Interview with Stephen Horgan, Director of Snatch and Bail

 “I went up to the people at the desk and said, ‘Hi, we’re the filmmakers.’ They just looked at us and said, ‘What?’”

Stephen Horgan, a first year student at UCD, has just completed his first feature film Snatch and Bail. “It’s hard to talk about or explain,” he says giving a shy laugh, “but I suppose it’s about two burglars who decide to frame a serial killer. It’s kind of a crime-caper, dark comedy film.”

Snatch and Bail, which will debut at the UCD Cinema tomorrow afternoon, currently runs at 90 minutes and stars two professional actors, notably Dave Duffy of Fair City. Yet despite sounding both professional and polished the film’s production was anything but, and in short proved to be a production nightmare:  It was produced with almost no money and the production team was tiny; the cameraman was also in charge of holding the boom while Horgan’s own parents starred as extras in the film, which took place in their family home. Was Horgan surprised that the film actually came into fruition?

“YES. Even, there was a moment three days into filming where I was going to say, ‘Look this isn’t going to work,’ and the only thing that stopped me from shutting the whole thing down was the actress, Nisha Kamat, who had travelled from Donegal to appear in the film.

“That was just the first round of problems we ran into. One day we were meant to film in a coffee shop and I phoned up the marketing people and arranged to film on the premise. We went in pretty early the following morning so it would be quiet and relatively empty. It wasn’t. In fact it was quite full. I went up to the desk and said ‘Hi, we’re the filmmakers,’ and they just looked at us and said ‘What?’

“That alone was one of those Oh-my-God moments but we also had actors on set who I’d never met before and who were filming scenes that day. They eventually let us go on with filming because they thought we were nice – or at least that’s what they told my parents who were extras.”

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Throughout our conversation it was clear that money was a big threat in terms of the film’s completion. Given the strains associated with filming on almost no budget, would Horgan say that Snatch and Bail is quite amateur or does it stand up to professionally produced films?

“I don’t know how it stands up to professional films but based on what people have told me, it looks good. It looks as though there was more money put in than there was. That said there are scenes where the boom has crept in and the shots have needed to be cropped. There’s one scene that we simply couldn’t include because the boom is in it.

“I’m way too scared to say that it will stand up to other professionally filmed movies but I’m really proud of it personally. I was watching it on my laptop – only bits of it because to watch the whole thing would drive me crazy. I was watching these bits to make sure that there were no mistakes because I do not want to cringe when I watch back over it. And it felt proper if you know what I mean. Well… There was one moment that didn’t feel right but that’s going to be edited.”

So, what inspired Horgan to make a film?

“When I started first year (Horgan recently completed a three-year degree in English and Film Studies) I had this image, which popped into my head; My sister and I had gone to a garage, probably to buy phone credit or something, and I got this image of two people – a guy and a girl – completely dressed in black and following someone. That image just stuck in my head.

“I had already been involved in a short film (Les Voyeurs), which is about two burglars who get themselves into sticky situations. I liked the idea, so I put the image of the two people from the garage into that burglar scenario and that really was the direction that the film went.  That was how the whole thing meshed together.

“It also came out of procrastinating for exams. After I made the short film (December 2010) I knew the characters and these funny moments just came into my head. I just got this real impulse to make a story out of it and write it down.”

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Given that Snatch and Bail was adapted from a short film but was earlier described as ‘hard to explain’, I was curious to find out if Horgan’s debut was complex or straightforward. The answer I received was, ‘It’s simple but complicated in parts…’

What?

“The story isn’t the most complicated thing in the world. There’s a back-story too but it’s not complicated either. The story lends itself to funny situations, which are pretty straightforward, but the way it’s structured might be a little confusing. Basically no one will know what’s going on for about the first six minutes.”

And were shots important or did the story take precedence?

“The shots were very important; I cared about those a lot and thought hard about which ones would go in. I had a few shots in my head for a long time including the two people dressed in dark clothes, which came to me at the garage. That shot’s in the film.”

And as a past Film Studies student, were there any notable influences?

“Have you ever heard of a film called Pierrot le Fou? Well I hate that film but reading about it really influenced Snatch and Bail.”

Throughout my conversation there were two emotions that constantly emerged: total exasperation at the lack of money and excitement over the actors’ performances. When describing the actors, Horgan used adjectives like ‘great’ and ‘brilliant’ and admitted that his own character was probably upstaged several times throughout the film.

“We had three cases of actors having to drop out though,” he told me. “One of those was a major character but that actor’s replacement was really good so I don’t really mind.

