A Short Film With No Dialogue? Ask Sexy Raygun

Want to shoot a film on a shoestring budget and deadline so tight it squeaks? Ask Sexy Raygun how

Mute is a Sexy Raygun picture. That isn’t – unfortunately – a new genre, it is the name of the Belfast production company behind a new 30 minute short film. Written by Lisa Keogh and directed by Conan McIvor, the creative partnership behind Sexy Raygun, Mute is a film that explores romance ‘after you take the talk away’.

Taking a break from putting the last touches to the film in a SARC studio, the two disagree amiably about what lay behind that decision. McIvor puts it down to watching so many films that relied on witty banter and wanting to try something different. Keogh, who was finishing her PhD at the same time as writing and filming Mute, rolls her eyes and says she was just sick of talking to people.

Paige, played by Colette Lennon, is the eponymous mute, a backpacker newly arrived in Belfast who begs a bed for the night from Nick Lee’s frustrated composer, Felix. They find a way to connect without words, through an instant connection and the pages of Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams.

It isn’t necessary to have read the book to understand the film. The storylines resonate but are not directly linked. Keogh just wanted the characters to bond over a shared love for a book, rather for reading in general. ‘Everybody reads!’ she says. ‘Paige and Felix are reading the same book. More than once.’

The inspiration for the story came from a chance meeting in a coffee shop between McIvor, Keogh and an American man looking for a couch to sleep on. They said no – Keogh deploying the excuse of a disapproving flatmate, while McIvor’s couch was already taken by a guest – but the exchange stayed with both of them. ‘I thought about going back,’ McIvor comments, surprising Keogh for a moment. ‘I didn’t though.’

Both Keogh and McIvor had, after working together on various Centre for Excellence in the Creative and Performing Arts projects, been wanting to get into film-making. This encounter seemed the perfect impetus.

Reality, of course, had to give way to the narrative needs of fiction, with the American losing first his voice and then his gender. ‘There is less personal risk in a guy letting a woman sleep on his couch,’ Keogh explains.

Getting the script right took a year, but when it came to filming Sexy Raygun only gave themselves a week. ‘Five days and one night,’ Keogh corrects precisely. The reason behind the tight schedule was that they had, at that point, absolutely no funding at all.

The usual sources for funding had turned them down – McIvor philosophically agrees that as a project Mute didn’t exactly fit the funders requirements – so they decided to just ‘go do it’ with £500 of their own money. A budget they doubled with a £500 grant from Richard Irvine of Queen’s Quarter Weekends.

Somewhat surprisingly, both McIvor and Keogh can find the silver lining in the experience. The lack of wriggle room – in budget or schedule – meant that they had to find cast, crew and venue that could fit in around their constraints. It simplified the process.

McIvor adds that there was something special about working with people who were in it for the love, not the money. It was, he opines, a very democratic filming process, with everyone contributing their expertise. ‘People were more switched on. It wasn’t just a job, it was a passion.’

To prove his point, many of the crew - director of photography, Peter Marley; sound recordist, Paul Verlaque, and sound designer David Bird - have been in and out of the studio to add their opinion to the edit. Missing is assistant producer, Claire Donoghue, although Keogh praises her highly and makes an intriguing reference of Donoghue’s experience with the wrestling channel.

Although that isn’t to say the shoot was completely stress-free. The film takes place in the afternoon and at night, with ‘lots of twilight,’ McIvor remembers with a sigh. They shot in the week before the summer solstice, so the nights were getting later and shorter. It had to be done though. ‘We couldn’t afford to fly Lee back over again to reshoot!’

The final result is an intense piece of synesthetic film-making that, absent dialogue, depends on the interaction of sound and visuals to tell the story. Mute is indebted, Keogh interjects, to local musicians, such as Katie and the Carnival, Albrecht’s Pencil, Not Squares and Isobel Anderson, who donated their music to the soundtrack.

With Mute almost completed, Sexy Raygun have their sights aimed ever onwards and upwards. They are in the middle of drawing up submission packages for Oscar certified short-film festivals (win one of those and you can submit your film to the little golden man himself) and ideas for their next project are already percolating. ‘We’re working on another short film,’ Keogh says. ‘And there’s a feature idea we hope to develop.’

In the meantime, Mute premiers at Queen's Film Theatre on April 30. Tickets are free, but limited so contact Sexy Raygun to book.