The Irish movie set to spark a measured conversation about abortion
Young Irish film-maker Tom Ryan knew he was opening a can of worms with ‘Twice Shy’, which features a couple put to the test by an unplanned pregnancy
In 1928’s Road to Ruin – one of the first films to depict abortion – a teenager terminates her pregnancy, and, in a hitherto undocumented side effect, spontaneously combusts in her bed.
Nine decades on, and abortion is still the medical procedure that dare not speaks its name at the movies. In the case of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, stars Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen cannot say the word: instead, they just about bring themselves to euphemistically discuss getting “a shmashmortion at the shmashmortion clinic”.
Edgy, hip screenplays such as Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning script for Juno (2007) have also been seen to run away from the health clinic.
Hats off, then, to Tom Ryan. The young Irish film-maker knew he was opening a can of worms with Twice Shy, a movie designed to spark measured, balanced conversation in an arena known for precisely the opposite. Ryan’s much-admired sophomore feature follows a rural, Irish student couple – Andy (Shane Murray-Corcoran) and Maggie (Iseult Casey) – as they journey to England as the result of an unplanned pregnancy.
Andy and Maggie’s trip is hardly uncommon – some 3,451 women gave an address in the Irish Republic when attending clinics in England and Wales last year – yet depicting such an excursion on screen, particular in Ireland, is certainly novel.
“It was a very delicate balancing act throughout the entire film-making process: writing, shooting, performance, as well,” says Ryan. “Everything had to be impartial. We wanted to make a movie; a piece of entertainment. Not a piece of propaganda. So we were very conscious of that. We didn’t want the film to have an opinion. But it’s just a hot topic in Ireland at the moment.
“It’s a romantic drama first and foremost. About a young couple put to the test by an unplanned pregnancy. It was a way of putting the relationship to the test. It’s up to the audience to bring their own interpretation to the film. I wanted to find a way to present their journey that doesn’t take over the film.”
Sure enough, Twice Shy uses its UK journey as a means for the young characters to ponder the dissolution of their relationship. Flashbacks trace their courtship from Leaving Cert banter, the big Debs date, and to college, where new friends and old family problems come between them. Ardal O’Hanlon and Pat Shortt do terrific work as the couple’s dads.
“Having Pat and Ardal there – both for support, and, hopefully, as a way to let the audience know this isn’t going to be a gritty dark drama, was so important,” says Ryan. “Regardless of what we say, it is going to be tagged as an abortion drama. There’s not a lot we can do about that. But I think when people watch the film they’ll realise its more human and charming than they might have thought. It’s true to life. We’re not playing up dramatic element. Our two main actors had a lovely chemistry and a lovely relationship.”
Even within Ireland’s increasingly enterprising independent film sector, the Tipperary-born Ryan stands out as a poster child for can-do attitude. His debut feature, Trampoline, was completed before his 25th birthday. That film, a carefully observed migrant tale concerning a returning teacher (played by Aoife Spratt) readapting to the life she left behind, premiered at the Indie Cork film festival in 2013. It was made for a budget of €1,000.
Tex-Mex auteur Robert Rodriguez landed a two-year-deal with Columbia Pictures having made his 1992 student feature, El Mariachi, for $7,000 (€6.3k). But shoestring hits are seldom what they seem: Columbia Pictures spent another $200,000 (€179k) transferring Rodriguez’ print to film, remixed the sound, added post-production finesse, and spent millions more on advertising and theatrical prints. Trampoline, however, had no need to play down its means.
“Sadly, not,” laughs Ryan. “The original script for Trampoline was about a young girl who worked in a hospital as a nurse. We were hoping to raise maybe six grand to make the film. But I think we came along at a moment of crowdfunding fatigue. So I just went around local businesses in Nenagh in the hope. We didn’t hit our goal. We were lucky enough to get a grand. So the nurse became a teacher because we had access to my old school.”
Trampoline was a logical stepping stone for Ryan, a lifelong film fan. Aged 15, he landed a part-time job as a projectionist at a local Nenagh cinema. “Being from Tipperary, there wasn’t much art cinema back then. Working in projection strengthened my love of film. I spent all my evenings, all my summers, watching movies. Then, at weekends, I’d shoot little short films with my friends. They’re just atrocious. I hope they never see the light of day.”
While studying film production at St John’s Central College in Cork, he visited Washington DC – with monies saved from his cinema job – to make an independent documentary about Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration. A Time of Change went on to play on the US festival circuit. “It was something I really wanted to do. So I asked college to borrow some equipment . . . It gave me the excuse to get out of college for a week and make something for my portfolio. And lucky enough, it ended up doing well afterwards.”
He returned to the US after graduation, and nabbed an internship on Dark Horse, the sixth feature film from American cinema’s great poet of despair, Todd Solondz. Ryan had long been a fan and was particularly thrilled to train under cinematographer Andrij Parekh (the DOP behind Blue Valentine, The Zookeeper’s Wife and Half Nelson.
“I had a cinema poster for Half Nelson on my bedroom wall back in Tipperary. He taught me so much about shooting independent film and shooting on a low budget. And to arrive in New York and work on something with Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken, as well. It was huge. I was 22. It was unpaid. I had to do a doorman job to fund doing the internship. But I couldn’t put a price on what I learned and the experience I gained.”
“Twice Shy” opens on June 23rd