This year’s Galway Film Fleadh saw a noticeable trend emerging among young Irish filmmakers – that of working with particularly gruesome, even horrific, material. Grabbers, a comedy monster movie set on a fictional island off the west coast, premiered on the first night of the festival. The film focuses on a small island community who discover the only way to repel a sudden onslaught of mysterious watery creatures is to drink alcohol, and lots of it. We spoke with Paddy Eason, special effects supervisor on Grabbers, and Jon Wright, the film’s director, about working in special effects and the experience of making a comedy monster movie in the west of Ireland.
Paddy, in what ways has the special effects industry changed since the early nineties when you first started working in the field?
It’s changed quite significantly. The big change is the ubiquity of computer-based work. When I first started in special effects it was the early days of CGI. Since then, that’s become the only way to do things. The other big change has been that really impressive special effects are no longer limited to big budget movies. You can do great things on a small budget if you’re clever. What used to be really expensive is accessible and even relatively straight-forward in some cases.
You’ve worked on big budget studio features, smaller independent films, and advertisements. Do you find working in these areas very different from each another?
In many ways, the lower budget projects – features such as Grabbers, for example – are more fun to work on. You have a more direct relationship with the client. Big budget films have many layers of supervision and approval between you and the director. Smaller budgets very often mean you’re working quite closely with the director, which can be a more rewarding and even fun experience. We like to have a hand in all those areas and we sometimes do music videos as well. We like to have a finger in lots of pies.
What particular challenges did you come up against with Grabbers?
With Grabbers, we were essentially creating a lead character for the film – the main monster and a couple of variations of it. If the monsters weren’t very good, people would pick up on it and it would certainly effect their reception and enjoyment. Jon (Wright, the director) and all of the special effects team were quite determined that the monsters would be as good as they possibly could be and we made sure as much of the budget as possible went on special effects.
John, There are a lot of moments of pure spectacle in the film, moments in which the landscape takes almost a starring role in the film. Were you consciously trying to evoke past cinematic images of Ireland in doing this?
Yes, to a certain extent I was. Ireland has always looked great on film, going right back to The Quiet Man or Ryan’s Daughter. They’re not great films, in some ways. But they are very beautiful. Grabbers was shot in Galway and Donegal. The scenery really was spectacular. The scale of those beaches! They really do feel spectacular and cinematic and they’re perfect for a wide frame. So yes, the use of landscape as a strong presence in the film was very intentional. I wanted to show off that beauty, but in a contemporary way.
It looks like it was a lot of fun to make. Was that really the case?
Most of the time, yes. We laughed a lot on set, the cast really gelled and bonded and were all really enthusiastic about the project. The outtakes are hilarious – I’m including a lot of them on the DVD. But it was also quite a difficult shoot at times. We shot in Galway in December and in Donegal in January. Occasionally in the film you see someone’s breath getting misty, but really you don’t get a sense of how truly cold it was. Our focus puller got frost bite on both his toes. When the snow came and we had to postpone filming, I was actually a little relieved – and I was the one who was the most dedicated to the film. All the cast wore wetsuits under their clothes to keep them warm but Richard (Coyle, who plays booked up Garda Ciaran O’ Shea) refused to wear it as he felt it would restrict his movement. So it was difficult in that respect.
Your last film Tormented was also a comedy horror – it’s obviously a genre you’re very interested in. How do you deal with the changes in tone in your directing?
I learned a lot on Tormented about shifting in tone from comedy to horror. It’s very important not to bend the reality of the movie to get to a joke, which is always a temptation. With Grabbers, we were occasionally on thin ice in this regard, but for the most part the characters behave as they naturally would. I like horror to be character driven. I think with a lot of horrors, the characters do something because they’re compelled by the plot or because of generic necessity – regardless of whether it feels natural that that character would behave in that way. I think the best comedy comes from a situation. It’s best to play it straight and let the situation take over. Irish islanders encountering aliens – there’s comedy in that situation. And of course, they’re doing it drunk, which makes it even funnier.
Grabbers is in cinemas from the 10th of August. Nvizible talk about their work, followed by a late night screening at the Darklight Festival.