Will Collins, writer of My Brothers, the directorial debut of well-known screenwriter Paul Fraser(A Room for Romeo Brass, Once Upon a Time in the Midland’s), wrote the second piece of our regular Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild article in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.
My Brothers is released in cinemas on Friday, 17th August 2012.
Will Collins on using his own family as the material for his debut feature.
My Brothers was the first spec script I wrote, but I had written another for my Master’s thesis in Screenwriting at the Huston Film School in NUI Galway. It was a plot monster, filled with cartoonish characters and multiple subplots with satirical aspirations, so I soon grew tired of the juggling act. I wanted to write something simple, with personal truth.
I have two older brothers. We’re opposite in almost every way – so different that you would think we were adopted if it wasn’t for the fact that we look so alike. Like any siblings, we were always hopping off one another for some inane reason – no wonder that the dynamic that we had together became embedded in my head. Looking back now, we really were character gold dust.
It’s incredible how the human brain can brush the hard times into the subconscious. From the age of about eleven until my mid-teens my father was in and out of hospital (he’s fine now thankfully). I simply had not thought about it in years. That is, until he had to return for several more operations in recent years. A flood of emotions and moments came tumbling back, which I had to deal with.
I tend to address all my problems through writing and was compelled to write about that period. I knew I was going to write something about three young brothers – but that was the easy part. I pretty much spent a year mulling over the idea. In that time I figured that they were going to go on a road trip in a bread van to get a watch for their Dad who was dying. Most importantly, I knew the central theme. Having a parent who has been ill for a long period, we build an emotional wall protecting ourselves from the pain of the loss that will happen. It’s a wall that has to come down sooner or later – the later it is, the more damaging it is for the individual.
I had done various drafts of a treatment and had taken them into the Galway Writer’s Group I was attending. There, it would be constructively ripped to pieces. Gathering what was left of my pride, I would start from scratch again and again. All in all, counting all the different drafts, those kids went on dozens of different journeys.
Then, harassed by friends, I entered the pitching competition in the Galway Film Fleadh in 2007. I was shortlisted and won, which still ranks as one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life. Although it was worth every bead of sweat and twisted intestine.
Then I submitted the treatment to the Irish Film Board for development money and thankfully they decided to fund the writing of the script. Without question this project would have gone nowhere if it were not for the encouragement and support of Andrew Meehan (Development Exec., BSÉ/IFB) who also put me in contact with Paul Fraser.
As part of my agreement with BSÉ/IFB, I was encouraged to get notes from an advisor. Andrew mentioned to me that my writing had reminded him of Paul’s (A Room for Romeo Brass, Heartlands). My first meeting with Paul didn’t materialize until I had a proper first draft done. I was incredibly nervous; a real writer, someone whose films I had watched and loved was going to read my script. I figured he would politely dismiss it and send me on my way. He didn’t.
Paring it down
From that point on, it really was a process of paring it back, making the 126-page draft an 80-page draft. Not an easy task. When faced with the challenge of simplifying, it really exposes the elements of the story that are incidental and frivolous. It’s an important skill to work on as a screenwriter.
On my second meeting with Paul, he declared his interest in directing the film. I was blessed to work with Paul in more ways than one. He understood the writing process better than anybody and always respected my voice as the writer, making suggestions but allowing me the space to interpret his ideas into the world of my script. More importantly, Paul kept me included right through the filmmaking process, from casting to shooting to the edit.
We were lucky enough to have two great producers who went all out to get the film made – Rebecca O’Flanagan and Rob Walpole. Their passion and enthusiasm was evident from the moment they read the script.
It’s strange watching the finished film on the big screen – those are my brothers up there, after all. It’s the simple sincere tale I set out to tell. I see reflections and impressions of my life and family that make me squirm, laugh and cry. It’s wonderful.
This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.