19 April 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director TJ O'Grady Peyton discusses Room Taken
18 Dec 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Gabriel Adewusi in Room Taken.
We spoke with director TJ O’Grady Peyton to discuss his short film Room Taken. The short was funded by Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts film scheme, and had its World Premiere at Cork International Film Festival earlier this year.

Room Taken was written by Michael Whelan and directed by TJ O’Grady Peyton. TJ has directed a number of shorts including The Runner, Broken: A Lockdown Story, and Wave. He has also directed a lot of commercial work for clients such as Under Armour, UEFA, Asics, Volkswagen, BMW and The European Union.

The short follows a man, new to Ireland, experiencing homelessness and in need of a place to sleep. He secretly takes up residence in the home of an elderly blind woman, which leads to them forming a unique bond.

Colmán Mac Cionnaith of Vico Films produced Room Taken, and funding came from Focus Shorts, supported by Screen Ireland.

We caught up with TJ to discuss how he first encountered Michael Whelan’s screenplay, crafting a sense of suspense, and casting the film’s leads.

IFTN: When did the idea for Room Taken first come about?

TJ: “A few years ago, our writer, Michael Whelan, observed a blind person and a homeless individual walking down the road, one after the other. Around the same time, he had spent a considerable amount of time with a close relative, an elderly blind woman. Michael's time with this lady provided him with valuable insight into day-to-day life as a blind person, and an idea began to form. Fast forward a few years later, we were collaborating on a commercial for the Irish Cancer Society. I was directing the project, and Michael was one of the agency's creative directors. After completing the job, we were chatting, and he mentioned having a short film script. After reading it, I was moved by the story, and we decided to further develop it and try to get it made.”

IFTN: The film uses suspense to great effect both dramatically and comedically, how did you go about balancing the tone of the short?

TJ: “Thank you for the kind words. That was definitely our goal and something I hadn't done before. I looked at films like Parasite, which handled that tone excellently, so I tried to break down how they achieved that delicate balance. A lot came from casting and working with two amazing actors, to be honest. Both Gabriel Adewusi and Brid Brennan have excellent instincts and always aimed to portray things honestly. Our editor, Derek Holland, also played a massive role and even suggested one or two close-up shots to pick up. They really added to drawing out the suspense.”

IFTN: Gabriel Adewusi and Brid Brennan both give great performances in this film, what were you looking for when you cast the two leads?

TJ: “Good question. For Gabriel's character, I aimed for someone with whom you could truly empathize. He's in a desperate situation, and though he effectively does something wrong by breaking into someone's home, I needed an actor whose reasoning you could understand. We sought someone complex yet ultimately someone you could root for.”

“For Victoria, casting was challenging. It was a real team effort involving our producer Colman MaCCionnaith, and casting director Dawn MacCallister. Ciaran Taylor at Sightless Cinema was also a huge help. I couldn't believe our luck when Brid Brennan decided to take on the role. I've admired her work for years, and she is a warm, likable person with a caring and generous spirit. During prep, we were introduced to a woman from the blind community who came on board as our visual impairment consultant. We organized a meeting between Brid and our consultant, Delores Cullen. It significantly influenced Brid's performance, giving her real insight into movement and appearance. It was a very rewarding experience to see the evolution happen organically through collaboration.”

IFTN: This short was funded by Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts film scheme, how did this scheme benefit the short?

 TJ: “Well, we couldn't have made this short without the scheme, so it was crucial. I remember seeing my first Focus short when it was called "Signatures" many years ago, I think it was in 2009, and it was John Butler's short film. I was blown away by the scale and knew I wanted to make a short that felt like it could be a feature, so I started applying. I had been shortlisted twice before, and this was my third time being shortlisted, so I was delighted to win the bursary and am very thankful to Screen Ireland for the opportunity.”

IFTN: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

TJ: “I'm currently pitching on a few commercials and primarily on the hunt for feature projects. I'm in talks with a few writers, aiming to find the right project for my first feature film.”

IFTA Q&A Series: Joanne O’Brien on Costume Design
IFTA Q&A Series: Eleanor Bowman on Cinematography
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