I am absolutely delighted to be a recipient of a Stowe Story Lab | Screen Ireland Screenwriting Fellowship, attending the Connemara Writer’s Retreat at Renvyle House. Five full days of mentoring, peer-to-peer feedback, access to informative panels with industry professionals, writing exercises and an unquantifiable amount of inspiration, encouragement and constructive feedback. Grateful and inspired to move forward with my work. Thanks also to the Galway Film Fleadh and Northern Ireland Screen for their support of the Lab.
Tag Archives: Irish Women in Film
FRAMED: Festival Screenings: September
I’m delighted to share that my short film, FRAMED will screen at the following festivals in September:
Underground Cinema Film Festival: Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin
Short Programme 7: Sunday, September 2nd at 1:00pm. LINK HERE
SPOOK SCREEN Film Festival: Clonakilty, County Cork
Irish Shorts Programme: Saturday, September 8th. LINK HERE
Disappear Here Film Festival: Ballyliffin, County Donegal
28th – 30th September, 2018. Link HERE
I am a writer and filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. Author of the novels LADY BETH which won the award for BEST NOVEL at the Carousel Aware Prize and ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE, I have recently written and directed FRAMED, a short horror film. I have also written several feature-length and short screenplays including ADAM  and the multi-award winner, IN RIBBONS .
Women in Irish Film: Short Film Programme at MFFA
I was delighted to be asked to curate a short film programme for Maynooth Film for All [MFFA], a joint partnership between Kildare Library & Arts Service and the School of English, Theatre and Media Studies in Maynooth University. The film club is also affiliated with access>CINEMA.
Hosted by the University and generally held in the IONTAS Building on the first Tuesday of every month, the short film programme ran from October 2015 to April 2016. Each of the films I selected screened before the main feature. All were well received and attendance figures were consistently good.
I decided to theme the programme around Women in Irish Film, mainly to raise awareness and to showcase some of the fantastic talent that is out there, but also to take an opportunity to screen a wide variety of different themes and styles of filmmaking. I received far more films than I could actually screen, which is a pity as there are so many talented writers/directors out there. I’ve included links to the filmmakers and their works below for further reference.
Vanessa Gildea: The Abandoning
Creates the memory of a house where past and present are not separate places
Hannah Quinn: My Bonnie
Two people at sea, trapped between a rock and a hard place, must face the distance
Aoife Kelleher: Home
A film about how our lives are shaped by the homes in which we grow up
Helen Flanagan: Drive
An unhappy mother struggles to connect with her infant daughter
Lydia Ford, Olivia Flanagan, Gemma Stack: Parallel
A coming-of-age drama follows a schoolboy as his day unfolds and he transforms from his typical popular persona to his true self
Eimear O’Grady: The Climb
For most people Kilimanjaro is their Mount Everest. The reason for climbing is personal
Audrey O’Reilly: Wait
When an important pigeon race and a rare visit home by his son Martin coincide, Charlie waits anxiously for a safe journey home
I wish all of the talented women featured here, and indeed, all of those I couldn’t include in the final selection, the very best of everything with their future projects, and let’s all keep striving for that level playing field in the film industry!
Women in Film : Cinewoman Cahiers Interview
Delighted to be featured alongside IN RIBBONS director Marie Valerie Jeantelot in this lovely interview for Cinewoman Cahiers
Irish Women in Film Series: Lindsay Jane Sedgwick
A former journalist, Lindsay Jane Sedgwick is a versatile and imaginative award-winning screenwriter with over six hours of credits for TV and film work. Her first original series, PUNKY, was launched on RTE in May 2011 to national and international acclaim. It has been sold in eight international territories and a second series is in production. She is currently in development with Monster Entertainment on a new original series, WULFIE. Previous to this, Lindsay has had drama and children’s material broadcast on TV for RTE, a romantic comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and four short films produced, most recently BARZAKH in February 2013. A feature, KRISTINA, filmed in the Philippines, won a Best Film award at Swansea on Sea International Film Festival. A pilot script for a new television series was recently read in New York and Dublin and Lindsay has also written numerous award-winning stage plays, with three productions lined up for 2013.
Lindsay is a screenwriting tutor, script consultant and reader for independent producers, a graduate of Moonstone, 2002 and a scholar at New York University ‘Gregory Peck Scriptwriting Course’, Dublin, graduating with AA distinction, 1993. She has an MA Screenwriting from Leeds Metropolitan University in 1999 and a BA in Communication Studies from Dublin City University. Prior to this, as a freelance journalist she wrote for a vast range of newspapers and magazines in Ireland, Australia, the US, the UK and Europe.
