5 June 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
“Our hope for this film is that it starts really difficult conversations,” producer Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly, and directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer discuss God’s Creatures
29 Mar 2023 : Nathan Griffin, Luke Shanahan
Paul Mescal & Emily Watson in God's Creatures
We caught up with Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly, Saela Davis, and Anna Rose Holmer, the filmmakers behind God’s Creatures, which is now screening in Irish cinemas.

God’s Creatures was filmed on the coast of Donegal in Spring 2021, having been delayed from filming in early summer 2020 due to the pandemic.

The film follows Aileen (Emily Watson), torn between protecting her beloved son Brian (Paul Mescal) and her own sense of right and wrong. In providing a false alibi for him, their family and close-knit community are torn apart. Alongside Watson and Mescal in the lead roles, the film also stars Aisling Franciosi (The Nightingale), Andrew Bennett (An Cailín Ciúin), and Toni O’Rourke (Calm with Horses, Cardboard Gangsters).

The feature film, which was selected for the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival last year, unites Directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer after their award-winning drama The Fits.

The film is written by Shane Crowley and produced by Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly following her award-winning and critically acclaimed successes Ammonite and Lady Macbeth. A24 has taken worldwide rights and co-financed the film alongside BBC Films, Screen Ireland, and the WRAP Fund with location support from the Donegal Film Office. Volta is handling the Irish release.

Producer Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly, and directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer sat down with us to discuss the origins of God’s Creatures, how the project evolved from script to screen, and the effect that Donegal’s landscape had on the film.

IFTN: Fodhla, can you give us a little bit of background as to the genesis of the project? It’s the first feature script from Shane Crowley, can you tell me about collaborating with him?

FODHLA: “I really wanted to tell a story about the world I'm from. I grew up in a small fishing village in Kerry, I'm from a family of fishermen, and there were certain things I wanted to explore that exist within my world. That was the starting point. As time passed, I was also hearing different stories of women in particular, making allegations of sexual assault and how they were being treated by their own communities, their own neighbors. There were certain things happening there that made me feel immensely uncomfortable, that I was grappling with, so I had questions more than anything.”

“Shane Crowley is one of my oldest friends, he and I have known each other since we were 12 years old. When I was at film school, I started thinking about this idea and approached him asking if he had ever considered writing, and would he be open to working with me on a feature film project? He said yes and it was sort of like a baptism by fire, because we didn't know what the hell we were doing. So we spent many years just trying to figure it out. We created a story together, and then spent so many years developing that, and it's just evolved so much. It then evolved even further when Anna and Saela came on board. So the story is very much the four of ours, it's very personal to each of us in different ways. It's just been a very, very long journey to get it here. I started thinking about [God’s Creatures] when I was about 19. It just took this long to find the right collaborators.”

IFTN: Saela and Anna, what attracted you to this project? I know you had previously worked together on The Fits. I was wondering why this was something you wanted to make as your feature collaboration debut?

SAELA: “So Anna, and I worked on a feature called The Fits together. We wrote that together. Anna was the director, I was the editor. After that, we recognized that we wanted to continue this creative partnership and decided to evolve it into directing as a team, and so we were on the hunt for what our first feature would be. God's Creatures came to us in an earlier form and we sat down and read it together. We were just really struck by Shane's writing. It's just so beautiful, it captures a place and a people so perfectly and profoundly. We immediately met with Fodhla, and that was the spark, that creative connection that we had with her. The bond was very strong from the beginning, and we knew that this was the project for us.”

“The script tackles these themes that we've been musing on for many years, and we saw Aileen as a very striking character, someone that we wanted to really interrogate and get into the psychology of. It was like ‘Yeah, this is our first film together’. We're always looking to put breath and life into women we haven't seen on screen before.”

“This felt like a very potent, profound, poetic story that we could join forces with and make personal. It is very much an Irish story, but we saw reflections of our own families, our own traumas, our own communities, and knew from that point of connection that this story would resonate with Irish audiences but also could travel. That was really exciting for us, that kind of alchemy of us plus Shane and Fodhla.”

“It really is a story about a community of women, and their responsibility towards each other. Those quiet moments of women on screen were what excited us most. We were all in and that was 2018. So then our many pilgrimages to the west coast of Ireland began from that point.”

IFTN: And that's something that I wanted to ask you about. The sense of place is very strong, had either of you been to Ireland before this? Travelling out there and getting to attach the location to the script, can you tell me a little about that?

ANNA: “Yeah, neither of us had been to Ireland, but we immediately were like ‘We're going’. After meeting Fodhla, I think it was two months later that we were in Kerry with Fodhla and her family and Shane and his family. We're very sensory, like the sensory is very important to us as an element. We wanted to be in the space, immerse ourselves in the world and get to know the people, get to understand the culture. We spent a lot of time there developing the script with Shane and Fodhla. Just travelling around, smelling the water, getting in the water, climbing the mountains and being in the land. That was very critical to our process to just understand the place as much as we could before making this film.”

