Michael O’Shea: A one-hit wonder 20 years in the making

His debut feature, The Transfiguration, was a monochrome vampire movie set in an unfashionable corner of New York. Then I wrote a slasher film and we failed to get money for that,” he remembers. A guy and a girl walked up to me after a screening and said: ‘Can you settle an argument?’ He thought he wasn’t a vampire and she thought he was. We filled in all the different sections and each charges 60 bucks. “Then I fell into fixing computers for rich people. There might be an off chance of landing at the semi-attached Directors Fortnight at Cannes. Eric Ruffin plays an African-American kid who has become obsessed with all representations of the vampire. The old myths were about telling you that death is natural and if you defy death, you become this appalling monster. “It was like filling in a lottery ticket,” he laughs. I had no agent. He certainly believes himself to be that. “You have no idea. A decent review at Sundance or the South by Southwest Festival helps. Is that what we made?”

The film’s screening in Un Certain Regard on the first Saturday triggered a standing ovation. I am saying something larger about what capitalism does to us. I was thinking to make something cheaper that was a portrait film in our reality.”

The result is a very singular piece of work. He would take the subway and go from this place that felt like a wasteland and then he’d go and hunt in the new fancy New York City. “What are you suggesting?” O’Shea laughs damply. All the machinery that goes behind getting films to viewers was missing. I made a terrible industrial video. “I was a cab driver for a while, I was a bar doorman,” he says. He may even be a vampire himself. “We never, imagined we’d get in. Things changed things when he hooked up romantically with producer Susan Leber. I actually started out working in film. We had nothing. I was a cab driver for a while, I was a bar doorman,” he says. “There is a lot of Irish-American working class. I did that for 10 years. “The old myths were about telling you that death is natural and if you defy death, you become this appalling monster. At no stage since the late 19th century have there been so many such stories around. They announced a ‘vampire saga’. Can we claim O’Shea for Ireland? Cannes shows it and people think: maybe this is worth seeing. But a great deal of life has intervened. We had no distributor. “Where I grew up in Rockaway, there is a lot of public housing,” O’Shea says. But the Official Selection – never much at home to Anglophone debuts – was surely out of the question. A portrait film in our reality
“I rewrote an old script. The Transfiguration is released on April 21st I wanted him to live there and then hunt in this newly gentrified New York City with all the nice things. So we stayed up for the press conference. I think it’s fantastic that you both can think that.’ If it can be an open text, that’s fantastic.”

And how interesting it is that people still care about vampires. We imagined Michael as a young, bearded millennial with no memory of a world before the internet. I said: ‘I’m not going to answer that. I did that for 10 years. When, a year ago this week, it was announced that an unknown film-maker called Michael O’Shea had secured a place in the official selection at Cannes, many of us unconsciously knocked together an image of the director in our heads. “Then I fell into fixing computers for rich people. “I like how in the original Cat People, you are left in that same doubt. People become more frightened of death and the vampire becomes a more romantic figure. We will give nothing away, but Michael admits that a significant majority of audience members end up leaning in the same direction. We then got a very cryptic email from a friend of a friend of a friend saying we’d got in. “I’m applying for the passport right now,” he laughs. “You need one Irish grandparent and I’ve got three.”

Notify IFTA immediately. With the death of God, that’s changed

“I had a theory about this,” he says. With the death of God, that’s changed. “Then I wrote The Transfiguration. I don’t think it necessarily does good things.”

Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine in The Transfiguration

O’Shea is old enough to know that any number of excellent first features slip into the void. The vampire is more aspirational.”

We need this kind of incisive thinking in the domestic industry. “Being in Cannes changed everything,” he says. I was a production manager. But ultimately that was hurting me creatively.”

Raised in the Rockaway quarter of Queens, O’Shea graduated from film school in the 1990s and never quite gave up on his dream of getting a feature into cinemas. Well, it transpires that O’Shea – a grey-haired eccentric with machine-gun vocal delivery – has been around a little longer than most first-time film-makers. Cannes is the reason that I am sitting here talking to you now.”

Throughout The Transfiguration, we are left in some doubt as to whether Milo, the young protagonist, is or is not a vampire.