IT’S GOT a witty script and a vibrant young cast. But Cork emerges as the real star of The Young Offenders, an energetic comedy that could just put the country at the centre of Ireland’s movie-making map.
Inspired by notorious tale of how a €440 million cocaine haul was dumped in the sea off West Cork when those smuggling it ran aground in 2007, the film premieres in Cork on Wednesday buoyed by rave early reviews and a sense that it could be a hit at home and overseas.
Using that Dunlough Bay drugs haul as a tipping point for the spirited comedy, the movie follows the adventures of bungling teenagers Jock (Chris Walley) and Conor (Alex Murphy) as they head west to grab a bale of cocaine from the water to better their lives.
It’s the latest shot in the arm for Cork’s film industry, which has played bridesmaid to locations like Dublin and Wicklow in the past, but has been energised both by anticipation for this film and the use of Brow Head as a location for the next Star Wars movie.
For writer and director Peter Foott, there was never going to be another location for the film. “I was dying to do a feature film,” says the native of Monkstown, Co Cork. “This window of opportunity, last summer, was coming up, and I knew at that point that I had nothing planned.
“I had a couple of ideas rolling around and I thought it was the kind of thing I could make over summer, shooting at home in Cork, and just really enjoy making a film, out on the road, working with young talented actors.”
Recalling the story of the drugs haul, he started thinking about the characters and set about writing the script. “I told my wife Hilary, (actress Hilary Rose) who’s in the film, about it, and she loved the idea.
“I had these two characters in my head — not stupid, but just young and foolish teenagers who were up for an adventure. Two guys who are best friends and would do anything for each other, and would go on this journey because they’ve got tough lives at home, and they just want to go out and try and change that.”
Limited with his budget — Foott had no funds for a blockbuster at his disposal — but keen to make an action film, the writer/director came up with the inspired idea of putting his mischief makers on pushbikes.
“Because I wanted to do a road movie, I wanted to do chase scenes. We could do action scenes on bikes. We set it the whole way down West Cork. I know that part of the country really well. It was about what we knew we could achieve in one way, but also it’s about the story growing organically when you’ve got momentum going.”
Still, filming wasn’t always straightforward, especially one day when one of the cars on set for The Young Offenders was broken into by young offenders.
“A car pulled up and my wife was suspicious, but we were all too busy thinking about what angles we were going to use (while filming). Next thing, we saw Hilary, who was pregnant at the time, racing back towards these guys, who had smashed the window and taken everything out that was of value and got into their car.
“If we could take anything positive out of it it was that we knew exactly how much it would cost to smash a window (for a scene in the film),” he laughs. “We hired the same guys who replaced it for us to do it again. I remember seeing their faces, trying to understand why we would have the same car window smashed twice in the same month.”
With their close cut bazzers, shaved eyebrows and hoodies, on face value you might cross the road when you see Conor and Jock approach. But one of the film’s many great surprises is that for all their boldness they have real charm. It was important that they be more than teen misfits, says Foott.
“They’ve both lost parents, and the parents that they have are not doing a good job. People empathise with those who have a dream, who fantasise about something, which I did with my friends at that age, all the time. ‘What would you do if you won the Lotto, what would you do with a million Euro?’ It’s something in kids that everyone can relate to I think.”
Still, Foott is not afraid to court political incorrectness in his comedy, unsurprisingly from the filmmaker who directed The Rubberbandits’ ‘Horse Outside’ video as well as RTÉ’s The Republic of Telly and The Fear.One of the film’s protagonists has a physical disability, while the use of the word ’spastic’ is used in a scene. Was he worried about causing offence?
“It’s on your mind and you make a calculated decision as to who’s going to get offended by this stuff. The term ‘spastic’, if you break it down into what it means, it’s offensive in that sense. But not when it’s spoken by a 15-year-old in the context of his own language.
“For me it was all about being authentic as to the kind of language that teenagers would use, the kind of things they would say, and the kind of bad words they would use. If you start pulling back, or censoring that, then the realism of who these people are… it becomes a less realistic version.
“Even since college I’ve been doing shorts that are on the darker edge of comedy. Working with The Rubberbandits, they’re incredibly talented, extremely funny guys. The music video was a really great success. On the back of that you know that people are open for a darker sense of humour, that Irish sense of humour.”
SERVING HIS TIME
Foott went to St John’s Central College in Cork upon leaving school to study video production and decided to hone those skills. He worked on and off at the Cork Film Centre for a year, which he says gave him great practical training, followed by a three-year stint studying film at Dublin’s Institute of Art, Design and Technology.
