Interview with Niall McCann – Director of The Science of Ghosts – Part 1 – by Killian Laher
Nomoreworkhorse caught up with film director Niall McCann around the release of The Science of Ghosts, his latest film which is about Adrian Crowley.
What prompted you to make a film about Adrian Crowley?
I was surprised when I found out he was on Chemikal Underground and I met him once or twice. It struck me that he was different from everyone else on the label and he was living in Dundalk. At the time I thought he might appear in Lost In France but it didn’t happen. Sometimes you can find yourself promising to make a film together without thinking it through, and when I met him 3 or 4 years ago we said we would. So we did an interview and we didn’t know where it would go, and an alarm went off during the interview… I’m interested in the idea of: if you’re in a film that’s about you, you’re playing yourself, you’re playing a role. You’re playing ‘the idea of you’, or how you think you should be portrayed. It’s not necessarily natural. We wanted to push the idea and I think this device sort of let me to do that. I don’t think Adrian wanted to do a straight biopic in a linear way. The funding we received was to make an experimental film, one of the stipulations is that it can’t be a straight biopic. I’m interested in filmmaking and what it means to make a film about someone… and how a film about someone could never show the true person. But there’s an assumption that it does! I think you are acting, you know, and I don’t think there’s any point in pretending otherwise. Everybody is very clued in nowadays, people are not so immersed in a film anymore. I don’t think it’s a standard music film, I hope people won’t think they are going to see a music film about Adrian Crowley. It’s a film with Adrian Crowley in it. But I’m a huge fan of his music, I think it’s beautiful.
Have you been a fan of his for long?
I went to see him support James Yorkston about 10 years ago. I was even more of a fan after I made Lost In France. When we got the funding one of the conditions is you have to make the film in quite a short period of time, I think we started it in May (2017), started editing in July and we’ve only just finished editing! I’ve never made a film in this short a period. Usually a film of mine could take four years but this happened very quickly.
So this comes out just about 12 months after Lost In France.
Maybe too quick, but I have enjoyed it. I don’t want to dismiss Lost In France but I think this film is more me going back to where I’m actually at. I’m very proud of Lost In France but this time we had freedom, we could do what we wanted. My approach to this film is that we didn’t have any preconceived ideas. Adrian told me he was going to New York at the end of May for a gig, so I said we’d go with him, follow him around. We went to an area of New York, Coney Island, with the Unisphere. Greg Dunn who does the sound in the film used to live there, and he also ended up in the film.
So there was no script. If I wanted to go film somewhere with Adrian we just took a walk. I knew where I wanted to go with it, and I wanted his music as well, which was emotional first and intellectual second. The burning scene… I’ve always been interested in Ludwig Wittgenstein, I think he’s a fascinating character. Someone who loved art and was as much an artist as he was a philosopher. I think he was quite a troubled man. I’m not a philosophy expert or anything like that but I think in some ways he was a pre-cursor to post-modernism. The title of my film comes from something Jacques Derrida said, he said “cinematography plus psychoanalysis = the science of ghosts”. He was talking about the idea of when you get somebody to play themselves in a film you are making ghosts of them. When you think of this film with Adrian, some day Adrian won’t be around anymore, but this film will be. Derrida had this idea that modern technology, video etc they introduce ghosts into the equation. You have an image, a recording of the person, and it’s not necessarily from the past, nor from the future but they are still there, even though they might be dead. It can lead you to question the authenticity of ‘now’ and what that actually means, the future and the past so there’s that idea in the film where maybe everything takes place at once. I feel that way sometimes, with getting older. I’m 35 now and I remember when I was 25 and it doesn’t seem that long ago. And I think time is going to get a lot faster as we go along.
I was just playing around with ideas but keeping a bit of humour in there as well, I always want my films to be humorous, I think that’s very important. You don’t want it to be po-faced. Our tongues are very much in our cheeks.
With Adrian, he’s been very generous with his time, with his archive of video footage and his music. I’ve been lucky to work with Matthew Boyd who’s a complete legend. I nearly went mad at times but he managed to hold it together. I couldn’t have made it without him. Both of us were working crazy hours, neither of us had done many films before. It was an interesting experience, quite stressful. When you’re looking at footage all the time, and you’re the director, it’s hard to get the distance to judge it properly. I have to say, when I watch the film it’s nice and short, and it’s a bit of fun. I’m very proud of some of the ideas in it. We could do what we wanted, without anyone looking over our shoulders. You never get that.
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