Editor’s Note: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
“The Eclipse” (World Narrative Feature Competition), Feature Narrative, 2009, 86 min., Ireland
Director: Conor McPherson
Primary Cast: Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Jim Norton, Eanna Hardwicke, Hannah Lynch
Producer: Robert Walpole
Executive Producer: Rebecca O’Flanagan
Screenwriters: Conor McPherson, Billy Roche
Director of Photography: Ivan McCullough
Editor: Emer Reynolds
Composer: Fionnuala Ni Chiosain
(Drama, Romance, Supernatural)
Synopsis: Award-winning screenwriter and Tony-nominated playwright McPherson crafts an exquisite atmospheric drama about a widower (Ciaran Hinds, Munich) who sees and hears strange things in his house. His life converges with a beautiful author of supernatural fiction (Iben Hjejle, High Fidelity) and a full-of-himself pop novelist (Aidan Quinn) at an international literary festival that will alter their lives in surprising ways. (Description provided by Tribeca Film Festival).
Please introduce yourself…
My name is Conor McPherson. I was born in Dublin, Ireland. I’m 37. I’m married to a painter and musician called Fionnuala Ni Chiosain. We live in Dun Laoghaire which is a town beside the sea in County Dublin.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
I came to movies obliquely through the theatre. I started writing and directing plays when I was about 18. I was approached to write a screenplay in 1994 and wrote I Went Down which was released in 1997/98. I then directed a film adaptation of one of my plays, called Saltwater in 2001. That was the first one I directed. I’ve directed a lot of plays, but directing for theatre is very different from film. In theatre you are like a coach helping the team prepare for the nightly ordeal of performance. When you are directing a film you are hunting for great moments. They only have to happen once and you have to be ready when they come. I love every aspect of film making, from choosing a lens for a shot right through to mixing the sound. I love it all.
What prompted the idea for “The Eclipse” and what excited you to undertake it?
Our movie was inspired by a short story by the great Irish playwright, Billy Roche. Billy and I have been friends for many years. We wanted to work together and used Billy’s story from a book he wrote called Tales From Rainwater Pond as our jumping off point. The original is a love story set against the backdrop of a literary festival. Over the years we spent writing the screenplay it morphed into a hybrid of our two styles, with a large supernatural/horror element creeping in, courtesy of all my usual obsessions. I can’t say what excited me about it specifically, except all the usual reasons – a chance to create a parallel universe we can seek to create and control and admire.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
Film makers who inspired the style of “The Eclipse” include Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski and William Friedkin. I wanted it to have the atmosphere and poise of movies like “The Exorcist,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining” and even “2001: A Space Odyssy!”
Now considering our budget was about 2 million euros that was a pretty tall order, but having those movies as references really made a difference. Formerly I tended to shoot movies on the longest possible lenses. But on “The Eclipse” I shot a tremendous amount of it at the wider end of the Kubrickian lens spectrum. I also wanted the lighting to be very daring. So we used “The Exorcist” as a reference with all its tremendous solid blacks, which almost make mystery and confusion a part of the very frame itself. We also shot many of the scenes in one continuous take in order to try and maintain the uneasy atmosphere. We had a fabulous steadicam operator, Roger Tooley, with us for the whole shoot and he has some really outstanding work in this film.
Our designer, Mark Geraghty, and our costumier, Consolata Boyle, worked closely to create a cool, calm colour palate which gives the whole thing an almost Scandanavian feeling. We used mostly period architecture and shot on location to add to the atmosphere. One thing I never had to worry about was the acting. We had such an amazing cast (Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjelje and Aidan Quinn) I could more or less let them get on with it and concentrate on the technical aspects of the film.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Every film project is immensely challenging. We shot this movie in 25 days which was really quite a short amount of time. But we had done an enormous amount of preparation and having spent four years working on the script, there was not one moment of doubt in my mind about what I wanted at any moment during the film making process. We also didn’t have a lot of money, but that gave us tremendous freedom. I didn’t have to please anyone but myself. Its rewards have far outweighed the challenges.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
Making any film that gives you pleasure is success as a film maker. Anything else is a bonus.
What are your future projects?
I’m directing a play next which is an adaptation I have done of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story, “The Birds.” It opens at the Dublin Theatre Festival this Autumn. I am currently rewriting the script and completing the casting process. I also have an idea for a new period piece I am working on. It’s really just at the note-taking phase, but it’s always nice to have a dream-like project to ponder in that place of perfection – the future!