Welcome to the series, Lindsay! First off, tell us how and why you got started in the business?
I always wanted to write. There was nothing else I wanted to do. I worked as a freelance journalist for a decade because that was a way to make a living from writing. I loved that career, but I was writing stage plays and books on the side. I got into screenwriting through an open call for the RTE’s Fair City writers in 1990 and used that gig to get work on a children’s programme, Scratch Saturday. The following year I did storylines for Fair City; the summer after, I rewrote the Series Bible. In 1994, I made the decision to try ‘creative writing’ fulltime, saved enough to survive for 18 months on casual jobs and dived in. I wrote two new stage plays that won awards, one of which was staged a second time in the Focus. But I knew it was impossible to earn a living through theatre so I turned my focus to screenwriting.
So at this stage, you opted for formal training with your writing?
Stage plays, self taught. I was brought by my mother to all the lunch time plays in the Abbey from when I was about six.
In Screenwriting, RTE had given us a weekend on three-act structure to ‘win’ the writing gig in Fair City but on that weekend, I heard about an MA in Screenwriting in Leeds. I applied for that in 1996. Ironically, I was already teaching screenwriting in UCD – a night class for 50 students – but I loved the idea of diving in with both feet. It was life-changing. By the time I returned two years later, I’d a short film made, I’d signed with an agent and my first feature had been optioned – a hammer horror piece for Chris Wicking (To The Devil A Daughter, Scream and Scream Again etc) – but I also had a huge pile of scripts and treatments ready to take on the world!
In animation, I started writing scripts and storylines and creating series after a course run by Screen Training Ireland in 2003. It was based over a number of weekends and we emerged with great knowledge and with a tried and tested sample script.
And what, or whom, have been your seminal influences?
My mother in terms of encouraging my love of writing and theatre. A teacher is fifth and sixth class called Mrs O’Brien who really, really encouraged and seemed to love the stories and poems I wrote. Theatre of the Absurd. Pinter, Mamet. Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads. Bambi.
Who are your current favourites / influences?
I have pretty eclectic taste but offhand, I love and envy Enda Walsh’s work. I loved Grabbers, The Wire, Moone Boy, The Returned and Up. Actually most anything by Pixar before they went to Disney. I saw the documentary Coming Home at the Galway Fleadh this year, and it was pretty powerful!
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene, Lindsay?
Writers do not get enough recognition financially or in terms of creative input.
And the highlight of your career so far?
In theatre, a stage production by Still Players in Cork Arts Theatre in 1996 or 97 of my play Fur Doesn’t Hurt. It was perfectly cast, brilliantly directed and when it ended, there were ten seconds of silence before this amazing standing ovation – and the electricity within the audience in the lobby afterwards was breath-taking. In film/ TV, the highlight is just around the corner!
In TV, the impact PUNKY had in Ireland and around the world was humbling.
Do you have an ultimate goal?
To be successful as a writer, to write amazing stuff that stays amazing when it’s put on the screen or stage, and to be recognised financially and in terms of creative input. So, simply, to write phenomenal pieces of work and create characters that last the test of time, that draw in audiences again and again and that actors love performing.
Fun question – fantasy dinner party guests? Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.
George Clooney, Alan Bennett. Pete Doctor (Pixar), Granuaille, Anne Boleyn’s sister, Mary, and my maternal grandfather, John Crouchen.
Thanks, Lindsay, and finally, any other comments?
I’ve probably said too much already, but writers (especially those of us who are not directors, yet) do need to get greater recognition financially and in terms of their contribution to film and television. This is a major frustration and increasingly dispiriting. We also need to learn how to protect and exploit the Intellectual Properties that we create.
Irish Women in Film: Eleanor McSherry
Eleanor McSherry is currently the mid-west correspondent for Film Ireland Magazine online content and is a producer and scriptwriter with Sidhe Film and Theatre. She also teaches a six-week short script course, script-doctor workshops, a play-writing course at the Limerick Writers Centre and gives guest lectures at Limerick Institute of Technology on Radio Advertising Scripts.
Eleanor has been shortlisted for the Galway Film Centre / RTE’s Short Script Award (in 2009 and in 2010) For Filmbase / RTE’s Short Script Award in 2010 and for the Waterford Film Festival’s Short Script Award 2012. She worked as co-producer on the short films Skew-whiff and Stamp, with Sidhe Film and was production assistant on the short film Captured with Fresh Film Festival’s Hothouse film. She did PR for Concy Ryan’s RTE’s 2011 Storyland entry, The Outlaw.
