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Creating a cult classic: Scene interviews Troy Duffy of ‘The Boondock Saints’

Matt Brown and Eric Prister | Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Observer article below has been update.

The Irish Catholic, vigilante killers of “The Boondock Saints” are back — and they paid a visit to Catholic Disneyland, too. The film’s creator and one of its stars visited Notre Dame’s campus Tuesday evening for several events to promote the release of the new movie.
A lucky 200 students got to see “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day,” the sequel to the 1999 cult classic.  Tickets for the free Tuesday night showing at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Browning Cinema were snapped up instantly, but an overflow of campus enthusiasm and online support convinced distributor Apparition to open the movie the South Bend-Mishawaka area this weekend.
The Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies and Student Union Board organized two informal discussion sections with the series creator Troy Murphy and one of the film’s actors, Sean Patrick Flanery. Following a packed question-and-answer session in Jordan Hall of Science, Scene writers Matt Brown and Eric Prister got the chance to interview Duffy, who wrote and directed both “Boondock” installments.

Matt Brown: At what point when you were shooting “Boondock Saints” did you just realize that this was badass?
Troy Duffy: Frame one. If you don’t think you’re cool, nobody’s going to think you’re cool. We walked into that just going, “We’re the baddest motherf—s on the cell block.” We knew when we hit something. You never really know something like that until you hit the editing process, when you start to put it together with music and see what you really have there. That was the process when I realized how well some of these scenes flow together and give me that emotion that I was looking to give an audience. That’s when we were like, “Wow, we’ve really got something here.”

MB: When you have all that raw footage and you’re looking at it all, are you basically just scanning through it until something clicks?
TD: With us, as an independent film, these guys got most of the shit in one to three takes. When you have this much time and this much money, there’s no time for you to go “Ah, let’s use take 57.” It never happened with us. So in terms of editing together all the footage, it was one of those things where we only had a few takes for each scene to sort through. I almost wish we had a little bit more, but as it turned out, my guys came to play.

Eric Prister: You were talking about how serious the content of the movie was. But there’s also some humor. How much of a goal did you make that?
TD: Huge. I believe in balance in a film. Have you ever been watching a zombie movie, and they kill zombies so much that you get so numb to it that you don’t even care anymore? The next cool way to kill a zombie — who gives a s—? If you watch “Boondock” really carefully, like a mathematician, every time you see something brutal, it’s followed by something funny.

MB: In horror movies, it’s the music that gets me on edge.
TD: And it’s become a tactic now. Have you ever been watching one of those, and it goes “eeeeee….” and then nothing happens?

MB: And everyone always talks about the music in “Boondock,” and it’s absolutely fantastic. How did you approach the scenes? Did you have something in mind? Or were you just trying to think of what emotion you were trying to get out of the audience?
TD: Sometimes you have something in mind. Sometimes you’re just trying to expand the emotion of what you have laid down visually. It’s almost like, have you ever heard that old adage “you write one, you direct a second, you edit a third?” I’d say you music a fourth. You musically edit a fourth. It’s the last spice you put on something.
MB: Did you have a rule of thumb for that?
TD: Not all the time. Sometimes I had things in mind. Sometimes I had no idea what we were going to do. It was the process of searching out and finding something that gave me that emotion. Like, for instance, that Ty Stone guy [a singer-songwriter who’s first big break was the “Boondock Saints II” soundtrack], the first cue we play by him in “Boondock II” is sort of a montage sequence with the brothers cutting their hair and getting to look like they did in the first one, because they’ve grown long hair and beards. So it’s almost like a “Rocky” montage, and I needed something that was heavy, and hard-hitting, and rocking, but it had to say something different. It couldn’t be “Eye of the Tiger,” right? There had to be the right tune. So I find this kid in a bar, and he has this song called “Bloodline,” and it talks about relationships between father and son. The chorus is “I come from one mother f—ing bad line of blood.” And to this, “Boondock” fans have a connection. Everybody always asks me, “Why did the boys follow in their father’s footsteps when they didn’t even know who he was? How come they were killers, too? Is that some kind of bloodline thing? Is this a MacManus gene?”

EP: There are particular things in “Boondock I,” especially how you shot the investigation footage and the murder footage together. Did you use that again and where did that idea come from?
TD: Yes. I wrote the script that way, because it’s a way to deliver information to the audience just when you need it. You watch a cop on a crime scene mis-assess a clue, saying, “This has to be what happened.” And then you see the brothers do it and it was just a f—ing accident and it couldn’t have been predicted, which makes it funny. If you had done it linearly, it would have blown that. So these types of things are always just devices to make films more effective, as far as I’m concerned. And the non-linear way in which we flash back and forth between the crime scene and the gig actually being done by the boys, which was one of those things that helped keep it interesting, helped deliver information to the audience when and how we wanted to for emphasis or emotion or humor. It was just a device.

MB: Going into the second one, you said you can’t just do the first one again. What were some ways you tried to differentiate or change it a little to give it that difference?
TD: Female lead. Period piece flashbacks to 1950s New York to explain Il Duce’s history as a killer. Technically what you want to do is throw a huge curveball story that they could never see coming. But you have to give them everything they love from the first movie. A sequel is a chance to have your cake and eat it too, but you have to take big risks. Those are all ways in which we threw curveballs at the audience.

The original version of this article misreported the distributor as Sony. The distributor is Apparition. The Observer regrets this error.