Archive for April 28th, 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.

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