Ivan Kavanagh, writer director, Son (2021)

Son (2021) writer/director Ivan Kavanagh asks: is there anything you wouldn’t do for your child?

Given what he reveals in the following interview, writer and director Ivan Kavanagh probably doesn’t especially subscribe to the ‘luck of the Irish’. It’s clear when he talks about his early development as a filmmaker that he has always been able to combine his love of film and creative abilities with the application and hard work required to bring his ideas to the silver and digital screens.

Ivan Kavanagh is a multi-award winning filmmaker who is perhaps best known for The Canal (2014) and Never Grow Old (2019).

His feature film, Son (2021), is available on Digital and On Demand now.

Like father, like son

FF: How did you get into filmmaking? Did you go to film school?

IK: I always loved films. I grew up in a household where movies were always on. My father was and is a movie buff; one of those people who can name any character actor from any movie pre 1970s no matter how small their roles.

So, I guess it was in my blood from the beginning. As a kid I always loved the escape into another world, and this is something that attracted me to making films; the opportunity to create my own film worlds, to construct my own version of reality.

Surround yourself always with people you enjoy working with, who want to make the same film as you do

From working class Dublin

I am from a working class part of Dublin, and people just didn’t become movie writers and directors there. The idea of becoming one was too much for me even to conceive. But when I was in my teens I began making short films at home with my mother’s Hi8 video camera and edited them using back to back VHS players. The moment I began making them I knew this is what wanted to do with the rest of my life. Then the films began to win awards at festivals and once the digital revolution was underway in the mid 1990s I got a bank loan and I bought a computer, editing software, a 3-Chip Digital Camera and a Sennheiser microphone, and I was up and running.

I made three self-financed feature films with this equipment and these films were my film school, so that by the time I got to fully funded features with large crews, there was no-one on the set who could tell me something was impossible as I had done it all myself.

I did, for a brief moment, consider going to film school, but I chose the above path instead. I’m glad I did. It was the right path for me.

Actor Andi Matichak in Son (2021)
Actor Andi Matichak in Son (2021). Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

The inspiration for feature film Son (2021)

FF: Where did your initial idea for Son (2021) come from? Were you inspired by any movies you had seen?

IK: The genesis of the film was the birth of my first son, five years ago. He had a very difficult birth and my wife and I were very worried about him for the first few months. It was a very stressful time.

But during this time I saw how close my wife and son were becoming and saw, first hand, how special and strong that mother-child bond is. I began thinking, is there anything a mother, who loved her child, wouldn’t do for him? How far would she go to protect him?

So, during this very stressful time, during these sleepless nights, I began sketching the ideas for Son (2021).

From Norman Rockwell to Taxi Driver (1976)

As most parents will know, when you first have a baby, there isn’t much time for watching movies as you are so exhausted, so I didn’t watch many movies when I was writing. However I did think the film was a journey from the idyllic world of Norman Rockwell’s America to the nightmarish underworld of Taxi Driver (1976).

That was the driving image of the film and I’m sure there were many unconscious influences from many films I’ve seen over the years.

FF: Are you able to give us a breakdown of the early stages in getting your film produced?

IK: The development of the script was funded by Screen Ireland, which is the Irish State funding body for films. After that the producers took the script out to market and got the budget together pretty quickly.

Actors Emile Hirsch and Luke David Blumm
Actors Emile Hirsch and Luke David Blumm in Son (2021). Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Writing the script, draft after draft

FF: Can you talk about your process when it came to writing the script? How long did it take to write?

IK: It took about a year and a half to write, which is about standard for me, as I do many drafts.

My process for writing is and has remained the same for years. I sit religiously at my desk every morning from around 6am and begin writing. Even if I have nothing officially to write I just begin writing, sketching ideas, writing stream of consciousness scenes and ideas, from which many scripts have emerged.

For me, writing is like a muscle that needs to be exercised every day, and taking a break from it is usually bad for me and my creativity.

Added to that I also like to get lost in my writing, which I find therapeutic and sometimes even cathartic.

The advantages of being a writer and director on a film

FF: What was it like being both the writer and director for the project? Was that hugely beneficial?

IK: I have only ever made films that I have written and directed. Not that I wouldn’t direct a film written by someone else, but the right film just hasn’t come along.

The benefits of being a writer-director is that there is no-one else you need to refer to regarding the piece as it is all yours, so I usually have all the answers and know exactly how everything should look and sound.

FF: When watching the film and the characters in action, it was interesting to see the extent a mother would go to in order to protect her child. Can you give us an insight into the characters and plot and elaborate on what you hope audiences will take away from it?

IK: I hope the audience comes away with emotional investment in the characters. I hope they are torn about how they feel about Laura and her son, that they care about and like them, but are left conflicted because of the terrible things they are driven to do.

I hope the audience comes away with scenes, sounds and visuals that they can’t quite shake, like a dream or nightmare that they have had. I hope the audience is left unsure until the very end about whether Laura, played by Andi Matichak, is sane or not; whether what she has experienced is real or imagined.

Ivan Kavanagh's Son (2021)
Andi Matichak in director Ivan Kavanagh’s Son (2021). Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Learn from all filmmaking experiences

FF: What would you say is the single biggest error in your filmmaking journey and how would you suggest others can avoid making the same misjudgement?

IK: I think you are always bound to make mistakes on the way, and they are probably unavoidable, but they are learning experiences, therefore I wouldn’t even call them something as negative as ‘mistakes’.

I personally wouldn’t change anything about my journey, no matter how hard or painful some of it has been.

Perhaps I would say the biggest error is not to work with like-minded people. Surround yourself always with people you enjoy working with, who want to make the same film as you do, and avoid any negative influences on set.

FF: Do you have any advice for writers and filmmakers trying to get their work established in the industry?

IK: Never give up. Concentrate only on the work, keep working, and everything else will follow.

I am from a working class part of Dublin, and people just didn’t become movie writers and directors there.

The best films of 21st and 20th centuries?

FF: What’s your favourite film of this century and last?

IK: My favourite film of this century has been Inside Llewyn Davis (2013). It is a film that seems, on the surface, to be about nothing, or very little plot-wise, but is in fact about everything, and says more about life than almost any other film I have seen in a long, long time.

My favourite film of the last century – and I am choosing this because I have watched it more than any other film in my life – is Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985). I just love the atmosphere of it, the pacing is perfect, the casting impeccable, and I learned everything I know about editing from it. It’s a near perfect film in my book, and one that has endless fascination for me.


Introductory words, artwork and edited by: Richard Williams
Images supplied courtesy ofRLJE Films and Katrina Wan PR