SAELA: “We say that we're very site specific filmmakers and so it's sometimes hard to understand what that process looks like. For us, we’re making on-location sound recordings of different winds, then talking about how we’re going to use this psychologically, how the physical brutality of the work was really important to us. Everyone in our film is working with the land in some way, working with the sea. How that shapes you, how that shapes your hands, how you hold your shoulders after a day of work out on the oyster farm, all of those details require kind of sitting in it, and that required being on the ground in Kerry. It was wonderful. It was a really beautiful part of the process, getting to sit and watch the rain come in, watch the wind come in. That's when the story started to come to life.”

IFTN: Fodhla, just on that topic of location. It's quite interesting because obviously Kerry and Donegal are opposite sides of the country, but they do have very similar landscapes and geography to one another. Can you tell me how transitioning to Donegal came about and why you chose where you chose?

FODHLA: “We did recce Kerry for many, many years. We really wanted to shoot there, but we just couldn't find the perfect location as much as we wanted to. And yeah, the coastlines of Kerry and Donegal are very similar. We were just about to go into our first lockdown in Ireland, because we were due to shoot this in April/May 2020, but of course COVID happened and things changed, and I just mentioned Donegal on a zoom to Anna and Saela one day as a random thought. I had heard the coastlines were quite similar. Saela, literally that day, went onto Google Maps and started searching the coastline of Donegal, and somehow came across this fish processing warehouse at the end of a pier surrounded by mountains overlooking the Atlantic.”

“So a day or two later myself and Shane jumped into a car and drove all the way up to Donegal to scout this fish processing warehouse. It was completely abandoned and we were just like ‘This is the location we've all been imagining’. So we spoke with the owners and they were just so open to us filming there, and very welcoming, as were all the locals of Donegal. But it was just amazing to find that before the first lockdown because for me personally, it took a huge weight off. So then I could focus on how to set up a production during the pandemic. Google Maps, eh?”

ANNA: “We had a very specific vision while we were writing about the pier and the fish processing plant. It's the centre of the community, and so we wanted a space that reflected that philosophy that everything is built around the work. It was a very magical moment when Saela found it.”

IFTN: And then, in terms of the cast of the film, it's got two fantastic leading actors in Emily Watson and Paul Mescal with support from the wonderful Aisling Franciosi. Can you tell me a little bit about how they got involved?

ANNA: “Aileen is someone who just requires an artist who can bring the interior to the exterior but also conceal, someone that we knew we could hold in close up for minutes and watch transform. We were looking for a powerhouse performer. Emily Watson is someone who we had been dreaming about, and we knew she had the capacity to play Irish, and could also just bring the authenticity of a working woman. She's a very physical performer. It was just dream casting for us as filmmakers, and so that reach out was a letter, and we started talking about process.”

“Similarly, with our Brian, we were looking for someone who had that kind of same capability to show and conceal, but in a very different way. We had seen Paul [Mescal] and his show ‘Normal People’, and he actually read for us, which was amazing. When we saw him read, we were like ‘That's our Brian’. In our early conversations, he was just so committed to taking on this very challenging role. We just felt safe with him as the person to examine this character with. We share the same philosophies. For us, directing is a lot about the body and how actors move, and Paul wanted to go to work on the oyster farm and learn all of those movements and understand the work.”

SAELA: “Aisling was also somebody who auditioned. There was amazing, amazing talent in the room, young women performers in Ireland is just like a stacked category. We knew about Aisling’s work from ‘The Nightingale’, which is just a haunting performance. It was really, really exciting to have so many beautiful reads for Sarah, but when she read for Sarah, I think we both cried during her audition. It just brought something that felt really personal to us. Her approach to craft just mirrored ours in terms of wanting to do the work and getting into the nitty gritty, talking about words and breath."

IFTN: As you've mentioned authenticity and detail was very important to you, did you have people in mind for the key HODs on the project? Can you tell me a little bit about that collaboration helping to bring that authenticity across on screen?

SAELA: “Our approach is everything and has to feel true, but we’re not after fact. We're looking for artists who understand authenticity, but then are bringing an element of style and craft on top of that. Our film is very much a film out of time, you couldn't place it in a certain year, and that is reflected in our production design by Inbal Weinberg, in our DOP Chase Irvin, in our costume designs with Joan Bergen and Lara Campbell, and every element that is on screen.”

“A big thing for us was the decision to shoot on 35mm, and that wasn't just something that was being pushed by the camera department but by other HODs knowing that we wanted that texture, that organic, unpredictable capacity to kind pick up those little bits of life: those God spotlights of sun on the sea and the darkness in the stone at the same time. We wanted that to feel alive.”

ANNA: “Lara and Joan were searching around for costumes from all of these local stores and just getting the wool texture right, and then our production designer and her team were getting all of their pieces from local fishermen and their family members.” “We had two extras in our film who were local oyster farmers. We were borrowing from the people and the land around us and infusing that into the film to layer on that level of authenticity. We were lucky to have the support of the people of Donegal. I think that elevated it.”

