Scannain caught up with writer/director Rioghnach Ni Ghrioghair to talk about her IFB-backed Short Stories short film NEON, ahead of its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh.
The world is poisoned. A sacrificial population is tasked with carving out a clean passage with neon lights between pockets of surviving civilisation. One ‘runner’ dares to race for her life against all the odds. NEON is a break-neck cyberpunk action sci-fi set in a future decaying world.
The film is produced by Flaminia Iacoviello and stars Sophie Merry and Daryl McCormack.
NEON has no dialogue “It just didn’t seem like it was necessary. There are a few grunts and we’d lots of fun with that. We brought Sophie in for a day of grunting and breathing. She came in on her lunch break and was grunting and groaning. We were like “No, more raspy. Good, that’s it”.
Getting a film down to 5 minutes it tough, but it can be good for focusing the story “The funding programme had a five-minute guideline. This is five and a half. You don’t need that other shot of them staring out of the window. That’s what Shane Woods is very good at. He’s been an assistant editor on Peaky Blinder, Game of Thrones, This is England ’89, so he’s been working with all of the top editors in TV, and trying to build off the chaos of everything that is being shot.”
Making a science-fiction film on a low-budget is never easy “A lot of the stress was in the prep. There were so many intricate bitty things, like trying to make 20 neon lights from scratch. And we had to make sure that they were bright enough to be seen from outdoors and that they had enough battery life. That they were battery run as we couldn’t have them hooked up. That they were loose and wouldn’t break. And that they would stick to a tree! That was where the big stress came in the last few days. It was making those lights stick. They were long shafts of perspex tubing, sanded down, with two torches at either end and gels on the top of each to dictate which colour they were going to be. We tried all directions, LED lights, fluorescent tubes, we were potentially going to go down the neon route at one point, but that would have been a disaster as there would have been glass everywhere. They just kept falling down. We put a strong magnet at each end and then we had washers that we very lightly nailed and treaded across the trees. Then it was up to Sophie, all well as to perform, to train herself to pull the light out from behind her and turn to the tree and go “click, click”. But that was tough and they kept falling and she’d have to run up the hill again. It took a while to get there. We had her out in the woods the day before just practising running and taking the lights out of the bag and hooking them to the trees. But that was the fun bit. Especially when we realised the day before that we didn’t have enough washers for the trees!”
Making a film set entirely outdoors leaves you at the mercy of the Irish weather “We filmed on Paddy’s weekend and it was raining a little bit, but we were happy that we weren’t washed out and that it was overcast. The sunshine would have drowned out the neon lights. We just wanted a nice dull, dark, gloomy standard Irish day with no sun and no rain, and we got pretty lucky with that.”
The film has a very definite visual style, particularly in the costumes. “It was going more in a cyberpunk kind of route. Which meant a lot of 80’s inspired looks and then very much a Japanese anime/Manga type of feel. This was not a gritty realist post-apocalyptic world like The Road or The Walking Dead. There was an element of heightened retro-futurism to it. Almost as if the apocalypse took place in the 80’s and everything is a little lo-fi and awkward. That’s what we wanted to incorporate in the graphics at the start as well. To make it look a little bit more like a CRT screen, Alien-like or TRON, Escape From New York, and War Games. We wanted to simulate the idea that this was like a game at the start. Here are the rules of the world. You’re going to be sacrificed. Go! Hopefully, it has a bit of a charge towards the end. I wanted it to be that kind of wake-up short. I wanted to grip the audience from the start because you only have 5 minutes to bring them into a world where you have to lay out quite carefully what the rules are. And you have to make sure that they still understand the basic structure of the story and still enjoy the experience of that rush towards the end. It was a difficult balance to try and find that in the edit. To be able to keep the charge forward and then have that small little peppered story that would make sense. It’s quite loose.”
For a frenetic story like this, you need a fast-moving camera “We tried a lot of stuff. We tried steady-cams, tracks. We went with a Mobi for a lot of it, but the fun part was getting a quad bike. It was just so much fun, me being giddy on set when this quad-bike rolled up and then sitting on the back with a monitor. We were going at really high speed across this very small hillside road right next to a very steep dip, and looking down and going “If we fall we’re dead. We have insurance, but we’re clearly going to die!” There was a lot of fun and adrenaline just sitting on the back of this quad going at loads of miles per hour. I’d love to do more quad-biking filming activities, but preferably not at the side of a hill!”
Introducing a quad bike makes capturing audio a nightmare “A lot of the sound was unusable, but we did get some usable sound. We then built up the rest of it in post-production in Raygun and then played around with elements to make the world feel a bit more dark and stranger. A lot of that energy came from Eomac’s music as well, which was really fun to work with him. He’s one of our most interesting musicians working right now. He lives in Berlin and he’s featured on Thom Yorke’s weekly playlists and has a huge following. I guess we don’t have as much of the scene here to follow him, but he’s got this really interesting darkness and energy to his music. He got the references straight away, the Japanese muzaky Run Lola Run type vibe. Working with him to get the right tone, the right darkness was just such perfect a fit. That’s a huge part of the what the film is, his music and how much charge that brings to it. It’s the type of thing that you can only experience on a big screen and watch it loud with nowhere else to look.”
After the premiere, Ni Ghrioghair has big plans “What we would love to do is use it as a springboard into a longer form project. To make it into a feature where we open up that world more and maybe see other caretakers and runners that are also roaming the woods or different landscapes, and explore the mythology and the back-story of what is happening to this world. It’s all a matter of the momentum that we can get out of the story and that world, and how people respond to it as well. It’d be nice to open it up a bit more and make a short, energetic 90-minute movie from it.”
NEON plays as part of the New Irish Shorts 7 programme, which will world premiere the shorts backed by the Irish Film Board on Saturday, July 15th in the Town Hall Theatre at 12pm.