25 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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“We had very little money… so my blissful ignorance was ‘let’s make a feature film!'”; Philip Doherty and Aaron Monaghan discuss Redemption of a Rogue
27 Aug 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Aaron Monaghan in Redemption of a Rogue
Ahead of the release of Cavan-set comedy Redemption of a Rogue this Friday, August 27th, IFTN caught up with the director Philip Doherty and lead actor Aaron Monaghan, to find out more about their ambitious 21-day shoot, the benefit of longstanding local collaboration, and help from the authorities in building their very own rain machine.

The dark comedy musical is the first feature film from the award-winning playwright and Cavan native Philip Doherty (Pilgrim) and producers Emma Foley and Tamryn Renecke of Pale Rebel Productions.

When first speaking with Doherty, the writer/director informs me that that he is tuning in from the west of Ireland, when asked if he was still living up in the lake county. “I'm actually in Spiddal at the moment - in an attached cottage in Galway, living in a cliché!” he jokes. “I was based in Cavan (during production), shooting the film was the last thing I did there.”

When asked how long he had the idea to make a Cavan-based Western-styled revenge film, Doherty said it was something that had been in his mind for quite some time. “I think it's been percolating for a while,” he said. “I always had this story idea. In my 20s, I did a good bit of traveling, backpacking around trying to escape Cavan really.”

“Do you know when you're in your 20s, you want to leave where you're from, but I used to always have to return home penniless with this guilt riding on my shoulders, like the prodigal son and being stuck in Cavan again, like a purgatory,” he explained.

“So always had the idea of this prodigal son arriving home, but he only had one day to live, and he used that last 24 hours to settle old scores and face up to his past sins,” Doherty continued. “I wasn't quite sure what that form would take. Then over the years, you get more and more excited and more interested, the more films you watch, and it took into that style, I guess as well.”

Doherty wrote two versions of the script, the current version, and a more social realist version. “I had to go after the ‘Western style,’” he laughed, “because that was the one that excited me the most visually.”

Redemption of a Rogue follows Jimmy, played by fellow Cavan native Aaron Monaghan (MAZE, Assassin’s Creed), who is on his road to salvation after returning to his hometown. Stuck in a Groundhog Day-like purgatory, Jimmy embarks on a sacrificial and outlandish journey to rid himself of his guilt and shame from the past, ultimately redeeming himself through love.

The film also boasts an eclectic cast from Irish stage and screen, including Aisling O’Mara and Kieran Roche along with comedian Kevin McGahern (Republic of Telly), the Oscar-nominated screenwriter Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot), and author Pat McCabe (The Butcher Boy, Breakfast on Pluto). 

“I wrote this with Aaron in mind,” Doherty told IFTN, when asked if he had always intended to have Monaghan take on the role of Jimmy. When I was writing the script, I could visualize the whole thing with him, as he moved through from scene to scene, and going on his journey.”

As a result, Monaghan was involved with the project from the get-go. “I remember a year before we shot, Philip sat me down in his office, and told me beat by beat what happened in the movie,” Monaghan explained. “It's just typically Philip, typically bizarre, typically funny, and dark and black.”

“Even before then, because myself and Philip, we did youth drama together, so we've known each other since the age of 15,” the actor added.

Contrastingly, Monaghan explained that journey was quite the opposite to Philip: “my work took me out of Cavan, and I always wanted to go back there to work,” Monaghan said.

“For the last, like 10, 15 years, I've been watching Philip build this amazing art scene in Cavan with this incredible collective of artists,”Monaghan explained. “So we've been trying for years to find a project to work together on.”

Unfortunately, there was always something – “dates never worked out, or we were never available at the same time” - so it wasn’t until Doherty received funding from Cavan County Council to make his debut feature, that the pair had enough time to plan. “(Philip said) it was going to be a love song to Cavan in many ways, so I was in,” Monaghan recounted.

Redemption of a Rogue was shot over three weeks with funding of €45,000 from the Cavan County Council. “We had very little money.. but my blissful ignorance was ‘let's make a feature film!’ Doherty laughed.

Regardless of the micro-budget, Doherty believed that with the help of the tightknit creative circle he was a part of in Cavan, a feature film could be made. “I felt like the team that was in Cavan, we could pull this off. Within kind, with people being behind it, we could do something like this,” Doherty explained.

