Irish Women in Film Series: Eilis Mernagh

The first lady to be featured in this series is prolific screenwriter and producer, Eilis Mernagh. Eilis is the writer and co-producer of TIGER [2012], a short thriller directed by Cathal Nally.  She also produced the short film, PRODIGAL SON [2010], written and directed by Colin Scuffins. Her short film, REGARDS TO THE CHEF [2009], directed by Kian and Ewen Pettit, was featured in the Darklight feature production, Hotel Darklight. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, a feature script, has been optioned to a TV Production Company in the U.S, and Eilis was also an Altantis Award recipient at the Moondance Film Festival, 2011.

So Eilis, how and why did you get started in the business? 

I’ve always written stuff but for some reason never screenplays. Then I did this two-day course with Laurence Henson at the IFI (Irish Film Institute) back in 2007 and got completely hooked. It’s been a happy obsession/major hobby-turned new career ever since.

Did you have any formal instruction (film school etc) or are you self-taught?

Self-taught – I read other screenplays, go to seminars and talks and try and write as much as possible.

What have been your seminal influences?

Loads of things – I grew up spending a lot of time with my mom’s parents and my granddad was obsessed with Westerns and old gangster movies, so I must have seen hundreds of them. His favourite comedian was Bob Hope and my script The Heartstoppers was really a modern-day, (less racist!) version of Hope’s comedy The Ghostbreakers. Then my aunt who used to have to babysit me would take a load of kids to Eighties films like E.T., The Goonies, Short Circuit, etc. etc. I’ve probably watched two films a week since I was a kid. I’m a film whore – I find I learn as much from watching bad movies as I do from the good ones. I like a good story, well told, with great characters in most genres but I prefer comedies, adventure films and thrillers.

Who are your current favourites / influences?

I like the fact that female comedy is really getting somewhere – finally. I hope we look back on Bridesmaids and see it as the start of a new wave of comedy rather than the high point of a phase. Joss Whedon is a genius – would give my right arm to work with him – as is J.J. Abrams. After seeing Winter’s Bone, I’d love to work with Debra Granik.

Okay, so you’re having a fantasy dinner party!  Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around that fantasy dinner table?

Jack Lemmon (to see if he was as awesome in person), Kathryn Bigelow (another lady I’d love to write a script for), Joe Ezsterhas (for the crazy), Maureen O’Hara (for the Hollywood stories ), Garson Kanin (even more Hollywood gossip) and Ian Fleming (for the spy stories).

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I think it’s unfortunate that there is no money. Not that there ever has been any, but I think what’s badly needed are some real huckster producers, people who can raise money somehow, by whatever means, so we can make some bloody films. I’m thinking of someone like Lloyd Kaufman or Roger Corman, real characters who make things happen. The producers we have tend to be nice, well-meaning middle-class people who have two ways of raising money: the Film Board and European co-productions. What about thinking a bit more creatively on this? Once the money’s there, we need to ask ourselves the question: what do people want to watch? Not “how am I going to show the depths of despair of the Irish psyche”, but what do people want to see on Saturday night at the cinema? And once we’ve all been honest about this (let’s face it, the answer is, they want entertaining films that have great stories and compelling characters), we need to write those scripts. If it’s a question of budget limitations, look at Attack the Block. Great film, great characters, very little money spent.

Highlight of your career so far?

Winning a screenplay award at the 2011 Moondance Film Award.

What would be your ultimate career goal?

Winning an Oscar – I want one of those little gold men for the mantelpiece.

Thanks Eilis…any final comment you would like to add?

Yes – there’s loads of talent out there, everyone just needs to believe in themselves, ignore the staggering amount of negativity, and keep truckin’…

You can check in with Eilis through her blog: http://dublintohollywood.com/

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