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Interview: Writer/Director Mark O'Rowe
25 Apr 2018 : Nathan Griffin
Mark O'Rowe
IFTN Journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with writer Mark O'Rowe ahead of the release of his directorial debut 'The Delinquent Season'

With previous credits including 'Boy A', 'Intermission', 'Broken' and 'Perrier's Bounty', O'Rowe directs an all-star Irish cast of Cillian Murphy ('Peaky Blinder', 'Dunkirk'), Andrew Scott (‘Sherlock’, ‘Handsome Devil’), Eva Birthistle (‘Brooklyn’, ‘The Last Kingdom’), and Catherine Walker (‘A Dark Song’, ‘Patrick’s Day’). 

‘The Delinquent Season’, which is Irish writer/director Mark O’Rowe’s feature debut, follows two couples who appear to live in marital bliss until cracks begin to appear in both seemingly steady marriages. The film poses the question ‘How well do any of us really know each other’ and explores the ideas of love, lust, and family relationships. 

The film was produced by Ruth Coady & Alan Moloney for Parallel Films. The film was also made in association with Head Gear Films & Metrol Technology with funding from The Irish Film Board / Bord Scannán na hÉireann & The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. 

Element Pictures Distribution is releasing ‘The Delinquent Season’ in cinemas across Ireland from Friday 27th April. 

IFTN: Mark, give our readers a bit of background on the film itself and how it came about with Parallel? 

Mark: “How far do you want me to go back?... (Laughs) I've been directing theatre for the last 10 years. I hadn’t been a director for a film. I was experiencing the same frustration in film as I had been in theatre, which is when you hand something over; you suffer a great anxiety for as long as they're doing it, because all you're doing is waiting to see what they do with it. Often, even if they do a good job of it, it's not how you saw it and that can be quite frustrating.” 

“I just began to complain more and more as time went on. My wife and my agent said, "Just direct something yourself". The last couple of films I did before this had been adaptations, so my agent told me to write a script that I couldn't give up to anybody. You know, that I just wouldn't be able to, it would be too personal, it'd be too precise. There'll be too many things that someone who didn't know the script as well as I do could get wrong.” 

“So I did that and then brought it to Parallel Films who I worked with before. Then it was quite boring! They said they'd get the money and they got the money. We made it, with a lot of false starts and a lot of failures. I'm sure if you're dealing with films, you know that it's never being made until it's being made. All those kind of trips and delays and stuff like that and then we did it.” 

“It just came out of a desire that I just didn't want to give my stuff up anymore. I found it much easier to shoulder the burden of making it than to suffer the anxiety of what somebody else is doing with it. It's so much easier because you don't suffer the anxiety when you're making it. You're too busy and you have a focus. You're solving problems and challenges so you've no time to be afraid. It's just a much easier process. In a way, it's not me saying, 'I did it better than somebody else would have done it'. It's me saying 'I find it easier to live with taking a project all the way through'.” 

IFTN: So how did you find the whole process? Did you enjoy it? 

Mark: “Yes, it was brilliant. You can't believe it's happening until you're actually on the set the first day because everyone's saying, "Even though we're here, it hasn't happened." Even though the cast, it still may not, and finally, it's happening.  

"I remember talking to a guy who had directed a short film who was married to movies and works in TV in the UK. I said, "Why did you never do it again?" He works in the background now, in development and stuff like that, and I said, "Why did you not do it again?" He said, "I realized I was obsessive. What I would do is we'd go on set and I couldn't decide if the glass should be there or there (moves glass on the table), I would panic."  

“I thought that's interesting. You hear people say - Scorsese says it all the time, which is - he hates shooting, because the pressure of it is so negative. So I thought, "If anything, I know I can direct a movie. I just don't know if I'll hate it, if it'll just take such a toll on me emotionally, in terms of the nerves". 

Again going back to the thing about anxiety of somebody else doing it, you're too busy to suffer. You have a certain amount of time, so you've got to do it by that time. You can't worry about that because you've got to do it so you do it. Then you move on to the next day, and then you need to move on to the next day, then after a while the day is finished. I found that even on the days when things were quite stressed or where we didn't have quite enough time, making creative decisions under pressure, it's not you on your own in a room, it's you and a bunch of collaborators so you can bounce ideas off them.” 

“I remember we had one scene where we had seven setups, and I asked your first AD - "How much time have we left?" He says, "We've an hour and we only have three setups". Seven setups, we have more options but we're only doing three. Why? Because, that's it. We only have time to do three! It's always a real joy to just get that bit done. "We did it. We have it. We've got it done though. We can't be worrying about the past." 

“Also, it's so intense that you would get your sides in the morning which would be all the scenes you're going to shoot that day. You would look through them and if you're in the middle of a day shooting a scene and someone says, "What's your next scene?" You'd go, "I don't know." If they say, "What scene did you shoot last?" You'll probably also say, "I don't know. I don't remember. I'm so in this--" Trying to solve this one. That can be quite exhilarating. I also understand why it could be very stressful to do it. I needed to prove to myself whether it was for me or not because if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't do it again. I'd continue to moan about what other people did with my script but I’d know it's not for me.” 

