Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Vanessa Gildea

Writers in Ireland Series 20157

 

Caroline Farrell’s series of interviews with screenwriters continues with Vanessa Gildea.

 

Vanessa Gildea studied film as part of a Liberal Arts Degree at the University of Limerick. Subsequently she worked in film training for nine years, mostly for Filmbase. She has directed short documentaries for Amnesty International Ireland and award-winning Dublin based production company Venom Films. In 2006 she wrote and directed the Irish Film Board funded short film The White Dress, which won numerous awards (Best Short Film Foyle Film Fest, Belfast Film Fest, Cinema Tout Ecran Geneva, awards at Galway & Kerry Film Festivals) and was nominated for an IFTA. It has been purchased / screened by RTÉ, Swiss, French and Italian Television.

In 2009 Vanessa wrote and directed a short film called ‘The Beast’ for award-winning production company Venom Films. She has received three IFTA nominations, including The White Dress and Dambé – The Mali Project, a feature-length music documentary shot in Mali, West Africa, which was nominated for an IFTA 2009 in the Best Feature Documentary category, and John Ford – Dreaming the Quiet Man in 2013. Also in 2013, she was the first recipient of the Tyrone Guthrie ‘Film Writing Bursary Award’ and in 2014 she received the Arts Council’s ‘Film Bursary Award’. As writer / director she completed an Arts Council Project Award film called The Abandoning, which won Best Short Film at The Sky Road Film Festival, 2014, a Special Mention at The IndieCork Film Festival, and was highly commended at The Belfast Film Festival, 2015.

 

Vanessa, with such accomplished writing, directing and producing credits, can you tell us when it all started for you?

I was always playing around with ideas, since I was a teenager but I only started to write in my 30s. The first film I wrote was called The White Dress, I wrote it in one sitting and I never did any re-writes, but I had written the film in my head a hundred times, and luckily it got funded.

 

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to get into film?

The first filmmaker that blew my mind was Mike Leigh. When I saw Life is Sweet as a teenager it changed my view of what a film is, up until then I had only seen Hollywood movies. I didn’t know people made films like that, reflecting real life back at the audience and I thought it was the most exciting and moving film I’d ever seen. I still love it and when I’m writing I think about authenticity and Mike Leigh is always somewhere floating around that thought process.

 

And your first production break?

I had made a short doc for Amnesty [International] and someone from the Irish Film Board had seen it and she decided to take a chance on me as a first-time writer / director of a drama. I am forever grateful.

 

Do you write every day?

No. I work in production, research or teaching. When I’m not working I can spend time writing but not as much as I’d like.

 

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

There’s a hundred. I am in awe of Charlie Kauffman, the complexity, simplicity and brilliance of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Also, I wish I had written or could write something as good as The Visitor by Tom McCarthy.

 

Do you have an agent, Vanessa, or think it necessary to have one?

No I don’t have one and I think if you want to write as your profession then yes, an agent is a good idea.

 

Do you contribute to the marketing and PR of your work?

A little, but I dislike that side of things, I’d much prefer someone else do it.

 

And on social media for filmmakers?

I have mixed feelings about social media but it’s here and it can be a very useful tool. It is boring to use it solely for self-promotion though, better to have a bit of fun with it.

 

What’s your opinion of the film industry in general?

There are great films being made all the time, some are Hollywood, most of the films I really love and admire are not from the Hollywood system. I have to seek out the films that I like, but it’s not hard, with the IFI, the Lighthouse and VOD platforms like volta.ie, but one major problem I see is the lack of women storytellers, women centric stories and characters. I recently heard most film crowd scenes have 70-80% men in them, what is going on? Women are not coming forward, they’re not being allowed to and when they do the kind of films they want to make are not getting the same support. We are 50% of the population, we should be telling 50% of the stories.

 

And on the importance, or not, of film competitions and awards?

Winning awards can be a bittersweet experience but the recognition is good and it definitely helps when it comes to getting the next project funded, well I think it does.

 

Have you, or would you, consider crowdsourcing to produce your own work?

I haven’t, but I have supported plenty of projects, I would consider it.

 

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

Of course you have negative reviews, I would like my films to provoke a reaction in people, but you have to learn to shrug it off, and also sometimes the person critiquing the film might have a point. I equally take praise with a pinch of salt, I know when I am happy with my work, I know the moment when I am happy to say that’s it, it’s finished, that’s all we can do. I also know when I have worked hard and done everything in my power to realise the idea. After that, I don’t think you have a clue what people will think or how they will react, but you make it to be seen and the rest is beyond your control.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

No, because I am still one myself.

 

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I think if every writer stuck to that as a rule, we would have lost out on some great fiction and dramas, but you can write what you know about life, love, loss, emotions in to characters, in to situations without it being necessarily autobiographical.

 

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

I am about to start an MA in Screenwriting at the National Film School Dun Laoghaire, so I am playing with a few ideas for that as part of the course we have to write a feature script. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

 

And just for fun… six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?

My Dad, my grandparents and Brendan Behan.

 

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival. Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

 

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Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Sean Ryan

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Caroline Farrell’s series of interviews with screenwriters continues with Sean Ryan.

