Irish director Lance Daly on the set of his film Kisses.

Lance Daly

Interview with the director of Kisses

Jul 16, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

When Irish writer/director Lance Daly talks about the production of his splendid third feature Kisses, he uses terms such as "magic" and "blind faith." This is not to suggest, however, that he was whimsical in his approach to making the film. Daly was confident enough in his carefully written script, about a boy and a girl who run away from home on Christmas, that he allowed himself to take risks that would lend Kisses both authenticity and a youthful air of enchantment.

The idea for the film came to Daly as he was driving around Dublin listening to Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home and recalling how he contemplated running away from home as a kid. A selection of Dylan's post-electric classics are included on the soundtrack, and a couple of his songs are sung by characters in the film. The 11-year-old boy in Kisses (played by Shane Curry) is named Dylan, and he and his cohort Kylie (Kelly O'Neill), 10, gain an understanding of Bob Dylan's significance during their escape to downtown Dublin.

After numerous schools were visited and over one thousand children were looked at by the casting team, a shortlist was made of the worst-behaved among them, and Daly ultimately chose nonprofessionals Curry and O'Neill for the roles of Dylan and Kylie. As the story goes, O'Neill emerged from the pack because of her intelligence, independence and strong personality, and Curry stood out from her prospective co-stars because he refused to bring her tea and biscuits during auditions.    

Under the Radar spoke with Lance Daly by phone earlier this month while he was in New York. He's currently in post-production on his fourth film The Good Doctor, starring Orlando Bloom.

How old were your lead actors when Kisses was shot?

Kelly was 10 when we started the film, and Shane was 11. She turned 11, and he turned 12 during the shoot. So, very young would be the answer, too young to be making movies.

What was their relationship like during the shoot?

It was interesting. They're two great personalities, you know, and they're both gorgeous looking. And so, they hit it off. And in the first week that we shot, that first week before Christmasthey're playing on the ice and doing all this stuffI think they totally fell in love with each other, even at that age. And then, you know what happens at that age. You don't know what to do with that. You don't know what it means. You don't know how to react to it. So, the only thing you can do is end up beating each other up, basically. So the relationship then became where they started saying that they hated each other. But really, we're all going, "Yeah, you love each other." And then it builds up to the big kiss. So it was really a whole epic melodrama in itself, just the way these two came together and then fought. Cut to a year later, and we're touring festivals, and we're in Toronto, and the two of them are on the stage in an interview, and Shane says something that nobody quite hears, and Kelly goes crazy and starts hitting him and saying, "Don't you dare tell them that!" And the crowd got a real kick out of it, watching the two kids killing each other on stage.       

Do you know what they're up to now?

Shane is doing some acting in Dublin. I know he's got a part in a new film Kirsten Sheridan's [director of August Rush and daughter of Jim Sheridan] gonna make, which I think is really exciting for him. And he's been doing other bits and pieces. I know he got some parts in some TV shows and stuff, so I think that set a firelight under him. And Kelly, I'm not sure. Kelly's around. I've run into her a couple of times. I call them and say, "We should all go and hang out. You know, it's been a year since we really did anything with the film, and now it's coming out in America. We should catch up." And Kelly said, "No, I don't want to go anywhere with Shane. Is he comin'? I'm not going." And then Shane goes, "No way. I don't want to talk to her." [laughs] So, I don't know what to do with them. I'd really like to try and get them in the room together, but I think they're trying to eraseYou know, there's a big movie kiss in there, and I think they's like to leave that behind them now and move on.      

One of my favorite lines in the film is when Kylie threatens Dylan by telling him that she won't marry him. How did you go about finding kids' voices in your writing?

She won't marry him, and he doesn't care, does he?

Yeah, he's just tolerating her chatter.

