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 CoronasDreaming Again’ and a short film for TG4/Filmbase ‘4 Queens’ that will be airing in September.

Ultimate goal?

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.

Irish Women in Film Series: Lisa McNamee

Lisa McNamee is a Dublin based film and theatre producer. She is currently Head of Production for Planet Korda Pictures, a production company which specializes in broadcast documentaries. Her current projects are See You at the Pictures! a documentary on cinema-going in Ireland for RTÉ and No Party for Billy Burns, a beautiful fiction feature about fantasy, loneliness and cowboys… She is also developing a new play about Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka to be staged in 2013 in cooperation with Fire & Ice Theatre Company and graphic artist Stephen Kane.

Lisa, tell us how and why did you get started in the business? 

I’ve always loved being able to lose myself in a great story. To me that’s one of the best things about working as a producer. When you find a script that’s really wonderful, that completely draws you into its world, that’s a brilliant feeling. That’s what attracted me to film in the first place. That and the ridiculousness of it. When you are working incredibly hard to bring fictional worlds, characters and relationships to life, it often feels as though what you’re doing is very strange. Before I started working in film, I watched loads of behind-the-scenes videos of complex set builds and fictional worlds and fell in love with that process. It’s that fantasist element of film that’s always appealed to me.

I started in film the same way most people do, working for free on friends’ projects, building up a portfolio of films and gradually moving on to better financed projects.

Did you have any formal instruction, or are you self-taught?

I did a semester in the New York Film Academy, but my primary degree is unrelated to film (Classical Civilization & French). Other than that it’s just been on the job, and lots of research.

What and/or whom have been your seminal influences?

I grew up on westerns, sci-fi and period drama and I’ve never fallen out of love with those genres. The one bone I would pick with the Irish industry is that there is rarely the budget available to really take a risk in these kind of genres. I think that’s a shame.

Who are your current favourites / influences?

I loved Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. It was so beautiful. Weirdly, I’ve never seen any of his other films so I think it’ll be a few weeks of trawling through his back catalogue of delicious oddities.

I’m really looking forward to watching Lauren Greenfield’s doc The Queen of Versailles about the collapse of the artificially mega rich in the U.S.and I was just given the animated film Max & Mary on DVD (after many dropped hints) so will be hoping for another favourite animation there.

Fantasy dinner party guests? Living or dead, name six people you would love to have around your dinner table.

Erika Hníková – Czech director of an amazing (and funny) documentary film called ‘The Match-Making Mayor‘ about the attempts of a mayor in a rural town to get the townsfolk to marry and have children. He has a megaphone. It’s brilliant.

Richard Pryor (Comedian)

Bill Bailey (Comedian)

Shaapi Khorsandi (Comedian)

Sarah Millican (Comedian)

Four comedians at dinner = constant one-up-manship

My boyfriend (We live together and I’m sure he’d be quite pissed off if I told him I was inviting a bunch of really entertaining people over and he wasn’t invited!)

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I’m just back from the Fleadh (Galway Film Festival) and I’m so delighted to see so many wonderful Irish films on the festival circuit at the moment. I think that the quality and variety of films on offer from Irish production companies at the moment has never been higher. As I said before, I’d love to see Irish crews working on types of films that we don’t really get to make here. Although, with Vikings and Game of Thrones shooting here at the moment, as well as Ripper Street and similar programmes, hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we start attracting period/fantasy film projects on the same budget scale as in other countries.

Can you pick out the highlight of your career so far?

I can’t pick one highlight I’m afraid. I get two really great days that I always remember on every film. The first time that I sit down with a director to discuss the project and the film’s first screening. They’re both usually really memorable. That first meeting is where every mad idea and possibility for the project is thrown on the table, realistic or not, and forms the basis of months of schemes and planning. The first screening is always such stress, and such relief. It’s always a blur, but the excitement of the experience stays with you. Those are my two highlights of each project…unless there is a big set build, in which case the highlights expand to include seeing first drawings and final stages of the build itself.

What is your ultimate career goal?

My ultimate goal…Hmm…at the moment I have two. Firstly, to get a great distributor for No Party for Billy Burns and secondly, to get a personal project I’ve been developing made next year.

Thanks, Lisa. Final comments? 

If you’ve got a cinema-going story you’d like to share, get in touch at www.seeyouatthepictures.com. If you watched John Wayne and co. as a kid and thought ‘Awesome!’, check out www.facebook.com/billyburnsmovie for some real cowboys.

