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Producer Brian Falconer discusses Ordinary Love with IFTN
06 Dec 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson in 'Ordinary Love'
IFTN caught up with producer Brian Falconer to discuss bringing Owen McCafferty’s first screenplay to the screen, achieving a dream cast and the dynamic of working with directing duos.

Following its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival, and UK premiere at London Film Festival, Lisa Barros D’Sa, and Glenn Leyburn’s Ordinary Love is set to be released in cinemas on Friday, December 6th.

Ordinary Love is the third feature from the directing duo following the critically acclaimed Good Vibrations (2012) and Cherrybomb (2009).

Filmed entirely on location in Northern Ireland with funding from Northern Ireland Screen, Academy Award nominees Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) and Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) star as an everyday couple with an extraordinary love, who must find the humour and grace to face a year of adversity.

The feature film was written by award-winning Irish playwright, Owen McCafferty. It is a Canderblinks Films and Out of Orbit production, produced by the BAFTA award-winner and BFI Vision Awardee, Brian J. Falconer for Out of Orbit, David Holmes for Canderblinks Films and Piers Tempest for Tempo Productions.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with Brian to find out more about the film ahead of its release on December 6th.

IFTN: Can you give me a bit of background into how the project came about?

Brian: “It was around 2015, my producer-partner, David Holmes, is a very good friend of writer Owen McCafferty. Owen is considered one of Ireland’s greatest living playwrights. Owen and his wife went through a cancer diagnosis themselves. Having gone through that and everything being good, thankfully, afterwards, David started talking to Owen about producing this, to inspire him to write a screenplay. Owen had wanted to write a screenplay for a long time, I think David had wanted him even more to do that. Owen went to Peggy his wife and said, ‘What do you think, is this something I should do?’ I think Peggy was like, ‘Well, why the hell wouldn't you? If there's something good that can come out of this then you should do it.’

“At that point then, David was also very close with Lisa and Glenn, they had made a couple of films together so David was kind of piecing this together in his head, that they could be the perfect people for this. They met and talked to Owen, and were super keen. Then, that was the point where I was brought on. I obviously knew of Owen McCafferty. I'd seen one of his plays at that time. I knew of David Holmes and I knew of Glenn and Lisa. I was just a short film producer at that point, so he was like, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ I was kind like ‘Hell yeah…’ I hadn't a clue, but I was like, ‘Hell yes, I'll do this!’

“At that point, that's when I kicked in, and it was, ‘Right, I've got a treatment, what do we do with that?’ I started discussing who are the financiers that are best placed to do this. Obviously, Northern Ireland Screen is a huge supporter of us as individuals. They've developed all our short films with us and feature projects, so they were always in our thinking. Then, the BFI, which goes without saying, is an absolutely incredible screen agency, they all came aboard. Owen started writing, he did a first draft, we did some revisions with that and then we had a first draft revision. That was the one that went on to Mr. Neeson's desk. It was not long after that, we got a call to say he was signed up and then it just went boom.”

IFTN: I can imagine so because the script is brilliant, but it also places an enormous onus on the two leading characters to deliver it. Finding the right people must have been so important for that?

Brian: Yes. Lisa and Glenn, the directors, they had a good relationship with Liam already, because they had developed a previous project with him, and so there was kind of a shorthand there. I remember when we were talking earlier on about who was the ideal cast and it was Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson. Once Liam signed up, then we brought on Des Hamilton, a wonderful casting director from London. He works a lot with Shane Meadows, he was responsible for Tommy Turgoose and for This is England, an amazing guy. The conversation then started. For Glenn and Lisa, it was one thing to have Liam, but the most important thing after that was who would be acting opposite him? From the very start, Lesley was our number one choice. She must have felt the exact same thing about the script that Liam did and before you know it, we have our dream cast.”

IFTN: Did Liam have a part to play in getting Lesley to come onboard?

Brian: I know the directors consulted him; actors of his level want to make sure that the film can be the best it can be and Lesley was his first choice also. They actually didn't know each other and had never even met. Before we went into production, it was really important for us that the directors had time, and Lesley and Liam had time together. They actually all met up for a weekend in New York, where Liam lives and Lesley happened to be there. Yes, they had this really special time where they just got to hang out and kind of see Tom and Joan created in front of their eyes.”

IFTN: You touched upon how the story came about, but I’m interested to know if there was ever any hesitation about doing a project with a subject matter like this? The topic of cancer is something that everyone's been in some way affected by, even indirectly, yet it’s often something that many people shy away from and one we haven’t seen tackled in such an honest way before.

Brian: “Well, I think it's a funny one because it's not about cancer, it's a love story. It's a love story between two people in their early 60s who've been together for 35 years. They love each other, but they kind of rub each other the wrong way. That's their way of communicating and living. We start the film at a point where they've just got over this thing that's happened and they're just about to get back to their lives again. Then this other thing happens and that thing happens to be a cancer diagnosis.

“When Owen decided that he wanted to write this and David had the idea to try and get Owen to write this. That was the whole point. It's a cancer diagnosis, but its life and death. Although it's such a normal story about two people who could be your aunt and uncle, your mom and dad, or you and your husband or wife, going through what all of us will or someone close to us will go through at some point. It's normal, but the stakes are life and death, it couldn't be any higher.

“Actually, I think I would say that I don't think there's ever been a film made like Ordinary Love. The reason for that is that it's so normal. However, it's like you can see real life in this film. It's like you're a fly on the wall, but when you're looking at what's happened, what we associate as normal, we don't really look at that as being extraordinary. We kind of say it's an extraordinary tale of ordinary love. For Joan, a diagnosis is potential life and death. For Tom, you're potentially going to lose the one thing that you're living for. It's just that balance. We all are going to have to face it sometime. There's nothing more extraordinary than that. I think only somebody like Owen McCafferty can put that on a page that people can recognize as something fit for cinema.”

IFTN: In terms of your role as producer, can you give me an idea of the day to day dynamic of you being a producer on the project?

Brian: “For me, it's funny, because if I ever get asked about the creative or the things like that, my job is to whoever the creatives are, whether they be the writer or directors, all I am there to do is help them realize their vision. Whatever they think they need, then I have to facilitate. If my opinion is asked, then I'll give it. If I think that they need to know something, I tell them, and I keep them in the loop.

“It's hard to know because every step of this process has been different. Every day has been different. Thinking now in hindsight, from day one of the project, I should be thinking about delivery. It should be; ’Right. Are we doing everything we need to be doing while we're shooting the film so that when we're delivering the film to the distributors, that we didn't forget something?’

 “I'm getting better and better every time in organizing that. Every day I wake up, I've got a list of stuff that needs to be done. I've never finished that list, ever, because it just keeps getting longer. It's just project management, effectively. I think a good producer doesn't have to wait for something to go wrong to know what needs to be done. That only comes from more and more films. I've noticed that even though this is only my second film, I've learned from some of the mistakes of the last one. It's just about knowing what is coming up, and knowing how to navigate that.”

IFTN: Having successfully completed and released your debut feature film, The Dig in 2018, did you find yourself regularly looking back during the course of this project and self-assessing areas that you could improve on or is there any other ways that you try to quantify your growth?

Brian: “Awk yeah. Jesus, even on Ordinary Love, not a week goes by that I didn't make some sort of mistake because it's like every project, especially when you're at my stage, and the projects you're doing are getting bigger and bigger, you're automatically doing stuff that you've never done before. You have people like Piers Tempest, the other producer on the project, who has been an amazing sounding board for me, to keep me right. Every day I'm doing stuff that maybe even Piers hasn't done before. Piers has done 16 films. It's learning by on the job training.

“For me, the most important thing is not to freak out and not to get anxious; just to take it one step at a time. It's just about keeping that team together and keeping us all going towards that goal. That goal is today. You know it's actually people seeing the film and myself, Glenn and Lisa are here together. We've all had a wonderful time doing this. Our whole team is still a close team. That's the point. I can only speak for myself, but I couldn't be prouder of the film and everything everybody did, and everything I did. You know yourself a bit about the journey, because we've talked about it over the past few years, but I just couldn't be happier really.”

IFTN: Can you give me a bit of insight into your dynamic working with Lisa and Glenn on set and in pre-production?

Brian: “The thing that Lisa and Glenn do so well is the deviation of their tasks. You're never questioning in your head, ‘Who do I ask this to or who do I ask that to,’ but that comes with getting to know somebody, getting to know the dynamic and hanging out and just talking a lot about the film.

“Glenn comes from a design background, so he's very visually-minded. He's also very technical. He'd know everything about every camera, lens, all that. Lisa originally comes from a writing background, literature background. She was always coming from the story point of view, from the acting point of view and dealing with the cast. Having the two of them on set actually made for a really great set because there was no panic at all. From their point of view, all the boxes were ticked and everything that needed to be sorted out was covered from there. For me, it was a great relationship and continues to be so, because I know what to talk to each of them about. At the same time, the reason they were so brilliant on this film is they discuss everything themselves for months and months and months. Once they get on set, the decisions are already made effectively.”

IFTN: You have already mentioned about getting the BFI onboard this project, but getting Focus Features, and Universal involved has also been hugely significant to extending the reach of this film. What was involved in those steps and how did that come about?

Brian: “We have a sales agent called Bankside Films. It's run by Stephen Kelleher, an amazing guy. He just worked his ass off for our film. He's one of the most important people involved in our project, but what happened was when we were shooting then they were already starting to talk  (to distributors). He owned the world rights so he was able to sell our film everywhere, effectively. Already he's then going on to buyers, to distributors from every territory in the world, saying. ‘This film's coming; this is the package.’ Then once we shot the film, we put together a teaser, which was about eight minutes long. Then Stephen in Bankside brought that to AFM, the American Film Market, brought buyers in, and at that point, people were like, ‘Right, let's buy this.’ Because of the cast, because of the script, because of the directors and because of the teaser, that gave distributors enough to basically say, ‘Right, we're buying it for our territory.’”

IFTN: Without seeing the movie?

Brian: “Without seeing the movie. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes distributors say, ‘Well, we need to see the final film.’ If they haven’t heard of the director they will often need to see the final film, but with Glenn and Lisa there's a track record. So when we heard Focus Features were interested we were like, ‘Wow’, because it's a stamp of approval at the start of your film. Their parent company is Universal. The directors had a call with myself and Focus/Universal. Steven in Bankside negotiated the deal. We then got a call one day to say that, ‘Focus is going to take a multi-territory deal and we're just like, ‘Holy shit. That's pretty cool.’ Then we were making a Focus/Universal film. For me, I don't know about the guys, I think I'm slightly more excitable, but when we had the screening in London at LFF and the big Universal sting comes up at the start of your film, I was just kind of like, ‘Wow. Am I in the wrong cinema here?’” [laughs].

IFTN: What's next for Out of Orbit?

Brian: “I've got a slate of projects that we're developing at the minute, so I'd be hoping to go into production next year. The next six months for me, is all about development. I have Owen McCaffrey's new project Breathing, which is the follow up to Ordinary Love. I have a project called Harvesting, which is a book by Lisa Harding, a first time novelist with this absolutely incredible bestselling novel about human trafficking. That was brought to me by director Michael Lennox, who I worked with in Boogaloo and Graham.

“We'd been looking to do something for a long time now really and then, he read this project, couldn't stop thinking about it, gave it to me and I was blown away. We're already actively developing that. Then I have a project called Mr. Eurovision, which is about Johnny Logan, the only person that ever won the Eurovision Song Contest more than once, he's won it three times. We're focusing on his two wins, that's in 1980 and 1987.”

Ordinary Love releases in Irish cinemas on Friday, 6th December.

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