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IFTN Speaks with Locations Manager Kieran Hennessy
29 May 2014 : Aisling Newton
Still from 'Jimmy's Hall'
With the release of ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ fast approaching, IFTN got the chance to sit down with locations team member Kieran Hennessy to discuss his career and work on the upcoming movie, starring Barry Ward, Simone Kirby and Andrew Scott.

After studying electronics in college, Hennessy worked on a number of small video productions before climbing the ladder as trainee assistant director on his first feature film, ‘Man of No Importance’ (1994). From there he was taken under the wing of production manager Margaret Jennings on the Geraldine Creed film ‘The Sun, the Moon and the Stars’, where he worked as assistant director. Jennings then mentored Hennessy into the role of locations manager on Johnny Gogan’s first feature film ‘The Last Bus Home’.

“After ‘The Last Bus Home’ I found myself being offered more and bigger jobs. However, with bigger productions the pressures were greater, there were more people involved and more considerations to take into account,” said Hennessy.

Directed by Ken Loach (The Wind that Shakes the Barley), ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ was shot on location in Leitrim and Sligo, and tells the true story of Jimmy Gralton, who set up a dance hall on a rural crossroads in an Ireland on the brink of civil war. “Scouting locations for the movie started a full year before the camera arrived on set. The initial search was done remotely from London with the scriptwriters and production designers along with visits to the area in order to get a feel for the landscape and the elements Ken wanted to include in the movie.”

Produced by Loach’s production company, Sixteen Films, Element Pictures, and with support from the Irish Film Board, ‘Jimmy’s Hall’ was filmed in the isolated Kilanummery parish in Dromahair, discovered by Jim King, the locations assistant from the local Leitrim area, as well as the locations manager Niall Martin. “I travelled several miles, taking pictures of old cottages with a certain brief in mind – it had to be near a crossroads, in the countryside and obviously had to be of the period. So an area beside a telegraph pole, a motorway or a new house wouldn’t suit. When you are dealing with a period movie it is vital to take into account any modern fixtures and even the local forestry which may not have been around during that era.

“The house itself was a derelict cottage that was in good enough shape. There was a modern roof on it so that was replaced with a thatch roof, the groundwork around the house was restored and a garden planted to make it look like it was lived in again. The hall was built on adjacent land, as it needed to be close to the house in order to fit in with the storyline.”

Hennessy explains how the characters personalities and the atmosphere of the film were of utmost importance to Loach throughout the making of the film when choosing the right location. “Ken is an inspirational director to work with. Apart from being an absolute gentleman, he has a very clear idea in his mind of what he’s looking for. He goes through a lengthy process to find that particular place that no stone is left unturned. It’s a special honour to work with Ken, Rebecca O’Brien and everyone at Sixteen Films. Their method to the filmmaking process, led by Ken, was superb throughout the whole project”

Hennessy’s Irish Film Locations company, which was established in 1983, is Ireland’s main source for production companies to find locations, scouts and managers. Throughout its years in business, Hennessy has expanded his portfolio working on many famous films such as ‘About Adam’, starring Kate Hudson and Stuart Townsend, David Mackenzie’s ‘Asylum’, Mark Mahon’s ‘Strength and Honour’, Sean Walsh’s ‘2003 pic ‘Bloom’ and ‘Love & Rage’, starring Daniel Craig, Greta Scacchi and Stephen Dillane. The film which first brought Hennessy to Sligo was Conor McDermottroe’s ‘Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne’, and the pair were once again reunited on the set of ‘Jimmy’s Hall’. “Locations managing is very reflective of what the film industry is like in Ireland, it’s a small community of people who regularly cross paths which can be very rewarding.”

Due to his expert knowledge of Ireland’s North West region, Hennessy was also drafted in to work on John Michael McDonagh’s ‘Calvary’, alongside John-Paul Whearty and Gordon Wycherley. “Calvary was shot late on in the year in beautiful locations highlighting Sligo’s Benbulbin. From standing on the side of a mountain at 5am to seeing the film premiere in Sundance was quite extraordinary. The reaction the film got at Sundance was very fulfilling and I’ll never forget those memories.”

Hennessy is currently reading two features, which have yet to get a green light, and is working on various photo-shoots and smaller productions with his company Irish Film Locations.

The official trailer for ‘Jimmy’s Hall’, which is due to be released this Friday, June 30, is available to view below:

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