Issue 141 Summer 2012 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: UNTITLED Screenwriting Competiton

 

Continuing our series of articles from the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild,  Film Ireland’s own Niamh Creely reports from the UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition and Story Campus at the 2012 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. 

Moving Pitchers

This year’s JDIFF had a lot to offer screenwriters looking to perfect their pitch and there’s more to come this May.

 

This year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (JDIFF) was as successful as ever, filling the city with cinema from across the world andIreland. But along with the premieres and Q&As, there were also some excellent events aimed at encouraging the source of good film: screenwriters. Two of the events, the UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition and Story Campus, focused on what you need to do after you’ve had your big idea – get other people on board.

 

On Friday, 24th February, a group of hopeful writers and filmmakers gathered to pitch their idea to a panel in a cinema filled with onlookers. The UNTITLED Screenwriting Competition, in association with Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board (IFB) and JDIFF, selected five finalists from almost 200 entries to pitch their projects in the Lighthouse cinema and win an award of up to €16,000. The session, chaired by the IFB’s development executive Andrew Meehan, was a chance for the finalists to present their idea to an industry panel of leading Irish producer James Flynn, actor and writer Mark O’Halloran, talent agent Charlotte Kelly and JDIFF festival director Gráinne Humphreys in front of a public audience.

 

You might have thought the theme ‘1916’ would have yielded fairly homogenous results but the variety of ideas pitched was impressive. It varied from broad comedy with Hugh Travers’ The Players, a black comedy about ex-IRA members who join an amateur drama group; to Anne Marie Casey and Joseph O’Connor’s biopic Grace 1916, the story of Grace Gifford, an artist and icon of a revolution; Jasmina Kallay’s alternate history Das Irland that asks the question ‘what if promised German help had materialised in 1916?’; and Virginia Gilbert’s drama about the truly enigmatic Paidraig Pearse The Boys.

 

However, it was Jamie Hannigan and Michael Kinirons’ noir thriller Come Monday, We Kill Them All that deservedly took the prize. The story follows a down-on-his-luck smuggler who reluctantly agrees to help a wealthy politician find his missing daughter only to become embroiled in murder, conspiracy and rebellion. Those in the audience had not read the excerpt the panel had received in advance but in just a few minutes this project already had the feel of a complete world.

 

Another outstanding event for screenwriters was Story Campus, which took place in the Light House on Saturday, 18th February. Led by filmmaker David Pope and director and screenwriter David Keating, Story Campus was an all-day event. We heard from producers David Collins (Once) and Brendan McCarthy (Breakfast on Pluto)and writer/directors Margaret Corkery (Eamon), Marian Quinn (32A) and Carmel Winters (Snap), and writer John Banville (Albert Nobbs).

 

It was fascinating to hear the individual preferences of the people you probably want to approach with your idea and quite handy to know who prefers shorts below 10 minutes and who doesn’t want to read anything over 90 pages in a feature script.

 

The day was filled with little insights. One of the ones I took away was the observation that when you are communicating your idea in a presentation you should speak at a speed at which your own words can affect you – otherwise they won’t affect anyone else. And of course – don’t forget to introduce yourself!

 

Story Campus was such a success that Filmbase and the two Davids have got together and will be bringing us another edition on the 2nd of May 2012. I spoke to Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild member David Keating to learn more about how these workshops came about.

 

What’s you background in film?

 

I started as a runner in post-production and then worked up the grades as an assistant director in Ireland and then the UK. I got my break as a director making docs for Channel 4 and RTÉ and then changed direction and became a screenwriter, working in Los Angeles and London. I got my first writing credit on Jim Sheridan’s script for Into the West and then got to direct some TV drama and then co-wrote and directed Last of the High Kings and, more recently, Wake Wood. For the last few years I have also directed theatre.

 

When did you first start running events like this?

 

I got interested in the workshop process when the producer Noëlle Deschamps brought the Sundance model to Europe and created the screenwriting lab called Equinoxe. I got offered a place as a writer on one of the early workshops in France and realised how much you can advance your project when there’s generous people on hand to share their knowledge and experience and you can stay open to what you hear about your work. Noëlle Deschamps asked me to make a film about the Equinoxe process (a screenwriting workshop) and then later she got me to kind of rep Equinoxe in Ireland. So in recent years I’ve tried to help Irish projects go to the workshop – to Equinoxe Germany in particular, which I think has been pretty successful.

