Archive for the ‘Scriptorium’ Category

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 on 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: Oonagh Kearney

28th April 2020 by admin

Oonagh Kearney is a writer and director from Cork. She is currently working on two feature films and a TV series.
For more info, please visit: www.tyrellapictures.com

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.

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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 on 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: Michael West

15th April 2020 by admin

Picture by Mathias Fend

Work with The Corn Exchange includes The Fall of the Second Republic, Dublin By Lamplight, Freefall and Man of Valour. Teaches scriptwriting at Queen’s University Belfast.

Clíona Ruiséil: What are your thoughts or feelings about this crisis – has it affected your work and how you view the world?

Michael West: It’s a bit like having an opinion about an asteroid. And hard to comprehend while it’s still going on around us.

Obviously I’ve never had a show closed down by the government before. And to see the next 6 months’ work for myself and colleagues torn up overnight is also deeply strange — quite apart from the question of lost income, it’s the loss of purpose and focus that will prove challenging in the long run.

On the one hand, working in the arts is to be part of a cycle of death and rebirth, project to project. And yet if the theatres can’t open, or audiences refuse to come, what then?

I work from home anyway, so on a daily basis, the same basic distractions and table are still there. I’ve taught a couple of classes online and it was ok.

As I’m typing this the sun is shining and the air is warm and fragrant. The birds are making a ferocious racket in the morning. The quiet is luxurious.

It’s unexpected to find spending so much time with my family so pleasurable — and we are all grateful that we aren’t sick or working in the health services, and count ourselves fortunate every day. People are being kind and thoughtful. I imagine long phone calls are general all over Ireland.

CR: Tell me about your most recent play, The Fall of the Second Republic?

MW: The title and premise of the show — an embattled Taoiseach forming a grand coalition with the other civil war party to hang onto power and crush his rivals — came to me about 10 years ago. We pitched it to the Abbey around the time we were presenting Freefall there in the great snow of December 2010.

The city pretty much shut down around us, and the actors and audiences had to walk to the theatre, where the Abbey handed out hot port to welcome them. It was also the week the IMF came to town. It was one of the most joyful and depressing experiences of my life. Anyway, Freefall is about a dying man seeing his life flash before him. It’s funny and sad and lyrical, dealing with the collapse of a marriage, and looked at the shadow cast by children lost to institutions and the possibility of kindness.

And The Fall of the Second Republic was to be a correction to all of that — a furious, foul-mouthed ensemble comedy to catch the sense of anger at the politicians of the time, but also to provoke laughter. The Abbey passed.

When the current directors of the Abbey asked us back to present Dublin By Lamplight in 2017 I pitched it again as a follow-up, wondering what the grandchildren of those characters would have made of Ireland in the 70s.

By that stage, given the elections in the UK and the USA, the descent into madness and populism made the idea more relevant. The decision to set it in the 70s was a response to the impossibility of keeping up with topical satire. A fictional 1973 offered a simpler time, where politicians were still scared of the truth because they still believed it existed. And I was becoming more intrigued by how Irish politics in that fraught time steered carefully away from demagoguery and proto-fascism in the pursuit of economic stability. Civil liberties, women and children were thrown under the bus, but the political centre was carefully held.

The Abbey commissioned the play and offered a co-production with The Corn Exchange to present it. I wrote a sprawling first draft over the following year and we held a workshop in the summer of 2018. That draft focussed mainly on the internal politics of Manny Spillane and his entourage in Leinster House. The role of the journalist, who became Emer Hackett, was very underdeveloped. Annie Ryan felt that the idea of Manny Spillane’s fall from grace being triggered by a journalist in the years of Watergate made more sense now and that the play needed an outside, female perspective to set off the political shenanigans.

We were originally supposed to present the show in late 2019, but funding struggles between the Abbey and the Arts Council led to a postponement of the show to 2020. The Corn Exchange also had its funding cut to zero, so we were in the strange situation of presenting a posthumous play. We held another workshop with the cast in early December. And we started rehearsals with a fabulous ensemble on January 13. Andrew Bennett who played the lead in Freefall took the part of Manny Spillane. Anna Healy (with whom I first worked in the Abbey with Andrew in The Marriage of Figaro in 1996) was to play his personal assistant. Caitríona Ennis was the fearless journalist, Emer Hackett. John Doran was her lover, Finbar Lowe.

The other roles were played by Declan Conlon, Pa Ryan, Niamh McCann, Eddie Murphy and Camille Lucy Ross — frequently running off and coming back on in different wigs and outfits. Comedy is a gruelling game but I loved every second of rehearsals, rewrites and all.

CR: Arthur Miller said that writers should ‘ask questions’. Do writers have a duty to tackle political, moral or existential questions, or what could be considered other important issues?

MW: To talk of a writer’s duty is itself a political, moral and existential framing of what writing is. Duty implies obligation and service. It is both onerous and honourable. It confers authority and importance on the writer — before they’ve even written anything.

