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‘Without Name’ Director Lorcan Finnegan talks Genre, Atmosphere & Future Films with IFTN
27 Apr 2017 : Katie McNeice
The breakout feature debut from writer/director team Lorcan Finnegan and Garret Shanley releases to Irish cinemas on Friday May 5th distributed by Element Pictures Distribution.

The film enjoyed its world premiere at TIFF 2016 to critics in agreement of its vision, creativity and the promise of great Irish cinema yet to come from the pair. With other screenings at BFI London, SITGES and ADIFF, it also received four of Brooklyn Horror Film Festival’s seven jury awards in October 2016.

It sees land surveyor Eric (Alan McKenna) undertake a project in a remote Irish wood, while staying in an isolated cottage whose previous owner is as mysterious as the area itself. With an atmospheric and sound-driven narrative, and the incredibly communicative yet quiet performance of McKenna, ‘Without Name’ is a film in which the environment is as much a protagonist as him.

Niamh Algar and James Browne support McKenny, with Brunella Cocchiglia of Lovely Productions producing. The editing is completed by Tony Cranstoun with Gavin O'Brien and Neil O’Connor as composers.

Finnegan chats to IFTN about genre boundaries, the influence of the 70s and the mix of sound and other techniques which craft the anthropomorphic world of ‘Without Name’.    

IFTN: It’s such an unusual film and there are so many ways to describe it. I’ve seen psychological thriller, horror and eco-horror, all of which make sense in some way, don’t they?
“Even folk horror! People have called it that as well. It’s a whole other sub-genre that applies to things like ‘The Wicker Man’ and people do need a label for things. It’s a bit arthouse and in-between.”

IFTN: Do you think people are surprised to hear about the influence of current issues like forestry and fracking and even documentaries like ‘The Pipe’ and ‘Into Eternity’ on the project?
“I don’t know if they’re surprised because I guess going into it people don’t know too much about the film because the trailer is quite elusive, and then the story itself is quite strange. It’s just about one guy spiralling towards insanity slash being trapped in another dimension [laughs] so I guess we’ve had a lot of questions about where the story came from—Was it an Irish tale, was it a folk tale that we adapted or was it an original story? I suppose bits of inspiration from the times and what’s going on around us bleed into things no matter what, either way.”

IFTN: With ‘Into Eternity’ there is that idea of something being buried and the need to communicate which follows. How do you think this lends itself to the script?
“It’s more like an area or a place that would be able to protect itself, so an entity protecting a forest by taking on this custodian position, it’s like one out, one in. Devoy’s soul trapped there is guarding the forest until he can get someone to replace him.  

“Garret and I were watching a lot of stuff at the time and we were always talking about ideas for movies. We were talking about a movie set a massive hole that might lead to a different dimension entirely. Then we were talking about a witch-themed film and did a lot of studies on witchcraft and the occult and then when Catalyst (Irish Film Board Catalyst Funding programme) came up, a lot of those ideas merged into each other and got filtered into what ‘Without Name’ became.”

IFTN: Can you break down the eight months or so of production to give me an idea of your process, like location hunting and casting?
“That’s a tricky one! Location scouting I did a lot of myself before bringing on a location manager because it was a really low budget film and probably spent a month doing that, maybe six weeks. Casting was going on simultaneously and that took maybe a month or six weeks again. We shot for twenty-one days and posted for three months.”

IFTN: That’s a big jump there—twenty-one days to three months.
“We always knew we wanted a good bit of time to edit and do the music and sound design without being too rushed. Three months we felt, was the right amount of time so you can do a cut, watch it, think about it, refine it, leave it for a few days and come back at it again with fresh eyes.”

IFTN: What was the defining element about the sound that you think got the team the IFTA Nomination for Best Sound back in March? (Aza Hand & Patrick Drummond shared the nomination)
“I think it’s actually the mix of music and sound design because for the audience, you wouldn’t know what you’re listening to, whether you’re listening to music or sound design. The music composition used a lot of drones and synths and things like that and then the sound design uses a lot of low-frequency sounds like winds and creaks that merge really well together. I think that’s what gives it a really strong audio track—they work so well together and Aza Hand in Egg Post Production did an awesome job mixing it. It was actually a balance of both.”