IFTN: Obviously the cast is fantastic, how much confidence did they give you going into the project? 

Mark: “It's interesting because the toughest thing about directing a low budget film in such a tight time frame is that there's no room to try stuff. To go, "We can try this but if doesn't work, we don't do it." Everything has to work. I did an enormous amount of preparation for myself knowing that, if we get time to try stuff, we will. If we don't, I got the plan. If I don't know what to do or the circumstances change, I'd go back to what was I trying to get with that, then how will I get back here. That was hugely helpful to me.” 

“Even just in terms of confidence. Just in terms of coming and going, you have a plan. We had the sex scenes. We shot all the hotel room scenes, almost all in one day. Those sex scenes with a lot of dialogue scenes as well. We would have to do a big, long, complicated dialogue scene. But, because we didn't have to set up again or change the angle here, because they're on a bed, there's nowhere to go with the camera. They would have to go straight in. I remember saying to Cillian, "Do you want to take five minutes to get all those lines out of your head and allow all the other lines to go into your head?" 

“He said, "No. Let's just keep going." So you're under that amount of pressure but I remember one lovely moment was, there's a kind of sex montage, which is three shots in the middle of them having sex. I knew what I needed the shots to be. I knew exactly what they were going to be and I had them on course. I had a copy where I drew all little sketch figures and frames. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes it was just saying, "In this conversation we're going to have head and shoulders." I draw up head and shoulders. So I brought the two actors in that morning. They were doing the sex scenes for a while because it is a long show with sex scenes. I showed the three photos. I said, "I want a shot of that, that, and that and we are out". And you saw their faces light up. They weren't going to have to try stuff for me. I'd tell them, "You're fucking her that way. You're on top of him that way." At least do five thrusts for each one. That's it." They were so thrilled that they didn't have to try different things, [whispers] "Sex scenes are so fucking embarrassing." (Laughs) 

Whatever I'm feeling, they're feeling. It's fascinating but it is very intimate. If they can just figure, "I know what my job is. My job here is, 'Mark asked for this and I'll be looking in her eyes. I need to look like I really love her. I'm really caught up in the moment.' That's what I need to do, I can go into that, do it and then come out of it". You can be afraid because it's so intimate, but that stuff was great. Knowing how you wanted it to look in the film. You could communicate to that actor and they would just know that that was there job. That helped an awful lot. “ 

“In terms of your questions about the actors it's like theatre. They do it, you can see that maybe they're just warming up. Usually you don’t have any notes. They do it again and often, you don't have notes. Often they just need a few goes at it before it starts to hum in them. Sometimes it's a bit too fast and sometimes it's a bit slow when you say this. They have done their homework. I met Cillian a few times because particularly Cillian & Catherine had the bulk of the long dialogue scenes and the more nuanced stuff. You would have lots of conversations before we shot.” 

The preparation is talking, going through the script. You aren’t being specific on every line, it's just where am I generally. Because actors need freedom, particularly with quite long scenes that have maybe a few people sitting at a table and have an emotional journey that kind of happens. They want that to happen to them on the set. Do you know what I mean? It's amazing seeing that. They trust you a great deal and you have to trust them a great deal as well. They're brilliant actors, I remember the very first day, and usually you start with a scene where somebody picks up a glass or show off something, they start off easy. But we have a quite tricky dialogue scene.” 

“It was our first scene and I remember Cillian, they did a take, they did another take. Cillian wasn't struggling, it just wasn't it yet and he said, "I'm sorry Mark, I'm just warming up," and I said, "Yes, good." Then he warmed up after a couple of takes and he gets into his own where it's all great, everything is great then, it's just great time after time. Now, what you have to do is you go and you get a great first time and you move on, you don't have time to do a load of takes. He's got to trust that that's the one. But you see that he doesn't need me to guide him, he just needs to do it another couple of times.” 

He'll just get into the zone there. A lot of actors are like that. It's the same with theatre, often the things you have to look out for is when a character illustrates an emotion. If you feel the emotion and say it, it will come out right. If you feel emotion and act it, you're adding something on to it and people see the acting. Often, it's just bringing that back and saying, "Don't. Just let it happen and the camera will pick it up, the camera will see it." It was great. I hadn't worked with Eva and Andrew before, and they were the same, they were great.” 

IFTN: You touched upon it there, but a number of the key dialogue scenes in the film take place around the dining table.  I am curious to know the thought process behind that, and how did you go about shooting those scenes?  

Mark: “You've obviously got an interest in the technical nature as well. I can answer because I did it, but I couldn't answer before I did it. I'd be asking that question, that's what I do. In terms of the thought process, the opening scene is you set up them all. When you set them, you don't have to reveal, you don't have to get the story started or you do have Andrew being mean or whatever, but the general conversation is quite banal, it's going on holidays, it's whatever...” 

IFTN: It's exactly what it would be like... 

