Archive for April, 2020

Scriptorium: Oonagh Kearney

28th April 2020

Oonagh Kearney is a writer and director from Cork. She is currently working on two feature films and a TV series.
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Clíona Ruiséil: Tell me about the script you’re currently writing, ‘Snow on Beara’?

Oonagh Kearney: Snow on Beara is a feature narrative script set in West Cork. It’s about three strangers, whose lives collide over a weekend as a snowstorm sets in. It’s about how their lives are transformed in small, subtle ways, and also in bigger ways, the impact of which stretches beyond the final page. It’s also a road movie, set on a tractor, but they don’t travel far, maybe ten kilometres. I remember reading somewhere that we can’t do road movies here because we don’t have the breathless expanse, say, of the States. Anyone who has driven in Ireland knows how untrue this is. Our land and seascapes are full of mystery and beauty and it’s so easy to get lost and found on the road. The screenplay is in phase two development with Screen Ireland, and I’m writing draft six as we speak. I probably find it hard to talk too deeply about the theme, as I’m not looking at it from the outside, I’m pretty immersed. My mouthy character Jo-Jo would probably say, “fuck theme, what’s that about? It’s about me, and you, and her, okay”. Yeah, she’s eighteen and a lot of fun. Somehow, given where we are with Covid, I hope the story will speak to the idea of what can happen when we come together, whilst also addressing some hidden pains women carry around with them. Tonally, it has a slightly surreal feel, because the action is quite heightened. I’m dedicated to realism in its actualisation, but I feel that within realism, things can get pretty surreal. And that space can become painfully funny, even absurdly funny at times, especially when people are cooped up together and their coping mechanisms are put on trial. With a central cast of three women, it is of course about women, and in particular, about how they relate to their roles as mothers and daughters, within the wider framework of how society views these roles. The whole story happens over a weekend, which is something I’ve always loved in other work – unity of time and place. It challenges me to find ways to unlock the extraordinary within the ordinary. Crucial here is the snow. Snow is rare in West Cork, and to me carries a feeling of wonder, a transient magic that melts quickly, but can still leave a mark.

CR: How do you approach writing a new script? Are there aspects you find particularly easy or difficult?

OK: That really depends. It’s a new relationship each time, and it reveals itself to me as I go along with it. Only this morning, I was texting a screenwriter friend about an old idea that is resurfacing because of lockdown. Ideas come and go, but do they ever really disappear? In that sense, were they ever really created? We are all constantly inspiring each other, like with the air we breathe… writing is inventing and borrowing, imagining and rearranging. When I commit to a script, it will have something really important to me in it – a feeling, or a conflict, or a question, something that will sustain me over many hours of thinking and writing. I can get a sharp rush of feeling a whole story at once, but when I break it down, it doesn’t work at all. So figuring out the architecture takes time. With this current draft, I’ve broken my action into sequences. It feels more manageable. I’ve discovered if stuff doesn’t work, it’s not always because it’s wrong in itself, it can be because it’s in the wrong place. In this regard, my early draft is usually my friend. It may be a chaotic mess, but it has something unfiltered that I like to go back to. Characters probably come easier to me than plot, but because of this, I tend to overcompensate, and become a bit plot-obsessed. I think it’s a fear of boring people. Quick, make something else happen. Throw in another obstacle. In reality, internal conflict, done well, is pure cinema. Recently Céline Sciamma gave a BAFTA talk about her screenplay Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. In it she challenges the principle of conflict as the basis of dramatic writing (you’ll find it online, well worth a watch). Yet when I remember her film (must see it again) and her exquisite screenplay, it is brimming with internal conflict simply because it’s a love story – fizzing with all the insecurity, fear, hope and wonder that goes with that territory. The point she makes is that by eschewing potential external conflict (ie generated by the fact that it’s two women in love in a certain period etc), she tells a story in which their love becomes possible and lived, and makes a compelling case for how this is enough to sustain a story.

