Dublin Old School is an ode to family, friendship and session moths in our city; it’s a charming and gritty slice of a party we’ve been to and a city. Honest and evocative, it doesn’t flinch from addressing the dark side and down-side to illuminating experiences. It is also a jump up to the big screen for some of the central people who worked on it. We talk to director Dave Tynan on his debut feature, actor Ian Anderson and Johnny Moy who curated the beats.
“We echo through time, imprinting on each moment like a left-behind shadow. Time is like a river. People always want to swim upstream. Wanting to go back. They fear regret. Like it’s a disease. A dis-ease. You know a need. A need to be successful at being a youth. Not to be a failed youth. To live in a way that you gleaned every good and happy experience you could. To live more in three years than most do in ten. To valorise youth. So make sure that when you tell your story you lived it like it was a novella version of a War and Peace style work of Dublin fiction. Epic in small ways. Live it up now, because these be the days.”
“I’m sick of doing dead white man plays.” Those were the words uttered by Emmet Kirwan, to fellow actor Ian Lloyd Anderson, backstage on an Abbey production of Shaw’s Major Barbara which set in trail the road to Dublin Old School which transitions from stage to screen this month.
“I saw it the first night in Bewley’s,” says director Dave Tynan. “It felt special. Coming down the steps afterwards, the girl I was seeing at the time said, ‘you’ve to…’ and I said, ‘yeah, I know”. Tynan had pedigree with Kirwan before having teamed up on Just Saying. This five minute video saw Kirwan strutting around, staring down the camera, whilst delivering a scrunched love letter to Dublin — “There’s ten good reasons to go but a thousand tiny ones not to.”
Dublin Old School was first staged as a two-hander with Kirwan and Anderson inhabiting the lives of a myriad of characters in Bewley’s Theatre back in September 2014 as part of the Fringe Festival. It went on to garner rave reviews with the Irish Times citing “the opening volley of verbal pyrotechnics” and its “dizzyingly funny yet skangily authentic tone.” It came back for several re-runs and ended up touring internationally.
“It’s written from the inside and that’s why it works,” says Tynan who adapted the screenplay with Kirwan and makes his first feature-length directorial debut. “It’s an act of translation. You get to flesh out that world and put it on the streets. You want to keep that spirit of that as you go.”
At the heart of Dublin Old School is the relationship between Jason (Kirwan) and Daniel (Anderson). Jason is the about town buzzer, the sesh head rolling from club to gaff to work to pub. He’s living it large. He’s just about holding down a job in Anonymous record store but in his own words he knows, “It’s bad sauce when you’re half an hour late for work. Three hours is taking the fucking piss. Could really do without getting sacked. That’ll fuck this whole bank holiday right up.”
Daniel, his estranged brother, exists within the city as well, but as a recovering addict. And it is their paths crossing, when they “dig into their histories,” that makes heart of the story. However, the backdrop is well and truly rooted in club culture, the thrill of the rollover interlaced with Jason trying to steer a wheel of love for his ex, Gemma (Seána Kerslake), whilst unable to apply the brakes on his life.
“Those two things are often seen differently — party, drugs, session, weekend — you can do that and not fall through the cracks. But it’s important to put that up right beside the arc of Daniel’s story and what has happened in his life,” says Tynan.
Dublin Old School gathers a mighty fine ensemble with Sarah Greene, Seána Kerslake, Liam Heslin, Mark O’Halloran and Bryan Quinn all part of the session moths, and the casting, by Louise Kiely, carried significant resonance.
“There are a lot of theatre actors in it. This is going to sound arrogant but you never see film directors at the theatre. I’ve never ran into another one. You get to see actors act, they put work in,” says Tynan.
“It’s amazing to have Mark O’Halloran in it who kind of plays a father figure in the gang. There’s a screen heritage there going back to Adam and Paul. It was about grounding it because in the play the two lads throw the kitchen sink at ya. And it is so funny and fast. I felt a lot of my brief was to take that, put it out on the streets and make you believe that heightened language and verbosity. I’d hate to make a film where people were going ‘you’d know ‘tis a play.’ Then I am not doing my job as a director. You take the medium on its merits. You take the best of it and hide its origins at one level,” says Tynan.
And whilst Anderson was part of the original stage cast, he was adamant he wanted to land it on screen too.
