Niamh Heery, Director of ‘A Tiny Spark’

Dr Karen Doyle

A Tiny Spark is an award-winning documentary which follows both the story of three people who have had a stroke and the scientists leading research in this area at NUI Galway.

Director Niamh Heery tells us the story behind the film.

 

The idea for A Tiny Spark came about when we were talking about submitting to Science on Screen, the Galway Film Centre/ CÚRAM scheme that eventually funded it. Our producer Caroline Kealy had attended an information session and had been really interested in the work that Dr Karen Doyle was doing in the area of stroke. Her and her team are collecting the actual blood clots that caused strokes from thousands of patients all over the world and analysing what is inside them. It is quite a tangible, visual thing they are doing, which when it comes to making a film about science is a definite plus. When we visited the lab in NUI Galway we were struck by the arrangements of the clots that were laid out on slides. To me each one almost had character. Some red, some pink, some skinny, some frighteningly large. And when they were magnified by 2000x these tiny little things began to look almost like vast deserts and valleys. 

I started researching stroke survivors’ experiences and found a number of incredibly scary and dramatic descriptions of what happened to people when they had a stroke. It’s such an indescribable thing that the people who had experienced it spoke about it in almost visually abstract ways. Initially,  I wanted my partner, Animator and 3D Artist Eric Dolan to work on explanatory visuals for the film, illustrating how strokes affect various parts of the brain. But after hearing the patients describe a stroke like that we decided to expand the animation and use it to show this surreal thing as the patients described it. So for instance when one participant spoke about ‘being lost in time’, Eric animated that dark, helpless feeling. We see calendar pages flying about just out of reach, a hospital bed where the sun and moon rise and fall repeatedly on a frightened patient. I was keen to incorporate the clot imagery into the animation, so we textured the animation backgrounds with magnified blood clots. The clots are literally a part of the visual story the whole way through. The animations took about seven weeks and a mix of 2D and 3D animation techniques were used. 

I also spoke to our DOP, Kevin Minogue, early on about how to approach the key moment when a stroke happened. In each contributor’s story, these moments are etched forever into their minds in sharp detail so I wanted to try and recreate this. We shot on RED, which allowed us to shoot a good range of slow motion with a decent sized frame. Kevin told me about ‘lens whacking’, the practice of just holding the lens barely in place as you move the camera, letting light crack and flood into the body in intervals. It replicated pain, headaches and disorientation in a really nice way, so after some tests we used this approach when filming the three ‘stroke moment’ reconstructions.

The interviews are the backbone of the documentary. When interviewing the scientists, I took a very sequential approach, making sure that they told me in plain language exactly what the project was, step by step. Once we had that we could talk about how exciting the project was in terms of the results and how they could inform real, life-changing medicine.

Each stroke survivor interview was very different and had to be taken at its own pace. It is such a life-altering, painful thing to happen to a person and their family. I was keen to get to that real emotional place but also to explore how it had made them stronger and changed their perspective on big-life questions. 

When coming to name the film, I remembered how one of our participant’s doctors had described her strokes as ‘sparking off inside the brain.’ This tiny bunch of cells, a blood clot, is ready at any moment to fire and create massive change inside a person. When thinking about the journey our participants are on, it also made sense. They have such strength and perseverance in understanding that recovery is about tiny victories every day towards a better life. And going back to the research – it’s the spark and ingenuity of this small lab in Galway that could one day lead major change for millions of patients around the globe. As Dante said, ‘From a tiny spark, a mighty flame can grow.’

 

A Tiny Spark screened on RTÉ One on World Stroke Day, Tuesday 29 October 2019 and is on the RTÉ Player for the next month

 

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The Cinema of Romances

Pic: Dorje De Burgh

David Turpin is a screenwriter (The Lodgers, The Winter Lake) and musician, as The Late David Turpin.  With the release of his new album Romances – a collaboration with a ‘cast’ of ten different guest singers that was inspired by his work in film – David discusses five unusual cinematic love stories that have been influential on his own work.

