Liam O Mochain’s “WC” is the bittersweet story of two washroom attendants trying to make the best of their depressing jobs in a Dublin bar. Independently produced within the Irish film community, it went on to screen at festivals such as Montreal, Cairo, Portobello, Galway, and Las Vegas. Released theatrically in the UK in March, it will find its way onto DVD in the UK starting October 26. Prior to its U.S. theatrical roll-out (which begins on November 13), “WC” has debuted on FilmBuff, the Cable VOD channel programmed by Cinetic Rights Management (check local listings). It will next be available on iTunes and Amazon VOD, as well as other broadband portals.
Please introduce yourself…
I am a filmmaker originally from Galway now living in Dublin, Ireland. I worked on numerous TV shows for Irish broadcasters and made my feature debut in 1999, as a writer/director on the feature film “The Book That Wrote Itself.” The film featured George Clooney, Kenneth Branagh, Melanie Griffith and Chazz Palminteri in cameo roles. It had its world premiere at the 1999 Galway Film Fleadh, its international premiere at the Vancouver Film Festival and screened at a further 20 international film festivals. My second film, “WC,” has screened at film festivals in 11 countries and won the best foreign film award at the recent Las Vegas Film Festival.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
I wanted to get films made. I wrote scripts for other producers that never got to see the light of day and I got tired of waiting around. The other main impetus to finally make my own films was all of the time I spent applying and re-applying to the state film body for funding. I got tired of their indecision. They seem to be only interested in funding established producers or former employees who set up their own companies and projects. I also felt that they weren’t very honest about their selection criteria; quality can’t only exist in former employees or those who know how the system works. It’s a great vindication then to get your film made, selected for major film festivals across the world, and distributed worldwide.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking (either on the creative side or industry side) that you would still like to explore?
I’ve been lucky and independently-minded enough to work as a filmmaker in its true sense; combining the creative, decision-making and practical roles of films. I’d love to make a film with a bigger budget; even a modest budget would be great. My short film “Fortune” cost about $10k, my first feature cost approx $45k and my second feature “WC” cost $85k (not including cast and crew deferrals). The budgets are getting bigger but not big enough to work with all of the people I’d like to, and create all the scenes I’d like.
Please discuss how the idea for this film came about.
I made the film “The Book That Wrote Itself,” and spent three years bringing it to film festivals and getting distribution. In 2001, I was ready to make another film and started on a script about an Irish radio DJ. I got initial seed money from the state film body to develop it into a script. I wrote nine drafts of the script, went through every hoop they put before me from script changes, to working with a script editor, to development plans. They finally approved the script in 2004 after three years and suggested that the producers I hired submit the film to them for production finance. We submitted and they said no. We had funding from US, Germany and UK for the film but without the film body’s funding, the other funders would not release funds. So the film fell apart.
I then decided that it was time to take things into my own hands as I had done with my first feature. Around this time I had seen a TV show in Ireland about people working in minimum wage jobs; these people were on the edge of society, people didn’t seem to notice them or acknowledge their existence. I was interested in exploring this idea on film. The Colin Farrell film, “Phone Booth,” was another inspiration as I wondered where else can you set a film that is primarily one location. Toilets were an obvious answer and if they were in a public area like a bar you’d have many characters coming in (without having to move the crew or cast too much).
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film.
“WC” is a social drama. it examines topical issues like racism, social integration, sex trafficking and low paid workers in an everyday setting. I spent six months doing research on the individual stories and characters in the film, and a further six months writing the script. In making the film I drew inspiration from directors Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, and Michael Winterbottom. I like the way they make their films seem real, even though you know that the stories and characters that they depict are fictional. Leigh and Loach in particular get naturalist performance from their actors. I rehearsed with the actors intensively before filming. I like to rehearse as you would with a stage play and shoot in a documentary style.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making and securing distribution?
Once I decided I was going to make the film, the main issues then was funding. I decided that I was going to shoot the film for about $6k and then when I had a rough cut I would show it to the Irish film body to get completion funding. That was the plan. The shoot ended up costing about $16k. I raised sponsorship, private investment, bank loans and credit cards. Then we submitted a cut of the film to the film body and they turned it down not once but three times over the course of a year and several cuts of the film. So we spent another year raising the rest of the money and doing the post-production in stages as we could afford it. Everyone was very patient with us.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
In this film, the main characters are from a mixture of different places around the world, with their own stories and backgrounds. For many of the crew, it was an opportunity to flex their creative capacity within the confines of a low budget film. As regards the casting, I had always planned on playing the part of Jack, the toilet attendant. I wrote the character with myself in mind. I had played very outgoing characters previously and I wanted to do something completely different. Jack is a very subtle character; like Katya the other toilet attendant. Both are often seen as invisible background figures but here we see the world through their eyes.
We held open auditions in Dublin as it gave us an opportunity to see new actors, like Julia Wakeham who turned up to the opening casting call to test for the role of Katya and blew us away with her reading. She was a South African of Norwegian descent and had obviously had done a lot of research for the part. We knew straight away that she was perfect.
What other genres or stories would like to explore as a filmmaker? What is your next project?
Over the next few months I am working on a few different short films. It has been a while since I made a short and I am looking forward to playing around with a few ideas that I have and the challenge of trying to contain stories within a short amount of time. Shorts have their own rules and structure. It will also give me time to breathe before I start another feature. I will hopefully get to make a feature in Irish/Gaelic that I have been developing with the Irish broadcaster TG4 sometime next year. Then it would be great to go back to some of the other scripts that I have written and see if they hold up or are still relevant.
What is your definition of “independent film,” and has that changed at all since you first started working?
That’s always a big debate. As far as I am concerned if a film is funded by either a studio/ major financier/worldwide distributor/state body or a company that is a subsidiary/owned by either of those then it is not an independent film. Independent is when you are completely in control of the film, your neck is on the line to get it made and get it out there. I have to laugh when I hear a producer or director complaining that they had such a tough time getting their “independent film” made for millions and had to adhere to terms and conditions that the distributor or the so-called independent arm of studio set for them.
When I started making films in the mid 90’s, digital filmmaking was all the rage with the dogma films. Ten years later and it’s now digital distribution that is the big thing. It is harder in some ways now and easier in other ways. Getting the film made is difficult but getting a distributor is near impossible. All of the indie film distributors are nearly all gone. Filmmakers now have to be more aware and more involved in all of the process from getting the film made through to distribution. There may be less distributors around but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any less opportunities. Digital distribution from VOD, streaming, downloads are all part of the new world of distribution. You can now split your film rights giving digital to one company, TV and regular home video to another and sell the film on your own website. In the past, if you split your rights nobody wanted the film.
What general advice would you impart to emerging filmmakers?
You talk about making movies, then just go and make the fucking thing. Stop talking about it and just do it! To be honest I don’t care how a film is made and the audience doesn’t care how a film is made because what matters is what’s up on the screen. However much it costs to make, it’s what is on the screen that matters. I don’t go along with an ethos where you have to make a film in one particular way; everybody has their own style and way of working.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of?
Having my films shown at film festivals all over the world, turning on the TV and seeing something you created, or overhearing people in a café talking about your film.
For more on “WC,” visit the film’s official website.