Sean Ryan, from Waterford, has written numerous short and feature-length scripts. He has also worked as a writer-for-hire on adaptations and as a script doctor on feature screenplays. His films Revenge (Action/Western) and The Lunch Break (Black comedy) screened at the opening day in Cannes Le Marché du Film festival 2013, and along with Choices (Drama/Thriller) have won awards at The Cinerockom International Film Festival, 2013. Choices also won best narrative short at the Cannes Artisan Festival and the platinum award at the 2012 Oregon Film Festival. Change (Drama) won Best Short Film at both the Jersey Shore Film Festival and the Ocean County Library Film Festival and Audience Choice Awards at both the Texas Black Film Festival and the Jersey Shore Film Festival. His script Fading Numbers (Drama/War) was placed in several national and international contests, including the KAOS BSSC, and with his family, Sean travelled to Canada in 2011 to meet the two Auschwitz and Tluste survivors that inspired the script. Tears In The Rain (War/Drama) was also a finalist in the BSSC contest in 2013. In the same year, he worked closely with the Department of Theatre, University of Alabama and their advanced film making students who produced his script, G.P.S. (Thriller) as their final year project. The University plan to use more of Sean’s screenplays for future projects.

He has worked as a producer on Choices and Speed Dial (Comedy) and completed his directorial début on Connection (Drama), which screened in festivals in 2013/2014. Now concentrating on feature scripts, his final short film was Failing Hope (Drama) which starred Rowan Blanchard, Scottie Thompson and Elizabeth Regen.

Production has recently completed on 2 of his Sean’s feature screenplays: Decommissioned (2015 – Action/Thriller), starring Johnny Messner, Vinnie Jones, Estella Warren, James Remar and Michael Paré; and 4GOT10 (2015 – Thriller/Western) starring Johnny Messner, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Michael Paré and Vivica A. Fox.

Sean has several features due for release in 2016.  Currently in production is Fragmented (Thriller), starring Tony Todd, and Darkness (survival horror) and Awakenings (Horror/thriller) are presently in preproduction stages. Paranesia is currently filming and WEAPONiZED is in post-production.

Sean featured on RTE Radio’s ARENA program about his attendance at the premiere of his produced featurette screenplay, Too Good To Be True  (Comedy/Drama) in New York.

 

Impressive list of credits, Sean, so when did your writing for film career begin?

About 12 years or so ago. The first short film I wrote I sold for a few bucks and it has yet to be made. My first feature film was this year (2015).

And how did that first production break come about?

For short films was because of hustling and hard work. I kept writing as much and as often as possible. Pitching every short script anywhere and where I could find indie producers looking for material. Until I landed a production.

Did you have an agent to help you along?

I have had a couple in the past, before I had any feature films produced. This was to help either sell a spec script or land a write for hire assignment. Neither happened, so I have been pitching my own work and writing specs that I think could/would make good films. I think a great active agent or manager would make a massive difference in getting work out there, onto the right desks. But it’s not enough to just have an agent, you need the right one, who works as hard as you do.

So you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

If I get the chance yes. But more often than not you don’t get the opportunity – which is a pity.

And social media?

It’s an important tool. Social media is like someone organised the Internet and for most, social media is the internet. So having a presence and a voice on it, is important. It’s free advertisement space (mostly). So why not use it?

On inspiration – did anyone influence you to write?

Stephen King. After leaving school I had no real interest in books until my sister suggested I should try King’s IT. I read nearly everything he wrote after that. Even read some of them twice.

Do you write every day?

I try to write around five pages a day and try to make them five good pages. But I have learned over time that it is very important to plan everything in your head first. Break down scenes; work out what makes those characters interesting before you touch a keyboard. But if I can manage a couple of hours a day and make five good pages, I’m happy. Any more is a bonus. I try every genre and don’t limit to one. I also try to write films I want to see. That could be comedy or science fiction. The characters are at the heart of every great story. The genre is just one element.

And how long does it take you to complete a script?

It depends. A first draft I can lay down in a month but the rewrites could take as long if not longer. But from a blank page to about 100 pages of a script, takes about four weeks.

What are you currently working on?

I’m adapting a write-for-hire script and rewriting a spec of mine called “Redacted”. I’m finding it hard to make the final act all that it can be, but I think I finally have it in my head, just need to get it down on paper.

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

My last film was about drug lords, agents and corrupt lawmen, so do I know any of that in real life? No. I think writing what you know can help you to connect with the material, but I think the key is just to write every day and treat it like exercise. The more you do, the better you will get.

Judging from your bio, you obviously place some importance on film competitions and awards…

They can really open doors but I can’t help but feel they are like playing the lotto with a really, really expensive ticket. The odds of placing are fantastic and most aren’t going to open any doors for you. It might help with your personal sense of achievement, which is healthy. Just don’t depend on writing that script that will win that competition and land you a million dollar deal. Write for enjoyment. Write from the heart. If success comes, it comes. If awards comes then great, but write for yourself.

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Schindler’s List or Jaws. Either or both. If I could have written them I think then I could say I’m a screenwriter.

Any advice for aspiring writers?
Three things: Don’t limit yourself/don’t keep your eggs in one basket. Don’t be afraid to write and rewrite and finally never, ever give up.

Thoughts on film in general?

Film-wise there are way too many remakes, reboots and superhero movies. Not that most are not solid films, it just seems to be a case of “I’ve seen it all before” and I find myself too rarely getting excited about seeing something. I think the issue with all the reboots and remakes is that the studios think it is minimising the risk. If it worked well once, it will work again, but as we’ve seen this is more often not the case.

And Indie Film? 

