Archive for 2020

Writers’ Guild of Ireland ZeBBie Awards Winners Announced

27th November 2020

The 13th Annual Writers’ Guild of Ireland ZeBBie Awards were held online on 25th November. Named in honour of O.Z (Zebby) Whitehead, and presented each year by Senator David Norris, the awards are voted for by members of the Guild. The 2020 ZeBBie Awards recognise  the best scripts for radio, stage and screen that were written and produced in 2019.

The Writers’ Guild warmly congratulates all the winners on their fantastic scripts. In an incredibly competitive year for scriptwriting talent, the winners were

Theatre – Removed by Fionnuala Kennedy

A young man called Adam shares his funny, moving and shocking story of social workers, foster homes and his baby brother, Joe.

Radio Drama – You’d Better Sit Down by Nyree Yergainharsian

You’d Better Sit Down illustrates with poignancy and humour how different people within the one family attempt to cope with a diagnosis of cancer and how this challenging event brings the family dynamic sharply into focus.

Feature Film – Extra Ordinary by Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman, Maeve Higgins, Demian Fox

Rose, a mostly sweet and lonely Irish driving instructor, must use her supernatural talents to save the daughter of Martin (also mostly sweet and lonely) from a washed-up rock star who is using her in a Satanic pact to reignite his career.

Short Film – Ciúnas by Tristan Heanue

A couple drive to the city to collect their daughter. It’s clear they are in the middle of a family crisis. But what exactly is wrong…. and how do they cope with the unfolding situation?

Television Drama – Derry Girls Series 2 Episode 6 by Lisa McGee

As Christmas nears, excitement in Derry is at fever pitch for President Bill Clinton’s visit. Having written to Chelsea Clinton, the friends naïvely plan to spend the day with her, while James gets a surprise, and Granda Joe embarks on a mysterious plan.

Continuing Drama – Fair City Series 30 Ep 195 by Thomas McLaughlin

Will imprisons and violently attacks Cristiano and flees the scene, promising to call an ambulance.  But he is knocked down on the street and stretchered off to hospital himself.

You can watch the ceremony in full here:

The US Scripted Content Market in 2021 

25th November 2020

What is the state of the market for drama likely to be in the United States next year? In an upcoming webinar, Des Doyle will be giving his take on the state of play. He will explore the impact of the Corona virus on production and development and present his analysis of the opportunities and pitfalls for Irish writers seeking to make a US sale.

The webinar will take place on 10th December at 11am.

This event is an initiative of the Writers Guild of Ireland and is supported by Screen Skills Ireland. Spaces are limited to WGI members only so book a place here.


Des Doyle is the writer/director of the critically acclaimed documentary Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show, featuring JJ Abrams (Alias, Lost, Fringe), Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife), Ronald D. Moore (Outlander, Battlestar Galactica), Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory) and Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly) among others. The documentary also led to the accompanying book Showrunners, written by Tara Bennett and published by Titan.

He has given talks on Show-running, US TV Production, the Global TV Marketplace and the Future Of Content for USC Los Angeles, Rowan University Philadelphia, Scriptmakers Berlin, APIT TV Producers Conference Lisbon, Northern Ireland Screen , IADT Dublin and Galway Film Centre.

He is currently working on a new media-based documentary series as well as providing creative consultancy services to Irish Producers & Writers with projects targeting the US and streaming markets.

O.Z. “Zebby” Whitehead Remembered by Stephen Bradley

25th November 2020

I met wonderful Zebby Whitehead in 1991 and we became unlikely friends. He was in his 80’s and I was in my mid 20’s. I was working with producer Noel Pearson who lived and had his office in a house on Harcourt Terrace and was then at the height of his Oscar-winning powers shortly after productions of My Left Foot and The Field, both directed by Jim Sheridan. The house had previously been lived in by Michael MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards. Theatrical and Cinematic history was thick in the air in Dublin 2. I had left my student theatre days behind and wanted to make films. Serendipitous times.

I went to visit Zebby for many cups of tea in his ground floor flat on Leeson Street. It was frugal, sparse, clean and welcoming. I became enamoured by Zebby’s tales of old Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties followed by the distant, unimaginable Thirties and Forties. He told me that he had accompanied Katherine Hepburn to a New England cinema to see a public screening of her first film Bill of Divorcement in 1928 because Zebby had gone to Harvard with her brother and he stayed with the Hepburn family on many occasions. Katherine encouraged Zebby to pursue his acting dreams. Perhaps it was she who introduced him to the iconic director John Ford who cast him in several films?

