As we meet Brian and Lucen, two small-town kids trying to build a time machine when they’re not butting heads with their teachers during class, the memory of Stand By Me and The Goonies somehow springs to mind, and we get an inescapable feeling we’ve just started watching a Steven Spielberg film. Lucen is a boy genius, a socially awkward young inventor eager to construct a machine that would enable him to travel to the past, while his best friend Brian is a much more “ordinary” kid, who helps him out to the best of his ability, enjoying the exciting summer adventures with his quirky companion. We realize there’s much more weight on a seemingly cheerful story as we find out the reason why Lucen is so obsessed with building the machine: he wants to meet his deceased mother, the poor woman who died shortly after his birth and whose only remnant in Lucen’s life is an old photograph he keeps in his room. Lucen’s estranged father is apparently unsympathetic to his son’s needs; as an awkward dining scene shows, there’s an invisible but impenetrable barrier between them, a complete lack of communication and understanding, obviously leading the lonely boy to the conclusion his only bearable future lies in his past. As the boys finally finish constructing the time machine, the time has come for Lucen to say his goodbyes and embark on his glorious journey.
Aidan Largey’s Time and Again is quite an emotional rollercoaster. Even though the often humorous narration provided by the voice of somewhat older Brian lends the story a welcome and pleasing air of cheerfulness, this film is, in fact, nothing short of heartbreaking. The main arc of the story—the process of building and finally using the time machine—is decorated with several really funny, light episodes from the lives of the two protagonists. The scenes such as the boys’ detention, where the characters’ relationship and personalities are skillfully sketched, very cute and completely realistically clumsy encounter with a girl Brian finds attractive, even the cat incinerating opening sequence, they all serve to shed some light on the characters we immediately feel invested in, and they function as a counterpoint to the sorrowful heart of the film: the issue of loneliness, detachment and pain felt by a child who never met his mother and doesn’t speak the same language as his father. Largey’s decision to include these episodes in a 12-minute time travel short film only serves as proof of his familiarity with the theme of childhood: the rollercoaster of emotions—laughter, tears, anger, pain, joy, love—mirrors the experience of growing up, which is something the filmmaker obviously remembers very well.
Wonderfully acted by young Aaron Lynch and David Rawle, as well as the Game of Thrones veteran Ian Beattie, the film was shot by cinematographer Aidan Gault, and its visual identity is spot on. By elegantly utilizing light as a means of illuminating not only space but the state of mind of the characters, Mr. Gault managed to create the appropriate mood, warmth and sense of nostalgia. Just look at the two similarly staged dining scenes and notice the difference Gault and Largey were going for. Furthermore, if you want to see to what degree the filmmaker cared about the story, check out the same stills and pay attention to the decorations above the fireplace. The story opens with the image of a clock, and Lucen looks at his watch on several occasions, indicating the character’s obsession with the past and strong desire to leave, and during the uncomfortable dinner scene what is resting on the fireplace is a large wooden clock. After Lucen’s time travel episode, the clock is replaced with a family portrait. It might seem as trivial or accidental to some but for us, this shows great attention to detail stemming from the author’s real dedication to the story.
Written and directed by Mr. Largey, Time and Again is a wonderful, nostalgic and very thoughtfully written piece of filmmaking we’ll keep in our minds and hearts for a very long time. Since we ourselves have been brought up on the same movies the filmmaker obviously also cherishes and finds inspiration in, it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask how important it is to feel nostalgia to be fully able to appreciate how delightful the film is. The answer is simple. Not only is it not essential to share the same love for Back to the Future, Stand by Me or The Goonies to enjoy Time and Again, but it’s completely irrelevant and serves only as an additional plus to an already great project. Because the truth is, Time and Again tackles the same themes that have never ceased to pique the people’s interests, which is an idea, we believe, reflected in its very title. It’s a universal, timeless story brought to life with undeniable skill and passion. “I wanted to try for the same sense of wonder, awe, humor and heart that Spielberg has always personified,” said the director when he introduced his work to us. Congratulations, Mr. Largey, it seems you’ve hit the mark.
