IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: ‘Where the Sea Used to Be’

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The feature film Where the Sea Used to Be is set to screen this Sunday at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The film introduces us to brothers Patrick and James, who meet up in Dublin for a Christmas Eve pint and end up spending the day together when Patrick misses his train journey home to his wife and child – whom he tries to contact throughout the day on his phone from various toilets as his constipation gives him time alone to make calls.

The brothers see little of each other these day after Patrick moved to “the country” to work in “pharmaceuticals”, while James stayed in his seaside family home hoping to buy a boat and return to fishing. The two industries are as different from each other as the brothers themselves – and as they interact throughout the day we see how far the distance is between them.

Spending the day together they journey home and touch upon the past without ever seeking to affect the present – the day passes and Patrick spends the night at his family home. Along the way the pair encounter a mix of colourful characters, from a demented Santa to a loving Aunt, from a grumpy dressing-gowned ragged barowner to a loveable doe-eyed rogue. The brothers engage in conversation, though never really revealing much about themselves. There are stories to be told but not today, rather the day unfolds just like any other.

Walking in and out of beautiful wide shots the pair journey between the characters they meet drinking tea and supping pints along the way. The film’s minimal road trip is an evocative study of moments in life that exist in the ordinary, where no solutions are sought, no past issues are resolved and no traumas healed. It is what it is. And it’s all captured in a well-crafted script that embraces the rhythm and pacing of realistic dialogue and a direction that is not afraid to linger on passing moments, all gently massaged with a delicate score by Adrian Crowley.

The film was co-written by Stephen Walsh, not the first time he has collaborated with another writer on a script after working with Christine Gentet and Goran Paskaljevic on the 2001 feature film How Harry Became A Tree. Walsh was also writer and narrator of Sé Merry Doyle’s  2004 documentary feature Patrick Kavanagh, No Man’s Fool; and writer and story consultant on the 2010 documentary feature film John Ford, Dreaming The Quiet Man, also directed by Sé Merry Doyle,  before co-writing Where the Sea Used to Be with the film’s director Paul Farren, writer and director of the short films Choppers, Saturday and Pandora.

If co-writing conjures up images of collaborative brainstorming and high-fiving,  that’s not quite the case here as Stephen reflects, “I wrote a script. Paul discarded it. Then he wrote a script. I hated it… We sulked. We made peace and created a very good outline from which we never really deviated afterwards. Scenes came and went. We never “co-wrote” in the sense of sitting in a room together smoking pipes and waving our arms as inspiration struck. The final versions of scenes were usually written very close to the time we shot those scenes, often on the bus to the location; sometimes by Paul, sometimes by me.”

The original idea for the project came “after one too many vague meetings with the Irish Film Board; the need to make something that didn’t require the “permission” of such people to exist. It was also a project that couldn’t have benefited from being fed through a sausage machine by the sons and daughters of Robert McKee as they practiced their latest expensively-purchased buzz-words on us. We committed to the project in August and were shooting by Christmas. We used Christmas as a way to call our own bluff, really; shit or get off the pot.

“Then, with no money and no real means of acquiring much, we decided to also use Christmas as a backdrop to the story. Then we just needed a story! Christmas traps people together; very handy, storywise. Christmas locks people into patterns of behaviour they’d rather not be stuck in. And it’s even worse  – or better, from the point of view of story! –  if the characters are related. So we made them brothers.”

 

Stephen himself plays Patrick , while co-writer and director Paul Farren plays his brother, James. Paul explains how the casting of himself and Stephen was a sort of happy accident. “It was not our original choice. It came out of necessity rather than vanity.  When we realised it would be shot over a longer period of time we knew actors would not be able to give the commitment needed. There was someone else cast in my role briefly but he couldn’t work that amount of time. Finally, we auditioned ourselves with the help of a director friend, Vinny Murphy – so as not to be fooling ourselves –  so you could say, he gave us the job. As for everyone else, well they were people I had either worked with before or wanted to.  I believe firmly in working with people who you like. So it was a mix of actors and non-actors and I don’t think you could tell the difference between them.”

 

The result is a film whose characters are the story of the film.  Stephen explains that himself and Paul looked in other places for their story than is usual in Irish film. “Writing, for me, starts and finishes with character. What you get in all but the very best films is ‘types’ – or worse, Plot Delivery Devices – rather than characters. We placed the characters in the foreground and sought to discover what sort of story could happen to these people. Sure enough, they revealed their story to us. But they also got hungry, fed up and occasionally avoided each other! At times it seemed like we were making a documentary about people who insisted on existing but, really, didn’t! People seem to respond to the characters and, whether or not they like the film overall, many have approached us to say how relieved they are that we haven’t foisted another Crap Irish Film on the world. As Farmer Hoggett might say, “That’ll do, pig!”

