The closing film of this year’s London Irish Film Festival stars Brian Gleeson as a man who has almost given up on himself.
Approaching 30, Alan finds himself working with his mother and living with his dad. As his musical career has never reached the heights he would have hoped for, he remains on the tourist information desk in Dublin Airport until one day Alice, an old flame, approaches his desk to give him a reminder of a former life and a former Alan.
Alice, played by Jessica Pare is known from Mad Men, is in Ireland for one night while on standby for a flight home to New York from Paris. The couple have one night to get to know each other once again, work out what went wrong between them and their relationship that summer years ago when Alan lived in America. It transpires that Alan is not the only one whose life has taken unexpected turns and looks back with a little regret.
Like Alan the character in the film, directors Rob and Ronan Burke have taken the chance to show off Dublin with the adventure Standby depicts, often showing Dublin’s lesser seen sides.
“It was really important for us to make the city a character in the film because it is somewhat a love letter to the city itself,” says Rob. “I think that very much comes from ourselves and also from Pierce who worked in Dublin tourism and was a tourist advisor himself for a long time which influenced the whole story and the script enormously.
“We grew up abroad. France, Australia and Sweden for a little while. Our father is a diplomat, he works for the department of foreign affairs. We came back here for college. We’ve come to love the city, it was something we had missed being away from it for so long.”
But did this not throw up logistical nightmares? Shooting in and around Temple Bar, a rowdy stag party is never far away. Ronan answers: “I’m glad you asked that because that was something that was very important. We wanted to make the film as authentic as possible. It was very important to us that we shot on streets that we wanted to shoot on, that we thought were evocative of the city so we shot in live environments.
“We shot in Temple Bar, we walked around with the characters and the camera, we played scenes in and amongst the day to day or night to night life of the city. That was tough and that was a challenge. We could have done it an easier way but it was important for us to capture the authenticity.”
The directors refer to Jessica Pare attracting attention everywhere the shoot went. How did the actors take shooting in these live environments that must be less than ideal for their performances? ” They were reasonably happy to go with it. They were very good to work with. They were up for anything,” says Rob.
Ronan adds: “I think they totally understood what we were trying to achieve in terms of that authenticity and they were completely on board on it.
Rob continues: “Mostly it becomes a sound issue but you do get people coming up to stick their face in front of the camera and so forth but there was also a production issue in terms of convincing (the company and the crew). A lot of directing is about convincing the production that this is what we have to do to make it the way we want to make it. There’s a lot of resistance always to doing things in a way that is the most difficult way but ultimately will be..”
“The best way,” Ronan finishes his brother’s sentence.
Was attracting Jessica a massive achievement for the film? “Absolutely,” says Ronan. “We were very happy to have her and she definitely brought a bit of an exotic-ness to the part and the film, a real sparkle. We’re big fans of Mad Men. It was a coup to get her.”
On what about Brian Gleeson on whose shoulders the film squarely rests? Was he always their Alan? “To be honest we auditioned every actor in the playing range in Ireland and we even went to London at one stage to make sure we got everybody.
Brian came into the picture quite late in the day but the moment we saw him, we thought, ‘this is the guy’. Because he’s charming but he’s kind of vulnerable. He’s got great comic timing. He came into the picture late but it was very easy to know he was the guy as soon as he came into it.”
So how authentic was the shoot and how method were the actors prepared to be? The Irish World decides to find out if that is real Guinness Brian and Jessica are sipping in one scene? “It is actually,” Rob answers. “They started with the fake stuff and it just looked terrible. We used to be bartenders and being Guinness drinkers ourselves, we didn’t want it to look like crap. That kind of thing would drive me crazy if I saw on screen that it didn’t look in any way real.”
The alternative to using creamy stout for film is, we’re told, is craft a pint from coke with cream on top: “It was a no go for us. We were shooting a scene in Grogan’s which is an iconic pub so we’re gonna have a real Guinness.”
The brothers had already worked with screenwriter Pierce Ryan on the short films Jellybaby and Runners. Although romantic comedy is not a genre they had seen themselves working in, they were purely won over by the strength of his script.
Rob says: “We read it and we really loved it, we loved the dialogue. Romantic comedy is not something that we were overly familiar with, we had an appreciation for a lot of the fine films of the genre like Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally but it wasn’t the first genre that we would have jumped to make our first feature film in, but there was something really great about the characters that Pierce had created and the dynamic that they had.
“We hadn’t seen many Irish romantic comedies and we thought this would be really interesting and a fun movie to make that people would really appreciate.”
Ronan adds: “There were a couple of themes in the movie that particularly appealed. First of all being that Brian plays Alan, his life is kind of in a stand still. He is just on the cusp of 30 and things haven’t turned out for him exactly as he would have hoped professionally and personally. We thought that was kind of a universal theme so we responded to that because the story is about his quest to find something meaningful in his life.”
Rob continues: “I think the aspect of an old friend coming back into your life, the one that got away is something that everyone can relate to.”
Although they are experienced in TV from helming the RTE comedy hit Damo & Ivor and the IFTA-winning Aisling’s Diary, Standby was the Burke brothers’ first feature film. “It was a leap,” Rob begins. “It is a different beast altogether. Keeping the pace and the rhythm of the film ebbing and flowing along and finding that rhythm in the first place is really tough both in terms of when you’re in development with the script and then in the edit.
“For a low budget film, the shoot was quite tight. It was 23 days, I suppose that’s normal for low budget but for a feature film, 23 days is pretty tight. Our experience in television certainly was helpful in that regard. We were probably shooting about six pages a day. That did help.”
Ronan adds: “With a short film, it’s a like a journey and you’re trying to keep the film on course and it’s just a longer journey with a feature film. I guess it requires more focus on keeping things working.”
Both brothers trained at Dublin IT and have been collaborating since then. Was it always their plan to be a film-making team? “It was kind of an organic thing actually,” says Ronan. “We were working on each other’s films and we kind of realised we had a very similar approach and taste and so the next opportunity that arose was a short film that was written by Pierce called Jellybaby. That was our first collaboration and we’ve been going at it ever since.”
The siblings now have various projects in development.
Standby closes the London Irish Film Festival at 7.30pm on Sunday November 23 at the Tricycle Theatre. The festival runs November 19-23. For more information, go to /2014/11/19/whats-on-at-the-irish-film-festival-london/.