Mr. Largey, where did the inspiration for Time and Again come to you?
I was writing one day and I just saw two kids talking to each other, one was hesitantly talking about the girl he likes who doesn’t notice him and the other boy… He was building a time machine. That blend of painful universal emotion we can all relate to and that sense of wonder and adventure in that scene was really the start of Time and Again for me, I just felt this was a world that could be fun and funny and still be a grounded look at real people with real emotions.
I referred to the film as an emotional roller-coaster, because it tackles a very sad subject with a lot of humor, warmth and compassion. What made you choose to deal with the subject of such pain and loneliness with such cheerfulness?
Well firstly, I think that empathy’s key if you want to write or direct, you have to feel for ALL your characters and care for them if you want to make films. Look at Paul Thomas Anderson and how he invests all the awkward misfits of Boogie Nights and Magnolia with their own pain and humor and grace. And I think as an Irish filmmaker, that clash of emotions is something I’ve always felt very keenly. That idea that you can hide all your pain behind a joke or a smile, in that sense I’ve never felt Lucen was that far from me really. And in pure filmmaking terms, tone’s incredibly important. There’s nothing worse than a film that can’t switch tone, and that was something I worked very hard on in the script and on set, to ensure that the laughs were there but never completely hid that sadness that hopefully flitted about the edges of the film. For such a “bright” film I think there’s a lot of emotion there that really helps to ground the high concept nature of the film. The thing I’m obsessed with as someone who makes and watches films is “Heart,” does the film have heart? Do the characters have Heart? It’s a really nebulous thing but for me, that means what do they care about and can we feel that too as we watch them? For example, I can imagine few moments more moving than the “She’s My Rushmore Max” bit in Rushmore or Affleck’s confession of love to Alyssa in Chasing Amy. “You are the epitome of everything I’ve ever looked for in another human being.” You feel every bit of Kevin’s Smith’s heartbreak and longing in that scene. And to go back to tone, in a lot of filmmaker’s I love they’ve such deft mastery of tone, from Martin McDonagh, to the Coens, to Tarantino, Wilder, Joanou and Scorsese. Even Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it’s a very funny film at times. To paraphrase Whitmore’s quote, I think films can be vast, they can contain multitudes of emotion.
You mentioned you wanted to make something that would seem as if from the workshops of Steven Spielberg. Why did you want to echo his work in your film?
Weirdly enough that was an intention of mine going into the film, to hopefully give it an 80’s AMBLIN feel, my early pitch for Time and Again was always it’s about two boys who spend their summers building a time machine and it should have the magic and wonder and most importantly the EMOTION of those movies. And Spielberg’s great gift (in my opinion) ISN’T his mastery of the craft, the way he can move the camera like other people breathe, it’s the way he can show us what his characters feel, not only does he care about it but he makes us feel it too. That was the lesson for me. We didn’t have a huge budget but the producers, the cast and I just tried to dig into the characters as much as we could in the making of it, with a really key beat of Lucen with the goodbye letter to his father only being something I thought of the night before filming and the producers Margaret and Leo worked like hell to fit that in because they knew how important it was to show Lucen struggling to say goodbye to everything he knew, even as he’d spent his life running away from it.
How important was it to you to include your personal homages to the films and TV shows, I presume, you loved as a child?
I’m so, so influenced by all the films and TV shows I love as a filmmaker and I find they inspire me and give me a really great way to get the feel of different projects I’m working on out of my head to cast and crew. Time and Again was always Back to the Future meets Stand by Me in my head for example.