Indie film is the future in my opinion. It’s the heart of cinema that will continue to beat long after the big movies and massive budgets will become too risky. There is a massive demand for content these days with streaming and alike. Indie film can deliver small, low risk, big heart films that studios won’t produce because financial return is all that interests them (being in a business). A lot of indie films remind me of the first films that some of cinema’s greats made when they were starting out, like The Godfather, Terminator and the like. Films when they were hungry to prove themselves and taking risks.

Would you consider crowdsourcing to fund your own work?

I would consider it but it kind of conflicts with me as I’ve supported a lot of crowd funded films yet never received any perks. Which just hints it’s a little bit of take your money and run. Also you are asking people to give you money so you can potentially make money from their money. I think the only fair model is that everyone that invests is treated like an investor. Not perks, but they should get a return on their investment and should 100% not have to pay to see they film they help get made.

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

Film is subjective so you won’t make something everyone will like. Which is fair enough but you will meet people that love to hate and will be very vocal of that fact. But I always remember a quote from the great Paul Newman who told Tom Cruise that negativity is like white noise, just ignore it. Listen to every review and remark, just don’t live by them.

And finally, Sean, is there anyone, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

I would like to go for a pint or two with my Mum and Dad, so we could talk about life. What they have missed out since they passed away, in terms of their grandkids and children and to just experience once again what once we took for granted, time together.

You can check out Sean’s links here: IMDb FACEBOOK  TWITTER  and BLOG

 

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival. Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

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Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Len Collin

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Caroline Farrell’s series of interviews with screenwriters continues with Len Collin.

Len Collin was born in London and has lived in Ireland. He trained as a professional actor at Arts Educational Drama School, London and is also a production and Direction MA graduate of the Huston Film School, Galway, Ireland. Len started writing for the theatre in the early nineties. His award-winning play Box, set during the first Gulf War and WWI, brought him to the attention of TV producers and he began writing for that medium. In 2010 he wrote, directed and produced the award-winning Irish web series Covies and he has written for several TV shows, including Holby City, Casualty and London’s Burning.

 

Welcome Len. Your writing credits are quite impressive – so where did it all begin?

I’ve always written, from diary entries as a teenager to bad poetry. At drama school I began to write scenes and then plays. Eventually screenplays. I started writing seriously after leaving drama school. I’d write plays when I wasn’t working as an actor… seven years later I wrote Box, which won a national competition in the UK, and kick-started my writing career. After the success of Box I got an agent and was invited to write for two TV shows. The Bill and Families. Drama is my genre. Within that at one time I specialized in crime stories. However, I tend to just be interested in justice and injustice. I tend to write about bigotry and intolerance. I’m a Yes voter.

 

Did anyone – famous or not – inspire you to write?

I think all writers are influenced by other writers. My influences range from Stan Lee to Sean O’Casey. The Silver Tassie was a particular influence as well as Shadow of a Gunman. Spiderman comics were really just storyboards… I loved the humour. Joe Orton, Tennessee Williams, Tony Marchant, Budd Shulberg, Charles Bukowski and more recently Charlie Kaufman.

 

And is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Withnail and I – Bruce Robinson.

 

With regard to screenplays, how long does it take you to complete a script?

The fastest I ever wrote a first draft of a one-hour broadcast screenplay was twenty-two hours. It was surprisingly good. But writing is all about the rewrites, so I have written good material that took a week and other good material that has taken years. I have no idea why that happens.

 

You mentioned that you have an agent, Len. Do you think it necessary to have one?

Yes. A good agent makes all the difference.

 

What’s your opinion of the current world of film and writing?

Nationally, I think Ireland struggles to find a voice. I really admire Terry McMahon (Charlie Casanova. Patrick’s Day) for his work. He has something to say and he says it, and that’s what writing is all about. But I despair at the lack of rigour when it comes to screenwriting in general. There is no excuse for lazy writing.

 

And internationally?

Internationally, the market is dominated by facile superhero movies (Remember I like Stan Lee) I cannot get excited by another Superman reboot or Avengers Go Shopping in Supervalu. Then you get a drama like Birdman – which is good but gets over hyped because there is so little intelligent drama out there. In TV everyone now believes slow is good so we have British and American shows aping the Scandinavian dramas. Only the cable channels, and new online broadcasters seem to be taking risks… and what wonderful shows they have produced. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are particular favourites, and Netflix’s Lilyhammer. Love / Hate and Pure Mule seemed to signal a new era of drama for RTÉ, but perhaps that was just a blip. In my opinion RTÉ need to think more about international sales, so that we can do what the Scandies have done and export our stories.

 

Do you place any importance of film competitions and awards?

Anything that gets your name out there is ultimately a good thing. I got attention because I won a playwriting competition, there were two awards in that competition, two plays that were produced and two careers that came from that competition, myself and Conall Morrison. So yes, I think they are a good thing, but would advise that it’s all about the right competitions.

 

And your thoughts on Indie Film?

Indie film is very important. Equipment is cheaper and better now than ever. Buy a DSLR and Tascam and go out and shoot a movie. Yes most of your efforts will be mediocre or worse… but you will learn… and then there is always the chance that your next movie will be the catalyst for your career.

 

Have you ever considered self-publishing, funding or crowdsourcing?

I have considered self-publishing a novel I have written. E-readers are ubiquitous, and there are gems. The problem is the advertising. How do you market your novel? It’s a vast ocean.

 

What are your feelings on social media as a marketing tool for writers and filmmakers?

