Production on film in Wicklow starring Jessica Lange halted due to funding woes

Crew on Eugene O’Neill adaptation being shot at Ardmore Studios told producers they could not work without pay

The makers of a major film being shot in Ireland are seeking to refinance the project following a collapse in funding which saw production brought to a sudden halt last week.

The producers of the film, a cinematic depiction of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1956 play A Long Day’s Journey into Night, starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris, will on Monday meet potential new financers. The producers have told people who have been working on the film, but have so far not been paid, that their priority is to secure cash flow so that they can pay all outstanding bills and resume shooting.

Work on the film, which is being shot on location at Magheramore, a beach setting south of Wicklow town, and in Ardmore Studios’ Film Factory in Bray, stopped last Tuesday when crew workers told the producers, led by acclaimed film-maker Redmond Morris, they could no longer work without pay.

As a result, the following morning, filming ceased because there was no money to pay the crew.

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Asked to comment, Mr Morris did not respond to requests via his agent and also a message left on his mobile phone voicemail. However, people owed money have been told by email that negotiations are under way with a company that could refinance the film. Mr Morris’s career includes several collaborations with the director Neil Jordan, including on The Butcher Boy, Michael Collins and Marlowe, which is due for release in December.

After months of preparation, the film went into full-scale production at the start of last week. It is being directed by Jonathan Kent, a British stage and opera director who was making his debut in film.

Pre-production work on A Long Day’s Journey had been going on for months, including the construction of a house, overlooking the sea at Magheramore, which was built in New England architectural style. The original O’Neill play takes place during a single day and is set in Connecticut, in the seaside home of the Tyrone family, who are modelled on O’Neill’s own family.

Filming was due to start on Monday but on Wednesday, crew members received an email telling them that problems with the film’s funding had not been resolved and the producers therefore had no means of paying them.

“That was the end of it,” according to one person who is owed money. “We were told there was no funding, nothing, and there’s thousands and thousands owing [to crew members and suppliers].”

For a film production to collapse within days of filming starting is very unusual, according to another source who is also out of pocket. Film production funding was, according to this source, “plate spinning par excellence [and] once production is up and running, if you stop, you are losing money hand over fist”.

In the case of A Long Day’s Journey, production had hardly started when it was stopped.

Following weeks of pre-production preparations, questions were asked last Friday week by people working on the set but who had not been paid. According to two sources, the answer was that there was a problem with funding but that efforts were being made to deal with the issue.

On Monday, the day filming was due to commence at Ardmore’s 30,000sq ft Film Factory facility in Bray Business Park, Mr Morris addressed the film crew and told them “they were trying to secure funding, that something had happened and it had fallen through”, according to sources.

“There was hope,” he said, according to the source who was present, “and if everyone could give them a day, they’d try to work it through.”

On Tuesday, the crew, some of whom have not been paid for four weeks, were told that talks would be taking place that night. However, it is understood that crew members said they could not continue to work for no pay and so filming stopped.

On Wednesday, the crew received an email to the effect that funding had not been secured and there was no means of them being paid. One out-of-pocket crew member said that they and their colleagues were “worker bees and now we’re paying for this”.

Harris and Lange had been cast to play, respectively, husband and wife James and Mary Tyrone - the role played by Lange on London’s West End in 2000. Other members of the cast included the American actor Ben Foster (as Jamie, their older son), the Northern Ireland actor Colin Morgan (playing Edmund, their younger son), the Irish actor Ericka Roe (the couple’s summer maid, characterised by O’Neill as a “buxom Irish peasant... amiable, ignorant, clumsy with a well-meaning stupidity”), and American actor Lesa Thurman, playing Bridget, a cook.

At Ardmore’s Film Factory last Thursday, workmen were dismantling and removing items through the reception area of the film’s production office. Upstairs, in the production manager’s office, Bernie McGrath said: “I’m not at liberty to be discussing anything with you.”

Ardmore Studios declined to comment.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times