The current climate is one with a lot of uncertainty for us all, but it poses particular challenges for independent filmmakers. The already considerable difficulties of producing a film without grants or studio assistance takes on a whole new dimension when it comes to the new ground of actually getting your film released during increasingly long “strange times”.
One such film striving to get in front of audiences at this time if Irish indie feature Be Good or Be Gone. An entirely self-financed film from pre-production to post, this Dublin-set story is currently aiming for a theatrical release, and is set to screen soon for an Irish premiere at the Dublin Underground Film Festival.
Be Good or Be Gone is set over the course of 4 days in contemporary Dublin. The story follows Ste (Les Martin) and Weed (Declan Mills), two petty criminal cousins, who receive temporary release from Mountjoy prison. Both lads have big plans for the future. Ste wants to make a better life for himself, his long term partner Dee (Jenny-Lee Masterson) and six-year old daughter Ellie Mae. Weed’s ambition is to conquer the world of high fashion, thus becoming the new Galliano but a nasty substance addiction needs conquering first. Ste refuses to be moved when gang boss Braler (Alan Sherlock) tries to intimidate him into a heinous act of violence. Weed convinces a reluctant Ste to take part in an armed robbery which goes badly wrong, resulting in a shopkeeper being brought to deaths door. With news of the assault now broadcast over the airwaves and Braler breathing down their necks, Ste and Weed attempt to leave Dublin. As they are cornered by the dangerous world they so wanted to leave behind their plans for a bright new future seem to be dissolving away.
Film In Dublin caught up with Les Martin and the film’s director Cathal Nally, to chat about their experience putting the film together over the course of several years, and their efforts to get the film on screens and in front of eyes.
Film In Dublin
Well, first of all, as this film was a three year entirely self-funded project could you guys talk a little bit about the process of getting the film together?
I suppose in some ways it was kind of my baby. You know, it would have started God gone back about 10 years, you know, was 2009. I always had an idea for this story about two guys, whether they were brothers or cousins I didn’t yet know, just two guys at that kind of get into a little bit of trouble. It started off actually as a short years ago and I kind of parked it, it didn’t go anywhere, and then in 2009 and I ended up on a FÁS course – it was a computer course There was a guy on the course with me who had a script he was passing around the room and it was Paul Murphy (the film’s co-writer).
I didn’t know Paul at that time but I had heard all these comments about his writing and I happened to say to him, do you mind if I have a look at your writing; he was a chef and it was kind of a novel based on his stories I think it was kind of a novel kind of script that was based on his cheffing stories about Dublin characters.
I took a read of it and I thought the writing style of Paul was brilliant. It was a real kind of a quirky turn of Dublin phrase. It wasn’t a kind of Roddy Doyle as such or Mark O’Rowe but it was kind of somewhere in the middle, you know? I asked him was he any good with dialogue, I said I have this idea for a feature film script and Paul said that was his thing, his strength.
We spent four or five years on the script, honing it and giving it out to well-established Dublin production companies. Now we were a little bit naïve in the beginning, you know we were sending out like 60-page drafts to companies. We had nobody to steer us in the right direction, so we were just expecting them to kind of get back to us and say ‘right, this is brilliant, we’ll take it on board’, but that’s not how it works. But we did receive some really good feedback telling us to keep plugging away at it. In 2012 we applied for a First Draft Loan with the Irish Film Board. We didn’t get accepted onto that…that knocked us back.
Things only really got going when Cathal came on board. I got in touch with Declan Wells, and told him there was a few years wasted on this but I really wanted to do it next year which would have been around 2015. He had a couple of directors in mind and passed the list onto myself, Cathal was the first name that I contacted. When I met Cathal he told me he had a window of opportunity that January. He was interested in the script but needed to change a couple of things, that’s what really got the ball rolling with the whole thing. We ended up just doing ourselves, producing the whole thing ourselves, you know.
Basically I looked at the script and I really liked it. Again, Paul Murphy’s fantastic dialogue was what drew me to the script, the way the characters interact they were just so well defined through the dialogue, I thought Jesus these are like real people. You know what I mean? There was something real about this and it was different in that regard to a lot of scripts that were being sent to me. I knew Declan Mills, who played Weed in the film. We’d never worked together, but I knew him for years and he contacted me out of the blue with the script and said oh, you know, I’m working with this guy, maybe you can take a look at this and see what you think? I read it and.
There were there were there were structural issues with the with the script and stuff like that, but the story was there and I thought right, I’d like to meet these guys and see what we can do. We started to shoot then the following January but because of the lack of funding that we had and everything, it just took us a long time to do it. So we did three weeks in January of 2016 and then we did one more week in January of 2017. Finally we shot the opening scene of the film in March of 2018.