Moving back home three years ago, he started to toy with the idea of finding a great story he could set on home turf. “There’s so much to be proud of here, and we basically took everything that we love, and put it into the film. From the English Market to the streets of Cork, to West Cork.
“Most of our crew was made up of pupils who were still studying at St John’s, or past pupils. They took time off college to come and work on the film. The music was scored by Ray Harman from Something Happens, and Tom Dunne recorded a song for us. Cork School of Music students recorded a string section.
“As hard as it was to make a film, everyone along the way saw that it was a good thing to be involved in. If people in Cork watch it and likes it - job done. If it’s watched outside of Cork, all the better.”
- The Young Offenders will premiere with a red carpet event at the Omniplex in Mahon Point, Cork, on Wednesday, followed by a national release on September 16
The start of something big?
It’s the movie that’s tipped to be a comedy hit — but for its two young stars, The Young Offenders could be a life-changer.
Super performances from Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, who play Conor and Jock in the film, have given both of them a boost as they pursue successful acting careers.
For Murphy, 18, and 21-year-old Walley, who have become close friends since working on the movie together, the film could open doors in what is a notoriously difficult career path. They have been involved in theatre, but this is the first movie role for both young men.
“I’ll never get over how lucky I am to get it,” says Murphy, who hails from Douglas. “I got into [top acting school] The Lir so I’m moving to Dublin in September. I’m very aware of how lucky I am to have a film under my belt at 18. We couldn’t have asked for a better first film, everyone was so nice and it’s going down really well.”
Glanmire student Walley this year moved to London to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where past pupils include Kenneth Branagh and Fiona Shaw.
“I did my first and second round with my big mop of hair. Then I did my final round in RADA in London with no hair, and my moustache, and my slits in my eyebrows!” he laughs.
“We were back filming The Young Offenders on Three Castles Head the next day, as south as you could go, and I had no signal. Not a tap. For some reason, whatever way I was standing on a cliff, I could feel my phone. It was a London number — the director of RADA who told me that I had my place. That was a fantastic day.”
Both of them auditioned for the film after seeing posts about auditions on social media. “I had the first audition and was told to come back for a second audition. But at the second audition it was just myself and Chris.
“We had about an hour of audition and at the end Peter said: ‘Right, lads, I can tell ye now you have the part’. Me and Chris just dropped, we were so happy,” says Murphy.
Both of them wear hairstyles nothing like their characters’ and were happy to grow them out after filming ended.
“Our hair was at a nice length, Chris’s curls were growing back and it was lovely, and one day Peter rang and said: ‘Hi lads, we need to do posters’. We just presumed he was joking but no, he was being serious. It was nice to revisit it!”
Location Location: How Cork is a big star of the film
When shooting The Young Offenders, Peter Foott and his team wanted to show Cork at its most magnificent. But showcasing the region in a movie filmed 90% outdoors during an Irish summer wasn’t always straightforward.
Some of the characters work in a fish stall in the Market, the setting for a fun bike chase scene. “They were brilliant. Some of the O’Connells, who work the fish stall, ended up acting in the film.
“We were doing a big chase scene through Cork city and we thought it would be amazing to have them coming through the English Market. We came in early and there was a small window of opportunity. It was one of those days where we just had to be super organised. A lot of people are commentating on how fast-paced the chase scene but a lot of that involved trickery in post-production to make it look quicker and more dangerous that it actually is.”
The much-loved viewing point at the top of Patrick’s Hill features in an extended opening scene.
“It’s very close to where I live and that bench I sit on quite a lot when I take my dog for a walk. The view there is fantastic, with Shandon Bells behind it. It’s just a great place to enjoy the city.”
“We shot a scene where a character throws his mask off in Shandon. That involved going up narrow steps with cameras and tripods — that was a bit of a haul.”
“At the castle itself, that’s off the beaten track, you can only go so far with a vehicle. Last summer was just a summer of rain. We were down on the lake, an amazing setting, but the storms were brewing. Everyone was getting so wet. We were all day waiting for the rain to stop. When we came back and looked at it it just wouldn’t work. We went down and shot it all again when the weather was good.”
While filming in the shop, word came in of drama in the city. “A man came in and told the lovely lady in the shop: ‘I’ve just been in Mayfield and seen a guy being dragged out of a house by police with loads of marijuana plants on him’. He’d seen us filming it and thought it was a real bust!”