 

The characters are well marshalled throughout by Paul’s confident direction, using long static takes, not driven by dialogue and never afraid to let the images do the work. “That’s what film is I suppose,” Paul muses.” Though there is plenty of conversation along the way we wanted to create something that you could understand with the sound off.”

 

Where the Sea Used to Be screens on Sunday, 22nd June 2014 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

Director, writer and actor Paul Farren and co-writer and actor Stephen Walsh will participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Tickets for Where the Sea Used to Be are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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Issue 134 Autumn 2010 Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild: Stephen Walsh

 

 

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.  Stephen Walsh, writer of Where The Sea Used To Be, which won a Van Gogh Award for Best First Time Director for Paul Farren at the 2012 Amsterdam Film Festival, wrote this piece in Film Ireland 134 Autumn 2010 which was published on September 17th 2010.

 

Writing on Water

 

Screenwriter Stephen Walsh describes how he stopped his characters from fecking off home.

 

Stanley Kubrick said somewhere that the ideal way to make a film would be to shoot a few scenes, think about them for a month or two, and then shoot the next scene. But he supposed that such an approach wouldn’t be financially feasible.

 

It was only after we’d made a feature film employing that very approach that I found the above story. It made me and other members of the gang who’d made Where the Sea Used To Be feel very, y’know, clever and everything. For about three seconds.

 

The gaps in our schedule resulted from the mad scramble to assemble the resources to continue shooting. Or we might have to wait to get the people or the gear together, or to get into somebody’s house and use it as a location. So the script bubbled away.

 

Myself and the director Paul Farren came up with the idea and pretty much had the structure nailed in about an hour. I went off to Italy, drank wine, ate tomatoes straight off the lemon tree and wrote about forty percent of the script.

 

I came back, we looked at it and then threw it out. The characters were beginning to make themselves known to us, however, so we knew we were onto something. We knew we weren’t complete idiots. And I can’t stress the importance of that small lifebelt of a fact enough.

 

We concocted a story that made the most of whatever we could get our hands on, or thought we could. Christmas was coming. Good. Stories are always looking for traps that the characters can’t get out of, and Christmas is a lovely great sucking pit of emotional headbuggery.

 

We figured out just what was happening at Christmas – on Christmas Eve, as it turned out – and dropped the half-formed characters into the pot.

 

There comes a time in every script when the writers must ask themselves what’s keeping their characters from just fecking off home. Okay. We thought about that. And made them brothers. Get out of that, Patrick and James. And yes, they had names now too.

 

And friends. And a sort of itinerary which, I’m only realising now, was inspired by John Sayles saying something to the effect that he often figured out what needed to happen in his scripts by drawing a map of the action. Thanks, John.

 

There were people we wanted to work with too, so we wrote for them. Some of them we even managed to attract to the project. Bairbre O’Toole, for example, was a lock for her character very early on. She has a small scene, but quite an emotionally pivotal one, and just thinking about her in the part helped me figure out how the scene should go. Luckily, she accepted the part.

 

Other people we weren’t so lucky with. What was interesting, though, was the way the writing changed as different actors came aboard.

 

Anyway. I completed a first-draft and sent it off to Paul, in his capacity as director and co-writer. I didn’t hear anything from him for ages. Phone calls were non-committal. This was the first time I’d ever written with someone, so I was nervous.

 

The script came back. He’d changed everything. Every single line. Every single word. He’d even changed the format. I wanted to kill him.

 

There were four of us in the gang now. Sean Cuthbert was producing and Alan O’Connor was director of photography. They didn’t seem to want to kill Paul, so I was forced to have another look at what he’d done. I became reassured that he was trying out things, not welding them onto the plot forever. Onwards.

 

We evolved a way of writing that seemed to have more in common with musical composition than anything you’ll find in a Robert McKee book, treating the words and images like lyrics and music. We shot some initial scenes and, over those few days, the piece began to settle into its own skin; began to reveal itself as a definite possibility.

 

We never deviated from our structure, but as work progressed – complete with those aforementioned Kubrickian pauses – we found new and better ways to tell our story. About two brothers. Who never see each other these days. Who meet for the obligatory pint on Christmas Eve. And then, when one of them misses his train, are forced to spend the day together.

