- 15 Mar 10
Brothers John And Kieran Carney discuss Zonad, their fantastical - if unexpected - follow-up to the Oscar-winning Once.
It’s 2004 and word on the street has it that director John Carney is making a kitchen sink musical with Glen Hansard on a shoestring budget.
Huh? There are mixed responses to the news but most of them, understandably, question the filmmaker’s soundness of mind.
Five years pass and word on the street has it that Mr. Carney - lately returned from LA with an Oscar winning film, Steven Spielberg as a fan and premier league offers on the table - has teamed up with brother Kieran Carney, acclaimed playwright and co-creator of Bachelor ’s Walk, to remake an early goofy project about an extraterrestrial chancer on a shoestring budget. Huh? There are mixed responses to the news, but this time around, we know better than to second guess the Carney clan.
“It’s a little bit of a pet project,” says John. “Everybody involved still talked about it affectionately. And it wasn’t so personal that either of us wanted to do it on our own; with comedy it always helps to work as a team.”
It was, additionally, as Kieran points out, a case of “unfinished business”. Made with Cillian Murphy and assorted Carney players back in 1996, Zonad was the brothers’ great lost picture. There are rushes on Youtube and plenty of attendant industry lore but the original film has, between one misfortune and another, been lost to the ages. “After everything we went through, we had nothing to show for it,” adds Kieran. “It just seemed so wrong.”
Happily, you can currently catch the complete feature length remake at a cinema near you. “The first version was a pilot we made with our own money and time,” says John. “We just went off and did it.”
Zonad 2010 may have backers in the Irish Film Board and at hip distribution imprint, Element Films, but it retains the same freewheeling wacky spirit that defines the original. Long time Carney collaborator Simon Delaney returns in the title role as an unconvincingly rubber suited alien who uses his celebrity to avail of earthling women and beer on tap. An accomplished moocher, it helps that his gullible hosts all seem to live in a fifties B movie.
“We talked about Father Ted when we were writing,” explains John. “The Quiet Man by way of Mel Brooks came up. Pleasantville came up. So did Ed Wood and really badly done episodes of The Twilight Zone.”
“There was also an episode of The Outer Limits called Behold Eck,” says Kieran. “Eck is asked about his planet and he says ‘My planet is too different for you to understand.’ So that became one of the central jokes in Zonad. He doesn’t need to explain his world or its society or economics because it’s simply too complex for us to understand. And everybody accepts that explanation.”
Between Zonad projects, times have changed utterly.
“It’s a healthier industry to work in now,” says John. “Simon Perry is good to have around. We’ve stopped doing that thing of trying to compete with America by making second rate Tarantino movies. There’s no longer that clawing that went on through the nineties when everybody wanted to be the next Neil (Jordan) or Jim (Sheridan). They all wanted Oscars, they all wanted to make Hollywood gangster films. It was a depressing decade. We should have looked more to Europe and the film festival circuit, but we didn’t. The new generation of filmmakers coming up aren’t like that. We have to be authentic. In the past, we just relied on our fame as storytellers and hoped that would carry us through some very phoney films. For some reason, you can’t fool film audiences.”
“It’s interesting, too, that we’ve finally started to work out an Irish visual vernacular,” says Kieran. “We’ve never been a nation of painters. Most of our architecture comes from an occupying force. It’s not surprising that Irish cinema has been slow to start. We’re only starting to get the hang of visual arts now.”
In this respect, the Dublin-born siblings have always been ahead of the pack. While their early contemporaries were likely to have been inspired by two viewings of Reservoir Dogs or half a day working as an extra on Braveheart, John and Kieran grew up in a house of cineastes.
“There were two big factors,” says John. “Our parents were very encouraging and they loved good films. Our mother would physically react to a thriller or a weepie. She was really into movies, really into Truffaut and Hitchcock. Dad was more into classic Hollywood and Fred McMurray and seventies thrillers. We were always let watch films. Also we had Channel 4 and at that time, more than going out to the cinema, that’s how we learned about movies. We stayed home and watched seasons of Bergman and Fassbender.”
With their psychiatrist mom and psychologist dad, the young Carneys were primed to deconstruct the medium. The family would spend evenings analysing why they liked Some Like It Hot.
“It’s sad but you couldn’t do it now,” notes Kieran. “All those strands and seasons have gone. We’d come home from school to Sherlock Holmes. We saw everything.”
Their first efforts as filmmakers were at family get-togethers but they soon honed their skills with short remakes of scenes from Strangers On A Train.
“They were a disaster but we did have fun,” says Kieran. “We’d shoot then move into the kitchen to see how bad our Farley Grainger accent was. John would never learn his lines and always thought he could ad lib.”
“Being born in the early seventies, we had the same problems that most of our peers did,” says John. “We were completely hampered for ten years until video technology improved. Never mind the story or anything else, video was ugly. I faced the same problems as a musician; by the time you layered onto a 4-track there was an incredible hiss. It was very frustrating. You could grade images or do anything you liked but they looked terrible.”
It’s unlikely the director will face similar problems on Townhouse, his upcoming studio project. The film is due to start shooting in August with Amy Adams and Zach Galifianakis attached. It’s a far cry from their early efforts. Do they happen to remember what their first terrible looking film was?
“Sherlock Holmes,” says Kieran. “I was Watson.”
“And there was a werewolf movie with me in a kind of Nutty Professor role,” adds John. “But in my mind, we’re still just carrying on from there.”
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