Interview: Terry McMahon brings Charlie Casanova to Edinburgh
It was in December 2009 that Terry McMahon sat at his computer, his finger hovering over the delete button. He was contemplating removing the advert he had just placed on Facebook, an advert written more in blind hope than assured confidence. It was a request for interested cast and crew members to work on the film script for Charlie Casanova.
Luckily, McMahon didn't hit delete, because less than 18 months down the line he's preparing for the UK premiere of the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
We have had stunningly good reviews and staggeringly bad reviews, so how you choose to react after or during is entirely up to you. But you won't be able to deny it is unlike anything you will have experienced before.
There is a refreshing honesty about Terry McMahon as he talks about his first film as a director, and he immediately strikes you as a man who wears his heart on his sleeve.
The film itself is described by the director as an "ironic fallacy", and a metaphor of events that have happened in Ireland down the years. Charlie sees himself as a modern upper class hero who refuses to buckle under the threat of anybody who doesn't subscribe to his world view. After he knocks down a working-class girl in a hit and run he negates all responsibility, blaming everyone else for his increasingly destructive behaviour.
Following the hit and run incident, Charlie decides to use a deck of cards to decide his own fate.
Opinion will inevitably be divided about most films, but one thing that is undeniable about Charlie Casanova is its near miracle status as a ˜no-budget' production, created with unbelievably limited resources.
"Charlie Casanova was a one off anomaly," McMahon explains. "Everybody worked for nothing, and I mean everybody. But in the real world, if people were paid their basic fees and post production was calculated, a conservative estimate would place the budget somewhere close to a million euros.
If this wasn't encouragement enough for the multitude of aspiring filmmakers out there, the film was organised completely through Facebook. I sat down at the computer, hesitated, genuinely fearing I was about to make a public fool of myself, then typed: ˜Intend making no budget feature Charlie Casanova. Need cast, crew, equipment and a lot of balls. Any takers?'.
After shaking his head and regretting the decision, he was about to remove the post to save himself any embarrassment, when he was stopped in his tracks by the first reply. Within twenty-four hours a hundred and thirty people made contact, a mass blind date was set, and three weeks later many of us met on set for the first time. The film itself was shot in just eleven days, with an on loan camera and no professional lighting.
Terry was a self-confessed directing novice, and until this point had been writing for an Irish soap opera to, in his own words, "Put food on the table and prop up an insane mortgage". Following the demise of a few projects he had written for other directors, Terry confessed, I realised I was going to go to my grave with a pathetic legacy of mediocre soaps and un-produced screenplays.
The time had come for him to take matters into his own hands, and his dedication to the cause was encapsulated when he decided to tattoo the words 'The Art is in the Completion' onto his arm, as a constant reminder of what he had yet to achieve, and something that he likes to refer to as a 'wake up call'.
McMahon cites two separate violent incidents that took place in his homeland that inspired the idea, feeling an uncompromising urge to explore many of the reasons behind these, I was drawn to both stories because I have always been fascinated by what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they are men.
As for the title and name of the main character, McMahon explains; I believe in the notion that the name of a film should sum up its entire theme. So the expression ˜a proper Charlie' obviously means an imbecile, which fed perfectly into the fallacy of the central character who, like a lot of selfish fantasists, is an incompetent lover deluding himself with hard-on pills and alcohol into believing he is a Casanova.
It's hard to argue with McMahon's belief and passion in the film he has worked extremely hard to create. Most people never get to make a single film their entire lives, so if you're going to be one of those who do, at least make it about something important to you. And he encourages more young filmmakers to follow suit, Take your darkest fear, deepest yearning or most embarrassing secret and make something provocative enough to live and die by. And stop waiting for other people to rubber stamp approve it. Any fool can imitate, fight for your own voice.
As for the UK premiere of his film taking place in Scotland's capital, it would seem Terry couldn't be happier. I don't care if this sounds sycophantic, because it's true. From the age of fifteen when I started renting multiple movies, the one emblem on the cover or poster that always guaranteed to me the specific movie was going to be balls-out individualistic and a must-rent was ˜Official Selection Edinburgh Film Festival'. So, of all places in the world, to be with my Celtic brothers and sisters, in Edinburgh, with my own film is a profoundly personal honour, and has a sense of homecoming that probably makes no sense to anybody but me.
The city of Edinburgh will hopefully provide Terry McMahon with a warm welcome and an eager audience for his first foray into directing. Regardless of what the general consensus turns out to be, if the art truly is in the completion, then he already has his masterpiece.
Charlie Casanova will be screening at the Filmhouse on Friday 24th June & Saturday 25th June, visit the EIFF website for full details.