Basically, a script lab is a great way to help make a good film project become even better. As I got to make more films I was invited to be a mentor on a number of workshops in Europe and Africa including Moonstone, Equinoxe Germany, and Maisha Film Lab – which is Mira Nair’s initiative for East African directors and writers – so I’ve done that kind of stuff on and off for a while and I sometimes run workshops at film schools and universities. I recently ran a day for MBA students at Oxford, which was very interesting. Last year I was asked to put together the Project Hot House workshop for Screen Training Ireland and the IFB, which was in some ways based on the Equinoxe/Sundance model but also experimented with some new ideas and, I think, worked very well. Running workshops is a bit like making a film in that there’s a lot of planning and, also like films, they have a life of their own, which means they usually have some fantastic hiccups and left turns. I’m a filmmaker first and foremost and I’d rather have something to watch on screen at the end of the day but workshops have a special magic. Running them, you get to learn at least as much as the participants, plus they’re endlessly surprising and dare I say fun, so again, much like films. I’m enjoying doing both whenever I can.

 

What does the workshop involve?

 

Story Campus is a workshop that filmmaker and trainer David Pope and I designed to explore key areas we think are important if you want to get a film made. De-mystifying the process is pretty high on our agenda. David and I are both filmmakers so we concentrate on what we think is important in getting projects green-lit, which in a nutshell comes down to being able to tell your story well using a variety of materials and formats. Irrespective of whether you’re writing a script, meeting an actor, pitching to a financier, or if you’re a director walking onto a film set, the big issue facing you is storytelling. But like I said, Story Campus is principally about helping people get their films made, but bear in mind it’s not like David and I are big story gurus – much of this is common sense. Getting films into production usually involves a certain showbiz thing, not to mention luck. But it’s also art and craft and business all rolled together and as the film industry is evolving rapidly so are the ways for us to present our stories so that they make an impact. So we try to help people understand what filmmakers are up against on a daily basis trying to get films off the ground and how to deal with those challenges. As David Pope would say, we try to get people past the feeling that they have to ask permission from someone to go out and make a film.

 

How can writers get the most out of the workshop?

 

To get the most out of any workshop – Story Campus included – I’d say writers, directors, producers should try to come with enthusiasm and energy. Come to share what you know and don’t worry about having your pen poised to write down that all-important note. Listen. Contribute. Throw yourself into meeting lots of people and talking and doing stuff and taking risks, and parking your ego, and being open, and then staying open if you’re lucky – for as long as you can. I mean come on, it’s not like Story Campus is so intimidating, it’s a very friendly atmosphere, and it’s not like we get people to chant and roll on the floor… although…. hmmm… maybe next year! Ok, just kidding.

www.storycampus.com

www.filmbase.ie/storycampus

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Summer 2012 issue 141, published 26th April 2012.

 

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Issue 133 Summer 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Will Collins on My Brothers

 

Will Collins, writer of My Brothers, the directorial debut of well-known screenwriter Paul Fraser(A Room for Romeo Brass, Once Upon a Time in the Midland’s), wrote the second piece of our regular Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild article in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.

My Brothers is released in cinemas on Friday, 17th August 2012.

Will Collins on using his own family as the material for his debut feature.

 

My Brothers was the first spec script I wrote, but I had written another for my Master’s thesis in Screenwriting at the Huston Film School in NUI Galway. It was a plot monster, filled with cartoonish characters and multiple subplots with satirical aspirations, so I soon grew tired of the juggling act. I wanted to write something simple, with personal truth.

I have two older brothers. We’re opposite in almost every way – so different that you would think we were adopted if it wasn’t for the fact that we look so alike. Like any siblings, we were always hopping off one another for some inane reason – no wonder that the dynamic that we had together became embedded in my head. Looking back now, we really were character gold dust.

 

Subconscious

 

It’s incredible how the human brain can brush the hard times into the subconscious. From the age of about eleven until my mid-teens my father was in and out of hospital (he’s fine now thankfully). I simply had not thought about it in years. That is, until he had to return for several more operations in recent years. A flood of emotions and moments came tumbling back, which I had to deal with.

 

I tend to address all my problems through writing and was compelled to write about that period. I knew I was going to write something about three young brothers – but that was the easy part. I pretty much spent a year mulling over the idea. In that time I figured that they were going to go on a road trip in a bread van to get a watch for their Dad who was dying. Most importantly, I knew the central theme. Having a parent who has been ill for a long period, we build an emotional wall protecting ourselves from the pain of the loss that will happen. It’s a wall that has to come down sooner or later – the later it is, the more damaging it is for the individual.

