In rare moments in Los Angeles you come across a Paul T Murray, a man who in the back alley of North Hollywood hangs the sign over the door Celtic Films. A room dedicated to a simple task to make films, there is a large TV in the corner and a writing desk with a computer. I sat in a creaking wooden chair, with an open beer can in front of me, I look at the place mat surrounded byfour leafclovers, and 'The Claddagh Ring'.
"Love, Loyalty and Friendship"
On the walls hang posters of his films, I know the faces that peer out, but not the titles, all but for one What Doesn't Kill You with Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke. The gritty Boston street drama based on a true story of one of the harshest places in America, with its brutal tribal men, who culturally remain as they were when they stepped off the boats onto the American shores, tough, Irish, families, fleeing the famine in home country and seeking opportunity away from poverty in the new world. Their warmth radiates to those close to them, and loyal to those they can touch, though this loyalty always comes in the form of danger.
I feel at home in Paul's violence, not as something I relate to, but I feel there's an honesty to it and a commitment to communicating both his darkest parts and his most optimistic. As we sat looking at eachother, I felt hugged and punched at the same time. I trust that feeling, those I don't trust are the ones who are too quick to look away.
I first met Paul on set of Road To The Well, he had a boyish excitement about the whole thing, he was chain smoking and telling me stories about the favorite gangster films that he had made,
He had a sort of reluctant excitement about Road To The Well, he knew how great it was something special and different, he was just pissed off he didn’t write it. Though for his character he definitely got in some great lines, that were not in the script, hurling all sorts of strange creative insults no-one had heard before, as if from the deep down roots of his Boston outcast upbringing, at one point he called me a “flicky dicker boy”.
When I called the director Jon Cvack to tell him the news Paul had passed he said Paul had texted him a few weeks earlier to ask him quite suggestively what was his favorite line from the film. Jon reluctantly responded Paul it was yours “you can’t smoke a cigarette in school but you can smoke a cock”. He later told me that Jon had contacted him up just to tell him that he wanted to contact the AFI to officially enter it as one of the best lines in cinema history. Oh the net you weaved Paul.
Paul knew, as I had done with Road To The Well, that I would be putting this down on paper at some point. He showed me his jumper which read "Careful or you'll end up in my novel". We shared a knowing laugh, more than the prediction of these words, the script itself had been taken from real relationships in Paul's life.
Cigarette in hand Paul looked over at me with that same intensity that weighted our connection, only this time it was without a director to balance it all out, this time he was the director.
A number of years ago, he’d written this script based on himself and two friends, all struggling to be artists in Los Angeles in their respective fields and all competing for various degrees of validation from eachother and ultimately trying to win. Paul was known amongst them as the most uncompromising. Perhaps because of his solitary occupation as a writer, pre-determined this self generating nature.
When it came to the acting, he continually referred to 'that method shit', and would imitate the lines and actions of the characters for the actors to copy, but he did so with a self awareness, he knew it was counterintuitive to the actors process to work so externally, so he never fully said the lines or was too precise about the movements. He wanted the actors to interpret his ghost like impressions of the characters. But even then he rarely if ever once did this to me, on several occasions he came up to me and said 'I know you hate it when I do that, I can tell you hate it'.
Running beneath Paul's direction was the subconscious father figure of David Mamet. Though Mamet, may have had a very positive influence on the structure of the story, which moves at a rapid pace, when it comes to the acting what often overshadows Mamet's early work in line with Stanislavsky, is his later polemic against the actor True & False, a number of essays misrepresenting Stanislavsky’s ideas, calling into question the validity of Method Acting, or as Paul would call it “That Method shit”. However with Paul, as with Mamet deep down, there was a man beneath who had faith in the deeper calling of an actor's work, but who on the surface had been beaten into the idea, by both his social groups and his profession as a screenwriter to limits of stand on your mark, say the line and don't bump into the furniture. This sense of honest confrontation, masculine intensity and the striving to create all fed into the performance, they were all simply pieces of a much larger picture. It was to do with loyalty.