I think I’ve gone off the point. Do I have rules for when I start? Sometimes an image becomes important, sometimes not. Usually it’s a feeling. I like to start with a conversation, ideally with a story editor or producer. Then l move to outline, and share. This wasn’t the case with Snow on Beara, which is unusual in that I approached SI with a draft after working with a script editor in London. I also didn’t get it into development on my first attempt. The lead-in to my second feature was different, with producers attached from the get-go. I usually go through titles like cups of coffee, maybe it’s my way of keeping things fresh? I find research pretty fascinating. But I do it later and later. I go with my gut more and if the research contradicts something, I’ll change the script after. I usually clean a lot before I start something new. Get grumpy. And then finally give into it.


Scriptorium means a place for writing – so this is a place for you to discuss your work, your views on writing in general, your thoughts on the industry and anything else you’d like to mention. You can focus on a script that you’ve written which was produced during the last year, or one you’re currently writing. We hope you enjoy this series and look forward to hearing what you think of it. We welcome in particular writers who may have an unusual or atypical experience of scriptwriting in Ireland in terms of their ethnicity, gender, age, physical ability, socio-economic background or other life experience.

Bheadh áthas orainn freisin a chloisteáil ó scríbhneoirí le Gaeilge gur mhaith leo an agallamh a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge.

If you’d like to participate simply email:

Only Connect

27th April 2020

On Friday, 17th April 2020, WGI Director Hugh Farley delivered a Screen Talks webinar in which he talked about how the COVID-19 crisis could and must be a catalyst of change in the film/tv sector.

Screen Talks is a series of webinars organised by Screen Skills Ireland and delivered by industry experts on a broad array of sector-related topics.


Last night, my family went out again on our doorstep to join our street and I guess the whole country, to applaud the frontline health workers who are working so bravely to keep us safe.

There has been so much community spirit on display – rosters of people delivering essential supplies to the old and vulnerable for example, and a huge desire to connect and re-connect with family and friends virtually.

All of which got me thinking about how this crisis could and must be a catalyst of change in the film/tv sector. You noticed that I didn’t say business because that implies that you can make a living from it.

For many of us in the sector, even in the best of times, full-time employment is a bit of a pipe dream. Last year’s European survey of writers’/directors’ incomes revealed two interesting facts. Firstly, the median income of writers and directors is 25K per annum and of that only 19K comes from their audio-visual work


The second fact is that as writers and directors gain more experience, the importance of a secondary source of income becomes more important not less.

That, of course, is a survey across Europe. What is the situation in Ireland.? Last week we surveyed our members of the Writers Guild and this is what we learnt: Only less than a third wholly earn their living from writing. For the other 70 per cent, a secondary source of income is vital.

Now lest you think this special pleading, let’s acknowledge that many technicians, performers, directors, and even producers are in the same boat – and that was before the coronavirus crisis.

If we’re serious about becoming an industry, we have to take a long hard look at ourselves. What is clear is that we will have to grow capacity, competence and capital and frankly a sense of artistic and commercial daring. We are competing with bigger economies, with a tradition of excellence in filmmaking and a well-developed talent development eco-system.

Let’s take a look at our next door neighbour, the UK, for example. In 2016 – before the streaming production boom really took off – Film and TV content generated £15bn. Foreign sales accounted for £4.7 bn. Its audiovisual sector is 20% larger than its nearest European rival, Germany, whose population is 20% bigger than the UK.  Since then Netflix and Amazon have booked out studio space spending £280 million in 2018. In Shepperton Studios alone, they are using all 14 soundstages.

The UK is a magnet for US film and TV capital because of its studio infrastructure, extensive talent base in front of and behind the cameras and growing number of UK production companies like Left Bank Pictures who have developed and produced highly successful intellectual property like ‘The Crown’.

So today, while everything is at a standstill and we’re scratching our heads about how we get things going again, we need to take the opportunity to re-consider how we can improve our market position to deliver great TV and Film content at higher volumes.

Yesterday, Screen Ireland launched a major series of initiatives to pump capital into our screen industries to help alleviate the hardship caused by covid-19. I think they are brave and practical measures and represent a welcome nimbleness and vision. But for me, what marks these initiatives out is that they are the product of extensive consultation with representative organizations like ourselves, and we believe that this is an essential template for the future.

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Desirée Finnegan the CEO of Screen Ireland and her colleagues have done their best to listen to industry needs and design targeted supports that deserve commendation.

