I was very lucky in working with such strong and dedicated actors. I worked very hard with the lead actress Cara Seymour in preparation for her part. Though she lives in New York we talked every week on the phone, discussing her scenes. These conversations were fantastic. Cara thinks with a truthful heart, and it meant any bullshit was discarded. Though the story is very simple, we decided to mine the truth, to really get to the specifity of her character and the point and purpose of her scenes. We agreed it was rare in cinema where sex or an orgasm was the story! - but in this film it is. We always knew that we wanted it to be real, at times difficult, at times tender, but not “Hollywood Sex”. It is a very exposing part for any actress and she prepared with deep thought and care as we charted Katie’s recovery, warts and all!
The film was shot in 3 instalments, 1 day, 2 days and then 15 days! It was a luxury to work in this way, because we could see what was working and what may need adjusting. Each instalment was edited. Scot was there from Day 1. Though I have known Cara for years, Scot was a total stranger, introduced to me by his girlfriend who plays Lisa. I had been searching for the right actor to play the part of Sheamy for quite some time. I knew instinctively when I met Scot that he was right. He had a genuine sensitivity and tenderness the part needed, ex priest/lover, but he also had a streetwise sharpness, which could show the other side of Sheamy, the ex prisoner. I felt at ease with him, very important for me as a director. I could feel there would be a good working connection between us.
Mattias Nyberg (DOP) and Duncan Howell (Designer) and I poured over Rodin's sculptures of shame and also of sexual love. The body can reveal as much emotion as the face and eyes, and both were of interest too us. I decided I wanted a kind of expressionistic feel, a poetic sense of the emotions that were going on, especially when Sheamy cracks up. We also wanted a sense of the street, of contemporary London, these are just two ordinary people hanging out in Central London, having fun, going to gigs, and falling in love. Yet they are 2 people with a big back story, which could erupt at any moment.
It was important for me for there to the sensual beauty as the affection grows -falling in love is beautiful! But we also wanted to feel London. We quite revelled shooting on the streets, and keeping a verite feel. We kept to a small section of Hoxton and Camden, two funky and lively parts of London. Locations were important too us, we wanted gritty urban poetry.
As the character of Sheamy arrives in Liverpool the infamous port of arrival for the Irish, we decided, to go there for the opening scene, Sheamy's arrival by boat to England. This was shot on film.
We then moved the production to London. We decided to find a part of London that none of us knew that well, so we were like Sheamy arriving in London in an area we didn't know that well. So we choose Hoxton, which is so fashionable and teeming with life at the moment, it really epitomises, current London cool. This would be so strange for Sheamy as he is so uncool, ex priest etc. One of the films I watched a lot in preparation was Taxi Driver; I loved the simplicity of placing the Travis Bickle, on the streets of Manhattan, down with the cool kids, a fish out of water. It is the juxtaposition itself of putting the two differing types of people together which creates a lot of the drama.
We shot on HD. It was the first time I had ever shot on HD, but after initial nerves, I really enjoyed it. I loved the sense of freedom I could get with the actors, exploring things, doing whole takes, and then trying again in a different way. We did have difficulty finding a Church to shoot in due to the subject matter and at a point had to consider what to do if we couldn’t. We also shot some scenes in Camden.
Leaving Las Vegas was another film that I watched in the preparation. The soulfulness and acceptance I found really touching. But they are doomed and in a way our couple in Beyond the Fire have hope. However I thought the connection between the two actors was as important if not more important than their individual story lines. So myself, Scot and Cara would have breakfast every morning, sometimes talking in depth, sometimes just running through the lines, but in that time I think more than any other time, they really formed a connection which really helped them during the craziness of production. The gigs were shot live; this was done in the last week. There was real joy when shooting those scenes, possibly because after a really enjoyable but very tight shoot, people could feel they could relax a bit and let their hair down. The cameraman Nathan Wiley wandered all over with a roving camera picking up the atmosphere, enjoying the freedom of those moments. Beyond the Fire was shot on HD on location in Liverpool, Hoxton and Camden. Beyond the Fire was developed with the assistance of The Irish film Board and Northern Irish Screen.
There has been a lot of discussion about the scene where Sheamy forgives Fr Brendan towards the end of the film.
For me it was created as a moment of personal resolution for Sheamy AND a moment showing the tragic institutional failure of the church to deal with the paedophile crisis.
Sheamy finds a way to move forward and let go of the past by forgiving Fr Brendan. He is no longer carrying hatred in his heart. He has also broken the cycle of abuse. However like many victims he is not taking Fr Brendan to court. This is a reality, however a hard one it is to stomach. Katie, the other lead, did go through the legal process, Sheamy choose not to.
However the onus is not just on the victim but on the Catholic Church to deal with these priests. Many of whom have, like Fr Brendan in the film, been moved from Ireland to England and then from parish to parish. Fr Brendan, though genuinely repentant, is left alone in a church. A frightening reality that is still all too common.