Thursday, 11 September 2014

interview: Dáire McNab

After I reviewed his excellent Dublin-shot giallo thriller The Three Sisters, Dáire McNab kindly answered a few questions for me in September 2014.

How would you define a giallo, and what are the best examples of the genre?
“The word 'giallo' means yellow in Italian, and was originally used to describe Italian editions of crime novels by people like Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett, which were printed with yellow book-jackets. They were so popular that Italian authors started writing their own crime stories, and these became widely known as gialli (plural for 'giallo'). I'll hand myself over to myself at this point, with an extract from my work-in-progress book on the genre:

“[A]t some point people outside Italy started using the term to describe a specific type of crime film, created by Mario Bava, then refined and popularised by Dario Argento several years later. Confusingly, Italians tend to refer to these films as ‘Thrilling all’Italiana’, although I will not be doing so, unless my word count comes up drastically short. These films do constitute a recognisable and definable genre, although, as with anything in this world, there are several exceptions which both prove and disprove the rule. Generally speaking, a giallo film will contain an unfolding mystery which is resolved in the closing moments, as well as several scenes of brutal murders, often committed by a masked killer, whose identity is often the mystery at the centre of the film. There are many, many films which I would, and will, classify as gialli which do not adhere to one or other of these above guidelines (and one, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, which barely adheres to either). Gialli are also noted for their soundtracks, visual inventiveness, sexualised violence, illogical plotting and outlandish titles, though none of these are requisites."

“Some people will refuse to classify any non-Italian film as a giallo, but some people are idiots. In my case, I've tried to compromise by bringing aboard Giovanni Lombardi Radice, who is an iconic figure in the world of Italian genre cinema.

“In terms of good examples, Bava's early trailblazers, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace, are great entry-points. Anything by Argento (pre-1990s anyway) is also a good bet. There's also a fairly strong case for Don't Look Now to be considered a giallo. I could list a load of obscure films here, but won't, but I will mention one of my favourite gialli, Tinto Brass's Deadly Sweet, which is a fairly bonkers film made slap bang in the middle of the Swinging London era. It wouldn't be to everyone's tastes, and gets a bit boring in the middle, but it's well worth a watch. Oh, and anything by Sergio Martino pre-1980 is well worth a look.”

How difficult was it to make something that was recognisably a giallo without becoming a pastiche of the genre?
“It actually wasn't too difficult, but at the same time was definitely uppermost in my thoughts when making the film. The whole 'pastiche' fad is not something that's ever really interested me as a viewer, unless the filmmaker in question is someone with a serious talent for reappropriating generic conventions (eg. Tarantino [sorry for going for the obvious example]) in an interesting way. As far as I'm concerned, there are way too many grindhouse/exploitation-inspired films these days which cross the line from pastiche into lazy parody, with cheap jokes which often outright mock the original films/concepts. There's clearly an audience for this, so fair enough, but it's not a road I'd want to take.

“With this film I didn't want to make either a pastiche of gialli, or a neo-giallo (a sub-genre which has gained some traction over the past few years, and which generally dispenses with any mystery element in favour of following the killer for most of the film). I just wanted to make a film which fits snugly into the genre, and which, hopefully, will one day be listed among its cannon. It also works as a straightforward thriller film (hopefully anyway), and a lot of the time when I describe it to people I omit the word 'giallo', as I don't want to frighten people off by using foreign words.

“I think, to finally actually answer the question, that is wasn't too difficult to avoid pastiche because I put all of my focus on coming up with a decent plot, and then putting this plot on screen in as interesting a way as I could. I don't have a compulsion to let everyone know about the obscure films I've seen by including references to them, I only have a compulsion to make films. Having said that, I did put in a couple of credits which are a bit nerdy and referential; this was mostly to pad out the credits list a bit, as it's mostly just my name repeated over and over.”