 

I had done various drafts of a treatment and had taken them into the Galway Writer’s Group I was attending. There, it would be constructively ripped to pieces. Gathering what was left of my pride, I would start from scratch again and again. All in all, counting all the different drafts, those kids went on dozens of different journeys.

 

The pitch

 

Then, harassed by friends, I entered the pitching competition in the Galway Film Fleadh in 2007. I was shortlisted and won, which still ranks as one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life. Although it was worth every bead of sweat and twisted intestine.

 

Then I submitted the treatment to the Irish Film Board for development money and thankfully they decided to fund the writing of the script. Without question this project would have gone nowhere if it were not for the encouragement and support of Andrew Meehan (Development Exec., BSÉ/IFB) who also put me in contact with Paul Fraser.

 

As part of my agreement with BSÉ/IFB, I was encouraged to get notes from an advisor. Andrew mentioned to me that my writing had reminded him of Paul’s (A Room for Romeo BrassHeartlands). My first meeting with Paul didn’t materialize until I had a proper first draft done. I was incredibly nervous; a real writer, someone whose films I had watched and loved was going to read my script. I figured he would politely dismiss it and send me on my way. He didn’t.

 

Paring it down

 

From that point on, it really was a process of paring it back, making the 126-page draft an 80-page draft. Not an easy task. When faced with the challenge of simplifying, it really exposes the elements of the story that are incidental and frivolous. It’s an important skill to work on as a screenwriter.

 

On my second meeting with Paul, he declared his interest in directing the film. I was blessed to work with Paul in more ways than one. He understood the writing process better than anybody and always respected my voice as the writer, making suggestions but allowing me the space to interpret his ideas into the world of my script. More importantly, Paul kept me included right through the filmmaking process, from casting to shooting to the edit.

 

We were lucky enough to have two great producers who went all out to get the film made – Rebecca O’Flanagan and Rob Walpole. Their passion and enthusiasm was evident from the moment they read the script.

 

It’s strange watching the finished film on the big screen – those are my brothers up there, after all. It’s the simple sincere tale I set out to tell. I see reflections and impressions of my life and family that make me squirm, laugh and cry. It’s wonderful.

 

www.script.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Summer 2010 issue 133, published 2nd July 2010.

 

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Issue 140 Spring 2012 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde

Continuing our series of articles from members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, writer Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde tells us about his experiences as a co-writer on the screenplay for Silence which is currently in cinemas.

 

It was as early as 2006 when Pat Collins asked if I’d work with himself and his wife, Sharon Whooley, on an idea they had for a feature film. He told how the story would involve a sound-recordist, who was given the strange task of making field recordings in areas free from man-made sound and that his work would take him to remote and out-of-the-way places throughout the country. I was intrigued. Although I hadn’t co-written anything before, I couldn’t turn down such an offer, and soon we got to work creating the landscape of what we could only hope someday would become a feature film.

 

I had gotten to know Pat and Sharon a few years previously, working as a translator on one or two of their documentaries, and the relationship we built over the years was really important to the creative process. I think you take a chance when you start to share new ideas and you need that common ground and understanding to allow yourself to open up creatively to others. We trusted each other from the start and I didn’t feel that the mistakes that I was bound to make as I foosthered in the dark would be thrown back at me too hard.

 

Writing is usually a solitary thing and quite personal. I think most writers don’t like to show their work to others until they know it’s almost finished and beyond influence, so the process of co-writing was a little tricky for me at first with the constant to-ing and fro-ing of work, but I soon began to enjoy it. That trust that we had built up turned out to be very important.

 

And then Pat asked if I would play the lead character in the film and my role in the film suddenly took a new twist. He felt that the main character should be someone who had an intimate connection with the script – that it would allow us to do things a little differently. I gave in and was happy to be fully involved; I loved the challenge.

 

Although we met and communicated often, I think the hardest part was pinning down exactly what we collectively wanted from the script. We all had our own ideas, but Pat directed the writing from the start and with an uncanny eye he could see when the script was veering off into unnecessary or overstated territory. I think the crucial thing about co-writing is striking a balance. Everyone wants something different from a piece of work but finding the common ground is the key and we found that early on.

