Oscar nominee Michael Creagh was proving difficult to nail down. A number of calls to his mobile phone merely yielded the tell-tale tone of someone who was away. Far away. It turns out the 37-year-old was in Los Angeles, hanging out at the Beverly Hilton for the 83rd Academy Awards luncheon and meeting with fellow nominees John Lasseter and Amy Adams. “Fellow nominees?” Creagh finds it odd to even say the words. When I ask about photographs to accompany this piece, he hesitantly suggests an image of him in front of some giant Oscar statuettes, before wondering whether that might be “a bit w****y”.
Unused to the media attention, Creagh’s decision to write the Oscar-nominated live action short, The Crush, was the act of a slightly desperate man. “I always wanted to make a proper short film before it was too late”, says the freelance art director. So he did. When he made the film in 2009, he also hoped it would also give him a boost as the father of three was made redundant that year. By then, The Crush – the tale of schoolboy who falls for his teacher with unexpected consequences – was already creating a bit of a buzz, winning the Best Irish Short at the 2009 Foyle Film Festival. “The notion of a kid who has a crush on his teacher came into my head”, he says of the script he drafted on the short train ride between Dublin and his home in Skerries. “I had Oran, my son, in my head and I was thinking ‘what can you do with a kid of that age?’”
The Crush is very much a family affair for Creagh, who is originally from Belfast but now lives in north County Dublin with his wife, Denise, and their three children, Oran (10 and the schoolboy star of the film), Caelan (9) and Olivia (5). Apart from the director and star, the director of photography is Creagh’s brother Jim (he works as a cameraman with BBC Northern Ireland); his father put some of his own money into the production and Creagh’s wife, co-producer Denise, wrangled the extras and kept the crew fed and watered. With a budget somewhere between €25,000 and €30,000, it was shot over three days in the village of Skerries. It was accepted for festivals at Tribeca, Seattle and Chicago but winning Best Short at Foyle was the springboard to Oscars, as it is the only Irish festival affiliated with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
On January 25, the day the Oscar nominees were announced, Creagh deliberately retreated to a seaside café (The Crush had been long-listed just before Christmas). He had just his mobile phone for company. Shortly after 1.30 in the afternoon it started hopping. Since then, he has barely had a moment to himself, with radio, TV and newspaper interviews keeping him – and occasionally Oran – busy. Mostly the reviews have been positive and history is with him as Irish short films have done well at the Oscars in recent years (Martin McDonagh’s Six Shooter won in 2006 and Steph Green’s New Boy and Juanita Wilson’s The Door made the final shake-up in 2009 and 2010 respectively). But Creagh is unlikely to count his chickens (Wish 143 will be hard to beat). “I don’t know if I will write one”, he says of an acceptance speech. “But I suppose you have to have something, just in case.”
During his short visit to Los Angeles, Creagh pressed the flesh with some of Tinseltown’s movie makers and shakers. Baby steps. Back home, his first feature screenplay – a love story set against the backdrop of the Famine – is currently with the Irish Film Board. “They will let me know whether it needs a bit more work or not”, he says. But right now he’s riding the whirlwind. On Sunday night, his wife, their son Oran and his brother, as well as the film’s producer, Damien Quinn, will be at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. He will have that speech ready. After that? “I still need to pay the bills and the mortgage”, he says. “And it’s what happens next that is really important. That will determine everything.”