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Good Vibrations – Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn interview

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GLENN Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa talk about some of the challenges of making Good Vibrations and bringing the story of Terri Hooley to the big screen.

They also talk about how the film has been received in Belfast and by Hooley himself and working with some of the film’s high-profile producers such as David Holmes and Gary Lightbody. They were speaking at a UK press conference.

Q. I had no idea about Terri Hooley’s story. I presume that given you’re from Belfast he’s someone you would have grown up knowing about?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that Terri is very much a local legend in Belfast. We were in a taxi during a period of filming the story and suddenly the taxi driver had a story to tell about Terri. Yeah, it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone of a certain age and above knows a lot about Terri and his story.

Glenn Leyburn: There was a campaign to make Terri Mayor of Belfast, which I think Terri still believes he has an opportunity of doing [laughs].

Lisa Barros D’Sa: He was actually elected Lord Mayor of the ‘Cathedral’ Quarter of Belfast, which is sort of arts quarter, I think it’s fair to say. So, that was a fairly successful mission on Terri’s part.

Q. As large a life a character as he is, how did he respond to the idea of a film being made about his life?
Glenn Leyburn: Well, about 10 years ago there was an attempt made at a film. It was the same writers [Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson] and they talked to a few people but I think at that point Terri wasn’t really that comfortable with it. I think he felt that he needed a team and it wouldn’t have been people from Belfast doing the project. I think he was a little unsure about how that might go, so stalled a little bit and things moved on.

Lisa Barros D’Sa: I think understandably as anyone would be, he was a bit nervous about putting his life to film in that way. But a lot of the team that begin to make it – David Holmes, who is a producer and who did the music and Gary Lightbody, who was a financer and very supportive of the film… Terri knew those guys and I think he just felt that there was a certain atmosphere about his life and his story and the world that the team that ended up making it would get and understand.

Q. Did Terri demand a cameo? He’s seen playing the accordion…
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Well, Terri – as he had been throughout the whole of the making of the film – was extremely gracious. There were some punks of a certain age, who will remain nameless, who were very reluctant to appear in the film in cameos. Terri was quite happy to just go for it and be part of the film in whatever way we wanted. I think the only sad thing about his appearance in that scene is that we can’t hear a lot of the dialogue that was going on. We’re definitely going to have to put that in the extras.

Q. And why did you arrive at Richard Dormer to play Terri?
Glenn Leyburn: Richard was somebody that we wanted to work with for a long time. He’s quite well-known in Ireland… very well-known in Ireland as a writer and for his stage work. So, when it came to casting he was the first person we really thought of. So, it was great to get him. When you’re making a film like this, there is pressure to cast a name in the central character. But we really felt that Richard was the right man for it. We’d shot a pilot for the film a couple of years before we made it and Richard was gracious enough to come in and help us with that. So, once people like the financier saw Richard in that role it was quite an easy set-up for us.

Q. Did you get the support of The Undertones and how much did it cost you to get the rights to Teenage Kicks?
Glenn Leyburn: Well, they were involved in the film and we did keep them informed about it. They actually read the script. They were supportive. They were obviously keen to be looked after and respected within the film. So, they were happy with everything we did. As far as how much we paid them, I couldn’t tell you the exact amount but I do know that we did not have a large budget at all. We paid them something but it wasn’t a lot of money.

Lisa Barros D’Sa: They were very supportive and some of The Undertones came to see the screening in Belfast when it was at the Belfast Film Festival and they were very happy with it.

Q. In terms of the reaction to the film in Belfast, what do you expect the reaction to be? Will it help peace?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Well, it opened the Belfast Film Festival and it was quite widely reported in the Belfast Telegraph and beyond and the reaction has been incredibly positive to it. I think it was one thing we were aware of. It’s a film that certainly comes into contact with The Troubles but it doesn’t approach it from one side or the other. It’s really about people who were living in that world that don’t want to be defined by it but are forced… everyone wants to deal with the consequences of what is going on. So, it’s a difficult balance to strike. It’s very recent history for everyone and this legacy still continues to a certain extent. So, it was something we were very cautious about when we were making the film – that we had to be balanced. Our point of view was perhaps rather different than other films that had been made. I think we did want, at the same time, not to shy away from the reality of what was going on at the time. But I think people seem to have responded to it very well in Belfast.

Glenn Leyburn: We had our premiere in the Ulster Hall, which is where the film ends. So, it was really brilliant to bring it back home. We got to film there as well, so it was quite an emotional night for a lot of those punk rockers.

Good Vibrations

Q. Did Terri attend?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Oh yes! Terri attended and lots of old friends as well. We didn’t want that to be the first time that Terri had seen the film, so we had a private screening for him a few days before that and he was really lovely about it. He really enjoyed it and I think he found it quite an emotional experience to watch. But he was really gracious about the film and brought lots of friends along to the Ulster Hall screening.