Eleanor works on the committee for the PRO for LIT Film Festival 2012 and is the International Short Films co-ordinator for the Fresh Film Festival. She also works at PR for Dóchas: Hope for People with Autism, the Mid West Special Needs Parents Association and co-ordinates the World Autism Day campaign in Limerick.
Great bio, Eleanor, and welcome to the series! Let’s begin by telling us how and why you got started in the film business.
As a child I used to watch all the 1950’s musicals and films on RTE on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon. I love film and wanted to write my own. At night, I used to tell my sister, when we were very young, the plots of sequels of my favourite films.
At this stage my script-writing is not full-time, as I am finishing my masters is philosophy. I didn’t go straight into college after school. I went out and worked. I got married and had three kids. So I didn’t start writing until later. When I hit thirty I went back to college and got my degree. The first short script I entered into a competition for funding got me shortlisted with the Galway Film Centre. I haven’t looked back since.
So, in terms of your script-writing skills, are you self-taught?
I have a couple of script courses under my belt and I have a 2nd class honours in Media and Communications and Philosophy. It didn’t incentivise me to write…I think no matter what qualifications you have, if you haven’t got talent, how it looks won’t make a jot of difference.
What and/or whom have been your seminal influences?
My seminal influences have been Martin Scorsese, Richard Harris, Ken Loach and Maureen O’Hara. All are independent thinkers and go-getters who are not afraid to make the films that they want. They also all have made me feel something when I either watch their films or see them act. This is talent pure and simple.
Living or dead, name six people you would love to have as guests around your fantasy dinner table.
All of the above four people, Steven Spielberg and Michel Foucault (Philosopher).
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
I think it is very vibrant and full of talent. It is still very much who you know, not what you know and that is a great pity. Funding is hard to come by and even then when you get it, there are too much strings attached. This is why a lot of our talent is leaving and going elsewhere.
And the highlight of your career so far?
My highlight so far is getting my first script shortlisted, ‘twas cool. I’m not finished yet and there will be plenty more to come!
So have you decided what your ultimate goal is yet?
Just to make films that evoke emotion in my audience. I love when you come out of a good film or watch one on TV and you feel fantastic or sad or disturbed or like you can take on the world. I want to do that! I want people to come out of my films and be moved.
Any advice to offer newbies coming into the business?
Don’t worry about money, just make films. Then hopefully if you’re any good the money will come later! Be realistic about what you can do. No one gets that Hollywood blockbuster first go. And remember when writing a short film, that shorts win Oscars!
Irish Women in Film Series: Mary Duffin
Mary Duffin achieved first class honours in her Master’s in Screenwriting from IADT and received the 2009 National Film School/ Irish Playwright’s & Screenwriter’s Guild Award for Screenwriting. She worked as company manager of Crooked House Theatre Company for seven years, and currently, her work includes drama facilitation, stage and event management, theatre directing, acting and writing. She is in development with Fantastic Films on her feature thesis screenplay with Aisling Walsh (Song for a Raggy Boy) on board to direct. Her script received funding from both the Irish Film Board and Media Europe. She was also a Storyland 3 finalist and was shortlisted by the Filmbase/ TG4 Lasair Irish language shorts scheme. Her main interests lie in the nature and application of Story in all its forms.
Mary, begin by telling us how and why you got started in the business?
I was blown away by film from the first time I went to the cinema as a young child. I saw Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs. I didn’t have a clue what it was, how it was made or how I could be part of it, but I was hooked from that very first moment and I still am, although my tastes are a little different today. I loved everything about it, the acting, directing, costumes, lighting, the emotional investment and of course the stories. There were no film schools or even courses when I left school and even if there were I wasn’t aware that it could have been a choice for me. Through years of cinema going, movie watching on TV, copying videos all the way to DVD’s, and streaming, I felt that standards were slipping in movie making and finally gave up going to cinema altogether as I was sick of being disappointed and having to pay for the privilege. I decided (in my head) that I could do better and that’s when I decided to take a screenwriting course. I had over the years become an actor, director, drama teacher and facilitator and I had no idea when I started writing that all of that experience was invaluable to any screenwriter. So from my first VEC funded weekend course with the wonderful Michael Kinirons (to whom I owe a lot) in 2004 up to completing the MA in Screenwriting in 2009, I finally got started when Brendan McCarthy & John McDonnell of Fantastic Films approached me to option my thesis screenplay. The icing on the cake was definitely when I received the National Film School/ Irish Playwright’s & Screenwriter’s Guild Award for Screenwriting. That was the first time I felt like a screenwriter and not just a wannabe.
