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Director Maurice O’Carroll discusses Swing Bout
05 Mar 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Swing Bout
We spoke with writer-director Maurice O’Carroll about his latest feature film Swing Bout. The film recently had its World Premiere at DIFF 2024.

Writer-director Maurice O’Carroll’s latest feature film Swing Bout, which recently had its World Premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival, stars Ciara Berkeley (Normal People) and was produced by Sinead O'Riordan (The Dry). Previous to this, O’Carroll has directed two features, documentary Mountrath Unlocked and dark comedy Dead Along The Way

Swing Bout follows a young boxer, Toni (Berkeley), who is forced to face life-altering decisions, when her corrupt promoters and her conniving coach offer her a substantial payment to take a dive in the second round of her fight. The crime thriller is set backstage, in its entirety, at a major boxing event.

The supporting cast includes O’ Riordan, Ben Condron, Frank Prendergast, Chrissie Cronin and Johnny Elliott. Irish composer BK Pepper composed the score for the film. Post-production was handled by AP Studios Dublin, and grading was done by Lounge Post Production in Belfast.

The 90-minute indie picture, budgeted at €120,000 through private investment, was all shot on location at Supervalu Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

We caught up with Maurice O’Carroll to discuss the film’s evolution from writing to editing, the casting process, and O'Carroll's collaboration with producer O'Riordan.

IFTN: Where did the initial idea for this film come from?

MAURICE: “I can actually trace my boxing movie and its influences all the way back to when I was five and read Alice in Wonderland at school in the UK.”

“Fast forward to 2019, I jumped at the chance to edit Terry McMahon’s documentary The Prizefighter, which followed Spike O’Sullivan’s quest to become world champion over a three fight deal. In a throwaway comment that ended up on our cutting room floor, Spike explained that boxers are brought in as swing bouts to plug any gaps that develop in the TV schedule due to quick knockouts. Basically, the fighters must be ready to fight at a moment's notice from the start of the night and all the way to the final bout of the night.”

“I was gripped by the idea of boxers who are essentially trapped in their boxing gloves within the walls of their dressing room, it was fertile ground for conflict and tension.”

“When we were forced into the first lockdown of 2020, I started writing the first draft of Swing Bout, a boxing movie where we never see the boxing ring.”

“It felt like a story of its time to me because it explored the nature of truth in a claustrophobic environment. At its heart, it’s a story about protecting the truth at all costs and I countered this idea by surrounding our hero with liars, cheats, and cowards who are in positions of power.”

“During later drafts of the script, I realised that its themes and structure were similar to The Wizard of Oz, which of course is the same story as Alice in Wonderland. In fact, it’s one of the oldest stories ever recorded, Inanna’s Descent Into The Underworld. Much like the classic stories, the protagonist embarks on a transformative journey through adversity, evolving from a vulnerable state to emerge as a stronger, wiser individual.”

“In a deliberate departure from the typical boxing movie tropes, where audiences anticipate the hero's triumph in the ring, Swing Bout challenges conventions. By subverting expectations and presenting a unique narrative, the film seeks to offer cinema-goers an original, white-knuckle, cinematic experience.”

IFTN: What qualities were you looking for when casting the film’s lead Toni, and what made Ciara Berkeley right for the role?

MAURICE: “Swing Bout is an ensemble film which is centred around the lead character Toni. Toni is fighting her inner demons in an environment where she can show no weakness to her opponents and I needed an actor who could express that inner life.”

“When Ciara Berkeley’s CV and headshot arrived she didn’t strike me as a contender for the role; her face was flawless beauty, she was incredibly graceful, a self-confessed bookworm and she had never even watched an entire boxing match in her life.”

“But, when I watched her self-tape, I knew I was being handed a gift from the gods. She was one of the few auditions that made the bold choice not to play a confident, angry boxer. And crucially, her performance was heaving with a rich inner life. I was in no doubt, we had found our lead.”