IFTN: The film is very haptic in that, with the opening scenes in particular, you work at making people very aware of their senses, by taking them away. Were there any films or filmmakers in particular that influenced you in this?
“There’s a lot of the 70s films that would have inspired us. Nick Roeg, Peter Weir, Roman Polansky, even Lars von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’, maybe The Third Wave, ‘Upstream Colour’, a Shane Carruth film. I guess we were watching a lot of those films at the time and ‘Altered States’ (Ken Russell) as well.

“The approach to making the film for a low budget was always going to be, make it like it’s the 70s, don’t have any CGI and do all the effects in-camera and be a little bit impressionistic. So, give people the feeling that the trees are communicating with each other without having them do anything besides that slow, tracking shot and good sound design. That’s probably why we were influenced by a lot of those films at the same time.”

IFTN: You mentioned zooming just now. You do that so many times with the trees and little bits of fungus. Even when there’s movement in the frame there is something so photographic about it; some shots seem to be a still image with Eric walking through the frame. How much of that was down to shooting in a forest?
“We actually used tracks for lights instead of tracks for a camera, so there’s one scene where he’s tripping and we built a kind of hedge of branches, with a light behind it and moved that along a track so the shadows would keep shifting.

“There is something about a zoom, in that your eyes can track and dolly, because you’re a person walking around [laughs] but they can’t zoom. Sometimes when you’re spaced out you feel like you’re zooming in on something. It’s a little more hypnotic and as if something is coming towards you. With the forest feeling flat and photographic, that was done on purpose. We wanted to avoid seeing the horizon, or any kind of way out. There’s only one shot with the sky and it’s straight up into a grey cloud so that it would feel that Eric was trapped all the time, that there was no escape. We used the vertical lines of the trees to give the feeling of it being like a cage.”

IFTN: A lot of IFTN readers submit to funding schemes to get their films made. You’ve mentioned before a lot of dialogue was shed as the script was shot. Do you have any thoughts on how the application process to a scheme like IFB Catalyst would have gone if you had submitted the script you shot with?
“Yeah that would be interesting to see! I’d love to see what that script would be. You know for ‘Under the Skin’ apparently the script is only like fifty pages or something. It would be a lovely way to work, to make a film with just an outline, or a description.

“Unfortunately for readers they need more dialogue, or the script almost needs to be different to what the film is going to be because you can’t write, ‘His eye goes a little bit to the left and his eyebrow goes down’ [laughs] but if you see that you can understand what someone is saying through body language, without them having to explain things verbally…It would be interesting to see though.”

IFTN: With both ‘Without Name’ and ‘Under the Skin’ you almost forget no one has spoken in ten to twelve minutes, which is a great sign in a film.
“Yeah sometimes it allows the atmosphere to wash over you as well if you’re just watching people behave without them having to explain through dialogue.”

IFTN: Alan McKenna who plays Eric isn’t Irish. Was that used deliberately to isolate him even further?
“Originally in the script Gus was English, he’s a new-age traveller guy from Devon. When we started casting we came across Alan and thought he was perfect for the role. I went to London to meet him and he totally got it. So then we went, ‘Okay we’ll have to change Gus’, because we cast Alan first and everyone else was based around him. Then when we met James he had just been off in India for ages on his own and he was meditating outside the casting room before he came in for his audition and he just nailed it. We decided then to swap them around. Then we were thinking it actually works better in a lot of ways because Eric is even more of an outsider, being an English guy in Ireland, especially when he goes to that small town the locals are very Irish and the audience feels he’s even more unwelcome than he was before.”

IFTN: Can you tell me where you and Gareth are with your upcoming project ‘Goliath’?
“We have one even closer to production called ‘Vivarium’ which we have been developing with the IFB and Film4 for the past four years so we’re hoping to start shooting September/October and cast the lead. Goliath we’re doing the second draft of at the moment.

“We’re doing a co-production between the guys from ‘Under the Shadow’ (Wigwam Films) in the UK and that’s a thriller called ‘Nocebo’. So we’ve got ‘Vivarium’, ‘Goliath’ and ‘Nocebo’, probably in that order.”




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