Earthbound – Irish sci-fi comedy – Behind the scenes

Dublin filmmaker ALAN BRENNAN can’t quite believe that his sci-fi romantic comedy Earthbound actually got made. “The whole thing is appropriately spacey,” he tells

Irish films are, of course, a tough sell. Especially to an Irish audience.

I’ve always thought the Irish Film Board have proven just how tough by having their on-screen logo be three lonely people getting up out of their cinema seats. And walking out, you presume.

For Alan Brennan, making his feature debut with this weeks’ sci-fi romantic comedy Earthbound, the simple fact that his dream project actually got made is enough reward. For now.

“The whole thing is appropriately spacey,” he smiles. “But, yeah, I know what you mean about Irish audiences and Irish films. I feel exactly the same way. ‘Hmm, Argo is on too – think I might go check that one out instead’. I’m in the industry, and even I feel as though going to see an Irish film is a little like doing homework.”

Yep, planet Eire isn’t the easiest of markets for Irish films. Which may explain why Alan Brennan decided to make a movie, rather than a film. The latter works fine in the IFI; the former is for the multiplex masses.

We’re at Dublin’s Merrion Hotel, and it’s somewhere around the middle of the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Later on, Earthbound will make its Irish debut, having already played festivals abroad to generally enthusiastic audiences (“they laughed in all the right places, which was great”). Telling the tale of wide-eyed young starman Joe Norman (a winning Rafe Spall) who’s set out to find a mate (an also-winning Jenn Murray) to continue on his beleaguered alien race. Guiding him through the trickier rituals of life on earth is his late father, Bill (David Morrissey), but there are dark forces out to scupper Joe’s plans. And one of those dark forces might just be mundane reality.

Surprisingly relaxed for a man who is about to take on Irish audiences during one of the biggest slumps in cinema-going here, Brennan is plainly just happy to have gotten this far.

“I couldn’t quite believe that I got the chance to make this movie,” he nods, “because Ireland doesn’t exactly make a lot of movies like this one. The editor’s an old friend of mine, and we would marvel as we worked on Earthbound, “How did this happen? How are we cutting this scene right here?” We were just flipped out by the fact that we were making our movie. We just kept wondering, how did we get here…?”

PAUL BYRNE: And how did Alan Brennan get here? Was Earthbound a long, hard sell to the Irish Film Board?

ALAN BRENNAN: No, it wasn’t. Which was bizarre. Against all odds, really. I didn’t think it would be to the tastes of the board, but, they really liked the script, and the sci-fi trappings didn’t seem to be a problem. I initially wrote it for the Catalyst project they had in 2007, and I wrote that very quickly. And I was really unhappy with it, but they really liked it. So, we got shortlisted, but didn’t win. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it gave me time to rework the script. It got the thumbs up very quickly after that. Once I was happy with it, I just sent it to the Film Board, and they said yeah.


So, you didn’t have to sleep with anyone?

No, that didn’t happen. I was a little disappointed about that, to be honest.


Your cameraman, PJ Dillon, said in Film Ireland recently that, given that this was your first feature, it was “quite daunting” for you. How daunting?

It was extremely daunting, no question. It was, by far, the biggest thing I’d ever done. The Film Board short I’d done two years previous was just two people in a bedroom. That was it. Two people having a conversation in a bedroom, and I kept it small because I wanted to keep it do-able. So, this was a big, ambitious script, a 20-day shoot, lots of scenes, lots of characters, lots of complex action. It was very, very daunting…


You and PJ discussed comic book references early on – what were the movie inspirations here?

We looked at Close Encounters. We shot the movie with anamorphic lenses. I wanted it to have, firstly, an instantly cinematic feel. I wanted it to be widescreen, but with anamorphic, you get that little bit extra. I can tell straight away when I see a movie shot that way. It’s a sense memory. So, that was the first thing that we wanted to do. It suited the tone as well. I really wanted it to look like a movie.

I like films, but I love movies. And I felt that we didn’t really have an Irish movie. You want those crowd-pleasing elements without actually pandering to the Hollywood cliches. So, we had to be clever about it – which I think we have been. It’s technically small but feels big. It has all the qualities, I think, that a European film would have – it is a psychological drama – but it’s also a big science fiction romantic comedy, with lots of heart and lots of laughs. You’ll hopefully leave the cinema with a big smile on your face. That’s the plan, anyway.


Have you got a plan for Earthbound outside of these rain-kissed shores? Or does it all depend on how much box-office love you get here first?

I don’t know really what happens next after this. To be honest, this is at the upper end of my dreams for this movie. If it does well here, it could open doors abroad. But it’s that old challenge of how do you get Irish people to sit down to an Irish film when you don’t have the mega-bucks behind it to sell it.


Do you feel any pressure to turn a profit here? Or is it good enough for your career that you’ve made a decent first film?

That would be the hope, of course, but money does tend to rule the roost, ultimately. I don’t think anyone expects this to give Disney’s Oz a run for its money. The fact that people like the film will be reward enough, no matter how much box-office we manage.

The thing is, it’s all been gravy. It’s all just gravy, from the start…


Are you working on a follow-up yet?

Yeah, I have a few things that are all in the pretty early stages. They should be further along, but I’m a stay-at-home dad most of the time, which I found is not all that conducive to doing a lot of work. I’m kinda banking on Earthbound making the next film that little bit easier…


And what about the John Moore route? Going from quirky shorts with Clingfilm here in Dublin to Hollywood director-for-hire on the likes of Behind Enemy Lines and A Good Day To Die Hard – tempted?

To be honest, I don’t think I could do what John Moore does. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I don’t think I have the visual prowess that he does. I think that that’s what that brand of Hollywood is looking for. I’m more of a storyteller, and that would mean being involved from beginning to end. As opposed to someone who can come into a project and make the whole thing look really cool.

Hopefully, there’ll always be room for both kinds of filmmakers…

Words : Paul Byrne

Earthbound hits Irish screens on March 15th