Interview: Director John Gray On Directing “White Irish Drinkers”

on Thursday, Apr. 14th

The movie White Irish Drinkers, which recently kicked up sparks at the 2010 Toronto and Torino Film Festivals, is set to premier on the West Coast this month. The movie is the story of 18-year-old Brian Leary (played by Nick Thurston) growing up in 1975 Brooklyn, where there is only one future: a mind-numbing civil service job and lots of drinking.  Brian is looking for a way out, to pursue his real passion – painting.

Director John Gray talked with Turnstyle about some of the highlights from the production process.

Turnstyle: Why did the story grab you in the first place?

I grew up in that same neighborhood during that same time period, and I wanted to tell a story that dealt on some level with what it means to pursue your dreams in an environment where such dreams are not encouraged… there is a template laid out for you, and do you dare defy the template or do you buy into the same plan everyone else is buying into. In my case, I dreamt of being a filmmaker, which was a very alien thing in the neighborhood where I grew up.

Turnstyle:  What was your favorite scene to work on and why?  Could you describe it a little bit and the hidden aspects that a first-time watcher might not notice?

Probably the scene where Brian fingerpaints a portrait of a girl he’s trying to impress on the steamed up window of the bar. It was a very complicated sequence to shoot, as it involved Nick doing some of the fingerpainting, and our artist David Bell standing in for Nick for much of it; and it also involved using three separate plexiglass “windows,” each containing a version of the portrait in a different phase of completion. It was a great editing challenge as well, which our editor Neil Mandelberg handled brilliantly.

Turnstyle: What surprised you about the final outcome of the film versus how you envisioned it beforehand?

Frankly, because we made the movie for $600,000 and shot it in 17 days, just the fact that we pulled it off was kind of surprising! I would say I was mostly impressed, not so much surprised with the wonderful cast we were able to assemble and their chemistry together, and the way each of them made indelible moments for their characters, no matter how small the role.

Turnstyle: Since the movie is a period piece, what cultural or historical component was most foreign to the actors?

We had to be careful with figures of speech that the actors would sometimes slip into the dialog without realizing it… “Totally,” “Like,” “Awesome,” etc; expressions that were less prevalent during the 70’s.

Turnstyle:  What have the reactions been so far to the film?  Surprising?

The audience reactions have been incredible at screening after screening… more profound than I could have imagined, especially among people from similar backgrounds to the characters in the film.

Watch the trailer below and read an interview with lead actor Nick Thurston here.

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