SWCS Grad Serves As Producer On ‘Out Of The Furnace’

Movie theaters may be packed with holiday blockbusters, but area residents have a good reason to catch “Out of the Furnace.”

Relativity’s new thriller features a cast of big names that most are likely to recognize: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker and Zoe Saldana; but one name attached to the project may be even more intriguing to local residents than the others. Michael Ireland, a 1995 Southwestern Central School graduate, served as on-set producer for the film.

According to Ireland, he’s produced movies, such as “Red Riding Hood” and “Orphan,” and a lot of television shows, but “Out of the Furnace” is easily the most rewarding experience of his career thus far.

“Getting a movie made is partly luck, but it’s mostly effort,” Ireland said. “My track coach at Southwestern, Fran Sirianni, used to say, ‘You get out what you put in,’ and that’s what I always come back to when I’m not sure what to do. If you want to be successful – you have to put in the work.”

The film interpretation of “Out of the Furnace” comes from the mind of director Scott Cooper, who wrote and directed the 2009 drama “Crazy Heart,” which won Jeff Bridges an Academy Award for Best Actor. The film follows Russell, played by Bale, and his younger brother, Rodney, played by Affleck, who live in the northeastern Rust Belt. Russell ends up in prison, and Rodney gets involved with a crime ring. Upon Russell’s release, Russell is faced with a tough decision of whether to get himself involved in Rodney’s troubled situation.

“I think people in the area will recognize some of the characters in the movie,” Ireland said. “It’s about family, pride and duty – themes you don’t see very often at the movie theater anymore. It is different than anything out there at the moment – some of the scenes will haunt you.”

“It’s doing OK at the box office, but critically, the response has been phenomenal,” Ireland continued. “People are praising the filmmaking and performances as throwbacks to the great cinema of the 1970s.”

Ireland, who is currently working as vice president of production for Twentieth Century Fox, found the script for “Out of the Furnace” four years ago while working at Appian Way, Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, he said.

“We put the project together with the director and our producing partners,” Ireland said. “It took a long, circuitous route to production, but once Christian said he was on board, everything moved at the speed of light.”

However, it wasn’t just Bale who made working on the project enjoyable for Ireland. Everyone involved brought an enormous amount of talent, he said.

“Great crew, great cast and great city,” Ireland said. “Working with people who are that talented is kind of awe inspiring. To be honest, they were all so good I didn’t have to do anything besides sit at Video Village and eat snacks all day.”

Yet, out of everyone Ireland collaborated with on the film, his experience with Cooper is one of the major reasons the project was rewarding, he said.

“He is at the top of the list – a true artist and good friend,” Ireland said. “I remember one Saturday, after we wrapped a shoot at a steel mill, Scott and I went to a hole-in-the-wall bar across the street to have a beer and watch the Preakness. And, as we’re shouting at the race on television, I remember realizing that the guy sitting next to me was going to be a friend for life. To make a movie is great, but to be able to make friends like that is what makes it worthwhile.”

While filming parts of “Out of the Furnace” in Pittsburgh, Ireland was able to take some time off to visit family in Jamestown, including his parents John and Donna.

“It was over Easter, so I got to see my family for the holiday,” Ireland said. “I also spent Mother’s Day with my mom, which I don’t think has happened since college. We went to a fancy restaurant called Applebee’s.”

Ireland currently lives in Los Angeles, with his wife, Jay, and their dog, Lloyd, who is named after the “Say Anything” character.

For more information on the film, visit www.relativitymedia.com.