Damian Mc Carthy • Director of Caveat
“I wanted Caveat to look like an old ghost story”
- We talked to Damian Mc Carthy, the director of the UK production Caveat, which opened the IndieCork Film Festival
We spoke to Irish writer-director Damian Mc Carthy, whose debut feature, Caveat [+see also:
interview: Damian Mc Carthy
film profile], opened the 2020 edition of the IndieCork Film Festival (4-18 October), one of Ireland's leading events celebrating independent cinema and music.
Cineuropa: How did the idea for Caveat come about?
Damian Mc Carthy: It started with images that interested me. A drumming bunny held by the ears, guiding a girl with a bloody nose around an old house. A bearded man in a leather harness with a long chain attached to it, calmly going about his day, not struggling to escape the restraint. I remember an interview with Guillermo del Toro where he said to “start with images that excite you, and then build a story around them”. Those two images led me into the story. I wrote the script very quickly in January-February 2017, and we shot the film in December.
Why did you choose to film in Bantry? How did you find the location?
I'm from Bantry myself. There were a number of reasons to film there. I have a lot of family and friends there whom I knew I could rely on to help, as the film didn't have much of a budget. The external locations are places I grew up around, and I always thought they looked cinematic. For the internal location of the house, we filmed at Bantry House: it’s this amazing stately home that's a popular tourist destination in Ireland. It has these incredible views overlooking the Atlantic – a real romantic location. A lot of newly-weds want to have their wedding photos taken there. But I was making a horror film, not a romantic costume drama, so it just didn't fit the story. As the house is hundreds of years old, there were older rooms and other buildings on the property that were perfect for the creepy story I was telling.
What were the main challenges throughout the production process?
I had to ask for a lot of favours, which I'm not comfortable with. For about a year, every word coming out of my mouth was “Can I borrow...” or “Could you help me with…”. You also have to do so much other work on top of getting ready to direct the movie. From finding props to driving long distances for the exact type of wallpaper you want, helping build sets, or staring into the mechanics of a drumming bunny at 2 am, trying to figure out why only one of its arms is moving. But that's just the nature of no-budget filmmaking. Luckily for me, everybody was eager to help.
The edit was also challenging. I cut the film on an old MacBook Pro. I was trying to work my nine-to-five job to pay the rent, and then any free time I had was used to push the film forward another minute or so. It was painfully slow.
How was your work on set with the trio of actors?
I was very lucky. They were kind, patient and talented, and the three of them were so different. I don't remember giving them much direction on set. They knew what they were doing. I think Leila [Sykes], who played Olga, had the toughest job, as she had to handle the crossbow and look natural doing so. She also had to contend with the drumming diva. The opening sequence has the drumming bunny leading a bloody-faced Olga around the house. We had a hidden wire trailing off the bunny with a switch that would make him drum. That drumming bunny was a nightmare, as sometimes he worked and sometimes he didn't, but Leila was very focused on her performance.
Ben [Caplan] has been acting for years, so clearly he had the most experience on set. I had made enough shorts to know where to put the camera and what I wanted, but Ben would offer great suggestions on blocking or how to do something to make my job easier. He was very generous. Finally, Jonathan [French] was an absolute find. He had this innocent, gentle look about him that suited the character perfectly. I wanted the protagonist to believably never resort to violence, even when it would solve all his problems, and Jonathan really got this.
Are there any visual pieces that inspired the cinematography?
I wanted it to look like an old ghost story – lots of crushed blacks and warm glows, as if lit by lamplight. I sent my DoP, Kieran Fitzgerald, a lot of images of what I was thinking of – and many of what I didn't want it to look like. The main goal was to avoid any dominant greens or reds – anything that would make it look like a torture movie or a slasher. I watch those films, too, but this isn't what I was making.
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