 

I remember at the beginning there was a certain character that I’d introduced who changed the tone of the film somewhat. He was a wise old man who spoke of superstition and otherworldly things like an fear ocrach, the hunger spirit, and of course I thought he was great and he survived into later drafts. It was much later that it became apparent that the old man was giving us a bit of a bum steer in the film, his emphasis on the supernatural wasn’t quite right, so we decided to let him go. The point is that he was allowed to live until he proved himself unnecessary and his existence in turn created the space for other things to happen in the script. In the final draft remnants of him remain in spirit, and, in some way, he guided us in a certain direction that helped create part of the world that the film inhabits. Every idea becomes part of the shared consciousness of co-writing, and I learned that by allowing those ideas a space to live that you can create a world that you can navigate through. This is something I got to like about co-writing, it has a malleability that you don’t get with writing on your own because it lives in more than one mind and it can change independently of you, if you allow it.

 

Other times I felt I was trying too hard to impress the others and that I would steer the plot off in some direction of my own without being sensitive to the overall plot. Although, funnily, I’ve a feeling that might have focused the others on the true direction of the film and marked out the path a bit more clearly too. In co-writing I think you ultimately need one person in control and the others bringing all their ideas to the table; one person must have the final say and Pat was very clear on the direction that the film should take all along.

 

The most frustrating part of the process for myself, which eventually turned out to be the most liberating part, was Pat’s quiet insistence to avoid any direct narrative, or a narrative that was too obvious. I really was stumped at the beginning at how he managed not to be taken in by my clever attempts to tie everything up neatly in a narrative that gathered pace as the film developed. It was only later that I saw that he was purposefully eschewing narrative in order to let the more subtle nuances grow and gain ground in the film, and although I thought I understood this form of storytelling I soon learnt that, when it came to it, I hadn’t the same conviction as Pat.

 

As the writing continued I began to understand a little more about how Pat worked. He recognised the poetry in every single shot and knew how to space it to allow each scene to breath. It wasn’t about drama or subplots but about the feeling of that particular moment and how the authenticity of every emotion would make a scene work. If he didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the realness of a scene, he would drop it. There was no room for half-truths or trying to trick the audience by pulling the wool over their eyes; as far as Pat was concerned, it was all true or it had no place in the film. I think that that truth comes across in the final film. All those feelings we explore are in some way true and have been arrived at through his personal exploration of the scenes and situations that are played out on screen. I felt that even our own lives were in scrutiny in order that the reality of each moment could be explored. But it was a gentle scrutiny, almost standoffish, that let the real emotions show.

 

As we went into production, having being intimately involved in the writing of the script and with Pat’s guidance, I felt I was able to set the script aside and tease out the themes and conversations with the other actors in a way that felt real and free. It provided genuine situations where I could then try to get the other characters to say what the script had asked for, but in their own words, and this meant their reactions were real and not like acting at all. This is one of the strengths of the film, I think, and I couldn’t have achieved it without being part of the co-writing team.

 

Silence is a film that allows the viewer to participate in the story. It doesn’t shut you out but rather provides the space for your thoughts and meditation in a way that few films do. We set out to make a film that felt real and that gave the viewer a chance to experience something without feeling alienated, and I think with Silence that we have in some way achieved that.

http://www.harvestfilms.ie/silence

www.script.ie

 

Read Emmet O’Brien’s review of Silence here.

Silence was released on 27th July 2012

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Spring 2012 issue 140, published 6th February 2012.

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Issue 139 Winter 2011 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Ian Power

Runway

Runway

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  

Ian Power on thinking in montage, discipline and an over-active imagination.

 

Can you tell us about your approach to writing?

 

Because I started to write so that I could direct, I’ve always approached writing as a learner writer. There’s a fundamental honesty you need if you want to get better. I’ve written six screenplays. My approach has always been ‘If you don’t like it, fine, I’ll write a better film’. The trick is the learning curve. So the first script was pretty bad, but they were incrementally better. Writing is a craft at the end of the day.

 

Starting out, you want to re-invent the wheel with story structure. By the time I wrote The Runway I was concerned only with telling a simple story in a very traditional way. I wanted to go after a three-act structure and do it as well as I could.

 

When you make a film you realize that three-act structure is really just an industry checklist to make sure you’re telling a story. The real deficit of the three-act structure as a theory is that it overlooks the power of standalone dramatic sequences. Stanley Kubrick had a theory that all films are made up of 8–12 ‘non-submersible units’. All his films have non-traditional story patterns but all feel like pure films.