I loved the stories of his cameo parts in some very famous films. I wanted to pay tribute to my generous friend and mentor. But I didn’t want to make a hagiography, a sop, an emotional mess. So I made a film about the grim reaper coming to kill Zebby in the middle of a wild storm.With unexpected results. After many applications and rejections it was selected for competition at the Venice Film Festival 1995. Ed Guiney, my friend and housemate produced the film, and apparently he’s gone on to make some other films since then.

For anyone who wants to watch Reaper there’s a link below. It’s 12 minutes long, filmed by Cian de Buitléar on black and white 35mm negative to match the clips from The Grapes of Wrath. Introducing the premiere in the old Screen Cinema near Trinity College (piggy-backing on the premiere of Paddy Breathnach’s first film Ailsa, written by Joseph O’Connor), Ed Guiney described Reaper as ”out there where the buses don’t run”.

RIP O.Z. ”Zebby” Whitehead.
Good luck to all those nominated for a ZeBBie in his memory during this crazy year of 2020.

Stephen Bradley
Watch Stephen’s short film Reaper here

O.Z. “Zebby” Whitehead Remembered by John Kelleher

23rd November 2020

Some fifty years ago, when my brother Terry and I were students at UCD, our bijou flat near Leeson Street Bridge played host to many a lively Dramsoc party. Our parents, knowing how much of our living allowance we’d be likely to leave in the tills of Hartigans, Kirwan House and O’Dwyers, prudently arranged with the management of the nearby Grey Door restaurant/guesthouse on Upper Pembroke Street for us to eat there twice daily during term-time.

This came with a welcome bonus – at that time, Zebbie Whitehead was resident at the Grey Door. Terry and I became regular and avid listeners as he shared memories of Broadway, Hollywood, Katherine Hepburn – the great love of his life – John Ford, Henry Fonda and many others.

He told us he never once regretted the decision not to invest at an early stage in the Broadway run of Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’. Had he done so, he told us, he would have made pots of money as the original ‘angel’ investors also had a piece of the movie, which went on to win multiple Oscars. However, Zebbie, a devout member of the Bahá’í faith, strongly disapproved of Albee’s subject matter. Though he never said it, I often wondered if he had influenced Katherine Hepburn’s decision to turn down the role of Martha, a part that earned Elizabeth Taylor the Academy Award.

Coincidentally, three years later, when I was a rookie on my trainee producer/director course with RTE, Zebbie kindly accepted my offer to direct him in another play by Edward Albee, ‘The Zoo Story’. Needless to say, he shone.

My memories of Zebbie remain strong: his shy, diffident manner, his intelligence,  his warmth and that gentle charming smile. I am so glad he continues to be remembered through the ZeBBies.

John Kelleher


O.Z. “Zebby” Whitehead (1911-1998) Remembered by John Lynch

23rd November 2020

The tall, thin and gangly sandy-haired sixty-five-year old American gentlemen rose from his seat and to a hushed audience at the Dublin Arts Festival announced: “The winner of the O.Z. Whitehead Award for new writing 1976 is John Lynch for his wonderful play “Poor Old Joe”.  He then proceeded to present the winning prize to the journalist and writer Kevin O’Connor.  There was a loud round of applause followed by confusion as Kevin identified himself and explained that he knew John Lynch but he couldn’t see him anywhere in the room.  The committee had not invited me, made a wrong identification on the night, and poor Mr. O.Z. Whitehead, affectionately known as Zebby, was upset beyond belief.  His concern was not for himself, however, but for the insult and offence he felt the mix up had caused to me.  I took no offence at all and told him I was delighted to win the prize which he gave to me a few nights later over dinner in the Trocadero.

Zebby was a saintly man, with whom I developed a warm friendship for the following twenty-two years of his life and which I have continued with my involvement as writer and organiser for the ZeBBie Awards which the Writers’ Guild of Ireland hold every year in his honour.  I know that he would be delighted that we have continued his work in some way because he spent much of his time and money here in Ireland on encouraging, supporting, and financing new writing talent.

When I first met Zebby I didn’t really know much about him except that he was an American actor who had come to live in Dublin in 1963, that he ran a play competition, the O.Z. Whitehead Awards, and that he financed productions of the winning entries at the Dublin Theatre Festival.  Thanks to Zebby my own play was staged successfully at the Dublin Theatre Festival, in London and Los Angeles, published and broadcast.  This gave him great satisfaction and he always referenced it for years later when he presented the awards which I, as Chair of The Society of Irish Playwrights (now the Writers’ Guild of Ireland), organised for him.

