In the middle of the celeb-fest that is the Academy Awards, among the Meryl Streeps and the Brangelinas of the evening, it’s easy to forget the smaller filmmakers who are also being honored that night. Most people don’t get a chance to see the short film nominees, who tell their varied stories within minutes instead of hours.
“New Boy,” was one such story, and one of the nominated films for Best Live Action Short — the winner on Sunday was “Spielzeugland (Toyland).” Based on a Roddy Doyle short story, “New Boy” is the depiction of Joseph, a boy from Africa, as he starts his first day of school after emigrating to Ireland. The 11-minute film covers Joseph’s less-than-welcome reception by the other boys and the extraordinary circumstances that brought him to this strange new country.
Blast spoke by phone to Tamara Anghie, the producer of “New Boy,” recently. Anghie told us about the joys of short film making, “New Boy,” and why preparing for the Oscars is like getting ready for a wedding.
Emma Rose Johnson: Well, I just want to start by saying congratulations on your nomination. I thought that it’s a really lovely little film.
Tamara Anghie: Thank you so much, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
EJ: I did, I did, very much. You’ve produced several short films. I know a lot of people aren’t familiar with the form, as it’s not something you usually see in your multiplex. Tell me about producing a short film; what does it look like, how does it work?
TA: Well, really producing a short film in many ways is the same sort of tools and the same sort of skills that you put into any production. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that the amount of work that goes into producing a short is actually close to being what you would do on a much longer film feature as well. I guess why I’m attracted to them is I think short stories in a very short space of time can actually convey so much. I think in the process of story telling, some of the best stories that you hear are conveyed in ten minutes- you don’t sit and listen to somebody talking for an hour and a half. And the mechanics of it- it’s really very much the same producing skills in terms of raising the finance, getting the appropriate people together, and really having a very strong relationship with the writer and director to make sure that the best quality material is put up on the screen.
EJ: How does one finance short film, because these are not films are not exactly blockbusters. Do you work with other producers or with studios to get these up?
TA: Well, we’re very lucky in Ireland to have a film board that is very supportive of emerging film makers, which has put into place programs that finance short films, and has done so for over ten years. And there are also small community organizations that work with the national broadcasters that also provide an opportunity to do short film making for a much smaller amount of money. There tends to be in certain European countries this desire to help emerging film makers and a real desire to support the short film making process; it’s seen as a craft in itself. So I’ve been fortunate that I’ve applied for grants or loans with my short films. I had done a few where I’ve had to raise it through private finance and private equity, which is really going and speaking to organizations and people that have some money who are interested in the project, because they love the story or who’s involved. It’s certainly not a money-making exercise- it’s certainly not something where any of us involved in it make any money from it. We do it for the love of doing it, and really having the opportunity to exercise our craft.
EJ: Absolutely. So it’s just for the love of film, the love of film making.
TA: Definitely. And telling stories. It really comes down to the expression of story-telling, and the wanting to be part of that process. In a visual way.
EJ: I do want to talk about this film in particular- what attracted you to this project?
TA: Very much the story; I have to give credit to my long-time writer/director partner Steph Green, who came across the short story. It’s based on a short story by the well-known Irish writer Roddy Doyle. He had published it in a multi-cultural magazine called Metro Ireland. Metro Eireann, it’s called in Ireland. She came across the story, and immediately knew that she would be able to make a great short film from this. And so we approached Roddy Doyle and asked if we could get the option to make it into a film, which he granted, and it went from there. But I think the qualities of the story that appealed to both of us, was that there’s a universality of being the new person, whatever age you are and whatever your circumstances, there is a quality of feeling alien and having to make those adjustments. And certainly that’s true on a personal level for me: I’m an Australian living in Ireland now, and I originally was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Australia, so I’ve had a lot of new starts. So I think I can really relate to the character of Joseph and what he was going through.
EJ: That’s actually something I wanted to ask you; this is an Irish story, it was filmed in Ireland, but the main character is an African boy. And I know that Ireland has been dealing with having a recent influx of immigrants. Do you consider this an Irish film, or do you think it’s more international in nature?
TA: Well, I think because there’s a universality of the themes that are explored in the story, I think that people can relate to it from all around the world. I think that’s what we’ve seen happen as it’s made it’s first festival run and been received so well in the festivals. But I do think very intrinsically that it is an Irish story, largely because Roddy Doyle’s writing is very specifically Irish. He has an Irish voice. And I think in this story, he is portraying what’s happening in Ireland in a very specific way. I think the answer to that question is it does both, but it is very much reflecting what is going on in Ireland at the moment.
EJ: Did you get to work personally with Roddy Doyle at all? Was he involved in the filming in any way?
TA: Very much so. I didn’t specifically, that was more Steph as the writer and the director. Roddy gave Steph the permission to adapt the story herself, which was very gracious because normally he writes his own screenplays. But Steph had several meetings with him, and went through the first draft of the screenplay with him. Then through the casting process, we sent him clips of the various people that we were casting, as a courtesy as much anything else, in case he had anything insightful in terms of the characters we were casting. And then he also commented right down to the edits. So we kept him involved in the process all along the way. He’s been terrific, just absolutely been terrific with us.
EJ: Oh, wonderful. Has he seen the film yet?
TA: Oh yes, he saw the premiere. He came to the cast and crew screening that we had a couple of years ago now, because we made the film a couple of years ago. And he really loved it. I think we knew we had succeeded when he said his eight-year-old daughter, I think she was eight at the time, just kept playing it over and over and over again. So once we knew we had her seal of approval, we knew we had his too. (laughter)
EJ: That’s got to be very gratifying to know that the original man who created the source material really enjoyed the film.
TA: It was very important to us that that happened. Which is I think why we involved him so much in the process- Steph has such integrity in her film making, and she wanted to be sure that she was representing, as you say, the source material, in a way that was heartening to and accurate for the originator of the material.
EJ: Absolutely. I do want to ask- have you been to the Oscars before?
TA: Never! Never, this is my first experience.
EJ: You must be very excited.
TA: It is extremely exciting. And you know, the thing that I have really taken from this is it’s a wonderful experience, but you don’t realize how much is involved. The whole process. And the planning that goes into getting everything together for it is almost like a wedding planning. It’s the dress, and the fittings, and the shoes, and the accessories, and everything else. And then the people who are coming along. It’s a process, but it’s fabulous, absolutely fabulous.