Issue 134 – BIG Drama little Screen

BDLS

These days, the small screen packs a mighty punch with critical and popular acclaim. AMANDA SPENCER talks to directors Dearbhla Walsh, Daniel O’Hara, Ciaran Donnelly, and Robert Quinn and sees who’s taking sides in TV versus film.

As incredible production values and explosive writing in TV drama continue to blow up the small screen, it’s easy to have a cinematic experience from the comfort of our couches. But for the directors who have experienced both the TV and film worlds and who bring them to us in their most perfect form, do they feel there’s a significant difference in making TV versus film and do they favour one over the other?

First up is Emmy Award-winning Dearbhla Walsh (Little Dorrit, The Tudors, Shameless), taking some well earned time off to look at new material. Then it’s Daniel O’Hara (The Clinic, Skins, George Gently), as he embarks on his next project, Being Human; Ciaran Donnelly (The Tudors, George Gently, Proof), as he gets stuck into a pilot episode of Camelot; and finally, Primeval’s Robert Quinn (Dead Bodies, The Clinic) talks about his experiences ahead of a feature planned for next year.

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Was your first directing experience in film or TV drama? Was it a premeditated decision or just what came up first?

DW: Revenge on RTÉ was the first authored drama I was involved in. To get into film directing involves a lot of sitting around talking about it because there’s so little actually made. I was clear that I wanted to direct, so if I wanted to learn the craft and to actually work, it became obvious that the only way was to seek opportunities and work my way up through directing quality TV drama.

You’ve had lots of different experiences within TV drama – directing all of The Silence, the first four of Little Dorrit, and soaps like Eastenders. How did the role of director differ within those? Which do you think closest to film?

DW: It’s so strange, the division of it is so odd because that’s not the mental or creative approach you take when you’re directing. I find that one of the problems is that people want to differentiate so dramatically between the two. I would say that I’ve made very specific choices that have displayed a broad range of tastes and a clear trajectory with quality writers. So as a pilot director or sole director on a TV project, I wouldn’t see major differences with film. You’re working on it to author the piece.

There’s a perception that the chief creative voice in film is the director, and in TV drama, it’s the writer who comes to prominence. Is that a fair perception?

DW: Irish and British TV drama are very producer-heavy, and very producer-driven because of the nature of getting something green-lit and getting the money. American TV drama is different in so far as the writer is king. I think film suffers in the same way as TV does in the sense that it needs to find an audience. I think often there’s a tradition, especially here, that it doesn’t particularly matter if films get an audience, which I think is an extraordinary indulgence. TV doesn’t have that arrogance. I think The Silence was a good example of that. In its writing and direction, it has its own clear voice. I do consider my role important and in my experience, which has been mostly in Britain, I find there is a deep respect and expectation for the director to bring something to it.

What is the future of drama? Big screen or small?

DW: I think a lot of American drama is proving something. Six Feet Under, Mad Men, The Sopranos; quality TV drama that attracts people from the film world. So, there isn’t the same snobbery about it there as here, particularly in Ireland, which is also why much of my career is in Britain. There is a set notion that there is a difference, that there must be a difference and why it’s important to keep the difference. From a director’s point of view, it’s about exercising ideas and storytelling. I suppose because there’s a higher turnover in television you get to hone those skills faster. Personally, I go through the exact same process on TV drama as I would with film. So, my interest in working in film would be to work on a broader canvas. I think the pain of the process can be similar in both, so it’s about how you hold onto your own through it all. I think the role of TV drama is massive in this country. There’s a need for it, and it has a responsibility to take chances. You have to take chances.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 134

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