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Brit Takes: Lenny Abrahamson on Why Irish Directors Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

Brit Takes: Lenny Abrahamson on Why Irish Directors Shouldn't Be Overlooked


[Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with Shinola in support of Brit Takes, our monthly dispatch on the UK film scene. As makers of modern watches, bicycles, leather goods, and journals, Shinola stands for skill at scale, the preservation of craft and the beauty of industry.  Learn more about Shinola handcrafted goods.]

READ MORE: 2016 Oscar Predictions Best Picture

Dublin-born director Lenny Abrahamson has been making the rounds this awards season with “Room,” the acclaimed kidnapping drama starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. But Abrahamson has been making films for years before he was a major contender in the Oscar race. In this week’s Brit Takes column, he discusses his early days in the Irish film scene and how it continues to impact his career.

In what ways has your
Irish background influenced your professional decisions?

I’m Irish, I grew up in
Ireland, and it’s impossible to separate my background from who I am as a filmmaker. It’s also impossible to describe the influence in any precise way. My first three films are set in and about Irish life, the most recent two aren’t —
but I will certainly make more films in Ireland. I still live here and feel
deeply connected to the culture, history and art of the country.


How did you get to where you are now in the industry?

I started making small
films on video with Ed Guiney in Trinity College in Dublin. We made a short on
film called “3 Joes” the year we left college and then, after I’d spent some
time in the States studying, I came home and started to write a bit and then to
direct TV commercials. Through Jonny Speers, the producer who I made my
commercials with, I met Mark O’Halloran who had the idea for and wrote “Adam
& Paul.” Jonny produced it and Ed exec’ed and the Irish Film Board — which had
just been reconstituted — supported it. That was really the start of it for me.
Everything came from “Adam & Paul”.

Is it harder for filmmakers in Ireland to get recognized in the industry than if you’re from, say,  England, Scotland or Wales?

I don’t think so, at all.
In fact, Ireland is a good place to start out as a filmmaker. If what you do
is good, even at a very small scale, it will get recognized. Because there
is state support for filmmakers, if you keep working, there is a chance to make a low-budget film and start to flex your muscles as an artist. As far
as the international industry is concerned, I don’t think people care at all
where you are from — if the work interests them. And there is also such a great
network of Irish people around the world who support culture form here.

“Room” is
playing at the upcoming Irish Film Festival in London. It’s a major
showcase for Irish cinema, in its fifth year, and really highlights and raises
the profile of Irish cinema culture. I’ve just learned that “Room” has won the
Best Feature Award there and I’m really proud of that. 

What would you say is the easier market for you to work in: European or
American film industries? Is there even a difference when it comes to your
process?

So far, for me, there has
been no difference. Actually, Europeans have something of an advantage in the States as we can bring financing with us from a culture that supports less-commercial filmmaking.

What are you most proud of in “Room” in terms of your craft?

Probably helping Jacob
Tremblay, our eight-year-old lead, to find and shape his complex and delicate
performance. That’s maybe the biggest challenge and most rewarding experience
I’ve had as a director. 

Which is more challenging for a director: Working in the UK television
industry or UK film industry?

I’ve never worked in the
UK television industry but my guess it that it’s a tough world for directors.
In the U.S. there is a move in the cable television world to bring in filmmakers and to
give them space to shape TV. In the UK, the director is usually brought in late
and is expected simply to execute the script. This might be one reason why TV
in the U.S. is more exciting than in the UK.

Why do you make films? 

I’m completely fascinated
by the possibilities of the medium. I am
also fascinated by ideas, by societies, by people. Trying to merge these two
sorts of interest is what I spend my time doing and what drives me. 

What advice would you
give aspiring film directors from Ireland?

Very simply: start making
things. The technology has never been cheaper or more easily available, so if
you’re interesting in visual storytelling, you can practice and develop as a
filmmaker.

READ MORE: How Lenny Abrahamson Beat Out the Rest of Hollywood to Direct ‘Room’

This article is presented in partnership with Shinola in support of Brit Takes, our monthly dispatch on the UK film scene. Detroit based design brand Shinola was conceived with the belief that products should be made by hand and built to last. As makers of modern watches, bicycles, leather goods, and journals, Shinola stands for skill at scale, the preservation of craft and the beauty of industry. Learn more about Shinola handcrafted goods.

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