Writers have to learn how to use social media… we all have two personalities now… our online and our real. I try to keep my online persona as close as possible to my real persona to stop me going insane. That way I make sure I never say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person. But social media is here to stay… and we have to use it.

 

If you’ve ever had any – how do you handle negative reviews?

If you produce enough work you will get good reviews and bad reviews and you should treat both imposters the same. Only you can judge your work at the end of the day, and you will always be your own harshest critic.

 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep notes. Write down the names of people you meet, who they are and what they do. What you think of them. Read the end credits of films you like and don’t like…because if you are going to have a career you are going to work with some of these people – and for when you forget there is IMDb.

 

And write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

It’s nonsense… so much of the “Rules” you read about are. My first piece was set partly in the First World War… I had to do that thing called research. A better rule is “Write what you are passionate about” Because if you are passionate about something the chances are that someone else will be too.

 

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

About to direct my first feature – Christian O’Reilly has written the script – It’s funny, thought-provoking and quite brilliant. It’s called Sanctuary – and the cast are mostly actors with intellectual disabilities from Blue Teapot Theatre Company in Galway.

 

And finally, name six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with…

Eamon Collins (He was killed by the IRA and wrote a book called Killing Rage. I tried to secure rights for it. He was brave and idealistic.) Charles Bukowski (Poet), Louise Brooks (Actress) my Dad (He died before I could ask him all the things I would want to ask him). Now I’ve realized they’re all dead so I’ll have to add fellow writer Ted Gannon and Edwina Forkin (our producer on Sanctuary) Because she really is the brightest, funniest person and if Bukowski was getting sulky on us she’d sort him out.

Cheers, Len!

Check out Len’s new website and IMDb Profile Here

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival. Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

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Doing it with Passion: Writers in Ireland Series: Hugh Travers

Hugh Travers

 

Caroline Farrell’s series of interviews with screenwriters continues with Hugh Travers.

 

Hugh Travers is a graduate of D.I.T (B.Sc. Film and Broadcasting) and The Huston School of Film (M.A. in Screenwriting). He received a scholarship to The Professional Programme in Screenwriting at UCLA. He has written a number of award-winning short films, and is currently working on Over The Bar, a feature film in development with the Irish Film Board, Deadpan Pictures & Dan Films. Over The Bar was recently selected for The Brit List, a shortlist of the best unproduced scripts of 2014. Most recently his critically acclaimed play Lambo completed a national tour, was nominated for the Little Gem Award in the Dublin Fringe Festival and was adapted for RTE Radio. It won the PPI Drama Award for Best Radio Play of 2014. His previous play Clear the Air ran at the Theatre Upstairs in Dublin and the Electric Picnic Arts Festival in Stradbally. He recently completed Rough Magic SEEDS, a two-year artist development programme for theatre writers which included staged readings of his plays Cardboard City and The Disappeared. Hugh co-wrote The Variety Show, an animated series, produced by A Man & Ink and RTÉ and he developed The H-Files and Chicklings with the IFB and Paper Dreams. He created the comedy panel show format Choose or Lose with Screentime Shinawil and RTÉ and was head writer on the pilot episode, and was the head writer on The Big Pitch, a panel show pilot for Sky. Hugh was also the writer and chief researcher on Green Is The Colour, a hugely successful four by one-hour historical sports documentary series for Treasure Entertainment and RTÉ.

 

You are obviously a prolific writer, Hugh. Tell us how you got started?

I wrote terrible songs in secondary school so always had an interest in creative writing. Then I began to write scripts in college. I studied Communications: Film & Broadcasting but really started writing through the drama society where you could kind of put on anything you wanted and have the freedom to fail.  I then specialised in writing for my final year and went on to do a masters in Screenwriting and a professional programme in UCLA.

 

Freedom to fail, love that! And your first big break?

Well, I came back from UCLA in 2006 and started properly trying to chase funding and make applications to get things off the ground for the first time. In early 2008 I got funding for an Irish language short (An Cosc) through Filmbase and TG4’s Lasair scheme, so it took me about a year and a half before I got anywhere. It’s hard to know if that short was a break necessarily but it was a small step on the road. I had written a rough first draft of it on my own. I pitched the story idea to the producer Claire McCaughley. She really liked it and so we reworked the script a bit before applying to Filmbase. Then once we were shortlisted we got Vincent Gallagher on board to direct. The same team then got funding for a second, English language short not long after and things began to build slowly from there.

 

Do you have an agent, Hugh and do you think one is necessary?

I do have an agent and I have found it to be very helpful. We have a good relationship and it’s good to have a supportive ‘consultant’ as much as it is good to have someone fighting your corner on contracts and getting you meetings etc. Is it necessary? No it’s not essential at all. I think it’s possible to get ahead just fine without one but it has certainly helped me. I think once you reach the top-level, it would become absolutely essential.

 

Do you contribute to the PR and marketing of your work, for instance on social media?

I’m more a consumer of social media than I am a creator of content. In other words I’m on twitter but I don’t tweet. I’m on Facebook but mainly as a procrastination tool rather than as a means of expression. But when it comes to marketing, it’s a completely different story. I think it’s essential. You have to find your audience. The right people for your work. They’re not just the people who will pay to see it, they’re the people who will actually enjoy it because it’s in their wheelhouse. So if they’re on facebook you have to communicate with them there.

 

Back to the practice of writing. How do you structure your time?

