From movie buff to film-maker

Jarvey turned film director Damian O’Callaghan from Mayfield talks to COLETTE SHERIDAN about his new movie, ‘Tradition’, which stars everyone from Saoirse Ronan’s dad, comedian Brendan Grace and sporting commentators Marty Morrissey and Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh.
From movie buff to film-maker
Filmmaker, Damien O'Callaghan

FROM working as a jarvey in Killarney to directing Saoirse Ronan’s father in a film, Cork man Damian O’Callaghan has had an eventful career.

Originally from Mayfield and later Mahon, Damian, who is in his early 40s, says the job of a jarvey isn’t just about driving a horse and carriage. Having brought tourists from all over the world around the sights in Killarney, he says the job is a bit like being on stage.

“You’re telling the tourists stories,” he says. “It’s the best job in the world. If it was all year ‘round, I’d still be at it. But it’s a seasonal job and because I had to get a mortgage, things changed. I had to be more responsible.

“I’m trying to work at my films full time. I went back to college as a mature student at Shannon College of Hotel Management where I got a business degree.”

Damian’s creativity came to the fore when he wrote a play, Let’s Be Frank, in honour of his late friend, Frank Hennessy, a comedian from Tralee. It was staged at Siamsa Tíre in Tralee in 2011.

“The play got so much praise that I was asked to do another one. But I decided to move from the stage to the screen. I made my first film, a short, called Bouncer’.”

Damian has worked as a bouncer in the pubs and clubs of Cork. The film did well at film festivals, including the Cork International Film Festival, in 2013.

Damian O'Callaghan directing Marty Morrissey in Tradition.
Damian O'Callaghan directing Marty Morrissey in Tradition.

He set up a film company, OC Productions. His first feature film, The Gift, deals with mental health issues and will be screened on RTÉ 2 on May 12. His second film, Tradition, which he co-wrote with Claire Corrigan, stars Paul Ronan — Saoirse’s father — and Damian hopes it will be screened at the Galway Film Fleadh in the summer followed by a general release.

“Being a jarvey taught me a lot. Because you meet a lot of people, you can pick their brains and it helps with the story-telling. Jarveys are great ambassadors for the Killarney area.”

Making the move from being a jarvey to a film director seemed like a natural progression for Damian. If he could tell stories from a coach, why not try to turn his narrative hand to the big screen?

Damian set up OC Productions. So far, he has financed his films by using his savings and relying on the support of friends and businesses in Kerry.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful with the Irish Film Board. They have to fund a lot of projects and you have to make a name for yourself before you’ll get funding from them.”

Tradition was made on a budget of €300,000.

“Local businesses helped and hotels gave rooms for free. People rented equipment to me on the basis of the percentages of the final outcome of the film.”

Paul Ronan is playing his first lead role in the film. He was in The Devil’s Own with Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford and played one of the leads in Ballykissangel.

Actor Paul Ronan in Tradition.
Actor Paul Ronan in Tradition.

“Paul is very well recognised in the film industry. Saoirse was on the phone to him every day when we were filming. The family is excited about Paul’s first lead.”

Will Damian try to get Oscar-nominated Saoirse to star in one of his films in the future?

“I wanted to get her father first as I’m a big fan of Paul. The role of a judge in Tradition suits him. He’s a very dominant actor.”

The film also stars Brendan Grace, Marty Morrissey and Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh and there is a cameo appearance from a big name actor whose name Damian won’t disclose at this stage. He says Marty Morrissey, who plays a news reporter, is “an utter professional” and adds: “When he came on set, his role flowed out of him. He’s very easy to work with and always up for the craic.”

Tradition tells the story of a judge who is on his last day on the bench, presiding over the most controversial case his court and his town have ever seen. It’s about a referee who made a controversial decision in an All Ireland club championship game. The judge is in mid-life and wondering if he made the right decision to become a judge. “There’s also a bit of a dramatic love story in the film,” adds Damian.

He describes the film as “a light-hearted comedy and family friendly entertainment. “It’s like a modern day The Quiet Man. Brendan Grace gives a fantastic performance as a Barry Fitzgerald type priest. We also have a local ladies football manager in the play. He is Tim O’Connor and he plays a guard.”

In the trailer of the film, which has already amassed tens of thousands of hits, you see a car over a cliff.

Damian explains: “That scene is pretty funny. It really happened. Two tourists were driving over the cliff edge in the heart of Lady’s View. The car ended up hanging upside down. The tourists were fine. We came on the scene and said we’d do a bit of filming of the car. I think sometimes you have to take an opportunity like that.”

Through his company, he is currently in talks about setting up an agency and production office in Killarney. He has another film project in mind, a sequel to Tradition.

As a movie buff growing up, Damian never thought he’d get to direct a film.

“But then I thought, ‘why not?’ We only have one life. We might as well enjoy it and make the most of it.”

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