Screen’s contributing editor Wendy Mitchell talked to the film’s producer Finola Dwyer at The UK Film Centre in Cannes.

Brooklyn panel

John Crowley’s upcoming film Brooklyn took Sundance by storm, resulting in a record-breaking bidding war.

“When I read Colm Tóibín’s novel (of the same name), I loved it. I think it’s a universal issue where people live somewhere other than where they were born. But I thought it would be expensive, being based in Ireland and the US.”

After a fate meeting with Tóibín in New York, the writer agreed to give Dwyer the option rights for the book.

“I immediately got in touch with Nick Hornby, whom I worked with on An Education. We both shared the same vision, and the script came together very quickly.”

Casting was more complicated – with Rooney Mara initially set to play the lead. As the development stage lingered on, she became too old, and Saoirse Ronan became older. In a surprise twist, Mara was cast in the film Carol, just as John Crowley dropped out of directing the romantic drama.

Intermission was one of the best debuts I have ever seen. He doesn’t see films the same way we do. And that is what we wanted.”

Financing was initially provided by BBC development money, followed by The Irish Film Board who came on board with production funding, as did the BFI.

Further financing was secured with Bord Scannán na hÉireann and Parallel Films in Ireland along with Item 7, Telefilm and other local financiers based in Canada.

“Because half the shoot was taking place in Montreal, substituting for Brooklyn, New York, we had to secure both funding and a production crew in Canada. It was very challenging working with people you haven’t worked with before – in a city you have never shot in before. It forces you to step outside of your comfort zone.”

With a budget of just over over €9m, production schedules were tight.

“It was like staying in hotels without cotton sheets,” laughed Dwyer. “And because there ended up being 13 different financing companies in total, it was very important we all worked together. At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for the film.”

Shooting did, however, take place in New York for two days – something that took Dwyer six months to negotiate in order to avoid it being deemed a SAG project.

“We just couldn’t find a replicate for Coney Island – but it was worth shooting there – it really is a magical place.”  

French producer Pierre Even from Next 7 reiterated the complexities in shooting across three different countries.  

“There were 13 different finance partners, which meant 13 different lawyers. We had daily phone calls with at least 16 people for the three months of business prep. If it weren’t for Finola’s lawyer who was very calm and disciplined throughout the process, the film might have fallen apart.”

He also reiterated the challenges in continuing pre-production in Montreal, when production had already started in Ireland.

“We had to carry on without much guidance from Finola or John. And that is another challenge when working in different cities.”

Susan Mullen, also present, finished the panel with the following advice, “The most important thing is not to fit a square peg into a round hole.,  It needs to be a natural fit.”

Dwyer estimates the film traveling to Telluride, TIFF and LFF, with a US release date of November and the UK and other territories weeks later.

Fox Searchlight are releasing in the US, Lionsgate in the UK and Mongrel in Canada.