Friday, 5 October 2012

Glitz and Glamour

It's all go in the village today.
I don't remember when I've last seen it so busy. Or so glamorous.
Brendan Gleeson is walking the streets, dressed in a cassock and looking thoughtful.

Brendan Gleeson walking the streets - hallowed ground now, surely?

The reason for this is that John McDonagh is shooting his latest feature film, Calvary and after months of anticipation and weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, at last it is all happening. Here. In a remote village on the west coast of Ireland.

The Community Centre car park is heaving with trailers, catering vans, the crew-bus and a whole heap of cars. The street is heaving with technicians, PAs wielding clipboards, people in high-viz jackets shouting 'Rolling! Quiet please!', and Gardai trying not to look thrilled to be involved.
It's all very exciting.

The village is full of expensive kit

Many, many years ago - too many to count - I worked for a small, independent film company in London. I enjoyed it very much and probably still have my old Union membership card somewhere - was it the ACCT? I can't even remember, it's all so long ago.
But we didn't make feature films, we made documentaries - altogether less glorious. 
There’s razzmatazz  around the village today. 
That’s a feature film for you.

Gordon, the Locations Manager, rang me several months ago when he was first on the hunt. 'We're going to be making a movie,' he said.
'I know,' I replied. 'Everyone knows.'
'Oh!' He sounded quite surprised, but then, maybe he doesn't live in a small, rural village.
In small rural villages, I think everyone knows what colour knickers you select from your drawer each morning, so a feature film is hardly going to be a secret.
When he'd got over his surprise, he told me what the movie was about. I already knew the bare bones, but I didn't like to take the wind out of his sails a second time.
'We're looking for a Rectory,' he finished. 'I understand you live in a Rectory.'
I paused.
This is a film about a Catholic Priest. The Rectory we live in could as well have PROTESTANT inscribed in pink neon letters across the front of its 220 year old facade. No one in Ireland would ever mistake this for the Parish Priest's house - it just doesn't look like one. But I knew it would be interesting to meet him.
'Why don't you come and have a cup of coffee,' I invited.

In the months since then, the In-Charge (who really should have been a Locations Manager) has taken Gordon down practically every lane in the county he hadn't already discovered on his own. He's taken him to Georgian houses, old Parish Houses, semi-derelict houses, pubs and anything else that might - or even might not - have been of interest. Happily, several places have proved to be just what they wanted.
Gordon is a really nice guy and excellent at his job, and I don’t just mean the locations-logistics bit. He’s good with people. I was quite startled that he never asked my name a second time. Most people take several goes to remember it, let alone pronounce it right. He's also very thoughtful. On one of his trips he brought John McDonagh and the Producer round as well, and we made more coffee and sat in the sunny courtyard. It transpires that John spent childhood holidays in our seaside village, which left a lasting impression – an impression that will now inform the world.
As he was leaving that day, John looked at our placid lurchers, stretched out in the sun 'Dogs,’ he remarked more to himself than anyone else. ‘We need dogs.'
‘Fame at last!’ I thought to myself. ‘Our house may not become internationally known, but our dogs will achieve worldwide celebrity!’

John McDonagh (with the black bag) deliberating his next shot

At last the film is being made. They are - as is the way with feature films, shooting scenes here, there and everywhere.
As I drove out from Sligo Town yesterday, I passed a charming little shop in the middle of nowhere that is another location. The place was deserted except for the owner, who, looking slightly bemused, was standing with a broom in one hand amidst a sea of foamy suds. Everywhere was white. '
'Goodness,’ I thought to myself. ‘They're really going to town - grooming the place within an inch of its life.’
It was only as I continued on that I realised there had been a very localised hail-storm. It was ice, not suds.

The houses of two of our friends are being used, also another friend's family-owned pub, which was the centre of great activity the other night. Colin and his dad now have a handsome photo of themselves with Brendan Gleeson. They said he was completely charming and very friendly, which is how it should be. Famous people should always be charming to their public, they have no reason to be otherwise. 
In my brief time working for the film company in London, I didn't meet many famous actors, but I did work with Edward Fox, James Mason and Hannah Gordon and they were all delightful.

The crew's bus and catering truck

Unlike Colin, I don't have any pictures of us with the great and the good on this occasion, but Gordon did sweetly invite us down to have lunch in the crew's bus. Unfortunately the In Charge wasn't at home, so I went on my own. They were filming down on the river as I walked into the village, a fishing scene. I paused on the bridge to watch for a moment, and saw two dogs lying on the river bank amongst all the crew.
I debated rushing down, shouting: ‘Cut! Cut!’ but it was obviously too late.
And to be scrupulously fair, they looked very nice dogs, just vastly inferior to mine. For one thing, they weren’t lurchers. I mean, for heaven’t sake, they ought to have been lurchers. This is Ireland after all.

It’s a bitter pill to learn that Top Dog and Model Dog aren’t going to be movie stars after all. Their chance of fame snatched by – what? Two golden retrievers? I relayed this disappointing news when I got home, and they were distinctly peeved. The trouble is - as I tried to explain - I'm just not pushy enough, not one of those stage-struck mothers. However, Under Dog has since told me that he’s quite glad as he didn’t really feel up to the role anyway - he’s too old to feature in Hello! and there might be stairs at the premiere. He doesn’t like stairs.

Model Dog hears that she is not going to be a movie star after all

Tomorrow the trucks and trailers will all be gone – down to the shop that hasn’t been scrubbed after all. The village will be back to its normal self, passing on what colour knickers everyone is wearing. But it was fun, feeling a vicarious touch of glitz and glamour around the place. And it brought back memories of cutting room floors and the buzz of creativity, the perennial hope that the end result will be a winner. But also, watching the numerous takes of Brendan Gleeson walking down our now-hallowed street, the reminder of how much hard, repetitive work goes into creating anything.

The company I worked with didn't do feature films, but the two documentaries we made while I was there both won awards - something I am proud of. No one around here will care whether Calvary is a box office hit or not, we’ll all want to own the DVD regardless, but I hope it does well for John McDonagh, and Gordon, and everyone else involved.
How the film fares will probably colour their memories of us, but nothing can ever take the shine off how we’ll remember them.

Even movie stars can look dejected


  1. Life is full oc co-incidences - I once had to collect a letter from Hannah Gordon's house and when she answered the door I was surprised by how small she was but every bit as big in personality as on screen (and charming!)
    Therer is SUCH a buzz around a film crew isn't there!

    1. Yes, I remember Hannah Gordon being quite petite - and funny!

  2. What a great blog post and bless the poor dogs!

    1. Thank you! Poor dogs indeed. Model Dog still heaving sighs in her bed...

  3. Delighted to have stumbled across your blog! I think we're living very close to you, and have just started blogging ourselves!

    Now off to read the rest of your posts!

    1. Nice to see you here, Lorraine! Thanks for dropping by. I wonder whereabouts you live? Your link didn't take me through to your blog unfortunately.
      Hope you enjoy Writing from the Edge and thanks for 'Like'ing the facebook page.

  4. is the new blog. We're down in Gleneaskey - so the other side of the N59!

  5. Lucky you to be in the heart of all this cultural hustle. I shall be thinking enviously of you when Calvary is released.

    1. It has been fun! And amazingly it has - mostly - been great weather for them, so the film should show Ireland at her sunny best!


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