New Irish crime drama Cardboard Gangsters will have its World Premiere at the 28th Galway Film Fleadh on Friday July 9th. We caught up with director Mark O’Connor ahead of the Fleadh to talk about his fourth feature.

Cardboard Gangsters has been a long time in the making…

I know. It’s been way too long. About 3 years. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to make another one. The problem with the whole funding thing is that when you are going for it it can take so long. Because you’re stuck waiting on contracts, and trying to close the financing takes so much time. And then you come up against a hard deadline and end up having to do 7 weeks worth of work in 3 days!

You shot the film primarily in Darndale. What was it like working there and with the community?

It was an amazing experience. The people of Darndale just took us in. There were no issues. They were just so accommodating. We had filmed Between the Canals in Sheriff Street so we’d been though something similar before, and I learned from that. When you are trying to make something that is authentic to an area, you want to immerse yourself in the community. And because of that you want to explore characters and actors that you can possibly bring into the film. Not in the lead roles, but in a couple of support roles. I learned from mistakes that I had made on Between the Canals, where I’d brought in a lot of lads from Sheriff Street, and on King of the Travellers I worked with 90% Travellers. So I think I just learned from mistakes in casting. It’s about trying to find local people and local talent to fill those roles, and give the feeling of authenticity to the film. Otherwise you are going in there and you are casting theatre-school, pretty-boy faces, who are not from the area, just because they have good diction and they look good or whatever. It just comes across as fake in my opinion.

You don’t get the right idioms or slang…

Exactly. You’re just not going to get that realness.

Were there issues with the type of story that you were telling, with showcasing gangland violence?

Yeah there were issues. They wanted to read the script. But they definitely felt that it was a positive message despite the violence within the film. When the audience sees it then they’ll know what I mean. There’s a string theme in there that’s basically a message to young people “Don’t fuck up your life, don’t get involved in this”. The thing is when you’re examining a theme, you have to examine the two sides of the argument. It’s not just revenge, that’s just a word. It’s an argument, like Kramer vs Kramer, where you have two sides to the coin, the wive and the husband, and you show it from both perspectives. In terms of this it’s about showing the highs and the lows. You see the women, and the cars, and the money, and the drugs and all. You have to see that stuff in order to show the other side. If you just show one side the you’re just preaching, I think.

And you don’t understand the allure of that lifestyle…

If you just show the allure, like some gangster films have don, and you don’t show any negative effects of it, then you are just glamourising it. That was always in my mind, and in ever scene. Even how we used music, because certain scenes if you add music then it comes across as “they’re actually having fun here” and you’re glamourising something. I was trying to be very careful with that. You’re trying to have fun, you’re trying to make a gangster film that’s entertaining, but you’re also trying to examine the reality of this situation. It’s all a very fine, delicate balance.

The British have had a good history with making the grittier type of urban dramas, is there any of those that you looked towards?

Definitely. Alan Clarke, Paddy Considine, Shane Meadows, Ken Loach, any of those guys. I wouldn’t just be into the social-realist  stuff. I love Scorsese films as well. Films that are more cinematic. Ive tried to go for something that is more cinematic in its visuals. Before I was just focused on performance, and on story, but on this one I wanted to up everything to the next level. So every shot is considered. I spent my hours with the DoP Michael Lavelle, just considering every single frame of the film, every shot, and working out each shot and how it’s going to play out, to let out the themes and what it’s really about. It’s kind of about fathers and sons, and the breakdown of that relationship within Darndale. You see a lot of the kids whose fathers…a lot of them are on drugs, or some of them are in prison. Or if you go to the local blacker (pub) there it’s just packed with men hanging out. There’s a lack of that father figure. John (Connors) wrote this original script, and when he brought me on as a co-writer I spent 9 months on it. I wanted to bring out the real stuff about John’s life. His own father committed suicide, and I wanted to bring out those elements in the story. So just through researching Darndale and seeing what those issues were, it became about that. The story developed into that father-son relationship and how you can mess up your son’s life,  or your baby’s life because you made the wrong decisions. These young lads who are just hanging out don’t have much opportunities. And there’s a lot of different issues, socio-economic problems, and all you need is lads in those situations…maybe some family issues as well…and if they get cut off welfare or something happens in their life, then the next step is getting involved in a robbery or dealing drugs. It’s just conditions and circumstance.

And gangs can give them a sense of identity, a sense of purpose…

Exactly. That’s it, it’s a sense of belonging to something. There’s all of these things at play. So I try to understand that, rather than just judging it.

Are you looking forward to getting Cardboard Gangsters down to Galway?

I can’t wait. It’s been so long. I can’t wait to see it screen and get the reactions from people. And then I’m also looking forward to moving on to the next project. I’ve probably spent more time on this than any of the other 3 films, maybe more than even the 3 put together. I definitely can’t wait to screen it for an audience. And hearing how people react. Hopefully there won’t be too many walk-outs!


Cardboard Gangsters follows a group of wannabe cardboard gangsters as they attempt to gain control of the drug trade in Darndale, chasing the glorified lifestyle of money, power and sex.

Director Mark O’Connor and lead-actor John Connors co-wrote the script, having worked together on Stalker and King of the Travellers. Connors is joined by Jimmy Smallhorne, Kierston Wareing (Fish Tank), Fionn Walton (What Richard Did), Damien Dempsey (Between the Canals), Denise McCormack (Love/Hate) Paul Roe (Adam and Paul), Stephen Clinch (Between the Canals), and Corey McKinley (’71), with support from Aaron Blake O’Connell (Bully), Gemma-Leah Devereux (How to Be Happy), Toni O’Rourke (Noble), Fiona Hewitt Twamley, Paul Alright, Ryan Lincoln, and Ciaran McCabe (Bully). UFC fighters Cathal Pendred and Nathan Kelly also make cameo appearances.

Cardboard Gangsters is produced by Richard Bolger for Five Knight Films, in association with O’Connor’s Stalker Films. DoP was Michael Lavelle (Patrick’s Day), with post-production taking place at Egg Post in Dublin. The film is funded by the BAI, Filmbase, and TV3.

Cardboard Gangsters plays the Galway Film Fleadh on Saturday July 9th at 10pm, ahead of a nationwide release this autumn.

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