So our screen industries are about to make a massive investment in development. Now the question is: develop what.?

Let’s take a look at the big picture…

Many markets have seen a drop in cinema attendances (strangely enough Eastern European audiences are bucking the trend). That in tandem with the collapse of DVD sales has meant the profitability of feature films – always precarious – got a lot riskier.  In fact, European produced films account for only one quarter of films exhibited in Europe.

Younger audiences make up the majority of revenue but they will only turn out for big-budget superhero movies which has resulted in US studios hoovering up high concept IP that centres around comic book franchises and world-building novels. Unfortunately, that is not the kind of film we make.

Getting that 35-plus audience to the cinema is harder than ever. Factor in a babysitter, transport costs, parking, tickets and popcorn and you’re looking at €70 euro for a movie. Assuming that – as we unwind the lockdown – it is possible for 100 people to sit in the same room for two hours…

Many are more than happy to see award-winning movies like ‘Roma’ and critically acclaimed movies like ‘The Irishman’, ‘Uncut Gems’ and ‘Marriage Story’ in the comfort of their own homes in 4k surround sound while the kids watch gaming play-throughs on YouTube in their bedrooms.

Which all means that we cannot take for granted there will be a platform or network of platforms on which independent cinema will be shown.

That is a problem for the Irish Film industry especially because this country makes arthouse or  niche genre films – which begs the question what happens to those movies in a post-Covid 19 crisis environment where cinema admissions may be limited per screen and art-house screens around the globe pull the shutters down.

Back in 2010’s, the Irish Film Board’s world view was essentially this. It was in the feature film business and its relationship with TV was as an ancillary market that screened the work it produced in precisely designed sequence (or recoupment corridor) after DVD and pay TV. Cinema was an art form and TV was…well….Not.

Things are very different today. The IFB became Screen Ireland and began investing a small proportion of its annual budget in developing high-value international TV projects. The value of TV and streamed content is at least five times that of feature films – those numbers are from 2018 but with entry of Disney Plus and Apple into the market you can extrapolate they are much higher now. Netflix alone has invested $4bn in production and similar numbers are spent by the big players.

So in the context of all of that the question is…What is Irish Film?

Because to punch through of all of that you have to have a brand.

Like the Danes in the 90’s with Dogma 95 or more recently South Korea with Horror movies and viscerally violent thrillers. They worked hard to build their brand and look what happened this year: multiple Oscars for ‘Parasite’.

I’m going to read this from a online film journal called Vox:

“A victory like Parasite has long been in development for South Korea. Michelle Cho, professor of East Asian studies at the University of Toronto, told me that the media and entertainment industries in South Korea have been heavily pushed to globalize in the past 20 years. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, increased investment by the government and corporations in high-tech internet infrastructure and  top-notch research and development, production, and design all contributed to building up cutting-edge entertainment products.”

They had a plan and they executed it.

Can we do that? Let’s look at what we would have to do…

  1. Build Consensus.

  2. Learn from mistakes and share them. Those who do not learn from failures in the past are destined to repeat them.

  3. Support Talent not projects.

  4. Build a talent Ecosystem.

  5. Invest in more development in development than production. And experiment constantly with how we do what we do.

  6. Sort out Public Service Broadcasting. Irish culture has value – It defines who we are – but frankly during the Covid 19 crisis, it is keeping us and are kids sane. We have relied on RTE and TG4 as independent and trusted news sources as well as entertainment. We let them go to the wall at our peril. These programmes are made by Irish women and men and they will not continue to exist without reform of publicly funded broadcasting.

For those of you who think and hope that things will go back to the ways things were pre Covid -9, it is time to think again. All’s changed, changed utterly…You can complete the next sentence yourselves.

When Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes landed his men on the Mexican coast in the 16th century, he had the ships that took them there scuttled. As his horrified men watched the ships sink forever beneath the waves, Cortez turned to them and said: ‘There is no going back now. Only forwards.”

Covid 19 is our Cortes.

We need to start talking about our collective cultural future. We can do that if we…

Only Connect.


Screen Talks Hugh Farley from Screen Talks on Vimeo.

