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



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!

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



The Runway to be released on DVD

The Runway


Element Pictures Distribution has announced the Irish DVD release of The Runway on Friday, 7th October 2011.

County Cork, Ireland 1983, and for nine-year-old Paco, “Nothin’ ever happens around here”. But all this suddenly changes when late one night he witnesses a plane crash just outside the village, and discovers Ernesto, the plane’s mysterious Colombian pilot who doesn’t speak a word of English.

Determined to help him get his plane back in the air, Paco convinces the locals to rally together and build a runway to get Ernesto home – an endeavour that lifts the spirits of the entire village and changes Paco’s world forever.

Inspired by the true story of a South American pilot who made an emergency landing on Mallow racecourse Co. Cork, in 1983.


‘…this movie should capture the hearts and imagination of  the country. Between this and The Guard, it looks like 2011 will be a great year for Irish cinema.’

Film Ireland

The Runway is directed by Ian Power and stars Kerry Condon, Demián Bichir, Jamie Kierans and John Carpenter.



'Knuckle', 'Parked' and 'The Runway' to screen at Irish Film New York


Irish Film New York

A new Irish Contemporary Screening Series at NYU

The very best in contemporary Irish cinema comes to New York with a special three-day screening series running from Friday, 30th September to Sunday, 2nd October featuring filmmaker Q&As, panel discussions, and filmmaker receptions.

Films include Knuckle, a visceral look at bare knuckle boxing among the Irish Traveller community, the Galway Film Fleadh-winning feature Parked, a story of friendship, hope, and perseverance between two ‘neighbours’ living in their cars, starring Colm Meaney, and The Runway, where the citizens of County Cork come to the aid of a South American pilot who has crash landed in their town.

All three films are up for limited release in the United States in the forthcoming months. Other films screening include Marian Quinn’s 32A, Maya Derringtons’ documentary Pyjama Girls, and Tom Hall’s Sensation.

The event is co-presented by NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House and funded by Culture Ireland’s Imagine Ireland Program.

The main events include:

  • Seven screenings hosted by Glucksman Ireland House NYU at NYU’s Cantor Film Center.
  • A ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ panel discussion co-presented by Tisch School of Arts and Irish Film New York.
  • An Irish documentary showcase presentation at POV’s offices in Brooklyn.
  • Industry brunch with film producers, distributors, and agents hosted by the Irish Consul General in New York.

Tickets: $10-$12

Venue: NYU’s Cantor Film Center, 36 East 8th Street

To find out more and to view a trailer of the festival visit:


Demián Bechir star of 'A Better Life' talks to Film Ireland

Peter White catches up with Demián Bechir who stars as Carlos Galindo in A Better Life. Demián is no stranger to these shores having played the lead role of Ernesto in Ian Power’s debut feature The Runway which was released in cinemas earlier this year.

I thought A Better Life was a beautiful film, what attracted you to the role of Carlos?

It’s a magnificent script, everything was there on paper. The whole story was well made and written and the character was very powerful and real. I live in Los Angeles myself and I have spent many years around here so I know the story, the subject, and what we talk about in the film. As soon as I read it I said to myself ‘this is real’.

What preparation did you do for the role?

I talked to many of the undocumented workers, the gardeners, waiters, nannies. I’m very close to that community and was before we started on the film. I had the chance to talk to many of the gardeners around LA who shared their experiences with me.

Chris Weitz and I had an intense experience making the film, we would talk for many hours about the character, about what we wanted from him, and how he would look on screen. The physicality of him was crucial as we wanted the character to be far away from what I look like as a person and from what I look like in Weeds or as Fidel Castro in Che. So I gained 20-25 pounds and learned a lot about gardening. Also Chris asked me if I wanted to do my own stunts and I said yes, so I was doing things like climbing up palm trees. You need a good eye, an expert eye, to guide you through this emotional journey which is what Chris Weitz has.

Your parents and brothers are involved in theatre, was acting always what you wanted to do?

Yes, it was a natural thing for me when growing up at home. We travelled around together when my parents would stage their plays. Though I remember from when I was around 10 or 11 that I wanted to be a soccer player. I tried for many years and then my father said to me ‘You know theatre loves you more’. I love football but I’m glad I chose acting. I was working in professional theatre from when I was a little kid and I was a member of the National Theatre Company in Mexico when I was 13, but I was 17 before I realised that I wanted to do this forever.

You starred in an Irish film The Runway, how was that for you and would you like to come back?

It was one of the happiest times of my life, we had a great time shooting that film. We shot it in Luxembourg, then moved to west Cork, it was beautiful. Every time I shoot outside of my home I have a great time as those shoots are my vacations, but I never thought I would go so far, and it’s all thanks to acting. I’m really grateful that Ian Power gave me that beautiful role in a beautiful film for kids and families, I don’t have many projects like that in my career. It was fantastic working with those actors.

Did you have trouble with the Cork accent?

(laughs) A little bit, it’s not an easy thing to get.

Would you plan to do more film, or roles like Esteban Reyes (The Mayor of Tijuana who he plays in Showtime series Weeds) in television in the future?

