Archive for the ‘Scriptorium’ Category

SCRIPTORIUM: AOIFE NOONAN

22nd July 2020 by admin

Aoife Noonan has written three short films, A Terrible Hullabaloo, Herstory: Mary Elmes and The Chancers Guide to Dublin, produced through her company Bowsie, which she owns with writing partner Ben O’Connor.  They have worked in special effects winning an IFTA in 2018, and are now focussing on production.

Clíona Ruiséil: Tell me about the script you’re currently writing?

Aoife Noonan: I’m currently co-writing a film script called Something at the End with Ben, for which we’ve coined the genre Cyberpunk Fairytale.  It’s an experimental sci-fi film funded by the Arts Council.

Shooting has been delayed with the current situation so we’re using the opportunity to develop the script.

CR: What inspired you to write this particular story?

AN: It started with an image of a giant machine which we thought was interesting, and we grew the story out from there.  A lot of what we had been reading and talking about in terms of society and our relationship with technology has found a place in the story so it came together quite naturally.

CR: In terms of the creative construction, tell me about the stages you went through when writing the script?

AN: As visual artists we normally start with a visual idea or concept and build the story out from there.  We enjoy playing around with ideas, often the original idea is discarded as we flesh it out, but the tone or concept might still be there in a different form.

For a long time we talk and talk and very little writing gets done, but once the outline is solid we can get it into a script format quite quickly.

It’s a really low budget film for what we’re planning to do, so the script itself is loose and will have to accommodate the tight budget.

I love David Lynch, and he talks about writing all your ideas down and then stringing them into a story and that’s definitely an approach that we use.  For this script we were pretty clear on what the beginning and ending would be from the start, the middle of the film was a big unknown for a while.  We have a lot of ideas that were never used for other projects and we just tried them out to see if they would add something interesting to the world.  Like ideas for music videos that never got made, but now they sit naturally in this story and brought it somewhere new you might not have thought of before.

We stick all of the story beats and visual ideas up on the wall and move them around to see what fits where.  We quickly know the must-have scenes, others that aren’t strong enough on their own are discarded or elements get folded into another scene.  We have a board of ideas and interesting quotes that starts to look like the work of a madman.  If we’re stuck for an idea of where to take a script we’ll look to that and see if anything pops up.

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

AN: Just writing it down can be difficult – and not always due to chronic procrastination.  I enjoy the stage where you’re throwing around concepts, and everything is open.  Writing it into a script format feels like a commitment or can be a bit restrictive.

I cut or change characters or locations multiple times as an idea comes to me and it ends up a bit of an incoherent mess. If I push past that and the story starts to take shape I start to find where ideas fit in the story or have to answer questions I never thought about, so there’s a lot of thinking to do and then it’s fun again. Getting over that hump is probably what I find most difficult and plenty of scripts have been abandoned at that stage when I couldn’t tie ideas together into a script format.

CR: Have you got a producer on board?

AN: We’re producing ourselves through Bowsie.  We’ve produced three short films, and this will be our first feature film. It suits us to have full control over the creative and budgetary decisions, so it’s been a really enjoyable project so far.

CR: Why do you write?

AN: As a child, I was the classic introvert with her head stuck in a book at all times.  My mam once told me that I should do a job where I sit in a room alone – I’m not sure if that was for the benefit of myself or other people, to be honest.  But I enjoy it, so I see no better reason to do anything.

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You can watch Herstory: Mary Elmes here and The Chancers Guide to Dublin here.

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.

SCRIPTORIUM: JAMES PHELAN

8th July 2020 by admin

James writes television dramas, features and animation. He won an IFTA for his 1916 time travel mini-series ‘Wrecking the Rising’. Other original shows he created include ‘Galway Races’ and ‘Striking Out’. He works extensively in animation. Recently contributing episodes to ‘Dorg Van Dango’ from Cartoon Saloon; currently broadcasting on RTE.

Clíona Ruiséil: Tell me about the scripts you’re currently writing?

James Phelan: I’ve just finished writing the pilot episode of an animation show for a Scandinavian company. It’s a gig which arrived via my agent Jean Kitson and while the details are under wraps for now, I’m happy to report it was a lovely, smooth and positive process. I’m also working with my good buddy Alan Keane of Hot Drop Films to create a cartoon series originating out of a Canadian studio. Up until recently, it’s been episodic writing duties on most animation shows for me. I love being a writer for hire. But it’s really interesting and insightful to be in on the ground floor and build something up.

In features, I’m doing the hardest work that any writer can undertake – which is re-writing. The project is an original science fiction film called ‘Memory Bank’ which I have naively set in both the distant future and Dublin. (Though I will decamp it to America in a heartbeat the second Hollywood shows any interest). I’m a huge fan of detective fiction in every form. Nearly all famous detective novels have notoriously weak plots. So my first draft of ‘Memory Bank’ certainly paid handsome homage to that. Though I think the lead female character and concept are really strong so I hope that’s a good foundation to work from.

In TV, I just finished my first script specifically for the UK market. ‘Dog Years’ is set in London and Brighton and follows a useless punk band who discover their talent for robbing venues far exceeds their musical ability.

CR: What inspired you to write this particular story?

JP: For ‘Memory Bank’, it was love of the detective genre and extrapolating on where artificial intelligence is heading. The notion of a detective buying up memories to solve crimes seemed rife with potential but also filled with inherent pitfalls that are dramatically compelling. Memories are highly subjective, malleable and unreliable. They deteriorate and change over time, so how can you trust them? Or rely on them legally?

‘Dog Years’ arrived via considering what if a band realised the only way to make money from music was robbing the places they play? This radical departure is prompted by bitterly acknowledging that they are never going to make it. I’m playing with the idea that the song they record as a F.U. to the industry and world becomes an unlikely hit as their crime spree ramps up.  My tip of the hat to the Soggy Bottom Boys in ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’.

CR: In terms of the creative construction, tell me about the stages you go through when writing a typical script?

JP: If the project originates with me, the spark can take many forms. Often it’s one scene that occurs to me or it can be a character that comes first. Sometimes even a really good title can get the show on the road. There’s something that really coalesces on a project when you have a title that is succinct and evocative. Just the two words ‘Memory Bank’ firmed up a lot for me. Whereas ‘Dog Years’ is deliberately more mysterious and reveals itself within the show.  Again in terms of my own inspiration, I usually start just writing a spine or archipelago of scenes or dialogue exchanges that occur to me. The connective tissue comes later but around then, a good one page summary can start to shape the material. Longer treatments can help too but I think their usefulness taps out the bigger they get. Some producers would like 20 page treatments for a 52 minute script.

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

JP: Being a subscriber to the notion that ‘self praise is no praise’, I will deign to merely mention that my dialogue tends to attract plenty of praise. It’s also my natural tendency to inject humour into any situation or genre. I liked being hired for comedy polishes and it seems you either have comedy bones or you don’t. It’s binary.

In terms of difficulty, I’m not crazy about creating an irrelevant amount of backstory for characters that you can never relate or express onscreen. To my mind, you reveal character through what they say or don’t say and what they do. Having a thick dossier on each adult character’s childhood is just overkill to me.

CR: Where do you work?

JP: This question used to get a very definitive – ‘in the privacy of my own home’ riposte but I have softened on this mainly because I was writer in residence for a year at the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire. And there’s a setting that would inspire me to write. In the main though, I do think writers shouldn’t over-romanticise where they work. There’s a touch too much of putting writing up on a pedestal like ‘I’ll rent a hotel room and write’ or ‘I’ll go to that Italian villa and write’. Aim to make your setting ordinary and your writing extraordinary rather than the other way around.

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

JP: Put your head down and work. Put in at least the ten thousand hours that will bring a level of experience and expertise to your work.  Always have more than one project in the works. Write samples in every form and format out there. So if a producer or broadcaster asks for a short or a sitcom or an hour long drama or a feature, you will hopefully have your own slate to show the breadth and depth of your ability.

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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.

Scriptorium: Nicola Lindsay

24th June 2020 by admin

Nicola Lindsay started writing seriously in her early fifties. After having her poetry and two children’s books published, she had five novels published by Poolbeg. She was also published in America and Germany. She wrote and produced a humorous Christmas play for adults and also had a feature screenplay optioned.  www.nicolalindsay.ie

Clíona Ruiséil: What can you tell me about the script you’re writing at the moment?

Nicola Lindsay: The script I have been working on is the second draft of a two-hour feature. It is based on one of my novels, Diving through Clouds. It is about Kate, an agnostic, middle-aged woman, who dies and is taken aback by the fact that she is left hovering above her corpse, accompanied by a black guardian angel. She leaves behind her an unhappy marriage and a loved lost daughter. With the help of her guardian angel, she tracks down her daughter in France and, to her delight, discovers she has a grandson. He is a vulnerable seven-year old and the two bond, enabling Kate to bring about the coming together of her fractured family. She learns forgiveness and hard-won patience in the process – as well as getting pretty nifty at diving through clouds, walking through walls and other such spook-like abilities.

CR: How have you approached the adaptation – what kinds of decisions have you had to make?

NL: I wasn’t sure what genre this story fitted. My novel is fantasy but has some very adult situations involving a wife who is mentally abused before her death from cancer, an adulterous affair, loss and middle-aged passion. I liked the idea of it being a family friendly film as they seemed rather thin on the ground. In the end, I decided to leave out some of the darkly spooky stuff in the book and concentrate on the fun had between the dead grandmother and the young grandchild. Because my novels usually contain quite a lot of descriptive writing and mentioning what is going on inside the characters’ minds, it was difficult not to make the script too horizontal. Because I knew the characters so well, it was horribly easy to forget to show rather than just assume an audience would have cottoned on and didn’t need further explanation. Like writing poetry, I found it challenging cutting dialogue to the minimum and that was the area in which I had to work hardest.

CR: In terms of the business side of things, from your perspective is it more or less difficult in this country to find a publisher for a novel, than a producer for a film?

NL: Finding a publisher for a novel is a nightmare! It took me months of rejections before Diving through Clouds was published by a well-known publisher. I had previously had a children’s book, a selection of poetry and a novel all brought out by a very small publisher, who then went out of business. The editor didn’t seem to understand that marketing and distribution of one’s books was somewhat crucial to their success. My first feature script was optioned by a minor film company, who then produced a contract so impossibly weighted against the writer, that I had to withdraw. I had to chalk this up to bitter experience. Since I have only just completed this draft of Diving through Clouds and am in the process of approaching a producer, I’m not yet as experienced – or bruised – in the area of film production companies but I have the feeling that it may prove to be just as difficult as finding a good book publisher. Ask me in six months time!

CR: Are there any themes, issues or types of characters that are of particular interest to you?

NL: I lived in Africa for several years and so I love films and books that deal with life there: the struggle to develop strong and equitable systems in countries that, for years suffered under colonial rule and are still recovering and fighting back. I love the extended family systems and the joy in music and dance and the fabulous colours and tropical smells. I especially enjoy storylines where white and black are equal and supportive of each other.

Perhaps because I am now seventy-six, I especially enjoy seeing feisty, interesting, funny, wise older characters on the screen and I like intelligent gentle stories, touched with humour and sometimes a little pathos. I also like characters who go against what is considered to be correct behaviour – the quirky, anarchic and the irreverent. I want to see characters in films – and storylines – that make me think and question and that touch me and fill me with delight.

CR: How have you been managing during the Covid crisis?

NL: I was cocooned and I managed quite well, mostly working on the second draft of the screenplay. I also started to re-work my latest novel, Mama Bea’s Retreat. I mixed mental labour with planting and weeding and listening to French podcasts to keep me on my toes. I tried, not always successfully, not to worry about what the future holds for us all.

CR: Do you have any daily writing rituals, favourite place to write or other things which you feel are essential to getting your work done?

NL: When grandchildren visit, any rituals go straight out of the window! Usually, I try and write in the mornings when my mind is less cluttered and I write in my study with views out onto my much-loved garden and bird bath and feeders. When I am involved in writing scripts I find it best not to lose myself in a book as I don’t want to be influenced by another’s writing style that I enjoy or admire.

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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

Scriptorium: Philip St John

10th June 2020 by admin

Philip St John writes fiction and drama. His plays include The Sylvia (Dublin, 2013 and Italy 2019), and Temptress (Dublin 2015, 2019). He has twice received Arts Council Literature bursaries. His first play Maxine (2011) won an International Theatre Forum Award and was performed in Germany and Manilla.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are you writing at the moment and has the pandemic affected your work?

Philip St John: I think I’ve found the pandemic less disruptive than many. I live with Laura Kelly, the artist, and we have both worked away quite steadily. We have no kids. Though the house is small, we can work in separate rooms. I’m used to a fairly solitary existence and, if anything, I’ve found the lack of the usual activity has freed me up. This may be the result of ignoring anything other than the page or screen in front of me, though. I’ve just thought, ‘It’s awful out there for now, so I’ll get on with things in here.’ Increasingly over the last few weeks, talking to other writers, I’ve become aware of the challenges facing all the arts in the near to medium future. It’s going to be rough!

I’m a writer of fiction as well as a playwright and I go from one to the other but in the last year I’ve concentrated largely on a novel which I will be finishing very soon (friends will tell you this is a familiar refrain). However, I did apply for the special Covid award from the Arts Council and was awarded funds to write a one act play which can be performed—most likely as a staged reading—under lockdown conditions. It’s set in a kitchen. A woman calls to the house intent on removing from it the ghost who has driven away many previous owners—an invisible ten year old boy. Matthew Ralli will direct his partner Melissa Nolan as the woman and Carl Kennedy, sound-designer and performer, will create the invisible boy. It’s a few years now since I first had the idea but when the award call went out, the play came back to me as it felt resonant: an invisible, perhaps fatal, threat lurking in what is normally a safe environment.

So far I’ve written a rough draft. I try to write drama fast and in a relaxed and even slightly distracted state, with loud music playing, for instance. Often I will lie down and scribble long hand on an A-four booklet, sometimes one I have already used. I’ll squeeze the writing into the margin. All this helps drown out the voice telling me ‘You are now writing and it’s not very good.’ And if it’s not going well, I can still enjoy Joni, Miles, Dylan, Zeppelin or the Stones.

CR: It sounds like you like to get a first draft done quickly. Do you spend much time (whether for a play or a novel) planning, structuring or researching before you start writing?

PS: The novel is set in Ireland in WW2. It’s about an encounter between a Nazi agent and an adventurous Dublin jazz band. Though I love jazz, I can’t play an instrument or really understand musical terms, and I’m no historian. So I’ve had to do a lot of research. With a bursary from Wicklow Arts Office, I went to Berlin for a week and visited places I thought might be useful. I talked to Ronan Guilfoyle the jazz bassist and he recommended a book that was really useful in getting to grips with the technicalities of advanced 1940s jazz. Then I read loads of history about Ireland at the time and Europe in general. I also got in touch with some specialists who helped me with various other matters that crop up in the story. So yes, for the novel: lots of research.

My plays are pure invention, so zero research. After the rapid first draft, I work on it for a while, then I might show it to a director and perhaps have it workshopped.

Recently, in a departure from my usual practice, I’ve been researching the short life of my great-uncle Herbert Conroy who fought in GPO in 1916 and was subsequently attached to assassination squads. It was pretty eye-opening, even shocking to discover—fairly recently—just what he had been involved in. So I’m exploring his life for what may be documentary theatre, or a form which combines that with fiction. Or I might turn it into a book.

CR: Many scriptwriters feel that there aren’t enough opportunities here to make a living. Are there any particular aspects of writing that you find difficult, whether that be from a practical, craft or earning a living point of view?

PS: Well, earning what a sane person would call a living would be great!…I’ve just about survived through thrift (our car recently reached its 21st birthday), the exhausting business of applying here and there for funds, and luck. But I have moved towards movies in the last couple of years. I sold the screen rights for my play Temptress last year and am currently working with an Irish director on a series aimed at Netflix (as is everyone else). Artists need to be supported with a minimum guaranteed income. Look how hungrily our citizens have turned to culture in the present crisis. Our leaders should stop regarding art as a luxury like cake – it’s bread.

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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.

Scriptorium: Maura McHugh

27th May 2020 by admin

Picture by Maura McHugh

Maura McHugh lives in South Galway, and writes across media, including short fiction, comic books, novellas, plays, and screenplays. Her recent collection is The Boughs Withered (When I Told Them My Dreams), and the novella Psyche, which is set in the 2000 AD comic book universe.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are you working on at the moment and has your work been affected by Covid-19?

Maura McHugh: Currently I’m working on several prose projects and video game dialogue, which were contracted prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, and I’ve another comic book script to write soon. Later I’ve a screenplay to write.

Like most people my life has been spun around by the new regulations regarding COVID-19. In relation to work: all the festivals, conferences, and engagements I had lined up were cancelled. Since much of my social interactions with fellow writers happens at these events it was a series of sad blows. Yet, now I’m seeing festivals moving to virtual platforms. One of my cancelled gigs was a panel discussion at Cymera, Scotland’s Festival of Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, which has now become a public Zoom event. I also participated in a virtual ‘Poets’ Breakfast’ for the Kinvara Arts Festival, Fleadh na gCuach a couple of weeks back.

Despite all the disruptions, including having to care for elderly parents who are cocooning, my work has been continuing, although I had quite a dip in creativity for a period as we adjusted to the new regime. I’m working from home alongside my husband now which brings its own set of challenges! But I’m grateful for all my advantages, in particular that I have high-speed fibre broadband at home – we couldn’t manage without it.

CR: The added stress is something everyone could relate to I imagine, but are writers better prepared to deal with this kind of crisis as they are generally used to dealing with uncertainty and in a practical sense, working from home?

MM: Definitely understanding how to work from home as a freelancer helps, and we are more used to long spells of introverted work. Yet that also means our social outlets are vital. We’re all trying to find new ways to connect with colleagues, friends and family now, and that’s leading to interesting developments. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of being a writer during this crisis is having a well-developed imagination!

CR: Tell me about your radio play and the challenges involved in writing it compared to say, the video games or comic books you’ve written?

MM: The radio play started life as a two-act science fiction rom-com drama I wrote called The Love of Small Appliances, which was selected to be part of Waking the Feminists West New Play Reading at the Galway Theatre Festival. That process had been super useful, as my work was read by several dramaturges, and I sat in on the cast rehearsal of the play with the director. Witnessing it produced live with audience feedback was invaluable. I had the idea in my mind that it could make a good radio play, and when I saw a call for work for the NearFM audio drama series I sent the script, and was delighted it was accepted.

One of the things I enjoy doing is figuring out the core strengths and unique qualities of each medium I work in. With radio it’s all about the characters and their individual voices in a very pure sense. It’s eyes-closed drama, so the characters have to be vibrant and real immediately, and ideally it requires excellent voice acting. It’s also a medium that allows for the exploration of ideas and deep introspection. Lisa Tierney-Keogh was the script adviser and she gave me some useful pointers, and the producer, Paul Loughran, was supportive. Director Nicola Murphy was helpful, conscientious, and worked really well with the cast, who brought a wonderful humanity to the characters, including the non-human ones! Then you need good sound engineering and post-production, and Gavin Byrne worked tech magic.

The reason I’m going to pains to describe everyone involved is that a great team elevates every script. All the media I work in – even prose – requires a supportive team. Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t pull together as well as you’d like. The more I write the more I’m grateful to everyone who collaborates with me to create the best possible story experience for the audience.

CR: Are there any particular themes, issues or character types that interest you?

MM: I think a lot about identity, how we form it, what is integral to us, and how that is challenged or transformed depending on circumstances. I pay attention to technology and the innovative ways we integrate it into our lives. I consider future uses and what that may mean to us as a species. I tend to write horror, science fiction or fantasy so most of these cultural and individual concerns, fears or joys are expressed through those genres.

CR: The screenplay you’re going to write – what can you tell me about it?

MM: It’s a science fiction psychological thriller with the working title of Ardent, which is set in the future when the Earth is on the verge of environmental collapse. We may be capable of escaping the planet, but can humanity escape the dark obsessions that have led us to disaster? I’m indebted to Galway County Council for giving me an award under the Artist Support Scheme 2020 to help me write the script. I conceived the story some years ago with Greg Day, and Canadian writer/director Danishka Esterhazy (Level 16, The Banana Splits Movie) is now attached as director.

CR: Why do you write?

MM: I’m constantly imagining new worlds, peculiar people and strange situations, so writing is a great way to experiment with the scenarios and exorcise them from my brain!

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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.