Does Martin shoot many takes?
I would say he doesn’t. He always has options, yeah, but he is very precise in a lot of his material, especially with the actors. For a film like this, there’s a huge material base which is creating the island and the animals as characters. Obviously not dialogue scenes or anything, but there’s a lot of B-roll stuff where they would go out and shoot in different variations of the island. For the animals, they’re almost the sane ones on the island looking at us and asking, “What on earth is going on?” They’re so trustworthy and always following you, the humans.
How did you find the B-roll helpful? When did you feel the island needed to be the focus of the story?
Well, that’s fun about it because that’s little by little. It’s almost like playing with LEGO. You try the different sizes. How much does it color if it’s here? Working with it, it is quite easy with a film like this because it became very clear, very fast. It’s also often in the script that you need these montages between the scenes where we can have these musical montages of island and animals where I as an audience also can put some of my own stuff into what might just have happened.
When you see the bird jumping after the other bird, suddenly it becomes almost a commentary on what you’ve just experienced. There’s the goat looking at you, and you become very aware that it is actually looking at you as a person in the cinema, and it’s very intimidating. Little by little, you add so many things — even the way Jenny’s treated. He has so much love for animals and you really sense that. We put a lot of time and a lot of effort in trying to make it as effortless and real as possible with the animals.
Jenny is a prominent character in the movie, as well. How did you interpret her place in the story?
There’s probably a lot of Google [searches for] “How can I get a miniature donkey?” these days. Pretty cute, right? I found it interesting Martin gives Jenny a voice with the bell. That goes for the whole sound design, that if you peel back and if you hold back all the ambience and make it very sparse, a very quiet movie, then these plot sounds, little by little, you can place them. They become extremely present. You can have a small bell, even before Jenny enters the scene and you instantly know that it’s something related between Pádraic and Jenny.
The movie isn’t exactly violent, but of course, the loss of fingers have a visceral impact. How much did you want to or not want to linger on the self-inflicted pain?
We didn’t have so many [options there]. I don’t think Martin at all was interested in that. I think it shouldn’t be too on the nose. It’s not something we want to dwell on, but it’s more of a character study of a person who behaves this way and who does that and why does he do it? Martin said when he was writing the script, it’s something suddenly the character said while he was writing it. It wasn’t an idea [he always had]. There are a lot of ways you can interpret that I’m not going to go into, but you could see it in many different ways why he does it and how he does it.
It’s more about what he does compared to what we show, because we don’t show a lot. I mean, maybe that might even be worse for some people, which is interesting. I remember this show, this Danish show, where everyone was talking about the scene that was never in the movie [of chopping off fingers]. Never had that scene, but it was like the visual of the whole story. The first time you heard it, it almost became a scene that everyone was 100% sure you showed. I’m almost sure someone will have experienced in this film that you’ve seen Colm cut one of his fingers up, but you’ve never seen any of it.
I like how you describe the process of little by little. In your gut, when do you know the bigger picture is accomplished?
Well, it’s over a period of time, of course, but this process was really nice. Sometimes you still work with structure up to almost the end of it, trying to find the balance of the film. Here, it was very clear what we had and where Martin wanted to take the film and what scenes we didn’t want to be present in the film and how to find that rhythm of the length of film. You can also be much more precise in some of the smaller elements which you normally wouldn’t put so much time into. I would say we’ve turned every stone. I think Martin would feel the same — that he tried most of the things and it’s an active decision to do it this way more than out of a need of, “Why didn’t we have that?” Suddenly, you just know that it clicks.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Film Editing.