MOSCOW NEVER SLEEPS – Interview with Writer Director Johnny O’Reilly

"One City. One Day. Five lives which will change forever." 

Click through for our Interview with Moscow Never Sleeps Writer/Director Johnny O'Reilly.

 

 

 

Interview with Writer/Director Johnny O'Reilly –

1.  You've been connected to Russia for the last few decades, can you talk about the impact of your time there from the early 90's and it's influence on your career.
 
Russia is a country that has had a totally separate, but parallel evolution to the West. It never experienced a true renaissance or reformation and it’s had 400 years of autocratic rule. It was only when I first lived there that I realised how deeply different it was to our own Western culture. But it also gave me a fresh perspective on our own culture. I realised that so much of what I assumed were universal human values turned out to be merely Western cultural values. Living in Russia certainly broadened my mind as to what culture means and how the human condition is shaped by history and politics. This certainly had an impact in deciding what subjects I was interested in. Moscow Never Sleeps is a series of intimate dramas, but it also merges into an overview of a society, albeit a snapshot. I’m interested in stories that are intimate which are relevant to or which reveal something about society in general. 
 
2.  Johnny, I absolutely loved the amazing aerial footage you and DP Fedor Lyass captured for the film.  What cameras did y'all utilize and can you talk about the visual look you were looking to create.  The firework sequences were especially amazing!

 

We used a range of digital cameras to capture the footage including Red, Alexa and Canon Mark 5. The drone footage was all captured using the Canon. I wanted the audience to feel that they had seen the real Moscow. So, it had to be true and naturalistic. There was never going to be any stylistic colorization. Films that aim for verisimilitude tend to be shot like documentaries with a lot of shaky handheld camera work. I never wanted this. For a start, you can convey meaning through composition and camera movement alone, so I wanted every frame to be properly composed and every camera move to be purposeful and meaningful. Also, Moscow is a classical city of great scale. It needed the wide screen treatment. The fireworks were created using CGI and we shot many of the crowd scenes during Moscow’s real city day. 

 

 
3.  You assembled an incredible cast, can you talk about who came on board first and if there are any fun stories in the casting process?  

 

I like to do a comprehensive casting process. It’s a really useful process for fine-tuning the script and discovering new ideas. I also like to test actors thoroughly so I know that when on set, I can experiment with them and try out new things. I auditioned all the actors and many of them returned for call-backs. This process was similar to rehearsals and allowed me to plumb their talent for more ideas. I wouldn’t say there were many particularly fun stories from the casting process, but you do get to understand who the actor when working with them in rehearsals or auditions. This is very useful knowledge when deciding under the pressure of the film set which technique to use when you need to quickly get them to change something about their performance.

 

4.  I loved the score to the film.  What was it like working with Roman Litvinov on creating such a dynamic and powerful score to the film?  The Piano is an obvious connection directly into the film, was this always in the script?  

 

Roman was delightful to work with – the best musical collaboration I’ve had on a film. I wanted to reflect the symbiosis of classical and modern that the city of Moscow encapsulates. Roman creates cutting edge electronic music as well as classical so he was the perfect fit for this. It felt magical to me how I could describe in words what I was looking for and he could create exactly what I wanted in music. The piano was in the script purely to give a bit more shape to the character of the granny and her backstory. It was also useful as a plot point when she plays it one last time before she dies. 
 
5.  Aleksey's character Anton has a some really intriguing run-in with powerful governmental figures.  Can you discuss putting the unique impact of Russian politics on major business in Moscow into the story.
The stories in the film focus on the intimate lives of people in Moscow, but I wanted to touch on the way society is run by revealing something about the current political situation in Russia. For foreigners, the most bizarre element of Russian society is its politics. The idea that government officials can so openly and brazenly commit fraud is something that sets Russia apart from the West. In real life, there are many incidences of Russian businessmen whose assets get stolen by predatory bureaucrats and I wanted to reveal this as a way to highlight the feudalism of Russia’s political system. 

