[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
“Once,” directed by John Carney, “may loosely be classified as a musical, but it has a refreshing verite inflection,” as stated by Sundance. The film takes place in Dublin and follows its lead characters, played by professional musicians, as they charm and inspire each other over the course of a week. “Great music aside, what makes this film special is how little effort it seems to exert. If it’s possible to be blindsided by simplicity–a light touch, ‘Once’ does it.” The film is screening in Sundance Film Festival‘s Independent Film Competition: World Dramatic section.
Please tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m a 34-year-old filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland, where I’ve lived pretty much all my life.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker? What other creative outlets do you explore?
I became interested in film making at around 16, when I discovered a friend of mine had a HI 8 camera which belonged to his father, which we were forbidden to use. We would steal the camera, heading off around Dublin at night making short films, and editing them between two VCRs during the day, having surreptitiously returned the camera to it’s rightful owner the next morning. This was back in the late eighties, long before YouTube, and so our early slasher movie/comedies reached a pretty small audience of friends and family.
I dropped out of school at 17, and joined the Irish band The Frames, getting my first glimpse into the world of professional film making while shooting of a number of rock videos. At this stage, the lead singer of the band, Glen Hansard, bought me an 8mm camera and projector from Conn’s Cameras in Dublin for 125 pounds. He leant me the money and I never paid him back. I’ll pay him back some day.
I left the band a couple of years later to pursue a career in filmmaking, which was a bit of a gamble back in those days in Ireland, which was at the tail end of a recession and had little or no movie business to speak of. After a couple of attempts at making shorts, I decided to make a feature film with a friend, Tom Hall, whom I’ve worked with ever since. That film, shot on Hi 8 over a couple of weeks in Dublin, gained some small notoriety at film festivals, and we got some small backing from the newly established Irish Film Board, to make another couple of films over the next few years. I’ve been making films ever since.
Please tell us about your film. What was your approach to making “Once”? How did you finance the film?
My film is a sort of modern day musical. I like the classic musicals of the forties and fifties, and I wanted to attempt to make a contemporary story in which the lead characters sung more than they spoke. I was tired writing 90-page scripts and trying to express myself with dialogue, plot twists etc, and opted for a mood piece, which would be a kind of visual album; a film which you could watch over and over just to hear the songs again in the way I can watch “Guys and Dolls,” or “A Star is Born” over and over, regardless of knowing exactly what’s coming next.
The script for “ONCE” was fifty pages long. I knew that there would be a number of songs in the film, and wanted to include them in their entirety. I like the idea of keeping the overall cost of a film low, so that spontaneous creativity is possible. I shot “ONCE” for a hundred thousand euro in two weeks. The Irish Film Board provided the backing, and many of the cast and crew worked on less than what they were used to, but were happy to be working on an unusual film.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance. Where were you, and how did you react?
I was walking down the street and my producer called me on my mobile. She just said the word “Sundance,” and I think I punched the air or something awful like that. It was music to my ears, having taken a risk making a film for nothing, and talking all those people into doing it with me.
What are some of your favorite films, and why?
Favorite films would go like this: “Les Enfants du Paradis“, “Rear Window“, “Wild Strawberries,” “A Woman Under The Influence,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Taxi Driver,” “Fanny and Alexander.”
I suppose these are typical “filmmaker’s favorite films,” but it’s hard to answer why anyone likes a particular film. I suppose it would be hard for anyone who ever looked through the viewfinder of a camera not to appreciate these films.
What is your top ten list for 2006?
I’d have to be honest and say I’d have a hard time picking ten really good films from 2006. “L’enfant” by the Dardenne Brothers was exceptional. “Hidden,” by Michael Hanakee was great. “The Squid and the Whale” was terrific.
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