Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Writing Home

 

Jack O’Dwyer puts pen to paper about the romantic comedy Writing Home, made as part of the Filmbase Masters Course

Writing Home, though ostensibly a romantic comedy, tells that classic story of an ego being slowly stripped away in order to reveal the triumph of authenticity over artifice. Conor Scott’s script, under the direction of three Filmbase Masters’ students (Nagham Abboud, Alekson L. Dall’Armellina and Miriam Velasco) and guided by producers Mark Coffey and Jannik Ohlendieck, follows a well-worn cinematic path, with its concerns being particularly comparable to Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, from 1970. Its rigid adherence to the tenets of feel-good cinematic romance deserves both condemnation and praise for, while it is cliché-ridden and predictable, it is also funny, satisfying and undeniably impressive given the inexperience of its cast and crew.

At its centre is Tony Kelly, in a swaggering performance as Daniel Doran, a hack writer who leaves the high-life of London to return to his rural Irish home of Darlingford, where he encounters his dying father, begrudging family, the former flame he suddenly abandoned and a young daughter that he has never met. Kelly’s confident performance brings a real vibrancy and immediacy to the film. His plastic, animated facial expressions reveal a smarmy, posturing fraud who, deep down, is ashamed of what he has become. The opening fifteen minutes or so, set in London, does just about everything it can to make Daniel a deeply unlikeable figure. Among other things, he snorts coke off of the cover of his newest bestseller, forgets the name of a Russian model he sleeps with, and replies ‘’good’’ when he learns of his father’s illness over the phone.

Upon his return to Darlingford, each scene serves one of two purposes. The first is to contribute to Daniel’s journey of self-discovery and moral retribution through acts of selflessness and honesty. The second is to show Daniel up for his arrogance and condescension, often in humorous ways. A key aspect of Daniel’s character is that, despite his overbearing self-seriousness, he is established from the start as a figure who is often the butt of the joke. He uses his wealth and large vocabulary as a weapon of self-defence, which frequently backfires. Particularly satisfying is a scene in which he is cajoled into attending a local Darlingford book club meeting, where he comes face to face with the same sort of self-important drivel that he himself peddles.

The ways in which Daniel successively negotiates the ills of his past, and the ultimate character arc that forms as a result, play out lucidly on screen, for the most part. Perhaps the most problematic scene is a conversation between Aoife (Caoimhe O’Malley), Daniel’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child, and her mother. Daniel is the subject of the conversation in spite of his absence, and there is a revelation from Aoife’s mother which suggests that Daniel has always been benevolent and generous, even before his return to Darlingford. The reveal comes from nowhere, and in light of the film as a whole it seems to dull the emotional impact of Daniel’s ultimate moral progression. Also, numerous scenes, including the film’s opening, make reference to the fact that Daniel is in fact a talented writer of serious fiction who merely became disenfranchised following the failure of his first book. However, rarely in the film do we get a glimpse of this Daniel; the talented artist beneath the showman’s veneer. In fact, Daniel’s writing is a sort of grey area throughout the entire film. The fact that such a large aspect of his life and background remains so far removed from the presentation of his character reduces somewhat the overall cogency of the film.

Shot in just five weeks, Writing Home is a fantastic achievement from up-and-coming Irish talent under the tutelage of Filmbase’s intensive Master’s programme. There is little indication of its limited budget and even when there is, it does little to distract from the verve in front of and behind the camera. All the familiar beats are there, and some of the music-heavy montage sequences are a bit too sickly sweet, but with snappy dialogue, touching performances and confident direction, Writing Home remains engaging throughout its 90-minute runtime.

 

Writing Home screened on 15th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

Mark Coffey, Co-producer of ‘Writing Home’

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Mark Coffey, Co-producer of ‘Writing Home’

 

Producer Mark Coffey tells Film Ireland about romantic comedy Writing Home, made as part of the Filmbase Masters Course.

 

What can you tell us about Writing Home?
Writing Home is a romantic comedy and tells the story of Daniel Doran, the writer of a string of international bestsellers of dubious literary merit. He returns reluctantly to a small rural village in Ireland where he has to deal with family politics, the old flame he walked out on and the daughter he’s never met.

 

How does the Filmbase Masters programme prepare you for making a feature film?
The Masters programme sets you up well for making a feature film. In the first term the focus is on the academic side of filmmaking where we learned about each aspect of the filmmaking process with a few practical assignments. The second term concentrated much more on the practical side of things and the assignments allowed us to experience each department’s roles and responsibilities on set. Our final assignment was crewing the short film QED, which also premieres at Galway, and it allowed us to work alongside established cast and crew in the Irish film industry.

 

Cast & Crew

Did you enter the course knowing you wanted to be producer?
I entered the course knowing I wanted to be a filmmaker and was interested in writing, directing and producing. After graduating in science from Trinity, I moved to Los Angeles for a year and worked as a production assistant on a number of commercials and TV shows. It wasn’t in the Steven Spielberg league but I got a great variety of experience from reality TV to high-end drama. When I returned to Ireland, I worked on some films produced by Treasure Entertainment and believe the skills I picked up in the US and Ireland led me towards the producer role.

 

There were 3 directors on Writing Home – Nagham Abboud, Alekson L. Dall’Armellina and Miriam Velasco – how did that work?
It’s actually not as bad as it sounds. The toughest hurdle was between themselves in transforming three voices into one. Of course each of them brought their own skills and perspectives and they worked intensively as a team in pre-production to ensure a consistent vision for the film. I understood with having three directors that I needed to take a backseat in the creative process on this occasion.

 

What was it that attracted you to Conor Scott’s script?
It was a laugh reading through it and there’s plenty of funny moments that I hope the audience at Galway will enjoy. The main character, Daniel, has an interesting character arc and, although he is funny, he still has to face the consequences of his actions and learn from his experiences.

 

Can you tell us about some of the biggest challenges you faced and lessons you learned.
The first big challenge was finding a location for a rural Irish village. After unsuccessful scouts in Kildare and Wicklow, I hit upon the idea of setting the film in Carlingford, where I spent many happy childhood summers growing up. The locations were perfect and the people were very welcoming and generous but the only way we could have Carlingford as the setting was if I could find accommodation for about 20 members of cast and crew. The next problem was how to get everyone there when so few people could drive or had transport of their own – but we managed it and spent almost two weeks filming in the Cooley peninsula.

 

Another big challenge was the shoot in London. The crew of four, and the two actors that joined us, were fairly new to the city and, although we had done our research, we couldn’t be certain that our plans would go off without a hitch. Sadly, three days before we arrived, the London Bridge attack had taken place and the tension in the city was palpable. Despite that, we found people very helpful and we got most of the material we had been hoping for.

The most persistent challenge was the constant need to raise funds. We organised a crowdfunding page and I managed to get sponsorship from a number of businesses and Louth County Councillors but the budget was extremely tight and a constant worry.

Although the production was stressful at times, it was a great experience and the biggest lesson I learned is to be prepared for the unexpected.

 

 

Writing Home screens on Wednesday, 12th July at the Town Hall Theatre at 22:00 as part of the Galway Film Fleadh 2017
 

Writing Home screens on Wednesday, 15th November at The Gate Cinema at 18:45 as part of the Cork Film Festival
 
 

Masters Digital Feature Film Production

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Dates: Starts September 2018

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Filmbase offers a unique, industry-facing masters-level course aimed at preparing filmmakers for the reality of writing, developing, pitching, producing, shooting, editing, posting and distributing feature films in digital formats.

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