based crew and cast, both trainee and heads of department like our production designer Owen Power, and cast members Tim Creed and Cillian O’Sullivan.”

IFTN: Following the screening in Galway when can Irish audiences expect to see ‘Maze’ on the big screen?

“‘Maze’ will go on nationwide general release with distributor Lionsgate on September 22nd. The trailer will be coming to a cinema near you very soon. It’s great to be premiering in Galway. When I was starting out in the film business, I used to do 16mm projection at the Fleadh in the old Claddagh Palace.”

IFTN: What are your next moves as a director; will you be keeping to the same historical focus for your next project?

“Most of what I have directed has had some political or historical background, across different genres. However, I am open to anything. Next up for me is the publication of my second novel ‘The Reluctant Contact’ on September 7th It’s a spy thriller set in a Soviet mine in the Norwegian arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Then the ‘Maze’ cinema release on September 22nd, so it will be a hectic month. I have a few scripts in the late stages of development, and it’s always hard to say which might get financed first. I am also keen to direct other writers’ work, and also to write for other directors.”

Buy Tickets to ‘Maze’ at the Galway Film Fleadh

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