Deadly Cuts Director Rachel Carey on her dark comedy debut, the influence of her agency background and her excitement to join Motherland’s roster
Newly signed Motherland director, Rachel Carey started her career as an account manager at an ad agency before eventually moving into writing. With an interest in theatre, she experimented with writing shorts, landing funding from the Irish film board which sparked her drive to create her very first feature length film, Deadly Cuts, in 2020.
Named as one of Ireland’s top grossing films of 2021, the dark comedy has been making waves across the world since, streaming on Netflix UK in January 2022 and releasing in the US on St Patrick’s Day.
Set in a working-class Dublin hair salon, the film stars Angeline Ball, Ericka Roe, Lauren Larkin and Shauna Higgins as stylists who become accidental vigilantes as they take on gang members and gentrifiers threatening their community.
In this interview, Rachel opens up about her experience directing Deadly Cuts, what drew her to join Motherland’s roster and that time she faced an unhinged bear…
LBB> You spent a big portion of your career in an ad agency, so how and when did you finally sidestep into filmmaking?
Rachel Carey> I began my advertising career as an account manager which is how I first fell into the world of advertising. I then moved into creative within an agency as a copywriter.
I'd always been interested in drama - I used to do some theatre work as a hobby - but it was when I got into copywriting and making TV ads that I got really interested in the filming and production process of writing for screen. That led me to writing all sorts of sketches and shorts on the side.
Eventually, I got a short film funded that did quite well. I knew then that I wanted to get a feature made, and I'd been writing ideas and pitching them.
When my debut feature film, Deadly Cuts got optioned, it became clear that I was going to have to work on that full time. That was when I left agency life and went full time into the directing world.
LBB> How does that experience and understanding inform your approach as a filmmaker when it comes to shooting commercials?
Rachel> I can't say enough how positively I think an agency background has impacted my career as a filmmaker. You learn such a discipline in terms of how you have to sell to get something made — how much work goes into that really stood to me.
As a filmmaker the value I put on relationships with everybody involved in the process is huge. And it's not just with your key crew and actors, but it's with the producers and the people who are putting money into it. All those relationships are important. That’s another thing you really learn in the ad industry.
Coming from making 30 second commercials, every second matters. It was funny when we were making Deadly Cuts, we'd be in the post-production process and every second meant so much to me. People in the film world would ask, “Do you really care that you can see that bit of her skirt?” and I did care. I think my background made me nitpicky in the best way possible and now I know the value of every second on the screen.
LBB> You recently joined Motherland's roster. What is it that drew you to them?
Rachel> Motherland has always been a production company that I've been really impressed by. They have such an impressive reel to their name, but even from the get-go, they had had such a commitment to their craft and a certain level of production value that you don’t always see in smaller production companies. No matter what they were doing, you could see the creativity and craft came first.
They do music, video projects, and film projects as well as commercial work. The fact that they have in-house post capacity is also huge. It’s a benefit to everybody because the post and the editing is such a massive part of finding the story, especially as a comedy director. Having people there that are involved in the project, in a post-production sense, that are as committed to it as you are, is great.
Motherland is a company led by the desire to do good creative work and I've never seen that waiver. The ethos of the company is fantastic so I was honoured to be asked to be a part of that. It felt like a great fit for me for where I am with my career and creative aspirations.
LBB> Your debut feature film Deadly Cuts which you wrote and directed is experiencing HUGE success in Ireland. What was the inspiration and creative vision behind it?
Rachel> I am from the northside of Dublin and I’m a big comedy fan. I never understood why there aren’t many Dublin comedies because we are such a funny city, and the real Dublin voice is very funny. I always knew that I would like to do something with that voice, and I knew I'd want to do it with a female voice.
I also knew that I wanted to do something with hairdressing. I go and get my hair done a lot and I sit in small salons. It's the right environment for humour, characters, and relationships. The reason people have set so many shows in the salon is because it’s just ripe for comedy.
I didn't want to make a comedy about stereotypical ditzy hairdressers, I wanted it to be about young powerful women. Then I looked at what’s going on in the world and in our city - there’s so much redevelopment and the working class are (as usual) the worst affected, so I suppose all those ideas merged to give me the concept. Once I landed on it, I knew I had the perfect storm for the film that I wanted to make.
LBB> The film stars some big names - what was it like working with this cast. Did you have those actors in mind when you wrote the script?
Rachel> Yeah, some of them like Angeline Ball, for example, is a bit of a Dublin legend and I knew she'd be perfect for the role of Michelle. The character needed somebody glamorous, authentically Dublin, and funny. I had her in mind, and she said yes straight away after reading the script. I was so surprised! When you have a little feature film, a slim amount of money, and you are a first-time feature maker, you’re not too hopeful. It was amazing when Angeline said yes, and she was incredible to work with because she was just so enthusiastic about the project. She's also the nicest person you could ever meet as well as being insanely talented. It was one of those relationships that was just easy from the start, and we just had a brilliant experience working together.
