22 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Director Lochlainn McKenna discusses Two for the Road
12 Dec 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Two for the Road
We spoke with director Lochlainn McKenna to discuss his latest short film Two for the Road. The film is eligible for the Best Live Action Short Film category at the 96th Academy Awards.

Lochlainn McKenna is a director and writer from Cork, currently based in London. McKenna has worked extensively in advertising and has directed TV ads for brands such as Specsavers, Tesco, Guinness and Sky amongst many others. Two for the Road is his third narrative short film. His short previous to this, Boxed Up, is told from the perspective of a box as it is traded between a couple as they part ways for the final time.  

Two for the Road follows ten year old Oscar on one of many weekends away with his Dad, travelling across 1990s Ireland. The film stars Steve Wall (Vikings) and Ewan Morris.

The film originally began life as a short story. In 2020 McKenna wrote a short story entitled Guinness & Coke which was nominated for the RTÉ Francis McManus Short Story competition. From there the story gained momentum, eventually evolving into a short film.

We caught up with McKenna to discuss adapting his own work from the page to the screen, shooting on film, and the Pogues needle drop that found its way into the edit.

IFTN: This film began as a short story you wrote for the RTÉ Short Story competition a few years ago. Where did the idea for this story come initially?

LOCHLAINN: “So you know, the background of the story is that I had the space during the pandemic to write. So I saw the Francis McManus story competition and it was like ‘Oh, that's a perfect goal, doing nothing else’.”

“I had a kind of colourful upbringing, whereby I would spend the weekends with my dad travelling all over Ireland and spend the week with my mum. So this story was a truncated version of one weekend that I spent with him, basically. It has elements of other weekends and other bits and pieces.”

IFTN: And then at what point did you decide to turn that short story into a film?

LOCHLAINN: “So it kind of just happened organically, in one sense. The short story got nominated, which I never expected. I kind of just put it in and thought nothing of it. Then after that, Éanna Hardwicke does this gorgeous reading of it. Then the Department of Education heard about it and they asked if they could put it in the Junior Cert curriculum.”

“So off the back of that, that kind of gave me the impetus to go and seek the funding because I’m a filmmaker by trade. But I didn't set out with the intention of making a film in the first place.”

IFTN: Did you find the story changed going from one medium to another?

LOCHLAINN: “Yeah, I think the most noticeable difference is that the short story has a lot more inner dialogue. It’s a lot more contemplative, it has a lot more of Oscar's view on the world from an internal perspective.”

“When it comes to the script side of things, there was very little actual dialogue in the short story, so it was a case of supplementing the inner monologue with external dialogue.”

IFTN: This isn’t the first short you’ve shot on film. Could you tell us a bit about shooting your short Boxed Up on film, and how Two for the Road differed from this?

LOCHLAINN: “That was a different process because it was just one shot. That was during the pandemic. I wanted to make something. I had some friends I wanted to collaborate with. I wanted to shoot the film, because I hadn't really got to shoot on film before that other than B-roll in ads and stuff. I bought six rolls, I think. We did six takes and we used the third take.”

“So this was a whole new experience, because I'd never shot dialogue or proper narrative drama on film.”

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It worked perfectly for this project, because Ewan who plays Oscar is 13, so we only had him for a number of hours each day and we only had so many rolls of film. So we did a take or two for everything, max.”

IFTN: On that note, did you find that shooting on film changed the creative aspect of your  filmmaking process compared to shooting digitally?

LOCHLAINN: “It encourages more discipline, I suppose. You have to rehearse scenes first, you have to kind of figure things out. Very rarely I’d be like ‘That’s a nice moment, punch it straightaway’. We did that in the bar a couple times where you’d get a few seconds of something. There were times when I wanted to get a little more, but looking back in the edit now, I don't think I'm missing anything.”

“The last thing in the pub is a four-way conversation, basically, so that involved quite a bit of angles and blocking. I didn't actually storyboard per se, I used Artemis as a reference, which is an app that gives you all the different lens lengths, and you can shoot your frame in advance on your iPhone.”

“So we would go on the reccy, block out the scene, make sure that we have an iPhone shot of the close-up, the mid, the wide, whatever. Then put them all into a document. So I did have a storyboard, but it was a storyboard that was made up of the shots from the reccy.”

IFTN: What was the budget for the short film, and how much of that did you have to dedicate to the film stock itself? I imagine a lot of directors would be wary of shooting on film due to the cost.

LOCHLAINN: “The budget was 60 grand for the shorts scheme. It's a little bit more expensive, but it's not loads more expensive. If you're talking, let's say, renting out an Alexa Mini compared to an ARRI SR2 OR SR3 plus the stock plus the lab, it's not a massive difference. I suppose the thing with the short film is that obviously could put in more favours.”
“So each roll of film is about 100 quid, I think it’s gone up a bit, so it’s about 120 now. A roll is 400 feet, so 10 minutes. We had 12 rolls, used 11, so that’s 110 minutes of actual footage that we shot. The short was originally going to be 10 minutes long, so in theory that’s 10% of whatever you shoot.”

“It's definitely doable.”

IFTN: The film includes a few familiar needle drops such as The Pogues’ rendition of Dirty Old Town. Could you tell me a bit about the music you chose to include in the film?

LOCHLAINN: “That was kind of a happy accident. We got this brilliant editor involved, Dan Sherwin, who I've done a couple of commercials with. I went into the first course, it was like 90% finished, he put all the tracks in there. We hadn't discussed what music was going to go into the pub scene. And I was like “That’s perfect”, but we didn’t have the money for it. From there, I had to just fight and raise the funds myself and just get them. So that wasn't supposed to be the case, but now that they're in there, it's impossible to imagine it any other way.”

IFTN: Do you have any upcoming projects we should keep an eye out for?

LOCHLAINN: “I’m in the process of making this into a feature. I’m writing a book, which is going to be 10 stories long. The plan is that it will be 10 stories based on 10 different weekends with my dad, and that will be the foundation for the feature. Like Whiplash, I can hopefully use this as a calling card to get the money to fund the feature.”

“I'm trying to get a documentary off the ground, and that's it really. Commercials are kind of my bread and butter. It's been quiet this year, but I'm hoping next year will pick up again. So does everyone I think!”

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