What did you learn from your earlier films that you were able to bring to the making of The Three Sisters?
“It's difficult to put my finger on specific things, but, particularly at this (hopefully) early stage of my career, with every film I make I learn a huge amount (usually by making mistakes, and vowing never to repeat them). One thing I definitely learned is that if I'm going to self-finance a film which loses money, it's best to keep the budget as low as possible. I did this on The Three Sisters by keeping the number of characters low, and mostly casting people who were related to me, or friends. Both the previous films were shot in the traditional 'big block of shooting followed by several months of post-production' manner, but I thought that, given that I had no deadlines or anything, the ability to edit as I went along might be beneficial. This definitely proved to be the case, as I was able to incorporate several plot tweaks into the film as I went along. Previously I've had to try and patch things up in editing, this time I could patch them up as I went, to better effect. The editing-as-you-go approach is definitely one that suits filmmakers (but not actors or producers), although I did find that I'd happily go for months without shooting anything, and get a bit caught up in the editing.

“I think the biggest things I've learned have been related to the marketing and sale of the finished product. This film was the first time I've really thought ahead to what would happen after I finished editing. In fact, even the idea to make a giallo came about because I wanted to make something that I could market, but would also enjoy making.”

Beyond the obvious family connections, how did you find your cast?
“Yeah, most of the cast are family or friends. Everyone on screen, apart from three actors (and the unwitting extras in the background of some scenes) have been in one or both of my previous films. Of the three that weren't, one is the sister of the lead actress, and another is a friend of the lead actor. The third is Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who I got on board through email and charm, and a bit of money. He was great though, he didn't seem fazed by the minuscule size of the production, nor the fact that I hadn't really sorted out any costume for him. That's actually my biggest flaw as a filmmaker; I never think about costuming, beyond a continuity-specific capacity. Once I get good at costuming I'll be unstoppable (probably).

“I found using actors (and 'actors') with whom I've previously worked really beneficial in many ways. It allowed me to tailor their characters specifically to their talents and limitations, and I could even tailor the filmmaking process as well. For example, I shot all the dialogue scenes involving my mother in single takes, essentially to minimize her time on set (/discomfort on set), and I thought that my friend Rob wouldn't enjoy doing ADR, so I shot all of his scenes with live sound (all of other scenes were post-dubbed, apart from Giovanni's scene). It also helped in planning out the scenes with the main actors. Every actor is different, and, for example, some can process three or four notes given to them between takes, others can only make one adjustment at a time. Also, some actors can take five or six takes to warm up, whereas others can hit their stride straight away. Because I'd worked with everyone before, I didn't have to spend time rehearsing to suss out their own idiosyncrasies, and I was able to give them some leeway in terms of improvising dialogue. Actually, that's a far better answer to your previous question than the one I gave.”

What are your intentions for festivals/distribution of the film?
“I only finished the film a month ago (and am still regrading a few shots and polishing bits of the audio, and I haven't done the end credits yet), so there are as of yet no festival screenings confirmed, nor any distribution plans. I've entered it in several festivals, so hopefully one or two will respond positively to it. As for disseminating it to a wider audience further down the line, that kind of depends on what, if any, interest it engenders at festivals. I'd like to get a decent DVD deal at the very least, but we'll see.”

What is the horror film-making scene like in Ireland at the moment?
“It seems to be booming at the moment. When I made my first film, The Farm, in 2008, it was probably among the first ten or fifteen Irish horror films ever; there are about as many as that in post-production right now. A lot of them seem to be of the 'people-get-lost-in-the-woods' variety, which I suppose makes sense, as we have a fair amount of countryside about the place. It doesn't really feel like a 'scene' though, in the sense that I only know about these films from seeing brief items about them on various websites. There isn't a Horror Directors' Club or anything, or if there is they forgot to invite me. It's probably as much as anything a consequence of the democratisation of filmmaking which has been brought about by the rise of digital cameras; horror is a fairly established 'first film' genre. I suppose it's good in a way to see a lot of other films being made here, but in a much bigger way it's bad, as it increases the chances of mine falling by the wayside.”

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