'A Kiss for Jed', released in Irish cinemas this Friday (May 18), tells the tale of crestfallen cameraman Ray, who retrieves his mojo after an assignment in New York sees him unexpectedly connect with young uninhibited Orla Cassidy, played by Northern Irish actress Jayne Wisener (Sweeney Todd).
The film is a testament to people of a certain age according to O'Halloran, who admits he was drawn to the character of reluctant Ray as he was "a little bit stuck in life". It is these heavy character-driven stories we're used to seeing O'Halloran involved with, having played drug-addict Adam in his own script for comedy drama 'Adam and Paul,' and penning the hard-hitting television series 'Prosperity', which depicted the struggles of a teenage mother, a victim of bullying, an isolated immigrant and an unemployed father.
O'Halloran admits he finds "more meat" in heavier roles, and is often offered these roles over comedic ones: "I tend to be more character-driven in the way that I construct stories, rather than them being about complex plots. I believe in following a character, being very rigorous about it, and building the psychology so you can build every aspect of their personality and make it as true and believable as possible.
”That’s what I try to do in everything I do. [With Ray], there was something in him that I kind of liked, I liked the quietness of him, and he accepted his position in life and I thought that was really interesting. I thought about what it would be like to be him really."
Hearing O'Halloran talk about 'A Kiss for Jed' so reverently, one can be forgiven for assuming the feature was a smooth-sailing production. As director Linnane explains, the film got off to a rocky start, and looked set to be doomed from thereon in.
He and long-time friend, Horslips musician and screenwriter in his own right Barry Devlin, decided to write a script together in 2005, after working on the 'Horslips: Return of the Dancehall Sweethearts' documentary for RTÉ.
"The notion was that we'd put together a film script that would fly in under the radar, that we'd use all the skills and contacts we had, the equipment I had, and we'd go and make a kind of guerrilla feature film, and prove that it could be done," said Linnane.
The concept of the script came from Devlin, who was inspired by an RTÉ reality show called 'The Fame Game' which had aired some years previously. The show was based on a contestant answering questions correctly in order to win a prize of a challenge to track down their idol. Devlin suggested the film be based on what happens to the contestant after they win the show.
Linnane and Devlin were completely involved in the casting process, with O'Halloran coming on board after a chance meeting with Devlin when they appeared on the same radio show one day. Linnane recalls Devlin putting O'Halloran's name forward: "I said 'what's not to like about him, he's a brilliant actor, he's a brilliant writer'. I was worried he wouldn't look old enough, but Mark can actually grow a beard through lunch time, it's ridiculous! He was happy to read it, it was even better that he quite liked it because he is fantastic writer himself, and then he said he'd love to do it, so as far as I was concerned that was a slam dunk."
The casting of Orla didn't prove so simple, as Linnane claims he and Devlin auditioned "every actress in Dublin between the ages of 16 and 25" before finally finding Wisener, who agreed to play the part after the original actress turned the part down due to Leaving Cert commitments.
Even before the film began shooting, it was hit with its first blow, when producer Sarah Lawson (The Dawning) lost her battle with cancer in 2008. Linnane says “she was brilliant, and she got [the film] completely”. Tim Palmer (Into the West, A Love Divided) then came on as producer, with Jo Homewood co-producing (Titanic: Blood and Steel).
Linnane admits he was “naďve” in thinking “the difficult part of making a film was getting to make a film, all the things you have to jump through to get to that stage”. After they had spent 15 days shooting the feature in New York, Linnane soon realised it was back home in Ireland where the difficulties crept up.
“The hard part is what happens afterwards. This was the little film that wouldn't die, it really went under the way more times than three. I thought it was gone away never to return, but it kept dragging its way back. We'd been around the hoops of a few different distributor-types who were going have a go with it and who liked it and who wanted to try, but there was always something that stopped it and blocked it, and it was falling away,” he said.
After a number of name changes (former titles include ‘A Kiss for Justin’ and ‘A Kiss of Jed Wood’, which confused Jedward fans) distribution consultant Brendan McCall then came to the rescue, with ‘A Kiss for Jed’ set for a nationwide cinema release tomorrow.
Linanne said: “At one stage, at the end of last year, I had quietly wrapped this up in brown paper and tied a little bit of hairy twine around it and put it on a dusty shelf in my own head, because it had kind of consumed me. I wrote it, I directed it, I finished out the editing on it, I'd been involved in every phase of it, and the one thing that I couldn't control, which really frustrated me, was how we got people to see it. I genuinely thought we'd missed the last bus and it was a long weary walk back to the terminus for us. I put it away and thought 'take from it what you can take from it, learn from it what you can learn from it, someday maybe somebody will see it’. Then it came back, so in the last kind of six weeks I've had to pull my head back out. I really did think it had gone away so I'm just delighted it has come back.
”Brendan is brilliant. This film is as much about what it isn't as it is about what it is. In a world of blockbusters and feature spectaculars, all of which I have to tell you I love, this has a sense to kind of just sit there quietly and go 'here's an alternative viewing experience'. I think it deserves a chance to fall on its arse, and it’s getting that chance now courtesy of Brendan. The worst possible scenario would have been that it did migrate to the top of a dusty shelf and not get seen by many people at all.”
O’Halloran can empathise with Linnane on this one, having experienced rejection early on in his own career. “I’ve been on stage since the early 90’s and I’ve been in shows where I’ve had terrible reviews and been panned, or not got jobs. It hurts, but it actually makes you stronger. Learning to laugh at yourself is a good thing. I’ve had glorious, stinkers of reviews, and you kind of have to dust yourself off and pick yourself up and keep going. You’ve also got to learn from why something didn’t work out; maybe you did something that wasn’t getting across to people. You’ve got to learn from that and try and build on it,” he said.
Last month, the Irish Film Board (IFB) awarded ‘A Kiss for Jed’ with a distribution fund for €10,000 . Both O’Halloran and Linnane have said they will venture out to the cinema to watch the nearly 90 minute-long feature again.
Straight after its nationwide release, O’Halloran is heading off to the States where he is touring with his most recent play ‘Hay Fever’. Fresh from his ZeBBie win for his own stage script ‘Trade’, O’Halloran is also working on another feature film which is currently in development. ‘Amor Perdido’, meaning ‘Lost Love’, is a script O’Halloran has written based on the Cuban drag queen and prostitution world.
“It’s just my observations of the world, there’s a lot of music in it, it’s almost a musical you could say. There’s a young boy who’s a transvestite and he performs at home, he’s got a collection of records that form a backdrop to a lot of scenes. There are particular songs that have an emotional resonance for him because his mother left them when she died,” he said.
O’Halloran is currently trying to source financing for the feature, from both Irish and international sources: "I have my fingers crossed and hopefully we’ll be able to push it through. It’s a project I’m really proud of and I really would love for it to get made.”
Meanwhile Linnane has gone back to his roots by also taking a musical path, but is keeping it closer to home. “I have all manner of funky things in pre-production. I will be filming the Westlife Farewell Concert from Croke Park in Dublin with a friend which is going to stream live to cinema (June 22/23). That's kind of a thrill, I just think it's a hugely interesting way of getting people back into cinemas in a different variation.”
Linnane also has an upcoming documentary about the late Amy Winehouse, airing on BBC later this year. Before her death, Winehouse performed and gave an interview in Dingle, Co Kerry, which Linnane captured on camera. The documentary is opening the East End Film Festival in London in July, which Linnane acknowledges is a “huge film festival”.
‘A Kiss for Jed’ is in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow (May 18).
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