‘People are defining themselves by tea bags’: ‘Just Saying’ director Dave Tynan interview

Karl McDonald
Posted January 9, 2013 in Film Features

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Irish self-reflection is a genre of art in itself. It was the subject matter for Shaw’s comparisons and Joyce’s ‘mirror’, and it’s never more popular than when we’re not quite sure of ourselves. So the recession hit and we stopped being the Bravest Little Country. What does it mean to be Irish now? Over Christmas, filmmaker Dave Tynan released ‘Just Saying’, a short in which the actor Emmet Kirwan walks through an empty Dublin city centre, engaged in a reverie of reflection. “This is what Dublin is,” he almost says, “but what’s that mean?”

Tynan moved to London in 2010. He’s back there now, after finishing the film project he came home to do. We talk to him about going viral, going away to get a new perspective on your Irishness, and flag-waving being “the refuge of the spa”.

You’ve been doing a lot of press for this, I gather?

I’m not gonna complain. I’ve never really done press before, so it’s hard to get my head around it. It’s like doing your Irish oral – you’re trying to guess what you’re going to be asked so you can have a really good answer. Maybe I just need more practice. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do more in the future.

You said you were on Tom Dunne answering questions from the public?

Yeah, I didn’t know that was going to happen. I can’t give people advice. There was a 29 year old lad with a child ringing up asking if he should move to Canada. I can’t tell him what he should do.

I suppose I should ask why you made ‘Just Saying’.

Well, I had some stuff that I knew wasn’t going to be a regular short with a couple of actors and so on. I thought that the only way of delivering it really was having a guy talking to the camera and saying it all out. It’s funny, in all the interviews, they ask for the message of the film but the message is the film itself, there’s nothing outside of that. The last couple of lines is the best way I could put it. There’s no subtext to it, what he says is the message, you know?

Something I liked about it was that it’s not pure pro-Dublin propaganda, but it’s also not just ripping into it. It’s ambiguous.

Yeah it is ambiguous and ambivalent, I think that might be why it has worked. I started writing it before I moved to London for the first time, so I’ve seen both sides. There should be ambiguity though, shouldn’t there? The response has been 98% positive, but there have been some people saying that it doesn’t address the political failings of the country. But would you want that? That’d make a poxy film. Just Emmet going around reading out a load of stats on emigration. I don’t want to see that. There’s loads of political commentary already, and I don’t have any new stats to give out. So here’s another take, one person’s take.

Did you know it was going to get such a big reaction?

No. I thought it was the best thing I had made, it was different. I came home from London for six months, with making the film as my express intention of going back, so I’m happy it worked out. If you try to make something viral, you’d be an arsehole, really. So I didn’t expect that to happen. I thought it would go around the people who make films in Ireland, and they might think it was good, it might get 5,000 views or whatever. And then it went and got 250,000 views in a week.

What’s it at now?

It’s around 270,000. I think it might be almost time to leave it alone. I probably will leave it alone. I’m delighted with it and how people have reacted to it, but I don’t want to be there in one or two years time, still thought of as that ‘Just Saying’ lad.

There are bits in it, “we’re at our holiest when it’s the last song”, and the Third Secret of Fatima, that are pretty overt religious references. Was it intentional, to hit that as a cultural marker, or other things?

There’s not much that intentionally tries to hit a load of stuff. Although when you move away, you do get a new angle on your own Irishness. I listen to more Dubliners and Pogues than I did maybe three or four years ago. But it’s partly a language thing, if you have that much text to say out to the camera, you’re looking for different, clever ways to phrase things. You’re looking for different turns of phrase. Although I think most people in Ireland are culturally Catholic anyway, in a way.

So you’re in London now. How long have you been there?

I moved over in August 2010, then came back in August 2012, and I’ve been back in London since… some time last Friday afternoon? I came back to do the film and to work on some mates’ films. It was good to be back in with the lads and making stuff at home. I worked with Stevie Russell, who made the Kodaline video, as assistant director on a short.

What are you up to there?

I’ve just started a master’s in filmmaking, and I’m looking for a gaff, because I don’t have one at the moment. A lot of the people I worked with on this film were people I met in my undergrad, like Gareth [Averill, who did the music] and JJ [Rolfe, cinematography], who I’m still working with. Hopefully this year will be the same.

Do you think Irish people have an issue with thinking too hard about what it means to be Irish?

I don’t really know because… I suppose the first thing to say is that it’s two Irish people having that conversation at the moment. We’re quite self-conscious. There’s nothing we like more than telling each other in great detail just how fucked we got last night down the pub, but if anyone else says anything about us liking the booze or anything, the back’s up straight away, we’re grossly, mortally offended. We’re very aware of being Irish. Although maybe other countries are too? Maybe not the US. Although all that “Americans are stupid” stuff is disgusting, I hate that. Maybe we can’t call it. You can think of all those little Twitter shitfits over the course of a year when someone does something to impugn the Irish soul. But then we do booze way too much. I don’t really know. What do you think?

Cirillo’s

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