Lights; camera; credit card . . . ?
"I want to be a film director." Words to chill the blood of any parent - or, indeed, any concerned friend. There are few longer shots in life than the aspiration to direct feature films. Many feel called, but very few are chosen, and even those few often find it difficult or impossible to make more than one feature. Spare a thought, then, for the hardy or foolish souls who decide not to wait around for proper money to make their movies, but forge ahead on a wing, a prayer and a rapidly melting credit card. It takes a certain kind of determination - or madness - to take such a leap into the unknown.
Two films opening in the IFC within a week of each other reflect that obsessive determination. The Book That Wrote Itself, Liam O Mochain's picaresque tale of a young writer on the scam around Ireland, is actually a satire on the kind of egomania required to bring a feature film to the screen without any money, although he denies that Vincent Macken, the novelist he plays in his film, is actually a thinly-disguised version of himself. "The character is a bit of a blagger, all right," says O Mochain. "But the difference is he can't close a deal, which hopefully isn't like me. I think he's very far away from me, but there are a lot of people like him in the Irish film industry."
O Mochain set out to make The Book That Wrote Itself on a micro-budget of a few thousand pounds when he found his efforts to make a fully-financed feature film were stalling. "I had made a short, and I then spent ages trying to raise huge money for a feature. After a year, I realised I wouldn't be able to get that £2-3 million, so I decided to take the digital route. At that point Lars von Trier was making a lot of impact with his films. I watched Richard Linklater's film Before Sunrise, and thought it would be great to make a two-hander like that, but as a digital epic across Europe."
Reality set in when O Mochain realised his pan-European epic wasn't financially feasible. "So I set it around Ireland instead." The film does include a segment shot at the Venice Film Festival, where Vincent/Liam stands up at press conferences to ask (rather silly) questions of stars such as George Clooney and Melanie Griffith and Usual Suspects director Brian Singer.
The questions aren't particularly amusing, but they allow O Mochain to append a very starry "cast list" to his promotional material. "It's not my fault that journalists pick up on that," he protests innocently when I suggest that this is just more blagging. This is par for the course for O Mochain, who claims that he had nothing to do with a risible story in The Examiner recently about a Charles Haughey biopic starring Jack Nicholson, then admits that it was he who issued a press release to the paper in the first place, "denying" that the film was happening, then talked "off the record", to an Examiner journalist.
With his description of The Book That Wrote Itself as "a piss-take on post-modernism", O Mochain seems to be presenting himself as some sort of Merry Prankster of Irish movies (although the Haughey story isn't that much more absurd than some of the other "movie gossip" you'll find in the Irish media).
Much more serious-minded is Dublin-born Patrick Clarke, star, writer and producer of Beyond the Pale, an Irish-American feature which opens next Friday at the IFC. Telling the story of Patrick Shaw (Clarke himself, who has lived in the US for the last 14 years), a young Dubliner who comes to New York with dreams of the big time, but soon finds himself disillusioned and broke, Beyond the Pale is in an identifiable strand of recent American independent movies which have attempted to chart the experiences of the wave of Irish immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s.
Softer in tone than other examples, such as Exiled and Two by Four, it's remarkably handsome-looking for a low/no-budget production, due, says Clarke, to an excellent directing/cinematography team.
Like many no-budget films, Beyond the Pale had a protracted shooting schedule, stretching over two and a quarter years. "We began shooting in Dublin in December 1996, and completed in March 1999, but we were editing bits as we went along," says Clarke, who saw making a feature as a logical next step after being involved, like other aspirant film-makers in Irish theatre in New York.
"People like Jimmy Smallhorne were involved in that scene, and Jimmy went on to make Two by Four, which is a much darker film than ours, but is also semi-autobiographical." With help from his co-star, writer Malachy McCourt, who by a happy coincidence was a friend of the president of one of New York's main processing labs, Clarke and his director, George Bazala, got Beyond the Pale finished in time for last year's Galway Film Fleadh. Since then it has gone to several film festivals, winning awards at Houston and Saguaro in the US.
Clarke is working on another screenplay, although he admits he finds it difficult "getting used to not having the control I had on this film". Currently living in Dublin, he plans to move to Los Angeles shortly. "Because I want to get back into acting, and that's where the action is, not New York."
Meanwhile, Liam O Mochain is also working away on screenplays, "four at the moment", the most developed of which he describes as "like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but without the drag queens or the Abba songs". But surely that's all there is to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert? "Well, yeah, but that's the line." Treat anything this man tells you with a large dose of salt.
The Book That Wrote Itself is currently at the IFC. (See review above.) Beyond The Pale has a short run at the same venue from next Friday.