10 June 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Paddy Slattery on directing and Broken Law’s journey to the screen
08 Sep 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Writer/Director Paddy Slattery
We spoke with Irish writer/director Paddy Slattery to find out more about his debut feature film Broken Law’s 10 year journey to the screen, his approach to filmmaking and on-set collaboration, and navigating the uncertainty of a film release during such an unusual time.

Written, directed and produced by Paddy Slattery under his production company True Line Films, Broken Law is also produced by Simon Doyle (HeyDay: The Mic Christopher Story) for FailSafe Films, cinematography by Narayan Van Maele (Gutland, Gridlock), editing by John Desay (Ladies of Science), sound by Nikki Moss (Patrick’s Day) and Rob Moore (Wave), while the score was composed by Michael Fleming (Katie).

Broken Law features Irish actors Tristan Heanue (Cardboard Gangsters, In View), Graham Earley (Cardboard Gangsters, Red Rock), John Connors (LOVE/HATE, Cardboard Gangsters), Gemma Leah Devereux (Get Up & Go, Judy), Ryan Lincoln (Kissing Candice, Cardboard Gangsters), Gary Lydon (The Guard, Brooklyn), and Ally Ni Chiarain (Michael Inside, The Drummer & the Keeper).

The film follows Dave Connolly (Heanue), a respected member of the Garda Síochána whose loyalty to the law gets tested by his ex-convict brother Joe (Earley) following a botched robbery. Dave finds himself embroiled in a cover-up that somehow leads to a secret relationship with Amia (Devereux), an unhappily married woman who also happens to be the victim of his brother's crime.

How did the idea for Broke Law first come about?

“Initially I wanted to explore the theme of fate versus coincidence in a Magnolia-esque ensemble piece titled The Broken Law of Attraction but because we couldn’t raise the desired budget, we decided to pair it back. We really loved the spine of the story between two brothers on opposite sides of the law, so after 18 months of rewrites and script consultation, the theme of loyalty and crisis of identity shun through. It feels like Ireland itself is going through a bit of an identity crisis, with one side of the population embracing the brave new world, while the other side resists it. We also wanted to speak to a post-recession Ireland, shining a light on some of the people who are falling through the cracks.”

What was your approach to making this film, and where did you take inspiration from during the process?

“Well, our mantra was ‘By hook or by crook’. We were making this film one way or another. There was no alternative. If I had to sell my wheelchair, so be it, and believe me, I came close on a few occasions. I’ve always been inspired by the filmmakers who chased their dreams against all odds. Let’s just say Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Lost in La Mancha and That Moment (making of Magnolia) among other documentaries were on constant rotation in my home.”

What is your writing process like? (Mornings/Evenings; Writing every day/in bursts; Editing as you go or at the end, etc.)

“I write fast and sober, daily with weekends off. I cannot be under the influence at all when writing. I prefer hiding away in my studio down the end of the garden and only coming up to the house for food, water, or sleep. Evenings and late nights preferably when everyone’s in bed and there are less phone distractions. I never suffer from writer’s block or writer’s guilt because I use an eight sentence rule. I promise myself at the very least, eight sentences will be committed to page a day.

“Once I honour that contract, I can carry on with my day, guilt free. I find, by the time I’ve reached the seventh sentence, I’m drawn in and there’s no stopping me. It’s basically a way of removing the dread most writers feel when they face a blank page with endless days designated to the sole purpose of writing a great story. Oh, I also reward myself with a drink and a favourite movie when a draft is complete.”

What is your general style of working with the team, cinematographer etc., and what is the most important focus for you during the whole production?

“Communication is paramount. It’s so obvious, I know, but I want everyone to know at all times, what I’m thinking or doing. Constant emails and whatsapp group messages during development. I love talking shop, so any opportunity I get to sit with our producer, cinematographer, editor, wardrobe, art department, composer etc. I’ll take it. Our primary focus is theme and tone early on, then logistics in pre-production. Once we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet, ideas flourish and it becomes fun. We also explore as many alternatives as possible in case some ideas fall through, logistically or financially. If we foresee any problems arising down the line, we try to sniff them out ASAP.”

