Jason Gaffney speaks with Lakelands filmmakers

Jason Gaffney speaks with Lakelands filmmakers


Denzel Washington famously said “If I’m going to fall, I don’t want to fall back on anything except my faith. I want to fall forward, I figure at least this way I will see what I’m going to hit.” For Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney – Writers & Directors of Lakelands – their approach to filmmaking is comparable and appears to have set them up for success that knows no bounds. Having cut their teeth with numerous short films shot in their native Midlands (they both hail from Longford), including Drifting (starring Oscar nominated Paul Mescal), the pair have embraced learning and development as a way of understanding what is required to be successful in Film & TV – an industry Patrick’s describes as “a whole new set of everything… every day”.


With Windmill Lane having provided Post services on Lakelands (Grading, Online & Delivery) – I was keen to speak with Longford’s bright stars to better understand how they have ‘fallen forward’ to a point of being award winning, IFTA nominated and the talk of the Irish film scene. I start by asking; 


How did Lakelands come about?

Robert: Myself and Patrick actually met at football (GAA) training when we were kids. So we grew up in that world. We experienced the intensity, the dedication to the sport and thought the culture was fascinating. We realized there weren’t that many films showcasing the prevalence of that world in Irish culture. We were also eager to show off our little part of the world in Longford. 

We were considering a few scripts but Lakelands stood out for these reasons and more. Its the one we connected with the most and so we dived in. But its amazing…you start off with an idea and then like-minded people get excited about it and all of a sudden you have a community behind you.



How did you go about developing this community? 

Patrick: It was a big learning curve for us. We both came from a corporate world (Robert worked in PR while Patrick worked in Consulting). We had a naivety which turned into a superpower. For example – if we understood what we didn’t know starting out – we would have felt too daunted. 

Going back a bit – we started off making short films in Robert’s back garden. That was the start of our creative journey and we have become good at two things; building a team of collaborators and realizing what we are terrible at. We felt like we could weave a narrative but soon realized the technical aspects are best left to specialists. 

We were constantly learning, constantly meeting new people and falling forward. We sought people that mirrored our energy and with Lakelands – we hit a sweet spot. It was a team that felt like a family. A community we could rely on. 


You mentioned you were working full time before ‘taking the plunge’ into filmmaking. How scary was that for you both?

Patrick: Well we had Harp Media which allowed us to generate income through videography, digital marketing etc. Areas that allowed for transferable skills. This allowed us to sustain ourselves while also building a budget for Lakelands. In terms of the leap – it was terrifying but also exhilarating compared to what we were doing previously. For me – it definitely gives you a sense of appreciation for the time you get to spend on a project your passionate about. There is a lot to be said for that. 



Let’s talk about Lakelands. Can you tell about the themes explored in the film and why you felt they were important?

Robert: The main theme is identity. Succeeding within the framework of the GAA, playing well, the culture surrounding the sport and social aspects that come with it are so central to a young person’s identity in rural Ireland. Like ‘where do I stand in the community?’. We used this question as a jumping off point to get into things that affect young people in Ireland today. 

We came out of college ‘the post-recession generation’ where emigration within our friends group was massive. A lot of them won’t ever come back. That always seeps into our work. We were also keen to explore the casual alcohol and drug use throughout Irish culture and sport as well without making a judgement but observing. This was our attempt to paint a portrait, be straight up about it and not turn away from some inconvenient truths that permeate cultural identity in modern day Ireland. 


That’s fascinating. How has this portrait been received from Irish people in general?

Patrick: My favourite part of the process has been having these conversations with the audience afterwards. It gives people the chance to tell their stories and how they relate. As Irish people we are good storytellers but probably not the best at articulating our emotions. This, in itself, was fertile ground to explore. 

Going back to emigration post-recession – even a quality standard of living is not available to you. So people have had to moved away from areas like Longford. We probably relate more to the people that have stayed in Ireland. Something that people have brought up is that idea of ‘oh you think you’re better than me because you moved abroad and I stayed?’. Its important not to pass comments. 

Robert: Ultimately people are searching for the same thing – home, abroad – we have more in common than you think. It was important for us to subvert that stereotype of a guy/girl at home in a rural place who wants to leave. Sometimes he/she/they is very proud to be where he/she/they is from and sometimes that pride can be toxic inhibiting his/her/their development. 



With these pertinent themes and the film’s momentum – can it all be overwhelming?

Patrick: Every time you make something – you learn so much. For us at the moment – we see an opportunity for more to be made in our world down in the Midlands. There are rich stories and characters that haven’t been portrayed down here. So that fuels us. We’re building a slate of projects but the acid test is whether or not they stay true to our core strengths and what we want to say. 

We definitely feel like we are at the bottom of a very big mountain. We feel brand new to the industry and we are in a way. 


“Brand new” to the industry and starting off with 4 x IFTA Nominations*. That must feel great?

*Best Film / Lead Actor for Eanna Hardwicke / Lead Actress for Danielle Galligan / Original Music for Daithi.

Robert: It’s amazing. We were making this film in the Granite Community Centre like a year ago and you don’t dare to dream but here we are. We are just so happy for Eanna, Dani & Daithi. They are all incredible artists who came down to the Midlands, indulged into the madness that we were cooking up at the time. They deserve this recognition. They bought into the project so much, what we were trying to achieve and the textures of the film. We are so grateful to them. 


Lakelands was graded by Windmill Lane. How was the experience working with the team?

Robert: It was amazing from the get-go. Aaron Carroll (Head Producer for Film/TV) was very interested from the start. Aaron is a Midlands man himself so he connected with the characters, the story and believed what we were trying to do. After showing him a rough cut he was eager – so introduced us to Dave Hughes (Head of Grading) and we just had a brilliant time with him. Honestly – the grading was one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire project. 

Patrick: We were depicting a rural Irish story so we didn’t want to take the colour out of it too much – because that’s not how we see that world. We wanted it to look alive and vibrant and bright. Dave was very encouraging for us to go this route. It was collaborative. And that collaboration has given the film a look that is different to a lot of rural Irish dramas. 


Finally – what’s next for you both and Harp Media?

Robert: We’re developing a new film with Screen Ireland called Bonfires. This will be Midlands set. We’ve also got two or three other projects in development between Film and TV. 

We recently got UK representation so as we expand trying to understand a whole new set of rules [laughs]. Every time we think we have this industry figured out – a new door with challenges opens.

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