 

My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991)

See My Own Private Idaho at the right age, and it’s with you for life.  Gus Van Sant’s best film is many things – a sympathetic portrait of young people on the fringes; a palimpsest of Shakespeare’s Henry IV; a road movie as deeply affecting as Paris, Texas – but most of all, it’s an extraordinarily tender and melancholy unrequited love story. River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves are one of the most iconic couples of the 1990s, precisely because they don’t fit together – and because this is evident to everybody (both in the film and watching it), except for Phoenix’s poignantly guileless hero. The justly famous campfire scene between the leads is one of cinema’s most moving depictions of the insufficiency of words to express feeling. It’s beautifully played by Phoenix, of course, but it’s also worth noting that Reeves’ dependable air of benign obliviousness was never better – or more tragically – used than here.

 

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014)

Peter Strickland’s rarefied love story takes place in a world without men, where lepidopterologists Cynthia and Evelyn (Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna) conduct a relationship defined by ritualised performances of dominance and submission. The film’s genius lies in how its surface – impeccably evoking the misty, sapphically-fixated ‘eurotica’ of the mid-1970s – both conceals and illuminates its inner meaning. Unlike the ‘Eurotrash’ it invokes, The Duke of Burgundy is a deeply humane and moving story about the ways in which we abnegate ourselves for our lovers – and the fear of failing to sufficiently embody others’ desires. The reversal of roles, in which we come to understand the ‘dominant’ partner (Knudsen) as imprisoned by the desires of her ‘subordinate’ (D’Anna), is one of erotic cinema’s most astute, and moving, deconstructions of its own myths. The Duke of Burgundy is both a wholesale work of onanistic fantasy, and its own opposite.

 

Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942)

Based on a florid bestseller by Olive Higgins Prouty, Now, Voyager is, in many ways, the quintessential 1940s melodrama – not least for its touching faith in the power of psychotherapy. It’s also the perfect vehicle for Bette Davis, whose transformation from drab ‘Aunt Charlotte’ to glamorous ‘Miss Vale’ is achieved via The Talking Cure and some truly spectacular hats. As Jerry – the married man to whom she becomes close while visiting Rio de Janeiro – Paul Henreid judges his performance perfectly. In other words, he understands that this is Davis’ show. What makes Now, Voyager more than an exquisite piece of camp (although it is that too) is its genuine wisdom. Charlotte and Jerry cannot ultimately be together (‘Don’t let’s ask for the moon, we have the stars!’ Davis exclaims), but their romance has made each of them better able to accept their course in life.  It’s a touching affirmation of love as the path to self-knowledge, however long the affair itself may last.

 

The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

The Fly is a marvel of dramatic economy featuring only four significant roles – the central couple (Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum) and a pair of potential love rivals (John Getz and Joy Boushel). The romance between unworldly Seth Brundle and no-nonsense Veronica Quaife may have been helped by the fact that Goldblum and Davis were a couple at the time, but it’s also written with warmth and empathy, as well as the razor-concision one expects from Cronenberg. We all remember the inside-out baboon, the acid-vomit, and the leprous body-parts on the bathroom shelf, but what’s striking about The Fly is the humanity and eroticism that peeks out between these gruesome highlights – as delicate as the stocking used to test the telepod device.  Although Cronenberg has been cagey about the film being read as an AIDS metaphor, its story of a couple facing disease – and the transformation of the afflicted into a social pariah and object of fear – has powerful resonance emerging the year after the first HIV antibody test was developed.

