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Extra Ordinary Co-Creator Mike Ahern Talks with IFTN
27 Sep 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Will Forte and Maeve Higgins in Extra Ordinary
We caught up with Mike Ahern, one half of the creative due known as D.A.D.D.Y., to find out more about taking on their first feature film, how himself and Enda developed their creative shorthand and what projects they have in the pipeline.

Extra Ordinary is written and directed by Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern, and stars comedian/writer/actress Maeve Higgins (Naked Camera, Inside Amy Schumer), Barry Ward (Jimmy’s Hall, MAZE), Will Forte (Nebraska, Run & Jump), and Claudia O’Doherty (Trainwreck, Love, Inside Amy Schumer). The film also boasts a strong Irish cast with Siobhan McSweeney (Derry Girls), Risteard Cooper (Apres Match), Alison Spittle (Nowhere Fast), Mary McEvoy (Glenroe) and Jamie Beamish (Derry Girls) rounding out the cast.

The film, which made its world premiere at SXSW Festival earlier this year, is produced by Katie Holly (Citadel, Love & Friendship), Mary McCarthy (Mr. Foley, Six Shooter), Yvonne Donohoe (Striking Out) and Ailish Bracken (The Queen of Ireland) for Blinder Films, in co-production with Umedia with funding from Screen Ireland, UMedia and Inevitable Pictures. The project also participated in the 2014 Frontiéres Film Market where it won Best Pitch.

IFTN: The film has had a long journey to the big screen with initial work beginning as far back as 2014. Can you give our readers some insight into the development process of the project?

Mike: “For both of us, we're working on a few different projects. The catalyst project, the Irish film board thing came up in 2013 or 2014; so we decided to try and get a project in for this. Extra Ordinary, we wrote with that in mind initially. We wrote a treatment for it, and then when we got into the project we wrote the script based on that. Within the catalyst programme, we met Ailish Bracken who was working for Blinder so we were going to team up with her.”

“The Film Board really loved the script but thought that it would be too big to make for the funding they were offering that year for the smaller budgets. They offered to bring it into development with the Film Board. We were delighted with that too. We just knew it would take a little bit longer to get made or if it ever got made!  Therefore, we met Katie Holly at Blinder and they took us under their wing. From there on, we were just doing different things to try and get the money and finish the script properly and all those kind of things too.”

IFTN: Although this is your debut feature film, you have an impressive catalogue of commercials and music videos, working with the likes of Bell X1 and Bloc Party. How did this period influence and mold your approach to directing?

Mike: “I think we probably learned everything from that sort of stuff. Neither of us went to a film school. We both went to Dun Laoghaire Arts College, but we didn’t do film. Enda studied animation and I did graphic design, so we came through the back door in terms of something like live-action filmmaking. We treated our film set it like we did commercials in a way. Kind of old school in a lot of ways, trying out different measures and approaches, especially as we were making more live-action stuff.”

“I think the other thing we learned, especially for the music video stuff, they were really low budget, most of them where you're just doing everything. You're doing every department yourself or very close to that anyway. We ended up editing a lot of them ourselves. You learn so much from just having to do it all. What are good shortcuts to take and what are bad ones. You just learn the process and how the set works and all that kind of stuff. I guess it was really like all that DIY aspect at the start was really, really helpful for getting to make the feature film.”

IFTN: As a creative duo (a.k.a. D.A.D.D.Y) you collaborate across both writing and directing. Can you give me a bit of insight into how that dynamic works across both disciplines?

Mike: “Yes, sure. We've been asked that question a lot. Two people, it's weird at the helm, especially when directing, but we don't know any different. That's sort of what we've been doing since we were 18/19 together. We're just sort of the same brain. I mean, there are a lot of the same influences or references have gone in there over the years. We are always showing each other stuff.

“From a writing point of view, one of us will have an idea, and we'll just talk it through. Then usually, we actually split up themes or characters and write them and then just swap them over and rewrite them. I think that's just the way we have evolved and the way that we work, it’s probably different for everybody. I guess we've learned not to be precious about stuff with each other because we are almost this shared brain. You don't get pissed off when someone tries to share something or wants to try something. If you do, you got to fight for your idea a bit more, and whoever is the most passionate usually wins out. That's how it works.”