Apart from the MA, I took every screenwriting class I could, attended every seminar, conference and social gathering in order to immerse myself in that world so I could understand it and hopefully carve out a niche for me. I’m not an avid fiction reader but I have a collection of books about screenwriting, drama, film and the industry which I relish the way some relish Fifty Shades of Grey. I think I most enjoyed listening to Oscar and award-winning writers speak about how they did what they did. That to me was always the source of the most practical & helpful information and wildly inspiring too.
What have been your seminal influences?
I can honestly say I have taken something from every film I have ever watched, the good and the bad, one learns so much from the bad ones, but I always did adore hard-hitting dramas. Back when Oscars were actually given to the best films, I judged them on whether or not I wished I had written them, The Deer Hunter, Kramer Vs Kramer, Terms Of Endearment, Ordinary People, and of course One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to name but a few. Once I discovered Coppola & Scorsese, a love for truth on-screen was born. I was blown away by the bravery of not shying away from violence and not-so-nice characters. Pulp Fiction was a religious experience as I knew it was a game-changer in the writing world at least and I am an avid Tarantino fan to this day. Oddly, I have a thing for the big scale musicals of yesteryear, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly will always be my dance partners in the movie in my head. Grease made me realise that you could tell Romeo & Juliet in any way you liked, that blew my mind. The good vs bad themes of all the great old westerns generated in me a love for the, sometimes too simplistic, good guy, bad guy stories. And finally…or I could go on all day… Film Noir was the sexiest, most exciting and dangerous thing I had ever come across in my young teenage life and I suspect it’s that influence that helped forge in my mind images of strong independent women, something that I had felt missing in cinema and in my life experience. I think that’s changing still.
Who are your current favourites / influences?
Carrie Khouri’s Thelma & Louise changed my view of what were turning out to be the chick flicks. It was, she said, inspired by anger and frustration at the blatant sexism she & many other women experienced almost daily. That she could take that feeling and turn it into such an amazing screenplay inspired me to write my first real screenplay. Ideas are born from the oddest places. Diablo Cody’s Juno reminded me of the different world we live in as teenagers and how film can be a window into that world. I’ve watched a lot of European cinema in the past few years and I prefer their no-holds-barred adult approach, so unlike the saccharin WASP propaganda-driven drivel that passes for mainstream American cinema.
So, you’re having a fantasy dinner party! Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.
Oooh, my favourite question! I’ll have to invite seven though as I wouldn’t like an odd number for dinner.
Albert Einstein – For many reasons but mainly so I can hear the theory of relativity from the horse’s mouth!
Oprah Winfrey – She has spoken to so many amazing people over the years it’d be like inviting them all!
Leonardo Da Vinci – So he can explain all the drawings we haven’t managed to decipher yet and tell me why the Mona Lisa looks so smug.
Harper Lee – Just for writing To Kill A Mocking bird
Adolf Hitler – I think we’d all like to have a word with him.
Marie Curie – If she could thrive in her then man’s field in the then man’s world I’d like to have a chat about her experiences.
Mary Phelps Jacobs – So I can slap her for inventing the bra!
I’d cook Scallops on Clonakilty Black Pudding with a Poached Egg; Whole Spit Roast Pig with all the trimmings and Key Lime Pie. I wouldn’t give Hitler any dessert.
What’s your opinion of the current Irish film scene, Mary?
Hmmm, well it changed drastically this year. I happen to think that Terry McMahon’s Charlie Casanova is one of the best Irish films I’ve seen and to see that the industry didn’t recognise that properly was painful. I think we need to get rid of the quaintness and tourist board advertisement view of our country that seems to pervade our film industry. I think we need to show the world more than just inner city drug dealers and country bumpkins, there’s a lot more to the Irish than that. I have yet to see me, my life, that of my family and friends or acquaintances on-screen in an Irish film. Charlie Casanova came close to addressing some of this but it’s not enough. I know there are great scripts out there and many brilliant short films and features being made by disillusioned yet impassioned filmmakers, but frankly, they need more help and support than they currently receive. I am aware of the lack of funding and that times are tough but I feel that what is being funded doesn’t reflect the true picture of the variety, creativity and talent that I have read, seen and am privileged to know.
Highlight of your career so far?
Definitely my first meeting with my producers John & Brendan and our director Aisling Walsh. Sitting talking about my script and the story, hearing how Aisling saw it and how they all wanted to make it was a pretty good feeling.
And your ultimate goal?
As cocky as it sounds I really do intend to get an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Do you have any advice to offer Newbies coming into the business?
Read lots and lots of screenplays; watch lots of films both good and bad; write short scripts using each one to work on a different element as a learning tool; talk to other writers; join the guild; FINISH your screenplay; get people whose opinion you trust to read it; don’t take it personally; writing IS rewriting just as acting IS reacting; know your genre; don’t write what you wouldn’t go see (and pay for!) and always remember what the great Goldman said ‘Nobody knows anything’.
