Cave, bars and the possibility of a sex scene with older bears - Olaf Tyaransen on his new short film
In advance of the screening of his short film at Electric Picnic, Olaf Tyaransen tells how 'Don't You Know Who I Am?' came to be made
Back in the late 90s, Nick Cave was headlining the short-lived Liss Ard music festival in west Cork. The legendarily sharp-tongued Australian rocker was somewhat bemused by the behaviour of local fans.
In an interview with Hot Press, he sarcastically observed: "Irish people couldn't care less about celebrity. It doesn't matter how famous you are, they just treat everybody exactly the same. Now, I only know this because I sat in a bar for a couple of hours last night, and somebody came over to tell me that every five f**king minutes!"
It was funny because it was true. The Irish have always had a curiously passive-aggressive relationship with whatever celebrities they encounter. Whether it's a broadcaster, politician, footballer or international rock or film star, people often like to pretend that they're far too unimpressed to pay them any attention. Meanwhile, they're watching their every move.
Cave's observation came to mind when indie publishers Doire Press approached me two years ago and asked if I'd contribute to an anthology entitled Galway Stories - a collection of short fiction by writers who were either from, or who had once lived, in the City of the Tribes. I wrote a comic story called Don't You Know Who I Am? The narrator was an American rock star named Rick Rossi, lead guitarist with successful band Fragrance Free (the name taken from a packet of my daughter's baby wipes).
Following the tragic death of his lead singer and best friend, Pete Chastain, he flees to Galway in an attempt to grieve in peace. He's been told that he won't be bothered by anybody there as the locals aren't even remotely impressed by celebrities. Needless to say, they make his life hell.
After the book was published, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh sent me an email. He described the story as "a very cool, stylised and poignant rock'n'roll tale of alienation, loss and grieving", before adding the coda that "it would make a lovely short [film] in the right hands".
The same thought had occurred to me. Enthused by his encouraging words, I decided to go for it and the first call was to my old friend Paul Duane of Dublin production company Screenworks.
An award-winning film- and documentary-maker (Barbaric Genius, Very Extremely Dangerous), Paul told me that if I came up with a decent script, he'd happily direct it.
My first run at the script took just a couple of days. I basically converted the story into script format, leaving in almost every scene and most of the dialogue. Simple! Then I sent it off to Paul and smugly waited for him to get back and declare me a screenwriting genius.
Paul quickly responded with a lengthy email. Sadly, he didn't think I was a screenwriting genius. Instead, he patiently explained that there was a massive difference between telling a story on the page and telling one on the screen. Amongst various solid pieces of advice, he also made the point that "almost every short film that's ever been made is far too long".
In retrospect, I realise that he was probably hoping that I'd abandon the whole idea. Instead, I took his words of wisdom on board and went back to work. Several drafts later, I finally came up with a script that he was happy with. Now we had only two not-insignificant problems - no star and no money. No worries. Paul assured me that once we had the right lead actor, all the rest would fall into place.
We agreed it would be better if a real rock star played Rick Rossi.
I was browsing YouTube one night when I happened upon the Alabama 3 doing their most famous number, Woke Up This Morning (the theme song to The Sopranos). It was a light-bulb moment. I knew the lead singer, Rob Spragg, who trades under the moniker Larry Love.
The character of Rick Rossi is 28 and American. Larry is in his late 40s and Welsh. I realised that it didn't actually matter. The story would still work, whatever the age or nationality of the main character. He just needed the right look and attitude.
The Alabama 3 are based in Brixton. I sent over the script. Larry came back within 24 hours and declared a definite interest.
By now, a Scottish film producer named John Burns had come on board. Paul, John and I had a meeting with Larry at a bar in Dublin Airport a couple of weeks later. Larry was drinking Ballygowan. He'd recently given up the booze and was anxious to keep himself busy with other projects. Within 30 minutes, he had signed up to play Rick Rossi in return for a share of any profits. He also agreed to provide the soundtrack and to write the title song.
Alabama 3 tour fairly heavily so we were going to have to work around their busy schedule. There was a free week in November.
Film-making isn't as expensive as it used to be. Paul estimated that, if we called in a lot of favours, we could shoot it for a couple of grand. Lots of preparatory work had to be done. We needed actors, extras, locations, accommodation and various other things besides. I hadn't intended on producing the film, but it made sense that I would help John Burns get things organised. I grew up in Galway and know a lot of people in the city.
Much of the film's action takes place in bars. Fortunately, I also know a lot of bar-owners.
Not a single person said no to us. John Burns even managed to get Galway Airport reopened so we could film Rick Rossi's arrival (the airport had been closed for over a year).
Our other locations included The g Hotel, Hotel Meyrick, Neachtain's, The Crane, Massimo, The Roisin Dubh and Bell, Book & Candle bookshop. Not only did they all grant us permission to film, but Hotel Meyrick gave us free accommodation for three nights, and the Roisin Dubh offered us the apartment it uses to house-visiting bands.
Seamus Sheridan of Sheridan's Wine Bar generously offered to feed the cast and crew every lunchtime, and Kevin Healy of Massimo agreed to feed everybody in the evenings. All gratis. I was totally overwhelmed by the support.
Having put the word out on social media, we held auditions in the Galway Arts Centre a few weeks before the shoot. Most of the roles were bit parts, but there were a couple of meatier characters. We cast John O'Dowd (equally talented older brother of Chris) and a Northern Irish actor named Danny McCafferty that day. I wanted Paraic Breathnach, director of the Arts Centre and occasional film and TV actor (Michael Collins, Killinaskully) to play a taxi-driver. When he dropped down into the auditions from his upstairs office, I asked him if he'd read for the part. He glared menacingly. "You want me to audition? Would you ever f**k off!!"
He got the job.
Larry flew into Shannon the day before the shoot started. We met all met up in Neachtain's, where he did an iPhone photo shoot with John O'Dowd. The following morning, Declan Varley of the Galway Advertiser mocked up a front-page cover for use in the film.
The three-day shoot was a blur. So much could so easily have gone wrong, but absolutely nothing did. Most of the cast and crew were local, but cartoonist Tom Mathews, journalist Amanda Brunker and Croatian actress Mirjana Rendulic all travelled to Galway to film cameos.
Larry turned out to be an absolute dream to work with. He'd always been drinking whenever I'd hung out with him before, but his ongoing sobriety really helped things go smoothly. He was an anti-diva - funny, charming and always open to directorial suggestion.
He only had one complaint. He called me aside early on. "Why isn't there a sex scene?" he demanded. "You're paying me f**king peanuts so the least you can do is put me in a bed with a couple of naked chicks!"
"Your character is grieving," I explained. "Sex is the last thing on his mind."
"Nah, he'd want to be having sex just to take his mind off things," he insisted.
"Well, okay then, I'll write in a sex scene," I said. "But you do realise that Rick is gay - with a predilection for older bears?"
That was the last time he mentioned it.
Done in fits and starts, the editing took several months - when you're not paying the editor, you can't crack the whip - but, by April, Don't You Know Who I Am? was finally finished. It has its flaws, but I'll always be incredibly proud of it. It premiered at last year's Galway Film Fleadh, and was later screened at the San Francisco Irish Film Festival. The reviews were great. All costs were covered when RTE 2's Shortscreen broadcast it at Christmas.
I don't know if I'll ever get to make another film but, if I do, there's little chance it'll be such a smooth, pleasurable and hassle-free experience. So thank you, Nick Cave, and your sarcastic Australian tongue.
'Don't You Know Who I Am?' will be screened at 7pm on The Word Stage (Mindfield) at Electric Picnic on Saturday, September 5.