It was spread out over time to shoot it because each time we’d shoot, we’d have to go get loans and this, that and the other, and raise money through all kinds of different ways possible. In the end we just raised the money ourselves again anyway to finish it and that was through an online funding campaign.
We went to FundIt and we raised the guts of 9 ground as well to help towards finishing the post production and stuff like that and that was. It takes time to get these kind of things done, especially when you’re working on small budgets and micro budgets and no budgets or whatever it was, you know? Creatively, though it was very interesting. I mean, for a small film it does have a large cast, there’s 25 cast members in it, you have a lot of day players and things like that and most of the production was exterior locations around the flats around Dublin. It’s practically a historical document at this point because most of the locations were flattened and or gone, even one of the bars we used is gone. It’s crazy when you think about it only in this in the short space of four years you know there’s so much of the film locations are gone.
One of the big strengths of the film is this strong sense of Dublin inner city life and characters. When you’re looking for locations did you very much have certain locations in mind?
We had some in mind and we had a production designer on the on the crew that was Martin Cahill, he basically just came up with some ideas of where to shoot and so did Les, we contacted DCC and had to a chat with them to sort that out and they were very easy to actually deal with. We were worried at first cause you know when you’re dealing with any kind of government body that might knock you back but there was no hassle there whatsoever.
The only thing we had a little trouble with was the opening scene. We needed a jail cell and, um, we didn’t actually have an opening scene with the characters in jail originally, it was just they got let out. When we were shooting the second year, we were thinking we need to see the guys in jail first before they get out. We couldn’t get it done in the second year and it took a follow another year to find an actual cell location where we could find permission to use and everything like that.
We got permission obviously used to jails themselves. Um, just for exteriors. We used Arbor Hill and the governor had issues with that, I said look there is a bit where the guys are literally walking through that gate. Can we get the guys to actually come in and out of the out of the gates? You know what I mean? I think they were like, yeah yeah, it’s fine, you know, but it was. But you have a shooting going on at a working prison you know? II don’t know how many prison guards came in and out of that gate while we were trying to film, it was like 50 guys. It was really funny because we were shooting away and you know there were prisoners coming in and out on day releases and all kinds of stuff and every time they gotta get to see a camera crew standing there…
When you’re trying to capture these kind of living breathing places, does that draw crowds?
Yeah, big time, I remember when we myself and Martin Cahill we were doing a location scout. We decided to walk up around Thomas Street, we were kind of looking for a place to shoot the flats. And I I think you know there had been a few places like Therese’s Gardens and Pearse Street flats that I’d seen popping up in other movies. Martin had grown up in Arbor Hill and he knew the area. We walked all around the back of Guinness’ and Thomas Street and Arbor Hill and the likes, it was just a different world, like it’s own entity. Seems like 70% of the movie we shot around there.
Something like over half the script is exterior and there are a lot scenes around the flats areas and if they’re not around flats areas are out in the streets and all this kind of stuff.
But it was necessary having an authentic location like that was really necessary for the script. You know to make it real but we were warned, I think Dublin City Council had a little office underneath some of the flats up there, and they just warned us, you know, look, it gets a bit lively around here at the weekend, you know. So just avoid shooting around the weekends. There’s no getting away from it we did have a few hairy moments up there. Which tested us at times and you know certainly a challenge getting through it. But the other problem was because of our lack of budget, we didn’t really have money to come in and knock on doors and say look, there’s a few quid while we’re shooting. You know couple of their errors along this balcony, you know.
There were one or two people there, I don’t know if they had all their little…business transactions going on and we were disrupting them, but they let us know at times. There was one guy who said to us look yiz can F off there’s a vacant block around there you can go and shoot your scenes!
There are a lot of old school Dublin type characters in the film with that turn of phrase to them as you say. For both of you as a performer and a director respectively, how do you try to make sure that the scenes have that kind of wit and spark to them?
It has to do with getting the right performers and the right cast and Les had a few ideas or who to cast and I had a few ideas of who to cast and between the two of us we kind of worked it out. We were bringing in together like just really good talent. Most of these most of these people were kind of, you know, TV actors, Theatre performers, you know they do ads. This kind of stuff, but there wouldn’t be kind of recognisable faces, for usual Irish audiences but they’re really good performers, they just didn’t get their moment, shall we say and we just know a lot of them.
I suppose it goes back to that time when I had a feeling we’re probably gonna have to do this ourselves, you know. I’d been out of the loop a little bit the last previous few years on the acting scene and I’d lost a bit of torch with the up and coming guys. Through these like film forums and things that were popping up on Facebook, there’s a lot of actors, putting up their Showreels, so if I saw anyone that was that was interesting I’d jot down their names, I think that’s how we came across Graham Early and Alan Sherlock.