 

 
6.  The film mixes a unique group of producers and companies involved.  Also in the press notes it's discussed about the hybrid system used for financing the film, which seems so intriguing.  Can you expand on the impact of 1st the IFB backing the film and 2ndly the impact of the rest of the financiers on the film.

 

In a curious way, this hybrid system of financing reflected the guiding aesthetic for the film by merging modern and classical cultures. On the one hand, the film was a European Co-production which required interacting with EU public funding bodies and a lot of stringent international legal, accounting and insurance procedures. On the other hand, I applied the ancient traditions of patronage by seeking cash investments from wealthy Russians. As with any project, you try to build momentum by creating a domino effect. Once the Irish Film Board had committed, I leveraged this to secure Eurimages financing. We were the first Russian film to secure majority Eurimages financing so that helped us open many doors in Moscow. The existence of “soft” public financing in the investment package was attractive to private investors because they were able to secure preferential positions on the recoupment corridor. And the fact that we had no pre-sales meant that private investors could reap revenues from all territories. 
 
7.  As someone who's never been to Russia I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the everyday lives of the people.  I learned a lot from the generational differences and felt much more connected to the characters then I thought possible going into the film.  How have different audiences reacted to the film?  How aware are you that your film holds some wonderful universal qualities?  In your writing process was this a topic that was thought about?  

 

The film was very well received in Russia, although elements within the Russian Ministry of Culture did try to suppress the film – possibly because of the storyline featuring corrupt government officials. There’s a faultline in Russian public opinion that goes back centuries to the ancient debates between the Slavophiles and Westernizers. Today it’s characterised as Pro or Anti Putin. Neither side agrees on anything. The majority of Russian audiences applauded the film for what it perceived as reflecting certain truths about Russian society. There was, however a vocal minority which was aggrieved at the idea that a foreigner could come to Russia and make a film that was deemed “Unpatriotic” I never wanted to whitewash Russia with this film. Nor did I want to throw it under the bus. I just wanted to put it in a frame and try as sincerely as possible to reflect what I had learnt about the country. I wanted to show international audiences what Moscow is really like because so much of the information they receive about Russia comes thought the filter of geo-politics. All they hear about is Putin, spies, wars and vodka. I felt that the multi-narrative structure would be the best way to do this. By focusing on characters of different ages and socio-economic backgrounds, I wanted to provide a wide snapshot of the city. In doing so, I hoped to establish common themes and highlight universal human values. 

 

 

 

8.  In your Director's statement you open with the film being, "about awakenings".  Yuriy's character Valery literally awakens to open the film, can you discuss the literal meaning of your statement and how this bleeds into the other characters and the full plot?  With the title, can you discuss the ironic idea of awaking while never sleeping?

 

In life, we’re focussed on our work. We’re looking at screens. We forget that what’s important is our connection with other humans. Love and family are things we always take for granted while we’re too busy trying to increase our status or further our career. We’re asleep to this reality. Moscow city is a cauldron of aggregated emotions. It’s a turbine of 24-hour traffic, a pinball machine that never slows down or stops. It gives its inhabitants their energy. We fall asleep though, when we forget about what’s important in our lives. 

 

Moscow Never Sleeps is about a collection of characters who are confronted with an important life choice. As in the real world, some of them make the right choice and some make the wrong choice and suffer as a result of it. But the city keeps moving incessantly, without ever sleeping. 
 
9.  As a writer/director what filmmakers inspire you?

 

Ordinary People and the stories of their lives. 
 

 

10.  What is next for you and the film?
Having made two Russian films, I now need to focus on something in my own language. I’m currently developing a new project entitled Arrangements which is a dark comedy about undertakers in Dublin. Moscow Never Sleeps is just starting its US run. Most likely it will finish it’s run in the autumn and find its final resting place online with Netflix or Amazon. 

 

 
Writer/Director Johnny O'Reilly.  Moscow Never Sleeps is now open in NYC at the Village East Cinema and expands to LA next weekend at the Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills and Laemmle’s Town Center 5 in Encino.  The film ventures to DC on June 30th and additional cities throughout the summer.
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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