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The tagline The Kids Are All Right would fit this Irish gem nicely, but it's already taken this week. Director Lance Daly tells us how a bag of jelly beans almost ruined his story of two tweens on the run in Dublin.

Shane Curry, Kelly O'Neill


Anyone who’s ever visited Dublin as a tourist is no stranger to the Gaelic magic and charm that linger around every corner. In Irish director Lance Daly’s (The Halo Effect) latest feature Kisses, his two preteen protagonists, Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill)—escaping horrific homelives in the suburbs—enter the city with all the wonder and optimism that freedom (and a few Euros in your pocket) can bring. However, as they make their precarious way through the hopeless search for Dylan’s older brother—who followed a similar path two years earlier—their situation becomes grimmer and grimmer, and you come to your senses and realize that, no matter how charming, any city is a dangerous place for 11-year-olds on their own.


The two young actors—both making their feature debuts—are a revelation. It seems strange to talk about chemistry between tweens, but their bond is palpable. O'Neill’s showier role highlights her charismatic ‘it’ factor—and she was rewarded with an Irish Film and Television Awards nomination for Best Actress in a Lead Role in a Film (Daly won Best Director)—but Curry’s mostly silent role emerges as perhaps the tougher part; his lack of lines makes his tacit performance even more impressive.


And Daly is an interesting filmmaker who seems to be channeling his own Irish youth, though he is loathe to tell just how autobiographical the story is. We recently sat down with him at Oscilloscope Laboratories—they are releasing the film this Friday, beginning with a run at the Angelika—where Daly opened up about the notorious challenges of working with kids, his unique way of bringing color to his story, and how a bag of jelly beans almost doomed Kisses right out of the gate.


Kisses: Director Lance Daly
Lance Daly

Tribeca: What made you want to tell this story?

Lance Daly: I’m kind of always writing films set in Dublin while I’m living there. We’d made two independent films in Dublin before that, and we’d kind of made mistakes on both of them, so I thought it would be nice to correct those mistakes. (The first one was black & white, and it was all in the day, and the second one was in color and it was all at night, so I’d learned a lot of lessons, and [Kisses] is kind of a combination.)
We thought, What’s the smallest story we could tell? A tiny story that we could make big and cinematic… so this story about two small kids over 24 hours—it was just so small and finite.
Tribeca: Is there any basis in your own reality? Did you grow up in the outskirts of Dublin?
LD: No, I didn’t grow up in the suburbs [he grew up in Dublin’s City Center], but the answer is yes, there are a million things that are relevant. But I couldn’t possibly go into details [laughs]. So yeah, there’s all sorts of personal things in there—but it all gets mixed up, and it becomes something else by the time it gets out there.
Tribeca: You’re a writer, not an autobiographer.
LD: But I think all writers are autobiographical! [smiles] It’s just about disguising the truth the whole time—dressing it up somehow.
Tribeca: I like the way you play with the color saturation—when the kids are in the suburbs, the palette is almost black and white, and once they get into the city, the color fills in. Did you always plan to do it that way?
LD: I wrote it in the script, actually, the hint of color starting to come in. This came from the lessons I’d learned on the first two movies, and also I did some effects shots in The Halo Effect [where I learned a lot about] digital intermediate. It takes a lot of time [in post] to find the right balance, but it seemed like something that hadn’t quite been done before. I mean, Wizard of Oz did it—films have mixed color and black and white—but never this gradual change. And I thought if the gradual change reflected something going on in the characters’ lives, then you could get something the audience could feel more than see. That was the theory anyway.
Tribeca: Bob Dylan and his music are really interwoven in the story. What significance does Dylan’s music have for you?
LD: The main significance was that when I was writing the film, I was driving around the areas where the film would be set. As I was thinking about the script, the album Bringing it All Back Home was literally stuck in my tape player, so it was on heavy rotation.
Tribeca: It couldn’t come out!
LD: Yeah, so Dylan just sort of fused his way in there. I had done another film with Stephen Rea, and I met him at a Bob Dylan gig in Dublin, and I noticed their similarity, so…
[There’s a surprise cameo in the film, so let’s leave this part of the conversation at that.]
It was all sort of a slow trickle down. But the song we use in the film—I don’t know, it is Tombstone Blues? I should know. No, it’s From a Buick 6—it’s just perfect for the kids strutting around, you know, with a lot of attitude. They’re just totally free from their whole life. There was just something about the spirit of that music that I thought reflected the story quite nicely.
Kelly O'Neill, Shane Curry

Tribeca: Can you talk about casting the kids? Were they what you pictured when you were writing?
LD: It’s hard to tell where my picture of my characters left and they took over—where in the process I started seeing their faces. We just scoured the city—we saw thousands of kids, and we narrowed it down to a short list of 15 girls and 15 boys. We brought them in for a long Saturday from hell—we saw them one after another.
When Kelly came in… we were all fascinated. She had us all leaning forward in our chairs, so she really stood out first. And Shane was the only boy who could stand up to her, because she’s like a force of nature.
Tribeca: Did you test them together?
LD: Yeah. It was tough, because we had it down to two boys and two girls—so there’s a heartbroken boy and girl out there, it’s terrible—and we tested them in different combinations. And like I said, Shane was the only boy who was tough enough for Kelly.
Tribeca: She was really magnetic.
LD: She’s got a little more showy a part than him, but I think they are equally good. Actually, I think he’s missing a scene in there—he could have done with one more scene… [smiles] I’ve thought of a whole other way I would have done the film now. It would have balanced the books a little more—because she’s got all the dialogue.
He’s quiet and introverted, but you could search for years for someone to play his part and not find someone as good as Shane. He’s so deep for 11 years old—there’s so much going on behind his eyes.
Tribeca: Eleven! And she’s 10? That’s amazing.
LD: She was 10 when we started, and 11 when we finished. It’s phenomenal.
Tribeca: What was the biggest challenge in making Kisses?
LD: Patience. The biggest challenge by far was enduring working with two 11-year-olds who were really fully-developed personalities in their own right. If one of them said we were finished for the day, we were finished for the day… So it was about enduring that, and being patient, and going, Okay, stick with it. It was always about the two of them—and at the end of the day, the film is about the two of them, so it paid off, but… when they were on, we had to be shooting, and when they were off, we had to go home.


And it was tough—we made it in winter in Dublin in the middle of the night, and it was raining and it was cold.
Tribeca: Were their parents on set with them?
LD: Their parents took turns being chaperones on set. But these two were wild—you’d stop to change the mag on the camera, and you’d look back and one of them had climbed a tree. They were always running amok. So that’s what it was—patience.
Kelly O'Neill

Tribeca: What was the one “lightning strikes” moment in making the film?
LD: There is one moment that made or broke the film: we had this big bust-up with Kelly on the second day of shooting. She wasn’t allowed sugar, and I saw her with this bag of jelly beans, and I took it off her. I should have known—I should have had someone else take it from her, and she’d be pissed off at them, but she’d never think it had anything to do with me. So when I confronted her, she said, “I don’t want to do this movie anyway.” She went back to her room, and refused to work the rest of the day. So we said—it was the second day—we’re going to have to replace her, [working with her] is going to be impossible. It was sad, but it wasn’t working.
Then we got the rushes back from the first day, and we watched them, and there’s a scene in a shopping mall where they have the pick-and-mix sweets, and there’s a pair of lips made of jelly, and she turns around and [uses them to] blow Shane a kiss. It was an improvised moment, but it was pure movie magic. And I just thought, We’re never going to find another 10-year-old girl who is so naturally iconic. So, okay, we’re going to have to tough it out.
Tribeca: How did you win her back over?
LD: A mixture of misdirection, and bribery, and manipulation [laughs]—a whole smorgasbord of techniques, depending on the day. I’m prepared for any other 11-year-olds that come along.
Tribeca: Your next film is The Good Doctor, with Orlando Bloom. Is that a bigger budget movie?
LD: Well, it’s an independent movie, but it had probably 3 or 4 times the budget of Kisses. We shot it in LA, and finished in March, and post-production will be finished by September.
Tribeca: How was the leap to LA?
LD: I just went there for the three months of filming. The crews were brilliant there—like a well-oiled machine, so it was nice. It’s interesting—it’s the first film I directed that I didn’t write, so there’s a bigger level of collaboration, a different process.
Tribeca: When can we see it? Are you taking it to Festivals?
LD: I don’t know. [smiles] I’m just the director. But I imagine so—it’s not overly commercial, and I think it’s artfully rendered by all involved. And it’s a real revelation—as an actor, I think Orlando does something that’s really standout. It’s totally different to what anyone thinks of him, so I think that’s the sort of things that will be interesting in festivals.
Tribeca: What’s your advice to aspiring filmmakers?
LD: My advice to anyone who’s thinking about films is not what they want to hear, because they should really think about it [laughs]—it’s a life of pain and torture! But after that, it’s such a long list, isn’t it? Try to do something only you can do, because otherwise, what’s the point? Nobody is going to respond to it. Keep it short… I don’t know, it depends on what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to break out and be spotted, then probably you need to do a genre movie with some extreme element to it—that’s the way to crack it and maybe sell it and get spotted a bit more. And then if you want to be a sort of—
You know, my answer is that I’m not qualified! I’d actually love it if you’d just erase all my answers except, “I’m not qualified to give advice, because I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing.”


Kisses opens at the Angelika in New York and the Laemmle Sunset in LA on Friday, July 16, when it will also become available on cable VOD platforms. The film will continue to open across the country in coming weeks.


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