How do you like to approach working with actors in general to get the best results and what advice would you give to aspiring directors on this front?

“I’m still an aspiring director myself as I feel I’m learning something new every day. Particularly working with actors, as each individual brings their own emotional baggage to the table, as do I. So it’s a process of getting to know each other, our motivations, our frustrations and our aspirations. If we feel a sense of creative compatibility, then we talk about the character and our narrative goals.

“When it comes to the application of their craft, I like to hand them over a road map of a script, then get out of their way. Not all actors like that process, and if they don’t, I’m just as happy to be hands on with the search & rescue of their performance. Because we were aiming for naturalism and spontaneity on Broken Law, we allowed ourselves lots of room for scene exploration through improvisation. Time was a luxury we didn’t have so unfortunately we found ourselves shooting rehearsals, but thankfully our cast rose to the challenge.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during production?

“It was such a journey to get to that point so when it arrived I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Of course, shooting on a shoe-string budget, every day we encountered seemingly insurmountable challenges, but once that adrenaline kicks in, you feel like you could run through fire and brimstone to get the shot.

“I have many favourite moments, but one was during a scene where the brothers are smoking weed on the couch. We felt the brotherly relationship hinged on this scene working. If audiences don’t believe these brothers would die for one another by this moment, then we’d struggle to win them over later on. So, when we were shooting, we felt that chemistry immediately. We sat back and rolled the cameras and sound and allowed the magic to unfold. Although there was no real cannabis in the joints, I think we all got high on the sheer joy and delirium of watching Tristan and Graham deliver a beautiful yet hilarious performance.”

How have you found navigating the uncertainty surround distribution during COVID-19?

“As Break Out Pictures are distributing our film, Simon (producer) and I got to see, first hand, the difficult task laid out for Rob and Nell. We are literally wading our way through uncharted territory here and hoping/praying audiences will return to cinemas once more. It’s frustrating for sure but they are doing an incredible job at getting the word out there and that’s as much as you can hope for from a distributor. At least cinemas will hold onto our film for an extended period, which may give us an opportunity to build some momentum from positive word-of-mouth. But god only knows when we’ll be able to pack out a cinema again, if ever?”

How have you channelled your creativity during lockdown?

“Lockdown for me was the holiday I had promised myself for so many years but never got around to it. We had an amazing premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival in a sold out IMAX theatre, then virtually the next day we were going into lockdown, so I felt quite lucky to have our moment of celebration before the world came to a standstill. Suddenly I had a lot of free time to let the whole madness of our ten year journey sink in. I also purchased a Fitbit and got healthy, something I had put on the long finger for years.”

What filmmaker or Director’s work has influenced or inspired you the most?

“Oh my…. Feel free to replace this paragraph with “Paddy proceeded to list every filmmaker he ever loved”, But IF you have the column space, then the filmmakers that gave me the bug early on were Scorsese, Cameron, Tarantino, Spielberg, PT Anderson, Hitchcock, Leone, Stone, Allen, Coppola, Welles, Sheridan, Wilder, Lean, etc. Then I got lost down a rabbit hole and returned with a love for Kubrick, Tarkovski, Kurowasa, Bergman, Haneke, Herzog, Von Trier, Loach, Polanski, Bertolucci, Meadows, Fellini, Lynch, Aronofsky, Malick, Monty Python, Gondry, Cuaran, Inarritu,  etc., etc., the list goes on, I promise.

“Any time I lose the hunger, which is very rare, I’ll watch Lawrence of Arabia, Citizen Kane, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Magnolia, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Seven Samurai, My Left Foot, or any film that shuck me to my core, and suddenly I want to be a filmmaker again.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career, which you’d give to aspiring Directors?

“Hmmm…. I can’t recall a specific line of advice, but I’ve noticed one commonality in the people I respect and admire in this industry: a good attitude; the courage to charge forward against all odds; the commitment to see your collective vision through; the humility to appreciate those around you and never stop learning; and the confidence to compromise in the spirit of necessity. I think if you have these qualities, along with the talent, you’ll go a long way, not just in this industry but in life.”

Broken Law is currently screening in select Irish cinemas.

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