Graham Cantwell – (Trapped – 2008).

I recently got the chance to talk to Graham Cantwell about his new film, ‘Trapped’. Here, Graham talks about how the idea came about in the first place and what films have inspired him as a director…

Hey Graham. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me. Of course we‘re here to talk to you about your new film ‘Trapped’ – (also known as ‘Anton’) – which was released on DVD in the UK on 10th October 2011.

You directed the feature – how did the idea come about in the first place? How easy was it to put into production?

Anthony Fox, the writer and lead actor, grew up in County Cavan on the border with Northern Ireland and the film is based on stories he heard from local people relating to the conflict in the 70s. He pieced together a tale of a young man who gets caught up in the violence and by the time he realises what is at stake it is too late. Anthony spent a number of years working on various drafts of the script, whittling it down and refining it. I went to a reading of it and loved the story. Anthony had seen some previous work of mine and asked me to direct the film.

We raised all the money privately. We had a very strange production model in that we would film for a short period, run out of money, put a trailer together using the footage we had shot and use that to go raise more funds. It was real skin of the teeth stuff, but as in any situation where you have a group of determined people who believe in what they are doing we always seemed to find a way.

It was during the boom period before the worldwide crash happened, when people seemed to have an excess of disposable income. It certainly wouldn’t be possible to make a film in that way in the current climate.

How would you say the film is different from other dramas released this year? What tricks as a director did you try to throw in?

The film is very personal, we managed to combine an exciting story with a very intimate portrait of a man struggling with issues of patriotism, family, abandonment and betrayal. It took a well-worn genre, the political thriller in Northern Ireland, and gave it a fresh perspective, seeing the trouble through the eyes of a group of disaffected young men in a rural area who are outside the main scope of the violence, but affected by it on a daily basis. The film explores how these idealistic and impressionable young guys were recruited into the conflict and the repercussions that involvement had on their personal lives.

As a director one of the challenges you always face is trying to do something different in an industry that is flooded with material constantly. We knew we were working with one hand tied behind our back because of the small budget we were operating with, so we had to be clever with the few resources we had at our disposal. I decided very early to go for a quite stylized approach to the visuals, with specific colour schemes for the different passages of the film and a particular style of shot through use of longer lenses. We also tried to incorporate as much movement as we could, where it was properly motivated, to give a more cinematic feel to the film. Attention to detail was key too, as it is a period film. Luckily we had massive support from the local community in Cavan and people showed up in their droves with 70s vehicles, costumes and even haircuts!

How has the reception been to the film so far?

We’ve had a great response so far. The film was released as ‘Anton’ in cinemas in Ireland and got some great press and reviews. It was in the Top 10 at Christmas when it went on DVD release there and we got three Irish Film and Television Academy Award nominations, the Irish equivalent of the BAFTAs. It has been retitled ‘Trapped’ for the international market and has already sold to over 40 territories worldwide, including the UK, which is very exciting for me.

The film stars Gerard McSorley, Anthony Fox, Laura Way, Griet Van Damme, Rachel Rath and Andy Smith – what was it like working with the cast and crew?

It was fantastic. We were out in the middle of nowhere practically, so everybody got really close on set and everyone really pushed each other to make as good a film as we possibly could. I like to create a good atmosphere on set, the cast and crew end up essentially like an extended family, and having that level of respect and camaraderie on the set really made it an enjoyable experience.

Having a good mixture of experience and raw talent helped too. The younger actors looked up to Gerry, Ronan and Vincent and really raised their game to come up to the standard being set by the old timers!

Let’s talk a bit about you Graham. What made you want to get into the directing chair in the first place?

I’ve always loved film, my Grandad used to make Super8 films as I was growing up so I suppose I get a lot of it from him. I started off as a scriptwriter, learning from John Sherlock at the Samuel Beckett Centre in Trinity College Dublin, then studied acting for a year at the Gaiety School of Acting before migrating into directing and basically teaching myself the mechanics and the language of film. A short film I made through the RTE/Filmbase scheme called ‘A Dublin Story’ did really well, won a few awards and was shortlisted for nomination for the Academy Awards and my career pretty much took off from there.

What advice would you give to people wanting to pursue a career in directing?

Get out and make films. Learn every aspect of the filmmaking process from writing to acting, cinematography, editing, sound design, music, the lot. If you can experience every aspect of the craft then you’ll be much more informed when discussing aspects of your films with the various Heads of Department.

The technology exists nowadays to produce quality films at a level we could only dream of when I began. It’s much more affordable too, so there is no excuse not to get out there and start making films.

I would suggest that young filmmakers do take the time to develop their stories before rushing off to shoot though. Look at what is out there and try to do something different, something unique. Make a personal film rather than trying to make a clone of your favourite movies or genres. And keep the dialogue down to a minimum!

What films have inspired you as an artist? Do you have any favourites?

I love the American films from the 70’s made by Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola and the rest. ‘Jaws’ has always been a favourite of mine. It’s a perfect blend of story and spectacle and the cinematic language in it is sublime.

I love all kinds of films though, from classics like ‘The Godfather’ to old foreign films like Kurosawa’s ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’, from 80’s action flicks like ‘Predator’ and ‘Die Hard’ to intimate character portraits like ‘About Schmidt’. I’m working on a romantic comedy at the moment so I’ve gotten really into that genre, films like ‘The Ugly Truth’ and ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’. I’ve also got a soft spot for anything to do with vampires!

If you could have a dinner with three guests – (living or dead), who would you choose and why?

  • Hitchcock, because he’s the master of suspense and created a whole new language in cinema and also because he was a great raconteur by all accounts!
  • Robert Downey Jnr, because he’s crazy and one of the best actors I’ve ever seen on-screen, and I reckon he’d be a blast at a dinner party.
  • My Grandad, who used to take all those Super8 films. He died when I was really young so I never got to know him. I’d love to have a sit down and a chat with him to see what he thinks of the films I’ve made and to ask about his own films.

What has been the most interesting piece of local / national news you’ve heard in the last month?

Well, news is just filtering in about Gaddafi being shot so I guess that’s the biggest thing on the web at the moment, that and the Occupy demonstrations. A lot of anger in the world at the moment, people feeling let down by their governments and not sure how to make a change. Time will tell if their efforts will bear fruit.

I’ve also just read that there are plans to release the last film River Phoenix acted in before he died. The footage is incomplete, but they plan to get his brother Joaquin to record a voice over, as they sound quite similar. Should make for interesting viewing.

What’s coming up for you in 2011/12?

I’ve just directed a romantic comedy feature here in London called ‘The Callback Queen’. It is set in the world of the film industry and stars Amy Joyce Hastings, Mark Killeen and Vicki Michelle. We’re in the edit at the moment and I’m really happy with how it all looks so far.

We’ve put a first look trailer together here that you might enjoy:

Thanks for the interview!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Fiachra
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 18:54:13

    That Trapped/Anton was the worst movie I watched last year. Cantwell you’re either a spoofer or seriously disillusioned. No talent whatsoever and that ‘nice guy’ act is fooling no-one. A lot of people in the Irish film scene are glad you left.


  2. kim jackman
    Dec 23, 2012 @ 01:44:05

    Fiachra you are entitled to your opinion but come on…it was really good and films dont get nominated if they are no good. 🙂


  3. Jimmy
    Feb 22, 2014 @ 14:50:54

    Graham Cantwell is the Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards of Irish cinema!


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