“I guess that a little bit how it works on the set, too. We try and have all our battles off before we get there. We do a lot of planning and pre-production and talk everything through. Probably more pre-production, or thinking/talking about things than a single director would do. So then when we are on set, a lot of the decisions are already made. So then you focus on performance and all the normal stuff, then things crop up that you don't expect. Usually, if we both know that something's going well, we don’t have to say anything, but if we don't, we usually know what the problem is.”

IFTN: You have previously mentioned that the script was written with Maeve Higgins in mind to play the role of Rose. Was this the case for other members of the cast and can you tell me a little bit about how Will Forte and Barry Ward got involved in the film?

Mike: “I think there were a few that we wrote a part for really. Maeve Higgins was the main one. She was on board even before we even wrote the first draft. We were talking to her about it very early. Then once we knew that she was on board. It was easier to write in a way because you're writing with her in your head the whole time. We also wrote the part of her sister for an actress called Terry Chandler who plays it really well, but there she is from Cove and Terry would have been in some commercials that we did and she was really funny. We just knew that they'd be great together because they were from the same town, and it was going to feel like they know each other. I don't know if they actually knew each other at the time, but we just knew they would get it. Then Claudia O'Doherty played Christine's wife as well. I've worked with her on some comedy stuff with David O’Doherty years back and we've just stayed friends over the years.”

“We told her earlier on that she would be called Claudia in the movie, so it was easy for her. Then with Barry, we were looking for a Martin for a while, and we had auditioned a bit for it, and then we were throwing names out. Then we said do you think Barry Ward would be interested because we had just seen him in The End of the Fucking World so we had thought of him but then thought maybe he'd be a person, maybe not. When we thought of that, I was like, I think he definitely is able to do this really well because it was a sort of a little bit of a comedy role. He eventually got to read it. I think he said no at first, but then we kind of persisted a bit. We went and met with him and after that, he seemed to be on board. He's actually seen our band playing years ago. There was some common ground there that meant we got on with him really well.

“After that, he really just jumped in, and as you can see in the film he just committed a 100% to do it. But he did lots of little videos. Being our first film, you kind of have to just offer people parts, especially if they're well-known. You don't really get to see what they're like and with Martin Martin, he was going to be playing a lot of different characters so we were just a bit worried about somebody being funny or not. But Barry was kind enough to do little test videos as the different characters, just with his webcam, and send it to us. Once we started seeing those we were really, really relieved, it felt great.”

“With Will then, we had Will on the list from very early. We'd written the character to be sort of this fish out of water, crazy, rock star. We always knew that we want somebody not Irish to play that part; it could have been British or American. Either a rock star, comedian or actor that would suit it. So we had various lists and Will was really high up there. We managed to get through to his agent, by the skin of our teeth really, it was actually getting close to shooting, and he read it. Like everything with those bigger stars, it takes such a long time, because you are waiting for people to read things or not.”

“But Will responded really well, and we got to Skype with him. Then it just worked out that he had just finished doing a series of The Last Man on Earth and was able to come over Ireland in a period that we needed him, and was really up for coming to Ireland again. He's been like six times or something. It was one of those things that he really loved the script and wanted to know if the same guy who wrote it was directing it. Once he knew that, he was onboard.

“So that was a huge sigh of relief for us and a bigger sigh of relief when he finally came on the set of the first day, and I think it was that shot in the hardware store where he is seeking out the virgin was the first one. It was a really weird thing seeing Will Forte in a little country hardware store.  Especially after spending five years writing it, we just knew it was going to be okay!”

IFTN: The use of whacky practical effects throughout Extra Ordinary truly makes the film. Can you give a bit of insight into some of the quirky techniques you used and why you chose to take that approach?

