by Michelle McGlynn
Good Vibrations has been screening to audiences worldwide and it seems that people cannot say enough good things about it. It is being praised as one of the best films about the punk genre to date and one of the best films to come from this country in years. Here at Film Jam we would have to agree. Good Vibrations is one of the most enjoyable films this year. We were lucky enough to get to chat with co-directors, husband and wife team, Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’sa.
The pair had just released their debut feature Cherrybomb when Colin Carberry, a friend of theirs, sent them a one page treatment for Good Vibrations. Both Glenn and Lisa were already familiar with Hooley and his story. “Immediately we could see on the page that there was not only this story about an extraordinary man living through extraordinary times but also something really universal in there about the power of resistance, youth and music, the necessity of defiance and the power to defy even during the darkest of times”. From here they began to develop a script. They were assisted early on by the Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen, who really got behind the project. This was only the beginning of the support they would receive. The band Snow Patrol were hugely involved and supportive from the early stages as well. Jonny Quinn had known Terri for years having worked in the Good Vibrations shop and played with him in a band at one point. “Jonny, Gary [Lightbody] and Nathan [Connolly], really supported the film loads. In fact even during the shooting of the final scenes in the Ulster Hall. We needed two thousand extras which isn’t very easy being on a budget. Jonny and Gary and Nathan came to play an acoustic set for us and they put out a call on their website to ask for people to come dressed as punks…within an hour we had the two thousand extras that we needed.” A crucial scene in the film, Glenn says the emotions of the crowd were genuine. “We didn’t need to tell them to look happy or to sing along. They were doing it and they believed in it as well…I think it’s a testament to Terri that they all knew about the shop and knew about Terri. They really threw themselves into it”.
The two feel it is a privilege to be able to tell the story of Terri Hooley. “Terri’s a legend, he’s a person who is very well known in the city and I grew up with all that music,” Glenn tells me. “ I saw Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones play so all that music was incredibly important to me growing up. It was important to a lot of people right through the eighties and nineties. It was kind of that light in the darkness, during pretty bleak times. It certainly gave a voice to a generation that otherwise wouldn’t have.” Glenn and Lisa were, in a sense, hoping to do what Terri himself did. What Terri achieved was more than bringing a new genre of music to a young generation looking for a voice, an escape or an outlet. Terri created an alternate view of Northern Ireland, a place that had become defined by it’s conflict. “For us, I think growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles we didn’t feel as though we were defined by it. At the same time your life is inevitably affected by it,” recalls Lisa. “The young people who were around during that scene would say to us quite openly during the making of it that had it not been for the Good Vibrations scene and what Terri did that the other alternatives in their lives would have been, in some cases, to follow a more violent path on one side of the conflict or the other.”
While the troubles are an important element of Good Vibrations, it was important not to keep it as a background for the story that they had set out to tell. “Without painting that background into the story no one really would have understood the significance of the story or why we were telling it or why it was such an extraordinay achievement by this man and these people. It was a very sensitive balance”. The balance was achieved mainly when working with their fantastic editor as they used archive material to shape a narrative that could blend together the vibrant story of Terri and the punks with the relentless conflict in a way that appeared seamless. Glenn believes that the unexpectedly upbeat nature of Good Vibrations is part of the films draw. One of the main things that appealed to him about the story was that it is a celebration, it’s a celebration of music whether it’s Hank Williams or David Bowie. It’s a celebration of all music.
The power of music and how it can change people’s lives is central to Good Vibrations. It is never more clearly demonstrated than in the scene where Terri attends his first punk gig. To watch Richard Dormer in this scene is something very special indeed. Without uttering a word Dormer conveys so much pure emotion and the audience are certain that after this moment life will never be the same again. Glenn and Lisa were both aware of Dormer’s phenomenal talent and he was their first choice for the role of Terri. “From the very start we knew that Richard was fantastic. We knew what he was capable of. He did an amazing one-man show which he wrote and starred in called Hurricane about the life of Alex Higgins. It is a stunning piece of work and it won all kinds of awards both here and abroad”. Often there is pressure to tie a ‘name’ to a production as it can make it easier to obtain funding. But the pair were set in their choice in Dormer. When they received a small amount of money to do a one-day shoot, much like a pilot, from one of their financiers they were able to showcase Dormer’s talents. “It was an amazing calling card to guide those who weren’t aware of what Richard could do. To say ‘This is the man, he should play Terri Hooley’. Once they all saw that it made it a lot easier”. When you watch Dormer’s performance it is not hard to see how he convinced anyone who had a doubt that he was the one for the role.
And how does Terri feel about seeing his life portrayed on screen? A private screening was arranged for Terri and his close family and friends, which for Terri translated into fifty to sixty people. Despite the fact that Terri had been involved throughout the making of the film, nothing can prepare you for the surreal experience of seeing your life up on screen. “He was very emotional”, Glenn recalls. “He got up and gave a very gracious speech afterwards. He thanked everyone involved and said he was very proud of the film” There are parts of the film that would understandably be difficult viewing for Terri but Glenn tells me that Terri would be the first to admit that he is not perfect. “We set out to celebrate Terri and the great things that he did but we also wanted to tell a story that had truth to it”.
Terri has travelled along with Glenn and Lisa to the festivals where the film has met with critical acclaim. There is a universality to the film which has helped to create an international audience. “It’s a distinctly Belfast story and also these feelings are universal. Whether you’re in Austin or Moscow, we’ve screened in the Czech Republic and South Korea. We’ve screened all over the world and it seems to be relevant wherever we screen it”. With a compelling, spirited story driven by remarkable performances, there is little doubt that this film and its directors have much more success ahead of them. Lisa and Glenn are currently working on another project with the writers of Good Vibrations which will be set in sixteenth century Venice. “It’s quite a big shift from Belfast punks” Glenn jokes. With this talented group at the helm we are most definitely looking forward to it.