WGI Welcomes Screen Ireland Additional Funding

27th April 2020

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, last week Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland announced a series of measures to support the screen industry at this difficult time. To directly support screenwriters, Screen Ireland committed to an enhanced investment of an additional €100K in the Screenplay and Spotlight Development Schemes. Further details about this enhanced investment are now available, allocated evenly between the two existing funds:

  1. An additional €50,000 will be allocated to the Screenplay Development Scheme (Established Talent). The current deadlines for submissions, application process and assessment criteria remain as before, but this increased investment will allow for budget flexibility in the remaining rounds for 2020.
  2. An enhanced investment of €50,000 into the 2019 Spotlight Development Scheme will facilitate an additional five awards in the current round of selections. There will now be 15 participants on the scheme instead of the original 10. All 15 writers will also be offered the opportunity to apply with new project ideas to the Screenplay Development Scheme for up to a period of 12 months after completion of the Spotlight scheme.

The Spotlight scheme is a structured development scheme aimed at discovering and developing diverse, fresh and exciting new screenwriting talent in Ireland, with guidance and mentorship from leading industry figures at the very beginning of their careers. Screenplay Development for Established Talent supports experienced writers/directors to write a live action or animated feature film from initial idea stage in the form of treatments or early script draft to a viable first draft screenplay.

WGI welcomes the additional funding. It is an important first step in reforming the development funding model.

This initiative guarantees a greater proportion of awards for screenwriters who wish to develop a first draft or a treatment before seeking a producer. Hitherto the Screenplay Development Loan had accounted for only 22% of total development funding disbursed by Screen Ireland.

We welcome the very constructive engagement with SI staff and expect to have further discussions when the suite of measures to alleviate the economic blow due to the Covid 19 crisis have bedded in.


16th April 2020

Screen Ireland today launched a comprehensive package of measures to support the Film and TV sector. The initiatives will divert a significant amount of funding from production into development including a slate-funding scheme which will lead – they believe – to more opportunities for experienced writers.

An additional €100,000  has been committed to Screenplay Development (formerly known as ‘Writer-only’) funding and a new iteration of the Spotlight scheme for less-established writers. ‘We welcome the imaginative measures Screen Ireland have introduced at this particularly challenging time’, said WGI Director Hugh Farley. ‘Our members have continually sought additional support for writer-only projects and the results of our most recent polls (details here) demonstrate vividly just how vital it is.’

You can find full details of the Screen Ireland initiatives at :


15th April 2020

To see the information in chart form, click here.

Q1: What county are you based in?

The highest concentration of respondents were based in Dublin with the next highest being Galway. A number of respondents were non-specific (‘Ireland’) and a few respondents listed other countries.

Q2: In which language do you write?

English 89%;      Irish 2%; Both 9%;        Neither 0%; Other 0%

Q3: How long have you been writing professionally? (ie. whereby most of your income is earned through writing..?)

1 year or less:  14%; 3 years or less:  9%; 5 years or less: 10%;      Ten years or less: 15%;

More than ten years: 36%;        I have been writing professionally during the last ten years but I am not writing professionally at the moment: 16%

Q4: What percentage of your annual income last year was from activities OTHER THAN writing for film/TV, Theatre or radio?

a) 0% – 15%:  30%; b) 16% – 30%:  6%; c) 31% – 45%: 5%;       d) 46% – 60%: 15%;             e) 61% – 75%: 7%; f) 76% – 85%: 8%;   g) 86% – 100%: 29%

Q5) Please give details of your current work situation:

I had a writing contract in place which remains unchanged: 25%;   I had a writing contract in place which has been affected by the Covid 19 crisis:  22%; I didn’t have a writing contract in place: 53%

Q6) The contract you had in place was for:

(The total exceeds 100% as respondents were able to select more than one category).

Film:  23%;     Theatre: 25%;      Radio: 9%; Television: 52%;     Other: 7%

Q7) Please specify the date your contract was changed.

Before 12th March: 2%;   Before 20th March: 43%; Before 27th March: 32%;   Before 3rd April: 23%

Q8) What was conveyed to me on that date was:

Termination of contract: 5%;      Temporary suspension of contract: 70%;     Reduction in volume of work: 9%; Reduction in fee: 0%;      Other: 16%

Q9) If your contract or other work has been cancelled, have you received any communication suggesting they will be resumed at some point in the future?

