Ian Power talks about his film The Runway, which is in cinemas now, and the challenges he had to overcome to make it.
What was your last production?
I’ve just finished a film called The Runway – my first feature, which I also wrote. It’s inspired by the true story of a South American pilot who crashed his plane in Mallow in 1983. The locals came together and, against all odds, built a runway to get him home. A feel-good film.
How did you become a director?
When I was about 16 I wanted to be a dentist. My folks had an inkling that this wasn’t the right path for me so they sent me to a career guidance councillor and after the usual aptitude tests he suggested film. I always loved film but when you’re young you don’t think about it as a realistic career, or at least then you didn’t.
In film school everyone wants to direct. I was lucky enough to get to direct one of our thesis films and did a terrible job. And I suppose there’s nothing to motivate you to make another film like a bad film, so about 6 months out of film school I made Buskers, a Filmbase short, and it won a lot of awards and stuff and put me on the map. Specifically, it got me my first commercial, which was a good script that turned out great and won more awards. That got me a lot of other commercials and I lost my way for a bit in terms of drama, which is what really interests me. So I started writing again and, five scripts later, I made The Runway.
How has your role as a director impacted on the development of a production?
Because I write, I have always been at the heart of the development process. But even as a writer/director, after the draft that starts the development process in terms of finance, you have to put your director’s hat on, too. I think people underestimate the role of a director in development because all too often directors come on late in the day. It’s perceived that they will be an additional expense. Producers hold out to see if Steven Spielberg might be attracted when the script is right or something crazy like that, and miss an opportunity to have a very practical point of view on the script – specifically the point of view of the person who will realize the film at the end of the day.
Thankfully this culture is changing. Directors are being brought on board in the development process, but I’m still not certain that producers consider the director’s role in development on at least the same terms of importance as their own.
Do you have an anecdote that describes a challenge that you overcame creatively as director?
On The Runway we had scheduled 7 days in our main exterior field location to cover all the main set pieces. We were a small film but the plan was to turn into a big production for a short time to get these bigger scenes. But we got rained out – the field turned into a bog – and this had to reduce to four. Now, we had spent weeks in pre-production trying to scale down these scenes and 7 days was the minimum for the script to make any sense. Now it’s the day before we’re due to go into the field and I’m being told that it’s washed out and that we’re going to have to build a real runway just to get into the field and it’s going to rob three of our days. There was a palpable sense of despair around me – like the film had just collapsed. And the truth is that these moments are directing in its purest form. I know it’s really a logistical problem but it’s easy to be creative without logistical problems. And when these problems arise you have a choice. You can give up and accept that the film is ruined, or you can make it part of the film – own it.
So I took the wet pages of the schedule and put together a work-around. I bought us another day in our interiors with a re-write on a couple of scenes, I dropped some other scenes, and I combined whatever I could to shorten the scenes we were doing in the field. The truth is that a film takes on its own life once the shoot begins and some are easier than others. Nothing about making The Runway was easy but I enjoyed every second of it and I learned a ton.
This article first appeared in Film Ireland magazine – Issue 134 – The Autumn Issue 2010