Having earned their stripes in the world of music videos and commercials, Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman aka D.A.D.D.Y., step it up a notch with the release of their debut feature Extra Ordinary.
“We had a manifesto when we were writing it that there would be no booze, no priests and no IRA in it.”
Design. Animation. Design. Design. Yay!
It’s odd to be reminded of what D.A.D.D.Y. stands for since so much of what Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman accomplish is woven into the creative beat of this city, over the years. Whether it is through their association with countless music acts, their creation of some seminal advertising or general prankery across disciplines, these mid-nineties graduates from IADT in Dun Laoghaire have made a memorable mark. And now on the cusp of releasing their debut feature film, they are in reflective mode with Totally Dublin exploring how it all came to this.
“We just had a video camera,” recalls Mike. “There were no computers to edit or any of that stuff. We would basically edit with the pause button on the camera. You’d stop, do a take and at the end note it. They were all comedies and stupid and creative.” This was college, in the nineties.
This notion of inventive humour with a touch of silly has permeated most of D.A.D.D.Y.’s career output and led to this jump-off point with the release of Extra Ordinary. “The D.I.Y. thing was always big for us. We’d play the sound effects off a tape in the room, be opening presses and turning on lamps with a string. It was kind of like making a sketch show.”
And it was within the world of music videos that they learned their creative smarts in the real world. Hanging out with illustrator pals such as Mark Wickham and original D.A.D.D.Y. member Chris Judge, they found themselves meshing up music with their careers. “It was the heyday of MTV’s really creative music videos with people like Shynola and Spike Jonze really inspiring us,” says Enda. There was a D.I.Y. feeling in Dublin with lots of bands emerging and supporting each other, but maybe it was the age we were too.”
Mike started working in Windmill Lane and, conveniently, Enda ended up with Rocket Animation next door. They used all their downtime to cook up their own plot and eventually moved into the famed Space 28 on North Lotts. Both were closely associated with the ramshackle avant-garde space rockers Warlords of Pez and Enda had a flourishing pop career with The Chalets. They used their connections to further hone their skills creating acclaimed videos such as Padre Pio (Warlords) and Feel The Machine (Chalets).
“No Disco was on at the time which we loved. However, lots of videos on it seemed to be found footage or shot on Super 8 which we love now but reacted against at the time. We were trying to up the quality of what was being made because we loved the music,” states Mike.
Needless to say, budgets were limited if non-existent. “Budgets for music videos collapsed in the early 2000s – we did one big budget video for The Script, shot in LA, and we hated making it. Even for bands like Ash and Super Furry Animals who were huge in our eyes at the time, the budget was €5000 at most and that might involve a few months’ work,” reflects Enda.
However, the quality of their work ultimately became their calling card. Creating videos for acts such as Nina Hynes, hip-hop outfit Creative Control and Bell XI led to UK representation and work on singles such as Bloc Party’s One Month Off which enabled the boys to augment CGI war scenes with footage from Ray Harryhausen’s fairy tale stop motion films.
They also delivered Jape’s Floating video, in association with M&E, which saw Richie Egan receiving a slo-mo pelting by various assortments of fruit ’n’ veg. There’s even a nod to Peter Gabriel’s iconic Sledgehammer video in it.
“In order to get good stuff, you need to make stuff and have a portfolio. At one point we had a folder of 48 music video pitch ideas,” says Mike. And, inevitably, when the bill-paying exercise kicked in, the world of commercials came calling.
There was an interim period negotiating the fact that they had hired some animators to expand their operation in the city, leading to the conundrum of working to pay for other people’s wages Around the same time, The Chalets were also earning strong notices and improved billing on tours and the festival circuit.
“It was tricky to navigate because Enda was the 3-D animation master so I needed him to finish stuff,” says Mike. “For one video, we actually finished it on the tour bus. Mike had brought a new laptop so he just joined us. Of course, we got fucked up and had fun as well,” adds Enda. There was also an element of punching above their weight and scale, the hallmark of many successful outfits.
They remember shooting one of their first big ads for chocolate milk. It had to be delivered on a Monday morning, 3-D animated and when they went to click the button to render it, the software told them it would take two weeks! The software needed cost €8000 at the time. The solution? They downloaded a demo which would enable one to work for 30 days and scurried around to all their mates’ houses to install it, thus enabling them to render-at-large and meet the Monday morning deadline.
And so, in the intervening years, Mike and Enda established themselves as witty and able directors taking on a raft of commercials both here and abroad. Enda lives in Dublin while Mike is London-based. Their style embraced humour in what on paper appeared to humdrum product endorsements. They conceived of zombie suckers who latch on to windscreens to sell car insurance and brought a guru on a smokey, floaty, cloud replete with a lit-up fluffy chariot to sell mobile data deals.