Mike: “I think the approach first, I guess, was just sort of a love of practical in-cameras stuff. I mean, we sort of been like that from early on through our commercial and music video work as well. A lot of effects were done as much in-camera as you can so you are just using animation or VFX to enhance that, or wherever possible. Then I think the hauntings that they were in the film as well, we kind of wanted them to be hokie and low-fi, even though they're tricky enough to do.

“They are sort of finding that balance between stupid and too stupid is kind of actually hard. We had our productions designer, Joe Fallover who has been working with us for years on projects and he’s really good at that kind of practical stuff, building rigs, and coming up with a great way to doing stuff. We were saying that we probably need 10 piles string on the film. There was lots of stuff that was just wires. We built a practical rig for the floating virgin in the bedroom where we drilled through the holes in the wall of the house with two bars coming through so she’s on a shelf so it was more like a magic trick.

I'm trying to what else. Everything from the donut, which was on a fishing rod, I think. To the dustbins which again were on strings, I suppose it was all kind of conceived through the shoot to be a little bit hokie.”

IFTN: The film is filled with a lot of Irish humour, how has this translated to audiences abroad?

Mike: “That's one of the big shocking things for us too. We wanted it to travel, with the idea of having Will and everything. It was definitely something that we wanted to have. We wanted it to be so local that it would be universal, like Fargo or Taika Waititi, does it really well with those kinds of films, where you're watching a story in New Zealand, but it just feels like it could be anywhere. So we were trying to make one of those kinds of films in a way.

“I think the secret to doing that is to lean really heavily on what you know and let the jokes speak for themselves. That was the plan, anyway. When it kind worked we were shocked. I mean, there's lots of stuff that you get it much better when you're Irish, like the fact that her cat is called Mary Black, or that A Woman's Heart is playing in the background of a scene. There are extra gags there even nationwide titles gets a laugh in Ireland.”

“It doesn't matter to the film. Some people just think the Mary Black song is sweet, or whatever, when someone is watching it in Poland. It doesn't matter to the film, but just adds a little bit more when you're Irish. But to be honest, most of the gag has just gone down really well abroad. The funny one that we've been citing was when we won an audience award in Switzerland, at a genre festival. It was just an amazing reaction to the film anyway, but there's a part with a joke about a Swiss Coo-Coo clock in it and when that happened the audience just went wild because the clock was Swiss looking. You just don't know what's going to work if you try it out. We hadn’t planned for that to be a hit in Switzerland you know…”

IFTN: What projects do you have planned next?

Mike: “We've been working on this for so long that, even to just to get it out there is a lot of work. Mostly it has been this, but we have been writing away in the background of those different projects. We are hoping to get one of those made soon. We had a project before this that we were trying to get made called ‘The Bogman King’, which will probably be taken out of the drawer again as well.”

“At the moment we are actually writing a movie for Aardman Animation, who does Wallace & Gromit, an animated kid’s film for them. I don't know how long that will take to get made, because it's probably going to be a stop motion movie. So we're in the middle of working on that. They love the scripts for Extra Ordinary and just wanted Irish writers to write something in the Irish fairy world so that’s what we have been working for a little while now. We want to do something fun and irreverence with it so hopefully, we can get that across the line.”

IFTN: Do you have aspirations to branch out into more drama-based projects or do you intend to further explore comedy?

Mike: “No, I think we'll always have some sort of comedy, whether it's darker than this one or not. We just love movies in general. While there is a lot of references horror stuff in this one, we are not necessarily total genre nerds. A bigger influence would be the Coen Brothers or something like that almost. Not just because they're movies are great, but they can go from something like Raising Arizona which is actually quite a big influence on this film, I think because it's almost like a live-action cartoon.”

“Not because our film is anything like it really, but because when you watch it. It’s got an emotional heart to it but it's also really crazy and stupid and can go anywhere. It’s got this really amazing emotional center to it as well. I guess it's sort of in the wheelhouse of what we're trying to do here. I think there is a reference in that they can make quite as serious movie, or quite as a crazy movie, and we'd love to be somewhere in that vein.”

Extra Ordinary is currently on release in Irish cinemas.

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