We didn’t go through contacting them on Facebook or that way ’cause I already know how agents work. It’s a different process. We would go through people who knew the people we were looking at and say would you be interested in coming in? And I’m also going to go back to say, yeah there was no problem. Whereas if you go straight to an agent sometimes when you don’t have the money for a casting director, it can just drag out the process. You could be waiting months to hear back. And all the agents wants to hear about it contracts and money and all the rest of it and we had no money!
And when you’re already going through a protracted process you must want to streamline pre-production stuff wherever you can and kind of keep things going.
We had such a tiny budget on this. A few people said to us, this is really ambitious. You’ve got a lot of locations in the script. You’ve got a lot of characters, they said to us, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to pull it off. I don’t think we could do it know but four or five years ago that was the goal, I said to Cathal can we make this movie for this amount of money and Cathal you said yeah –
I said there was a chance! I said there was a chance we could get it done in those few weeks.
We nearly did, like we got like 3/4 of it done something like that. You know we had to go back later and do pickups and scenes that we missed and stuff like that. But we got like all the day players and all the smaller cast members, we got all their stuff done. And all the stunts done, anything that’s difficult to do so that when we did come back eventually to do pickups or we’ll only be doing mostly pick up scenes with the two main primary cast members and get all the other stuff done, which we did.
Starting out one of the one of the inspirations for me believing that we could deal with such a small budget was some other people that have made movies even smaller budgets, you know? Guys like Ben Wheatley in England. I think for Down Terrace his first movie he just took out a loan of 5 grand or something. Terry McMahon made Casanova for a grand. Guys like that were telling me it can be done, you can do it yourself, if you bring on like-minded people that have a shared passion you can do it, rather than waiting around for the money people or whatever to invest.
Film In Dublin
For yourself Les, as someone that was involved from day one behind the scenes and had a very strong concept of the story and as someone that was on screen as well, did your sense of Ste as a character develop a lot over time? Or was there always a strong throughline for you as a performer?
Yeah, I think so. I think because I’ve been living with the character for so long, from co-writing it to playing the part in the end. I had been a bit out of the loop as an actor, but It always felt like in this country, and this includes a lot of guys that are in the film we never really got a fair crack of the whip when it came to film roles. It’s almost like the Holy Grail to get a crack at a decent film role.
I always felt I need to write something myself in in a production to give myself a chance as an actor. I was adamant all along that I wanted to play the part of Ste because I I felt like part of it was kind of me. There were certain stories where we compiled personal stuff that was going on in our lives, we incorporated into the script, slightly exaggerated. Again I felt that connection.
So the toughest part I found that was being a producer. That would have been my biggest acting role on film but I’d never produced a short movie even you know. So falling into that role you’d be doing a scene and somebody come along and say, well, we have a problem where the insurance company didn’t get a certain email etc., it was like putting out fires every day, every day was like a battle but part of that was great as well. As producers and directing and acting in it, it gave us and freedom as well because we got to make our own decisions, right or wrong, we were learning each day as we went along, without big producers looking over our shoulders.
Is that something that you would go out of your way to to do again in future?
Well I don’t look at myself as kind of a writer as such even though I co-wrote the script with Paul, but I think if a script was to land on my lap and I really had a connection to it, certainly if we were in the same situation again and no production companies were coming onboard, I wouldn’t let that get in the way. I’d throw my name in the hat to co-produce. But I’d still be predominantly acting first. Now that we’ve got Be Good or Be Gone out of the way, I’d like to think for Cathal or myself in our next projects that it will open up a few doors.
Film In Dublin
The film is going to screen at the Dublin Underground Film Festival, is that a big boost for the film? Will premiering in front of an Irish audience be helpful in sorting out Irish distribution do you think?
Well, we premiered it in Garden State in the US back in March. We won that festival, but then of course lockdown and all that stuff came in. With Underground, I know this year they’re moving they’re festival online, you buy a ticket and can watch anything you want for 24 hours. So the film isn’t screened at one day, it’s on loop and you can watch it whenever for 3 days.
I know the organiser David Byrne a long time, and after Garden State I texted him to say he might want to look into this, I think they were one of the first festivals to go all online because of the pandemic, while some of the larger festivals were closing down. Garden State had 2 weeks to go from a ticketed event to online, and did that really well.
It’s good to be in it, it’s Dublin’s best film festival, it’s been going for eleven years now and it’s great for championing independent films. So that’s our Irish premiere, then I think we’re in Canada in October for the Ontario Film Festival. With regards to that helping us get Irish distribution I have no idea, it’s up to distributors to figure out what they’re doing but we have an international deal at the moment. It would be nice to get it into Irish theaters.
We think it looks well on the big screen, we had our cast and crew last year in the Light House to view it, it looked at home there.