The Breadwinner – Behind The Scenes with producer Paul Young

Producer Paul Young talks about the Irish made, Oscar nominated animation that follows a young Afghan girl, who must disguise herself as a boy in order to provide for her family. The Breadwinner hits Irish cinemas on May 25th

What was it about The Breadwinner that brought Angelina Jolie to the team?

She was motivated by her work as an envoy with the U.N and working towards helping the children of Afghanistan. So we just got the script to her and asked if she’d like to help and get involved. She helped raise funds for the film and once a couple people had got her to read the script and Nora talked to her she said she’d love to help.

The Cartoon Saloon family has been nominated before for your other work. Does that high of being nominated ever leave you when you learn the news?

Well no, we’re thrilled with that of course. The first time we weren’t even paying attention. We were having a meeting, and it was a quite a difficult meeting because we were broke. We were trying to figure out what we were going to do because we were in quite a deep hole after Secret of Kells, and we had no immediate projects lined up afterwards, no great cash flow coming in. It was a difficult time in our business. We were trying to pull ourselves out by getting a few projects off the ground. Then we heard a scream just outside the door. She’d been watching the nominations. We had been over there, we were aware and we knew that our distributors had been going to give it a go. We’d had a couple of screenings in LA. We’d kind of forgotten about it as much as we weren’t bothered to watch the actual nominations. So we just heard the scream and then the phone started to ring. That was a really great experience. The next time around we thought we’d give it a go again and we’ll just send it over to people in LA and when we got nominated, that was another great experience. We were watching it, then we took a walk by the river and waited to see if it happened again. That was great. Then for The Breadwinner we were all sitting down. We felt a bit more of the pressure because now Nora was up and there was two areas to worry about at this stage. We all were watching it and really I didn’t think we had much of a chance, to be honest. The rules had changed, and the perception was that the rule change might favour the studios a bit more because they were bringing in people from outside the animation community to actually nominate and they didn’t have to watch all the movies. It was left up to the nominating committee to actually watch everything and that’s always more difficult for an independent film because if you’re not issued wide release across America a film is very hard to endorse. Even by the Academy members which is what happens, it’s very difficult to win, really. But it was really exciting, I’m so happy for Nora and the whole team. We spent a good three years working on it very intensely. And it is a great cherry on the cake. The thing is by just getting it made you feel sheer pride! But then it’s great to get something like this because it really is  3.14 getting an Oscar nomination. And it has been with a film like The Breadwinner which didn’t have a big marketing campaign, isn’t obviously commercial and is going to have a limited audience. But it has a brilliant story and you really want families to see it and when they do see it everybody really loves it. It’s just getting people into the cinema is the tough part and obviously, Oscar nominations really help that.

It really does. You were talking about it how it was in wide release in the US and it’s also in the festival circuit, but it hasn’t yet come to its home soil. Are you excited about it finally coming here in the summer?

Yeah, I’m excited and I’m hoping people will come out and see it because I think they’ll really enjoy it. I think adults and kids from nine up will really enjoy it. It’s not your typical film. It’s not like Minions 2 or 3 or it’s not that kind of story. It’s a drama, you know, but it’s got some humour in it and a bit of fantasy in it, but it’s very much a story about a young girl trying to find her dad. So it’s quite a thriller as well. I really hope that audiences in Ireland and the UK can see it when it comes out at the end of May. And bring their friends! Because it could really use it! It’s just been a difficult release because, well it’s a pity it’s come out a little bit later than the buzz from the Oscars so hopefully people will still remember.

Oh, I’m sure they will. On a personal note, congratulations on the inaugural year of the Kilkenny Animated. What was that like to ring in?

Oh, it was great. Particularly, the highlight really was that we did have a screening of The Breadwinner. There was a great reaction. Great to have a hometown screening like that. Then we did a kind of concert at the end of the weekend, right before that, because we’ve been working on this series called Cúl an Tí on TG4 – airing now or it might have just finished on TG4 – where we brought old Irish songs and redid animated videos for them but also with a bit of a documentary live action part of it that talks about the origin of the song. So we had a great concert down here. We had Lisa Hannigan, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Mary Coughlin, Mundy and we had Kíla playing and doing live versions of the songs, which was just brilliant. And then Kíla did this lovely thing for us, they put together this thing, it was animation in the background and then all these singers doing their songs that they did, that they had adapted for the programme, live to the picture. Then Kíla did this medley, we used one of their tracks, gosh I’m blanking on the name of one of their tracks but we used one of their tracks for the scratch track for Song of the Sea and they put it back on at the end of the Song of the Sea film and just did this brilliant track, playing live to the end of the film which matched up really brilliantly, which was a great thrill. And then we had a bunch of the cartoonists over from The New Yorker, we had talks about illustrating history with Alé Mercado, and a bunch of cartoonists talking about their work. And Peter de Seve and Carter Goodrich, Carter would have designed all the characters in Ratatouille. They are always go-to character designers for the big studios and they talked about their work. It was great! We had all kinds of people in for the talks so looking forward to next year already.

Finally Paul, can you tell us any details about Wolfwalkers, your upcoming feature with Tomm Moore?

Well Wolfwalkers, you know, Tomm has done Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea which were Irish based, fantasy based on Irish mythology, then given a new twist or new flavour. Wolfwalkers would be set in Kilkenny when Cromwell was here, during quite Puritan Cromwell times about this young girl who comes with her father to hunt the last wolves around Kilkenny but it turns out she gets bitten by another girl, and it’s a story where the hunter becomes the hunted. So it’s kind of a magical story about shapeshifters and wolves and people who turn into wolves. It’s based on another story – we discovered this story – set around Kilkenny called “The Wolves of Offaly”  (this area called Offally back in the day) and if you had gone to New England during Puritan days and you were from Kilkenny, you would have been suspected of being a lycanthrope or a werewolf. St Patrick supposedly cursed the pagan by turning them into wolves but these people were friendly wolves and would help people out who were lost in the forest. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart are co-directing together. That’s started production now.

Words – Graham Day
The Breadwinner hits Irish cinemas on May 25th