Gerard Lough, an independent filmmaker based in Ireland, believes that short films are looked down on by some as the poor relative of the film world – at times almost feeling like the artistic equivalent of an endangered species. We spoke to him about his own short, the dystopian sci fi thriller NINETY SECONDS.
RH: How would you place your film in the current Irish cinematographic output, especially concerning shorts?
GL: Some have said that we are now witnessing the start of a “Irish New Wave”, which is to say a bunch of young directors all breaking out with feature film debuts that are commercial genre movies made with the intention of finding a wide audience. I don’t know if somebody has suddenly put something in the water over here, but I completely agree that something is up – as in the past year alone we have seen films like CITADEL, GRABBERS and THE LAST DAYS ON MARS all come out. Even this is going on in the short films, with a lot of the ones that are turning industry heads being ambitious sci-fi or horror. No one else has done cyberpunk here though; I think I got there first.
RH: What moved you to start this particular project – and what was the evolution of NINETY SECONDS?
GL: STRANGE DAYS was an important film for me growing up, as it’s one of those films that inspired me to want to be a film-maker in the first place. The kind of film that when you first see the trailer, you say to yourself, ‘I want to make a film just like that!’. Futuristic, stylish, visually stunning but full of ideas and has ambition to burn. So it was only a matter of time before I’d want to do something in the same rain soaked, high tech, neo-noir world where shady characters do dodgy deals -but always have a colourful philosophy to morally justify what they do.
” Is it a desire for far reaching control… or just pure voyeurism?”
When you combine that world with the subject of surveillance, I think that makes for an exciting mix. The questions it throws up about human nature. Why would someone have their partner followed? Why snoop on a business associate? Is it a desire for far reaching control… or just pure voyeurism? To trace NINETY SECONDS to its origin, I suppose I have to pin that on the Talking Heads song Television Man. That first gave me the idea about doing a story about a surveillance expert, with the chorus “I’m watching everything…”.
RH: What difficulties did you encounter during production – and how did you finance NINETY SECONDS?
GL: It got off to a difficult start, as myself and two producers went through the usual channels and applied to our country’s film board. This would have meant a pay day for all involved and fancier production values, but the downside was that it could be no longer than 12 minutes, which was a major concern as the story needed to be closer to half an hour to fulfill my ambitions. The board said “no”, the producers instantly bailed, six months wasted, so I said to myself, ‘Fuck it!’ and financed it alone. [Our budget] was about 2k with nobody taking a fee, and I shot it on a borrowed camera, then cut it at home. Scary, but… the 27 minute running time wasn’t a problem now!
The only problem during shooting was that when some people learned the film was about surveillance they ran a mile when we asked to shoot in their building. It was a controversial topic then, and has just got hotter ever since.
RH: Your editing/direction style is very idiosyncratic. Are you self-taught – not someone who learned the rules and breaks them to make a point, but someone who makes their own rules?
GL: You are right on the money. I did do a Diploma in Media Studies but it was a very broad course rather than a traditional film school, so even that far back I had my own ideas about how things should be done. I had the room to develop them as well as to learn to operate a camera, edit, be self sufficient. From there on in I got my own equipment and cut my teeth on music videos and short films. Naturally enough, as time has gone by the work has becomes technically slicker and I now have my own visual style (smoke… lots of smoke…).
I recommend busting your way in with a indie film instead of sitting around waiting for an invitation.
RH: Would you like to go back in time and give yourself some advice as a new filmmaker – or do you think it’s important to just be bold and learn as you go along?
GL: It is important to be brave / dumb (delete where appropriate), to just get stuck in and risk the possibility that your first few efforts will be crap – but take it on the chin, learn from where you went wrong and then go straight back at it. What I would have told a younger version of myself is the harsh reality, that it is very unlikely you will be offered a feature film directing gig. I call it the “first time director ghetto”. Nearly every filmmaker will start there, and each thinks of a shrewd way to break out and escape it. What I understand now is that it is very little to do with talent: it’s politics and human nature. Who is brave enough to take a chance on the director who hasn’t done a feature, when the other guy in the running has? Because the bottom line is, if the film is a failure its they who then look silly and could be out of a job as a result. So, I don’t blame them being risk averse. So I recommend busting your way in with a indie film instead of sitting around waiting for an invitation. Whatever the end result, at least they can never call you a first time director ever again.