SXSW 2012 Exclusive Interview: Irish Filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan Discusses Foxes
In Lorcan Finnegan's latest short film Foxes, the Irish filmmaker plays with the audience's perceptions as we follow a young couple (Marie Ruane and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) who are trapped in a remote estate of empty houses that's haunted by sinister shrieking foxes from a distance.
But as they're beckoned from their isolation into a twilight world, they soon find themselves faced with the possibility of paranormal entities, or perhaps it's just their sanity slipping away.
Dread Central had the opportunity to catch up with Finnegan from London during the 2012 SXSW Film Festival and learned more about the up-and-coming filmmaker and his latest short and heard his thoughts on the power of visual storytelling as well what's up next for him.
Check out our interview with Finnegan below, and look for more on Foxes and the remainder of our SXSW coverage coming soon!
Dread Central: Since this is somewhat of an introduction, let's begin with talking about how your career started and hear more about your projects before Foxes.
Lorcan Finnegan: Well, I started off in graphic design and then I moved into motion design work; I moved to London and started working for a comedy production company called Zeppotron that's run by Charlie Brooker. So I started editing stuff there and then eventually went on to shooting and writing stuff for them, too; then in 2004 I moved back to Dublin and set up Lovely Productions, which is my own production company.
We started off by doing a series of short films as a TV series, like 13, 30-minute episodes with each movie under five minutes, and that fueled the fire in me to want to make my own shorts. I submitted a few scripts to the film board for financing and the first script they chose was Changes, which was about two caterpillars in love but when they hatch out of their cocoons and become butterflies, it turns out the girl becomes a bitch and dumps the guy butterfly.
I did a bunch more projects after that - commercials, shorts, music videos - and then we applied to the Irish Film Board to do Foxes and luckily, we were approved. We were pretty lucky really.
But to backtrack a little, this writer Garret Shanley and I hooked up about four years ago now to work on a feature film project, but our film didn't get funded. So even though that didn't work out, we started working on other things and the similarities between our tastes in stories began to become apparent. And through all our working together, there was one theme that kept coming into the mix and it was this idea of a clash between humans and nature and how humans are wild but we try not to be.
Dread Central: I definitely see the human/animal aspect, but I would love to hear more about the setting for this short because it evoked a lot of creepy atmosphere that I thought really elevated the short.
Lorcan Finnegan: Oh thanks! Yeah, in Ireland there are these places called 'ghost estates' that are abandoned properties funded by the government in areas that really didn't need any houses built. But then once everything clashed, similar to what happened there in the States, the government was left with all of these houses in the middle of nowhere that they can't sell because they are unsafe to live in.
See, once the money stopped coming in, the builders and contractors all left the country so all that was left in the wake of this were these ghost estates. There's no maintenance there either so everything is really overgrown to the point where grass is coming through the streets and trees are bursting through walls; it was like nature reclaimed the property. So I thought that would be a great place to shoot and the builder gave us three of the show houses to shoot in so we painted and decorated those up and that's how we got the location for Foxes. We really had the whole ghost estate to ourselves which was really cool.
But we had always talked about shooting something in these ghost estates and at the time, Garret had these foxes in the back of his house that kept screaming all night. Have you heard a fox's mating call? It's unreal; it's actually where the 'banshee' came from because people wouldn't know what the screaming from the woods really was so the idea of this wild woman was born from that; but in reality, it was the fox mating call they were hearing.
So all these foxes were in his backyard that would just be screaming all night and he wrote a short story on his blog about it; it was from a first-person perspective of this guy telling a story to two others in a pub and he's telling them about what happened to his two friends on the ghost estate. When I read it on his blog, I knew it would make for a great movie so then converted it into a script and so now we're following this couple in their 30's who live in the ghost estate and have to deal with these foxes.
We used two live foxes from an animal shelter for the short and they had a handler that would work with them on these lines so that was really great to get the real thing for a short film; we had to use some CG foxes, too, so hopefully they're photorealistic enough (laughs).
Dread Central: Well, Foxes certainly has a look to it, and that 'look' kind of spills over a bit into the casting I suspect; can you talk about your cast and how you found them?
Lorcan Finnegan: I had originally put together a look book when we first started working on Foxes; I'm very much into the visual side of storytelling- how the lines play within the camera and how camera movement can change the viewers' interpretation of what's happening before them. So I wanted to really put together something visually that would manipulate your fears and emotions a bit and that's why the atmosphere- oh and sound design too- was so important to me.
And the look of the cast was definitely important as well; the first thing I had to do was find my female lead; she had to resemble a fox too and look a bit odd and pale too that's also sort of angelic. So we had a brilliant casting director, Maureen Hughes, who showed me hundreds of people and then we had auditions the very first person I saw was Marie who ended up being our lead. I even went to London to do more casting but it always came back to her so I knew she'd be perfect.
But I actually found our lead male in London; he's actually from Ireland but he's a working theater actor in London right now so the trip was definitely worth it in that respect (laughs).
Dread Central: So what do you have planned for future projects then?
Lorcan Finnegan: Well, Foxes will be playing the Tribeca Film Festival this April so that's pretty exciting. But we always intended Foxes to be a movie in the cinema so we are working on something bigger but really, we made this so we could do all kinds of features in the future and the one we're working on right now that is set in the same story world as Foxes where weird things can happen but it's more psychological horror.
There are no monsters, not a lot of blood; those are the kinds of movies I'm into, not really the gore fest-type movies. I like a movie that leaves you thinking for a long time after you've seen it, something unsettling that can stick with you for a while. Those are the stories I like to tell.
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