Posts Tagged ‘Scriptorium’

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.

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.