Filming in a pandemic: How A Dublin Christmas Carol was shot

How the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for filmingA Dublin Christmas Carol
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Shooting a 15 minute short film is no easy task, not to mention shooting a short film during a lockdown caused by the spread of a worldwide infectious disease.

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On for the first day of shooting A Dublin Christmas Carol, excitement was in the air. The crew started filming at night time at the Order of Malta’s headquarters on Clyde Road, and in the adjacent graveyard of St Bartholomew's Church. These are places producer Kevin Flanagan knows well.

"I volunteer with the Order of Malta's Knights Run, and we have staged two show of Dickens' A Christmas Carol here. So I have a very warming feeling shooting here, like it was home"

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Originally Kevin had the idea of making a film or TV period version of the classic Victorian tale of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. After much discussion he decided it would be more feasible and economic to shoot a modern take, setting it in Dublin. Kevin always had the idea of including homelessness as one of the central topics. This turned out to be the perfect route, as this modern version  allowed the classic Christmas tale to reflect inequities in contemporary Dublin society. 

“There's been strong economic growth in Ireland but it’s not spread out equally among the population. We are bringing a Victorian story to the modern age to  see how people react to those values. Are they still valid?" director of photography, Philip Kidd commented. 

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Charles Dickens had a way of writing what in effect resembled a pantomime, with huge and exaggerated characters. So by setting it in modern-day Dublin, the actors had to find out their characters in new way, appropriate for a different medium.

“Scrooge fills the stage version with all his awfulness and generosity” says Kevin who is playing the role of Scrooge. Kevin was excited to see the contrast between the theatrical version versus this almost fascist character we will see on the screen. “It’s quite scary and makes my blood run cold.” he confesses on seeing early rushes. "You know you've done an appropriate job as an actor when you don't recognise yourself on the screen! And it is certainly poles apart from the stage version." 

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Likewise associate producer, Sebastian Stephenson, who is also playing the role of Fred that he first delivered on stage. Sebastian explains that expressing the brightness of Fred, but remaining believable on the screen, is something he had to figure out himself. “He is such a bright positive person, someone who is very enthusiastic about life” Sebastian says.

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One of the advantages of filming the scenes was that they had the locations to themselves (streetscapes and hotel and office spaces). One of the clear disadvantages was not meeting people prior to the shooting days. Rehearsals and production meetings had to be done through online video calls.  in 2018, the production raised €4,500 for the Order of Malta and the Knights Run programme, which provides essentials such as sanitary wear, wipes, underwear, food, clothes and medical attention for those that live out on the street." Returning for a second year was a natural step.

Kevin says he had to learn pretty much everything: looking for composers, copyright, green screens, special effects, call sheets, shot lists, he describes it as an absolutely fantastic process. “I know that I’m going to wake up at 3 in the morning with worries, but it’s part of the deal of having a new baby, you still love it to bits.” 

But once filming was completed there was incredible satisfaction. “After shooting I felt quite content and whole within myself. Getting to do the work brings calmness and a purpose.” Sebastian explains.

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However the crew can't ease up yet! Now comes the final sprint to get to a final edit in time for release on the 15th December. "You have to have A Dublin Christmas Carol out in time for Christmas!" 

Find out how preparations for the premiere are going in our next post.

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