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‘There’s the makings of a Tolkien epic inside everybody’ – Irish filmmaker Paddy Slattery on seeing the stories surrounding us

Irish director Paddy Slattery talks to TheCity.ie about his feature film debut following its successful premiere.
Irish filmmaker Paddy Slattery.
Photo: Paddy Slattery

TheCity.ie’s Ruadhan Jones recently spoke to director Paddy Slattery, whose debut feature film, Broken Law, premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival last month.

When the crowd gave Paddy a standing ovation, you could excuse him for feeling overwhelmed with emotion. His debut feature film, Broken Law, premiered before a full house on Ireland’s biggest cinema screen — Imax in Cineworld. Of course, it wasn’t just the crowd’s response that overwhelmed him…

“It wasn’t the ideal viewing experience,” he said. “Being a wheelchair user, I had to sit front and centre. It was like the whole wall was the film! I had to look left to see one side of the action and right to see the other. But the whole occasion drowned that out — it was a massive honour.”

“That we sold out the theatre and had a brilliant audience response was a dream, an absolute dream.”

It was a deserved reward for a director whose route to the “big time” has been an unusual one. Paddy is a quadriplegic, the result of a car crash at the age of seventeen. This may have been a life-changing incident — and it does make productions significantly challenging — but in the end: it was this accident which set Paddy on the path to Cineworld and his feature film debut.

“After the accident, I spent a lot of time in and out of hospital, lying on beds, doing rehab – and watching films,” Paddy told me. “They were my creative escape and allowed me to discover a whole untapped well of imagination. I always say, when my body switched off, my mind switched on.

“Film in particular gives you license to escape into another person’s story – it gave me a great sense of freedom. That was the catalyst for me from a very early stage. I didn’t understand the extent of my disability, all I knew was that I wanted to be a filmmaker.”

Paddy explains himself with a literary, as well as a filmic, sense – he often pauses before coming out with a subtle phrase or metaphor. After one such aside, he apologises for “meandering into my own imagination. I’m forgetting what I’m doing.” There’s just the hint of a smile, self-deprecating, as he moves through the kitchen to make his lunch. Right back into the nitty gritty.

Gemma-Leah Devereux, who recently played Liza Minelli in Judy, ensures the film isn’t simply another testosterone-fuelled melodrama. Photo: Broken Law

It’s nearly twenty years since the accident. Ten years on from it, Paddy made his first short film — and in the following ten years, he made several more. Some he directed, some he wrote, some he produced.

It was a difficult path – all the films were crowdfunded and shot on low budgets with little time. Throw in the added complication of his physical condition and you can see the kind of obstacles Paddy had to overcome.

“The first short film felt massive, massive. It was like the same anxieties I had making the first feature. There was so much riding on it, and when you put so much time, love, and passion into something – you really want it to come together right. It felt like a big step doing it, and each short film after felt like a stepping stone to something bigger, something better.”

“A lairy Dublin crime melodrama that launches a headbutt at you right out of the screen”

Peter Bradshaw — The Guardian

That something bigger and better was his first feature film, Broken Law, and it has been well reviewed thus far. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian called it “a lairy Dublin crime melodrama that launches a headbutt at you right out of the screen”. While a few punches don’t land, it has “loads of energy and belligerent moxie”.

Blending a number of different genres, Paddy hoped it would be a project appealing to investors and audiences alike. But it still took nearly ten years and three or four false starts before it finally got going.

“Y’know, you get so close to production,” Paddy said. “Then one thing or another falls apart – usually finance. So when it finally comes together, you are a little anxious and tentative. You don’t really feel that it’s happening. It’s not until you’re on set for the first day calling action that you think – yeah, the train is finally leaving the station. It was crazy – a long, long journey to get to that point.

On the set of Broken Law.
Photo: Paddy Slattery

“Our primary aim was to entertain an audience, and we also wanted something that wouldn’t be a difficult pitch to raise money. And when raising money, you want to give the impression that the investor will get some money back! For the next one, I hope we’ve enough learning behind us to do something better, to be more ambitious artistically and financially.”

In all of his answers, Paddy conveys a pleasant pragmatism and earthiness – you get the sense that he really wants to make good films, the kind that audiences will enjoy. When he talks, it’s about stories and people, about their unique qualities. He’s not an abstract aesthete, and he isn’t mindless either.

“If you sit down with anybody and they tell you their life story, you’ll suddenly realise that there’s the makings of an absolute Tolkien epic inside everybody. It mightn’t be obvious; it may not be overtly extraordinary to passers-by. But it’s about having a keen eye and a keen ear to listen, to find that story everybody has in them.”

“Lots of projects planned, but I need to emotionally divorce myself from this one first. I’ll tackle the next mountain once I come down from this one.”

Paddy has a chuckle when I ask him if he has any projects planned. It’s a bit of an obscure chuckle at first, almost as though it were a silly question.

“Ugh, too many, I’ve about 80 buns in the oven. Lots of projects planned, but I need to emotionally divorce myself from this one first. I’ll tackle the next mountain once I come down from this one.”

Metaphors galore and a contented smile – I feel that he’s holding out on me. He knows what’s to come, and there’s a bit of pleasure in knowing and not telling. Here’s hoping what’s to come is a good one: the promise appears to be there.

A focused Paddy sits in the back watching proceedings. Photo: Paddy Slattery

If his last answer is anything to go by, he’s lacking neither knowledge nor enthusiasm. My final question was meant to be an easy one, something nice and simple to finish on. “Who is your favourite filmmaker?” I ask him. He reacts as if it’s the hardest so far. There’s a moments pause, a bit of head scratching, before a grin and finally a response.

“All of them! Bergman, Haneke, Von Trier, Gasper Noe, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Tarkovsky… did I say Bergman? Scorsese, Spielberg, Sheridan, Lean, Wilder, Ford, Cassavettes, Coppola. Truffaut, Godard. I love them all. I love good films – I could sit here all night and name names. I just love films, I love them all!”

If he can distil even a shred of the work of these “names”, his next film is sure to be an exciting one.

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