 

La Belle et la Bête (Jean Cocteau, 1946)

My favourite screen romance is Jean Cocteau’s exquisite adaptation of Perrault’s 18th-century fairy tale. Plundered by two Disney versions (animated in 1991; notionally ‘live action’ in 2017) that rinsed it of its eroticism and mystery, Cocteau’s still glows like a strange and lonely star.  Its uncanny visual highlights – living candelabras, the still-shocking appearance of the Beast himself (Jean Marais) – have the force of dreams, but Cocteau also finds magic in the everyday (as in the scenes of Belle hanging white sheets on the washing line). Josette Day plays Belle with self-possession, essential decency, and no trace of the ‘goody-goody’. One can actually see why she and the Beast fall in love – and Cocteau’s own celebration of Marais (his own long-time companion) is a romance in its own right. This is the only version of the story to get to the heart of the matter when – after the hairy wooer is transformed into human form – Belle asks, with a telling hint of deflation, ‘Where is my beast?’.

 

www.thelatedavidturpin.com 

Romances can be streamed/downloaded from Bandcamp at thelatedavidturpin.bandcamp.com/album/romances

 

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Reel Horror Show – Episode 14: Halloween Special

In this eerie episode of the Reel Horror Show, special ghoulish guest Stephen “Screaming ” Shields [writer, The Hole in the Ground] joins regular monstrous mutant hosts Conor “McMayhem” McMahon, Ali “Horror” Doyle and Conor “Howling” Dowling to open a coffin of consternation and carve up the corpse within.

Uv-voov shredded thistle organ… welcome.

In this episode, the ghastly gang talk about

  • “Screaming” Stephen’s debut horror feature, The Hole in the Ground, his horror influences & writing process
  • some horror-watching recommendations
  • a hefty look at IT: Chapter Two
  • chats from the set of Irish horror comedy Extra Ordinary
  • a preview of what’s screaming at this year’s Horrorthon at the IFI
  • the perfect double bill for Halloween viewing


Reel Horror Show

Film Ireland Podcasts

 

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Rob Kennedy, Writer / Director of ‘The Unquiet ‘

 

The Unquiet is a psychological horror film about Ruth, a woman who wants a child more than anything—yet she’s unable to conceive. When her mother begins to suffer from dementia, Ruth becomes her full time carer. This adds extra strain to Ruth’s marriage, and her husband moves out. Desperate to have a child and save her relationship, she prays to her father’s spirit for guidance, but something else answers…

Rob Kennedy takes us behind the screams of his latest horror, which screens at this year’s IFI Horrorthon (24 -28 October).

We shot The Unquiet with a skeleton crew: I directed and operated camera, Andrew Mahon did the lighting, and Billy Keane recorded sound. Vicki Walsh handled production management, recruiting her sister, Sophie, for the job of clapper loader and their mother, Susan, for make-up. We shot the film over the course of three nights in the winter of 2019. 

My last film (Sit Beside Me) was more of a rollercoaster horror experience. This time I took a different approach—less camera movement and no jump scares. One of the big decisions I made was not to use any music, a challenge for horror. But it’s easy to jolt an audience with sudden bangs and musical stings. Instead I enhanced the natural atmosphere and let the unnerving silences stand out. This seemed to suit the tone of the film more. 

Katie Doyle—a former child actor and veteran of TV adverts—recently returned to acting, appearing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the New Theatre. Katie took the role of Ruth above and beyond what was on the page. Beryl Phelan, a longtime collaborator of mine, played Ruth’s mother. Rounding out the cast, I’m thrilled to introduce young Robbie Hart in his first film role. We only hear Robbie’s voice, but he makes quite an impact. 

 

The Unquiet will screen at this year’s IFI Horrorthon (24 – 28 October) in the IFI on Sunday, 27th October—along with Rob’s last short, Sit Beside Me. You can buy tickets here

 

The Unquiet will also be available to watch online from this Halloween. Check out @robkennedyfilm on Instagram for updates and behind the scenes shots.

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Shelly Love, Director of ‘A Bump Along the Way’

 

In this podcast, Gemma Creagh chats to Shelly Love, the director of A Bump Along the Way which introduces us to Pamela, a boozy 44-year-old single mother whose teenage daughter Allegra disapproves of her care-free lifestyle. Their fragile relationship is further tested when Pamela becomes pregnant after a one-night stand.