Closer to home, their work encompassed the most coveted of accounts with the National Lottery where, yes, they filmed in the Bahamas aboard a yacht owned by J-Lo. And, perhaps, one of their most revered ads being the Spar Christmas tree one which has become a staple of the season with its track by The Raveonettes.
Personal detours included a book: 100 Facts about Pandas, which Mike co-authored with David O’Doherty and Claudia O’Doherty (who stars in Extra Ordinary) as well as Mr Foley, a most charming short where a man wakes up in a hospital bed and realizes that he can’t hear any sounds except those provided by a pair of Foley artists and a small musical troupe. They had set out to make a feature called The Bogman which they’d scripted, but fell foul of the budget/ambition/experience intersection with funding as first-time directors.
But now, all these undertakings have coalesced into the wealth of experience they bring to bear on Extra Ordinary, their hugely impressive debut feature which goes on general release this month after scooping the top award at the Galway Film Fleadh over the summer. It tells the tale of a driving instructor, Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins) who has to summon her supernatural ‘talents’ to save a lonely Martin Martin’s (Barry Ward) daughter from Christian Winter, a rock star (Will Forte) who is seeking to use her for his Satanic purposes and career revival. It’s packed with their customary flourishes – clever gags, witty dialogue, cultural touchstones, familiar-face cameos and sharp direction which brings a charming sincerity to proceedings, much like its lead Higgins. Extra Ordinary is also a send-up of the horror genre and its attendant tropes with frequent, exquisitely fun punctuations suffusing the storyline.
“The catalyst for the story was one of those clickbait things we’d read,” explains Mike. “It was about a ghost that was groping people in an old folks’ home in the UK in the middle of the night. There were two lines about this couple called Ray and Maureen, a husband-wife team, who were ghost hunters or whisperers. He would envelop the ghosts in a vortex of light and she would speak to him. He was a lorry driver and she worked in a credit union by day. It was those couple of sentences that grabbed our attention – how the fuck did they meet each other? How did they fall in love? How did they have the gift?”
Recipients of the Film Board’s Catalyst scheme, Extra Ordinary has been, like most features, many years in gestation waiting for all the right elements to finally fall into place. “The whole thing about film-making is that it is a massive collaboration. There is no way you can do everything and, therefore, you have to trust the people you work with,” says Enda.
“Nobody cares about the ads really,” adds Mike, “even some of the budgets are bigger. All the time while we were waiting to get money through we were developing with Yvonne in Blinder (Films) who was our counsellor, script editor and therapist.”
“We had Maeve in mind from early on. It felt like she’d be a great character to play a version of herself. And, then it went from there,” says Mike. They even brought elements of the script into play in pitching sessions such as at Fantasia in Montreal. “Enda couldn’t go so we did this pitch where he was dead and I was reaching him through a Ouija board on stage. We pre-recorded his responses as if he were lost in space.”
They made Charleville Castle the lair of Christian and Claudia Winter, a location they had originally encountered back in the early 2000s at the mór festival via The Chalets and Warlords of Pez. “The Coen brothers are a big influence on us. All their cameos are so brilliantly cast. We knew there were a bunch of tiny parts.” As such they created a wishlist, of some of the elder acting royals we have, bagging the likes of Mary McEvoy, Eamon Morrissey and Daniel Reardon for memorable moments.
And what remained crucial for their vision is that whilst it is “out there” it still remained “incredibly cinematic”. They also made a point of avoiding certain cliches. “We had a manifesto when we were writing it that there would be no booze, no priests and no IRA in it. We went fuck that, let’s leave that out. We held true to that idea,” says Mike.
In terms of the self-confidence needed to step up to this scale of production, they both attribute it to the experience that comes with age. “Having two is good for that cause when you falter, the other person usually says ‘ah it’ll be grand’,” says Mike.
Having made its international debit at the prestigious SXSW festival in the spring, it has been doing the festival circuit picking up awards such as the aforementioned Galway Fleadh and elsewhere in the likes of Belgium where it was co-produced. “What’s really exciting is watching it with audiences because it goes down so well,” says Mike. And, the translation and discovery of new humour within its comic crevices is always a thrill. “There is a joke in the film which has a Swiss clock and literally the moment it came on screen in Switzerland, it almost got a standing ovation,” chuckles Mike.
As for their next step, the D.A.D.D.Y. boys have just returned from shooting a commercial in Toronto and have a number of others under consideration via their agents Red Rage films here and 1st Ave Machine in the UK and US. They are working on a script for Aardman Animation, the home of Wallace and Gromit, and are also keen on a possible spin-off TV series from Extra Ordinary. One thing we can be assured of is the merging of those two words in anything they do.
Extra Ordinary is on general release from Friday September 13. Our review is here.
Mike and Enda had a good few friends and long-time collaborators work with them on Extra Ordinary. They talk about their connections to them here.
Words: Michael McDermott