PAINT IT RED (2018)
Starring: Laurence Fuller
Director/Writer: Paul T Murray
Produced by and Co-Starring: Chad Addison & Tommy Kijas
Cinematographer/Producer: Steven Mangurten
Supporting Cast: Sally Kirkland, Jack McGee, Randy Wayne, Ray Diaz, Jacinta Stapleton, Martin Kove, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Khleo Thomas
"Struggling artist Ciaran [Laurence Fuller] finds a duffle bag filled with a large amount of cash and is faced with some tough decisions. As bank robbers knock-off Bohemian tenants in search of their stolen loot!"
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PAINT IT RED was about the search for faith, but not in a religious sense, faith in the realization of one's own artistic vision, in this case the survival of a struggling artist in his quest to get out of poverty and survive a very fortunate and very threatening bit of good luck. At the same time the underlying themes and relationships deal with artistic integrity and ethics. I had a brilliant time exploring the life of a painter for a while. The search for beauty is so often underpinned by a rugged brutality, stringent, uncompromising quest to prevail, exclusivity, a climb, a struggle, a ruthless clawing at the flimsy veins of existence, which pretend and shelter. One begins to claw, because of a feeling of not knowing, or of knowledge that there must be more.
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 by four leaf clovers, 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.
Cigarette in hand Paul looked over at me with that same intensity that weighted our connection in Road To The Well, only this time it was without a director to balance it all out, he was the director. 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.
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.
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. After founding his own drama school The Atlantic School based on a reimagining of The Method, which is still active today, Mamet misguided many of his writer/director colleagues when he published True & False, to adopt a defensive position against actors. Most of my colleagues disregard the pamphlet as just reflection of Mamet's insecurities, though as I've come up against it several times on my journey I've gotten deeper into this elsewhere. 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.
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 did a number of the sketches which appear in the film and one of the paintings, the rest mainly came from original works by the art director Monikar Donavan and the artist Marcelle Hanselaar.
Working with Monikar to get the right aesthetic for Ciaran's work was a great pleasure, we discussed the works of Anselm Kiefer, Enrique Martinez Celeya and Irish painter Patrick Graham. And at one point made a stand against a Banksy-esque style in favor of what would end up in the film, when the producers saw our respective passion for this point, they were quick to take it on board.
I felt as if Cairan wished to live like Kiefer does, in his spiritual fortress in the wilderness creating unknowable objects drawn from ancient ghosts that speak to him through form and the will of his desire. Isolated from distraction. And the only thing stopping him from doing this was financial reasons, which is why he found himself in LA, so that he could get his career going as an artist before moving elsewhere to live and work on his own terms. For me this was very relatable, I've lived in the heart of Hollywood for the last five years, and it's because I want to accomplish something, but if I had the option I'd be living in the mountains somewhere.
"Art is fluid, it is a river, it is never finished" - Anselm Kiefer
A mentor of mine and a dear friend Marcelle Hanselaar provided us with the two paintings above Ciaran’s bed. They had a personal significance for me because I bought them when I was 16, at the time I was living in Canberra so Marcelle kept ahold of them for me in her London studio. Two years later when I moved to England to train at Bristol Old Vic, I picked them up from her and it was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship. Every month or so I would stop in to visit Marcelle, drink coffee, eat artichokes and discuss her latest work, philosophy, artistic and emotional struggles. She had behind the wisdom of a life lived fully, including a number of years in her youth spent meditating in a cave, she now lives under a Buddhist society in a fascinating bedroom/studio filled with paints, antiques, tribal artifacts, bits of dolls, thousands of brushes, some of which have morphed together over the years and a small garden patio, all these elements including most importantly herself form the world of Marcelle’s paintings. I remember during one of our chats, Marcelle told me that she likes to draw at night, because the subconscious is somehow freer at night, she wrote back
"Nights are secretive, you are alone, can be shameless as its a time outside social mores. In darkness perspective is limited and in contrast your imagination goes into freefall.
I think in the night there is a lot of creativity and as your character draws the lady of the night, again, she is the secret, an object of imagination and of course the libido gets more active in the night.
your character being seduced thru the bedroom window is not so much being seduced by her as that his imagination is being seductive."