IFTN: In terms of the location, as beautiful as it is, it can also be completely unpredictable. Can you tell me about the planning around capturing that landscape?

ANNA: “Yeah, even on the days we hoped for rain we got sun, which was funny. But the days we needed the bad weather the most we got it, which was the days that we were on the oyster farm and I think the most challenging aspect of shooting those scenes is that we were very dependent on the tide. We had to plan our schedule around that tide and water levels, and our first AD Andrew Mannion did an amazing job beforehand in prep, going out to that oyster farm everyday and tracking the tides. We had an amazing Marine Safety crew out on the water, so we felt very safe. But it was very challenging to have our crew on boats, and film the climax of our film and one of the most emotional moments in our film.”

SAELA: “That danger of the water is real. That was always at the front of our minds. In order to pull this off, we needed to film in a tidal bay. You can't fake four metres of change in water, you can't do that in a tank, you can't do that close to shore, you need to work in an actual tidal bay where the water levels are changing. We realised early on, in order to have enough time to shoot the entire oyster farm needed to be mobile. Every 40 minutes, the entire crew was moving our oyster farm, all of the trestles, all of the bags, about 30 metres so that we could keep the water level consistent as we finished our dialogue scene. We really needed to storyboard that climax sequence, so that we could maximise our time out there. But then also to be flexible in that moment to support your actors. You do all this prep, so that you can change your mind, and say ‘Actually, this is better’, and know exactly why and how to pull it off.”

ANNA: “Flexibility was constantly required of us.”

SAELA: “We shot that particular oyster location over two days. So we also needed consistency of weather across those two days. The film-weather gods were on our side.”

IFTN: One other element of the HODs I’d like to discuss is the score. I just found it so haunting. It really sets the tone and captures the mood of the area. Tell me a little bit about working with the composers.

SAELA: “Sound and music are really key to how we think about storytelling. Both our composers, Saunder Jurrians and Daniel Bensi, and our sound designer Chris Foster were collaborators who we worked with on The Fits. Chris was able to talk to our Irish location sound team about not only getting what we needed on the day, but recording an entire library of wind sounds for us. We had underwater mics so we could get that texture of the surf. All of those sound design elements were being achieved practically on location. But in terms of the score, music is a big part of the film, there's diegetic songs written into the script. The decision to use the Lankum song at the end was something we had written into the final version of the shooting script. We knew that human voices were going to be a big part of it, so we wanted something completely different. The way we work with Daniel and Saunder is very fluid, it's a lot of sketches back and forth.”

ANNA: “We really prioritise organic sounds. We think about what our sound designer is going to be doing in the mix, and then how do we integrate that into our soundtrack? Breath is one element we use a lot. They repurpose the oyster shells clacking and put that into the score. With Danny and Saunder, it's also about evolution. The film starts lighter, and then it has a stark turn, and how do we build that escalation through the instruments we're using? With violins and string instruments we don’t want to use it very simply. How do we distort it and make it sound more internal, more psychological, more organic? They're so open to experimentation. They'll give us the stems of their songs so that we can actually manipulate it in the edit, like ‘Maybe this cue shouldn't start here, it should be later? We should have silence to emphasise the tension, and then what happens when the percussion comes in here?’”

SAELA: “We talk about the film as the making of the ghost story. It has an element of horror. What's so horrifying about God's creatures is we all know a Brian in our lives, and that's scarier than a monster. So we wanted to use the score, and the cinematography, especially, to cite the horror influences.”

IFTN: That’s incredibly insightful. As you mentioned, the characters are universally accessible. Everyone recognizes these people no matter where they're from. What has the feedback been like outside of Ireland so far? How has it resonated?

SAELA: “Our hope for this film is that it starts really difficult conversations. I think a lot of people recognize their community in this film, and it can be hard to be confronted with that. It's just amazing for us that people are getting to experience this in cinemas around the world because we know that not every film, presently, is having that opportunity. That people are still engaging with challenging movies, that maybe are a little bit more confrontational, that don't offer the escape from the harsh realities of our world, and having conversations in cinemas together, it's incredibly meaningful.”

FODHLA: “Just to echo Anna, the independent film landscape is just so different to what it was pre-COVID. To be able to release our film in cinemas, especially in Ireland, is just something we're so grateful for and do not take for granted. It does seem to be resonating with people across the world, and that’s down to the universal themes and questions, but it is also down to the exceptional filmmaking by these two brilliant filmmakers and our team.”

God’s Creatures is currently screening in cinemas in Ireland.

“We had an ongoing dialogue with the workers”, director Joe Lee discusses 406 Days
“I want to bring you in, then scare the pants off you”, director Lee Cronin discusses Evil Dead Rise
Free Industry Newsletter
Subscribe to IFTN's industry newsletter - it's free and e-mailed directly to your inbox every week.
Click here to sign up.

 the Website  Directory List  Festivals  Who's Who  Locations  Filmography  News  Crew  Actors

Contact Us | Advertise | Copyright | Terms & Conditions | Security & Privacy | RSS Feed | Twitter



onwin yeni giris canli bahis rulet siteleri