Issue 135 Winter 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Colin Downey

The Looking Glass

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine.  These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  Colin Downey wrote this piece in Film Ireland 135 Winter 2010 which was published on November 8th 2010.

Colin Downey explains how he looks into the mind of his characters and stays true to his own ideas.


The Looking Glass is the first feature film I’ve done with the support of the Irish Film Board and they encouraged me to expand on some of the ideas and themes that I dealt with in previous films. The Looking Glass mixes some real and surreal elements. As writers, we all try to get to some kind of truth by whatever means feel natural for us. I’ve always been interested in the internal worlds of people and in The Looking Glass I follow the story of a young man who is constantly returning in his mind to events in his childhood. At times, these events seem to overlap with the present and almost seem to happen simultaneously.


Albert Einstein once said that all time is happening at once and although I wouldn’t claim to fully comprehend that statement, I believe I was led in that direction by the way the story progressed. Some mysteries and abstractions have deliberately been left in the story of The Looking Glass. I tried to draw people into a relatively simple story and at the same time open up doors to some bigger questions about memory and identity.


I’ve always written my films with certain actors in mind. This limits the need to workshop the characters to know if it’s going to work or not. When you think of a certain actor in a role, even if they don’t end up playing the role, you can get to a truth about the character as you picture how they will play it in a unique way. I had worked with Patrick O’Donnell on many projects before and I knew he would bring a special quality to the character of Paul. As a result, he was always in my mind as I was writing the treatment and then the script. When I first met Natalia Kostrzewa, I expanded the character of Paul’s girlfriend, Claire in the story. I felt Natalia could bring a really compelling quality to a character that was fairly lightly sketched in the treatment.


I had a very strict structure in the script, which fed into the shoot schedule. All the shots were carefully planned and I tried to control the story from idea to screen. This was not always easy and no matter how well you make your plans, some shots can end up a little bit compromised. This forces you to think on your feet. Fortunately, I had a great production team and a wonderful cast and crew to help me in these situations. I also had lots of experience on ‘no-budget’ features and this helped me to adapt to whatever situations came along.


Sometimes in scenes, things happen that are a lot more interesting to you than what you were trying to realize in the initial script. In these situations, it’s good to be able to change direction and allow the film to evolve in the direction it wants to go. I’ve only ever directed my own scripts and ideas so far, although I am working on a number of adaptations at the moment. I’m sure working with a great screen writer would be wonderful but, at this stage, it helps that I don’t get too offended with myself if the script needs to be changed!


The Film Board have been very supportive of The Looking Glass and so far we’ve gotten quite a lot of interest in the film from around the world. Many have responded to the fantasy and fairytale elements of the film, which is satisfying and encouraging. It’s great to get the opportunity to screen the film for audiences in Irish festivals and gauge reaction before hopefully building towards a wider release. The Looking Glass has given me a chance to expand on the films that I made before without assistance and I’ve really enjoyed the chance to work on a bigger scale and to get the advice and assistance of some great people. Sometimes, working outside of the normal funding structures you can reach an elastic limit and it’s hard to get beyond that.


My good friend Ivan Kavanagh and I often talk about trying to get close to the productivity and the impact of the great German directors of the ’70s and ’80s, particularly Herzog and Fassbinder. Ivan and I have very different styles as filmmakers but share the same ethos and passion for cinema. Hopefully, now we have a chance to develop our visions on a bigger scale and direct the films towards as large an audience as possible.


Sometimes as a writer, you find a reservoir of ideas and you realise that, with luck, this reservoir will never run dry. Your task then, as I see it, is to create the right vessel for the ideas. Sometimes you choose correctly and it strikes a chord, sometimes your choice goes against convention and you may come up against obstacles in the short term. But if you stay true to the ideas, they will endure and re-emerge in time. We all have to express what is unique about us. Ultimately, if a writer follows his/her own originality, they will not only be satisfied creatively but will be well rewarded financially also.


The Looking Glass will screen on at the Corona Cork Film Festival on Wednesday, 10th November 2010 at 6 pm in the Gate Cinema.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Winter 2010 issue 135, published 8th November 2010.



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