“My producer Sinead O’Riordan and I interviewed Ciara for the role and she was everything I was looking for; she was a great person; humble, incredibly hard-working, open to working in-the-moment and improvising if need be, and there was and is a strong mutual trust between us.”

“Our collaboration together on this film is one of my most exciting to date.”

IFTN: How did you go about raising the 120k budget, and how did you pitch the project to investors?

MAURICE: “Screen Ireland and TU Dublin blessed me (and Sinead O’Riordan - Producer) to study their Advanced Producer’s post-grad diploma in 2020/2021.”

“I mentioned Swing Bout on a couple of occasions and I was encouraged to submit the project for funding. It ticked all the boxes: female driven narrative, an Irish film with global appeal, and a clever production model. But I was locked down in my home, people were saying cinema is dead, ‘new normal’ was saying that film sets must adhere to utterly ridiculous restraints.”

“So I committed to producing this film as a punk project. Break the rules. All the rules. Don’t wait for permission. Gather an army of breakout artists. Make a breakout film.”

“Sinead loved the script and the spirit of the project and she offered to take the producing off my hands and raise the finances while allowing me to concentrate on the creative side of things. Her work on acquiring private equity was phenomenal.”

“Sinead and I have a track record together of producing exciting work that grabs attention so investors were confident in our ability to find an audience. And our model was simple. We told our investors that we are underdogs making a passion film and they were happy to fund our project to promote the arts, amplify a new voice, and foster and inspire fresh, new talent during very difficult pandemic times.”

IFTN: What was it like shooting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

MAURICE: “When our Production Designer Darren O’Mahony suggested that we look at the iconic Páirc Uí Chaoimh as a possible location for a couple of corridor shots in film, we never expected to end up shooting the entire film there.”

“The Páirc Uí Chaoimh team astonished us with their willingness to help. They knew that a large percentage of our cast and crew were from Cork and they loved the idea of having a boxing movie shot in the stadium during a relatively quiet period (tell our sound man that!) in the month of January.”

“But still, we imagined the stadium would far exceed our small budget but Páirc Uí Chaoimh were open to negotiate with us. Sinead was very honest about our budget and Páirc Uí Chaoimh were incredibly generous to facilitate us.”

“Securing Páirc Uí Chaoimh as our base and single shoot location rocketed our film up and into a new realm. It was offering us the perfect production model: on-location dressing rooms, medic rooms, corridors, media room, secure overnight storage space for our equipment, production offices, costume space, canteen, food facilities, and no unit moves throughout production.”

“Sinead and I cannot praise Páirc Uí Chaoimh highly enough. All of the staff there made us feel at home and they simply could not be more helpful toward us. It was with a heavy heart when I left that stadium on the final shoot day… and that’s saying a lot coming from a Kerryman!”

IFTN: As well as writing and directing Swing Bout, you also edited the film. In your experience is it easier or harder to edit your own work when you're also the writer-director?

MAURICE: “Editing as a writer-director is both challenging and immensely rewarding. I treat writing, directing, and editing with equal measures of importance, recognising that each role plays a pivotal role in shaping the final film with my voice.”

“The advantage of being intimately involved in the writing process is the profound understanding of the intended vision. As the writer, I have intimate knowledge of the characters, their motivations, and the thematic underpinnings of the narrative. This insight provides a solid foundation during the editing phase. However, this closeness to the material can also be a double-edged sword, as it may lead to a certain level of attachment that hampers the ability to make objective decisions during editing.”

“Directing further enhances this holistic approach by allowing me to capture the intended emotions and nuances during the filming process. Being deeply involved in the performances, cinematography, and overall execution provides a rich source of material for the editing room.”

“Editing, as the final signature of the film, demands a ruthless eye and an objective perspective. Despite the potential challenges, having a comprehensive understanding of the material from both the writing and directing perspectives is advantageous for me.”
 





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