 

The funny thing is that a person on the street will rarely talk about a film in terms of three-act narrative – they will talk always talk about ‘the best bits’. Think about it in this way – a monologue in a mirror, planning a heist, a dinner scene, aftermath of a robbery, a torture scene, a father and son scene, a Mexican stand-off – that’s Reservoir Dogs isn’t it? What about the first turning point etc., etc.? It’s just industry bollox.

 

The real genius of thinking about films in terms of units is that you think in terms of montage. You are forced to think about the screenplay in terms of film syntax, not prose. The beauty of that is that what you leave out can have just as much meaning as what you leave in.

 

So Oliver Stone takes 20 minutes to establish the madness of Vietnam in Platoon (traditional three-act approach), while Kubrick makes a single cut from a marine blowing his brains out in a sterile latrine to a hooker’s ass in main-street Saigon and we know we are not in Kansas anymore. It’s quite liberating when you think about it.

 

When you are writing are you thinking of an audience?

 

David Lean had a great saying – ‘Make the films you want to make and hope that people go and see them. If they don’t, then give up!’ He’s not talking about making films that are esoteric and personal – he’s talking about a hope that your sensibility as a filmmaker is shared by a wider group of humans. Ultimately we’re storytellers not storyowners – it’s a generous craft. In truth that’s the first gift of any great writer – the common touch.

 

What’s your typical writing schedule?

 

When I started writing I thought that you should write when you felt inspired, so I would sit around all day, then start writing late in the afternoon. This progressed later and later until I was writing through the night and sleeping most of the day. The result wasn’t very good. For starters you feel like you’re on a different path to the rest of the world – the baggage of being an unemployed writer seemed emphasized by the pattern of being asleep when everyone else was at work. So very quickly I decided to opt for discipline and started to get up early.

 

Norman Mailer talks about the phenomenon of going to bed and telling your brain that it needs to be writing first thing in the morning and how the brain responds so positively to the request. I’ve always found mornings to be the most productive time. I get up early, maybe 6am and I feel like I’ve got the jump on most of the rat race.

 

I’ve had a motto for a long time that if it’s not fun to write it’s not going to be fun to read. So before I start to write a script, I try to avoid beginning until the outline is in place. I’ll pitch the idea to anyone who’ll listen – honing the story. It’s amazing how things that stump you for hours on your own will suddenly come to you in an instant when you’re trying to thrill a listener. Once the outline is there I start the 6ams and blitz it. This probably translates to about a month of actual writing preceded by 6 months of pacing, thinking, and pitching. So I write quickly, but it takes a long time.

 

Do you ‘write what you know’?

 

Not specifically. It’s probably a weakness and a strength. I rely heavily on imagination. I’ve always had an over-active imagination. But I write things that have a personal sensibility. I don’t limit myself to my own experience because frankly I don’t believe I’ve had the kind of life experience that would be interesting to people to watch. I think a lot of Irish writers are guilty of thinking their lives and experience more interesting than they actually are.

 

If you’re Ernest Hemingway and you’ve just come back from the Spanish Civil War and you’ve spent your afternoons drinking rum and shooting bears then write about what you know, people will be fascinated. If you’re not, then you’re going to have to make it up.

 

What advice would you have for writers?

 

Keep writing and keep reading. I was lucky enough not to get into film school when I left secondary and ended up studying History of Art and English in UCD Arts. This was the single greatest advantage of my career because I’ve read all the right books and studied all the right paintings.

 

Learn to re-write. Re-writing doesn’t mean you write a bunch of new stuff. It means you look at what you’ve written, you consider what doesn’t work and you fix it within the confines of your story.

 

I know a lot of writers who can write great first drafts. The reason no one will ever hear of them is because after the first draft they lose interest in making the script as good as it can be. That’s the creative instinct – you see a thing almost complete and that’s good enough. That’s where craft comes in – craft is the thing that shapes creative instinct and systematically helps you to fully realize your inspiration.

 

Stay positive. There’s a real trap that writers fall into in this country where they start to believe that they’re not getting a break because of politics or because someone doesn’t like them. The truth is that talent will always find a way and a good script will always get you noticed!

http://www.ianpower.com/

www.script.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Winter 2011 issue 139, published 1st November 2011.

