From graffiti roots to working with Charlie Brooker and Filipino witchdoctors, the Irish director talks us through his colourful and varied career
A seasoned photographer, motion designer, editor and film director, Lorcan Finnegan got a taste for provoking an ‘audience reaction’ when he was back in college and he’s never lost his taste for it.
He’s since gone on to work with Charlie Brooker on cult British sitcom Nathan Barley and then to become one of Ireland’s leading commercials comedy directors. With a pile of awards to his name, his work often features the edgy subject matter that the Black Mirror creator is known for. One of his ads has even been banned, although he stands by it. He’s represented in Ireland by Butter and by Another Film Company in the UK.
Lorcan has directed several feature films, the latest of which, Vivarium, stars Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots.
LBB’s Alex Reeves took some time to talk to him about his intriguing and colourful career.
LBB> Where did you grow up? What was it like growing up there, and how did film and / or the arts in general impact your younger years?
Lorcan> I grew up in Howth, a fishing village on a peninsula in Dublin which was cool, it was like living in the countryside but close to the city. I'm only realising now how much living by the sea has influenced the stories I'm working on now. I was always into drawing and painting. My dad was our school principal so I had my own set of keys to the art room. I got into graffiti in the mid ‘90s which was weirdly similar to starting out in film, 'getting up' meant you had to get your name out there. When I started making short films I used the internet to get up. My parents are into art and my dad used to rent some interesting films. I watched Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was about eight or nine and it left a lasting impression on my brain.
LBB> How did you first get interested in advertising? Did you ever care? Or was it more filmmaking and photography?
Lorcan> It was never intentional to get into ads, I always liked funny ads but I hadn't planned on being a filmmaker at all. I studied graphic design in college but kept on making projects that had a narrative quality. I made some animated and mixed media short films years ago when YouTube was new and didn't really have much content. I uploaded a bunch of things and they were featured and viewed lots of times. An ad agency saw one of my shorts and thought the style could suit a campaign they were working on. They called me and it all worked out, that was my first ad. It was great fun; in hindsight they gave me a lot of freedom.
LBB> What was your entry into any kind of image making as a profession?
Lorcan> I made a fake trailer in college for a film about little elves who helped a wheelchair bound boy walk again by making him magic shoes. It had posters and card cutouts of the weird little elf characters pointing you towards the screen. People were watching it and laughing and gathering around it, it was the first time I saw an 'audience reaction'. I thought it was cool that people could watch something and really get into it. It wasn't a moment with a ray of light or anything but I do remember feeling, “hmmm this is good”.
LBB> You're a photographer, motion designer and editor as well as a director. Do you like the variety of that or do you prefer some disciplines over others?
Lorcan> I started out doing motion design because I studied graphics. I learnt the software so I could make films. The editing was also out of necessity. When you want to make stuff but have no money sometimes the best way is it do it all yourself. I take photos just for my own amusement. I'm a filmmaker really, so I guess it's all of those things combined. I mostly work with editors that are better than me now and I love collaborating with other designers, animators and VFX people.
LBB> You used to work with Charlie Brooker! What did you work on with him and what are your most enduring memories of that experience?
Lorcan> Yeah I got a job in Zeppotron, his company, after college. I was watching Unnovations on Play UK with a mate of mine and I thought it was mental and funny, so I took down the name of the production company and wrote to them. They gave me a job as a runner on a team making comedy sketches for the first 'video phones'.
We had TINY budgets, so soon I was shooting stuff, editing it, acting in it and I got to write a couple of them too. Charlie and the others were making Nathan Barley at the time, so I got to go on set a bit. I played a lamp at a party. I was a fan of Chris Morris too so that was pretty cool, it was my first time seeing a director directing something. All the comedy was very surreal and absurdist which I loved. And Charlie, Ben and Peter were very cool to work for, they were competitively funny.
LBB> What projects that you've worked on are you most proud of and why?
Lorcan> In advertising I really like a campaign I did for EBS - the scripts were very funny and the cast were great and it all just came together nicely. I made up a line for the actor playing a plumber in one of the spots, he says his holidays are “gonna be tropic”. It ended up becoming a term used by people to this day. It's even on mugs and T-shirts. My first live-action commercial was for Done Deal with a husband being sold online. It was great fun and caused all sorts of controversy. I think it got pulled from air after a bunch of complaints but it was a funny, simple idea.
In my personal film work I'm pretty much proud of everything! Every film project is always so difficult to get made and I've learned from all of them. I have a particular love for my short film FOXES which kicked off a lot of bigger things for me and got me in to features. Also my new film Vivarium with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. We premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, which was amazing. It was a particularly difficult film to get made. The nightmares are starting to subside now, thankfully.
LBB> Can you tell us a bit about Granny Fashion? What has that project provoked or led to for you?
Lorcan> Ha! I started an IG account because my friend moved to Melbourne and I wanted him to feel homesick. I started taking photos of Dublin and noticed the unique fashion of Irish grannies. Somehow I started a series that later became a book. I'm working on a new book and exhibition now with a series of Dublin Faces street portraits.
LBB> And how about Without Name? That's a huge project. What was the process like and what did you learn from it?
Lorcan> Without Name was my first feature and was great fun. It was the second collaboration with writer Garret Shanley and was produced by Brunella Cocchiglia, who I'm married to. The film is a 'psychotropic faery story', so it's about communicating with nature, spirits, the concept of properly and ownership of the land, the relationship between trees, hallucinogenic mushrooms and other dimensions. All interesting stuff! I learned a lot, as I do from all film projects. Luckily I enjoyed the whole process so it made me want to make another one straight away.
LBB> What's your opinion on the current state of Irish advertising?
Lorcan> I don't have terrestrial TV so I don't see many Irish ads. The trends seem to go in cycles, there was a lot of very funny ads for a while, which I enjoy the most, then there was a wave of sentimental 'real life' ads that don't really do it for me. I'm seeing more comedy coming back again which is encouraging, but budgets dropping which is less encouraging! In general I think there are a lot of very talented creatives but not so many risky clients in Ireland. Every now and then the stars align. I think 2020 will be a good vintage!
LBB> Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Lorcan> No idea really, probably everywhere. When I'm working on a film project with Garret we go off on strange tangents. I'm working on a film called Goliath that was inspired by a painting in the National Gallery in Dublin. I'm going to the Philippines in a couple of weeks to meet some witchdoctors for a project that was inspired by Filipino nannies I used to see every morning while shooting some commercials in Sydney. So it's always different.