How can we cope when we lose someone special? This is the question director Ciarán Dooley unravels in his short film, TWIN. The film, which premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh this July, is a beautiful riff on the thin veil between life and death through the eyes of one twin left behind after her sister’s death. With a rawness and honesty that cuts through cliché-ridden depictions of grief, the piece combines cathartic moments with reflective pauses, honing in on the experiences that hang a life together.
Here, Ciarán reflects on the process of bringing TWIN to life, how he scripted a narrative of soul-crushing grief and the re-birthing of hope, and how the human spirit is a true testament to itself.
Q> Congratulations on TWIN’s premiere. What were you trying to convey with this short film?
Ciarán> Our aim was to create something that felt honest and open. I wanted to display the interior life of the main character, Ava, and how that interacted, conflicted and ultimately aligned with her exterior life. But I also wanted to do this in a way that respected her struggle and how, wrapped up in her display of strength, there was also a lot of doubt, fear and vulnerability. We wanted to spark conversation and engagement with a moving story and a clear character but also create a piece that reflects on wider issues and experiences.
TWIN’s editor, Rob Hegarty, and I spent a lot of time working on balancing the moments of energy with the moments of pause and breath. Rob was incredibly forensic, going through the rushes frame by frame, extracting little moments of emotion and using them in really creative and intuitive ways. We wanted to strike the balance that mirrored Ava’s life but also life in general.
BTS: Ava (left) with friend.
Q> Where did the story stem from?
Ciarán> I initially had the idea for Ava’s character. I’ve always liked characters who show enduring, quiet strength in the face of personal challenges. I was really drawn to exploring this in a younger character, especially one who has had their life course totally altered and is exposed to emotions her peers can’t yet sympathise with. It’s as much a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit, but also to the young people everywhere who go through similar journeys everyday.
The initial script was written in 2014, and after living in my notebook for a long time, the first draft wrote itself quite quickly. Up until being awarded funding by Screen Ireland in 2018, it was a script that I would always go back to, re-read and tweak.
BTS: Ava, played by Kelly Thornton, mid-shot on set.
Q> And stylistically what inspired you?
Ciarán> TWIN’s cinematographer, Miguel Angel Viñas, and I had some key references that we looked at during pre-production - most notably, John Hillcoat’s short ‘Corazón’, which Miguel loved for its texture and enhanced realism. Also, the work of Gasper Noé for the way he uses spaces and the characters in relation to them. We had a fantastic collaborator in our production designer, Margot Cullen, who was able to breathe life into the locations and really make them work.
A scene from John Hillcoat’s short ‘Corazón’
Q> How was shooting and what was it like having Banjoman producing?
Ciarán> We shot the bulk of the film over the course of two days in Dublin. Looking at each location carefully and how they interacted with light allowed us not to have to sacrifice too much and also to shoot two sequences as a skeleton unit.
Having Banjoman producing was really good. We were on the same page from the beginning, with exactly the same goal - to make the best film we could. It’s also great to feel that you have support as a director, and that your vision is trusted. From the get-go, producer Matt D’Arcy, really demonstrated his belief in the project and this kind of belief spurs you on to aim even higher.
Shorts can be difficult to produce and a lot of time, energy, and passion goes into making them happen the way you want them to. It was wonderful having Banjoman Films and Screen Ireland there as support, they brought a lot of expertise and constructive feedback to the project at every stage.
BTS: Birthday party scene shoot.
Q> Were there any standout moments or unexpected challenges in bringing TWIN to life?
Ciarán> Filming the party sequences was a standout moment for me. We had the most amount of people on set and there was a really fun, open atmosphere. What made it memorable was having a big buzz with the supporting actors and DJ, but also having Kelly Thornton, who played Ava, in the middle of it all - delivering a performance that was all about small looks and subtle emotional challenges.
We were working with a big unit and there were a lot of moving parts, but ultimately they were all there to facilitate Ava’s journey and Kelly’s performance. It felt really good when we started to capture those small focused beats in the midst of a large set up - they would go on to become key moments in the film’s edit. You could feel that energy as we were shooting them.
For more of Ciarán and Banjoman's work, please click here.