My movie made it in Amer­ica: John Car­ney

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

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.

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