 

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Issue 138 Autumn 2011 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Conor Horgan

One Hundred Mornings
One Hundred Mornings
One Hundred Mornings

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  

Conor Horgan on how he learnt to jump into the middle of the script when writing One Hundred Mornings.

 

I’d wanted to write a drama about an impending breakdown of society for quite a while – well, actually, ever since I’d started reading about the impending breakdown of society. My first attempt was called ‘Greenland’, and concerned a London adman who discovers something untoward while working on a major oil company account, which propels him out the doors of the agency and over to the other side. Unfortunately, the script soon descended into sub-Bourne shenanigans, with stony-faced men in black SUVs and helicopters pursuing our hero as he attempts to tell the world what lies ahead. It wasn’t great, to be perfectly frank.

 

One unfunded submission to the Film Board later, I landed in the Catalyst project, a scheme which enabled three teams of filmmakers to shoot their first feature. It was an inspiring process, and the moment I remember most clearly during the workshops was a production manager calmly telling us that for this level of budget, we couldn’t have this, that, or indeed the other. As I listened to the growing list of what the films would have to do without, something occurred to me – this is how I can define the world of a film, by its absences. Authenticity could come from taking things out rather than by adding them.

 

I had an idea I was excited by, I had a producer who wanted to read what I came up with, and I had probably the single most useful thing any writer can have – a deadline. So much of writing seems to be about surfing the deadline – start too early and there’s a lack of urgency about the proceedings, start too late and panic takes over, leaving you teetering on the back foot.

 

Setbacks

 

It took four and a half months to write the first draft. There were a few initial setbacks, such as realising after writing the first 27 pages that page 28, which was after the second of the two couples arrived in the house, was actually page 1. I hit a few more speed bumps along the way, and a writer friend gave me great advice by suggesting that I didn’t necessarily have to write the script in order. I immediately jumped into the middle of the script and wrote one of the key scenes that the entire film revolved around, then darted to the finish to write what would turn out to be the first of several versions of the end before hopping backwards to start filling in the gaps. This gave me an episodic story that I could re-order as needed, and in the pell-mell rush towards the finish line I didn’t have enough time to worry if I was making it too personal – I just put it all in.

 

I wrote in the mornings, mainly, until I couldn’t write any more. After a while the real world changed from being a distraction to something else – it took on a ghostly sheen as I became smitten with the far more interesting, more exciting world of the film. It’s a most pleasing state to be in, and if I could choose one just super power it would be to be able to enter that other world at will.

 

The last elements I put in were a couple of jokes – well, not jokes so much as a few moments of dry wit, that both suited the characters and made the tragic elements feel even sadder.

 

Moment of truth

 

As the cast and crew assembled for the first table read in the week before the shoot, I knew the moment of truth was approaching. Would the dialogue sound authentic? Would there be enough exposition? Would the whole damn thing work, or was I looking at feverish rewrites as I headed into the shoot? As that pivotal scene came closer, I shifted in my chair. As Alex Reid said the first few lines, clearly and simply, I felt something. Even though everyone there was familiar with the script, they were all leaning forward, eager to see what would happen next. It was a great moment, and I knew the writer part of me had done his job, and now I could hand my baby over to the director, hoping that he wouldn’t mess it up. I was finished. Job done.

 

Of course, you’re never really finished. There were many late night discussions during the shoot between myself and Katie Holly, the film’s producer. We huddled over a kitchen table in our B&B, figuring out which scenes needed to be combined with other ones, and which could be binned completely. Every time I rehearsed a scene, I kept an ear out for extraneous dialogue, and often dropped lines completely. Even more came out during the edit, and I think I didn’t really finish writing the film until we hit picture lock. Even after that there were a few lines of ADR to write.

 

One Hundred Mornings isn’t the first feature script I’ve written, but it is the first one that really felt like a film when I was writing it. It’s a good feeling, and one I’m looking forward to having again.

 

www.script.ie

www.conorhorgan.com

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland autumn 2011 issue 138 published 1st July 2011.

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Issue 137 Summer 2011 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Ciaran Creagh

PARKED_Colm_Meaney

PARKED_Colm_Meaney

 

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  

Ciaran Creagh (Parked) on the learning curve he faced moving from writing for the stage to film.