I keep office hours. I generally start at ten and finish at six. Monday to Friday. A lot of that time is naturally spent avoiding writing but I do try to put myself in the chair for those hours. I am at least threatening to write!

 

And how long does it take you to complete a script?

It depends. A first draft of a feature script can take anything from a few weeks to a few months. But the real writing begins with the rewrites. That can sometimes take years, depending on what the process is.

 

Do you place much importance on film competitions and awards?

I think for a writer, awards and competitions can be very helpful early in your career to get people to take you seriously. If you’re lucky they can buy you a few months of attention or replies to your emails. But I think it’s important to remember that not all writers and not all scripts fall into the categories that tend to win awards or place well in competitions. They’re not the be all and end all. I think when it comes to getting a finished film seen, they are really helpful. In the crowded market place, they hang a lantern on your movie and allow it to be noticed. It’s easy to be dismissive of the industry love-ins but I think they are a necessary indulgence.

 

Any thoughts on our film industry in general?

We’re living in strange times as far as film goes. I think there has never been more opportunity and yet things are getting more difficult. Technology has opened up all manner of possibilities and yet it has had a lot of side effects.  The streaming and VOD model is still bedding in and it remains to be seen if it will work financially for filmmakers. Illegal downloads can be damaging to smaller independent films. The tent-pole movie culture in Hollywood has squeezed out grown-up dramas, comedies and mid-range films. So ultimately it’s easier to make a film than ever. But it’s harder than ever to get that movie seen and to make money from it. And consequently, it’s harder to get paid to write them.

 

And on indie film?

I love the fact that indie films continue to exist because at the moment, it’s the only way that interesting movies are getting made. Again, I think the independent sector is still in flux. After the initial boom in the 90’s we’re probably now entering a new era with streaming and VOD and different distribution possibilities but the jury is still out on whether it will be boom or bust. It could be hugely hugely positive and usher in a new golden era or indie films could go the way of indie music and the music industry in general where passionate artists are making great work but it’s next to impossible to make a living.

 

Have you self-funded or considered crowdfunding for a project?

I did use crowdfunding to stage my first play. It was a great resource and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who rowed in behind that project. I do think you have to use it responsibly. I will never say never but I don’t plan to go back to the well any time soon. You’re essentially asking family and friends for a dig-out and you can’t do that too often. Unless I ended up in an unusual position where a project I was working on had interest from the wider public but couldn’t get traditional funding. If you were genuinely finding a way to service a demand that was out there by allowing an audience to effectively pay in advance, then crowdfunding is absolutely the way to go and that’s a responsible way to use it.

 

I’m learning through this series that feedback, and how we handle it, differs from writer to writer, particularly if it comes in negative form. How do you handle such reviews?

I’ve been lucky enough to have avoided scathing reviews. There have been a couple of middling to negative ones and the ease with which I shake them off depends on the nature of the project. The worst review I got was probably for a comedy panel show that I worked on but the whole point of the show was to be genuinely silly and embrace that completely so it’s easy to be philosophical about that. I’ve never been panned for my plays or my work on TV but even good reviews often include the odd throwaway criticism and you have to remind yourself not to obsess about that one line.

 

Given your experience to date, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Find a way to stay in the game. If you have had any sort of indication that you have talent and aren’t banging your head up against a brick wall, then it’s all about staying in the game until your number comes up. For some people that involves working a day job and writing in your spare time. For others it’s working part-time in a bar or cafe or shop. Maybe it’s even trying to get by on the dole. Whatever your way is, you need to keep living while you keep trying. If you’re good – and if you’re dedicated to continually getting better – your number will come up eventually. So find a way to stay happy, to stay writing and to pay the bills while you’re waiting.

 

And ‘write what you know’ – agree or disagree?
It definitely helps but it’s not at all essential. I’ve written about worlds that I know nothing about and written stuff that has been a little autobiographical. I feel they both scratch different itches and each option still requires due diligence. In the ‘write what you know’ scenario you have to stop yourself form being too self indulgent and getting too close to the material. You have to still see it as a story in its own right and allow it to go where it needs to go, not in the direction of your experience. With the other stuff, it just takes research. Lots and lots of research.

 

Is there a film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

How about a book that became a film? I’m a big fan of The Butcher Boy. I’m not sure it’s something that I necessarily would write – even if I could – but it’s one of those pieces of work that has always resonated with me for reasons that I can’t even properly understand or analyse.

 

Apart from your feature, Over the Bar, are you are working on anything else right now?

The reality of being a working screenwriter/playwright is that you have to have a lot of irons in the fire and a lot of work in development. It’s necessary to pay the bills but it’s also necessary if you want to get something produced. If you’re concentrating on one piece of work, your odds might not be great. You have to keep all the plates spinning and hope that one of them will somehow take off. I’m hoping to do a new play next year and I have a few exciting feature and TV projects in development, which I hope will go into production soon.

 

Thanks, Hugh, and just for fun – six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Woody Guthrie, Larry David, Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Billy Bragg, Orson Welles – literally the first six people that came into my head – in that order.  And my favourite beverage? Currently a whisky sour.

 

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival. Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

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Doing it With passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Martin Duffy

Writers in Ireland Series 20151

Caroline Farrell’s series of  interviews with screenwriters continues with Martin Duffy.

 

Martin Duffy describes himself as a storyteller. He is a film director, a writer and an editor. Martin’s work includes the feature films, The Boy from Mercury and Summer of the Flying Saucer. He has written several non-fiction books, novels for young people, and also writes songs.