Thanks, Mary! Any final comments?
Despite what I think of the current Irish film scene, I am aware that it is young yet and like all young things, lessons need to be learned in order to flourish and grow. I suspect the Irish film industry will choose to be a hard-way learner as most teenagers are wont to be. I just hope I’m still around for the glory days that are yet to come. Keep the faith!
Irish Women in Film: Sarah Daly
Sarah Daly is a scriptwriter from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford currently working with New Age Film in Scotland. Two of Sarah’s feature films are in the latter stages of post-production; dystopian thriller White Out and a supernatural drama which will be announced later in the year. In the past two years, her work has been performed by Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum. Sarah is best known for being the writer of the Morgan M. Morgansen short films which featured at Sundance and South By Southwest in 2010.
Hi Sarah. Let’s start off by telling us how and why you got started in the business?
I’ve always loved to write but didn’t consider writing as a career until I discovered scriptwriting while studying Media Arts at DIT. I completed my degree and worked various office jobs for a few years, all the while writing away in my spare time and sending my work out to whoever would read it. Slowly, I started to gain traction. I had a few short films produced in the US and bagged a freelance job as a script reader for Samson Films in Dublin. My biggest breaks came in 2010 when Scottish director Lawrie Brewster from New Age Film took an interest in my work and made an investment in me as a writer. That same year I’d also started submitting work to a website called HitRECord, run by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He came across a piece of writing of mine and produced it into a short film which eventually ended up at Sundance, and its sequel at South By Southwest. I’ve worked with him and HitRECord on several projects since.
Did you have any formal instruction (film school etc) or are you self-taught?
I studied Media Arts at DIT which was basically a bit of everything – TV, film, radio, documentary, but the only part that I really enjoyed was the writing, so I did a lot of my own study on the art and craft of screenwriting – read a lot of scripts and all the screenwriting books I could get my hands on as well as just writing a lot until I found my voice, and understood better what works and what doesn’t.
Where did your seminal influences come from?
I have to start with my family who are all very creative and were always supportive of my childhood artistic endeavours from drawing maps of imaginary lands to belting out compositions on my toy piano. As regards other writers, a lot of my writing is quite poetical and often absurd so writers like Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce have been a big inspiration. I love writers who play with language and I adore fantasy, fairytale and science fiction so, basically, any artist who creates alternate universes is okay by me! I adore artists/people who go against the grain, who ask questions with their work and who stick their necks out creatively. My good friend Lexy Hulme, an actress and dancer who starred in the Morgan M. Morgansen films is a constant inspiration as well.
And your current influences?
I take inspiration from everywhere and anywhere – the news, science, sociology, history, folklore. Film-wise I always enjoy the work of Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, Ken Russell and more recently Miranda July. I love filmmakers who can create whole new worlds on-screen and I have a particular soft spot for irreverent trailblazers. In literary terms I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction lately as research for a new script and have been inspired by the work of Philip K. Dick and Walter Tevis – I’m going through a serious dystopia phase at the moment!
Let’s say you’re having a fantasy dinner party. Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around that dinner table!
Bill Hicks, Kate Bush, Noam Chomsky, Oscar Wilde, Frida Kahlo and Shakespeare. I’d just listen though – I’d be far too intimidated to join in!
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
I’ve been away from Ireland for the past three years, and practically all of my work has come from abroad for whatever reason, but, still it seems to me that Ireland is doing exceptionally well. We certainly punch above our weight for such a small country. The animation scene in particular is thriving and I think we should be very proud of the volume and quality of our output. Still, I think it’s vital that the supports in place are safeguarded so that the industry can continue to grow. It’s a tough business and these are tough times but hopefully the powers that be continue to recognise the crucial role of the arts in our economy and cultural landscape. Especially as I’d love to work more with Irish producers and directors in future!
Can you tell us what has been the highlight of your career so far?
Probably seeing Gary Oldman perform my poem The Man with a Turnip for a Head at the HitRECord Fall Formal event in LA last year. That was pretty surreal! At the same show, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway also performed a song I’d written. Definitely a night to remember. But, there’s also nothing like seeing your words brought to life on set. Shooting our latest feature was an incredible experience – that’s what makes writing for film so rewarding.
What would you consider to be your ultimate goal, right now?
I just want to carry on doing what I love for a living, to make art that I’m proud of and that others enjoy (or are affected by)! Anything else is a bonus.
Do you have any advice to offer Newbies?
