Why did you specifically call your short film ‘Gridlock’?
There were a number of reasons why I chose ‘Gridlock’ as the title. This film was an attempt to make an American style thriller but with a distinctly Irish feel, so I wanted a strong and punchy name that would suit the genre. It’s also used somewhat ironically, as when I personally hear the word ‘Gridlock’ I picture a large sprawl of traffic on a freeway in a big city, whereas our story is set on a narrow country road in Ireland. It is more contained, and yet the intensity should remain the same with lots at stake for the protagonist, so ‘Gridlock’ was a way to encapsulate that dichotomy. It also became a reflection on the main character Eoin, and how he literally and figuratively cannot turn back from the choices he’s made.
The love that the father has for the daughter, the emotion that he feels and the audience feels when she goes missing really plays well on screen. Was it important for you to find a child actor and an adult actor that shared great chemistry behind the scenes in order for that emotion to play out on screen?
We cast Moe Dunford in role of the father first, and after auditioning a number of child actors, we had Moe meet with our top choice to see what the chemistry would be like. Robyn Dempsey was cast as Emma, and as Moe is a father himself, he had a great natural rapport with her on set. This was my first time working with a child actor as a director so I was a little apprehensive initially about how it would go. But I needn’t have worried because Robyn was a true professional. She only has a small amount of screen time, but she was full of energy on set and really took direction well.
Child abduction is quite a rising theme in the news. I remember when Madeline McCann went missing, that shocked the nation. Why was it important for you to make a film like this?
It was important for me to put the audience in the protagonist’s shoes right from the outset. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and something that every viewer can immediately relate to and empathize with, and is a catalyst for all the dangerous behavior that unfolds. The main theme I wanted to explore in ‘Gridlock’ is paranoia and mob mentality taking over, and how dangerous prejudices and stereotyping can be. Throughout the film we see how easy it is for people to turn on each other when they’re scared and panicking. But they don’t just turn on each other indiscriminately, they band together and pick on those they see as weak or different, something that is particularly relevant given the current political climate. ‘Gridlock’ also comments on how easily a victim can turn into a perpetrator, that sometimes people don’t always learn the right lessons from their own mistreatment. For example, there is a character in the film who initially is a victim of the mob and accused of taking the girl. But once cleared of suspicion, they immediately point the finger at others and vent their own prejudices.
Gridlock has already won many high profile awards, was that the response you was looking for?
I’m delighted with the response ‘Gridlock’ has been getting. This was a film designed with the audience in mind first, and my main objective was just to try and make an entertaining and exciting thriller. So for it be so well received at high profile festivals and win these awards is an incredible honor.
What projects are up next for you?
I’m currently developing my first feature film with ‘Gridlock’ writer Darach McGarrigle. It’s another high-concept thriller set in a single location called ‘Double Blind’ and will also feature an ensemble group of actors. We’re really excited about it.
How did you come up with that plot twist at the end?
Well I don’t want to spoil it for viewers who haven’t seen it yet, but we just wanted to create an exciting mystery for the audience to solve, with lots of different possible suspects. So we tried to think of a satisfactory and surprising reveal to that mystery, and hopefully stay one step ahead of the audience.
Moe Dunford gives us a terrific performance. What made you pick him for the role as Emma’s father?
I had seen Moe in Terry McMahon’s film ‘Patrick’s Day’ and was just blown away by his performance. He has such a physicality and edge to him, but is also capable of great moments of vulnerability. I wanted the character of Eoin to be an everyman- someone the audience can immediately relate to and empathise with in this dire situation. In many ways he’s a surrogate for the audience, as he becomes embroiled in this guessing game along with the viewers, not knowing who to trust. As a result, the character goes through a whole range of emotions throughout the film, everything from confusion to fear, to anger and despair, so I needed an actor who could confidently convey this journey and Moe did an amazing job.
What were some of the challenges you encountered while making this film? And how did you overcome them?
There were a number of challenges on ‘Gridlock’. The first was creating the traffic jam itself. Given the small budget, we couldn’t afford many action vehicles and so we had to make up the rest of the traffic jam using a combination of cast and crew cars. The only problem with was that at the end of each day, everyone would drive away! So it meant that we had to reset and restage the traffic jam each and every morning. We also had to change our location at the very last minute when our original road fell through, so a number of shots and setups we had planned had to either be adapted or lost. But thankfully this tighter and more restricted road that we ended up using really boxed us and the characters in even further and informed the way we shot the film in a positive way. I think it helped to generate a sense of claustrophobia throughout the story even though its outdoors, and it meant that myself and my cinematographer Narayan Van Maele had to get closer to the characters, really getting in amongst the mob and crowd during the action and closing the space in around you. The other big challenge then was contending with the weather. Irish weather is notoriously changeable at the best of times, and even though we were filming during the summer, I think we experienced all 4 seasons of weather throughout the shoot! So it was definitely a challenge for continuity as one day it would be sunny, while the next it might be lashing rain, so both Narayan and our colourist Eoghan McKenna did a great job creating a consistency throughout.
What do you hope people take away from this movie?
Firstly I hope they were excited and surprised by the resolution of the mystery. I truly hope they got caught up in the ‘whodunnit’ guessing game of the story, and felt the tension and suspense throughout. And while ‘Gridlock’ is certainly a heightened thriller, I hope that it makes a point about the real-world dangers of stereotyping and mob mentality that is ever present in today’s society.
The right emotions were portrayed during the scene where Emma’s father thought he saw his daughters doll on the backseat of another man’s car, anger, confusion, doubt, pointing the finger. Did making this film make you empathized with parents whose children are missing?
Absolutely. As I said, losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare so I can only imagine how traumatic and devastating that experience would be. The central setup of a child vanishing in a crowded place is one wrought with real fear and emotion, and as one character notes, a child going missing is a painful everyday occurrence in the modern world. It’s a very primal fear, so as an audience member and a filmmaker you can immediately understand and attempt to justify the father’s actions as he desperately searches for his missing child.