The Irishman Press Conference – London Film Festival 2019

The 63rd London Film Festival took place on 2 – 13 October 2019, with its closing film being the latest Martin Scorsese film, The Irishman. The thought of the cinematic legends, Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino attending the same event is likely to be a dream come true for most cinephiles. It was the epic film, The Irishman that brought them all together on a Sunday afternoon in October at the elegant hotel, The Mayfair for the London Film Festival’s press conference.

The Irishman Film Poster
The Irishman Film Poster

Having literally hurried from the advance press screening of The Irishman earlier that morning at the Odeon Leicester Square, I nestled into the narrow seats of the second row in the auditorium of The Mayfair Hotel awaiting what would truly be the highlight of this year’s London Film Festival for me. The event had been extremely well organised with seamless registration and only a minor delay to the start time of the conference. The moderator, Francine Stock, advised of the structure for the conference before the panel’s arrival and the festival’s Artistic Director, Tricia Tuttle, introduced The Irishman as the closing film.

Tricia Tuttle, Artistic Director of the London Film Festival
Tricia Tuttle, Artistic Director of the London Film Festival

Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were also joined on the conference panel by the film’s producers, Jane Rosenthal and Emma Tillinger Koskoff. The camaraderie and respect shared between Scorsese, Pacino and De Niro were so evident and fascinating to observe, and I was certainly thankful to be in the room where it happened.

The Irishman is based on the 2004 memoir, I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt and follows the protagonist Frank Sheeran, played by De Niro, over decades through his career path from working in a butcher’s to ‘painting houses’ as a paid assassin. The film enticed Joe Pesci out of retirement but more details about the film will be found within my film review.

With such a stellar cast, the question inevitably arose, at the start of the conference, as to the reason for such a lengthy delay in creating such an ensemble and project. Scorsese explained that he and De Niro had been working on a project for approximately 20 years, which was the genesis of the film, however it had been subject to distractions from other projects. The actors’ and Scorsese’s schedules had also played a role in the delay of the commencement of the project for The Irishman and an initial script by Steven Zaillian for the film had been developed in 2009. Scorsese also mentioned that he had been looking for something to work on with De Niro which enriched the work that they had embarked on within the ‘70s and ‘80s without being a replication.

When De Niro mentioned that Scorsese had provided him with Jean Gabin films for research, being a Francophile, I was even more impressed. Scorsese provided further details of the applicable French films: Touchez Pas au Grisbi and the Jean-Pierre Melville films Le Doulous and Le Deuxième Souffle. These films will certainly be added to my watch list! In fact, I could have stayed in that room all day listening to Scorsese’s film discussions as his knowledge of film is so extensive!

Pacino, De Niro and Scorsese at the The Irishman Press conference for LFF
Pacino, De Niro and Scorsese at the The Irishman press conference for LFF

Pacino revealed that De Niro, as a producer, had drafted him in to The Irishman project, which was to be the first time that all three of them had worked together on a film despite knowing each other for many years. Surprisingly, there had been issues with securing financing for the film which Scorsese indicated did not occur instantly despite an impressive early reading of the script with most of the stellar cast already onboard.

One of the questions from the room therefore touched upon the fact that The Irishman is a Netflix production. Fortunately, there will be a cinematic release of the film a few weeks prior to its Netflix release date in November, as such an epic film truly deserves to be watched on the big screen. In response to the question as to whether such collaborations with Netflix may require the concept of cinema to be re-defined, Scorsese certainly was of the view that there has not just been an evolution of cinema but a revolution due to the technology available to enable films to be viewed in a variety of locations. He believes however, that a communal experience should always be protected and that such experience is best in a cinema. Scorsese acknowledged, however, that homes are becoming cinemas too in effect.

Again, he touched upon the difficulties of making The Irishman stating, ‘there was no room to make this picture.’ In an already saturated market where the CGI technology involved having various actors de-aged it seems that it simply proved to be a too expensive factor.

In line with the comments regarding the Netflix collaboration, Scorsese revealed that a trade-off had effectively occurred in order to have a company onboard, with the project, that would not interfere with the creative freedom required for the film’s production. Effectively, the outcome of such a decision resulted in the film being streamed with a limited cinematic release. Indeed, it is a question facing many filmmakers in these times.

Scorsese also returned to those earlier critical comments about Marvel films. However, he expanded the comments to state that there is room for so many other types of film-watching experiences and whilst Scorsese acknowledged that there will be crossovers he ultimately believed that it is a matter for the cinema owners who should take responsibility and allow more cinemas to show narrative films irrespective of the length.

Jane Rosenthal also clarified that The Irishman will continue to be shown in the cinemas during its Netflix release thereby allowing viewers the choice as to which viewing platform is preferred.

Of course, in another question posed, there was the inevitable comparison to Sergio Leone’s epic film, Once Upon a Time in America in which De Niro also starred. Scorsese’s humorous response outlined that the only existing similarities that he sees between the two films are that The Irishman is very long too and also stars De Niro! Scorsese also alluded to the vantage point of time, given that the film spans decades, but he is positive that such life experiences, which may reflect their own ages, could be conveyed within the performances to provide a degree of depth.

The CGI technology employed in the film is described as a new technique that has been developed and indeed Pacino likened it to a form of makeup, given that there have been various advancements in that field, such as the use of prosthetics and grey hair to denote ageing over time. From Pacino’s perspective, the project was all about the storyline, which was the element that had kept him involved, as he had initially been presented with details of the film prior to the use of any special effects.

De Niro humorously mentioned that upon seeing himself de-aged, he had joked that his career would be extended by another 30 years due to such technology! Indeed, there have been recent discussions over the use of technology to resurrect deceased actors within roles previously played. Such a process has largely remained controversial, however. Perhaps this reverse technique of de-ageing could potentially provide a solution concerning those films utilising ageing actors. For now, De Niro mentioned that he is happy with the technological process as it is very much in its infancy. He was also drawn to such a process as Pablo Helman was involved and wanted to make it all state of the art.

Scorsese mentioned that during the film editing process it was essential to ensure that the story did not go off tangent particularly with regard to the character of Frank, played by De Niro, who remains the film’s anchor. De Niro alluded to there also being some difficulty in securing the rights for the film. Fortunately, for us viewers, such a complex process was eventually resolved as it is truly a spectacular masterpiece to watch!

Had there been sufficient time, I would have been interested to discover more about the selection process for the film’s excellent soundtrack. Music from the blues genre features heavily in The Irishman and indeed Scorsese himself has historically directed a film about blues music.

I shall certainly look forward to re-watching The Irishman after attending this press conference and having received such insights concerning its background and the creative processes involved. It was truly a delight to be part of the event with such dynamic cinematic legends as a finale to this year’s London Film Festival.

The Irishman will be released in UK cinemas on 8 November 2019

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