Yeah. The kids' voices, I don't know. I think the trick is not to write them as kids. I think they're just people. I think you just kind of try and write them as yourself or people you know. I think as soon as you start trying to make them sound like kids, it's a bit condescending. I don't know. It was one of the things I tried to do in the film. There were a few set of rules I had with the film, just trying to get it to work. One was try not to tell the audience how to feel, just to present the story and let them come to it. And the other was not to condescend to the kids, bit to treat them like fully formed human beings. Which is why I think it probably worked for an older audience and a younger audience. Kids watch it, and they're fascinated by it, but then, there's something about an older audience, you know, there's some basic human stuff going on there that just happens no matter what age you are. 

That makes sense, yet the line I referred to is not something you're going to hear from an adult.

No, that's true. I don't know, I just wrote it. [laughs]

The press notes say that Kisses was shot from December 2006 through July 2007. What caused the extended shoot?

It started with some of the finance being worried that the script was a bit dark. They didn't really believe I was gonna pull it off, I think, with the the two young actors that would be non-actors. I think a lot of folks read the script and said, "You know, this sounds great on paper, but this is a very hard thing to pull off. Are you sure you can do this?"

So, we had a little bit of money for development, to work on the script, so we took that and shot for a week. We cast the two lead roles, Kelly and Shane, which took up quite a whileit was an extensive searchand we shot for a week. And we did all the stuff in the movie that happens at Christmas, that we wouldn't be able to recreate, relight further into the year. You know, stuff like the chase down O'Connell StreetDublin's main thoroughfareall lit-up with Christmas lights, or the ice rink that they build at Christmas. So, we kind of did the key Christmas scenes, and then we cut a five-minute assembly from that, and we showed that to various financers, who were sort of half in and half out, and that sort of sealed the deal. They all loved Kelly and Shane, and they got very excited about it.

So it took a little while to get the real ball rolling. It was the end of February, I think, before we got back to shooting. Then we shot it, and then a weird thing happened with Shane's hair, where he'd had a shaved head when we shot at Christmas, and then when he came back in February, he'd grown his hair long. And I said, "You know, I really like the long hair; he looks kinda younger. Maybe he can shave his head as part of the story." So we had to work out a way where we shoot the first act with him with long hair and then shave his head. And then it turned out we needed to do some pickups, so we had to wait for his hair to grow back [laughs]. So that's why we were still shooting Christmas in Dublin in July, and we had five hours of night, because it's the middle of summer, and we were throwing Christmas trees up everywhere, much to everybody's chagrin. So we did all the main Christmas stuff at Christmas. Then we did a five-week shoot from February to the end of March, and then we sort of held off, and we did some pickups.

Then we went to Sweden for a week, in the middle there, somewhere, because we had some Swedish money. But the deal is, we have to spend that in Sweden. So, we were going, "How do we make a Dublin film in Sweden?" And I thought, "You know what? We can just shoot in the laneways." There's a lot of alleyway scenes in the film. We can do alleyways anywhere. We can dress them up to be." But the problem, as it turned outwe were in Gothenburgwas that there are no lanes, or alleys, in Gothenburg. It's all built in squares. So we got there, and we couldn't find any alleys, and we eventually kind of dressed up a car park out of it. But the other problem was, it was way too clean to be Dublin. So we actually brought a truckload of authentic Irish rubbish, or trash I suppose you'd say, over to dress these alleyways. And, of course, the Swedes made us take it all back to Ireland with us afterwards. [laughs] So that's why, it was sort of a messy schedule, and it was quite a quest to get the film done.              

I hope this is a good thing, but two films that have come to my mind after watching Kisses are The 400 Blows and Stand by Me. Are there any films that are personal favorites of yours that revolve around child characters?

Yeah, we watched Stand by Me, actually. I watched it with Shane and Kelly. We watched a few films beforehand. I wish I'd shown them Paper Moon, actually, 'cause I think Tatum O'Neal, that really sets the bar for what a kid can do in a single take, the amount of dialogue they can carry. I think it would have been interesting, but I only saw it after I made the film. We watched Stand by Me, and I thought it would be a good example, and as soon as it startedI mean, it's a fantastic film, but in terms of style, it's performance. The actors are really performing it, and I was trying to do something more naturalistic. So it came on, and I said, "This will be an interesting. Wait till you see." And I started watching it, and I was like, "God." And then I sort of had to use it as what not to do, 'cause I didn't want them to tell the audience how to feel. So Stand by Me was one of the ones we looked at. 400 Blows, I think, is a good one too, but the one thing about Kisses that I think gets you more inside their world is it goes much closer, whereas 400 Blows is often mids and wides. It doesn't seem to really push in on the face so much. Of course, when it does, it's super powerful, and it's rationed. But I was going for something a bit more full-on. And the other ones we watched were Kes, the Ken Loach film. That was really interesting. I remember Shane didn't turn up for the screening. It was a recurring theme. One of them wouldn't turn up, whether it was the day of shooting or rehearsal of whatever. But Shane had gone missing. Kelly watched Kes. But I remember watching her watching it, and when he finds his hawk at the end, she was just so engrossed. You could see her leaning forward. So I thought that was interesting. Other kids films, I think that's it. Paper Moon, Kes. That film Tideland that Terry Gilliam made. These are kind of the ones I'd show them now, if I was going back. I hadn't seen Tideland at the time either, and I think that would have been quite inspirational. I think the reason I would have shown them movies would be to set the bar for them, to show them, "Look, this is possible. There's no reason you can't do this." And they'd know then that they could. But I failed in that task. [laughs] I managed to show Kelly Kes and show Stand by Me, and I think then we looked at some grown-up movies.       

Did you have any favorites from before you even conceived the idea of Kisses?

I was actually thinking more about road movies and doing lovers movies, so I was thinking about Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde and Sid and Nancy. I thought that was kind of an interesting [idea], to do that but do it with two young, sort of prepubescent kids. That was sort of an interesting, if bizarre, mix. So they were the films that maybe I was thinking about would be interesting, to transpose that to this world of these kids in a Dublin estate on the edge of, you know [Dublin]. In terms of personal favorites then, I'm kind of terrified of trying to refer to personal favorites, because I think the work can kind of end up very derivative. In fact, I've started refusing to give references at all now. On the last film we did, a lot of the trouble was just refusing, "No, I don't want to cite other films." 'Cause I don't want it to end up like other films, so we need to find a language outside of movies. 

Was it difficult securing the Dylan songs?

I wrote the film, and we shot the film, and we cut it, and we pretty much nearly finished it without ever talking to Bob Dylan's organization. A blind faith, I think you'd call it. If we couldn't have it after all that, it would have been really tricky. But we would have lost 20 minutes out of the movie. We went to them, and Jeff Rosen is Bob's, Bob Dylan's manager. I shouldn't say Bob, because I never met the man, unfortunately, through the whole process. So Mr. Dylan's manager had a look, and I think he really liked it, and he understood that it wasn't a cynical use of Bob, and it was respectful, and there's some kind of symbiosis between the film and the music; they went hand in hand. I think it worked for them, so they were accommodating, which was nice.      

There's a terrific shot in the film of Kylie sitting still, looking forlorn as colors of light change across her face. Was that shot difficult to nail?

It's really funny, this is one of the things we went back on a re-shoot and did. I just drove by it. It's a strange, killer light setup at the back door of some shopping center in Dublin, and I saw it driving by one night, and I said, "God, we've got to get that in." 'Cause it's exactly what we're trying to do with the color scheme from black and white to color, and this is like a peak moment, and it was perfect. But I had no resources left. The street was dead. It was totally quiet. Kelly came along. We had two helpers, like assistant directors, sort of trainees, and a focus puller helping me with the camera. It was just five of us there, and we set up on the street, dead quiet, four o'clock in the morning. And our two assistants just walked back and forth at different paces really close to the camera, so it felt like a crowd. Kelly was in a bad mood, she wanted to go home. I think we just shot it twice. But it was just one of those moments. It's funny, when you're making films, there's always two or three of those moments if you're open to them, where it just seems like, "How did we get that?" It was such a nickel and dime operation, I guess you'd call it. But film has a magic in it, which totally transcends. If we'd had 50 people there that day, we never would have gotten that effect.    

