Earlier this month in New York, Irish writer-director Terry George and I met at the fabled Monkey Bar off Fifth Avenue to talk about his short "The Shore," which just won the Oscar Sunday. The Irish filmmaker, who was nominated for writing "In the Name of the Father" and "Hotel Rwanda" and directed Don Cheadle to an acting nomination in that film, is an old hand at posing for the annual nominees photo–"the trick is to stand by the statue," he advises.
George and his producer, daughter Oorlagh, returned to County Down in Northern Ireland to shoot "The Shore," and brought in a strong Irish cast led by Ciaran Hinds ("Rome," "The Debt"). He plays a guy driven away by The Troubles to emigrate to America. He brings his daughter ("Rome"'s Kerry Condon) to visit his home country after decades away, and she persuades him to try to mend some broken fences from his past.
Condon was one of the actors in Michael Mann and David Milch's "Luck"; George directed the second episode. "It's the biggest budget I've ever had," he laughs. (Movie directors Phil Noyce and Mimi Leder are also on the show.) Mann and Milch are both "geniuses at what they do," George says. Milch is "like talking to Socrates," while Mann is about "vision and composition." George had to direct "Warrior" Oscar nominee Nick Nolte in a two-page monologue–and the actor nailed it in two or three takes, he says. As for the HBO series' star, "I would film for nothing with Dustin Hoffman," George says. "When you communicate with the guy, he knows you know. Every day was hilarious. I fuckin' love that guy."
The nugget for "The Shore" was a story George heard from his uncle while he was writing "In the Name of the Father," and he had always planned to work it into a feature, but never did. George also went through the inevitable frustrations of trying to get various projects off the ground in Hollywood after disappointing returns on "Reservation Road" (don't make a movie about a dead child, he says), including "Inside Man 2" for Spike Lee. "I felt I was losing my moorings," he says. So he decided to make "The Shore" as a short film, and Oorlagh raised the financing, took the film on the fest circuit, sold it to international TV, and established a foothold on iTunes.
They shot "The Shore" outside the front door where George grew up, on the coast of Northern Ireland–the first time he had worked in his home country. "All the extras were relatives," he says, including his Mum and Dad. "You can't get more family than that." He was nervous about showing the final film to his uncle, as he'd altered the story quite a bit (it was fine). And he hopes the lush seascapes will lure tourists to what is still a depressed area.
For now, while he does plenty of high-paid studio rewrite work from his home in Sag Harbor, he's resisting the lure of Hollywood and focusing on Europe, where it's still possible "to raise money for a realistic $5 million or so," he says. Last year George shot a feature he wrote and directed in Belfast, the dark comedy "Whole Lotta Sole," about a fish market robbery gone bad, starring Colm Meany and Brendan Fraser, which will debut at Tribeca en route to a North American distributor.
"The best thing about 'The Shore' was to take the time to work with a group of actors, to start painting the canvas," he says. "There's a joy to it that I realized I had missed since 'Hotel Rwanda.'" He's got a trunkful of stories. "There are political stories out there I want to tell," he says. One entrapment story is about the security apparatus in New York that built up after 9/11. Stay tuned.