Irish Women in Film Series: Rita-Marie Lawlor

Rita-Marie Lawlor is an independent filmmaker from Dublin. She set up her independent film company RML Films in 2005 and made several TV pilots, short films and features, including A Scare, Less Ordinary and Remember Me? Rita-Marie’s documentary, Gloves and Glory, is currently in production, and focuses on female boxing in Ireland. She is also prepping a new feature script while getting ready to take on a Masters Degree in screenwriting at IADT in Dun Laoghaire this coming October.

First question, Rita-Marie, how and why did you get started in the business? 

I wanted to be involved with film since childhood. I began writing at 11 years old in 1989 and by the time I was a teenager I was sending my works off to production companies. It was later in life (24) when I went to film school for two years and it was a great move. I learned a lot more on how to format scripts and break them down for directing scenes and how to work with actors too. Pretty much for most of my life it has been my desire, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

Which film school did you attend? 

I studied full-time in Colaiste Dhulaigh and graduated with a B TEC HND in film production. I was awarded a distinction in directing and producing along with a Best Film Award.

Seminal influences?

I’m a big fan of Shane Meadows, Martin Scorsese and Jim Sheridan. I love the way Mike Leigh develops his ideas with the actors.  In TV writing it would be Jimmy McGovern, Kay Mellor, John Sullivan and Amy Jenkins.

If you were to imagine a fantasy dinner party,  name six people, living or dead, that you would love to have around your dinner table.

Jimi Hendrix for the guitar, Janis Joplin for the singing – followed by a chat over a whiskey. Martin Scorsese, Samuel Beckett, Emma Restall Orr and Daniel Day-Lewis. A diverse bunch with lots of stories – would definitely be an inspiration for a great film script!

What is your opinion of the current Irish film scene?

I am happy to see that there are lots of independent filmmakers in Ireland who are out there making films regardless if they are getting proper funding or not. Years ago it was more difficult, filmmakers really needed a lot of money, but now you can hire great equipment or invest in it and make films. I would like to see more Irish drama though, a lot of films lately are a bit the same to be honest. Lots of zombie films, gangster/action films and others in that genre – not that there is anything wrong with making those type of films but personally I love a great story with lots of reversals and clever writing with brilliant actors. There’s nothing like watching a good old-fashioned quality drama unfold, something that you’d still be talking about months after you’ve seen it and to be inspired by it. I think Charlie Casanova is the only Irish film within the last few years that has had an impact, nothing like it was ever made before – certainly not in Ireland anyway. I think filmmakers need to tap into this style of filmmaking more, be daring but be clever about it too.  I think certain Irish film festivals should be more supportive of the unfunded films, some of them seem to only screen films that are Film Board/Filmbase funded which doesn’t seem fair. I know of a few really great films that didn’t get into the Galway Fleadh this year, which is a shame.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?  

Having the privilege of working with great actors. Having my films screened at festivals is always a highlight for me and having them screened on TV too.  I’ve had one of my films screened on English, Australian and New Zealand TV channels, so I’m hoping the same will happen for my other ones.

And your ultimate goal?

To keep making films and to make my singular voice heard rather than doing it for the money. Plain and simple really, just to be successful in what I do and for people to like what I write and what I create. I wouldn’t mind a cinema release for one of my films in the future – now that would be pretty nice!

What advice would you offer to Newbies?

To remember why you wanted to be a filmmaker in the first place. Be original and be inspired – but don’t copy.  Make your own creative voice heard, regardless of what everyone else thinks. Stick to your own ideas and write what you know, embrace good actors when directing and watch what unfolds – it will be more rewarding than a big cheque.  Watch over rushes as soon as you can get them, rather than waiting until the film’s wrapped – learn to spot disasters before they happen and don’t leave everything to be fixed in the edit – fix it on set and have a good AD!  Treat the cast and crew with respect, especially if there is no money involved.  Make sure there’s plenty of food and taxi/train fare, and treat them well.  You have to remember that they are working long hard hours and giving up their time for YOUR film – so always remember that, and of course give them a copy of the finished piece.

Thanks, Rita-Marie! Any final comments you would like to add?

It’s tough going, long days and long nights. But you have to enjoy it and when you see your idea going from talking about it – to script – to shooting – to editing – and then to a cinema screen – nothing can explain how special and rewarding that feels.

You can check out Rita-Marie’s Facebook Page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RML-Films/147668425244609

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/