The winner of our Film of the Month distinction for July 2020 comes from Ireland – Three Brothers Two. The film explores the drama that unfolds in a small, closely-knit community after an unfortunate accident unfolds. We had a short chat with director Craig to find out more about his project, as well as his work in general.
JL: Congratulations for the flurry of awards, Craig! Winning 4 out of 6 nominations comes to show what a great film you made!
Craig: Thank you very much, we’re absolutely delighted with the wins. We had a feeling when we finished that we had made something special, but the reception we have received thus far has been beyond anything I could have imagined. I’m very proud of it and I’m proud of everyone involved in it. I was delighted with the number of nominations before we even won!
JL: What was the inspiration behind the film? Did you first have the setting, the plot, a certain character?
Craig: It’s been a long time in the making considering it’s just a short film, I suppose! I wrote the first draft of the script in 2017. Six years ago, I lost a very close friend that I grew up with in a motorbike accident, and the script was a cathartic way for me to express all the things I felt in the aftermath and still feel to this day. The first draft actually adhered, almost autobiographically, to that time in my life until I came to a realisation that it wasn’t just my story to tell. So, I started speaking to people who had gone through similar experiences and felt that kind of trauma at a young age. The common denominator in a lot of those stories was drugs, so I took my own experiences and meshed them with others in an attempt to make them as relatable as possible for the audience. It was John Anderson Jnr, my co-producer, who encouraged the change in direction, so I ran with it and tried to do justice to all the people who shared their experiences with me. Fictionalising my reality as if it were another person’s made it possible for me to explore new tangents while still holding on to that personal, emotional involvement I had with the characters when I started.
JL: How much of a role does the rural setting play in how the plot unfolds?
Craig: The story is built up around the idea of the destruction of something that seems unbreakable – family and friendship – and that “facing up to reality” that you are forced to do when those things are gone – what is left for us now? What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to do it? To compliment that, there’s a desolate and beautifully empty atmosphere to the film that I always wanted and that Conor Fleming, our Director of Photography, really worked hard with me to realise. We attempted to craft the setting to be as much a character as the characters themselves. It was important to me that the feeling of separation that each character has is reflected not just in the performances, but in everything else as well. In a small Irish village, word gets around quick – especially when the word is negative. It’s almost cliché, but I suppose some clichés are exactly that for a reason; it’s a very delicate ecosystem where people’s perceptions can change on a dime, and there’s nowhere to hide from it if they do – which is ironic considering how much space there is. Having the story set in a built-up urban area, a hive of activity, wouldn’t have had the same effect as setting it in a place that feels like it’s almost detached from everywhere else, a different world.
JL: With so many projects nowadays glorifying revenge, your take is quite the opposite – much more grounded in realism, and measured. How did you manage to achieve this balance of emotions within the characters?
Craig: There’s a bit of me in each of the characters, I think. I had a lot of things constantly running through my mind in the aftermath of my friend’s death. For this, I thought a lot about the different stages of grief that an individual goes through – anger, sadness, guilt, depression, acceptance – and tried to designate each of those attributes to a character and see what sparks came from it on the page. Evidently, a lot did! Revenge is a natural human emotion that you can’t deny; everyone has felt that twinge of vengeance stirring inside them at some point in their lifetime. Most people will brush it off and move on – their moment of weakness passes – but sometimes it can take root and become incredibly destructive. The revenge element of the story stems from Jack, played by Graham Earley, who is fully embodying that anger and guilt that you feel after the death of a loved one. His guilt stems from the fact that he wasn’t there to prevent the tragedy from happening, and the anger comes from the fact that it happened thanks to someone he trusted. He feels useless, he has to do something, so he goes with what he knows will have an impact even if that impact is negative. What is unexpected for him and brings him crashing back down to Earth is the contrast between the reactions of his two targets on his vengeance journey: Big Tez, the local dealer, puts up a fight and Jack has to work hard to put him down; Tony, on the other hand, is completely accepting of his fate – his guilt has done something else to his soul. The deep-rooted knowledge that everything is his fault; the heartbreak that it was he who is responsible for his best friend’s death has turned him into a shell. I have to give Graham and Aaron Adamson, who played Tony, kudos for their contrasting but equally powerful performances. They are two sides of a coin that is spinning in the air. The same goes for Aine, played by Marie Devine, who attempts to be the glue who holds everything together and ends up being punished for it just as much as anyone else is. It’s a complex situation and there’s no right answer, no easy fix. No fix at all, actually. It was also important to me that we did not demonise drug users, either. That topic is too complex and has too many variables at play to be condensed into 29 minutes of storytelling – no, we simply decided to tell a cautionary tale of inexperienced young people who made a seemingly innocent but ultimately bad decision that has a knock-on effect for everyone in their community.