This is advice I hated receiving as a shy, retiring writer, but, it really is all about networking. Putting your work and yourself out there is absolutely the most important thing you can do. All it takes is one crucial connection for your career to take off, so make sure you put yourself in front of as many people as you can. There’s nothing like doing it in person, but the internet is also a valuable tool. Yes, it’s oversaturated but if your work is genuinely good, and if you’re persistent enough, then you will get notice and you will get work. Also, learn as much as you can about all aspects of the industry, not just writing. If you can think like a producer in terms of budget, genre and marketability when it comes to your scripts, then you stand a much better chance of getting produced.
Thanks, Sarah! And finally, any comments you would like to add?
I also make music, for film and otherwise under the name Metaphorest. I contributed to the soundtrack of my first feature White Out and have also written songs for webs series and short films. I released my debut album Metaphorest: Volume 1 last year. You can listen at http://metaphorest.bandcamp.com and get all the latest news on my writing and music at www.facebook.com/metaphorest
Morgan M. Morgansen films:
Trailer for the feature film White Out:
Irish Women in Film Series: Shannon Moncrief
Shannon Moncrief is an American / Irish independent film maker based in Dublin. She established the film company Pandora Pictures and wrote, directed and produced the short film, “The Legend”, which is currently on the international film festival circuit and has been selected to screen at the 2012 Underground Film Festival, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, happening from the 13th-16th September. Her credits include directing the musical event “TrócaireLive” and “Basso Continuo”. She also shot and directed a music video for Meteor’s Best Band Awardees Future Kings of Spain. She is currently in pre-production on a feature documentary about the Dublin Underground music scene over the past three decades called, “Kingdom of the Conscience” as well as in pre-production on a music video.
Hello Shannon! Can you start by telling us how and why you got started in the business?
I came into the business from the writing side. I was working on a novel based on experiences I’d had working in conflict zones out of college and shared my draft manuscript with my brother who’s a cinematographer in LA. He thought the story would make a good film and asked if I’d considered turning it into a screenplay. I didn’t know how to write scripts at the time, but the very next day a pamphlet arrived in the post offering free screenwriting classes with Michael Kinirons at the local library! I was hooked and over time enrolled in a series of courses, including a workshop in London with Syd Field and a Pro-Series Screenwriting Intensive with Hollywood Producer, Hal Croasmun. One of my short film scripts was so tangible to me that I couldn’t imagine handing it to someone else to make. So, I set up a film company, drafted a story board, gathered a crew, produced and directed the film myself.
Did you have any formal instruction, like film school etc, or are you self-taught?
I studied film at the University of Paris so I built my foundation of directing from the French auteur New Wave model. In addition to the screenwriting classes, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to acquire film making skills from courses supported by Irish arts funding. Through Filmbase, I took a directing class with Vinny Murphy and learned camera and lighting from Michael Lavelle, who recently won the World Cinematography Award at Sundance. I’ve also attended workshops at Screen Training Ireland on ‘How to Make Your First Feature’ with Graham Cantwell and Masterclasses with David Simon, the creator, producer and writer of “The Wire” and Mark Romanek, the award-winning music video director. I’m continually studying, learning and growing as a film maker.
What and/or whom have been your seminal influences?
My mom was a tremendous influence on introducing me to film and nurturing that passion. When I was about four-years old, I remember her waking me up one night to see a movie on TV that she explained was by a brilliant Swedish Director named Ingmar Bergman and really wanted me to see. As I sleepily watched “Wild Strawberries” in my nightgown, I can remember being riveted by the story imagery and subtle tension on-screen. That night had a profound effect on me and sparked a magical love for film within. Growing up, my mom would take me and my brother to the movies regularly and not just to the kids films either, but to foreign films, documentaries and adult themed even. My mom was an English teacher and encouraged us to talk about the films we saw and analyse the plot, characters and symbolism to better understand the story. I think by her introducing me to film at an early age as something to be comprehended visually and cogently, it enabled me to naturally combine the screenwriting with the directing. I still enjoy discussing a film after I’ve seen it and consider it a part of the entire movie going experience.
Who are your current favourite and/or influential people?
I continue to be enamoured by the French New Wave directors, most notably Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and screenwriter Marguerite Duras. To me, their films still exude a freshness. I also love the stimulating vision of Asian Directors Akira Kurosawa, Wong Kar Wai and Ang Lee. My favourite directors of the moment that stand out above all others are Sophia Coppola and Spike Jonze. They make great music videos as well as features. I like the screenwriting styles of Charles Kaufman and Alan Ball and would be honoured to work with Cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
Fantasy dinner party guests: Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.
