BEST OF 2017: The Drummer And The Keeper combined two of our favourite things - music & footie!

The debut feature from Fat Lady Sings man Nick Kelly is a by turns funny and dark exploration of mental illness- and the science of penalty-saving. He spoke to Stuart Clark...

Nick Kelly is used to being deafened by applause in rock venues, but receiving a standing ovation in a cinema is a new experience.

“And a very thrilling one!” the Dubliner says with his trademark Cheshire cat grin. “My expectations taking The Drummer And The Keeper to the Galway Film Fleadh were, ‘I hope a few people like it,’ but we won Best Irish First Feature, which was akin to the early days of the Fat Lady Sings when, to our amazement, we started selling records. It was wonderful to win a prize, but the reaction of the audience was so great I’d have taken that.”

Having enjoyed a fairly relaxed start to the year, Kelly is currently working 25/8.

“Yeah, I’ve discovered that extra hour in the day and day in the week,” he laughs. “Filmmaking is like warfare in that 90% of it is sitting around waiting for the other 10% to kick off. The day before the Fleadh, we signed a distribution deal with Element Pictures who said: ‘It’s short notice, but there’s a slot at the start of September, which we think will really work.’ Not a lot had happened in the six months since we’d finished the filming, so I wasn’t expecting to have to get off my backside until sometime in 2018. That things have suddenly become so frantic is wonderful though.”

John Connors sparked controversy in the last issue of Hot Press with his swipe at the Irish Film Board.

“The Irish movies that usually get made are either extremely arthouse or some kind of tourist leprechaun thing,” the Cardboard Gangsters writer and star charged. “There’s a huge middle ground there that doesn’t get a look in. Our funding bodies need to be looking at people from different communities and backgrounds who’ve things to say about modern Ireland.”

Asked what he thinks of Connors’ comments, Kelly says: “It can be a very political process and often ends in rejection, but I was very fortunate in that I applied for the Irish Film Board’s Catalyst Project, got it and worked my way through the various phases. First, there were two seminars you had to go to, then you were expected to produce a finished script. Once the script was done, you had to pair up with a producer and undergo various types of mentoring. Of the 89 scripts that were submitted, nine were shortlisted and three, including mine, were each awarded funding of €350,000. The Film Board brokered a day-rate with the various acting and crew unions, which was pretty low but came with the proviso that if the film makes money, they’ll share in the profits. So, basically, I was asking established actors like Peter Coonan, Niamh Algar and Aoibhinn McGinnity, who could have been earning far more elsewhere to believe in me!

“The previous Catalyst Project had been in 2007, but I really think they ought to do it each year because it’s such a brilliant, structured way of going from short filmmaking to doing a full feature.”

Like U2, Once, Ripper Street, Quirke, Emporio Armani and Damien Dempsey before him, Nick puts Dollymount Strand and other famous Dublin landmarks to exemplary use as he tells the story of how Dermot Murphy’s Gabriel, a drummer with bipolar and Jacob McCarthy’s Christopher, a 17-year-old with Asperger’s, indulge in some unorthodox football-related bonding.

“I’ve a son with autism, so I’m living in both that world and the rock ‘n’ roll one where variations in behavior are more tolerated than they would be in, say, an AIB branch,” Nick reflects. “Drummers and goalkeepers are always said to be mad, so if you’re neurodiverse going into those areas is quite smart because nobody notices!

“We auditioned a load of people, including several who are on the spectrum, for the role of Gabriel and Jacob, who is neurotypical, was the one that occupied the character best. We sent all four of the main actors to this Asperger’s drama group, which they joined in with for six weeks. The extras for one of the big scenes came from that group, so I like to think our portrayal of autism is an accurate one.”

Nick has proven to be pretty good at this casting lark, with Niamh Algar currently shooting the new Shane Meadows series, Virtues, with the heavyweight likes of Niamh Cusack and Stephen Graham, and McCarthy starring in a single-camera comedy pilot from Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live’s Mike O’Brien.

“My impression of actors may be false because there wasn’t even one tiny blow-up on set!” Kelly concludes. “Everybody bought into the film and produced such wonderful performances that half-the-time I was on the verge of tears!”


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