“We also have a character (played by Dave Duffy) that’s in Fair City,” he enthused. We didn’t even have to pay him and he was a really nice. Working with him was amazing and he’s great in the film. He’s enjoyable to watch too, and one of the few performances that I don’t get fed up watching – and that’s not me going on about anyone else’s performance – I’ve just seen the film over and over again but every time I watch it I still find his scenes enjoyable.”

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Inevitably, my last question asked what the future might hold for Snatch and Bail and if we might hear more about it going forward. “Well I’m going to try and put it into festivals but I need to edit (or pay someone to edit) the aspect ratios. I think if I get that sorted I’ll enter it to the Jameson Festival. I’d love it to go as far as possible although we have sound problems too, which also need to be looked at. But at the moment I’m just looking forward to the UCD showing. I’d hate to think that that would be the end of it. I’d like to think it’ll go further and be seen by a wider audience.”

Given the non-stop battle between the director’s enthusiasm and the limitations that come with almost no money or funding it’s difficult to know what to expect from Stephen Horgan’s feature debut. Last year, the movie’s tagline read, ‘A world where the only thing that outmatches a passion for crime is a crime of passion’. That has since been changed to a simpler yet somewhat ambiguous ‘You don’t know what you’re missing’.  That phrase rings particularly true. Until tomorrow’s showing, it’s hard to know what to expect.

Snatch and Bail will preview at UCD Cinema at 2.30PM on Saturday 17 November.

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Stephen Horgan completed his undergraduate degree at UCD last year, majoring in English and Film Studies. He has been making short films since 2009 and writes, produces and directs in his spare time. He is currently studying French and Spanish in UCD.

Pumpkins and Politics

Some people will do anything for money. Last week, Eric Hartsburg (supererico if you’re on twitter), received $15,000 after he had the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s blue and red ‘R’ tattooed to the side of his head.

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Eric also has his name tattooed across his neck, presumably in case he forgets it.

While Hartsburg’s decision was lucrative (I guess), I preferred the Obama-Romney pumpkins which mushroomed across Google over Halloween and which were far more creative, a lot more fun (and easier to erase!) than Hartsburg’s tattoo.

Inevitably, here are some of my favourites:

Why carve a pumpkin on land when you can do it underwater?Mitt Romney (carved underwater!) by Cat Bureau

This pumpkin was carved in 2010 but I like to think it’s watching (and worrying) over tonight’s election results (carved by Ray Villafane).

High Fidelity, Nick Hornby and why ‘Rosalita’ might be my favourite Bruce Springsteen song

A few years ago I was going through the airport and decided to stop off in Hughes & Hughes to buy a book. At the time I was feeling particularly lazy and decided that whatever book I’d buy would have to have been previously adapted into a film (that I’d seen), so I could read the book but without all that added hard stuff like, needing to concentrate, using my eyes or working my brain.

It might not hurt to mention that I’d just finished exams.

There were several books I had in mind and predictably Hughes & Hughes didn’t stock any of them.

I’m not sure if it was because I had decided to try and find About a Boy or had simply drifted into the ‘H’ section but I somehow stumbled upon Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which I had never heard of but whose cover was practically pockmarked with star-ratings and proclamations of excellence. So I bought it, and read it, and as it turned out, absolutely loved it.

At seventeen I was blown away by Hornby’s ability to use music both as a crutch and a backdrop to describe and develop his main character’s feelings and mental outlook, and all simply by chronicling what music he was listening to. But I sometimes wonder if my age might have been divisive in my love for High Fidelity.

Last week I turned 23. A week or two before that I was in the car with my mum and told her that one of the things I find strangest about being an adult is that music, which I love, isn’t the same now as it was when I was fifteen. As a teenager I loved music. I receded into the lyrics of my favourite songs and often cited lines to explain what I meant or how I felt. But it wasn’t just about the lyrics; it was about the sounds, the pace, the crescendos and harmonies, and how these combined to create an atmosphere that could elucidate my emotions or kick-start feelings of excitement, sadness or anger. I remember listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘I Am A Rock’ and thinking that the combination of the upbeat tempo and the downright depressing lyrics was magical. At fifteen, my favourite musicians and groups were Neil Young, Elliot Smith, Radiohead, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Beach Boys.

I only read High Fidelity once, and now I worry that the impact it had on me six years ago will be dinned and perhaps undone if I read it again. There’s a line in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous where Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) says, “These girls don’t even know what it is to be a fan. To Truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” I don’t remember High Fidelity hurting but I remember feeling a little like someone had pulled a dusty blanket back to reveal to me my life.

Somewhere between grappling whether or not I’d read High Fidelity again, I’ve read other works by Nick Hornby including About a Boy (which didn’t end with Hugh Grant closing his eyes and singing Killing Me Softly, sadly) as well as downloading samples of most of Hornby’s other books for Kindle (excluding Fever Pitch, because I hate football).