David Bowie because he’s fascinating and ground breaking; Jesus for the insight; Albert Einstein who could offer a different perspective to the conversation; Andy Warhol who would turn the party into a happening; Francois Truffaut for the stories; and Anais Nin for the poetic input and to get us all dancing.
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
When considering the state of the Irish film scene, I think you first need to check the pulse of the Irish Film Industry. I see the two as inextricably linked. The reality as we know it is that we’ve faced an overall economic downturn and budget cuts were made across all sectors, including the Irish Film Board. Although, even with the coffers down by 14.9% for 2012, we should stay heartened that they still have a pot of funds available to support film making schemes and training. What has changed is that the IFB is going to have to become more focused on return for investment and we Irish film makers are going to need to adopt this approach as well. Film can be an expression of art, but the bottom line is it’s a business. There’s an old Hollywood expression that ‘film is time and money’ and I think the Irish film scene is now facing the truth of this idiom. The funding is there, but the competition is stronger. Current films proposed for funding are going to need to be made with a view towards distribution and profit, not just telling a nice story.
The Film scene itself seems to have recently gone through an identity crisis, but on the surface appears to be prospering with Irish film makers recently taking top awards at A-list international film festivals Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, and Toronto and nominated for five Academy Awards. In this time of slashed budget cuts, continued support of the industry confirms that it’s an integral part of Ireland’s job and tourism creation with 20% of all tourists identifying television and film images as their reason for visiting.
I’d like to see Film Producers filling in the financial gaps by identifying complementary and additional sources of support apart from the Irish film industry. Kickstarter is an example of alternative ways of raising film funds. It’s great that the film industry provides assistance in releasing films into local theatres and I hope this continues to grow. Irish films can generate ticket sales at the box office locally and internationally as proven by the recent successes of “The Guard” and “His and Hers”. I would also like to see national cinemas getting more behind Irish film making and running Irish shorts before their feature presentations.
Can you pinpoint the highlight of your career so far?
Interviewing Vedran Smailovic, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” and filming his absorbing performance. It was so inspiring to talk with him about his past iconic gesture against war when he played his cello publicly outside in the rubble while the city of Sarajevo was under siege. When I asked him if he ever went back to Sarajevo, he replied, “I don’t go back, I go forward!” You can’t help but be changed after a conversation with someone like him. To me, getting his moving story out to others is part of what the beauty and purpose of film is about.
What would you say is your ultimate goal?
To win the pinnacle of achievement in this profession – the Oscar – twice. One for Best Director and one for Best Screenplay. They would make nice book ends.
Do you have any advice to offer ‘newbies’ coming into the business?
If someone is interested in film making, my advice is to get active. Start crewing on films, any films. In the beginning, I first crewed on a documentary and music video and even ended up making a cameo appearance in it! The aim is to gain experience. There are constantly people looking for crew members. Film Ireland’s notice board is one place where jobs are posted. Once on set, do the best job you can. Be reliable, thorough, professional and learn the ropes. If more education is needed, there are some great programmes sponsored by Filmbase, Screen Training Ireland, local Arts Councils and libraries. If someone wants to write for film, then start writing. Attend film events, get to know the film scene and your craft. If someone wants to make their own film, funding schemes are still available, but it’s no longer a perquisite. Filmbase rents equipment at a fair price and video cameras aren’t that expensive to purchase. I’ve even seen an amazing film shot entirely from an iphone video camera app. Making a film today doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. You can download software to make your own edits and upload the films electronically to submit to film festivals all over the world. In this modern age of technology the film industry is a much more open field.
Thanks, Shannon, any final comments you would like to add?
Joseph Conrad once said that to be happy in life you should find your bliss and follow it. Don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing your passion whatever it is. If it’s film making, then start making films. If it’s writing, then write!
You can check out Shannon’s website at www.shannonmoncrief.com
Her facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/?ref=hp#!/pages/Shannon-Moncrief/436681913039167
Irish Women in Film Series: Vittoria Colonna
Vittoria Colonna is an Irish/Italian filmmaker. She studied fine art in Rome’s L’Accademia di Belle Arti, trained as an actor in The Gaiety school of Acting, Dublin and Opera singing in Tuscany. Her visual flair and energy gave Vittoria the opportunity to direct several music videos for, among others, Julie Feeney, Dirty Epics, Preachers Son and The Coronas; winning her the Best-Styled Music Video at the Irish Music Television Awards (IMTV) in 2009, Best Music Video at The Los Angeles Film & Script Festival 2012, Golden Ace Award Winner at The Las Vegas Film Festival 2012 and a Golden Palm Award at The Mexico International Film Festival in San Diego 2012. Most impressively has been the touring success of her feature documentary, Identities, and My Identity which was awarded The Irish Council of Civil Liberties (ICCL) Human Rights Film Award. The performance art pieces from the film were selected as part of the Worldwide Italian Pavilion & 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2011. Vittoria is also a member of the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland (SDGI).