Was it intentional for the Dylan admirers in the film to be of different ethnicities?

It wasn't really to do with the Dylan admirers, because also, you know the African girl he meets on the steps. The idea was more to try and tell the story of the place as well. I think good films don't just tell the story of the character, they also tell the story of the place. So it was really about trying to reflect this idea that the kids somehow represent some part of the city and everything that was opening up to all these influences that were coming in. And so I just thought it was interesting then to have all those faces around them to be telling the story of the place in some way. They weren't specifically linked to Dylan, but they were all meant to be multicultural. 

The film is pretty tight, under 80 minutes. Did you write a longer shooting script?

No, actually. The idea of the film always felt like it was a novella. I think the script was 80 pages. You know, it was a few scenes that went. But I always thought it should just be a small film and short and sweet, and just try and make everything in it of a certain quality

When Dylan and Kylie ride the rig on the canal, a lot of the actions appears to be spontaneous. What kind of direction did you give them for those scenes?

Yeah, I just got on another boat and rolled the camera. [laughs] On the canal and in the ice rinkThe [film] was all very tightly scripted, and they had to say the lines and the words very specifically, so it was kind of nice then, for them, to get something that was a little bit more natural, and to let them play a little more. I think it makes the whole film feel a bit more organic. The same with the ice rink, I just said, "You know, here's an ice rink. You just broke in. What are you gonna do?" And we just slid around on the ice after them trying to capture things. [laughs] It was basically throwing everything up in the air and seeing how it landed and trying being open to the magic, whatever that would produce.

Who's GoBlimpsGo?

GoBlimpsGo are an interesting group of musicians from Dublin who I used to hang around with and play some music with, actually, in a previous life before I started making films. So they've always got together and done the music on my films, the three films I did in Ireland.

I did a quick Internet search on them, and the initial results were just credits for your films.

They had some indie records in Dublin and Ireland in the '90s but predating the Internet marketing techniques that everybody uses now by a few years. So I think it's sort of lost to the ages, which mightn't be a bad thing.  

At what point did you add subtitles to the film?

I think after we had a few screenings in America, that I felt the audience weren't quite responding to in the way that they had in Ireland. And I couldn't figure out why that was, 'cause I felt they got it, and the themes were right, and then we realized in the end, it was just a little bit of a lack of clarity, that they were struggling to understand the Irish accent a little bit. So we've put inIt's only selected subtitles. You know, there's a few lines here and there. I think it just makes watching the film a little bit easier, 'cause the kids have pretty thick accents, from the Dublin city accents.    

What's the status of The Good Doctor?

It is currently being finished back at our secret base in Dublin. It's shot and edited, and we're just doing music now, doing some visual effects and should be finished by September, I think. It's an American production, so I'm not sure what the producers are planning on doing, but the status is that it's in pretty good shape, and it's nearly finished.

Can you tell me anything about it?

I can't tell you the plot because I'm so disgusted there's already spoilers that somehow have made it out into the world, because it is kind of a surprising plot, and it's meant to be interesting and suspenseful, and so I'm worried that it's already a bit ruined. But it's a story about a young British doctor getting caught up in all manner of trouble when he comes out to L.A. to pursue a career. It's kind of like a Hitchcock, odd suspense movie with some sort of surprises, and Orlando Bloom in it, in really, I think, a milestone role, a really standout performance as the doctor.

Kisses opens today in New York and Los Angeles and is available on demand. Click here for a list of additional release dates and cities.


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