“I love Dave for that. There’s this nonsense that gets spouted nowadays that some actors are just theatre actors. If you can act, you can act and there’s this thing now that a lot of people are guilty of where they are looking to the street to try and find this authentic thing. Actors are actors. Good actors are good actors. They are all over stages in Ireland every single night and film directors generally don’t look there. Film actor, theatre actor, it’s bollocks terminology. An actor is an actor. If someone else had directed this film, I would not have been playing that brother.”
In terms of inhabiting the role he was well familiar with, Anderson lost two stone and even filled one of his shoes with stones on set to ensure he never felt comfortable in the part. “It goes back to thing that you earn your living as actor for nine years and you wait for that opportunity for an incredible part that you can transform yourself. I was never going to do it by halves.”
In terms of the casting of the city as well, Tynan astutely avoids over-egging the landmark side of it. It’s identifiable to those familiar but in an alleyway over drone-shot way. And it perfectly complements the heart of the story, the side-step of a reality at our feet that we often wish hovered out of view rather than into sight.
“Even with a small movie it’s great to be able to do something that cares about those things, the way city concerns are put on screen,” says Tynan. “It follows the arteries of the city. You can see the boardwalk and town just there, there’s a depth to the image. That’s where all the rest of the town is but this happens here and has value too, even if you are only 50m away from an iconic location like the Ha’Penny Bridge.”
The simple authenticity of location is also well observed by Tynan who recollects one of his favourite comments on the YouTube video of Just Saying was when someone chimed in to say “he (Kirwan) goes arseways to get to George’s Street.” Anderson concurs, “There’s nothing that upsets me more than when you are watching a Dublin movie and someone turns off Harcourt Street and is suddenly at Connolly Station.”
Another aspect of the city that Dublin Old School seeks to cement without the handprint of error is its clubbing spirit, and as such the movie serves as both celebration and lament. There are echoes of spaces such as The Temple of Sound, which permeate through a soundtrack of classics laced with current Irish acts such as New Jackson and Ships. They are interspersed by a score from Gareth Averill, who was a college mate of Tynan’s, who says, “it teased out that mode of the story, the more emotive stuff between the two brothers. His work is sympathetic to the rest of it. It’s synth based and electronic with textures.”
“It’s set now but aware of its history,” adds Tynan. “I’m delighted we have the likes of District 8 in the film which is set to close. It’s a time capsule for right now. Next year we won’t have District 8 and what will we do then without a venue for 800 people? For me as a selfish director, you loose Savoy One you don’t get it back, those 780 seats are five screens now. It was about trying to grab something before it’s gone.”
And so after six months of editing where Tynan took it from the first assembly which “was a mad shaggy beast with too many legs” and fashioned it into a 90-minute canine worthy of Crufts, he’s ready to get it out there.
“It’s a massive chance to level up. It originally came from a very honest place. It’s not packaged by some agent in London or LA. It started small. We’ve scaled up but we want to keep the sense of its origins. It’s locally written, financed, shot, edited — all done in Dublin. We can do more of this.” Yes we can.
Dublin Old School is released on June 29. Keep an eye peeled for a party around it too.
Johnny Moy is music consultant on Dublin Old School. He describes the process and challenges of soundtracking the feature.
“You start off with about 300 songs with everything you want in the world and then it keeps getting chipped and whittled.”
“I came from early 90s DJing. That was the palate we worked off initially. You start off with about 300 songs with everything you want in the world and then it keeps getting chipped and whittled and chipped and whittled. We came down to 60 we really liked.
There’s a lot of the classics from that era, Orbital’s (DOS remix) of Chime, Slam Positive Education, Sound Crowd.
Once you start looking at the rushes, some become more relevant than others and tracks you thought were really going to work suddenly don’t fit the bill. Everyone was fairly into music so that really helped. Then you get down to the boring bits — the licensing.
The problem with 90s music is drum breaks which were killing us every time. James Brown, god rest his soul, cropped up a few times. If a track has a break in it and it was made between 1990 and 1996 you can be guaranteed that they’ve stole the drums from either James Brown, some funk band that don’t exist anymore or some big corporation that has bought the rights and own it.
To licence one track, it usually has two sides if it is original. Every time there’s a sample, that becomes another track so sometimes you could have up to six people and you have to pay them all the same. You go into no man’s land very quickly. Sometimes I went ‘will I just not tell the lads’ but then I just figured I didn’t want to be in the Four Courts. Some of them asked for more than the budget of the movie. There was a lot of heartache in it but you get there in the end.”
Words: Michael McDermott
Portraits: Aoife Herrity