Pauline McLynn, Victoria Smurfit, and Aidan McArdle came on board later in the casting process when we got around to the more peripheral characters. II knew they’d be amazing. One by one they said yes and all of them were a dream. It was a Dublin comedy which hadn't been done in a long time, so everyone came to have fun. It was nice and so rewarding as a first-time filmmaker to have such an experience.
LBB> What were the most memorable moments from shooting?
Rachel> It genuinely was a laugh from start to finish and some days, the entire set would just fall apart for about five minutes. If you're not laughing on a comedy set, something's wrong.
I didn't have any improv on set because we didn’t have time and it was such a precise script. Pauline McLynn came along, and she plays a judge in a hair competition. But at one stage, Pauline asked me if she could improvise, and I told her to go for it. It’s Pauline McLynn, you’re going to let her improvise!
We just let her off the leash and it was hilarious. It was like getting a ticket to a free comedy show that just happened to be my own film and I think everybody just had such a brilliant day. Some of the stuff she came out with was better than anything I could ever write.
LBB> How did it feel to be attracting such big audiences to your first feature?
Rachel> It felt amazing. It was strange because originally, the film closed the Dublin International Film Festival, but it was virtual, so we never got to feel what the reaction was really like. The moment it hit me that it was big was when I was driving down O'Connell Street here in Dublin and I saw a gigantic Deadly Cuts poster plastered on the side of Savoy Cinema. I just couldn't get over it. Everyone was sending me pictures of it.
The poster was on buses as well and there was just a huge campaign around it. That really took me aback. I knew it was doing well at the cinema, but the Netflix launch was where it really exploded. I remember my postman knocked on the door and told me he saw the film. The most random people were quoting lines at me. That is when it really hit me that it was everywhere and was well-received.
It was just amazing because I made an Irish comedy film for everyone, but I made it authentic for an Irish audience as opposed to writing Irish comedy for export. The fact that it resonated here at home meant a lot to me because authenticity was really at the heart of the project.
LBB> The film is a comedy with a dark streak. Is comedy an area you like to work in? What subject areas or genres are you most drawn to?
Rachel> Comedy is always what I am drawn to. Comedy can go so dark, and all comedy is tragedy really. I think anything that I explore will always have a comedic edge to it because I'm attracted to that way of exploring subject matters — not necessarily comedy for silliness’ sake but comedy to make a point, comedy to tell a story and comedy to explore the human condition.
As humans, it's what we relate to, and it connects people. It’s so powerful when it's done well. I want to work with different shades of comedy for sure.
LBB> How did you find the experience of working on a feature film compared to shorts/copywriting work?
Rachel> It’s a big leap but all the same processes and skills apply. If you’re’ making a 40 second commercial, you must consider everything: the cast, the wardrobe, the art, the edit, everything. A feature film is that but on a bigger scale and I found that it wasn’t that different.
Obviously, the script is longer but in terms of directing, it’s just finding that vision and making the calls. It’s the same commitment to a vision that you would need to have making a good commercial or short.
LBB> When it comes to you as a director, what elements of a script sets one apart from the other?
Rachel> I am always looking for a script that says something in a new way. I always like to see an insight that hasn’t been explored before and that could be as simple as a visual technique, or it could be the message or an ethos that is presented.
As a director, I am always looking for something that’s got potential for a great performance. If it’s the bones of a character that I can potentially bring to life, that is great. I can always spot that and that’s when you start to see the characters in your head, and you see it come together. That's what gets me excited.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad and why?
Rachel> Across the board you need to have a good relationship with everyone. But if I had to focus on one, your relationship with the agency’s creative is so important. The creatives have had the vision for a project before you do, and they’ve nurtured it and worked on it a great deal before bringing it to you. The respect you must have for that is huge. It’s a creative collaboration that only makes the work stronger. If you can always have a good relationship with creative, it works for everybody.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Rachel> Early in my career I'd written a commercial for a beer brand and it involved a bear. It was a foreign shoot and I thought we were going to CGI the bear, but they said they were going to get a real bear.
We turned up on set and the bear seemed a little unhinged. Everybody thought they were going to die. The solution to calm the bear was to feed it two litre bottles of Coca-a-Cola. At that stage, we walked away from the idea of having a real bear. I will never forget it. You’ve never felt fear until you've seen a bear unhinged. I guess we overcame it by writing the bear moment out of the ad!