Director remains upbeat about MacDiarmada biopic
Film-maker Kevin McCann recalls the recent potential flashpoint Robert Frost-esque 'two roads diverge...' moment when attempting to re-enter the US, staring across cold formica at a stone-faced border guard, and the 40 seconds that led him to a singular point of realisation.
'He said he'd give me 40 seconds to explain myself. I spent the first 30 apologising, and the rest telling him while primarily I'm a writer, I have effectively become a salesman for this movie, and admittedly not always a great one. But I said I'm determined. I believed in what I do, I believe in the project and the story of my country, and I believe it has an important message that resonates today.'
The glare softens, his passport is stamped, and the journey continues, both for Kevin and his 1916 biopic about Easter Rising orchestrator Sean MacDiarmada, to which the Belturbet man remains devoted.
Moments like that, when the universe seemingly conspires in his favour, are what sustains Kevin, preventing him from simply being overawed by the mammoth task of raising the estimated €4.5 million needed to bring the Rising film to fruition.
'The challenge for film making is greater now given the success of TV. It has essentially taken over as the main medium for drama. I had hoped to get the project done and out in time for the anniversary last year, obviously that didn't happen, but strong interest in the Rising remains. I keep in regular touch with the actors attached, they understand these things take longer than expected, maybe more so than the public, but it is still going ahead,' Kevin tells The Anglo-Celt.
In Kevin's movie, co-written with New York-based Colin Broderick, Kiltycloger-born MacDiarmada will be played by Colin Morgan, while other roles have been earmarked for Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Pearse), Fiona Shaw (Markievicz), David O’Hara (Connolly) and Brendan Coyle (Birrell). Michael Neeson meanwhile follows in his father’s footsteps in the role of Michael Collins, with Liam Neeson previously voicing his support for the project too.
In line with current trends, Kevin McCann admits the idea of transferring the Rising from silver screen to home-based or online entertainment 'has always been an option', but believes it is much better suited to the treatment of full cinematic splendour.
'The Irish Film Board (IFB) and Northern Ireland Screen (NIS) believe that too. Like I've said, Sean Penn is aware of it, he has the script, but understandably he's waiting on a big offer, a million dollar offer,' says Kevin.
'The point is, if you get the actor you get your money. I'm looking for somebody of that ilk, Penn, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Oldman to play the role of Tom Clarke. They are names that make people take notice. I think I can do it this year, I can get one of those guys, and then the film can be made.'
Alternatively, Kevin continues to speak of a 'legacy investor' capable of footing a sizeable chunk of the film's overall budget, perhaps in return for a particular dedication. By comparison, Martin Scorsese’s last film 'Silence' took 20-years to get funded, reminds Kevin.
'Right now we've half our budget in place, between IFB, NIS, and I'm working with Grant Thornton on tax incentives. So we need the other half. I thought I could get that legacy investor, I'm still holding out on that possibility, who sees the value of a vital film about Irish history being made, and while you're at it dedicate it to the McCarthys, Bradys, Dolans or whoever.'
Kevin was recently buoyed by an honour received for his short film 'Prison Door', adapted from the last work by the late Dermot Healy, at the recent Human Rights Film Festival in Belfast.
Filmed in the H-Block wing of Long Kesh prison in 2014, and glimpsing into the world of a young prisoner struggling with reality and illusion, Kevin tells the Celt he is particularly delighted on behalf of everyone involved in its making.
The 10-minute short-film has to date been selected for about 30 film festivals and shown in as many as 20 different countries.
'It's great for the cast and crew, and especially for Dermot [Healy] who wrote the film, for him and his work to be acknowledged is important.'
But the award winning film-maker has now returned to New York and is busily connecting with those putting the 'final pieces of the jigsaw' together.
Among those Kevin has coaxed on board is renowned script editor James Ragan. The Czech-native who served 25-years as University of South California's 'Master of Professional Writing' has previously worked on scripts for Academy Award winning films 'The Deer Hunter' and 'Godfather'.
The two met through a mutual friendship with Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, after Kevin worked on the documentary 'The Boys of St Columb's', the late poet's alma mater.
'He [Ragan] knew about the movie, 'The Boys of St Columb's', so that's how we ended up collaborating,' Mr McCann said. 'He read the script, loves the script, and he is now advising us on moving it forward. The last thing he worked on was 'Black Mass', so while things have been moving slower than I initially anticipated, the project is bigger, much bigger. The interest is there, the positivity is there, it just takes a little bit of time.'
Taking rejection, the delays, and all the highs and lows as 'part of the trade', Kevin's strident sense of purpose is cladded in the 'trust and support' he continues to receive from supporters and investors in the Rising project.
'I am very grateful to our thousands of supporters around the world who trust that ‘The Rising’ movie will be made and accept that it will take a little longer. All the actors and backers such as NIS, and the IFB are well used to this usual scenario in putting a movie together.
It’s part of the trade. We keep everyone informed of progress through social media, press interviews and direct communication and I receive lots of encouragement from around the world, which is helpful.'
He adds: 'Only last weekend I met with the relatives of three of the 1916 signatories and I have their full support and understanding as well. I look forward to the day when will be walking down the red carpet. I just hope they don't get the envelopes mixed up when we do.'