I knew Paul cared too much to actually mean any of it, and from his direction which seemed as Mamet’s to be loosely inspired by a method-esuqe approach anyway, sparing the imitation stuff. And with the wisdom of a man who has been in Los Angeles working in the gritty, raw, molten energy of the indie film world for thirty five years, he knew that as long as I respected his script, and I did, he would respect my acting. It was an unspoken deal.
The only time that line was crossed was with a mishap on the painting itself and what would ultimately become Paul’s favorite shot of the movie. The paint wasn’t flicking off the brush, because it was too gloopy, Paul interpreted my hesitation as having something to do with Method Theory getting in the way, so he burst out of the directors chair with a red faced impassioned feeling of being right, having uncovered that flaw to this theory he so objected to, waving beer can in the air declaring “you see this fucking Method shit, it’s just a movie, flick the paint like this” then grabbing the brush from my hand he struck it across the canvas. After several minutes of ranting about the limitations of The Method getting in the way of the scene which came out more like “fucking method shit, just flick the fucking paint”. At which point even the crew started to calm him down and say “Paul the paint is just too dry, it needs to be more watery for him to flick, it’s got nothing to do with Method acting”. Perhaps it was all a roose to get me to write down this very anecdote about this great shot at this very moment of his passing.
Leaving Paul’s office that day, I had one last question for him, does Cairan have a faith? Paul said ‘He’s a half assed Catholic’, he then took a golden cross which was hanging on his bookshelf and fastened it around my neck 'wear this’. It was to be the cross I wear in the film. From then on any concept of a search was not discussed, but for a look in his eye and a matching cross around his neck…”
… I wrote the above story, a year ago, long before any of us had any inkling what would happen. Though there’s a definite retrospect to it, that was a retrospective way that he would talk to me, like he knew I would be someone to record his story and tell tales of what it was like to make films with him after he was gone. It’s hard to imagine him not being there now for the release of this film. He saw this last movie to its end and to getting it picked up for release by Gravitas Ventures end of Summer, he stuck around to finish it.
He said to me a few months ago after we had finished recording ADR for the film “Paint It Red”, that he thought ‘it was over for him’, something the doctor told him about his health.
It’s no secret I’ve gravitated to strong male role models in my life, father figures to fill that shadow left by my own Dad, Paul was certainly one of those figures, he nurtured and manifested a performance out of me in this film I’ll always look back on, if not for the incredible journey that brought us all together, for the symbol of what it means to give everything to your art, which Paul has now immortalized for us all.
That night before we started shooting “Paint It Red” I had wanted to rehearse the scenes to our film, but Paul very forcibly sat his three lead actors down Tommy, Chad and I to watch his favorite movie, which was the first thing he’d written “Very Mean Men”, it was the start of this whole journey for him. I questioned why we weren’t reading the scenes in stead of watching some seemingly irrelevant movie instead, for him it was all a linear narrative, that film bled into this and the next and the next and finally to this one and this moment, he was weaving his frantic and violently beautiful biography this entire time.
On set he was like a furnace of intensity, his eyes were a flame and that flamed lashed my performance, I felt Cairan was Paul’s artistic integrity, his heart, and I took on that projection of all that he was protecting within himself.Even in his violence he wanted to protect me. He wanted to protect me from all the mess that inevitably comes with filmmaking, because he saw me like a son, or like some pure version of his younger self, if only this or that had gone another way, that part of himself that was pure, that part of himself that was an artist.
He would say to me “You’re a true artist… BUT SO AM I!” he was often almost affronted by that artistry, he respected it deeply and reluctantly. Fighting it in every form outside of himself, and yet cherishing it as the core of his being. I think he saw me like a kind actor angel that was sent to watch over this last film of his and honor his passing. It makes sense now why he was so ferocious when I expressed we take another look at the cut, I was suppose to honor it unequivocally under law of the Claddagh Ring. I had no idea on that smokey, grimy, dusty encounter that day on set of a completely different film that I would be picked to do that. Maybe it was because most people were afraid of him, but I saw through his violence to some strange artistic expression.
