Meet the Director of U2's 'Every Breaking Wave'
Aoife McArdle on being given free reign by Bono to create 'something emotional' as a vehicle for his band's newest single and choosing unknown actors from Belfast to help tell her story
It’s not everyone who can say they were given full creative license by super-group, U2, to make their latest music video, but for a talented Northern Irish director, it's the truth.
London-based Aoife McArdle, who hails from Omagh but is currently relocating back to Belfast, is behind the critically acclaimed short film, Every Breaking Wave, the official video for U2’s new single of the same name.
Filmed in the New Lodge area of Belfast over a couple of weeks, the 13-minute piece was inspired by both 'Every Breaking Wave' and another U2 song, 'The Troubles', both taken from the global rockers' new album Songs of Innocence, which was controversially made available for free to all Apple customers in late 2014.
Stiff Little Fingers’ iconic punk track, 'Alternative Ulster', meanwhile, opens the film. Played by local actors, it tells the story of a young couple – one Catholic, one Protestant – who fall in love during The Troubles. 'I really love how it’s turned out,' says McArdle. 'I’m really proud of it.'
Having previously directed music videos for Bryan Ferry, Simian Mobile Disco and James Vincent McMorrow, McArdle is steadily making a name for herself as a sought-after director. Indeed, McMorrow saw a video that she had made for London composer John Hopkins and subsequently wrote her a 'very compelling email' to request her services.
McArdle, who currently works with the company Somesuch, was initially approached by Jefferson Hack of Dazed magazine (also known to many as Kate Moss’s ex), who inquired if she might be interested in making a short film for U2. Hack told McArdle that he had wanted to work with her for a while and thought she would be perfect to the lead the project.
'I wasn’t really sure, as I didn’t know what they wanted or what they would expect from a director,' says McArdle. 'But Bono rang me and told me they wanted me to make whatever film I wanted. He said to listen to the music and make whatever came to mind.'
With full artistic license granted, McArdle subsequently penned her script during a weekend of intensive writing, with Bono keeping in touch throughout the entire process. Describing him as 'really engaging and funny', McArdle says the U2 front-man 'rang up and responded to things, but never in a negative way'.
'He’s a very nice guy. It’s only Bono I’ve been in direct contact with, but he’s really excited about the whole creative process. It’s perhaps why U2 have had longevity as a band, they’re so involved. It was really infectious.'
Although she was due to meet the band, the proposed date clashed with her mother’s birthday, but down-to-earth McArdle takes it all in her stride. 'It ended up that I didn’t meet them in person, but I did speak to Bono lots on the phone. He told me about the history of 'Every Breaking Wave', which is about his relationship with his wife. They met when they were 14 or 15 and fell in love. Then U2 got big and they had this whole thing about how they were going to stay together. It was great to get that background.'
Equipped with Bono’s back story, McArdle responded to his request for 'something emotional' by injecting a bit of her own personality into the film. And so to Belfast. 'They were really cool with setting it in Northern Ireland,' McArdle adds. 'Bono said I should have a listen to 'The Troubles' too, and the idea came to me through both those songs. It was never going to be a conventional video. It’s a film driven by their music and dialogue.'
A keen advocate of street casting, McArdle arrived in Belfast and immediately scouted around for her actors. She subsequently came across her two leading men – both real-life best friends – on the city streets and thought they were perfect. 'I like working with young people who maybe wouldn’t have thought they could do acting. I’ll be working on a feature film in September and I’m keen to have Belfast kids in it.'
McArdle describes this next project, Kissing Candice, as 'a thriller, an unconventional love story about two outsiders growing up in suburbia in Northern Ireland'.
Although locations have yet to be agreed, McArdle will film north and south of the border, and is keen to recruit local talent. 'I think there are brilliant characters here,' she says. 'I find Northern Ireland inspiring both visually and for its actors, especially those who don’t know they can act yet.'
Becoming a director, however, takes a lot of grit and determination. Indeed, growing up in Omagh, the aspiring director certainly wasn’t encouraged into her craft at school, particularly, she says, because of her sex. As the eldest of five (McArdle has three brothers and a sister), she subsequently studied English at Trinity College in Dublin.
'I’d wanted to be a director since I was seven,' McArdle recalls. 'I remember watching Humphrey Bogart and noir films with my dad – and Taxi Driver with my mum – thinking, "I want to do that." You have to really push through to be a film director as a girl though.'
Also a keen photographer, McArdle began making small video camera films, then completed a masters in film production before taking a job as a production assistant with a documentary company. From there, she worked her way closer to her dream job, before finally striking out on her own.
She has this advice for aspiring music and feature film directors: 'If you want to be a director, you have to be prepared that it’s going to take over your whole life. It’s not a part-time job and it’s not glamourous. You’re writing, prepping, shooting, editing, pitching… It’s hard work.'
With Every Breaking Wave described as 'extraordinary' by U2 band member and guitarist, The Edge, McArdle’s work has also been praised by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker, Spike Jonze. Indeed, he says the film is 'a perfect little gem of a romance movie'. High praise indeed.