Synopsis: Feathers are ruffled at the orphanage when a new arrival threatens to upset the pecking order.
Where did the idea for Cluck come from?
My Dad told me a story when I was a small boy of about 6 years old. He told me about a legend in the west of Ireland. There was a young boy kept in a chicken coop. I didn’t know whether it was true or not but I had forgotten it. Then one night I was trying to come up with an idea for a film and had a dream about it. It was only months later when I was talking to my Dad that I remembered about it. All the films that I have done have come from dreams. So the idea, the setting and all that stuff, actually happened in the dream. And this is based on the school that I went to. So I took little elements from different stories in my life and it came out in the film Cluck.
So you remember your dreams?
I vividly remember my dreams. I have never made a film in which the main image hasn’t come straight from a dream. Usually what happens is I get hit with an image in my dream and it arrests me in some sort of way. I use the film-making process to explore why the image seems to have so much significance for me. So it’s been an adventure trying to make films based on dreams.
Obviously, you don’t drink that much.
Tell me, what was the average age of the kids?
The average age was about nine. Our youngest was six. I would say the oldest was about 11. Only one of them had been on camera before. So they were all raw recruits. We auditioned about 500 boys to find the key group that were the centerpiece of the film.
When I watched this film, I thought I was watching something like Cool Hand Luke with 10 year olds.
(Laughter) I love that film, so that’s a massive compliment.
Even if they didn’t have a line in the scene, the kids were focused and they kept their character to help the scene. How did you do that?
I guess first thing was that we went through an exhaustive casting process. We went to the casting agents and from the casting agents, we got only one child. So we then did open auditions at schools and little drama clubs. We actually tried to find kids who hadn’t had drama experience because often what you find is kids with drama experience tend to act. They’re trying to do something for you; they’re trying to give you something. Whereas, we found these kids that had a hook and naturalness about them.
Then what I did was bring them together. Our rehearsal process was really more of a bonding process. We hung out and watched a few movies together. We watched The Goonies and older movies that maybe these young guys hadn’t seen before but that I liked as a kid. So we sat around and I just let them become good friends. Then we talked about what each of their personalities was like and explored that a little bit with them and did some improvised games. I would be the headmaster or some other character and the boys would have to respond as their character to me or to whatever I was doing.
It was through this process that we found who each character was. They were delineated in the script but it had to be more precise to help the kids find the voice inside themselves for these characters. It was a really, really nice process and I actually didn’t rehearse any scenes from the film itself. On the day, they didn’t know pretty much what the story was. I revealed to them just beforehand what was going on. So there were lines learned but they didn’t know what was happening until we brought them to the location. They were used to getting up to hijinks and then we just carried that feeling through rather than over-rehearse scenes. So I think that was the key to try to keep things fresh on set because with kids, if they’ve rehearsed things a few times, they can just get bored. So it’s trying to keep it fresh for them so that it was always an experience and always something new.
Which kid did you find from a casting agent?
Cowboy. He was the boy who had had some acting experience. He had been in one or two short films and he had also been in a feature film as well. It was great that we had one kid who had camera experience. He’s a super actor and he’s also aware of the camera and how camera crews operate. It would have been quite a task if none of them had had camera experience because he was able to translate the experience to the other kids. He kind of brought them along with him. It was great to have someone with his experience on set. So he knew that you do scenes a few times, takes a few times, go over lines repeatedly.
You had the dream, wrote the film and directed it. It’s a lavish piece and it seems quite heavily produced. Where did the funding come from and how does that work in Ireland? Did the funding bodies pony up to make this so spectacular?
We were fortunate. I had applied a few times for a filmmaking grant. There are several grants in Ireland that you can get. I had applied once or twice before for this particular scheme that’s run by the Irish Film Board that’s basically a short film fund. It’s designed for people who are probably on the brink of making their first feature film. So you have a chance to work with a larger budget, a bigger crew and your hands aren’t cut off from the level of production that you usually can’t access as a short film maker. It’s designed as a stepping stone. Hopefully, that is what it will be.
Where did you shoot the film? It’s a lovely setting.
We shot it in a small school in Kells, which is actually just outside my hometown in Navan. It’s a beautiful old boarding school. The headmaster and the school board were kind enough to let us in to shoot the film. It’s an absolutely stunning location. We were very lucky.
How many short films have you made?
I have made six as a director. I have probably made 30 as a cinematographer.
As a director, what advice would you give to someone who is about to shoot their first short film?
If you’re about to shoot your first short film, you worry about the plot and you worry about the characters and you worry about all the things that you read in books. For me, the really important thing is actually to go back and ask yourself where does this come from inside of you. Because if you can find out and try to be really honest about where it comes from inside of you, then you can make a film that’s honest. I think that little bit of your self is what the audience picks up on and that’s what communicates through the film. It’s so easy to get nice shots, important actors, and right camera, the right location and stuff when actually what it really comes down to is: “Are you baring a bit of your soul? Are you communicating something that comes from deep inside you that you need to communicate?”
It can be a funny story, it can be a sad story. It doesn’t matter. It’s has to be something really honest so that you feel “Only I could have made this, it’s a part of me.” Then if you have made that, then you have made a film worth seeing because you’re communicating something genuine. It’s so easy to have movies that are just a lot of noise or movies that are about beautiful shots but something that’s really genuine from you is what the audience wants. I think that’s the most important thing to ask yourself before you shoot your first short film.
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