DUST director dishes – a chat with Nigel Mulligan

DUST is a short film by Nigel Mulligan, a first-time director inspired by such film makers such as David Lynch, Terence Malick, Danny Boyle & Lars Von Triers. Scripted as well as directed by Mulligan, DUST aims to explore themes of addiction and psychosis, themes that are close to the director’s heart due to his work as a psychotherapist in the homeless sector.

Starring Jamie Doyle and Sorcha Fahy, the short blurs the lines between reality and hallucination as philosophical lead character Cassie explores a romance with stable Art, but struggles with new drug 2CB and its effect on her grip on reality.

Film In Dublin spoke with Mulligan about his film, as he aims to screen it at upcoming festivals.

Film In Dublin: In your own words, how would you describe DUST?


Nigel Mulligan: DUST is a film about a young girl who is struggling to cope with the life she is living.  There is obvious indications to mental ill-health, psychosis, drug or computer addictions but ultimately there is a girl who is struggling to make sense out of her world. The film tries to capture her as she is attempts to navigate a transition of an abrupt end to living in the family home and into a new relationship but as we see certain tramautic aspects of her past such as the ambivalent relationship with her father are returning in haunting forms of delusions.


FID: The actors clearly worked hard to try to bring the characters to life, were there many discussions with Sorcha and Jamie before the shoot began?


NM: Yes the actors  did a fantastic job studying their characters. We spent a lot of time in the early stages in teasing out the characters and looking at the script and seeing how it was fitting with their embodiment of the characters and their relationship. The relationship was so important to establish early in the film, as that meant we could work on rupturing it and expose the conflict within

The actors actually brought other elements to the characters that not only made sense in the re-writing aspects of it but throughout shooting some scenes. I remember I gave Sorcha a general synopsis of Cassie and the journey she needed to take but she was so ambitious to understand psychosis and research that she asked for academic theory around it. and she did amazing at comprehending complex ideas in a short time, that took me years to get my head around.
FID: For an indie film with a small crew the effects in the short are quite impressive, and obviously important to the film in communicating the underlying themes. Can you talk about the challenges in making the film from an effects point of view? 

NM: Yes it was solely funded but it was completely the dedication of those talented crew who not only gave their skills, talent but who begged and borrowed equipment to up the production levels. Sometimes money can’t buy you passion and it was clear from the early days of conversations with the crew that provided a canvas to begin crafting the dream and at times teasing out how we can make simple scenes very effective. There was a great emphasis on achieving that high end production and even at times when I was struggling to direct and produce and manage time, our cinematographer Karl Dillon would ensure it was done right.

This made the post production much easier in the sense of making post production peeps pay attention to the good potential product we had. There were definite challenges around locations, and the time it was taking and peoples availability but we managed that by shooting a 3 year period. this had continuity challenges but it worked well as the time went on, the script would gradually get re-scripted to make sense out of the footage we got.
It was also evident that although we worked really well as a team, there were creative tensions, which I feel (in retrospect) were so important in grinding out the finished product. As well as people having other commitments, both professional and personal, I think this film took that long because of the complexity of the themes and story we were trying to tell and most importantly the cast and crews emotional investment in it.
FID: What are your ambitions going forward in filmmaking? Will you be building on some of the same themes or spinning off into something different?
NM: This was an amazing experience, but like little Red Riding Hood I feel like I am not out of the woods yet as we have to show case this film to audiences, and they are the true judges of the story points and how comprehensive the film is. We can have the all the theory and aesthetics right but can we make the audience member believe, or challenge their belief in understanding what is real and what is fiction.
I would definitely like to make a feature length next as I would like the challenge and I have a story in mind that would fit the feature length format, again contemporary and controversial with similar themes as DUST, or it could even be considered to be a follow up of sorts. I won’t say too much but the the working title is ‘Liquid Love’ and it around the date rape culture that is unfortunately on the rise.
With DUST, I am very satisfied that we were able to tell a sophisticated story with complex characters into a short format and in such a beautiful looking way. I was initially self- critical…to use a phrase that was commonly on my mind, but there was many times where I felt I bite of more than could chew but at times, I realised I wasn’t the only one chewing and shaping its to its completion.

About Luke Dunne

Luke is a writer, film addict and Dublin native who loves how much there is for film fans in his home county. A former writer for FilmFixx and the Freakin' Awesome Network, he founded Film In Dublin to pursue his dual dreams of writing about film and never sleeping ever again.

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