One sample, which I downloaded a few months ago, was Hornby’s 31 Songs, which lists the writer’s favourite tracks and includes, at number 2, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’.

Sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly,” wrote Hornby in 31 Songs.

It’s a process something like falling in love. You don’t necessarily choose the best person, or the wisest, or the most beautiful, there’s something else going on… So even though I’m not American, no longer young, hate cars, and can recognise why so many people find Springsteen bombastic and histrionic… ‘Thunder Road’ somehow manages to speak to me.

I read this passage months ago, then failed to pay the ten quid to buy the completed book and eventually moved on and read something else. Recently, I was tinkering with my iPhone and trying to work out what music I’d keep, and which would be relegated to a Cloud. I have nearly 50GB of music according to iTunes but my phone holds less than 16GB, meaning that for the most part my phone is just a pop scan of my favourite artists. I had problems however working out how much Springsteen I’d include on the phone; there was a three-CD Best Of compilation, but I also had, in addition to these, seven other Springsteen albums: Born in The USA; Born To Run; Darkness On The Edge of Town; Nebraska; The River; The Wild The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle and We Shall Overcome.

I went with the first two discs of the Best Of collection initially but overtime caught myself downloading some of the others including Darkness on The Edge of Town and Born to Run whilst listening to ‘Rosalita’ on constant repeat.

A while ago I was trying to decide which Radiohead album was my favourite (Kid A) and following my iPod-Bruce dilemma, I started thinking about Hornby’s book and trying to pinpoint my own stand alone Springsteen track.

Bruce Springsteen, unlike Radiohead for example, wouldn’t be my immediate go-to artist in a top 5 list-off. Yet Springsteen, unlike the others, echoes this phenomenal sense of urgency, excitement and desperation that just doesn’t exist amongst the other groups and musicians I love. In the second verse of Streets of Fire for example, Springsteen’s voice sounds almost as though it’s curdling at the bottom of his own throat and bubbling up, coming out as this thick and abrasive bellow,

You realise how they tricked you this time, and it’s all lies but I’m strung out on the wire, in these, Streets of fire.

When I initially started thinking about which track might be my favourite, I leaned towards ‘Jungleland’ and decided that ‘The Promised Land’ would probably be my runner up. Except every time I tried listening to ‘Jungleland’ I immediately grew bored and restless; so, the Rangers had their home-coming and there are shoe-less women sitting on the hood of the dodge but would they ever just hurry up and get to that gut-wrenching howl of ‘Outside the street’s on fire in a real death waltz, Between what’s flesh and what’s fantasy. And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be’?

‘Junglelands’ as it turned out didn’t top my list. I feel I’m too old to be excited by gang-like images of ‘kids flashing guitars like switchblades and hustling for the record machine.’ Similarly, it seems I’ve cultivated some kind of attention deficit disorder in my old age. One thing that I will say for ‘Junglelands’ however is that, a little like Neil Young’s ‘There’s A World’, for me there’s an overwhelming sense of familiarity about the track. It’s as if the tune (sort of like the Nokia ringtone) has been permanently hardwired into my genetic makeup.

‘The Promised Land’ didn’t quite make the grade either. I have absolutely no idea why ‘Working all day in my daddy’s garage’ resonated with me as much as a teenager given that (1) my dad’s a solicitor, (2) I (still) can’t drive and (3) we don’t live in New Jersey, but it did. The only lyrics that really grab me from that song are ‘Explode, explode and tear this whole town apart‘ – I love the build up of ‘explode’ (and later ‘Blow away’), and even still feel a little like a King Penguin puffing its chest out when I hear them.

Funnily, the track that I never liked as a teen but which I really enjoy as an adult is ‘Rosalita’ from Springsteen’s 1973 album The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle. At every level it’s a song I feel I should (still) detest: the lyrics make me wince (“I don’t want to be your son, The only lover I’m ever gonna need’s your soft sweet little girl’s tongue”), it’s folksy in bits and audacious to boot. But I can’t help but smile when Springsteen repeats ‘And your papa says he knows that I don’t have any money’ and follows this with his ballsy ‘Because the record company Rosie, just gave me a big advance’.

And there’s nothing to read into or draw from that statement other than that the record company just gave him a big advance.

So there it is, at twenty-three it’s not about big images of guitar wielding street gangs or growing up and needing to escape from New Jersey. Instead my current favourite Springsteen track is about being able to turn around and justifiably give someone the two-fingers.

Music isn’t the same now as it was when I was fifteen. But it’s not redundant either. Not yet anyhow.

A short Springsteen-inspired reading list: