SCRIPTORIUM: CATHERINE MAHER

30th September 2020 by admin

Writer on set of The South Westerlies shoot at Tinakilly House

Former Sketch-Writer (Mario Rosenstock Show, Bull Island) and Copywriter, Catherine’s drama The South Westerlies is currently on RTÉ1 TV Sunday nights.  A productive year that included writing/directing Counsel Me Baby in the Project Arts.  Currently writing SWs Series 2 plus a “yoga-meets-the-dark-menopause” TV comedy for World 2000. Contact @writestuff.ie

Clíona Ruiséil:  Tell me about your drama series The South Westerlies, currently on RTÉ1?

Catherine Maher: It’s a love-letter to women in their 40s, 50s and 60’s.  And to our stunning coastline, beaches and small towns.  From the get go, I was deliberate in setting out my stall; this was going to be an end-of-the-week comfort blanket, a rape-and-murder-free zone.  A Sunday night slot was essential.  3 years later, after 4 (of 6) episodes have aired, we’ve got a substantial, returning audience enjoying, what I like to think, is the ultimate pandemic escape.

CR:  How did you research your story?

CM: The spine of the story concerns a Norwegian wind energy company in the final planning stages of installing a 50-turbine wind farm off the coast of the fictional West Cork town of Carrigeen.  Much as I reckoned I was fairly up to speed on “environmental issues” in general, this required a whole new level of research.  I read everything from; mission statements of engineering companies who design turbines, to articles on communities in the US, UK and Ireland who experienced the arrival of wind farms close to where they live.  Along with articles in science journals on how turbine technology has evolved over the past decade.  In a few short weeks, I became an expert on Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Wind Energy But Were Afraid to Ask.

CR:  What are the challenges involved in writing a drama series?

CM: I’d say it’s a “volume thing”.  6 x 1 hours of TV eats up a lot of material.  Our Series 1 Writers’ Room at the beginning of the process (big ups to storymeisters Hugh Travers, Michelle Duffy & Hilary Reynolds) was an inspiring fortnight of enthusiastic brainstorming and excessive chocolate eating, which filled the gaps in my original Bible.  Plots thickened, characters got meat on their bones, and wonderful twists and turns appeared, as if by magic.  But then it was just me, back at my desk, staring into the void – and a schedule of rolling deadlines never far away.  If I didn’t turn to class A drugs that year, I never will.

CR: Are there elements of writing a script you find particularly easy or difficult?

CM: For me, the excruciatingly painful, stomach-tightening part is, without a doubt, The Start.  And I don’t mean the start of Page 1 Ep 1;  I mean every day, sitting down to the screen, it’s a frickin’ battle.   Random baking, movie-trailer watching, inbox purging, even ironing, suddenly become attractive.   But then you begin.   Am getting better at early morning starts.  The late night bursts work well too.  Afternoons are a waste – usually leave the desk and (boast alert) go for a sea swim.  Recently moved to Greystones in Wicklow, where the beach is a 3-minute cycle from my door.  Hashtag blessed as they say.

CR: How did you get a producer on board?

CM: Unbelievably, amazingly, fortuitously … it was through a WGI  Producers/Writers Speed Dating event back in August ‘16.  I sat down in front of Ailish McElmeel of Deadpan Pictures and pitched her (see first answer above).

CR:  Which scriptwriter(s) do you most admire?

CM: Huge fan of British TV writers Abi Morgan (The Split) and Sally Wainwright (Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax).  Both super-skilled in creating strong, multi-dimensional female protagonists that are compelling and thrilling to watch.

CR:  What improvements would you like to see in the industry?

CM: Better remuneration and role-recognition for writers, and a clearer pathway from writing to showrunning.

CR:  What advice could you offer writers who are new to the industry?

CM: Short version; “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride”.

Longer version;  Meet and talk to other writers.  All the time.  Not only will they make you feel less alone, but they’re/we’re resourceful.  They’ll know producers, or they’ll know someone who knows the producer you need to meet.

Join the WGI, join informal writers’ groups, take Screen Skills Ireland training courses; they’re not expensive and not only will you up your skills, but you’ll make invaluable contacts.  Be friendly.  Everyone’s in the same boat.   But don’t tell the world your “big idea”.  Hint at it, but keep the good stuff to yourself.

Be prepared for pushback, criticism, notes – so many notes, but try not take them personally.   Good notes will make your project better.  Keep your eye on the prize.   But always have a fallback – I still work as an advertising copywriter in between TV writing.

Every time you finish a draft, whether it’s a fledgling outline, a first treatment, a bible or an episode, allow yourself to savour that moment.  You’ve given it your best shot, so stand away from the desk and stop messing with it!

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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.

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: info@script.ie.

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