Arriving in theaters and on VOD platforms everywhere on Friday, September 14th is writer/director Michael Tully’s Don’t Leave Home, his thoughtful and thrilling exploration of the obsessive nature of art and the lengths one will go to feed their creative beast. Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Tully about the project, and he discussed the inspirations behind his story, collaborating with his tight-knit cast, how an EDM (electronic dance music) festival threw their location plans for a loop, and much more.
Great to speak with you, Michael. In terms of the story, was there something that you based this on that's from some urban legends or local myths, or was this something purely from your own imagination?
Michael Tully: It's kind of a combination of both. I could list 20 different reasons why I wanted to make this movie, what it means to me, but because there's so much content in this world, I was like, “Is it possible to create an original urban legend and put it into the world?” Part of the challenge suddenly became, 'Is it possible to create something original?' And then going beyond that, initially the only pitch I had was the title of Don't Leave Home, and I think you know probably better than anyone that there's just the canon of Don't movies out there. And there wasn't a feature made called Don't Leave Home, and I was like, “Well, maybe there's a reason for that.”
I just definitely wanted to explore this idea of making a Euro Gothic. It's even tricky to call this horror, because I feel like I don't wanna put that foot out too far. For me, it was more about atmosphere and mood. I also think Ireland is really specific to this story in the sense of there are the Magdalene laundries with babies being covered up, there's the vanishing from the IRA, from the Civil War that was happening, there's another story that was called the Vanishing Triangle, where sometime in the late ’90s there were female tourists who went missing in this triangle of an area.
I didn’t want to make something that was directly referencing these real-life tragedies, because I felt like that would be insensitive, but I wanted to tap into that kind of mystery. But it wasn't until the 15th draft actually, when my producer sent me something about a haunted painting, and that's what triggered it. I'd written many versions of this movie that didn't have that and now, of course, when you watch it, you're like, “Why are they mixing movies?” That's the whole hook of the movie, but it just took a while to get there.
I just think it's really interesting how Anna Margaret [Hollyman] and Lalor [Roddy]'s characters represent two different sides of the creative spectrum in a way. She's doing these interpretations of these scenes, and he's got this gift that's almost very destructive in nature, and I just thought it was a really interesting Yin and Yang, but they have this great understanding between them as well.
Michael Tully: In writing these characters, there’s this thing in Hollywood, where you have 55-year-old Tom Cruise and then you have a 28-year-old actress, and people are like, “Oh, she's too old.” It's like, 'Wait a minute, she's 27 years younger or whatever. So, with the characters of Melanie and Alistair, I just didn't want the movie to have this sexual tension. It was really important to make it about them connecting as artists and as people. They're on their own little journeys, and in hindsight, without giving things away, you realize why he's been tormented after the fact, [when you] see what his gift can do.
It was really important for me to try to put two characters in a world where it wasn't about sexuality—it was just more about their paths as artists. One thing that I should also point out is that Ireland is a perfect country for this type of a story, because there's a little bit of sadness with the beauty that’s inherent in that country. I call Alistair a sad guy, not a bad guy. I was just like, 'I don't want to make another movie where the third act turns into a woman being chased.' I was very conscious to take the movie in a different direction.
I loved your location for this, because the way you guys shot it, it really feels like it becomes this other presence in the movie, along with the actual actors. Can you talk about where you guys shot and getting that vibe through visually? It’s gorgeous, and yet you feel like there's definitely something off.
Michael Tully: Thinking about it now, I wonder just how would we make this movie if we didn't shoot at this location? I feel like it's inexplicably tied to the movie. When I went over in March six weeks out of shooting, we had this location in Sligo, which is about three and a half hours outside Dublin. Effectively, that means you're outside the zone, so it becomes a location shoot, where you have to pay per diem, and you have to pay to put people up. Initially, I thought we were going to raise enough money to do that, but we had to scale back.
So, we thought we had a different location, which was about an hour-ish south of Dublin where a lot of Irish production happens in Wicklow County, like Game of Thrones. But as we were flying over, the producers said, “There's a music festival happening that opening weekend of the shoot, but it's just a small thing.” I was picturing like kilts and bagpipes and 30 people, but it turns out it was an 8,000-person EDM festival.
So, that was not happening. We were scrambling a bit, and we found this place in Celbridge, which is about a half hour west of Dublin. We were taking the tour with the wife, Sally Clements. It wasn't until halfway through that when the producer, George Rush, and I looked at each other and we were like, “We've been here before.” We had done a pre-scout in 2013, four years ago, and the tour was given by the husband, Charlie. It didn't really connect until we got to this one weird hallway, and then I was like, “Oh, shit. We've actually been here before.”
As soon as we had the location, though, it became about, "What are the attributes from this locale that I hadn't written in the script initially, that I could now use in service to the story." So, it really worked out.
You just touched a little bit on this, but I know in this day and age, it's such a tough gauntlet that you have to run as an independent filmmaker. I feel like sometimes people don't understand that it's a big process. And because this is a story about artists, how did this journey of making Don’t Leave Home, and then putting it out there as an artist yourself, transform you along the way?
Michael Tully: I do feel like the more that I do this, the more that I'm getting Zen about it. It's like, I want to do the work, I love talking to people about the movies, but ultimately, I know the world we're living in and there's so much content, and if you don't have the millions of dollars in advertising, it can be a rough prospect for a filmmaker like myself.
When it came to the movie itself, we had 20 days to shoot for 10-hour days in Ireland versus 12-hour days here in the States. If you don't have a little bit of a handle on the experience to know the scale that you're working on, I think it'll just all fall apart. And then it just becomes about working with collaborators you completely trust. I worked with Wyatt Garfield, our cinematographer, before on Ping Pong Summer, and I had worked with my production designer [Bart Mangrum] and composer [Michael Montes] before as well. I think if you have people who can work with less, understand the limitations, and try to maximize that, then you're not wasting time complaining about not being a movie with a huge budget. It turns into this thing of, “Here's what we have to work with. How can we make something that feels bigger and more artistic than just your average indie movie?”
And again, this movie is about artists, so I wanted it to feel like a work of art unto itself. I know that ultimately, it's all subjective, as to whether people think that or not about this film. But for us, our intention was trying to make a movie that feels three times its budget. It's a tough, tough world out there. So, I am hopeful that there will be folks out there who respond to what we’ve created with this film, and understand why we approached it this way.