Ahead of its world premiere at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival, Scannain caught up with writer and director Shane J Collins to talk about his debut feature Dub Daze.
The film is a coming-of-age collection of stories set in the north, south, and centre of Dublin city. We get to meet Dan and Baz, two friends who are looking for kicks on their last day of school. Cork medical students, Jack and Seán arrive in the capital to find their way amongst Ireland’s affluent youth, while songwriter Fi struggles to break through on the cut-throat Dublin music scene.
Dub Daze world premieres on Saturday, February 23rd in Cineworld 9 at 2pm. Tickets
Scannain: The act of making a first feature is a leap of faith.
Shane J. Collins: I think it comes down to who you surround yourself with. I came in with a small tiny crew but everyone props each other up when they need it. For us, we had such amazing young actors. I’ve made 13 shorts over 8 years, so I’ve got to know so many actors who I could go ” I know him. I trust him. He’s reliable.” Ethan Dillion, who is one of the leads, was like my unofficial casting agent. He would say “Go with him. He’s a good guy. Bring him in.” And you’d trust his judgement.
Did you feel pressure when making the film?
I definitely did feel the pressure because of all the actors and because of all of the musicians who had given us their music.I was down in Sligo during the summer and the weather was very warm, and I was in the basement editing and the pressure of knowing that if the film didn’t get into Dublin or Galway or if it doesn’t do well at all, then you’ve kind of ruined your reputation to an extent. That’s why when I found out about Dublin, it was such a relief. I was nearly in tears on the phone to Grainne because it was like a big monkey off my back.
You mentioned Sligo, what’s the connection there?
My production company is based up in Sligo, but Dublin is where I’m from. I spent every summer in Sligo, it’s like my artistic home. If you look at the landscape how can it not be. When I’m writing, I park the car and I get into the passenger’s seat and that’s what works for me. Whatever gets you writing I guess.
What made you want to make this film as your feature?
I did my Masters in Screenwriting in IADT and I did this really ambitious Rashoman love-story script. In my head I was asking “Why hasn’t Ireland won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language?” and I was saying this to everyone. But it was far too ambitious and I only came up with the idea 3 months before the official deadline. It was too ambitious and they didn’t like it. After that feeling of “Oh that didn’t work out” I had been tickering with a Northside comedy story and then I went to Vinny Murphy’s acting classes. I always go to acting classes as a director to try and understand the process. I find that I cannot remember more than 2 or 3 lines. When the camera is on you it’s very very different. I met Leah Moore and she’s fantastic and I went ” I can write a short story for her”. She’s a musician as well so then I had that story and I had the Northside story, so I went “How about 3 stories?”. I moved over to Sandymount when I was 15, and I had friends from the are, but I always looked at them as a Northsider. The outsider’s eye. I’m originally from Raheny. I was dealing with all of these people who were very different from me. Over time you assimilate into that.
Then I was like “Oh, I have three stories here”. And then Mark O’Connor told me, because he had done Between the Canals, when he came into IADT as a screenwriting teacher “If you write three stories then it’s a lot easier”. So I wrote the three stories and that’s how it came about. I just kept writing and kept writing religiously over 2 or 3 months. And then I was “I’ve got to get going on this” because I think I had a big grace period of just having graduated from IADT where I was still a student. There was a time for it. You couldn’t be doing it two to three years after graduating. I consistently wrote the script while we were shooting as well because the actors gave me great input of what did and didn’t work.
So it was a collaborative process with your actors.
Absolutely. As a writer I’m always very collaborative. If you come up with a better idea then lets talk about it. Let’s shoot it. For me, when I’m editing, 30% of the stuff that we shot we didn’t even use. I find that the editing is the last part of the writing. You’re taking lines out and stuff like that. But yeah I can’t understand people who don’t collaborate, who go “I am the author”. I absolutely love comedies. Our central story is a bit more of a drama, but for me people like Judd Apatow or Garry Shandling, I love their process of how they work in the edit room. With Judd Apatow he shoots everything and then in the edit room, he and someone like Seth Rogen will have have mics recording the laughs and then they’ll have a different screening with different jokes. And then they’ll put in even more jokes in the background, and it all comes together in the edit. Maybe for comedy more than horror or a different genre.
On Dub Daze you have many hats, writer, editor, director. Was that a control thing?
My dad is very pragmatic. He was a GP for 43 years in the north inner city so he calls it like it is. And he said to me that you don’t want to be someone that is “Oh I’ll do it all”. It’s more because I had to do it all. Going forward I don’t know if I would want to edit all of my stuff again. I definitely want to bring in a producer. I’m not one of these control freaks.
Of course, when you are limited in budget you’ll do as much as you can. Even the catering if it comes to it.
One of the things that I learned from making my shorts is that you have to feed the crew. A crew runs on its stomach. So no matter how bad it was, when you’re giving somebody a plate of warm food they’re like “Ah he’s not that bad”. I was a pretty bad first A.D. and I felt bad. We didn’t have a shot list so I was like Richard Donner, making shots up on set. the problem there is that an actor could be waiting around for an hour and asking “Why am I waiting around? You could have told me to come later.” But when I’m on set I can’t also be calling actors.That’s the thing about a low budget indie. You just have to make do.
Who did you look to for inspiration?
I remember when I went in for my interview with IADT I was very into the ‘mumblecore’ movement. What those guys did in America based on Dogme ’95, like Joe Swanberg. Some of his first features were a bit ropey. Just because something is 90 minutes, doesn’t mean it’s a feature.But it was just about getting it out there. The Duplas brothers were very inspiring and Richard Linklater. Ed Burns with The Brothers McMullen. I remember when I started doing the masters that I read his book. Ryan Buckley, the associate producer, gave it to me. And I read about Richard Linklater, who kind of inspired this. Dazed and Confused is my all-time favourite film. They’re feel-good, go into the cinema, have good craic, and leave feeling happy.
Musicals and comedies have been doing great business in Ireland due to that communal experience of enjoyment.
The central story is a musical to an extent, because Leah’s songs are actually in it. But then also, Roddy Doyle is my hero, I just love everything that he does. I think I’ve watched The Commitments 25 times. It has the musical element and it’s partially why we use so many songs in the film.
Was clearing the music an issue?
I remember having to find all of the bands. The band would agree and then you’d get the manager on the phone and he’d be “How much?” The only band that has a manager is Bremen Hemo, they’re Sligo lads and I was telling them how I’m very invested in Sligo and in fairness to them we got they’re German manager on the phone and we worked out a deal. It’s nice to know that people have a bit of faith in what we are doing.
It’s important to showcase Irish musicians and young Irish acting talent so that we know that they are out there.
One of the things that I said to the cast, after I was down in Cork and people were worrying that it hadn’t gotten into that festival, was that I sent an email saying that I hadn’t submitted it anywhere yet. I said to them that the whole thing about Dub Daze was that if you were an actor and if you’d gone to Bow Street is home to some of the most advanced and practical screen acting courses and workshops in Ireland. Housed in the stunning Jameson Building in Smithfi... More or the Lir or to DIT and you really believe in yourself but nobody is willing to give you a shot…because in Ireland we are so small…it’s great that we have great actors but you see the same faces all of the time… that’d be great to be able to bring your own posse up with you. There’s so many actors that I would definitely love to work with again, like Clide Delaney, Graeme Coughlan, Ethan Dillon, Shane Robinson, Nigel Brennan, the list goes on. I’d love to work with them all again. I’m working on the next feature now Celtic Cut, set in Sligo. It’s a heist film. And I can see who could play or who would fit each role.