 

The film exists now. We had a work-in-progress screening at the Galway Film Fleadh. People laughed in the right places and went quiet in the right places. They praised Alan’s wonderful images and Adrian Crowley’s transcendent music. Most of all, they got it. Now all we’ve got to do is sell the thing to the world. Oh, and make another one.

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland Autumn 2010 issue 134, published 17th September 2010.

 

https://www.facebook.com/wheretheseausedtobe

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6K-9A2IBmk

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Screenwriter Stephen Walsh on ‘Where The Sea Used to Be’

(Where The Sea Used To Be)

Where The Sea Used to Be screenwriter Stephen Walsh describes how he stopped his characters from fecking off home.  This article originally appeared in the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild page in Film Ireland 134 Autumn 2010 published on 17th September 2010.  Where The Sea Used to Be screens at the Fingal Film Festival on Wednesday March 21st at 4pm in UCI Blanchardstown, Blanchardstown Shopping centre, www.fingalfilmfest.com.

 

Stanley Kubrick said somewhere that the ideal way to make a film would be to shoot a few scenes, think about them for a month or two, and then shoot the next scene. But he supposed that such an approach wouldn’t be financially feasible.

It was only after we’d made a feature film employing that very approach that I found the above story. It made me and other members of the gang who’d made Where the Sea Used To Be feel very, y’know, clever and everything. For about three seconds.

The gaps in our schedule resulted from the mad scramble to assemble the resources to continue shooting. Or we might have to wait to get the people or the gear together, or to get into somebody’s house and use it as a location. So the script bubbled away.

Myself and the director Paul Farren came up with the idea and pretty much had the structure nailed in about an hour. I went off to Italy, drank wine, ate tomatoes straight off the lemon tree and wrote about forty percent of the script.

I came back, we looked at it and then threw it out. The characters were beginning to make themselves known to us, however, so we knew we were onto something. We knew we weren’t complete idiots. And I can’t stress the importance of that small lifebelt of a fact enough.

We concocted a story that made the most of whatever we could get our hands on, or thought we could. Christmas was coming. Good. Stories are always looking for traps that the characters can’t get out of, and Christmas is a lovely great sucking pit of emotional headbuggery.

We figured out just what was happening at Christmas – on Christmas Eve, as it turned out – and dropped the half-formed characters into the pot.

There comes a time in every script when the writers must ask themselves what’s keeping their characters from just fecking off home. Okay. We thought about that. And made them brothers. Get out of that, Patrick and James. And yes, they had names now too.

And friends. And a sort of itinerary which, I’m only realising now, was inspired by John Sayles saying something to the effect that he often figured out what needed to happen in his scripts by drawing a map of the action. Thanks, John.

There were people we wanted to work with too, so we wrote for them. Some of them we even managed to attract to the project. Bairbre O’Toole, for example, was a lock for her character very early on. She has a small scene, but quite an emotionally pivotal one, and just thinking about her in the part helped me figure out how the scene should go. Luckily, she accepted the part.

Other people we weren’t so lucky with. What was interesting, though, was the way the writing changed as different actors came aboard.

Anyway. I completed a first-draft and sent it off to Paul, in his capacity as director and co-writer. I didn’t hear anything from him for ages. Phone calls were non-committal. This was the first time I’d ever written with someone, so I was nervous.

The script came back. He’d changed everything. Every single line. Every single word. He’d even changed the format. I wanted to kill him.

There were four of us in the gang now. Sean Cuthbert was producing and Alan O’Connor was director of photography. They didn’t seem to want to kill Paul, so I was forced to have another look at what he’d done. I became reassured that he was trying out things, not welding them onto the plot forever. Onwards.

We evolved a way of writing that seemed to have more in common with musical composition than anything you’ll find in a Robert McKee book, treating the words and images like lyrics and music. We shot some initial scenes and, over those few days, the piece began to settle into its own skin; began to reveal itself as a definite possibility.

We never deviated from our structure, but as work progressed – complete with those aforementioned Kubrickian pauses – we found new and better ways to tell our story. About two brothers. Who never see each other these days. Who meet for the obligatory pint on Christmas Eve. And then, when one of them misses his train, are forced to spend the day together.

The film exists now. We had a work-in-progress screening at the Galway Film Fleadh. People laughed in the right places and went quiet in the right places. They praised Alan’s wonderful images and Adrian Crowley’s transcendent music. Most of all, they got it. Now all we’ve got to do is sell the thing to the world. Oh, and make another one.

 www.fingalfilmfest.com

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6K-9A2IBmk

 

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