Yes: 59%;   No: 41%

Q10) In your contract has been cancelled, has a remedy been offered?

Yes: 16%;  No: 84%

Q11) If your contract has been terminated, suspended, cancelled or otherwise amended, how were you informed of this situation?

By phone: 17%;       By email: 83%; By post or courier: 0%

Q12) Have you received any notification that your work will resume?

Yes: 37%;       No: 63%

Q13) How were you informed that your work will resume?

By phone:  20%; By email: 80%;      By post or courier: 0%

Q14) Do you have any works already billed but due to be paid:

Yes, within the ordinary payment schedule: 17%;        Yes, payment is already late (in terms of) the payment schedule: 11%;         Yes, I had just billed those before the emergency was declared: 6%;

No: 66%

Q15) Have you received any information about the delay in any or all of those bills?

Yes: 12%;      No: 88%

Q16) How were you informed of the delay?

By phone: 22%;      By email: 68%; By post or courier: 10%

Q17) When the crisis happened, was your work already in production or pre-production?

Yes: 39%;   No: 61%

Q18) Please specify what kind of work was already in production and the situation you are in currently (e.g. “The script has been delivered for a play which is stalled” or “I was writing an episode but the production has stopped, so we don’t know the new delivery date”)

This question resulted in a wide variety of answers, with the majority indicating interruption to, and uncertainty around, work. The following three sample responses demonstrate this;

(1) A script was in development, but the production date in the summer is in doubt due to the virus.

(2) We were in pre-production on a feature film and the filming will not now go ahead.

(3) Script is due to be workshopped in May with a staging of some scenes at a festival in June. I doubt either will happen.

Q19) According to your payment schedule, when do you foresee your next payment should be made?

within the next few weeks: 30%;     within the next few months: 10%; I don’t know: 60%

Q20) Do you think you may avail of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment from Social Welfare?

Yes I have already applied: 20%;     Yes I will apply: 7%; No I won’t apply: 22%;   I’m not sure: 24%; I’m not eligible: 27%

Q21) How much do you expect your annual income to be impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic in the next 6 months?

a) 10%:  10% b)  Under 50%: 35%     c) Over 50%: 35%   d) Not at all: 20%

Q22) Can you continue to work on development with directors, producers and executives at this time (whether that be work already contracted or speculative work)?

Of the respondents who answered this question, the majority said ‘yes’, while a minority gave responses ranging from ‘no’ to ‘n/a’ to ‘maybe’ or a version of ‘some of my development work may continue’. The three sample answers below are indicative of the responses to this question;

(1) Currently yes. But concerned about it getting into production and hence work continuing as normal.

(2) No, my regular TV work needs to be commissioned. I can of course work on creative writing projects myself with the hope of something being commissioned but there’s no income/pay with that.

(3) I have done some work on story & bible, but there is no money to pay me until new dates are set & contracts are agreed.

Q23) Finally, please let us know of any other concerns you have.

The responses to this question illustrate how much concern members have right now about their work, their income and their future, along with the added concern for their health and that of their families. A few respondents indicated that they weren’t too concerned, however the vast majority expressed a reasonably high degree of concern. These three responses illustrate the kind of responses to this question;

(1) I worry that the economic impact on writers will make it even harder to get by in an industry that is already under-resourced and highly competitive. The funding bodies that I regularly apply to – i.e. Screen Ireland, Arts Council – are likely to take a major hit and there will generally be much less money around. There will also be increased anxiety about travel and about attending plays, etc, so it feels like the volume of productions will drop. I think it will be harder and slower to get projects off the ground, which will also impact on income. But I’m also hopeful. And once we have our health, we’ll figure things out.

(2) I have no concerns professionally, things will start up again when Covid crisis abates. Am used to living on a shoestring so in that sense: Business as usual! Main concern is for the welfare of people and animals throughout this crisis and beyond it. Work and the search for it, can take a back seat until “this too shall pass”.

(3) The comment box is not big enough to do that.

To see the information in chart form, click here.