Emma Eliza Regan
Emma Eliza Regan gives us a glimpse into the world of Wild Fire Nights, which screens at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
What can you tell us about Wild Fire Nights?
It’s a 17-minute contemporary drama, that centres around Lila – a deeply troubled and dysfunctional young woman, who tries to maintain an image for the world, but inside she’s crumbling and trying to numb the pain out. I’ve tried to reflect the inner world of young women today, all the grey areas that don’t ever get tapped into on Irish screens. The ‘selfie generation’ has created a situation where one’s validation only comes from her sex appeal – there’s severe consequences on the psyche of young women, which I could see around me every single day, as young as 14 up to 34. Anytime I looked at my phone, whether it was Facebook or Instagram, it was there, so I was trying to capture the real darkness and the massive psychological consequences of it all.
… and the title, Wild Fire Nights?
The film was called ‘Unfiltered’ for a while, but the title Wild Fire Nights seemed to really depict the total destructiveness and utter waste… it expressed how one tiny situation can ignite something in us, that causes a series of events, that just spread fast and destroy everything in such an irrevocable way.
I called her Lila as it comes from the Hebrew word for ‘’Night’ and ‘Dark Girl’ – which was fitting for her.
How did the story come about for you?
The character itself came from a night out – I was in a cubicle, and there were empty vodka and pregnancy tests thrown on the floor, and I guess that image was such a very dark juxtaposition that it stuck with me. Who was this girl, and how did she end up in here? I also would see so many young women completely out of it and nobody really investigates that. I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see well what is going on in a young woman that she’d need to do that? What has happened? Most of these girls are just deeply hurt and trying to cope.
Wild Fire Nights
Were you planning to direct from the get-go?
Yes, I had such a clear vision of it that it just made sense. Also, I started to feel that directing was the one place where I could contribute something substantial – I was able to use my own voice, instead of offering just the little tiny box of my performance. I was at the stage I wanted to move on from playing the school girls, and use my other capacities too and create my own work.
I suppose as a girl in my twenties myself, I felt I could write about certain topics and portray them in a way that’s totally authentic – so I just started writing what I saw and questioned around me.
What was it like directing your first short?
I really enjoyed the experience! It was hard work too, being responsible for so much, but I just rolled up my sleeves and kept going because I was so passionate about it and had fun times with the crew around me. I’ve always been sort of observing and contributing ideas on every set I was on anyhow, I hang around on set watching what’s going on even after I’m wrapped… so it was a natural decision for me. It was the post-production I needed to learn a lot, all those elements were new to me, so I took away a huge amount of lessons from the edit.
Hanging around on set
What experience as an actor did you bring to working behind the camera.
Firstly, all a director needs to do is make sure the actor doesn’t feel like it’s acting… make it about not acting as much as possible. I was very in tune with them all anyhow, and gave them complete trust to keep the takes fresh and spontaneous. I knew from experience that if something doesn’t work, scrap it, it’s not working for a reason, change it around rather than stay there forcing and forcing a scene. I have been on sets where a director keeps forcing it, although it doesn’t feel right, so I was sharp in keeping each scene instinctive from my acting side of my brain. For an example, James Browne, who’s one of the most instinctive actors anyhow, I had him swinging around on bars of a boat as Lila tried to talk to him about her mother’s death, it was actually written as them sitting by the beach, but I knew I needed both that tension and lightness…. Also, the same with Dara Devaney, before his scene I gave him a bowl of porridge to be feeding the granny, that one tiny action told more about his character than any words could – so I used a lot of simple, authentic actions in a scene to click a performance into place.
Did you pick up a bag of tips from directors you have previously worked with?
Of course, I mean I was privileged to have that experience with very talented people, so of course it shaped me in some way. I did learn a huge amount about performance and film in general from Shimmy Marcus when I was in the Factory, he deconstructed everything from script to the edit to the performance, and taught me that it’s much about show rather than tell… Then on set, I went with longer takes with certain actors, like Gerry (Mc Sorley) and David Murray, because I knew the level of experience they carried, and that those extra few seconds after the scene would be where they would just nail it, and I remember Ivan Kavanagh working with us in a similar way. Also, I personally think Brendan Muldowney is a phenomenal director, I love how he captures so much tenderness in the darkness of the subject matter – so if I could have learnt anything at all from a director I worked with, that would be it.
You assembled a great cast. Can you tell us a little about this?
I had a very clear idea of who would work from the writing stage. I had worked nearly everyone with previously, except Gerard McSorley – although we were both on Penance last year, we hadn’t any scenes together, but he is such a prolific actor, someone I admired for years on film, and he connected with the subject matter on a personal level, so he brought a lot of real and powerful truth to that scene. He had me in tears and it was still only on his close-ups, so that’s the strength and brilliance of his performance for you right there.
With James Browne and Dara Devaney, they were both actors that I did theatre with at the very start that I sort of just clicked with. Dara Devaney and I had worked in the Abbey and we became good pals, he’s got such a genuine and honest quality to him, and I knew our ease with each other that would come through on screen. He added a very warm and kind presence in the final scenes, and James Browne was also someone I met back at the very start. I did a version of A Midsummers Nights Dream when I was 17, and then, earlier this year, I was in a screening of Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name at ADIFF and he absolutely stole every scene. He has that exact mix of both elusiveness and danger, and he brought so much intensity to Flynn. He’s also going to be in Maze which screens at the Fleadh on Saturday night, so he’s gaining a real momentum in her career now, and think he’s only going to go from strength to strength.
With David Murray, we worked with one another on Jack Taylor – and again, was the first and only choice for the role –and he brought such an edge to that scene. I loved his performance in Amber. He’s a great voice, and had that mix of both masculinity and vulnerability it needed.
How did you find the role of producer?
Very full on, I have actually helped produced some projects over the last few years, so I wasn’t totally clueless. It was a huge amount of work with locations, insurance, health and safety, getting the whole crew together, catering, but my production designer, Steve Kingston, came board as a co-producer and helped me out with everything. So when we were both working together, we actually had a lot of fun in the process.
You must be excited to screen at Galway…
Yeah, it will be great to have a screening and finally see how people react to it. It’s only the start for this film.