An interview which first appeared in Filmmakers Lifestyle…creating story, the magic of storytelling:
My Creating Story sessions with Irish filmmakers continue with screenwriter Caroline Farrell. Farrell has written award-winning feature and short films, as well as short stories. Her film In Ribbons is now in post-production.
Farrell writes her own blog, which includes a series of conversations with Irish women filmmakers. I was interested in knowing if she sees any emerging or ongoing trends.
“What I notice mostly from connecting with these women,” says Farrell, “is that most of them are creating their own art. By that, I mean they are not waiting for funding opportunities, or for the green light from producers, directors, whatever. I think the male/female ratio of successful screenwriters in Ireland is mirrored internationally, but I am optimistic that it is changing. The wave of independent productions, much like the ebook revolution, is altering the goal posts, and the previously stifling role of the gatekeepers. That can only be a good thing.”
Create Your Best Work
Farrell knows a number of talented male writers who aren’t getting the breaks either. “My take on it? Forget about gender disparities, just get yourself out there, find like-minded people with talent, and create the best work that you can. If it’s good, it will be recognized, eventually!”
It’s commonplace for writers in Ireland to move comfortably between the screen and the stage. I asked Farrell how that might impact a person’s writing and storytelling ability. “I haven’t written for the theatre,” says Farrell, “though I know many writers who move quite freely between stage and screen. I would imagine that it can only have a positive impact. Exploring story from every angle makes the telling of it more imaginative and exciting.
“Film is more about action and subtext, while theatre is generally dialogue-centered and physically expressive, but it all has to stem from good story. That is where the real ability and talent lies for any writer. How to express it (play, film, novel) is, I believe, a choice that comes instinctively.”
In her blog, Farrell offers up her top ten tenets for writing. Here’s one: “There are only so many books, courses and master classes you can read/attend. Learn from the best of them and move on. Get down to the actual storytelling.” Easier said than done, I’m thinking. How does she suggest a writer get down to the actual storytelling?
“Here’s the thing,” she stresses. “There is a difference between want and need. Wanting to write is not enough. I need to write, and therefore, I find a way. I struggle from time to time. Life gets in the way and knocks me back now and again. I get foggy brain sometimes, and I question my ability, but the need remains, and so I get back to it, always.
“We live in story anyway,” she says, “so if you are awake to your own personal myth, you should be able to absorb story in everything around you. Inspiration comes from living your life. I can brew a story in the back of my brain for anything up to a year before I write it down. I love the brewing bit, but sometimes, the writing of it scares me. Writing is hard, but necessary.”
The Tradition of Myth and Legend
I asked Farrell if there might be a unique sensibility in Irish film. “I reckon so,” she says. “As a nation, we are steeped in the tradition of myth and legend, not to mention the scars of war, revolution and resilience. An amazingly rich heritage of language and literature are embedded into our culture, as is the oral tradition of storytelling.
“Ireland has changed a lot in the past ten years or so – for better and for worse – a convergence of everything that has gone before, and film reflects that. So I think, even unconsciously, that rich tapestry emerges through the work and shows us as we are.”
The Independent Wave in Ireland
Farrell talked about the current filmmaking environment in Ireland. “We have some amazing filmmakers: Juanita Wilson (As If I’m Not There); Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did); Carmel Winters (Snap) – to name but a few. I mentioned the Independent wave earlier,” she says. “That is where I see the most noteworthy change, with some excellent filmmakers emerging through the work.
“Not all are flawless, but where is the truth in perfection? The last couple of years have seen films like Charlie Casanova, written and directed by Terry McMahon; and Pilgrim Hill, written and directed by Gerard Barrett. I mention those two because, while they couldn’t be more different, they both represent a slice of Irish life and were made on shoestring budgets by men with talent, a story to tell and sheer determination.
“Those films, and more like them, generate debate and, certainly with the former, controversy. No bad thing, to my mind. And the upside of it is that both films have proved to be spring-boards for their creators towards more mainstream support and funding for future productions.”
The Struggle for Film Profits
Farrell says that the Irish Film Board is the main source of funding for the majority of Irish films that go into development. Profitability is a real concern for Irish-made films. “Many struggle to get a distribution deal, and even when they do, it can be difficult to compete with the international productions, and a fickle cinema-going public!” She says some of the films made are excellent, but are rarely seen.
“In Ireland, we are fortunate to have the national Irish Film Board (IFB), which is publicly funded, to support new talent and indigenous film. There have been quite a few changes to the structure and personnel within the board in the last year or so, and there is a general air of positivity abounding. Time will tell,” she says. “Screen Training Ireland, functioning in the area of training and development within the industry, has recently been amalgamated into the IFB, a result of our economic downturn – but, the potential is there for sharing resources in a cost-effective and productive manner, and hopefully, emerging writers, directors and producers will continue to benefit from that.”
Reflecting Irish Life
We wrapped up the interview with a few comments on whether or not Irish film was reflective of Irish life. “Yes, of course,” Farrell says, “though it’s not all about depictions of happy drunks, gangsters, junkies and navel-gazers looking out over soggy fields. I think, as filmmakers, we could do a lot more to reflect more of it. Life as we know it. Forgotten social history, politics, women’s rights, immigration, emigration, the fallout from the ‘Troika’ (The tripartite committee led by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that coordinated financial assistance to the governments of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus), and the economic drain on our resources – all human-interest from micro to macro level, and all fodder for meaningful, and particularly, in the case of politics, comedic storytelling.
“And speaking of comedy, Irish people are innately funny, steeped in wit and irony, and yet, we don’t seem to be able to master the art of comedy in film. Or perhaps, we just can’t laugh at ourselves from the viewer’s point of view? Now, I need to go and reflect on that last thought!”