Coming off the back of his oscar winning short Stutterer, Director Benjamin Cleary teams up with fellow Director, and long time friend, TJ O’Grady Peyton (who also takes up the lead role) for Wave – a funny and moving short about a man isolated by the barrier of an unintelligible language and seeking rescue from the internet. DN caught up with Ben and TJ after Wave’s London Film Festival screening to talk passion project perseverance and nabbing a Bowie track for the film’s heartfelt closing scene.
Ben, both Stutterer and Wave feature characters trapped by their inability to communicate with the others. What is it about communicative isolation narratives that attracts you?
Benjamin Cleary: Communication fascinates me. This incredibly intricate audio visual code we have developed as humans. It’s kind of mind blowing when you stop and think about it. I’m also drawn to wounded, isolated characters, and being unable to communicate with anyone is incredibly isolating. The really tough moments in my life when I experienced pain seem to subconsciously inform the sort of stories I gravitate toward. Hopefully that lends some truth to them.
TJ, whilst not your first time in front of the camera Wave marks a concerted desire for you to “give acting a proper go”. What about this project made it the right one to take up a lead role?
TJ O’Grady Peyton: Lots of things! Wave started as a fun side project for Ben and I, but quickly grew in scale. I had been doing acting classes to improve my directing, but really loved the creativity and process of it all. I always wanted to act as a kid too. When Ben and I decided to make something together, this was the perfect project to sink my teeth into. Gaspar was a really compelling, unique character full of conflict, personality and humour.
The two of you established initial ground rules to keep the project achievable, how did they come to fall by the wayside?
BC: We originally wanted to shoot Wave in a weekend with a few friends in my flat and edit straight after. But as we started to play with the character and explore the premise we quickly realised that there was an opportunity to make something that was a lot more ambitious than we had planned. It ended up taking around 2 years, on and off!
Given the sporadic nature of production, how did you ensure a level of visual cohesion? What was your gear set up throughout the various shoot days?
BC: We decided on the visual style early on and stuck to it. Our very talented and generous DP, Burschi Wojnar had an Alexa kit which was very handy! Having his involvement and passion for the project allowed us the opportunity to make this in an unconventional way. We shot it incrementally whenever we were all in Dublin. A weekend here, a weekend there, each shoot day seamlessly organized by our Producer extraordinaire, Rebecca Bourke.
Was it difficult to maintain momentum on the project across the two year production period, especially as it wasn’t the main gig for any of the crew?
TJOGP: Deep down we felt that there was something really cool going on. Even during the shoot and then after in the edit, we knew we had a cool little film in the making. After putting so much work into it and having so many people contribute and work on the piece, we felt the need to try our best to make sure it was a success and not time spent wasted. On top of that, it was great fun and something we enjoyed to do….. It never really felt like work.
Deep down we felt that there was something really cool going on.
Wave’s central conceit is the individual, undecipherable language that Gasper emerges from his coma speaking, how as non-linguist did you go about creating that?
TJOGP: We kept on experimenting with different styles and sounds, doing lots of improv to get a feel for what felt believable. We also created a few key phrases which I could repeat whenever stuck for words when acting. On set I would act out the scene in English to get a feel for the tone and then do a take in gobbledygook which really helped. It was a lot of fun if not very weird. Some of the crew who only helped our randomly for a day or two either cracked up during takes or left looking rather perplexed by their day on set.
TJOGP: Like in any art form, the function is open to interpretation! Our VFX artist Bob Corish was the genius that created those sequences using macro photography and old school techniques to create cosmos like sequences from milk and ink dye! For me, those moments represent Gaspar’s isolation and state of mind when in his coma. But whatever works for you is cool too.
The films makes good use of music throughout but clearly I have to ask about the climactic scene which plays out to Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. How on earth did you secure the rights for such an iconic song?
BC: I remember sitting in my flat one night trying to work out how to end the film. Finally at about 3 am, I landed on Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide. I knew immediately that it was the only way to end the film. I remember ringing Rebecca the next morning, saying “You’re gonna hate me…” And she did… But I showed her a rough cut of what I was thinking and she was convinced. I think she began the process of trying to get the rights that day and somehow managed to pull it off.
TJOGP: Rebecca worked her ass off tirelessly throughout the whole process and made everything happen. Producing a low budget short (as a fun side project) is thankless and draining. No one is getting paid and it’s literally a passion project so to keep up momentum, maintain a constant level of professionalism and to keep the ship sailing smoothly (sometimes through stormy weather) is something that I could never do, so massive props to her!
That scene includes an intercontinental collection of sixty YouTube contributors. How did you enlist them to your cause?
TJOGP: Rebecca organised most of them alongside friends and family and whoever responded to our FB/social media requests. This film was technically shot in a lot of countries!
The internet here plays both the role of villain and savour, do you have a view as to which side of the coin it generally represents?
BC: Not really. The internet has some amazing sides to it and some terrible sides to it. Would the world be a better place without it? It’s an impossible question to answer really because it means very different things to many different people across the world. I’d definitely like to see people being kinder to one another online.
What’s next for you guys?
BC: This year I’ve written my first feature, set up a VR company called Mr. Kite and I’m about to direct a piece I wrote for for Amnesty International. It’s called The Quiet World and Rebecca is producing it through her company Assembly, where I’m represented. It focuses on (surprise surprise) communication. More specifically, the huge importance of freedom of speech as a human right.
TJOGP: Working away directing commercials. Acting in a movie soon, auditioning and developing scripts to direct…. Same old stuff!
For more, be sure to check out DN’s full 2017 London Film Festival coverage