This came about because I had met him one day, as I often did, in Leeson Street as he walked from his small ground floor apartment, opposite where a bank used to be in the middle of the road, on his way to the Kildare Street Club for his dinner – he spent his formative years in the privileged salons of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and in some ways, retained the old style of an American gentlemen.  He was a bit gloomy that day and said that he could not handle the administration of the O.Z. Whitehead Awards any longer as the Arts Council had stopped their support and he feared he would reluctantly have to stop doing them.  He was overjoyed to accept my offer of help and I, with the support of the Society of Irish Playwrights, set up a committee to handle the administration, correspondence, and the reading of plays which in some years amounted to almost two hundred texts.  We met frequently in his place in Leeson Street and were always treated to a pot of strange but pleasant tea which he brewed from what looked like twigs.

Zebby would have read all of the plays and chaired our meetings with great attention to detail and an endearing ability to listen intently to the opinions of readers and committee members.  He was no sentimentalist and was forensic in his appreciation for the clear and economic use of words.  He was sharp and polite always but had little truck with nonsense or untruth, written or spoken.  He was not without a sense of fun either as he announced on one occasion: “In the past, and I’ve been doing this for over twenty years, I found it impossible to read some of the plays because they were written in unreadable handwriting, bound with a safety pin sometimes on the back of a collection of paper bags from the shop with the Lyon’s Tea logo in green and red on the other side.  I often wondered was the choice of green and red meant to be symbolic as many of the plays were patriotic and started with the line: ‘Quick, get behind the dresser, the red coats are coming’.  Well for the first time I’m glad to say there are no plays about red coats or green coats this year and our writers have learned to type so let’s start our deliberations without excuses”.

Another time I arrived before anyone else as Zebby was starting to brew the twig tea and he said: “John have you read any good plays this year?”.  Before I could answer, as he poured the hot water over the twigs, he quickly continued, “There’s one play and I don’t know who wrote it as our entries are anonymous.  I hope you don’t like it.  It’s about two dreadful vaudeville gentlemen and I find them unwholesome and not characterised by or conducive to health or moral well-being”.   I knew exactly the play he was talking about.  It was top of my list and was about two old washed up camp screaming queens in a variety show.  I told him that I thought it was rather good.   Zebby looked worried but we were interrupted by the arrival of the other committee members and quickly got down to examine our short list.

Some weeks later when it was time to pick the winner, the judges were equally divided, three for and three against the play about the two old queens, but the final and deciding vote fell to Zebby who had, during our meetings, repeated his reservations about the play.  There was a very long silence, Zebby looked like a hanging judge in a John Ford western, and then he seemed to grow bigger and stronger and said in a quiet but clear voice “ That play about the two vaudeville gentlemen is the best writing this year and we must award it first prize, it is the right thing to do, and we must do it, and disregard my personal feelings”.  The play, Remember Mauritania turned out to have been written by the late Aodhan Madden. It was later staged by the Abbey Theatre.

When Zebby died in 1998 the late writer Carolyn Swift financed the O.Z. Whitehead Awards for a few years but following Carolyn’s passing in 2002 it ceased and I was not very much involved in the business of the Society/Guild for some time.  However, in 2007 the new CEO, David Kavanagh, asked myself and writer Thomas McLaughlin if we could think up a public event for the members of the Guild which would help our profile.  I immediately suggested that we revive the O.Z. Whitehead Awards but as we wanted to include not only awards for stage writing but for film, radio and television as well, we knew that it would have been somewhat different from its predecessor.  We wanted to honour Zebby Whitehead in the title and initially settled on, Zebby Awards, but Thomas suggested that spelling it, ZeBBie Awards would look really good and sound the same.   We settled on that, I booked the Sugar Club, got Senator David Norris as our presenter and the rest is history.

Zebby was a remarkable human being. He was wise and generous, he was a religious person. The publicity about him always talks about him being a successful Broadway and movie actor particularly in the films of John Ford.  He told me he had little regard for that and only began his real search for meaning in life when at the age of 38 he adopted the path revealed to him by the Bahá’í faith.   That was in 1949.  He came to Ireland in 1963, almost as a missionary for that faith.  He continued to accept acting roles on stage and screen here and found many converts in the acting profession, among them Paddy Dawson and the late and wonderful Anita Reeves.  Apart from his extensive religious work and writing he spent much of the second half of his long life generously encouraging people in many ways, but particularly those involved in the art of writing.  He was an altruist, he enriched my life and anyone who got to know him.  His funeral in Mount Jerome Dublin, July 1998, was a joyous occasion, led by the beautiful Persian songs and poetry of his faith.  Zebby’s final wish to the congregation was that we all would enjoy a very good dinner, on him, in the Burlington Hotel.   We did.


John Lynch