I don’t have a preference. I’ve done films, worked a lot in TV, and of course theatre, so I feel comfortable anywhere. I’m just concerned about the project, so wherever there is a good script and a great character I will be there, whether it’s TV, stage or film.

And you will continue in Spanish speaking roles?

I learned English really late in my life. I was an adult, so for me it has been an incredible journey to be able to act in another language. I am trying to learn some French aswell, and I think I can manage some Italian. I am always willing to learn and to try different things.

I saw you played Miguel Hidalgo (leader of the Mexican War of Independence), how important is your Mexican heritage to you?

I have been really lucky to portray a couple of Mexican heroes. I played Emiliano Zapata in a TV series in Mexico who is the icon of Mexican revolution from a hundred years ago. And as you say I played the Father of Mexican Independence (Miguel Hidalgo) which happened 200 years ago. I’m not looking for those characters but they come into my life. I have played Fidel Castro and I also played a Colombian political figure, but as long as those roles keep coming I will be happy to play them.

Would you consider moving behind the camera to direct a film?

I think it is a natural instinct for an actor, well maybe not everyone has it, but I have that desire to direct. I have a script that I am trying to finance. I think the only interesting thing for an actor becoming a director is if he has something to say. So if you write your own material then that could be interesting for people to watch. I have a couple of other ideas but I have to do the first one first.

José Julián who plays your son Luis in A Better Life says you are ‘an actor’s actor’ so I would think that would really stand to you as a director?

Well he is a great kid and we say great things about one another (laughs). Being an actor helps a lot as you know how to work with actors, and I think that is going to help me. So I do agree with José there for when I make the move to directing. I hope I can bring him into my film as we would like to work together again.

I believe up next for you is Oliver Stone’s film Savages, how is that going for you?

Actually I have my first shooting day tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to it because a lot of crucial films in the history of movie making were made by him, so it is pretty exciting. I think it is going to be a pretty intense experience, the script is very heavy, and he has a great cast.

You played Esteban Reyes in Weeds, so would politics interest you?

(Laughs) No! No, no, no!. I don’t know anything about politics even though my ideas are a lot better than many politician’s (laughs). But that is something I complain about, I think that people should do what the know how to do.

I read that you bought a pick-up truck from one of the Mexican day labourers when you were researching the role of Carlos in A Better Life, do you still have it?

No, I sold it right away as soon as we finished shooting. Sometimes you find characters that are easier to approach and others that need a 24/7 concentration. I felt I needed more elements to help me prepare for this role so that’s why I bought it.

It was a pleasure talking to you, thank you for your time.

Thank you Peter and please send all my love to Ireland.


A Better Life which opens exclusively in the IFI on Friday July 29th 2011 is from Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy and producer of A Single Man and In Good Company. It is a poignant, multi-generational story about a father’s love and everything a parent will sacrifice to build a better life for his child.

Carlos Galindo dreamed of good things for his wife and future son when they crossed the border into the US. But when his wife left him, wanting more than he could give, Carlos’ only goal became to make sure his son Luis was given the opportunities he never had. After years of hard work and trying to set an example for his child, he still finds himself drifting apart from Luis, now a teenager, who is susceptible to peer pressures that could lead him down a dangerous path. Seeing a way to control their own destiny, Carlos borrows what little money he can and invests it all into his own gardening business, hoping to finally achieve the better life he always envisioned for his son.

However, after an unexpected turn of events, when everything he’s worked for is suddenly taken away, it is Luis, despite years of growing apart, who teams up with Carlos to take it back. Together, father and son embark on a physical and spiritual journey where they discover something more important – that family is the most important part of the American dream.

To read a review of the film click here

To view a trailer of A Better Life click here

To find screening times and ticket details click here


Ian Power ('The Runway') Q&A


Ian Power talks about his film The Runway, which is in cinemas now, and the challenges he had to overcome to make it.

What was your last production?

I’ve just finished a film called The Runway – my first feature, which I also wrote. It’s inspired by the true story of a South American pilot who crashed his plane in Mallow in 1983. The locals came together and, against all odds, built a runway to get him home. A feel-good film.

How did you become a director?

When I was about 16 I wanted to be a dentist. My folks had an inkling that this wasn’t the right path for me so they sent me to a career guidance councillor and after the usual aptitude tests he suggested film. I always loved film but when you’re young you don’t think about it as a realistic career, or at least then you didn’t.

In film school everyone wants to direct. I was lucky enough to get to direct one of our thesis films and did a terrible job. And I suppose there’s nothing to motivate you to make another film like a bad film, so about 6 months out of film school I made Buskers, a Filmbase short, and it won a lot of awards and stuff and put me on the map. Specifically, it got me my first commercial, which was a good script that turned out great and won more awards. That got me a lot of other commercials and I lost my way for a bit in terms of drama, which is what really interests me. So I started writing again and, five scripts later, I made The Runway.

How has your role as a director impacted on the development of a production?

