Interview with Filmmaker Mairin O’Hagan (THE GOING)

THE GOING was the winner of BEST SOUND & MUSIC at the December 2021 Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

The film took its inspiration from the beautiful and very haunting Thomas Hardy poem, ‘The Going’, which is about the powerfully strange ways in which grief can make us behave. For me as a director, the focus on grief was the way into this story, and in particular the way that the objects left behind at the end of someone’s life have to be interpreted and dealt with by those left behind.

Clothes are almost like ghosts themselves, as they summon vivid memories of an embodied person—not just thoughts and ideas but something much more physical. They can be a shortcut unlock forgotten memories and can be so difficult to get rid of for that reason, but at the same time keeping hold of them can continually revive the sense of loss and make grief harder to escape. Similarly, I have found examples of a person’s handwriting incredibly challenging, because handwriting is such a uniquely personal thing, shaped by years of development, and writing is evidence of a life in motion that can be very moving to look at once that life is over. Visually, I wanted to show how Emma is burdened by the objects that are leftover form Leila’s life and how that traps her between a need to let go and a desperation to hold on.

Another motivation was how Sarah Anson’s awesome script pushes a fear that many writers have to an extreme: the superstition that you might write your own fears into being, that you could tempt fate. In the film, Emma begins to realise that what she types has power and she doesn’t know whether to run from that, or to lean deeper and darker into it…

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

About six months for pre-production and shooting, and then exactly a year from shooting to completion. We shot in the end of February 2019 so we fortunately did it just in time before the pandemic broke out, but starting the edit was delayed for some time until I could get in the room with our editor Tom Bradley.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Grief’s ghosts

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The week we chose to shoot was hit by storm weather and we had to rework our carefully planned schedule as we went along (thank you, resourceful producer Sallyanne Badger!), and weren’t able to use some of the equipment we had hired because of safety issues. The upside was that the beautiful Sussex location we were shooting came out looking delightfully spooky.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

We were really touched that so much of our intention was recognised by the audiences and considered so thoughtfully. It was such a treat to hear that kind of detailed feedback! We were interested in playing with genre—moving between real and heartfelt exploration of loss and a horror film and I was really pleased the audience seemed to pick up on that and enjoy it. I was also thrilled to win an award for sound and music as I loved working with our fab composer Ben Pearson and sound editor Jane Lo on that. It was a direction I really wanted to go down but I was conscious that it was a little unconventional… and I’m really grateful that it’s paid off!

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

I used to plot them with my barbie dolls. Back then I wanted to be an actor, but I think that was because it was the most visible role to a child, but it took a little longer to work out that I’d actually been training myself to write and direct by making up all those stories.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

The Railway Children. Over and over and over.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

The feedback from this festival has been wonderful as it’s so nice to get proper communication on the film- it would be amazing to get such support from other festivals.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

Very easy to submit. In general, it would be great to have a little more information about what each festival is looking for or further feedback on decisions would be really useful, especially given the cost of applying to festivals for smaller companies. It has been strange to be attending festivals online and not in person, but most of our screenings have ended up being in Canada so it would have been a challenge to attend in person. It’s really exciting to be making connections around the globe!

10. What is your favorite meal?

It’s always pasta.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I’m currently working on some writing projects for television, but we have exciting plans to work on our next film project as Queynte Laydies (our production company) in the new year. I can’t wait to get going!

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By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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