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“White Irish Drinkers” Director on Shooting Nude Scenes in Cemeteries & More

"White Irish Drinkers" Director on Shooting Nude Scenes in Cemeteries & More

“White Irish Drinkers” director John Gray shared his thoughts on making his Brooklyn-set drama with indieWIRE. The film hits select cinemas today, March 25.

In 1975 in the Bay Ridge area in Brooklyn, an enclave of working-class, hardscrabble families live with a societal code that discourages any aspirations to leave the neighborhood. In the thick of it are two brothers, Danny (Geoff Wigdor) and Brian (Nick Thurston), who dare to dream of life elsewhere. But their reasons for leaving, and their means of doing so, are so opposed that they threaten to destroy their entire family and, potentially, each other.

Elder brother Danny has suffered years of physical and verbal abuse from his flinty, alcoholic father (Stephen Lang) and is relying on his criminal ambitions to get the two brothers as far from Bay Ridge as possible. Brian doesn’t share Danny’s enthusiasm for crime and keeps his hopes and heart locked away in the basement of their apartment building, where he spends all of his free time drawing and painting.

When Whitey (Peter Riegert), the owner of a failing local cinema where Brian works, announces a concert by The Rolling Stones that will share profits with the young man, Brian guardedly hopes that his secret ambition to attend art school might finally be realized. But soon Danny’s reckless crimes, his father’s alcohol-soaked temper and Brian’s flailing attempts to avoid both collide and the resulting turmoil ends in an upheaval that affects the entire community. [Synopsis courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival]

Responses courtesy of “White Irish Drinkers” director John Gray.

What movies gave…

I remember seeing movies as a kid, where I would connect to a character or to the world of the movie in a way that made me want to be able to give someone that same experience. I loved feeling like I wasn’t alone in the world, and movies gave me that.

An honest look at life…

I had always wanted to do a movie that would depict the blue collar world I grew up in in a more realistic light than most movies seemed to. Working class characters are so often portrayed as stupid or slow, but the working class neighborhood where I grew up was full of really smart, savagely funny, cynical people who may not have had college degrees but really understood how the world worked, and I loved them for that. I also wanted to take a look at a way of life in that time and place where the danger wasn’t necessarily what could happen to you on the streets, but what could happen to you once you closed the door to your apartment at night.

A naturalistic approach…

I tried to approach it in a very low key, realistic style. I used hand held cameras to give it a bit of a documentary feel, but also to create a feeling of nervous instability, which reflects how these characters are living.

One quick shoot…

Like any independent project, the challenge is finding the money. I spent ten years trying to get the movie made, until I reached a point where, because of a successful TV series I had on the air, I was able to finance it myself and do it digitally, which is what I did. We made it in 17 days for $600,000.

A foul smell…

We shot the family apartment scenes in an abandoned brownstone in Brooklyn. An elderly man had lived there with 25 cats, and he had passed away but the cats had remained… We had to hire a crime scene cleanup company to come and try to get rid of the smell; they failed! Nevertheless, our lead actor Nick Thurston, who is from LA and needed a place to stay during the shoot, moved into the house and actually lived there in a tent. Our DP also pitched a tent in another room and stayed there as well.

The other funny problem we had was finding a cemetery that would allow us to shoot nude scenes. I had scripted it for a very famous Brooklyn cemetery, and they were happy to have us shoot there until they read the part in the script where two naked actors had to run through the cemetery. They frowned on this and said no. Ultimately we found another cemetery in Queens which was more than happy to have naked people running around. They had us use a very old section, where the last burial was in 1895. “We don’t get too many visitors here; the whole crew can get naked for all we care.”

What’s next…

I’m always developing TV projects, and I’m about to finish a feature script that deals with hate speech that the same producing partners from “White Irish Drinkers” and I will shoot in the Fall.

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