 

Quentin Tarantino once said that ‘if I really considered myself a writer, I wouldn’t be writing screenplays. I’d be writing novels.’ These words do hold some resonance for me because I have always been somewhat uneasy with the label ‘writer’. Perhaps this discomfort stems from a lack of formal training or that I have never studied English at college. However, I suspect it might be a nervousness about proclaiming publicly that I am a writer without having the established credentials to back up this claim.

 

Initially, for a reason that now escapes me, I started writing about 10 years ago and concentrated exclusively on playwriting. Seldom were earnest thoughts of writing a screenplay entertained. In a way, I think the solitude or even the selfishness of writing a play is the real attraction where, until intensive rehearsals begin, the script is exclusively yours. When I did decide to seriously tackle a screenplay, I was somewhat unaware of what lay ahead.

 

Writing is writing, you might have thought, but that is clearly not the case. I suppose it is a normal progression for a playwright to move sideways into screenwriting and I happily set about this, unaware of the learning curve involved. Thanks to the internet, you can quickly find out the rules and methods, what you should and shouldn’t do, and deliver the American three-act masterpiece where the hero wins out against adversity. Maybe that is what a producer is looking for but you must be so careful not to lose your direction and creativity in order to conform.

 

Write long

 

My own particular style is to write long. This is how I wrote for theatre and perhaps I find comfort in lots of action and dialogue. The key for me in crafting a screenplay is the edit where I continually revise the script, cutting dialogue and action. A script that I am currently working on had 123 pages on the first draft, was cut to 58 on the second and is now at 79 with the aim of adding an additional 12 to 14 pages. Perhaps the pragmatic thing to do would be to plan, write the treatment and shorten this process. But that, to be honest, would not be me.

 

It should not be underestimated how difficult it is to change from writing for the stage to writing for film. In an average play you might have two to five scenes as compared to over one hundred in an average screenplay. This corresponds to a significant amount of turning points, linked scenes and tonal ambience to contend with. On the stage, given the constraints of a live performance space, dialogue drives to the core of conflict. I have always loved dialogue and this was probably the most difficult change for me to make. Less is just so much more in film.

 

Development

 

To be in development is the manna for scriptwriters but I do wonder sometimes if this is the best place to be. For your career it certainly is, but for the creative process, I remain unconvinced because of the constraints imposed by the other interested parties during the process. The Irish Film Board’s concept of first-draft loans to writers is fantastic and allows writers the space to get an idea fully formed and ready for the onward march towards production. Once you have been though this process you soon realise that the script is no longer yours and you just have to let it go. Understanding this is perhaps the key from the writer’s perspective and gives the script the best chance of making it to the big screen.

 

Once the writer makes it through this psychological barrier and becomes immersed in the production, a whole new level of learning begins and the experience, while difficult, can be wonderful. You soon realise that the other players in the development and production cycle are not there to scupper the script but that the script has gained a new raft of parents, grandparents, uncles and cousins who want to protect, nurture and give the script its best chance at life. When you sit there in the darkened cinema as the film finishes and the credits roll, it is then you realise how vital and beneficial this process has been for the script.

 

http://ciarancreagh.com/

www.script.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland summer 2011 issue 137, published 5th May 2011.

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Issue 136 Spring 2011 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Brendan Muldowney

savage

Over the coming weeks Film Ireland will publish online the entire back catalogue of articles written by members of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild that have appeared in Film Ireland magazine. These popular articles give an insight into the creative process used by each writer.  

Brendan Muldowney, writer and director of Savage, talks to Steven Galvin about the importance of obsessions in his writing and the ‘Eureka’ moment.

 

Writing for me happened when I was young. In English in school when I was asked to write essays I’d be writing extra long essays – ridiculous nonsense – completely ripped off from Salem’s Lot, which I’d watched the night before. That’s the start of writing as a child – you know nothing, you start copying, basically ripping off stuff. That’s something you grow out of as you get older. I suppose when I was first making film, studying film, I would have still had that mindset. The only difference is that you start to have more life-experience, your principles and morals begin to get fully formed, you make sense of political things around you – you start to make decisions about the world.

 

When I was in college at first in IADT studying film, I had a revelation one day. In first year they had these five-minute exercises and what we had to do was write a script but it had to come from that day’s newspaper. When you’re asked that question it focuses your mind, and I found myself asking at that stage: if you’re put on the spot, where do your ideas come from? You start to impose your own narratives on the world and you realise that everything you do during the day has a narrative.