My mother gave me the advice, also to paint at night but because he is specifically an Irish artist that I should drink whiskey while I paint, which I did. My mother was a sculptor growing up, there was always the smell of clay and plaster coming from downstairs, all sorts of experiments with kilns and different kinds of metals which would regularly explode. Out of it would come these incredibly earthy artifacts, very organic objects which only a human could create with their bare hands. The human touch was so important to the thing itself.
That’s something that has always attracted me to the screen, skin, living breathing skin, real people, up close, films at their best show people up close in the raw, in the flesh, people feeling, people being, telling stories.
Ciaran's labor is made by hand and felt by the flesh and the blood. I knew I had to create a painting in order to understand Cairan, it was the first time I'd faced a blank canvas since childhood. I sketched outlines in pencil over the canvas for two days, often spending hours just staring at it, imagining what it could be. This inner resistance came from both being in awe of the canvas, which I feel is both a necessary part of the desire to create a great painting and a hindrance to the act of doing it. It’s certainly the very same burden that certain art critics, especially the critics I grew up with carry with them, this sense of sacrifice feeds into the substance of their work, yet producers words rather than images. As the art critic John Berger said, 'words come from someplace deeper’
Once I had found the courage to pick a brush it all flowed out of me in one day. It came out like a dream of the film, a swirl of the subconscious symbols that made up my reading of the script. The painting is set in my back garden in Bath England when I am four years old, I used to climb this large oak tree in the back yard to impress my best friend at the time Laura Simmons (1986 - 2016) we were born in the same hospital, in beds next to each other, she was one hour older than me and would come over frequently as our mother's formed a deep friendship. I would rip down the branches as she would clap and laugh below.
The painting developed from the centre point outwards, the female object of desire and her sexual pull, which first drove me to rip down the branches of the tree in the back garden of my family home, the punishment I received for doing so, and yet the lack of remorse I felt, the fellow desire seekers at the bottom all pushing in and out of their fruits and masterpieces struggling to give birth to their creations.
And the birds at the bottom represent philistines pecking amongst the grass, the shape of the birds is actually the same as the symbols on philistine jugs and pottery. Philistines were responsible for damaging a lot of the masterpieces of the ancient world. I feel we face philistinism today as much as ever, and being an artist today includes an ongoing battle with these forces.
My father’s grave stone in the top right, watching over the proceedings. This is in the shape of his actual gravestone in Stowlangtoft, a sculpture by Glynn Williams, which represents a kind of secular spiritual journey. Somehow I felt on a primal level that for me artistic creation was a pull between these three things. In a way it is a preparation for death.
"In an era of unbelief the artist must make a wager on transcendence" - Peter Fuller
Alone in the darkness of our own avoidance to the beast of feeling that lurks in the passionate night unseen, chained to the stumps of reason, practical, bland objects, unrelated interactions in the presence of other people which relate solely to food or to sex or to expending less effort. All these things make me want to smash those chains and for all those things to dissipate. All these perspex surfaces hiding the truth.
Ciaran is running through the hills of a dream of the world he wished to create, sprinting up mountainsides to grab at a feeling for something real. He is a man of faith, who knew what he stood for and would demand it of life. And yet he knew that if he let any of it slip even for a moment, it would all fall apart and that dream he so carefully cherished and held onto would fall into the hands of another equally hungry LA dream chaser.
Was there one artist in particular you emulated for the character
I studied Kiefer a lot in preparation for Ciaran, as I felt Anselm Kiefer was the artist he would most desire to be, that kiefer would be an idol to him
"I'm a dinosaur I paint my own paintings" - Anselm Kiefer
I felt this because Kiefer is also driven by a deeper search in his work, though it extends to every aspect of his life, his home is a kind of rubble alter to his work which is at one with the land around him and the chambers of thought and feeling which permeate the building.
The other artist I most influenced by was the painter and philosopher Enrique Martinez Celaya, I remember when I first saw Celia's work at LA Louvre at exhibition called Lone Star in 2015:
I took "On Art & Mindfulness" by Celaya on set with me, it is like a Tao of art and spirituality, like poems of thought to dwell on, as appose to polemical prose on the subject is very helpful with so much going on around on set.
"As an artist you have an opportunity to reconcile the conceptual and the sensible. That reconciliation might help you discover the radiance of your world" - Celaya
So much of the film revolves around the desire to create ones own personal masterpiece and overcome the struggles that confront this lofty desire.
Chad Addison and Tommy Kijas who play your buddies as supporting leads in this film and fellow struggling artists, also produced this movie
I first met the boys when Paul asked me to come in and talk with everybody, they were ready to shoot but after another actor had pulled out they were weeks away from shooting without their lead actor. I don't remember much of what I said but for comments about Brando instigated by Paul who had noticed some of my posts about him. I loved Brando but i think like many if it weren't for that quite painful sense of self criticism and irony about the work of an actor, he could have gone so much further. It is a shame that he became jaded by the industry and let himself go, he was such an intelligent man and a phenomenal talent, if he'd believed in art a little more he could have left us with so much more.
After I left that meeting, I had the feeling that I'd gotten the part, though they were talking about changing the character from Irish to Australian. There was something deeply Irish about Ciaran's character and the decisions he makes, I felt very strongly about that so I texted Tommy and Chad and said
"After meeting you fellas and discussing the project, I walked down to my old acting studio at Ivana Chubbucks listening to Liam Neeson recite James Joyce's "How The Irish Saved Civilization" in my ears, I feel strongly that this part should be Irish, and I've been practicing."
From that moment on, Ciaran would be Irish and my girlfriend would have to put up with living with an Irishman for two months.
On first rehearsals, Chad had this kind of penetrating aspect that at times would step in and engage and at others hold back and just watch but keep quiet, he wasn't one for declarations, and there's a quiet honesty to him. Tommy on the other hand has a very childlike flutter about him, a dreamer but when it comes down to a pragmatist as well, he knows his business and he makes things happen. I hope I get to collaborate with the boys more soon.
Jack and Paul are cut from a similar clothe, though Paul is Jack's junior and the hierarchy was made clear to me, I enjoyed the banter. Jack would always have quite practical advice about the camera and the business, not one to mince words or lofty ideas about acting, which I kept as private as I could to my notebooks and sketches, though I think the word was already out, so I wasn't entirely safe.
Had the honor of working with Oscar Nominated actress Sally Kirkland today on PAINT IT RED I sat in her dressing room for an hour as she told me stories about being an actress in New York in the late 60s and 70s, when she used to date Robert DeNiro before Meanstreets and how intense he was with her during their scene for the Actors Studio, but that Lee Strasberg loved it. It was like touching a piece of Method Acting history.
In Road To The Well you talked about how Existentialism helped you access the character, did you find the same here?
What I found to be the limits of existentialism in acting, were firstly that it offers no clue into the interpretation of the character, any understanding of behavior or psychological motivations. In that way it doesn’t at all come close to any Western understanding of the Modern world or of ourselves. And yet there is an element within Existentialism which has to do with Being and sensuality that is helpful. It's a way to quiet the intellect once all the heavy lifting in the preparation process has been done and its time to let the subconscious speak for itself through the vessel of the human instrument. But it can only ever be at the end of this process, a leaf of the tree of what is broadly termed ‘Method Acting’. In other words it might help to remember to feel the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair, but without the importance of ‘Building A Character’ as Stanislavsky put it, the story dies.
While existentialism helped me to come to terms with my own separateness from the world around me in Road To The Well, I don’t know how much that separation aided my pursuit in my craft in a general sense. If I were to take on another isolated character, I may pick up Camus again, but until then he remains in my box of experiments along with other more theory driven practices which may not go any further than words on a page. For Cairan I picked back up out of that same box of experiments Stanislavsky once again. It's an important distinction to make that Stanislavsky's system was not rooted in psychoanalytic theory, but mores in alternative spiritual practices, including some exercises within Hinduism that access a kind of heightened consciousness and presence.
Ironically of course as these things go, when I met up with Paul four months after the wrap, to see a rough cut, he was writing everyday a screenplay about the Golden Age of Hollywood, with characters including James Dean and Marlon Brando and of course the development of what is now more popularly termed "Method Acting".
Art Director: Monika Dovnar
Costume: Paige Rentel
Makeup: Stacey Alfano
First AD: Daniel Martindale