My movie made it in America: John Carney
John Carney is director of the Irish movie Once, starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova as street musicians. It won the prestigious audience award at America’s Sundance Film Festival in January. On release, it had modest success in Ireland but then stormed the US box office, where it has taken more than $9 million to date. It is now being mentioned as an Oscar contender I never intended to make a film that more than a few people would see.Glen and I expected Once to do okay, to go down well among Frames fans, among music people, maybe to make an impression on the internet and to build up a word-of-mouth following over four or five years.
I reckoned we would go over to Sundance, meet a few independent film-makers, hang out and have a laugh. Maybe ski a bit.
But after a few days, things began to happen. We’d get into the back of a taxi and ask the driver what the word on the street was about films in the festival. When they started mentioning Once, we knew it was significant. Getting the audience award was a great feeling.
Before going to the US, we had done a deal with Buena Vista to release the film in Ireland and we honoured that when we returned home. Commercially, we probably shouldn’t have. Films are usually released in the States first, and that would have been the smart thing to do. But then it was never intended to be a commercial film.
In the end, I think everyone who really wanted to see this film in the cinema in Ireland saw it there. It’s a shame that more people didn’t, but it’s just hard to get Irish people to go out to see Irish films.Most people will now see it on DVD and that’s fine.
As it turned out, though, the award at Sundance had a great effect on the film’s performance in the US. Also, Steven Spielberg spoke publicly and very positively about our film.
Career-wise this was very significant, but I was more tickled by it than anything else. I’m not a massive fan of Spielberg’s films – they’re too sentimental for my liking – but I do know he’s very nerdy and technical about film-making, so it was nice to get a compliment from him.
Even funnier was when John Travolta left a message on my phone, saying he had seen Once and loved it. I saved the message and played it back to my mother. She and I were both big Travolta fans. Oh, and Glen texted me today to say he was having breakfast with Britney Spears.
I was in Glen’s band years ago so I knew him very well already, but travelling around the US together, we developed our friendship significantly. I hope to work with him again, and in fact we are working on a project together – a kind of Irish Spinal Tap. He has great comic timing, and it’s nice to work with someone who’s not an actor. Actors are often vulnerable and careerist and difficult to work with. Glen’s much easier because he’s not into “being an actor”.
There are other projects too. Zonad is a film that my brother Kieran, Tom Hall and I piloted about six years ago and put on the shelf to make Bachelors Walk. Kieran and I finally completed that this year. It’s a comedy about the alien invasion of a fictional Irish village. Think The Quiet Man in the style of Mel Brooks. Myself and Ed Guiney have a psychological thriller in development, set in London. And I’ve been contracted to direct a film for Hollywood, called Town House.
I’ve travelled more than I ever wanted to in one year – mainly around the US but also to the Czech Republic and to London. It’s nice going to new places, but I’m not a great flier. I’ve stopped checking box-office figures. I did it in the US because they were being e-mailed to me, but as time went on I found that slightly corrupting. As a film-maker you have to take that with a pinch of salt.
When you get what you wish for, there are complications. To go, within four or five days, from being a minor Irish filmmaker to being courted by these full-on Hollywood players does have its drawbacks. But all in all, 2007 has been pretty good for me. Great actually.