23 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“You're always trying to bring something new to the table”, director Fintan Connolly discusses Barber
19 Apr 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Aidan Gillen in Barber
We caught up with Fintan Connolly, the director of Barber, ahead of the film’s release in Irish cinemas.

This is Fintan Connolly’s fourth feature film, and his second collaboration with Aidan Gillen. The Dublin-based noir was shot in the summer of 2020 over the course of 18 days, between the first and second lockdowns. Fiona Bergin co-wrote the script and produced the film for Fubar films.

The film follows Val Barber (Gillen), a private investigator, who is hired by a wealthy widow to find her missing granddaughter, Sara. While trying to solve this mystery, Barber is navigating a complicated personal life.

Barber stars Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Deirdre Donnelly (Ballykissangel), Liam Carney (Braveheart), Aisling Kearns (Fair City), Gary Lydon (The Banshees of Inisherin), Helen Behan (The Virtues), and Camille O’Sullivan (Rebellion). 

The film also stars Irma Mali (The Rhythm Section), Nick Dunning (Alexander), Steve Wall (The English), Simone Collins (The Last Duel), Isabelle Connolly (Pale Saint), Rúaidhrí Conroy (Into the West), Ailbhe Cowley (Vikings: Valhalla), Desmond Eastwood (Normal People), and Aaron Edo (Deadly Cuts).

Director Fintan Connolly sat down with us to discuss his new film Barber, shooting in-between lockdowns, and the creative advantages of a micro-budget production.

IFTN: Your last feature was in 2011, I understand you and Aidan Gillen had been talking about doing a Dublin-based private detective story for a while, when did the character of Val Barber first come to you?

FINTAN: “I suppose it stems from watching a lot of late night movies when I was a kid on late night BBC Two,  a strand of 70s American movies. Among them are films like Klute, The Long Goodbye, The Drowning Pool. I love that whole 70s sensibility. Some people said ‘Oh, private eye in Dublin, it's not so plausible’ but when I looked into it, there were quite a number of private investigation agencies.”

“I'd been talking to Aidan about doing another film, we've worked before, and he liked the idea. And then with Fiona Bergin who wrote the lion’s share of the script, we just kind of evolved the whole thing. It all happened quite quickly. Just before COVID struck, we had written a couple of drafts and had some development money. Then lockdown happened and we didn’t know what would happen next. During that time we had submitted for funding, so when we came out of lockdown we were ready to shoot.”

IFTN: The pulpy genre elements of the film are grounded in contemporary issues, such as MeToo, where did that choice come from?

FINTAN: “Well, I suppose you're always trying to bring something new to the table. Fiona, when she was writing it, one of her priorities was to make the characters around Barber, especially the women, quite real. So that's where that came from. You’re following the puzzle of the case, and then you have his family life. It was a way to flesh out the characters and give them more layers.”

IFTN: Could you tell me a bit about the difficulty of filming during COVID? What were restrictions like when you were shooting?

FINTAN: “We got the funding in July, and the lockdown eased soon after that. People we wanted to work with, like Aidan and a lot of the crew, were all in the same situation. They were coming out of lockdown and keen to make something because everyone was a bit restless.”

“I think we were the first or second film to shoot after the restrictions eased. We were still masked and tested regularly. We had a medic on set. We were social-distancing. So it was quite different to any other kind of set, but in a way it kind of brought us close together and we just focused on the work at hand.”

“We only had 18 days to shoot, and a crew of around 15 so we were mobile. It was kind of eerie shooting at that time, we were like the only people in the city. The story and the production benefited from that. In fact, the last day of shooting they brought in the second lockdown. We were so lucky because some films got stalled because of that. It was all uncertain. The biggest worry you’d have would be that someone would test positive and the whole thing would close down. Luckily that didn't happen.”

IFTN: Was it difficult finding locations within a 3 mile radius?

FINTAN: “I know Dublin quite well. We've shot nearly all of our films here. For the practicality of the shoot everything is shot close together. Once we found where he lived, which was more or less Kilaminham/Islandbridge, we looked around that area.”

“Then the other area was around his office, which was on Ormond Quay. It's actually a house that's been restored by the Dublin Civic Trust as an 18th century building, it used to be a gun shop. It had that great view, it looks across at the Dublin City Council offices and so on. We use those big windows, you may have noticed, he's framed quite a lot in that. It's kind of old school without having to go for the slatted blinds.”

“This hotel had opened called the Marlin, and they were very cooperative. So we had use of that for restaurant scenes, bar scenes, bedroom scenes, and so on. The only thing that was slightly outside of that radius would’ve been the nice big house that he visits to search a room.”

“I've always shot on location, I've never been in a studio. I think it lends a certain authenticity.”

IFTN: How did the circumstances of the shoot affect how you and your DP Owen McPolin approached the cinematography on this project?

FINTAN: “Owen has shot all my films. We have a good understanding and shared interest in movies and TV. Because of the low budget, we invested the money in a very good camera package, but we didn't have much in the way of lighting. The lighting came from natural sources on location and small lamps. The new cameras now are very sensitive anyway, you can shoot in low light, which you wouldn't have been able to do on film 10 or 15 years ago.”

“Owen’s very good, not only at lighting, but also operating as well. He’s done a lot of high-end TV, like Outlander and Foundation.”

IFTN: What was it like working remotely with your editor Nicolas De Toth while you were in Dublin and he was in Berlin?

FINTAN: “As I said the day we finished filming there was another lockdown. I hadn't intended to edit straightaway anyways, I was gonna give it a bit of time. I mean getting it in the can was a big enough effort.”

“There was a certain editor I was interested in, and she wasn't available, but she put me in touch with her agency and they had a number of top quality editors working in Europe. I saw this guy with credits like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Die Hard 4.0, and I was thinking ‘Would he be available?’ Especially for our low budget. So the agent got in touch with him, he read the script, really liked it, and the next thing we were talking on the phone, and I was shipping him over the hard drives with all the rushes on it.”

“So he worked away and we communicated by phone mainly. Then after about 8-10 weeks, he had a first cut.”

IFTN: You worked with Aidan Gilen before on your film Trouble with Sex, how did you find collaborating again 15 years later?

FINTAN: “When we did Trouble with Sex, I didn’t really know Aidan, I only got to know him making that film. We stayed in touch, and we've been friendly. I always wanted to do another film with him. Barber was always written with him in mind. Since he was so into it, that allowed us then to get funding and now to be in this position where it's getting quite a good release. He’s been central to the project and very easy to work with.”

IFTN: Did you always intend to shoot Barber on a low budget? What were the benefits of that?

FINTAN: “There's a microbudget scheme that Screen Ireland operates that we applied for, and that allows them to 100% fund a film. So we got that. We wanted to make it very low budget. We weren't waiting for a big budget, because that could take years. That's been our experience in the past. Sometimes you're waiting around for a long time and the whole idea goes a bit stale. Everything happened quickly, fair play to Screen Ireland and Leslie McKimm, who gave us the green light. Then we got a licence fee from RTÉ.”

“The cast and crew all worked for the same rate. So I mean, that's pretty special.”

IFTN: What can you tell us about the Barber television series you’re developing with your co-writer and producer Fiona Bergin?

FINTAN: “Yeah, well, from early on, when we had a cut we were showing it to people, a lot of people commented that it could make a very good television series. Now that we’ve had time to digest the making of it, Fiona and I have started writing a pilot and a bible. For us, it's a big jump, from low budget filmmaking to a four or six part series. It's pretty big. But, you never know where things take you.”

Barber is being distributed by Eclipse Pictures, it is currently screening in Irish cinemas.

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