Ahead of the 62nd Cork Film Festival, Scannain caught up with directors Martina McGlynn and Garret Daly to talk about their latest short, The Secret Market, which screens there on Saturday.
Victoria Smurfit plays Amy McCarthy, a doctor who has risen through the medical ranks to become chief surgeon. She has a near perfect life until her past comes back to haunt her. The film stars an impressive ensemble of Irish actors including Tadhg Murphy (Black Sails, Vikings), Mark Huberman (Frank, Noble), Camille O’Sullivan (Rebellion), Jonathan White (Love Rosie, Noble) and Eric Lalor (Fair City).
Filmed on location in Ireland throughout Dublin city and Tullamore, County Offaly, the film was shot by IFTA-winning Director of Photography James Mather (Frank, Ripper Street). Music was composed by Golden Globe nominated and IFTA winning composer Brian Byrne (Albert Nobbs, The Secret Scripture).
The Secret Market will screen as part of the Irish Shorts 1 – “It’s good to talk” programmer on Saturday November 11th at 11.45am in the Gate Cinema.
How did you come to make The Secret Market?
Martina: It was three years since stepping onto a set and we missed it. I was fortunate to spend a month shadow directing on Striking Out through a Screen Training Ireland initiative last year – but I wanted to get back on my own set if you can understand that ! We have been developing our second feature (about the two Darndale boys who made it all the way to JFK undetected in 1985), and Conor is the writer we had commissioned to draft the screenplay for it.
Garret: About this time last year we knew we had some time before pre-production on the feature would kick in. So we asked Conor if he had any ideas for a short film because we wanted to make one again. And with that , he wrote The Secret Market.
Martina: Conor’s idea was captivating . We worked with him on shaping some of the allegorical elements, but he has a very strong sense of the type of people and places he wants to write about.
Garret: He had written the lead character as male, but we felt it would be more powerful with a female lead. It was a strong piece of writing from the start of the process and we shot it word for word.
And that led you to cast Victoria Smurfit?
Garret: I had make a radio series for RTE Lyric FM two years previous and Victoria did a feature interview for it. When I read the first draft of the script I immediately thought of her, I couldn’t picture anyone else in the role. So we wrote her an email and sent the script to L.A.. Thankfully she really connected with it and one Skype call later and we were making the film. She even came onboard as a producer which brought such positive outcomes and excitement to the entire production.
The film is quite long for a short. Was this a concern? Did you have to scale back or cut anything?
Martina: The script was a page turner, and I hope the film is as captivating for audiences. Yes, the experts and programmers will say your short needs to be 10 -12 minutes to be a major festival contender or ensure selection. At 23 minutes we are well aware that we have lost out on festival selections because of its length. But, it was never anything less on the page and we wanted to tell the story as it was. We’ve watched many great shorts in and around the same duration in recent years, and all of them seem to work because the story deserved it. That’s also how we felt about The Secret Market, it’s a story worth exploring.
Garret: Nothing was cut from the script either. We had plenty of dialogue before the shoot and we knew what we wanted to tell so we just went for it. It was a massive production to undertake so our pre-production was intense and very focused. Scale was needed to tell the story, so it required assembling a great team to be able to pull it off.
The film has a very distinct look, with lots of sharp angles and a modern use of light and darkness. How much of that is you and how much is DoP James Mathers?
Garret: We met James on a number of occasions before the shoot and shared many images and styles we liked. He’s very responsive and knowledgeable and we connected on style very early on. He wanted to use a lot of practical lighting on the sets and so we had the production design team in overdrive sourcing every form of practicals they could get. But lighting is where James’s talent comes into its own. The lighting sets up, particularly in the market scene was a look and feel crafted and curated by him and his team. The images created are stunning.
Martina: We all worked together very well. Garret having DP’d and operated on other work brought great ideas for camera angles and movements, and he and James really connected. My wish list of colour palettes, production design, costume etc complemented and enhanced what we were doing with the camera (I hope ). All of that achieved a very high end look for the short. And James is such a calm pleasant person to work with made everything so enjoyable.
In addition to James you also have the multi-award-winning composer Brian Byrne . How did you get these two involved?
Martina: We really liked James’s work so we sent him a spec email with the script. He liked it, liked the cast and that was that. Getting a window is his schedule for the four day shoot was the hardest part.
Garret: As for Brian Byrne, we were classmates in school in Navan back in the nineties. This was my first chance to work with him and he is an immense talent. Such a great guy and he squeezed doing our score into his crazy busy LA world. I can’t speak highly enough of him as a person.
You shot at Charleville Castle. Was it good to work close to home in Offaly?
Martina: Considering the scale we wanted to achieve on a small budget, its essential that you surround yourself with people that want to help achieve that goal. We had major support in Offaly on previous productions and this one was no different. Nearly 70 extras, the castle, the Midlands Regional hospital, the solicitors offices. It meant we could make the shoot a reality, and filming in Tullamore was far less pressurised than our two days in Dublin. Small productions need good support networks, and we got amazing assistance and co-operation from people and locations. Not to mention how well they all looked as sets.
You got support from Volkswagen too?
Garret: I do a lot of work for Volkswagen, and they’ve supported us before. So like any producer in need I just asked and they helped us out with various vehicles to run the production. Aer Lingus too through their Take Foundation were very generous, as were hotels in Offaly, locations like Merrion Vaults and numerous suppliers like Cine Electric. The worst that can happen is that people say no, but when they say yes so much good can happen.
Premiering and then winning at Rhode Island must have been a great feeling…
Martina: It was a major surprise. We were thrilled to start there and we truly didn’t expect the win especially considering the quality of the work we enjoyed throughout the festival. But looking back on the shoot with a bit of distance now, its fair to say we were blessed with an amazing cast, and a massively talented crew. When that is recognised by festivals you have to feel proud.
Garret: We’ve played a few festivals since and the reaction has been great each time. We wanted to make a real crowd pleasing thriller, and one that might just carry the conversation into and beyond the cinema lobby. We knew making it that it was a relevant subject, and with all the scandals lately in the entertainment business it feels even more real. The Secret Market is very much alive and kicking.