Writer / director Ciaran Creagh talked to Film Ireland about his film In View, the story of the implosion of Ruth Donnelly, a thirty-something Garda officer, whose drunken indiscretion set off a chain of events which she never could have foretold. A couple of years have now passed and Ruth’s life is one of burdening guilt dominated by rage, alcoholism, depression and self-loathing. Ruth eventually concludes that there is only one way for her to make amends with the world.
The subject matter of In View is particularly challenging for a filmmaker – can you tell us how the project came about?
This was one of the challenges facing me when writing the screenplay. From the outset, this film is more than just about depression and suicide. I wanted it to touch on the larger, more universal story of human guilt, the way sometimes one can never move on with their lives and also the extreme and sometimes nonsensical measures people take to placate their guilt.
I had the central idea of the story and then came up with the characters and scenarios. While writing the screenplay I carried out a lot of research into the area and spoke to organisations working in the sector. They all welcomed the raising of these issues into the national debate on a topic which really needs to be talked about. Of course, the more you get into a project the more you learn and discover. This can ultimately change the direction of the script, which of course it did.
Through this process the script went from being initially a chase movie to save Ruth to the telling of a story through the eyes of one character. The art of writing a screenplay is very demanding but I don’t feel that any particular topic should increase that challenge unless it is so close to your heart that you, as a writer, can’t step away to be impartial.
From script to screen – you frame the world in a particular way in the film that informs us of the main character’s state of mind; obviously working with David Grennan as your DOP was crucial to achieve this. And then there’s getting the final project through the edit working with Tony Cranstoun.
In every feature there are three films. The script is the first as to how the writer sees it. The second is the director of photography, with the third being the cutting room. Dave Grennan is a hugely experienced DOP who brings an awful lot to the table. What Dave did is to take what’s on the page and turn it into not just pictures but the visual experience for the audience. We worked together really well and understood each other. Trust is so important and as a writer/director you are exposing yourself on film and you need this sort of relationship with your DOP. I would give an idea of what I wanted and Dave just made it come to life. Simple as that. I think that is what you call talent!
The third part of the equation is the edit. On In View this was Tony Cranstoun. Tony has an amazing CV and the breadth of his experience really helped make this film what it is. He continually pushed me and came up with solutions when none seemed possible. The pacing of In View is pretty amazing considering that the assembly was 155 minutes and the completed film 93 minutes. I suppose the key to a good editor is to figure out what the director wants and then push it way past that point to a place where you watch the film over and over again and can’t think of any further changes. Tony got me there.
Can you tell us about the decision to have the main character as a garda?
When I came up with the main theme of the film I then needed to create the backstory and lead character. I love character and especially making them in some way an anti-hero. Given the story sentimentality could have crept in very easily and there is nothing worse on screen for me than having the lead as a weak character. The police deal with and protect us from the very worst in society but this cannot but rub off. It gives this inner resilience to compartmentalise awful things they encounter and this is what the lead character in this film needed. She needed an inner strength and by making her a garda, the character could take on a persona which is both believable and real.
Caoilfhionn Dunne as Ruth is immense in the film. What did she bring to the role as an actor.
Caoilfhionn was terrific in the role and has been praised by everybody that has seen the film and has been lauded by all of the reviewers for her stunning performance. Her character is in every scene and half of the scenes in the film have no dialogue. The actor who had to play the lead character was always going to have to be terrific to carry this film. If the audience didn’t believe her portrayal of Ruth, they wouldn’t believe the film either. I know I am biased but her performance is in my opinion unsurpassed in 2016 in Ireland.
You didn’t do too badly with the rest of the cast either.
How lucky were we! The cast was pretty amazing and reads like a who’s who of Irish talent. Stuart Graham, Ciaran McMenamin, Gerry McSorley, Maria McDermottroe… need I go on. So much talent and ability and all so generous and understanding of what we were trying to achieve with the film. When you work with experienced actors they will know what they must bring to the film and have a level of professionalism which gives great reassurance to any director.
The balance of the characters at script stage was a real challenge since you have to ensure that the focus is on Ruth as this film is about her journey and how she interacts with the environment that she encounters. The spark between all the actors was instant with all having a very strong instinct for the characters and an immediate rapport with each other as actors.
I read that the script was originally written with a male lead in mind. Can you explain your decision to change that.
I worked on the script for about one year and one of the producers, Simon Doyle, was very involved in the process. We brought the script to a really good place and we felt that it was ready for production. Out of the blue, one evening while sitting at home, it came to me, what if the main male character and the supporting female character switched roles without changing the characteristics of their individual character. I rewrote the script in the matter of 24 hours and knew straightaway this simple change would make this film something special – showing a female in a male dominated world. I think women are generally a lot more complex and, as a writer, this gives you so many more places you can go when exploring a character.
What has been audiences’ reactions to the film?
It has been pretty amazing everywhere we have been. Whether it was the Ireland, the US, Germany, Poland or Estonia the reaction has been great from the reviewers but especially the audience. I have had a number of audience members approach me who have been touched by depression and suicide in some way and all have been so positive about In View. When we were trying to fund the film the usual funders you would approach all said that the lead character would never hold an audience. This certainly was not my experience. She is the anti-hero and you are sucked into her world.
Recently there was Frank Berry’s film [I Used to Live Here] about suicide clusters and now your film, which both make an important contribution to public discourse around suicide.
In View is an original piece of filmmaking which directly relates to the on-going crisis of suicide in Ireland and in many other countries around the world. Its approach, by focusing on the character and how she develops throughout the feature, is a very distinctive voice and is challenging in how it shows an individual’s view of the world and the progression of her life to what she sees as its successful completion and atonement.
This is not a popular choice of topic for a film and I do understand that – but writers are supposed to challenge and I hope in some way that I have contributed in some meaningful way to the debate that needs to happen. Frank’s film is great and while looking at similar themes shares something in common with In View, that is the terrific performance of the lead actor, Jordanne Jones.
I hope that the audience will find the film an accurate and true reflection of a person’s life who had found herself in a bad place through circumstances of choices made. This is not about judging the character of Ruth but is about trying to understand and have compassion for her. All that she can see is all that is now gone. How many people around the world feel this every single day?