“The first while, Aaron was one of the first people on board, so I was gathering the cast, and gathering the production team, and sorting the art department so I was acting producer with Kareena Charles, who's a local producer as well, but I had no film technical experience,” he explained. 

When asked about how producers Emma Foley and Tamryn Renecke of Pale Rebel Productions got involved, Doherty told IFTN: “I was always looking for a film production company to come on board. I'm so grateful to Tamryn and Emma to come in pretty late (to the project) - they took a real leap of faith on this.”

“It was a big risk, not only with the money, but also come in with a team in Cavan that was already there,” added Doherty. “It was everyone's first feature film. It was their first feature film, it was all the HODs first feature film, as a Head of Department. We all made the big jump together and thankfully, the film turned out all right.”

Although principal photography was only three weeks long, the production got through a plethora of scenes and shots. “In the end, there was a lot cut away from the film,” Doherty admitted. “We got an incredible amount over those 21 days - the team were absolutely unbelievable.”

“There is a network of artists that have been working together for 10 years doing theater shows in Cavan. A network of designers and settlers, local actors and musicians.” Doherty explained. “We're all used to working together, and that's shorthand and thinking out on our feet and being inventive on the spot.”

“That can-do attitude, it was just incredible to see, and the people in the camera team that come in completely bought into that, and that's why we probably got so much stuff in the end, because we're thinking so fast on our feet,” he added.

Monaghan explained that the shorthand among the cast and crew meant that everyone on set had this theatrical sense of what could be achieved. “We were all into it and it was hugely fun creatively,” said Monaghan. “You just got to pour every part of your creative energy into it, which you don't often get on film. (Usually) you're told to stand there or do that or be a bit a degree louder or degree softer, quiet or whatever, this was great.”

Doherty believes that this project is probably 10 years in the making from a local perspective. “That 10 years, I think really underpinned everything, and it probably was, when you think of that team that's been working together,” he explained.

The production was a real labour of love from a strong Cavan-based contingent that were coordinated by HoD’s such as production designer Joe Doherty, Philip’s brother. “Joe had an army of volunteers working from different visual artists; very experienced people,”he explained, “and that was just when he was building the sets.”

Undoubtedly, the most impressive example of creative problem solving came in the form of a solution to address the non-stop rainfall that takes place throughout the entire film. “The cost of rain machines would have blown the budget over two days,” Doherty explained, “so we collaborate with the local fire service and plumbers and invented our own rain machines.”

“That collective spirit was worked throughout the whole shoot, everyone was pushing to get all the shots, every time. it was tough, there were long days, but it was always a great buzz onset because we felt like we're achieving something every day," Doherty added.

The film has since gone on to make its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh earlier this summer, where it picked up two awards - Best Irish Film and Best Irish First Feature.

In the run up to the Fleadh, we were just working hard to get it over the line,” Doherty told IFTN. “You had your difficulties being in the middle of a pandemic as well, so we were so relieved to get just get the film finished and into the Film Fleadh.”

Aside from tuning in virtually, everything about the occasion was still new to Doherty, as the film being his debut feature, meant that it was his first time in competition at the Fleadh. “It's my first film, so I didn't really know any better as regards to film festivals!” Philip laughed.

Although he couldn’t attend physically, Doherty believed he still got a sense of the occasion from home. “It did feel like a premiere, because I got a big TV, rolled out the red carpet here at the house,” Doherty added. “The energy around Cavan running up to the festival - the text messages coming in and Facebook and social media made it feel like a big event - it was very exciting and still nerve racking.”

Having achieve their goal of getting the project finished in time for the premiere, being well received was the only other thing on their minds going into competition. “We weren't expecting anything really so when we won the first award, we were absolutely delighted,”he recounted. “We're completely over the moon, so to win the second one - we never expected that. A euphoric moment - I was just so delighted for everyone involved in the film because so many people gave so much to it.”

Leading actor Aaron Monaghan admitted he was equally as shocked with the win when he tuned in virtually. “I had the same reaction as Philip, but the second one was just mind blowing,” said Monaghan. It was fantastic, because you kind of feel like the film deserves it, but you just don't think it's going to feature when it was on such a low budget, and it is the Galway Film Fleadh.”

Wildcard Distribution releases Redemption of a Rogue in cinemas nationwide this Friday, August 27th.

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