Q. Terri was all about the revolutionary power of music. How do you feel about the revolutionary power of film?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: That’s interesting. Absolutely, we agree about that revolutionary power of music and I think that’s one of the main ideas behind the film and also about that time. Terri, by creating this world and fostering this world and helping musicians to get their voices heard, did create an alternative space for a lot of young people who might otherwise have been drawn into rather darker lives, the possibilities of which were very open to a lot of people at that time. So, I think Terri did change a lot of people’s lives. I think the good vibrations scene did change a lot of people’s lives and provide a light in the darkness of Belfast at that time. It’s a very passionate and creative spirit that I think is celebrated in the film and which is still alive today. And that’s as much a part of what Belfast and Northern Ireland was and are as all the other aspects that people are perhaps more familiar with, like the conflict. I think what Terri recognised in punk music at that time was something of the spirit of the city that he loved. From the ‘60s, Belfast was a really vibrant musical place with a lot of diversity of ideas and opinions and creative voices. And he felt that had basically been shut out of all existence by The Troubles and I think his vision was to recognise in these voices something of that spirit and we wanted to celebrate that in the film.

Q. John Peel is obviously a key part in this story. You mention there was an attempt to make the film a few years ago. Was he ever involved in those discussions? Have you consulted with his family about how he would be represented?
Glenn Leyburn: He wasn’t involved a number of years ago. Yes, some of the producers got in touch with Tom, his son, and his wife as well. We certainly offered to show them the film and I think they are going to see it at some point. They were very warm towards the film.

Q. Were there attempts on Terri’s life as depicted in the film?
Glenn Leyburn: I think it’s true to say there were attempts on Terri’s life and that’s quite simply because he was the type of person who stuck his head above the parapet. And if you stuck your head above the parapet in Belfast at that time, you didn’t have to do very much to have an attempt on your life. The other thing is that the people Terri hung out with were a very politically aware crowd. So, what happened in Belfast was that a lot of that crowd splintered and split and the Republican movement was kind of born out of some of that. So, Terri knew a lot of these people that went on to become the figure-heads of these movements, so it wouldn’t have been unusual for him to be in a bar with them telling them to stop trying to kill him.

Lisa Barros D’Sa: I think it’s the case with everything that’s in the film… the basis of the film is conversations that the writers had with Terri over the course of a year or two. So, these are things that certainly happened in Terri’s life. Terri’s a great story-teller.

Glenn Leyburn: We sort of made the decision to tell the stories quite vividly because that really suited Terri’s… that’s who Terri is; he tells those stories very vividly. So, obviously there is a kind of heightening to those stories but they’re based on fact.

Good Vibrations

Q. So, he is a reliable narrator in terms of his own life?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Well, Terri always says that he never likes to let the truth get in the way of a good story but certainly the stories that we tell in the film… those are very well documented. But we’re not making a documentary and it says at the beginning that it’s based on the stories of Terri Cooley.

Q. How did you come to cast Jodie Whittaker?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: Jodie is a fantastic actress, as you all know, and I think the important thing about casting the role of Ruth is that Ruth in real-life and in the story that we wanted to tell wasn’t a doormat character who just played second fiddle to Terri. She’s a very strong, independent woman in her own right and she believed in the things that Terri was doing and was part of the mission because she believed in it. And I think what’s wonderful about Jodie is that she really brings that sense of serenity and strength and a kind of independence and intelligence to the role, which really creates a great contrast with the energy of Terri. What I think is lovely about Jodie’s performance is that you can really understand why she’s drawn to him at first.

Q. Are they still together?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: No, Terri and Ruth aren’t still together; they did split up at that time. But they’re friends now. They were both involved in the film and we talked to them both while we were making it. Ruth has gone on to enjoy a successful life as a poet. She’s a published poet and Anna, their daughter, is very much a part of both of their lives.

Q. She’s in the film, the daughter, isn’t she?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: She is in the film. She plays a cameo role of a nurse at the scene of her own birth.

Glenn Leyburn: At the time it seemed like a good idea, but when it came to filming it, it wasn’t such a good idea because it was very weird [laughs].

Q. How did you get Snow Patrol involved?
Lisa Barros D’Sa: All the guys from Snow Patrol have known Terri for a very long time. Johnny Quinn used to work in Terri’s shop. Terri gave him a job…

Glenn Leyburn: If you hung around Terri’s shop for long enough, he’d give you a job. But Johnny actually worked there and was in a band with Terri but jumped ship from Terri’s band to join Snow Patrol [laughs].

Lisa Barros D’Sa: So, they’ve been friends ever since and Terri was a great supporter of Snow Patrol in the early days. Actually, Gary [Lightbody] was involved from the treatment stage to get the film made because he felt it was an important story about those times in Belfast. So, he was hugely supportive throughout. It was also hard for us to book out the Ulster Hall for that final concert and fill it out, so Gary and the guys from Snow Patrol volunteered to come over to do an acoustic gig for us on that night of filming. They put out a message on their fan site asking people to come along dressed up as punks from that era. Of course, their popularity is such that within hours we had all the extras that we ended…. brilliant extras who came along and worked with us for hours on end. And then they played a special gig for everyone at the end, so it was very hard to imagine how we could have made that scene work without those guys.

Read our review of Good Vibrations