Mark: “Yes, exactly. Yes. I got a note actually from the Film Board or something like that saying, "I know this seen scene is supposed to be banal but could you do it in a less banal way?" You want to make it excitingly banal? Because either you infuse it with drama or you don't and scenes like that you don't. You just have to be interested in going, "It's nice to see these people just behaving." The film hasn't started yet.” 

“Then he says this thing and then we feel things begin to happen. The second dinner scene is much more filled with drama and that's the big lying scene. It interests me. I've done it in a couple of plays already and we do it life. I'm making this discovery but I thought, "This is the most obvious thing ever." But then you say to people, they go, "Oh yes, that's amazing. That's the most obvious thing ever." Which is - we lie all the time in life and usually we lie so as not to create problems, so as not to hurt people's feelings..” 

“We're master liars because why? Because when we're lying to people, they don't know we're lying. I've always been interested in that idea that a lot of the times in film, you say something to me.. You mention the woman I'm having the affair with, and I react because it affects me. Just mention it, because if you mentioned her in real life, I wouldn't do anything, you wouldn't see me flinch.” 

“I would flinch inside but you certainly wouldn't see it because that's the skill we have as humans in life. That scene is all about, Cillian gets a punch from a kid and then we go to this scene and he's telling them a story that's a complete fabrication. His wife is backing him up on it because he's already told her the story. She's telling Catherine and Andrew. Catherine knows what happened because she was there. I like the idea of, if we all had a bunch of secrets, how would we behave? We would behave as we do if we didn't have secrets. Now, you can see if you look very carefully, you can see from all those very subtle acting for the actors, not to me, where you can see people, sometimes Catherine is slightly not looking at Cillian, but it cannot be obvious, and that's something that I didn’t intend, but I love that they are there. You cannot see it unless you are really looking for it. “ 

“And then Cillian has a big secret & Andrew has a very big secret. So they're lying about that. Later, Eva is drunk and she is saying, but we have it good, like what if one of the kids was to get sick or whatever? Everyone is smiling and agreeing but you guys know that they are having an affair and about Andrew. So the only innocent in that scene really is Eva. She is the only one who knows nothing. She does not have any secrets going. Just like the idea of presenting a scene that shows how lies work. “ 

“The filming was quite simple because, there is such a thing as style, I suppose, which is a way of presenting something that turns you on, to do. My style may be different to yours because you are a different person. I like the camera to be locked down. I like the shot to be well framed and I like the dramatic content of what is happening visually to be very confident and clear. I trust the actors and trust their performances. So I have no need to be jumping in for close ups all the time, or going handheld behind them or to having tonnes of shots of people’s hands, close-ups of glasses, shit like that. If the drama is not holding you, none of that shit is going to help.” 

“Nobody ever said it was so boring because you have all the shots of the hands that made it interesting. No, it didn't. If I believe it takes it away, I would rather watch somebody's face and see what is happening there. So there was no handheld, there was no going in to shots of people's hands. We did various takes, a big wide shot where everyone's in the shot and one person had their back to it. We did not use them. I'll cut at one. I remember we did, for a long time, the first scene had the beginning of it was just a big wide shot of them all, and then we started moving in.” 

“I like a balanced frame, so you can see in the film, it is on Catherine, on Cillian, and it is over the side a little bit. You might see a bit of shoulder. But there are never any 'two shots', as in two people beside each other. Although, we did get one or two of them, but we had little time to experiment, and we didn't pursue that. Because you are looking and asking, "What is happening here?" It’s four people; you want to see what is in their faces and all the things that are buried down.” 

"So it is the simplest way of doing it. We shoot you and we do the whole scene, on you. Then we go with him. We do that a few times and so we are happy that there is lots of stuff there. Then by the end you go to cut and you have all this great stuff. You cut it together, you can create moments that didn’t quite happen because they happened in different takes. I was kind of surprised at how simple it is, the actors act, and they love doing it because they get to play the whole scene right through.” 

IFTN: Especially, with actors of this calibre, it’s like you’re just sitting at the table with them watching the story unfold; 

Mark: “I think it is also because; they also have not been pushed to illustrate, to act. To show how angry they are, to show how suspicious they are. I remember Andrew asking "Should I be doing this, should I be doing that?"  You give them permission-- you have to do it because they go, "Surely you want more from me than this. You want me as an actor." But I just wanted them to live it. Just be it.” 

“They love that because it gives them permission to do that.  I'm not an actor so I do not know but, I think that's one of the most joyous parts of acting for an actor where they could just go, "I'm not required to hit this mark. I am not required to do the thing that you told me to do on this line, I can just live it." I have a reasonable understanding of acting because I work with actors but there's an element of it that's really mysterious to me, which is, you just go in there, if you're a good actor, and you be it, and you are it. You can say to an actor, "10 years ago you were raped", and it will utterly change their performance without them doing anything differently. Their knowledge of that will change something in them. I find it extraordinary. It's giving them permission to just be people.” 

‘The Delinquent Season’ is in cinemas across Ireland from Friday 27th April. 




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