But I found when I went back to look at films like Spielberg’s E.T. I actually had to turn it off, that how the film looked was very different from what I remembered in my head. So decided to go off my memories of those films instead and as much as I love them, instead of deliberately quoting them I’d try to go by my childhood impressions of what I’d loved about them, the anamorphic framing, the lens flares, the dolly shots on faces, the way they mixed awe and moments of danger or heartbreak. Jeff Nichols’ (I adore him) Mud was a real touchstone for this also but I didn’t want it to feel like a Xerox of other, better films, much like its leads the film had to learn to stand on its own two feet. That being said we did sneak a wee E.T. homage into the Trolley scene and my editor Helen says she always knows my scripts from the number of nods to movies peppered inside them. (For the record I actually LOVE Cameron’s The Terminator…) Also, that time travel movie argument at the end of the film was actually improvised by Ian and David, I can’t claim credit for how funny that moment is at all.
Looking at the film now, what do you think of it? Would you change anything?
Always. There’s always so much I didn’t get right myself. I think the cast is superb, the crew were incredible (Our DOP Aidan Gault is, for my money, the best young DOP in Ireland.) and Leo and Margaret as producers really worked to support me and, as filmmakers themselves, their input made the film immeasurably better. Helen Sheridan is my editor and she cuts out all my bad moments and makes the good ones better. Amazing eye for story and performance she has. And James Everett’s score was perfection, I think it’s a huge part in why the film works, we both geeked out over John Williams’ work as he composed it. Niall George the prop maker built a time machine that was believable and so much of the credibility of the finale rests on his work and the actors. That said I’d have loved to shoot some of the film in 120FPS slow motion to help accentuate certain beats and sell the emotion more, Brian’s first look at Katy De Luca was going to be like Vicky’s first appearance in slow motion in Scorsese’s Raging Bull for example and also Lucen’s trolley ride where he has this lovely moment of just being a kid. But our camera couldn’t shoot slo mo at HD and as much as I’d love that I know at the end of the day camera tricks can’t give the story emotion that isn’t there, that’s down to the script and the actors and I was very, very lucky to have the fantastic David Rawle (Lucen), Aaron Lynch (Brian) and Ian Beattie (Game of Thrones) to save me on this.
Who are your filmmaking role models and what makes them so special?
I will miss someone and this will annoy me later… But Scorsese is unparalleled in his ability to give us documentary realistic performances inside perfectly crafted films and he taught me above all FILM IS PERSONAL and has to express YOU. Tarantino for his love of film and how you feel it in every frame (and that dialogue, my god his dialogue), Martin McDonagh for his humor and heart, early Kevin Smith for the same, Michael Mann for craft, cinematography, character development, daring, everything a director should have. Fincher for his precision and unflinching gaze into darkness, Eastwood for his economical yet perfectly focused character direction and Ben Affleck, who’s my favorite new director of the last 20 years, he’s heir to Eastwood for me and Gone Baby Gone is a flat out masterpiece (although the Boston bank robbery greatness of The Town is my favorite film of his.) Paul Thomas Anderson for teaching me that it’s ALL about the script and if you have the right actors directors don’t have to do anything on set but be a fan, Lumet for his films and his book, a young directors’ must read, Coppola for his courage in filmmaking, Steven Soderberg for refusing to ever be put in a box and pushing the form as far as he can, Kathryn Bigelow for giving masterclasses in action, James Cameron for Terminator 2 and prove big budget cinema can still be perfect cinema, Sean Penn for bringing his acting chops to directing, David Mamet for his scripts and his dialogue, Nolan for having more heart than most people seem to give him credit for (Memento, Rises, Inception and Interstellar all made me cry.) James Mangold for caring about all the right things in his work and blessing us with Logan and Copland, Refn for Drive alone, Stallone for giving us Rocky and THE “Just keep going” monologue that everyone in the arts needs when they have that inevitable bad day, Joe Carnahan for being able to blend heart stopping action with character drama and Phil Joanou for making my favorite film of all time with State of Grace (1990) (I’d love a Cinephilia and Beyond piece on it someday…)
Where do you hope to find yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully having written and directed my first feature and maybe made a TV show or two. But hopefully just still working and still telling stories and still loving what I do.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing the pilot of a TV show I created with Shaun Blaney (who played Older Brian’s VO in Time and Again) called FARR. The original web-series won a few festivals in America (thank you SERIESFEST and ITVFEST) which got me my agent and Shaun a big award for his lead performance in it. FARR is a gritty Northern Irish crime drama about compromised cops that I’d love to get made along with a few features. Also I’ve written an MMA Drama pilot that’s finalized in a few script festivals so I’d be interested in making that if I got the chance. Also, a rewrite on a horror film that I think could be cool. Literally just wrapped my next short last night and got working with some great actors (Nigel O’Neil and Ian Beattie again) and that was my first shoot with an Alexa camera. (I got my slow motion shot finally…) Going to dig out sometime later this year to write a spec feature I’m really excited about but super dark.