Shelly discusses

  • her background in film
  • the choreography of directing
  • how A Bump Along the Way came together
  • prepping for the project
  • the production design on the film
  • working with Die Hexen on the soundtrack
  • working with 50 / 50 cast & crew + Abbey the dog
  • working on the edit with Helen Sheridan at Yellowmoon post-production facilities
  • how the film has been received

32″ 48′

 

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Louise Gallagher, producer of ‘A Bump Along the Way’

 

A Bump Along the Way tells the story of fun-loving, 44-year-old single mum Pamela who becomes pregnant following a one night-stand, much to the shame of her buttoned-up teenage daughter Allegra. As Pamela deals with the prospect of becoming a mum for the second time and Allegra has problems fitting in with her peers, the challenges they face  provide mother and daughter with a better understanding of themselves and each other.

Filmed entirely in Derry and led by an all-female creative team, A Bump Along the Way stars Bronagh Gallagher and Lola Petticrew and is directed by Shelly Love, written by Tess McGowan and produced by Louise Gallagher. 

Gemma Creagh chats with Louise Gallagher about how the production came together.

How did the project come about?

For this project, myself, Shelly Love [director] and Tess McGowan [writer] were put together through Northern Ireland Screen’s New Talent Focus programme at the end of March 2018. It was fairly intense. We’d never met before. We had to get to know each other in a very short time, make this film and deliver it by March 2019. So we’ve done it all within a year. 

 

That’s a fast turnaround considering how long projects normally take to develop. 

Tess was writing this while she was pregnant with her second baby and she had sent it into Northern Ireland’s New talent Focus Call on spec. It got selected for the New Writers’ Focus. I was asked to come and interview for the job last March or early April last year and once I was on board I had to find a director. Then we hit the ground running. So the actual development that we did would have started from around May last year and then we went into production with the first day of principal photography on the 14th of October. Basically in less than a year we managed to get the film shot and out to festivals and picked up for distribution… completely and utterly mental!

 

Would you be a creative producer? Would you have worked on the script?

Yes, I worked across everything. I had to find the script editor and the director.  Between myself, Shelley and Tess and our script editor, Liam Foley – we worked together remotely most of the time because Tess lives in Berlin, Liam lives in London, I live in Belfast and Shelly lives in Bangor. She had a very small baby at the time so wasn’t in the position to come up and down to Belfast all the time to meet me. A lot of the development happened via Skype and WhatsApp and the like – an international and remote way of making a film. This had its advantages and disadvantages at the same time. Nothing beats being in a room thrashing through ideas and seeing the whites of someone’s eyes. So it was difficult in those terms. But we had a deadline to meet and I think the blinkers were on for everyone. We just had to focus and crack on with it. While we were developing the script, at the same time I was up in Derry scouting locations, trying to get those locked down. At the same time, as the producer, I was trying to deal with the budget, and do the casting and all of that. Last year from about May through to October, it’s all a blur, I can hardly remember any of it. It’s just been insane! 

 

With the casting, was it a case of holding auditions or did you have a list of people you wanted to get?.

A combination of both. Shelly is not originally from the North, even though her father and mother are. She was very much relying on me to guide her in who were the main players and the good people to speak to and audition here. I had, of course, spotted Lola Petticrew on the BBC TV series Come Home. I knew straight away she’s a really good actor and, like I always do, the minute I see someone I like, I Google them. You can see who they are and who they’re with. Coincidentally, Lola’s with Hamilton Hodell, an agency in London. That’s the same agency as my sister, Bronagh. Of course, it’s the director’s ultimate decision – I can always advise, but obviously they have the final say in casting.  

I had directed her towards Lola and I had ideas in my head who we wanted to play some of the other roles like Finn, the good-looking boy, the heartthrob that Lola’s character, Allegra, falls in love with. His name is Dylan Reid and he’d been in the stage version of Good Vibrations.  I spotted him at a promotional afternoon in a Belfast hotel and the cast were playing a few songs from the play and he was there. He came up to say hello afterwards and it turned out he was from Derry and I thought: ‘Here we go!’ I think I’ve found my Finn. Then there’s the baby’s daddy, Barry the plumber. He is also an actor from Derry who I’d had my eye on for a while after watching him in a few shorts. I thought he was a really good actor and had a lot of potential. I put him forward to Shelly. So I had about 3 or 4 people in mind for the main roles. 

It was after this that Bronagh came on board as the lead. We were getting ready for a screening in London, and we were trying to put together a cast and going through who was available or not – and Bronagh was mentioned at one point.  Shelly said, ’Why can’t we have Bronagh as the lead? She’s a mid-40s woman from Derry.’

I was very conscious of being accused of casting my sister in the lead role because it’s my first movie and, to be fair, so was Bronagh. It was the first time she was going to do a lead role and carry a movie. Her agents look at scripts on a case-by-case basis. Just because I’m producing it, doesn’t mean it was definitely going to happen – although they always wanted to help and they really liked the project. But, of course, it all had to be right for everyone and dates had to align. 

Thankfully Bronagh really liked it and once herself and Lola were on board, we knew we had our two main characters. We had casting calls for the other characters. That all went really smoothly over the course of a weekend. The minute that Mary Moulds, who plays Bronagh’s best friend, Sinead, walked into the room,  I just knew it was her. For me, the audition was already done. She just brought such energy and the three of them gelled. It was perfect. The three of them brought that great fun the whole time to what was a very intense situation. We had 18 days to shoot this It was a lot of work to do but Bronagh and Lola were incredible. 

 

Did you do screen tests?

We didn’t have time for anything like that at all. Bronagh and Shelly did three days of rehearsals for the main scenes, the main emotional beats within the movie. We went into the Oh Yeah Centre in Belfast and practically locked them in there for the three days. They just went through their main scenes line-by-line, scene by scene getting into the characters, digging deep and bonding as mother and daughter characters. The rest we worked through on the day because we just didn’t have the time. A lot of the dialogue was obviously written by Tess but some was a wee bit improvised every now and again. We did different takes and let it go under the guidance of Shelly – just to make it real. Most people who’ve watched the movie so far have commented on the authenticity. That’s what we’ve been able to achieve… probably without even realising it.

 

I think that having good strong female leads behind and in front of the camera, can  different atmosphere on set. Everybody really understands the subject and it’s a safe space.

That’s what I tried to create the whole time. It was a 50/50 balance in terms of crew.

 

It’s great to see Derry on the big screen!

I’m incredibly proud that I shot in town. Derry is 75 miles west of Belfast and over 100 miles north of Dublin. It’s doesn’t have  a substantial film/television infrastructure. But for me the heart of this story lay in the city. I just thought: ‘I’m going to make it in Derry. It’s my one opportunity. I may never get another chance.’ And I just did it. Maybe there were a couple of eyebrows raised but I knew I could. I had the contacts there and I knew once I had my production manager Chrissie Gallagher – who’s no relation, but definitely shares my DNA – plus Mark McCauley, our DoP, on board, that it was going to work out. I just knew in my gut it was going to be okay because they know me and between us, we just cracked the whip and got what we needed. We got Shelly up to Derry as soon as possible. We wanted her to get a feel for the city.  It actually went very quickly from there.  We contacted everyone we knew who could help us out in whatever way possible, from facilities to trucks to locations, which were tricky but we got them. The goodwill was just overwhelming.

 

If you love bawdy humour, heart warming plots and strong females leads then don’t miss A Bump Along the Way – in cinemas now.

A Bump Along the Way is in cinemas nationwide from 11th October 2019.