 

Great to connect with you, Martin, and as always, I’ll start by asking you when you first began to write?

I first started applying myself seriously as a writer in my early twenties – around 1974/5 – when I was a young married man and father and a postman. It was an attempt to fight off the boredom of my work.

 

And the initial breakthrough?

I wrote a few articles that were published in ‘The Postal Worker’, including an article about George Orwell. And through that I got the nickname ‘Georgie Orwell’ among my fellow postmen. After about five years of writing unpublishable novels I wrote a TV play and that was bought and produced by RTÉ in 1978. The play was ‘Your Favourite Funny Man’ and starred Jim Bartley. It was about a guy who works in a boring job by day and is a failing stand-up comic by night. No idea where I got the idea from…1978 was a key year for me. My second son, Steven, was born, I got a job in RTÉ as a trainee assistant film editor and I sold my first TV play. The sale of the play came about through Eoghan Harris who, at the time, had been made head of comedy development in RTÉ. I think I was one of the few comedy writers he felt had any promise.

 

Did anyone, famous or not, inspire you to write?

I have always aspired to write with a sense of lightness and openness. My earliest writing influences would have been detective novels (Chandler, Hammett etc) and – Georgie Orwell. Dialogue is my thing and film is my natural habitat. Billy Wilder is my idol.

 

And do you write every day?

I do write every day. Sometimes it is practical work (such as edit jobs or script report jobs) but when I am doing my own thing I am very disciplined. I just about fall out of bed to my desk: starting by 8am at the very latest. I usually work through until about 1pm. Then I stop, maybe take a walk, certainly take a nap at some point in the afternoon, and then mull over the work (and catch up a bit with the outside world). My problem is that I tend not to know how to stop. I often put in a few hours in the evening.

 

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I have a brother (Bill) who is an extremely successful businessman. Many years ago he asked me ‘what is the one thing you do? There has to be one thing you do.’ I gave him a list of this and that: editing, directing, books. Now, however, I am concentrating on one thing: comedy. A dear late friend of mine was New York poet Sam Menashe and one of his last books was titled ‘The Niche Narrows’. I now think that’s where I am.

 

Does your writing lean towards a specific genre?

My first break was with writing bitter comedy and I find that now I am a bitter old man I am returning to that old well. I have learned late that I am not Billy Wilder – who could move from genre to genre – so now I am concentrating my failing sight on comedy. It is a bit of an easy way out. If you have written something that makes an audience laugh, you know you have done your job.

 

Comparing books to scripts, how long does it take you to complete either?

I am often a jobbing writer and have done family history books (I like writing non-fiction books and I like research). Such a book would take me at least six months. Writing a screenplay is a different animal. Idea, plotting, outline etc might take up to a year (floating around in the back of my head) but I would write a first draft of a feature screenplay in maximum two weeks once the ducks have been lined up in my head.

 

The ‘Agent’ Question? Do you have one?

I have an agent again as of middle last year – Linda Langton in New York. I had an agent for a few years in Germany (I live in Berlin) but agents here do not pursue work for their clients. They simply do the deals. Linda looks for work for me and is representing right now my biography of the late rocker Tony Sheridan. I think an agent is crucial. It is the element of credibility above all else. As it happens, Linda also sends some script and book editing work my way.

 

What is your opinion on the importance of literary/film competitions and awards?

Very, very important. I wish I had more awards and had been more conscious of their importance. They are the poor (wo)man’s marketing. The toughest thing is to get the public aware of you. And as most writers are anti-social (or is that just me?) the awards process makes all the difference.

 

Not just you, Martin! And with that in mind, do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

I tried and failed. My eldest son, Bernard, set up a website for me but after a few years I gave it up because I didn’t know how to change it and he had no time to update it. I have a blog I don’t update and I have an Amazon Author’s page. My inability to market myself may be why major success has eluded me. That, and lack of talent

 

Scratch that last sentence! So, what are your thoughts on social media?

I know it is vital, but I don’t know how it works. My agent says she wants to find a ‘platform’ for me. By which she means something that identifies me with readers. Several years ago my brother-in-law Derek happened to notice a Bill Bryson book (‘A Walk in the Woods’) and, being a hill walker, he bought it. He enjoyed the book so much he went back to said book shop and simply bought every other Bryson title on the shelf. Social media is that connection between writer and reader, between filmmaker and undiscovered audience. Marketing is bonding.

 

As an author and filmmaker, what’s your opinion of the current business of both publishing and film?

It has taken me a couple of years to realize that while I was catching bits of work here and there (books published, screenplays not produced) there has been a huge shift going on. By this stage in my life I have two hats I most often wear. I have been writing non-fiction (such as ‘The Trade Union Pint’, published a couple of years ago by Liberties Press or ‘Vagabond’, my Tony Sheridan biography) or screenplays of films I want to make (such as the comedy ‘The Mistress’ or the ghost story ‘Little Boy Priest’). It seems to me that with publishing you maybe find a niche and that is where an agent comes in. As for my scripts, the film business has changed so much that they get tougher to make because they don’t make financial sense. Damn you, Marvel Comics!

 

And on Indie Film?

It’s a mystery. As I mention elsewhere here, I am in the process of making a micro-budget film. I contacted two distributor friends of mine in the UK about my plan and both said ‘don’t do it! The world is awash with them!’

 

Have you considered crowd-funding your film project?