For myself, I’m wary of anything that makes writing into something heroic. But equally I can’t imagine why you’d want to write if you weren’t addressing something you felt was important. And that includes writing for pure entertainment.

Providing answers is rarely satisfying, but asking good questions is another way of imagining yourself into another’s situation.

“What if?” is the premise behind all drama.

@m_r_west

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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 on 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: LINDSAY J SEDGWICK

26th March 2020 by admin

An award-winning screenwriter working in film, TV and games, Lindsay created the ground-breaking animation series PUNKY and published Ireland’s first comprehensive guide to screenwriting, WRITE THAT SCRIPT in 2018. www.lindsayjsedgwick.com

Clíona Ruiséil: How are you managing during this crisis?

Lindsay J Sedgwick: It’s very strange. Although I mostly write on my own, I do like taking scenes or sequences or chapters to coffee shops for a change of scene and having the hum of people around me! I’m trying to see it as an opportunity to get less distracted and focus on pushing a few projects through.

CR: What are you working on at the moment?

LS: A couple of projects. One is the script for an information video, another is helping a director develop an idea into a treatment, but I’m also adapting my first novel DAD’S RED DRESS into a ten x 30 min TV series for Lunar Pictures. It’s the first of a trilogy so the series will have legs.

I also have a couple of books at different stages, including the second of a series (WULFIE) that will be launched at the end of the year by Little Island. It is based on an animation series that was optioned but never got made.

CR: Tell me about DAD’S RED DRESS – what inspired you to write the novel and how did the adaptation come about?

LS: When I was about 13, (the age Jessie is in the book and the series) the son of my father’s boss transitioned. I was aware of snippets of conversations I wasn’t meant to hear and there was one double spread I remember seeing in an evening paper. It was whipped away but not before I’d read enough to intrigue me. This was the 80s, it wasn’t that progressive a time but I can clearly remember that, despite what I was hearing, I knew transitioning was not a choice. It’s something you have to do and it’s difficult on so many levels, for everyone involved. But what really fascinated me about the whole story was that she stayed with her wife and young children. I wondered how those children coped.

So that was the germ of it.

The adaptation came about because the daughter of the producer, (Niamh Holmes), read the book and loved it. Niamh and I had been trying to find a project on which to work together for years and it just hadn’t happened. At the time the book came out, we were both busy but when I sent her daughter a proof of the sequel to read, she asked me if I was interested in developing it with her. We sat down and it was clear she wanted what I wanted from the adaptation and it has proven to be a great, positive experience.

CR: In practical terms, how did you approach the adaptation? What steps did you take to get to a first draft of the script?

LS: Because the book already existed, the overall structure of the narrative was there; the central characters’ arcs were clear. I sat down and listed what I remembered were the main events, rather than rely on the prose narrative. I needed to see what were the key events that moved the central story along, to make sure the momentum would work on screen.
I did this for each of the characters, so I could make sure that all the stories developed.

Once I’d pulled these points into episode outlines, I fleshed them out, dipping in and out of the book. Initially it was going to be a six-parter, then eight and we finally settled on ten.

We sat down and went through the outlines line by line, with Niamh feeding back regarding the development of the story, whether some characters needed to be brought out more than in the book etc. I love constructive feedback. It pushes you to be creative and sometimes that’s all you need – to know that something isn’t strong enough or that there’s a jump in the timeline (emotional or physical) and you brainstorm and find something far stronger.

To make sure each episode moves the story on, I did a logline highlighting what would happen in each episode.

I was writing the first script in tandem with this process. The first script flowed out; pure joy. She was there, waiting to be brought to life! We changed certain things. It’s contemporary, while the book is set in 2008; it’s in Galway, not Dublin; they come from Canada not LA. And it opens quite differently. I had certain scenes and beats I needed to hit. I find it’s easier to have a rough script to rewrite than to agonise over decisions mid-script.

Jessie’s voice is very strong, so we decided to use voiceover. I haven’t used that in a script since 1998! It was only when I had the first script that we could read it through and work out what we wanted the voiceover to achieve. That’s the thing with developing a series, you need to establish the ‘dead body paradigm’, the rules that will hold throughout the series. When and why and how voiceover would be used. That episodes would go from home to school but end up home again, possibly in Jessie’s room. That all central characters will have stories in each episode. That it has to keep the heart-warming, funny and truthful tone of the original book.

Dad’s Red Dress is easier than other projects because I know the characters so well. The difficulty with that is that I assume other people know them that well too and that’s where Niamh comes in!

CR: What advice could you give other writers in terms of how to handle the business (contract, money, etc.) aspects of their work?

On contracts, on fee, look for an ‘or % of the above the line budget, whichever is the highest’ clause and turnaround. From script meetings, email the points you agreed back to the producer so there is no ambiguity re what they’ve asked you or you’ve agreed to do.

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Scriptorium means ‘a place for writing’. If you’d like to take part simply email: info@script.ie