 

Eureka

 

When Archimedes got into the bath and the water rose he had his ‘Eureka’ moment – he realised that was how he could measure the mass of objects. But the thing is that he didn’t just get into the bath and discover something. He was obsessive with these thoughts and I think that’s the key to where ideas come from for writers. Every writer has obsessions and interests – mine in my short films being death and religion and how people deal with existence. Every writer has these personal obsessions or themes and when you start obsessing over these things, everything you watch, everything you read filters through your obsessions. So it’s like that Archimedes thing – a bit melodramatic but that’s more or less what it is. Your obsessions can fire your brain into overdrive and then, when you least expect it, maybe daydreaming on a bus, an idea will suddenly come from your subconscious. I suppose that’s the ‘Eureka’ moment.

 

With the shorts, ideas used to come to me thick and fast. And maybe that’s something that comes with shorts – they’re simple; they’re one idea. Ideas still come to me through the same routes – whatever I’m interested in, whatever I’m obsessing over.

 

You’ll choose the subject matter that’s being filtered through your own obsessions. I’ve been working on an adaptation of a Japanese book called In Love with the Dead. The film is called Love Eternal, which is completely filtered through my obsessions – death, existence, the afterlife… So I was able to bring my own ideas to the material.

 

Then there’s rewriting. That’s what I’ve found myself doing for the last four years. It’s funny but the only time I feel enjoyment with what I’ve written is the first draft. After that it’s a struggle. It doesn’t get easier. I have learnt a lot – to take notes from people who can point out the problems but can’t help you solve them – that can be soul-destroying. I’ve found over the last few years that I go through these moments (I’m very hard on myself) where I struggle with a problem and I mightn’t write for a month yet every day you’re waking up thinking about it, you’ll try to get back to it, but you can’t. Yet you’ll still be thinking about it all day. Again it’s chasing that ‘Eureka’ moment, when something just clicks. That’s the magic you’re looking for – born out of obsession! And everything and anything can trigger that off.

www.script.ie

www.spfilms.ie

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Spring 2011 issue 136, published 11th February 2011.

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Irish Screenwriter Wins in London

Galway-based writer Shane Perez has won Best Screenplay (UK) at the London Independent Film Festival for his script Blood & Sand. Shane is currently an active member of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, Filmbase, and the Galway Film Centre as well as an ongoing participant in the ISPG’s Galway screenwriting workshop.

For more about the festival, please click here.

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Issue 115 – Killing Time in Dublin

Tom Fontana
Tom Fontana (photo by Nerea Aymerich)

It’s Friday afternoon in The Clarence and Tom Fontana is talking murder again. A guest of the Irish Playwrights’ and Screenwriters’ Guild, the former Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz scribe has just spoken to a select audience on the pratfalls of network television for the guts of 90 minutes. Most would appreciate a break, all he wants is a drink. Cut to the bar and he’s sipping on Kentucky bourbon and getting into the specifics of the shows that have haunted the imagination of many’s the viewer. Oft spoken about in hushed tones, Oz remains the hardest show in television; pushing envelopes more suited to grindhouse cinema than prison opera, it boasts a cast of perverts, sociopaths and bungling ideologues. On the other side of the thin blue line, his other collaboration with Barry Levinson, Homicide: Life on the Street, proved cop shows could be smart, funny and taut without relying on car chases or gunplay. He also likes YouTube… in principle.

Niall: One of the things that set Homicide apart as a cop show was its obsession with the macabre. To what extent was this a deliberate move on your part?

Tom: As a writer I face a blank piece of paper every day; that’s a beast I have to wrestle. A homicide detective has to face a dead body. You have to wonder, over the course of time, how does that corrupt – spiritually, morally, emotionally – a human being whose job it is face death and often brutally disfigured bodies every day. A lot of the work I do is descended from Poe, because no one has managed to conjure up the macabre better. Also the fact that Poe is buried in Baltimore was a big part of that. I find those kind of ghosts to be very compelling. If you’re going to write about a city you need to know as much about the ghosts of that place as the living.

Was Baltimore a place you were interested in before doing Homicide?

I was brought there kicking and screaming from New York, but I fell in love with the place and we did everything we could to make the city a character in the show. We wrote the show uniquely to Baltimore, but the things that are specific to there have comparable details in every city anywhere in the world. In Baltimore you get crab cakes, in Buffalo you get chicken wings – it’s the same thing. By being specific to Baltimore we were able to say it’s just a town like any other.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 115.

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