I haven’t tried any form of crowd funding but I am working on a micro-budget comedy feature film project right now and I might try – later this year – to see if I can drum up some crowd funding to complete it. I am writing, directing, doing most of the camera work (with my own gear) and editing.

 

You have self-published your books?

I went Kindle a couple of years ago with a selection of books of mine that either never found a publisher or had fallen out of print. I also put some un-produced screenplays out there. Last year I resurrected a crime/comedy novel of mine called HANRAHAN and this year I did it as an audiobook (even with me on guitar in bridges between chapters). I have earned very little money from those ventures, but at least the work is there and available.

 

If you’ve ever had any: How to you handle negative reviews?

I drink. No. Just kidding. I drink to celebrate positive reviews also. Everybody has their own opinion. Some people think I am a handsomely ageing Adonis. Some say ‘look at that fat bald guy’. Your work – film, book, whatever – stands and the review, good or bad, will be wrapping fish and chips tomorrow. Or would have done in the old days. Now it remains forever on the internet. Oh well.

 

Is there a book or film script by another writer that you wish you had written?

Simple answer: anything by Billy Wilder. Although Herr Wilder never wrote alone, actually. And then several books by Bryson and Orwell.

 

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

At the moment the focus is on comedy. A producer here in Germany is developing a sitcom of mine. I wrote the concept, the plot outlines and three scripts in English and he has brought in two German comedy writers. I am also writing and making a micro-budget comedy feature (mentioned above) that has already had a few shooting days. Plus I am maybe half way through plotting a script that would be a German/English language comedy script set in Berlin.I cannot reveal any of the plots, though!

 

Six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

My Dad, Stephen Fry, Billy Wilder, Bill Bryson, Steven Spielberg (for the networking) … and Georgie Orwell.

 

Last request, Martin! Any advice for aspiring writers?

I honestly think that being creative is our highest level. I think also that it can be a lottery. I didn’t win the lottery, but it has been an interesting ride. Advice? It’s a schizophrenic job. You have to look inside yourself and sit alone in your room to write, then you have to go out there and sell yourself and find your audience. So I guess my advice is ’embrace your inner schizophrenic’. And don’t give up – the work is what matters.

 

 

Visit Martin’s page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/www.duffyberlin.com/

BLOG: http://martinduffyberlin.blogspot.de/

Feature Film Showreel: https://vimeo.com/83748803
 
Photograph courtesy of Jens Winter.

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival. Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

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Doing it with Passion! Writers in Ireland Series: Eamonn Tutty

Writers in Ireland Series 2015

 

Caroline Farrell continues her Doing it With Passion! series of interviews with screenwriters.

 

Award-winning filmmaker, Eamonn Tutty, began his career as a writer, having discovered his passion for storytelling at a young age. In 2011, he directed his first self-written short film Untitled, receiving nominations in three categories at The Underground Cinema Awards, including Best Actor, Best Actress and won for Best New Director. His second short film Anna, which he also wrote, directed and produced, featured in a host of festivals, including Newry Film Festival, winning the Audience Choice Award; The Devour Short Film Festival; The Underground Cinema Festival, winning Best Cinematography; The Waterford Film Festival and at Indie Cork, with judges Lenny Abrahamson and Ken Loach, out of the 4,000 entries at this festival, only 48 were selected to be part of their inaugural programme. His third short, Mirror Image, was created as part of The Clones Film Festival’s 48 hour Film Challenge, where it was one of only six selected out of hundreds of entries. It also featured in The Underground Cinema Film Festival and Devour Short Film Festival.

 

So you caught the writing bug early, Eamonn?

I loved to read from an early age, it fascinated me – the world you could create with words, and I knew it was something I wanted to do. I began writing short stories whilst in primary school, typical childlike stories riddled with imagination, not holding back. And so I began writing as a hobby and tried entering kids’ short story competitions, one was while in sixth class, for The Irish Times.

 

And writing for the screen?

After my Leaving Cert I attended a course in Media Production. One of our courses was creative writing and script writing. I was such an avid film fan, I had tried to bring my love of words to actually seeing them through onto screen, being able to give life to worlds or characters I’d created, so I wanted to branch into directing. However, the medium of screenplays was alien to me and I wasn’t at all very good, at first attempt.

 

Did you take inspiration from anyone in particular?

As a child no one really inspired me. I just wanted to write. When I was older, it was my father who inspired me. He always, and continues to, engage me in my work. Why are you writing this? What are you saying? That could be done better. He pushes me to push myself and I think you really need that as a writer, after all you are not writing for yourself you are writing for an audience and you want to connect with them as strongly as you can.

 

When did you get your first break into the film business?

After college I kept practicing and attending seminars to bring my level of writing up to scratch in screenplay format. In 2008, I secured my first job as an editor on a short film from Writer/Director Sean Reilly with TV World Productions. That was the first time I had been paid for writing work, and I drew interest from an independent producer, Edmon Coissan from Chicago who ran the Napier Film Festival. He was interested in the treatment of my first feature film ‘Justice Falls’. However the screenplay itself was not optioned. I went on to write my second feature spec screenplay ‘The Back Door Girl’. Once again I had a production company interested in the treatment, Fastnet Films, but not the screenplay. The development exec at the time, Megan Everette, suggested it would be worth its weight in gold to work alongside a script editor. And so I did. I was fascinated at how easy it was for her to show how to condense my writing into its essence and to still create a world that was visceral and engaging in the medium of screenplay format. After this I scrapped the entire screenplay and wrote it from scratch, and in 2009 I received my first option agreement from Telegael Media for the newly drafted version. I was also hired as a writer on a series of projects, from treatment/bible writing to adapting a novel into a screenplay. I have since gone on to write, produce and direct three award-winning and nominated short films.

