A class apart
Published 22/01/2012 | 06:00
When the IFTAs take place next month, the red carpet will be the usual star-studded affair. There will, however, be one unfamiliar name whose debut film, Charlie Casanova, is nominated for some of the most prestigious awards -- best film, best director, best screenplay and best editing. It's likely that Terry McMahon won't be an unfamiliar name for long.
Charlie Casanova has been slowly generating respect on the competition circuit over the last year. It won Best First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, then rave reviews at South By South West (SXSW) in Texas, and was much talked about at Edinburgh too.
Charlie Casanova (Emmet Scanlan) is a Celtic-Tiger era businessman whose business and marriage is falling apart. When he knocks down a working-class woman on a business trip, it puts in motion a chain of events that delve into the topics of class, morality and personal responsibility.
What's unusual about this film is it was made on a miniscule budget over a period of 11 days.
Mullingar-born McMahon was an experienced writer for shows like Fair City and had once even written a screenplay for Hollywood film star Darryl Hannah. "I was living in a Dublin corporation flat and then suddenly I was on a first-class flight to LA."
He was approaching 40, asking himself, "what am I doing?"
"I got a tattoo on my arm saying, 'the art is in the completion -- begin' so I'd see it as a reminder in the shower each morning."
He wrote a script but the Film Board, a source of funding for filmmakers, didn't like it. Stumped, he turned to that great oracle of our times -- the internet.
He set up a Facebook page and put out a call for cast, crew, equipment 'and a lot of balls'. In the end 138 people replied and three-and-a-half weeks later he was filming.
He shot the film in 11 days. "There's this idea that on the first day of filming, you should do a simple shoot so the crew has confidence in you. I thought this was ridiculous; I need to put everyone in a state of siege and of panic so we shot 23 pages in the first day. I feared nobody would turn up on the second day."
On the second day, everyone turned up half an hour early.
He spent the next six weeks editing and two friends of his passed it on to Windmill Lane who post-produced it because they liked it. One of the same friends passed it on to an LA agent, who submitted it to the SXSW festival. The head of the festival emailed McMahon saying it was one of the best directorial debuts she'd ever seen, and she wanted to debut it.
"I thought it was a scam so I told her to f*ck off. Thankfully, she had a sense of humour."
The film made it on to NBC and ABC but it gained one of the worst reviews imaginable in Variety. The film is deliberately and 'profoundly' divisive says McMahon, which is why he thinks IFTA have shown "real courage nominating the film in the categories they have".
McMahon says class is not something we deal with very well in Ireland. "We've seen a sustained attack on the working class. We have reduced people to tracksuits, dodgy accents, it's our own form of prejudice. British film deals with class in a magnificently complex way. Here, the working classes are depicted as scum. We don't deal with it, in the same way we don't deal with gender."
So what's next for McMahon? "I feel like a woman who has gone through the most horrendous birth and the memory loss has kicked in and all I want to do is be back on a set."