Because I write, I have always been at the heart of the development process. But even as a writer/director, after the draft that starts the development process in terms of finance, you have to put your director’s hat on, too. I think people underestimate the role of a director in development because all too often directors come on late in the day. It’s perceived that they will be an additional expense. Producers hold out to see if Steven Spielberg might be attracted when the script is right or something crazy like that, and miss an opportunity to have a very practical point of view on the script – specifically the point of view of the person who will realize the film at the end of the day.

Thankfully this culture is changing. Directors are being brought on board in the development process, but I’m still not certain that producers consider the director’s role in development on at least the same terms of importance as their own.

Do you have an anecdote that describes a challenge that you overcame creatively as director?

On The Runway we had scheduled 7 days in our main exterior field location to cover all the main set pieces. We were a small film but the plan was to turn into a big production for a short time to get these bigger scenes. But we got rained out – the field turned into a bog – and this had to reduce to four. Now, we had spent weeks in pre-production trying to scale down these scenes and 7 days was the minimum for the script to make any sense. Now it’s the day before we’re due to go into the field and I’m being told that it’s washed out and that we’re going to have to build a real runway just to get into the field and it’s going to rob three of our days. There was a palpable sense of despair around me – like the film had just collapsed. And the truth is that these moments are directing in its purest form. I know it’s really a logistical problem but it’s easy to be creative without logistical problems. And when these problems arise you have a choice. You can give up and accept that the film is ruined, or you can make it part of the film – own it.

So I took the wet pages of the schedule and put together a work-around. I bought us another day in our interiors with a re-write on a couple of scenes, I dropped some other scenes, and I combined whatever I could to shorten the scenes we were doing in the field. The truth is that a film takes on its own life once the shoot begins and some are easier than others. Nothing about making The Runway was easy but I enjoyed every second of it and I learned a ton.

This article first appeared in Film Ireland magazine – Issue 134 – The Autumn Issue 2010


The Runway

the runway

DIR/WRI: Ian Power • PRO: Macdara Kelleher, Brendan McDonald, Ian Power • DOP: P.J. Dillon • Ed: Amine Jaber • DES: Ray Ball • Cast: James Cosmo, Kerry Condon, Demián Bichir

Paco (Jamie Kierans) has it tough; his Mum seems to work every hour of the day, his Dad is ‘in Spain’, and his best friend Frogs has just had his family’s traveller site moved out of their sleepy Cork village. The year is 1983 and Ireland is in the midst of a recession, with everyone seemingly waiting for something to happen. And indeed something does, with the crash landing of handsome South American rogue Ernesto (Demian Bichir).

Since it is Paco who finds Ernesto, and indeed it is only Paco who seems to be able to (semi) understand Ernesto’s Spanish ramblings, Paco swiftly becomes Ernesto’s handler-come-translator. Some of the best comedy moments come when even Paco can’t quite understand what Ernesto is saying, and makes up an entirely fictional backstory in order to get the village on his side (‘He’s an orphan.’). But it isn’t long before the village have joined forces in order to get Ernesto’s crashed plane back into working order, and begin construction of a runway for it to take off.

Writer/Director Ian Power wears the film’s Spielberg heart on its sleeve, in particular the very strong E.T.-vibe (missing father figure, crash landing outsider, construction of something to help him return home), and the strong cast help bring the drama and comedy when and where it’s needed. The only real fault lies when the film concerns itself with Ernesto’s real past, involving a slightly muddled story of stolen gems and Ernesto’s evil brother.

Thankfully, not much screen time is given over to this sub-plot, and the film focuses mostly where it should – on the burgeoning relationships between Paco and Ernesto, and Ernesto and Paco’s mum, not to mention the well-played balancing act of having the village play for comic relief without descending into any real clichés. Much like the runway itself at the time, this movie should capture the hearts and imagination of the rest of the country. Between this and The Guard, it looks like 2011 will be a great year for Irish cinema.

Rory Cashin

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Runway is released on 10th June 2011


IFTA Rising Star Award Nominees Announced


Bord Scannán na hÉireann /the Irish Film Board (IFB) and the Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) have announced the Rising Star Award nominees for 2011, the winner of which will be named at the Irish Film and Television Awards ceremony on 12th February 2011.

Selected by a special jury and sponsored by the IFB, the Rising Star Award is a unique Award which highlights exceptional new and breakthrough talent working in all areas of the Irish film industry.

The 2011 nominees are:
Antonia Campbell Hughes (Actress) Bright Star, When Harvey Met Bob
Domhnall Gleeson (Actor) True Grit, Sensation
Ian Power (Writer/Director) The Runway, The Wonderful Story of Kelvin Kind
Juanita Wilson (Writer/Director) As If I Am Not There, The Door

The 2010 Rising Star Award was won by Tomm Moore, writer/director of the Oscar nominated feature animation The Secret of Kells. Tomm has since begun working on his second feature length animation Song of the Sea. 

Centurion and Hunger actor Michael Fassbender received the Rising Star Award in 2009, whilst young actress Saoirse Ronan was named the winner of the first Rising Star IFTA in 2008 for her breakthrough performance in Atonement.

The 8th Annual Irish Film & Television Awards will take place at Dublin’s spectacular new Convention Centre on Saturday 12th February 2011. The ceremony will broadcast live on RTÉ One at 9.30pm.