Liam O Mochain is an original. For the last two decades, he has been making up his own rules as to how an independent film-maker should comport himself. Released in 1999, The Book That Wrote Itself, his debut feature, is notable for, among other things, listing George Clooney, Catherine Deneuve, Warren Beatty and many other megastars among its credits. (We'll explain in a moment.) His second film, WC (2007), was set largely in the lavatory of a jazz bar.
On the surface, Lost & Found, O Mochain's most complete film to date, sounds only mildly unconventional. The portmanteau project spins a collection of largely independent stories around visitors to a lost and found office – manned by the director – in Portarlington station. There's a melodrama. There's a romance. Dig deeper and the characteristic O Mochain oddness emerges.
“We had three and a half or four days of shooting every May bank holiday weekend over a six-year period,” he says. “We had to move the weekend one year. Someone wasn’t available. But I wanted that consistency.”
Hang on a moment. Am I hearing this right? Lost & Found was filmed over six years? As we move from one story to the next – they weren't shot chronologically – we are shifting backwards and forwards through the decade. How on earth did he keep the cast and crew on board?
“Well, we paid everyone to work on it – except maybe a few interns,” he says. “I would raise the money myself. I’d work at different jobs. The first year I had the money. The second year I had that segment paid in a few months. By the time we came to the seventh it was taking me 10 months to pay it all off.”
This gets more impressive still. Not only did O Mochain return once a year to add a few more sequences; he also financed the entire project out of his own pocket. A busy radio producer, O Mochain has always worked outside the system. He doesn’t seem to understand the notion of impediments.
I sounded like I was from somewhere else altogether
“I looked for completion money from the film board [Screen Ireland] and they said no,” he says. “We gave them pretty much a finished film minus grading and some sound work. They just didn’t like it. They said it wasn’t really for them. They didn’t think it was going anywhere. So I finished it myself.”
O Mochain was born in Limerick to a Clare family and, fostered as a child, "grew up in lots of different places". Before the age of three, he had been in four or five different homes. He eventually ended up in the Galway Gaeltacht. Arriving with little Irish, he remembers his classmates being slightly taken aback when they heard him speaking English. "I sounded like I was from somewhere else altogether," he says.
While studying business at the regional technical college, he moved towards the Galway Youth Theatre. He later attended the Gaiety School of Acting and developed his interest in radio.
Then The Book That Wrote Itself happened. Now a bit of a legend in the industry, the film concerns an author who hires a film-maker to document his experiences travelling the world. (It's a bit more convoluted than that, but we have only so much space.) Somewhere along the way, he meets a bunch of actual movie stars.
"I had gone the previous year, in 1997, to the Venice Film Festival for TG4 and I realised how easy it was to get a press pass and get interviews," O Mochain explains. "I was going to have actors playing movie stars. Then I remembered Venice and I thought I'd go off there and see if I could do that. So I got my press pass and I was there, asking questions."
If I want to do something I will go ahead and do it. I have done everything that I should do
The result is the most star-studded entry for any Irish film on the Internet Movie Database. Clooney, Beatty, Branagh, Deneuve, McKellen, Bening, Bean: The Book That Wrote Itself is a gift for anyone playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
“The iffiest bit was when the camera wasn’t turned on,” he says. “But trying to get Robert De Niro was really hard. We just couldn’t get him. Well, we got him, but we couldn’t use it because he was grunting. Now, he’ll go off on rants.”
O Mochain has kept at it. An endlessly friendly guy who takes criticism on the chin and holds few apparent grudges, he has become a regular fixture at all significant events in the film calendar. Expect to see him touting the next big idea at Cannes and look out for him at the Galway Film Fleadh.
I wonder if he ever gets downhearted that he has remained something of an outsider.
“No. If I want to do something I will go ahead and do it,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I won’t work with people. I have developed projects with the film board. I have done everything that I should do.”
He shrugs and notes that sometimes people just don’t get the work.
“I have a bit of a maverick sensibility,” he says.
You could say that.
THREE GREAT “PORTMANTEAU” FILMS
Films composed of several stories have been around forever. Here are three of note.
Dead of Night (1945) A rare horror from Ealing Studios, this classic anthology ends with a famous possessed-ventriloquist shocker starring Michael Redgrave.
Short Cuts (1993) Robert Altman links his vignettes drawn from Raymond Carver, but his sprawling LA epic remains a portmanteau in the old style.
Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972) How do you adapt a sex-help manual? If you're Woody Allen, you turn it into a series of short comic pastiches that touch on various sexual hang-ups.