For a number of years, Leitrim-based director Sean Clancy has built up his reputation, working on a number of music videos and short films, including the award-winning Cavalier. His first feature film, Locus of Control, tells the story of a struggling stand-up comedian Andrew Egan who is forced to take a teaching job helping the unemployed re-enter the workforce. As Andrew grows accustomed to the droll institution and its occupants he suspects that one of the students is out to get him and that the previous teacher may not have left of his own accord. His life slowly unravels and both Andrew’s lessons and stand-up gigs fall on deaf ears and he finds himself trapped in a larger cosmic joke. The film was shown last month as one of the Irish features at the Silk Road Film Festival, and this Thursday will be the opening feature of the second Dublin Sci-Fi Film Festival. Ahead of that screening of the film, written, directed and edited by Clancy, Film In Dublin caught up with the up and coming Irish director.
Film In Dublin: Though it’ll quickly become apparent to those that watch the film, can you describe what the “Locus of Control” means to those who haven’t yet seen it?
Sean Clancy: Locus of Control refers to a personality test by the same name which helps indicate how a person views the world. Whether you have control over your life or whether everything is dictated by chance and outside circumstances.
FID: Your film is a fitting opener for Dublin Sci-Fi Film Festival in many ways as it depicts something of a present-day dystopia. Are the frustrations of the modern world shown in the film drawn from your own experiences?
SC: In part, the personal is mixed in with observation and imagination too. I wasn’t too interested in making something about my own life specifically, just to take some ideas from it. That oppressive isolating atmosphere in the film is a slightly heightened way of showing how the main character feels.
FID: That heightened atmosphere leads to some striking shots as things get to Andrew and the reality of what he’s seeing becomes more questionable. Did you go into the shoot with specific images in mind or did you work things out on the day?
SC: Keeping that atmosphere consistent over the film is as much about shooting a certain way as it is choosing a certain location. I spent a lot of time looking for appropriate locations before the shoot, places that fit the look and feel of the film that we could also get access to. By getting familiar with the locations beforehand I had a pretty clear idea of the shots I wanted to get on the day. By the time the scenes were blocked out sometimes things would change a little but knowing what we needed saved time. There was one last minute location change but it worked out pretty smoothly. Its the car by the lake in one of the first scenes, The location was changed the night before at about 4am.
FID: There’s a lot of comedy as well as dread in the film drawn from bureaucracy and red tape. In writing and directing the film did you lean more towards one side or the other or was it always an even balance?
SC: When I was writing I was conscious of keeping a balance but the editing is really where it came into focus. There were rough cuts that feel flatter or don’t get the humour across as well but eventually things click into place.
FID: There are scenes that feature cheesy 80s training tapes that were some of the stand outs from the humour side, was it fun directing something in a different style in the middle of the project?
SC: Yeah that was good fun to do. All of that stuff was shot after the main shoot wrapped so it was nice to jump into something that was just silly and odd.
FID: You’ve worked on short films and music videos before Locus, can you talk about the experience of working on a feature?
SC: Most of the time with the short films or music videos you’re dealing with smaller budgets so I wrote Locus with that same kind of thinking in mind. I knew I could shoot and edit the film and a lot of the cast I worked with before so we all like working together. The edit was probably the most difficult part, just to bring together a bigger project like that. It was great getting a chance to work with people I hadn’t worked with before either like Seamus O’Rourke.
FID: Would you like a different editor for your next film or was it still positive overall editing this film yourself?
SC: Overall, it was definitely a positive experience. To get to see everything that was shot and piece it all together felt like a great way to learn. I’m always open to working with others in any role and having perspective when editing is invaluable. Having another person that understands the film during the edit is very helpful. I relied on a lot of people I knew to give feedback on some of the earlier cuts and Anthony Barry who helped shoot the film was also great to watch rough cuts with to help to keep refining the edit.
FID: And in terms of the people you worked with on the film, how did you find the collaboration with the cast? It seemed like they really got what the film was going for from the beginning.
SC: People like John and Peter I’ve worked with loads of times before so we had a good shorthand. But I was lucky in that everyone I asked to do it also liked the script. The cast were really sharp so even without much rehearsals they were getting the tone and humour perfectly. Its great seeing the cast bringing their own ideas to the characters too. Most people were in and out for brief intense windows of shooting so it was good fun and it kept the shoot interesting as there was always someone new coming.
FID: You’ve said in other interviews that you had John in mind specifically for Andrew. What made him the perfect choice for you?
SC: I really like working with John. I think hes right for Andrew because I knew that he’d be able to nail the humour and also be able to show a lot through his face in a quiet subtle way. So much of the character is internal that its important having John to bridge that and bring Andrew to life.
FID: this film plays out in a way that is going to get people talking when they come out of it. What kind of questions would you like people to be asking after they’ve seen Locus of Control?
SC: The basic idea behind the film is how much control you have over your life and why you repeat certain patterns or the effects they have on you so there might be something they can relate to from their own life but I’m interested to see what questions people have themselves.
FID: Finally, are you working on another feature in the near future? Any hints about what’s on your mind as you plan your next work?
SC: For the immediate future I’ll continue working on music videos and things like that but I’ve written another feature since Locus and its something I’d love to make. Its early days yet but the script is a very tense, mainly single location thriller and it has a similar vein of humour to Locus.
Locus of Control is the opening feature of the Dublin Sci-Fi Film Festival 2018, Thurs 26-Sun 29 April.