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 Ireland, Canada and the Jewel of “Hollywood North” 

 

    

James Bartlett explains why Canada is one of the most popular locations for Hollywood and the important role The X-Files played.

It’s not Chicago, New Orleans or Boston that gets the bronze medal behind Los Angeles and New York. No, the third largest film centre in North America is Vancouver, an area that’s so popular with the studios that it’s often called “Hollywood North.” 

Like Ireland, Canada has benefited greatly from offering generous tax breaks, and the often-low Canadian dollar (and Euro) exchange rates can make shooting there a simple matter of economics.

Vancouver

More than that though, both have seen an upswing in new jobs, crew skills, production and studio facilities, and of course all that money that’s being spent there instead of somewhere else.

The so-called “Game of Thrones” effect has famously been almost life-changing for Belfast and Northern Ireland, and the global reach of Irish filmmaking took a symbiotic step last year when the inaugural Vancouver Irish Film Festival was held in late November. 

Its symbolic parent, the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF)  celebrated its 37th anniversary and this year the Irish films screening included Extra Ordinary.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was nearly 110 years ago when the Edison Manufacturing Company first took their cumbersome cameras to British Columbia and filmed The Cowpuncher’s Glove and The Ship’s Husband. Since then, Vancouver and its surrounding areas have stood in for almost everywhere in the world.

Like Dublin and Belfast, celebrities also find Vancouver more relaxed and low-stress, and there’s a long list of Canadian natives who have hit the big time (Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogen, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Mike Myers, Rachel McAdams, Michael J. Fox, Keanu Reeves, Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Christopher Plummer and many more).  

                   Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny

For years the coastal seaport of Vancouver flew under the radar until, like “Game of Thrones” did for Belfast, the worldwide success of “The X-Files” changed everything.  Starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, “The X-Files” filmed five of its original six seasons and the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe in Vancouver, and then returned again for the six-episode revival a few years ago. 

Even with the show’s freaky monsters and strange aliens, Vancouver was probably the most versatile cast member, doubling for everywhere from Kazakhstan to Virginia as they filmed at countless locations around the city and beyond.

On a recent visit I recognized the distinctive “Angel of Stone” statue in Gastown, which featured in the 13th episode of season 1 (“Beyond the Sea”), but one of the most memorable locations was the lonely Britannia Mine Museum.

After gazing at the endless forests, snow-capped mountains and waterfalls and fjords during the drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway out of Vancouver, it appeared through the mist. 

Its grounds are scattered with old mining equipment, a Godzilla-sized yellow truck and a scary boxy “Man Car” that used to take the miners deep underground, but it’s the bizarre, 20-story office building cut into the side of a mountain that grabs your attention.

From 1900 – 1974 it was one of the biggest copper mines in the British Empire, and at one end of its cavernous interior 300-plus precarious wooden steps seem to go up into the heavens.

These rickety steps featured in “Paper Clip”, the second episode of the third “X-Files” season, which saw Mulder and Scully finding their names in some mysterious filing cabinets, chasing down some of the tunnels, and seeing a brightly-lit UFO.

The facility looked much spookier then than it does now, as it was given a multi-million-dollar renovation before it opened as a museum. Those steps too are part of a new, multi-media sensory experience called “Boom!”.

The X-Files – Paper Clip

Back outside in the sunlight, we were told about other films that were shot here at the mine or right nearby, and that included Intersection (1994), Double Jeopardy (1999), Insomnia (2002), Walking Tall (2004), Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed and Underworld: Evolution (2006), Star Trek Beyond (2016) and Okja (2017).

Of course, there are plenty of apps and maps if you want to take a tour of movie locations in Vancouver, Dublin and Belfast (or both countries for that matter), and while some of the movies might fade from memory, their influence will last much longer.

 

Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.

He’s available for private consultation at jbartlett2000@gmail.com

  

 

 

 

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