If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what kind of a feature film would you be most interested in making?
Weirdly enough, huge epic films don’t really interest me as much (but I don’t know if I could say no to a Batman, Star Wars or Spiderman though) because I’d take creative control over bigger budgets and more notes any day. But there’s a wee New York crime romance I wrote called I Left My Heart in Hell’s Kitchen that’s my dream project, but probably not a huge budget. A decent budget’s great but I’m always more interested in a few characters rather than a sea of thousands of extras, if that makes sense.
How difficult was it to make Time and Again?
Again I was really lucky to have great producers in Margaret and Leo and the company that made it, CAUSEWAY PICTURES, is a great place run by a lovely guy called Chris Patterson who EP’d it and happens to be a huge fan of Spielberg so they helped me go to our local film commission NI SCREEN who really supported me. They gave me their 7.5K short film grant and then Leo, Margaret and I chipped in our own money to make up the rest of our budget. I was very lucky to get NIS funding but I DO believe filmmakers should be willing to fund their own films when they can instead of chasing funding forever, I started off in self-funded shorts and if I was someone who only made a film when they got funded I’d go nuts, some of the best things I’ve ever made with favors, friends and a very understanding cast and crew. There’s a local filmmaker called Brian Mulholland who made a great feature called The Monday Club and also runs a fantastic indie festival every three months called FILM DEVOUR and that was my film school really, making stuff and cringing my way through them with an audience. That’s where I met a lot of my crew and cast for projects. In terms of the cast I’d be fortunate to reteam with Ian Beattie from FARR, we found Aaron Lynch through auditions and Jenny Walsh who plays Katy is actually back in my latest short (and finally in slow motion), Margaret had seen David Rawles great work in Moone Boye and he sent in a self-tape, but for the part of Brian. But it’s that thing, I’ve always believed a great actor can play anything and it was clear from the first watch of his tape that David was a great actor. One face-to-face meet and I knew we’d found our Lucen, David had all the skill and wit and charm to play this strange, quirky, often sad young man. He brought depths to the role that only existed in his playing of it and if the film works at all, it’s down to his ability and his and Aaron’s on screen chemistry to sell their friendship.
What’s the meaning of the title of the film?
It started off as a riff on potential time travel movie titles that gave birth to a line in the film between the father and son that, my god, to be honest, I’d have made the whole film for that one moment really. “When I look at you, I see her, Time and Again.” For me, that really encapsulated the love the father had for his son and why he was never really able to express it before then. The Time Machine is the Maguffin of the film really, it’s not about time travel at all, Lucen has to realize none of us can go back to the ones we love that aren’t here anymore, but we can still connect to the people we have left. As somebody who probably spends far too time with his head in the past it’s a lesson I need to learn over and over and that’s why Time and Again for all its gloss and jokes is a really personal movie for me. And the photo of Lucen’s Mum and Dad used in the film is actually my own Mum and Dad, and it’s my little tribute to them and how they’ve never given me anything but love and support, time and again.
Thank you, Mr. Largey.
Written by Sven Mikulec. BTS stills by Jim McMorrow.
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