 

Do you write every day?

I try to write everyday but it is not possible being that I also produce and direct. When I am engaged with my own projects or writing though I do dedicate an awful amount of time and get sucked straight into it. My writing would be organic. I prefer to firstly come up with an idea and write a synopsis. From there I just write and edit as I go. After that I develop the story, fit it around my theme and keep a tight tone based on its genre. And as funny as it sounds, I think constantly about my world and characters. I keep constant notes wherever I go and I make myself dream about the story. I want to know everything about my world and be a part of it, so that when it comes to the final draft I know it inside and out.

 

Write what you know? Agree or Disagree?

I agree, but it is not a case of write what you do, and a lot of new writers tend to take this approach. As a writer you are creating a fictional world. In terms of write what you know that means in a scene, or a theme, or a situation in your work, how would you handle it, what has been your experience, what is your voice on this, and write about it.

 

Any other advice for aspiring writers?

Take negativity and make it inspire you. Just like the characters you create you will come up against obstacles and dramas but that’s what creates your characters Arc, and it’s what defines you as a writer too and helps shape your voice. I would take negativity over positivity any day as it pushes you on to succeed and it also helps cripple that one tiny part of every human which doesn’t help but hinder your development – Ego.

 

And speaking of negativity, if you’ve ever had any, how do you handle negative reviews?

I’ve never had any written reviews that were negative, just friends and family (laughs). I think we all start out, as writers, very protective of our work, and we see any critique to be a personal one as everything on that page is personal. But a real critique is one that is given to improve something, not tear it apart. It has to be constructive and you have to be mature enough to take from it anything that will enhance your work, something you haven’t seen or something you never thought of to help perhaps re-enforce your theme or tone.

 

You’ve established yourself as a producer, Eamonn. Apart from your own projects, what else have you worked on?

As Assistant Producer, I just came off my first feature film Lead Us Not, directed by Alan Mulligan and produced by Sinead O’Riordan of Orion Productions. I also worked with Sinead previously as Assistant Producer on Eleanor McEvoy’s new single ‘The Thought of You’, directed by Paco Torres, and for a very short period, I did work experience in the Art Department on ShowTime’s Penny Dreadful, creating graphics for the popular network television show. This inspiration drew me into another joint production, that of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven, along with Oracle Pictures, shot in James Joyce House and The Botanical Gardens, Dublin.

 

Do you have an agent, and do you think it necessary to have one?

Currently, I do not have an agent but I do think it is necessary. As you progress as a writer contracts are a tricky and funny business. You can have experience of dealing with option agreements and of course know your way around them, but when it comes to negotiating it is best if someone does it on your behalf rather than getting bogged down with the logistics of your contract, distracting you from your actual job – Writing.

 

Do you contribute to the marketing / PR of your work?

I would be heavily involved in promoting my work and also those who have collaborated with me on projects. I think it is vital to have some sort of control of your profile as a professional and to also highlight the hard-working people who help you reach the end result of the particular project, be it from crew to cast to marketing.

 

What’s your opinion of the film production business in general?

I think independent cinema has surged in recent years out of necessity. Cinema these days still has its golden history categories of romance, epic and thriller but they are fewer and rarer these days. It has always been a commercial industry but over the past two decades it has become heavily focused on the gross, the financial recoup and not of cinema or art. You had your shock horrors and now you have the age of the ‘Superhero’ and franchises, remakes and reboots. This means that truly engaging work containing social critique or commentary is put under the ‘Indie’ banner as it is the only way these films get produced. We have created a pool of creative wealth and have been left to fend for ourselves so to speak in the Independent community. The one good factor is that it truly has embodied the spirit of collaboration. But we shouldn’t just be left to look after ourselves, and once the ‘big break’ comes we leave that pool. We have, in Ireland, a national body that looks after film and film investment. It works, for the most part, on bringing productions to Ireland and making ‘Irish films’ but it also needs to nurture new talent. You could have it coupled with looking after existing talent which brings revenue which then frees up funds for a more hands-on approach with looking after new talent coming up. This is how you look after one of our biggest industry sectors in Ireland and ensure we are top of the game.

 

Current projects, Eamonn?

Currently I am in prep-production on my first feature film as Exec Producer, Director and Writer. It is a final draft version of The Back Door Girl, now entitled Expired, and I have co-written a TV show based on Irish mythology with Alan Dunne called Seanchai. Picked up by Grand Pictures (Moone Boy) and Orion Productions (Lead Us Not), this is in development stage.

 

And just for fun, six people, living or not, that you would like to share your favourite beverage with?!

Stanley Kubrick, Jim Morrison, George Carlin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Vince Gilligan and David Milch.

 

Check out Eamonn’s Facebook Pages Here:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eamonn-Tutty-ScreenwriterDirector/103114269778760?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ReckonerProductions?fref=ts

 

 

Caroline Farrell has written several feature and short scripts. Most recently, In Ribbons, which she wrote and co-produced, screened at the 2015 Belfast Film Festival and the Corona Fastnet Film Festival.

Caroline blogs… on writing and film… and on a few of her favourite things.

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