Archive for May 13th, 2020

Scriptorium: Christian O’Reilly

13th May 2020 by admin

Credits – feature film: ‘Inside I’m Dancing’, ‘Sanctuary’; TV – ‘Doctors’, ‘Casualty’, ‘Holby City’, ‘Deception’, ‘Red Rock’; theatre  – ‘Chapatti’, ‘Here we are again still’, ‘Is this about Sex?’, ‘The Good Father’.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are you working on at the moment?

Christian O’Reilly: I’m juggling a few projects at present, including a stage play called ‘Unspeakable Conversations’, which is based on a New York Times magazine article by wheelchair-user Harriet Johnson. The article describes her clash with Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, who argued that it should be legally permissible to euthanise disabled infants. I initially tried writing the play as a piece of verbatim theatre, edited together from her article and her email correspondence with Peter Singer. In more recent months, following two workshops, I realised that the verbatim form wasn’t really working and have had to explore it as a more conventional play. I’ve got a great cast to work with – disabled actors Liz Carr and Mat Fraser – and I’ve also got funding to stage the play, but everything is now in limbo due to Covid 19. We had planned to stage it in September at the Mermaid theatre, followed by Dublin Fringe Festival and Belfast International Arts Festival, but those plans are now in doubt.

I’ve also just finished the first draft of a new screenplay.

CR: You have written both plays and films. How do you feel about the available supports or funding for playwrights versus screenwriters in this country? And in terms of the craft, do you prefer one or the other?

COR: I think screenwriting is quite well supported, thanks to Screen Ireland. The application requirements make sense because your application is assessed on the strength of your idea, its potential for cinema, your writing and the extent to which you can craft a story for the screen. They have recently changed their guidelines and seem to no longer want full-length scripts, which is interesting and presents a new challenge to someone like me who would always have submitted full-length first drafts in the past. But funding for screenplays is also extremely competitive and there is the sense that it’s increasingly competitive.

In terms of theatre, there are also supports and funding available to playwrights, through the Arts Council. But I find the Arts Council application process is generally more time-consuming and more complicated. Also, you can’t simply apply for funding to write a play. And if you submit a play for development or production funding, the play itself is not assessed. Instead, the Arts Council weighs up things like the quality of the idea presented in the application, artistic merit of the idea, feasibility in terms of a realistic budget, the level of support from other artists or from venues and councils. And when you apply for such funding, you are in the position of being the lead applicant, i.e. producer. This is an added responsibility and one that many playwrights don’t have the experience or skills for.

In terms of the craft, sometimes I prefer writing plays and other times screenplays. It varies.

CR: What can you tell us about the new screenplay you’re currently working on?

COR: It’s a science fiction comedy set during the end of the world. The planet is dying due to climate change, there’s only enough food for five years and suddenly a deep voice booms from the sky. It’s God, decrying mankind for destroying the planet and announcing his retirement. From now on, it’s up to us to decide who gets into Heaven. The government drafts an Afterlife Access Act and the contract for Celestial Access is awarded to a corporation, which markets Heaven as a holiday destination for the rich, through a service called Transitional Assistance (assisted suicide). Pretty soon, everyone wants to leave this life for the next… all except one man, who believes life is for living.

It’s an idea I’ve been working on for a long time, but the Covid 19 situation has helped me to better imagine a future world in which climate collapse has also taken place. I’ve got another new screenplay on the go, but it’s not developed enough to pitch. I’m still at that point of having absolutely no idea if it’s any good or not.

CR: Which writer or writers do you admire and why?

COR: Right now I’m loving ‘Normal People’, which is based on Sally Rooney’s beautiful novel, and adapted for TV by her and Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe. It has such emotional truth to it, the characters feel so real and it feels like it’s capturing something so authentic. It’s also a really great love story.

I recently loved watching ‘Fleabag’ by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and ‘Pure’ by Kirstie Swain. I loved the characters, who felt so flawed, so real, so funny and so vulnerable.

In the past I have loved the writing on shows like ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Crown’.

As a child, I loved ‘Peanuts’ by Schultz. Snoopy was my hero, but I identified more with Charlie Brown.

The first novel I fell in love with was ‘Catcher in the Rye’ by JD Salinger. I found it so sad and so funny.

I love ‘Whistle in the Dark’ by Tom Murphy, ‘Sive’ by John B Keane and ‘Translations’ by Brian Friel.

I love the writing in ‘Pure Mule’, ‘Bachelors Walk’, ‘The Young Offenders’, ‘Derry Girls’, ‘Love/Hate’.

I love to encounter great, driven characters who feel like real people.

I admire numerous writers, too many to list here!

CR: Apart from increase the available work and funding for writers, what can the industry do to better support writers?

COR: In an ideal world, we as Irish writers wouldn’t be so dependent on funding/income from Screen Ireland, the Arts Council and RTE. It would be great to work internationally, whether that be in TV, film or theatre. The UK is an obvious market for television work because so much TV is produced over there. So, if there was a way the industry here could help Irish writers connect with UK production companies and broadcasters, that could help – though, to be fair, there are no real barriers to entry when it comes to TV in the UK. Likewise, I think we need ways of accessing streaming services like Netflix as possible destinations for our projects.

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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.

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