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stag 2

“Nice and quiet all around now please,” says the first assistant director, a tall man with a frontiersman beard and a bush hat. “The camera is rolling. The camera is set. Annnnd – action!”

With that, six naked actors stride over a hillside in the Wicklow Mountains and pretended to flag down a school bus.

Well, when I say naked, they are wearing “modesty pouches” (as they’re known in the business), some strategically placed greenery, and goosepimples.

It is late November. There is ice on the roads and frost on the heather. The air is cold and clear and you can for a long way. Down in the valley at Glencree, there is smoke coming from the chimneys .

The actors are playing friends on a stag weekend. They decide to go camping for that authentic, manly, confessions-by-campfire experience.

But it doesn’t work out that way. They get lost, become separated from their kit, and end up wandering around wintry uplands in modesty pouches.

Six pale Irish backsides mount the steps into the bus, and our friend with the frontiersman beard shouts “Cut!”

The movie is called The Stag. It stars Amy Huberman, Peter McDonald, Hugh O’Connor, Brian Gleeson, Andrew Scott, Michael Legge and Andrew Bennett.

I am there to do interviews which will appear in the DVD “extras” bit and the digital press kit that will accompany the movie.

The time I spend on The Stag is like a holiday away from austerity Ireland to a place where creativity, hope and common purpose help people be happy

I am also a “civilian” – ie not really in the movie business. Movie people never gawp at the actors or marvel at all the cables and cameras or cough when the camera’s rolling, but I do.

The professionals treat me with polite indulgence, and help me wrangle the cast into doing the interviews I need. I am kind of a nuisance on the set, but a necessary one.

It’s now another day, and another scene. The boys are down from the mountains, have their clothes on and are seated around a dinner table in a swanky house in Dublin’s south side.

Cold warriors: the cast brave the elements in the Wicklow Mountains.

Cold warriors: the cast brave the elements in the Wicklow Mountains.

The place is owned by a chap in private equity who is not short of a bob or two. He’s rented the place out for three days to the production company, and we all have to wear plastic covers on our shoes to protect the cream-coloured carpets.

They’re filming a dinner party. There are eight actors in the scene. Amy is here, and the paparazzi are outside in SUVs with darkened windows.

I’m gawping again. They film the scene multiple times, with a different actor in close-up on each occasion. This way, they’ll be able to cut back and forth between the speakers and the others reacting to what has been said.

It’s remarkable to watch the actors when it’s their turn to be in close-up. When the camera is on them, they become more vivid versions of themselves, full of energy and vibrancy.

The Stag is being shot for less that €500,000 – a miniscule budget for a feature film. Outside the mansion owned by the chap in private equity, there is the usual movie-set tea and coffee table. “Even the biscuits are from Lidl,” jokes one of the producers.

Yet everyone says it’s the best crew they’ve ever worked with, the best atmosphere, the best craic. And it’s not easy. There are outdoor scenes. There are night scenes. They are outdoor night scenes. It’s cold. The biscuits are rubbish. But it’s fun.

Movie funding is drying up, and what “official” money there is tends to go to dark, brooding movies with lots of rain in them

I spend three days on the set, bagging my last interviews on the very last day of filming. From reading the script – by director John Butler and Peter McDonald –  and from what I’ve seen being filmed, it’s going to be a hit.

That it is being made at all is a kind of triumph in itself. Movie funding is drying up, and what “official” money there is tends to go to dark, brooding movies with lots of rain in them, and not comedies about stag parties.

The time I spend on The Stag is like a holiday away from austerity Ireland to a place where creativity, hope and common purpose help people be happy. The arts led us out of the last recession 30 years ago. Perhaps they’ll lead us out of this one too.

The Stag opens in Irish cinemas on March 7. It has been nominated for six Irish Film & Television Awards (IFTAs): Best Movie (producers Rob Walpole & Rebecca O’Flanagan); Best director (John Butler); Best Script (John Butler & Peter McDonald); Best Actor (Andrew Scott); Best Supporting Actor (Peter McDonald) and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Huberman).
Unfortunately, there is no Unit Publicist category.

IFTA details here. The Stag on IMDb here.