Continuing Caroline Farrell’s Irish Women in Film Series: Sarah Daly.
Sarah Daly is a scriptwriter from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford currently working with New Age Film in Scotland. Two of Sarah’s feature films are in the latter stages of post-production; dystopian thriller White Out and a supernatural drama which will be announced later in the year. In the past two years, her work has been performed by Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. Sarah is best known for being the writer of the Morgan M. Morgansen short films which featured at Sundance and South By Southwest in 2010.
Hi Sarah. Let’s start off by telling us how and why you got started in the business?
I’ve always loved to write but didn’t consider writing as a career until I discovered scriptwriting while studying Media Arts at DIT. I completed my degree and worked various office jobs for a few years, all the while writing away in my spare time and sending my work out to whoever would read it. Slowly, I started to gain traction. I had a few short films produced in the US and bagged a freelance job as a script reader for Samson Films in Dublin. My biggest breaks came in 2010 when Scottish director Lawrie Brewster from New Age Film took an interest in my work and made an investment in me as a writer. That same year I’d also started submitting work to a website called HitRECord, run by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He came across a piece of writing of mine and produced it into a short film which eventually ended up at Sundance, and its sequel at South By Southwest. I’ve worked with him and HitRECord on several projects since.
Did you have any formal instruction (film school etc) or are you self-taught?
I studied Media Arts at DIT which was basically a bit of everything – TV, film, radio, documentary, but the only part that I really enjoyed was the writing, so I did a lot of my own study on the art and craft of screenwriting – read a lot of scripts and all the screenwriting books I could get my hands on as well as just writing a lot until I found my voice, and understood better what works and what doesn’t.
Where did your seminal influences come from?
I have to start with my family who are all very creative and were always supportive of my childhood artistic endeavours from drawing maps of imaginary lands to belting out compositions on my toy piano. As regards other writers, a lot of my writing is quite poetical and often absurd so writers like Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce have been a big inspiration. I love writers who play with language and I adore fantasy, fairytale and science fiction so, basically, any artist who creates alternate universes is okay by me! I adore artists/people who go against the grain, who ask questions with their work and who stick their necks out creatively. My good friend Lexy Hulme, an actress and dancer who starred in the Morgan M. Morgansen films is a constant inspiration as well.
And your current influences?
I take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere – the news, science, sociology, history, folklore. Film-wise I always enjoy the work of Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Ken Russell and more recently Miranda July. I love filmmakers who can create whole new worlds on-screen and I have a particular soft spot for irreverent trailblazers. In literary terms I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction lately as research for a new script and have been inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick and Walter Tevis – I’m going through a serious dystopia phase at the moment!
Let’s say you’re having a fantasy dinner party. Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around that dinner table!
Bill Hicks, Kate Bush, Noam Chomsky, Oscar Wilde, Frida Kahlo and Shakespeare. I’d just listen though – I’d be far too intimidated to join in!
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
I’ve been away from Ireland for the past three years, and practically all of my work has come from abroad for whatever reason, but, still it seems to me that Ireland is doing exceptionally well. We certainly punch above our weight for such a small country. The animation scene in particular is thriving and I think we should be very proud of the volume and quality of our output. Still, I think it’s vital that the supports in place are safeguarded so that the industry can continue to grow. It’s a tough business and these are tough times but hopefully the powers that be continue to recognise the crucial role of the arts in our economy and cultural landscape. Especially as I’d love to work more with Irish producers and directors in future!
Can you tell us what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Probably seeing Gary Oldman perform my poem The Man with a Turnip for a Head at the HitRECord Fall Formal event in LA last year. That was pretty surreal! At the same show, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway also performed a song I’d written. Definitely a night to remember. But, there’s also nothing like seeing your words brought to life on set. Shooting our latest feature was an incredible experience – that’s what makes writing for film so rewarding.
What would you consider to be your ultimate goal, right now?
I just want to carry on doing what I love for a living, to make art that I’m proud of and that others enjoy (or are affected by)! Anything else is a bonus.
Do you have any advice to offer Newbies?
This is advice I hated receiving as a shy, retiring writer, but, it really is all about networking. Putting your work and yourself out there is absolutely the most important thing you can do. All it takes is one crucial connection for your career to take off, so make sure you put yourself in front of as many people as you can. There’s nothing like doing it in person, but the internet is also a valuable tool. Yes, it’s oversaturated but if your work is genuinely good, and if you’re persistent enough, then you will get notice and you will get work. Also, learn as much as you can about all aspects of the industry, not just writing. If you can think like a producer in terms of budget, genre and marketability when it comes to your scripts, then you stand a much better chance of getting produced.
Thanks, Sarah! And finally, any comments you would like to add?
I also make music, for film and otherwise under the name Metaphorest. I contributed to the soundtrack of my first feature White Out and have also written songs for webs series and short films. I released my debut album Metaphorest: Volume 1 last year. You can listen at http://metaphorest.bandcamp.com and get all the latest news on my writing and music at www.facebook.com/metaphorest
Morgan M. Morgansen films:
Trailer for the feature film White Out:
Caroline Farrell is an author and screenwriter: