Monday, May 13, 2013

The Neil Jordan Collection at the Irish Film Archive

Coinciding with the IFI’s full retrospective of Neil Jordan’s cinematic work throughout the month of May, the IFI will be displaying rarely-seen documents donated by Neil Jordan to the IFI Irish Film Archive.

Kasandra O'Connell (Head of IFI Irish Film Archive) and Neil when Neil officially donated his research and document collection to the IFI Irish film Archive

In June 2009, coinciding with publicity for director Neil Jordan’s upcoming feature Ondine, it was announced that Jordan had donated the paper material relating to his films to the IFI Irish Film Archive of the Irish Film Institute. The material had been regularly transferred to the Archive since 2006, but the delay in publicising the acquisition means that this fascinating collection has been catalogued and is now fully accessible to researchers.

Jordan’s collection has been delivered film by film, and currently the Archive holds material from The Crying Game (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Michael Collins (1996), The Butcher Boy (1997), In Dreams (1999) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005). Documents relating to other productions are being delivered and made accessible on an on-going basis.

Storyboard from 'Michael Collins'

The material for each film includes documents relating to background research, production and set design, location scouting and photography, visual effects, soundtrack and sound mixing, awards, press, storyboards, shot lists, production schedules, draft scripts and screenplays, and stills. Together the material gives an insight into the working methods of one of Ireland's foremost directors.

Jordan initially had success in the 1970s as an author, before beginning his film career as script consultant on John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) and directing the documentary The Making of Excalibur: Myth into Movie. He also wrote the script for Joe Comerford’s Traveller which premiered at the Cork Film Festival in 1981. In 1982 he wrote and directed his first feature film, Angel, funded by the newly-established Irish Film Board. This was followed in 1984 by The Company of Wolves, and subsequently Mona Lisa (1986), High Spirits (1988), We’re No Angels (1989) and The Miracle (1991).

In 1992 Jordan directed The Crying Game which brought him international acclaim and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Original Screenplay. Jaye Davidson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dil, but the Archive’s collection reveals the range of other actors who had originally competed for the role. Headshots of these actors made up as women are present, and seem strangely jarring dressed as the character made famous by Davidson’s outstanding performance.

The Crying Game head shot of Jaye Davidson

Following the international success of The Crying Game, Jordan went to America to direct an adaptation of an Anne Rice novel, resulting in the Oscar-nominated film Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. As in the The Crying Game collection, the possibility of other potential actors in key roles are presented in the Archive's collection. Various (uncast) A-list actors are beautifully sketched as the vampires Louis and Lestat, as well as the film’s stars Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Research material for the vampires' look includes a grotesque file of images of corpses in various stages of decomposition.

Jordan returned to Ireland in 1996 to make Michael Collins, a project which he had been working on since the 1980s. Around 100 versions, fragments and rewrites are held under various alternative titles, spanning years of script development. Once completed the film was nominated for two Academy Awards, validating the unusually long time the project spent in pre-production.

Casting polaroid shot of Eamon Owens for The Butcher Boy

Following the success of Michael Collins, Jordan worked on an adaptation of Pat McCabe’s novel The Butcher Boy (1997). Again the script exists in multiple rewrites and revisions. A key issue with the adaptation appears to have been the colloquial language used, with the collection including various lists of Irish slang terms and their “translations” for American audiences. Following The Butcher Boy Jordan returned to the US once again in 1999 to make In Dreams and the The End of the Affair. This was followed by The Good Thief (2002), filmed in the South of France.

Jordan then set up the production company Company of Wolves which produced Intermission (2003) and The Actors (2003). In 2005 he adapted another Pat McCabe novel for the screen, Breakfast on Pluto. One script used by Jordan during the making of the film includes handwritten amendments made on set, showing that even during the shooting changes could be made.

Neil Jordan and Ian Wilson on set of The Crying Game

Overall, the Neil Jordan Collection gives a fascinating insight into the practicalities of the production of major feature films. Seemingly mundane items build a picture of the work involved in bringing the production together, including documents like prop lists, logs tracking tides, sunrise and sunset times, arrangements for shooting “behind-the-scenes” footage, and files of photographs taken by location scouts around Ireland and the UK. Such documents may be of interest both to film fans wishing to contextualise Jordan’s body of work, and to budding filmmakers curious to see the approach taken by a veteran Irish film director.

The Collection is an incredibly rich resource for Irish film researchers, and in time should be completed with the addition of material relating to all of Jordan’s films mentioned in this article. The collection is available for researchers at the Irish Film Archive by appointment. Many of the films mentioned are also available to view at the Archive's viewing facilities.

Rebecca Grant
IFI Librarian (2006 - 2012)

See our exclusive collection of production files, stills, draft scripts, set design and storyboards, all of which give a fascinating insight into the creative process of one of Ireland’s most acclaimed directors is now available online.

Neil Jordan Retrospective runs throughout May at the IFI. His new film, Byzantium, opens on May 31st.

This article was first published in Film Ireland in 2009 and it has been made available online with their kind permission.  


  1. Gracefull Blog!! Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques. But it have vast scope in India. Because of this there are various Top Film Making Colleges in India. These colleges trains the students to make the films like blockbusters. The Film Making Institutes in India are considered as the top institutes in the world for making.

  2. Neil Jordan is a treasure! I particularly loved his film, Ondine, and how it captured the essence and harsh reality of life in Ireland. I also loved his unique take on the mermaid and how she turned out to be a drug mule. I am so happy that he is donating his works to the Irish Film Archives to be preserved. :)

    Ruby Badcoe @ Williams Data Management