With the release of his latest short film, Cutting Grass, writer/director Ruairi O'Brien has been a busy man, but not too busy to spare us a few moments.
Funded by the Irish Film Board, and produced by Laura McNicholas, the film revolves around a young boy in desperate need of money, who stumbles upon a mysterious stranger that might be his ticket out of debt.
We caught up with Ruairi as he talked about his past work, his cast, and his future.
Q. The film deals with some pretty dark themes, was there any worries when it came to working with such a young cast?
A. It didn’t really cross my mind until we were casting and I just thought we would have to be very up front and clear with the cast about what we were doing and we made sure that their parents knew. It’s not as if they actually had to do anything awful but you just don’t want angry parents or very innocent kids being anxious afterwards.
Q. Scott Graham has been making a name for himself in the Irish short scene, but having typically played younger roles, what made you cast him as arguably his most advanced character yet?
A. Somebody told me a few years ago, that when you are casting a young actor the most important thing to look for is someone who can listen. With Scott you could give him quite subtle or nuanced notes and he would make them work. We didn’t look at his previous performances we just met him and liked him. He was in fact a bit older than what we had in mind, but he stood out to us and we knew pretty quickly that we wanted him for the part.
Q. Getting John Hannah must have been a big coup, but the dark, brooding stranger with a secret is quite a risqué role. Was there any apprehension on his part when it came to playing the character?
A. Originally, I wrote the film for my father. When he died we shelved the project.
Then I worked with John on "A Touch Of Cloth". Even though it was a comedy, there were moments where his stillness was really affecting.
I got talking to John and it turned out that his very first day getting paid to act was on a show in Glasgow called Brond. And on that day he had been working with my dad and remembered him. It was one of those very weird co-incidences.
John just read it and said yes. He had no questions or reservations. He liked it and was up for it. He’s very good about doing stuff, shorts etc… He’s just a very good guy.
Q. It's been six years since you last made a short. After making Teeth and Hoor so close to each other, what was the delay with Cutting Grass?
A. Life gets in the way!
Teeth was 2006 and Hoor was 2008. Then we almost got funded with Cutting Grass that year but it didn’t work out. We also just got busy. John works in visual effects and I am a cameraman. The last few years have been very busy, John also became a father.
Q. Can we expect more in the short term, or are we looking at another long gap?
A. Hard to say. We are both pretty busy. We need to find a project that excites us both equally. So we might do films together or we might do things separately. At the moment we have nothing planned but you never know.
Q. Having written and directed all three of your shorts with John Kennedy, what makes the partnership work so well, and are we likely to see it continue?
A. It’s quite systematic the way we co-work, John calls it "bi-recting". I generally handle the prep and John deals with the post. I do the writing and take notes from John. But then he handles the sound mix, the edit and all that end of things. On set I light and operate the camera.
I think co-directing is a really interesting way to work but it’s important to have a system in place. Otherwise it can be grown men squabbling over imaginary people as the clock ticks ad the money ebbs away.
Q. After working on some high profile projects as a cinematographer, what made you return to the writing/directing chair, and what are your plans for the future?
I don’t really see much difference in terms of the scale of things. In the film world there’s a lot of people that think a feature film is more valid than a short. By that reasoning, the idea that duration is value, The DaVinci Code is a better book than The Catcher In The Rye.
I get asked by people is directing what I want to do, am I going to turn my back on cinematography. It’s really not like that. There are just some films I want to make and sometimes the only way to do it is to do it yourself. Really I see myself as a cameraman. I love collaborating with directors. I love being the closest person to an actor and watching the light on their face. Cinematography is like a beautiful jigsaw with no edges.
Words by Jason Brennan.