JL: We loved the ending, because it was a natural culmination of everything that led up to that moment. Did you also write a different ending, or was this “the one” all along?
Craig: It was always the ending. We had written and shot a little coda – less than five seconds, Marvel-style – that was to be added on following the final shot, but we decided to leave the ending open as it left you with a bit of hope for everyone while still staying true, as you say, to everything that led up to that moment. I decided that the coda would dilute the lingering effect that the final shot has, and left it out. I think the film is ultimately better for it, and leaves you with that sense of wanting to see more without cheating and leaving you on a cliff-hanger for the sake of it. It feels earned.
JL: Speaking of writing, you also won our Screenwriter of the Month award – congrats! How long did it take you to perfect the script, from first draft until final draft?
Craig: This is my first time being awarded something for my screenwriting so thanks very much, I am delighted with myself! As mentioned above, I wrote the very first draft in 2017. I then left it for nearly a year as it was simply a mental exercise for me at the time. In 2018, I revisited it and began developing it further into what it is now. All in all, I wrote about six drafts and with the last two drafts I worked pretty extensively with the actors to fine tune their characters. Graham, Aaron and Marie had a lot to offer and I was very lucky to have them onboard with me.
JL: The score was magnificent, and complemented the ambiance and emotions on display very well. How happy are you with Niall Tormey’s work – who also bagged one of our awards?
Craig: Music can make or break a film, and Niall did a great job enhancing Three Brothers Two. Amazingly, he had never scored a film project before, but I’ve known him a long time now and he’s a very talented musician so I trusted him and he pulled it out of the bag with style. His music during the finale, in particular, would have the hairs standing on the back of your neck. He’d be a valuable asset to any film and I’m delighted he received recognition right out the gate. He also just won Best Score at the Southern Shorts Awards in Georgia, USA, on top of his win here, and I’ve no doubt there’ll be a few more incoming. I annoyed the hell out of him for months about it, so I’m glad it wasn’t in vain!
JL: Last, but not least, Graham Earley won our Actor of the Month prize for his excellent portrayal of Jack. Have you worked with him in the past?
Craig: Wherever you see Graham Earley, I’m never too far away! This is our fourth or fifth time working together, I think – we’re at the stage now where I don’t have to direct him verbally, hand signals and eye gestures usually do the trick! Graham is one of Ireland’s most talented actors and totally invests himself in every role he plays, there’s never any doubt that he is who he says he is. He has won Best Actor at a couple of other festivals for his portrayal as Jack and it’s absolutely well deserved. He has a couple of projects on his CV that UK audiences will likely have heard of, and he’s the lead in an exciting Irish crime-drama called Broken Law which you will certainly be hearing about in 2021.
JL: Was the project finished pre-corona, or did any of the post-production work take place during the pandemic?
Craig: One of the perks of handling most of the post-production myself from my suite at home was that I was able to work through any restrictions we had here. Ireland entered its first lockdown phase in March, and I spent the entirety of that month getting the film finished and ready for its festival run. Most of that work was mainly sound related, as it’s the most complex area of any presentation, especially with the amount of outdoor location shooting that we did! I finally got the film finished in April, and it has now been submitted to over 50 festivals worldwide. We have a long journey ahead of us, hopefully!
JL: And speaking of corona, did you manage to get some work done on other projects during the lockdown? Writing a screenplay, perhaps?
Craig: I never stop writing! I’ve got three or four ideas bouncing around in my head at the moment. I’m on my third draft of a feature-length crime thriller that has shades of The Place Beyond the Pines to it. Myself and Graham are also developing something surrounding the Irish War of Independence, which we hope will get some traction. There’s also a couple more short films that I will hopefully have a concrete plan for before Christmas. With things the way they are at the moment, it’s hard to make any big commitments, but we’ll just have to keep going and force some good luck to fall on our heads.
JL: Thanks a lot for chatting with us, Craig! Take good care, keep making great films, and hopefully we’ll get to watch a few more of your projects before too long!
Craig: Much obliged, thank you very much and I’d like to extend the gratitude of my cast and crew to everyone at The Monthly Film Festival for their recognition of our film. Hopefully you’ll like the next one just as much!