Welcome Vittoria! Tell us how and why did you get started in the business?
My journey began with a drive to find out: Why am I here? Who I was and what did I want to achieve from life and when would I have the answers, if ever? Creativity and expression were my strongest tools growing up. I was good at many artistic endeavours but found it hard to master one expertise and so I became a Jacqueline of all trades, so to speak! I painted, sculpted, acted, even trained in Bel Canto, but then found myself falling in love with film. Here I could multitask through the most powerful medium known. The painter in me loved the solitude, the music helped me escape and my inner actor craved for love and catharsis… moving images and stories helped me marry all these desires into directing, writing and producing.
What has been your educational journey in film? Formal or self-taught?
Film is not a pure art form, it’s a mish-mash of creatives, business and so many points of views. You learn to follow your instinct and inner voice. I am mostly self-taught. I had learnt that some teachers should ‘do’ and not teach. I suppose I wanted to make my own path in film and didn’t want to be told how to think and work. Past experiences taught me this lesson. I always had hope that when I was ready the right teacher would come along. Unfortunately I never found him or her, BUT I did discover other filmmakers like myself and formed friendships and joined groups. Film is about relationships and I watched and learnt from others successes and mistakes. I’m still always learning something new from every project.
And your seminal influences?
I have always been influenced by outsiders, survivors, art, artists and story tellers. Even you the reader fascinate me! If you have something to say and with conviction I will listen. I want to connect, to feel excited about a subject and sometimes that can manifest in the strangest places. Of course I have been greatly influenced by amazing directors such as Fellini, Bertolucci, Kubrick, Godard etc… as well as YouTube links by the passionate amateurs. I think I’m constantly switched on to the muse, you never know when she will strike?! Never stop seeking…
So who are your current favourites / influences?
Well this week… Hmmm….I just finished a music video so I have to mention these guys: Romain Gavras (M.I.A -Born Free, Bad Girls) and Vincent Haycock (Calvin Harris– Jump) for their great work! Also I can’t get enough of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu films….hugely inspiring!!
Imagine that you are having a fantasy dinner party. Living or dead, name six people you would love to have as guests around your table.
Only six?! That is tough! Ok an intimate dinner so let’s have the girls over: Actress, Bette Davis could cook. Painter Tamara de Lempicka could serve the guests. My great Grandmother Andrea Torrigiani seated on my right. The artist Frida Kahlo on my left and I would be face to face with the 16th century poet and my ancestor, Vittoria Colonna!
What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?
Ireland produces some very high quality indie films, and I love that for such a small country, we really push production values. Our stories are strong in identity but I would love to see more international stories come through here, expanding beyond our cultural cocoon. I want to be surprised and I’m always excited to see bolder, braver choices being made and that includes roles for women. More alternative female characters and stories please!
Can you tell us what has been the highlight of your career so far?
The latest project is always the highlight but I guess I may be known more for some of my music videos and the feature documentary ‘Identities’ which focuses on five transgender stories. I have just finished two projects this month; a music video for The Coronas ‘Dreaming Again’ and a short film for TG4/Filmbase ‘4 Queens’ that will be airing in September.
To tell stories that speak to others and myself… Ultimately I want to direct feature films, moving documentaries and internationally high-end music videos.
Thanks, Vittoria. Any final comments you would like to add?
I have recently been questioning the role of women within the film industry. In Cannes this year there was an uproar to the gender imbalance that no female directors were in competition. I’m sure the films were chosen on their merit of which, all directors/creators happened to be men, but in a shocking manifesto entitled “The Cannes Film Festival 2012: a Man is a Man is a Man!,” La Barbe facetiously congratulated the festival’s president Gilles Jacob and the rest of its jurors for failing to include a single female-directed film among its 22 nominees for the 2012 Palme d’Or. The letter was published in the French newspaper Le Monde, “never let the girls think they can someday have the presumptuousness of making movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming.”
Now however ridiculous this sounds, this argument does raise questions: Do some of us ladies still feel hindered to become directors? If so, is it because we halt careers due to family restraints? Maybe because we think the director’s job is still predominately a man’s role? Or do we feel limited to a stereotype role of only producing ‘sensitive or ‘empathic’ stories, hindering our creative voices? (Kathryn Bigelow certainly breaks this cliché!) I don’t have the answers but I have my opinions, for sure. I know breaking into this industry is no easy task and takes contacts, time and sacrifice, regardless of your gender, but at least the results are worthwhile!
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.