At one point he threatened to stab me because I had suggested some rewrites to his script. He called me the night he found out this had happened, “You don’t rewrite Paul T Murray came booming down the phone”. I told him to calm down, I could smell the beer on his breathe from down the other end of the line, “I will stab you and leave lying in the back of an alley”, “see you tomorrow” I said as I hung up the phone. The next day I showed up unannounced at his doorstep, he saw me walking up from his window and heard yelling from inside the house, “oh no you didn’t do that!”. But once I got inside we stay down both with boyish grins on our faces and over a manly beer declared our respect and love for each other, as I still tried to convince him of some rewrites and he with an impossibly immovable conviction denied even the smallest alteration to his writing.
Among the suggested rewrites I’d put in a story about the artists’ journey, just to piss him off I want to publish it here. Mostly because I’d written it for him and everything he’d been through.
“A peasant woodcarver is having a terrible year, can’t sell a single carving, his dream of one day making the King’s throne is slipping away. His neighbor is a stone mason who is finishing a statue for the King’s castle. He was the most sort after stone mason in the country. So the peasant carver asks for his advice, "what’s you’re trick he asks?"
The stone mason says “There are no tricks, land each chisel as truly as you can, in time your fate will find you."
The peasant says "that’s nonsense, everyone’s got tricks”. The next morning he looks in the stone mason’s window to see what he’s really doing in there. All he sees is the mason chiseling carefully and deliberately. As he’s peering in, a giant plum falls off a wagon on the road nearby driven by huge dark horses owned by mercenaries. The plum is huge, he’s never seen anything like it, it’s three times his size. If he can cultivate this plum, grow it and sell it, it will make him rich and he can buy his way to court. He begins to push it home.
The peasant tries to push the plum across the field to his home, but the plum is so large his muscles become swollen and tired. He tries everything to push the plum more effectively, gets inside of it, climbs on top, pushes from his hands and knees. Nothing shifts the plum...
Suddenly, slightly, after weeks of pushing, the plum starts to move, the peasant pushes steadily all evening until the plum bumps into a naked girl lying in the field. She says "you look tired, lie down here on my breast, in the morning you will get there faster". He slides across her skin grasps her naked body and falls asleep. In the middle of the night, he wakes up hearing a splashing sound, she is eating into the plum, she has eaten so much the plum is down to two thirds its size and she is about to explode. He is so tired at that point, he could let her take the rest, but something deeper compels him to take it back from her. Fate had left this plum in his hands for a reason, he just didn't know what yet. The girl is now so fat, she cannot stop him, she falls backwards and cannot get up.
He pushes further until he comes across several cranes foraging in the grass. A man with a net comes forward
“Are you looking to hoist that plum?” asks the man
“Yes” says the peasant
My birds can carry it. He ties the plum to the birds feet and orders them to fly. The cranes lift the plum off the ground and begin to fly in the other direction.
“That’s not the direction of my house, I told you it was towards the west”
The crane farmer shrugs at the peasant and says
“This is Capitalism”
Suddenly the birds get caught in a tree. The peasant runs over and starts climbing the tree. The further he climbs the more he can see of the field and his home. He is arrested halfway in awe of what he sees, the stone mason has finished his sculpture and it is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He climbs to the top of the tree and whispers in the birds ear.
"Fly back to the stone mason" for no truer chisel had ever been landed, and in that moment he gave up his tricks.”
There was blood and guts in Paul’s work, it was almost like he was challenging the audience, questioning “What you thought creation was possible without spilling your veins, cutting your bones against the keys, the camera, the vile in your stomach, you think all these broken decaying parts of you get preserved and we all come out of this alive? This is it, this is all there is, I am an artist and that’s all I am”.
Paint It Red is released this August through distributor Gravitas Ventures
Trailer - https://vimeo.com/241068148