Recently I’ve connected via LinkedIn with a number of people involved in Irish filmmaking. Reading their profiles and looking at some of their work prompted me to want to do a series of interviews on filmmaking in Ireland. With the long-established Irish tradition of creating story in print and the stage, I wondered if filmmaking there is carrying on the torch. So here goes. We’ll find out together. Enjoy!
I spoke (by email) with Irish indie writer/director Frank Kelly. This will be a two-part interview: part one now, talking about his own filmmaking; part two soon, discussing the state of filmmaking in Ireland. Kelly has achieved recognition for his films Derelict (2012) and 140 (2009). Since this blog is all about story, naturally I wanted to know what influences his ability to create story.
“I think it’s environment,” Kelly says. “Where I am physically, mentally, emotionally at a given time. With 140 I was spending a lot of time online, getting into social media, watching how it was changing, looking at Facebook and Twitter and forming friendships with people I didn’t know, might never really know. So an idea for making a film in that environment came along.”
The idea for Kelly’s film: 140 people in 140 locations around the world, all at the same moment, shot 140 seconds of film each. Kelly then edited it together.
“Derelict came out of anger and frustration – with my own situation, with the recession and what was happening in the country to people around me, the corruption and feeling of despair. It was my answer to that. My way of dealing with it. That film is set in a dark room full of tension and fear, and honestly, that’s what I was feeling for a couple of years.”
Kelly describes Derelict, his first feature film, as a dark crime thriller about a group of men who kidnap a bank manager and his family, and hold them hostage in a derelict building while robbing a bank. It should be a simple job, but as the night wears on things become very complicated.
“Something else that inspires me,” says Kelly, “is good storytelling. When I see a great movie, read a good book or hear a story about someone’s life, I am inspired to do good work myself. It reminds me why I do this, to tell good stories that connect, entertain and move people.
“Often when you’re in the bubble of trying to get a film made, which is 90% not about the story, but about schedules and funding and a bunch of other boring stuff, you forget about that. It’s good to be reminded.”
The Writing Process
Kelly has elsewhere described his own writing process: long months thinking, talking, making notes, storing ideas; then a “blast draft;” then rewrites. I asked him if germinating an idea in this way works effectively with all of his projects.
“Most of them, yes. I sit in coffee shops, or grab an hour after the kids are gone to bed, and fill notebooks, for months. I’ll work on story ideas, I’ll develop characters, I’ll test scenes, I’ll have conversations with myself on the page, ‘What if I tried this?’ ‘What if these two characters were one, how would that work?’ and go on and on like this until I feel it’s there. I leave enough room to discover new ideas in the first draft. Really I’m working out the world and the people.
“The blast draft, as I call it, the one I write in a week, just gets it out in order, and is also the first time I’ll put dialogue in. It’s always a terrible draft, but it’s important and it’s usually fun to do… until I read over it again and cringe at the terrible dialogue!”
Building the Story
“But for me,” says Kelly, “it’s important to build the world and the story and the characters first. I know some writers prefer not to do that, but to plan and prepare and get to know the world and the people really helps me understand it.”
“I think it’s why I find it hard to direct other people’s work. As a writer/director I build everything from the ground up, so I feel complete ownership of it and like I’m the one who understands it best, so I can answer all questions that come. When I’ve tried to work on other people’s scripts I’ve definitely felt that connection missing, so I haven’t gone on to direct them.”
When Kelly turns his efforts to writing novels, his process changes. “Strange thing though, I don’t work this way with novels. I’ve written two unpublished novels. Just for fun really. But when I start a story that I know will be in novel form, rather than screenplay form, I won’t plan at all, I won’t even take notes. I’ll just sit and start to write.
“I know what kind of story I want to tell. I’ll have had the general idea that has inspired me to start, but nothing else. I sit, write, and figure it out as I go, discover it. It’s completely unique to this form. I don’t know why that is, but I find it immensely liberating and loads of fun.
“Often after a tough shoot I toy with the idea of just sticking to writing and trying to become a novelist! But after a while I start to get excited about shooting again and a new plan emerges.”
Continuing the Storytelling Tradition
Irish filmmaking will carry forward the country’s tradition of storytelling in print and on the stage. “What Irish film does,” says Kelly, “is focus a lot more on character, performance, conversation, people over plot. We’re a nation of talkers, storytellers. We have the ‘gift of the gab’ as they say, and it comes across in our films. There’s a poetry to it. You will often find Irish film heavily laden with bad language, but again, it’s not vulgar, it’s not gratuitous, it’s lyrical, it bounces, it’s poetry. It’s who we are and I think Irish film is all about who we are.”
Part Two of Frank Kelly’s interview will follow shortly: “I definitely think that Ireland is in the middle of a new wave.”
Frank Kelly’s blog.
Interview with Frank Kelly in IrishFilmmakers.com