Continuing Caroline Farrell’s Irish Women in Film Series: Audrey O’Reilly
A graduate of the National Film School in 1998, Audrey O’Reilly has been working as a writer and director with increasing success. That year her co-written script Honor Bright was announced as the winner of the Miramax Script Writing Award, and she went on to be awarded an RTÉ / Irish Film Board Short Cuts Award, a short film grant for emerging filmmakers. The resulting film In Loving Memory was a hit on the festival circuit and won a number of awards including the Prix du Public at the prestigious Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival. Audrey then wrote and directed Clare sa Speir one of the 2001 Oscailt short film series which has been included on the Irish Leaving Certificate syllabus. In addition a ‘Short Short’ she wrote entitled Chicken was selected for official competition in the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. She has also worked as a writer for the RTE soap opera Fair City as well as the popular television series On Home Ground. Teenage Cics a six-part television drama series which she herself co-wrote and directed for TG4, was nominated for the 2006 Smart Telecom Best Drama Award. She has also branched into theatre writing and her play Skin & Blisters toured with Team Education Theatre. She adapted Kate Thompson’s award-winning children’s novel The New Policeman for producer Hawk Koch and Penny Vincenzi’s Windfall for Pivotal Pictures. She is also developing two feature scripts ‘It Takes Three to Tango’ and ‘The Winter Truce’ as well as a television series for TG4. Audrey served for five years as chairwoman of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild. She now divides her time between Paris and Ireland. She is represented by Mark Casarotto of Casarotto Ramsey & Associates.
Audrey, how and why did you get started in the business?
Well I had always adored film, but, having grown up in Cork in the 80s, it didn’t even occur to me that it was a career possibility. I was working in an Irish pub in Bologna, having graduated with a very mediocre BA, and was at a complete loss at what to do next, when my Aunt Kathleen sent me a prospectus for Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design. She thought I might be interested in doing a weekend course in mending ceramic but instead I saw a week-long portfolio preparation course for it’s diploma course in Film & Television and BAM! Light bulb moment! I knew what I wanted to do with my life and haven’t done much else since then.
Did you partake in any formal training or are you self-taught?
As soon as I realized that this was what I wanted to do, I started to read and watch everything about film making I could get my hands on. I studied for a year in Ballyfermot before transferring over to the Film and Television diploma course in DLCAD, now the National Film School. I am also eternally grateful for the stunning courses in writing and directing I’ve done with Screen Training Ireland over the years. If I ever win an Oscar, they’ll be getting a thank you. Then of course I’m a voracious Film and TV addict and get anxious if I haven’t been to the cinema at least once a week. Add what my friends have called ‘an overdeveloped interest in the human condition’…. or ‘gossip and other people’s business’, and you pretty much have a mind primed for story telling.
What and / or whom have been your seminal influences?
It might sound twee, but I would have to say my mother. I used to be in and out of hospital as a kid and, in an attempt to take the sting out of some of the trips, she used to take me to the cinema as a treat. A published writer herself, she used also make up long episodic stories especially for me. It’s hardly any wonder film and storytelling assumed a huge importance in my life. Also, from a very young age, I adored old Hollywood movies. Singing in the Rain is still an all time favourite. Earlier this year I sat in an auditorium at a Q&A with director Stanley Donen, watching Gene Kelly twirling around a lamp, and I wept. Donen spoke of how when he was child he was inspired by the ‘joy’ and sense of transportation he got from films and wanted to be involved in that world. Well he, and many like him, Hawks, Capra etc, have had the same effect on me.
On the writing front I will never forget the moment I heard the immortal line ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ in Billy Wilder’s & I.A.L Diamond’s Some like it Hot. The utter perfection of it blew me away and Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond have set a high bar to aspire to since. I now know that last line was popped in there until they could come up with something better, but somehow that happy accident makes it even more inspiring.
And can you list your current inspirational influences?
Right now, I find myself being more inspired by what’s going on in television. The David Simons, the David Chases, the Shonda Rhimes etc etc etc. My current TV crush is Lena Dunham. I love that she’s taking up where Sex in the City left off and is creating a series which speaks viscerally and truthfully to an under represented female audience.
So, imagine that you are having a fantasy dinner party. Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.
I am trying desperately to think of some people from outside the arts but, damn it, if we’re going to be gossiping about show biz all night, they’d only be bored. Orson Welles, his old pal and my rather curious teenage obsession, Michael MacLiammoir. Nora Ephron, famed conversationalist and director. Josephine Baker and Bette Davis, two cool ladies, and Stellan Skarsgard. I recently watched an interview where he was so blisteringly indiscreet and candid I immediately added him to my fantasy dinner party guest list.
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
I am constantly humbled by my peers who manage to continue to work and produce films despite plummeting budgets and great obstacles. To my shame I haven’t seen as many of the recent films as I’ve been living abroad and very few seem to receive an international release. On that subject, while I’m impressed by the very personal art house films being produced, I feel there’s a need for more mainstream fare that would have a shot at a decent life in the Cineplexes and switch a wider Irish audience on to Irish film. I find the new wave of home-grown horror very inspiring but how about a decent Irish rom-com? I have a script if any one is interested.
Can you pinpoint any highlights of your career so far?
Well obviously the various prizes have been nice. Standing on the red carpet at Cannes for the closing ceremony as writer for Chicken was a huge buzz, until they separated the producers and writers from the directors and herded us up the back stairs of the auditorium. Hanging out with Robert Evans in his bedroom in Hollywood was also fun. I shall leave that story to your imaginations.
Yet it’s the moments it all came together work-wise which I’ll remember on my death-bed. On set, Britta Smith’s performance making me cry while directing In Loving Memory. Looking through a lens at Alison Franklin or Oisin O Murachu in Teenage Cics and realising they had the elusive ‘it’ factor… sooo many moments with the many kids I’ve worked with over the years.
I vividly remember one wet and rainy November night standing on the Shankill Road in Belfast. I was directing The Day We Skipped the Bus, with ten shivering school girls who had never acted a day in their lives. My lead had been whisked off by social services, the production manager was trying to negotiate with paramilitaries to shoot in the Johnny Adare Estate, which, by that time, had become our safe haven. I was sick as a dog, cold wet and exhausted. Yet at that moment I realised there was nothing in the world I would rather be doing. That was a highlight!
What would you consider to be your ultimate goal, right now?
To direct feature films which gives an audience even a fraction of the joy that films like Singing In the Rain, My Life As a Dog, and Some Like It Hot have given me.
Thanks Audrey, and finally, any advice for Newbies entering the world of filmmaking?
Keep the faith, keep learning and develop inexpensive tastes in the meantime.
Check out Audrey’s work…
In Loving Memory: http://vimeo.com/18363263
Photograph by Conor Horgan
Caroline Farrell is an author and screenwriter: