Caroline Farrell Interview
Continuing our Featured Artist series, IFM caught up Irish writer Caroline Farrell.
IFM: First off Caroline, tell us a bit about yourself.
Born and bred in Dublin, but live inside my head! Constant scribbler, life-long learner, day and night dreamer!
IFM: How did you first get into writing, and how did that lead you into screenwriting?
From the age of learning to put pen to paper and making sense out of words, I have always written in some form or another. I hated school. Inside my head, I was little Wednesday Addams! I was out of there by my own volition, at 15, but that conversation is for another day! However, the one thing I did enjoy about primary school was that every Friday for homework, we would have to write an essay, and every Monday morning, I would have my work done. Wish I had kept them all! I entered my first writing competition at 19, and was placed runner-up for my synopsis of a novel – I never did write that book though! I was always a quiet kid, but for as long as I can remember, I was curious about people and situations I witnessed; a spectator. I would make up stories in my head, or embellish on real life events, and I often saw life in a serious of frames, scenes I suppose, playing them over in my head after the fact. About fifteen years ago, I sent the first three chapters of an early attempt at a novel to the legendary agent, Darley Anderson, and he replied personally to say that he liked my writing, but that it was rather ‘episodic’. At the time, I didn’t get that he was actually offering a helpful insight! I didn’t have any experience of screenwriting though until 2005, when I sat in on a Screenwriting course. As soon as the tutor broke down the format of the first script we read, The Crying Game, I was hooked. Though I had a long way to go in terms of learning about structure, it all made perfect sense! For me, it is all about Story: we story our own lives as we breathe each day, and we story the lives of others, real or imagined, through empathy, curiosity, imagination, analysis and connection. Each and every one of us is living the three-act structure…
IFM: Take us briefly through your process of writing a screenplay, including how many drafts do you go through, and when you know the work is ready to hand over.
I generally have a story percolating in my head for a long time before I write the first draft. Sometimes it can take a year or so before I’m ready to hammer it out onto the blank page. After that, it varies. I have scripts that I know will take me several drafts before I am comfortable enough with them to hand them over to anyone. With others, it is easy to let the first draft go out to the world, and I’ll happily receive whatever feedback is thrown at it. I try to write something every day.
IFM: What are some of the challenges you face when writing, and do you draw from any personal experiences?
My challenges would be the same for most writers, I think. Time is a huge issue for me. I work fulltime, and I have family and friends that, while understanding my need for solitary confinement, still like, for whatever reason, to have me around!
Do I draw from personal experiences? Hell, yes. And don’t believe any writer who tells you that they don’t! In one form or another, the essence of a writer is in their work. Sometimes obvious, mostly not, but however subtle, it is always there. It is what gives a writer his or her voice, and it is what makes them different from everyone else.
IFM: You’ve won a number of awards for your work. How does it feel to have your talent recognised?
Fantastic! It’s a wonderful affirmation when my work is recognised to a level of winning an award, and it really spurs me on to do more, to do better, and to raise the bar on my own expectations.
IFM: What are some of your favourite scripts and books that inspire you?
My favourite scripts are too many to mention, but a snapshot would be The Others by Alejandro Amenábar, Biutiful by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Red Road, by Andrea Arnold, The Secret in Their Eyes, by Eduardo Sacheri Juan José Campanella, and Angel Heart, written by Alan Parker. I’m also a big fan the Robert Riskin/Frank Capra collaborations…simply wonderful!
I used to be a sucker for the gothic novels, particularly as a teenager; Bronte, Stoker, Poe, etc. At that age, I would also devour Agatha Christie novels. I think she may well have been my first inspiration to write. Later, I discovered Anne Rice, Susan Hill and Alice Hoffman, as well as John Connolly, Joseph O’Connor, Patrick McCabe and Neil Jordan. My love of books in turn inspired my future career path, to be a librarian, though it took me a long time to get there [see previous comment on leaving school early!] At the moment, I am reading Audrey Niffenegger.
IFM: What advice would you offer to any screenwriters in the making?
Watch films, read scripts, learn format and just do it! Do it often! Make sure your present your work as good as it can be. Look for feedback and learn to take rewrites in your stride. Join a writer’s group. If you can’t find one, start one up yourself. And when you feel you have reached a standard that is good enough to compete, submit your work to producers, awards and funding opportunities, and enter competitions.
IFM: Tell us what you have planned for this year and what else are you working on?
My short script, ADAM, directed by Denise Pattison, which we have co-produced, is currently in post-production, and another, IN RIBBONS, is now in development, to be directed by Marie-Valerie Jeantelot. I am collaborating with director Vittoria Colonna on a feature screenplay, and am also doing my best to finish a novel. I have three more completed screenplays currently doing the rounds, and another with a director in the US, Ozzy Villazon. I am very lucky to be working with some very cool and inspiring people, so although I would say that my year so far has been pretty hectic …long may it last! I also blog regularly, and am at present featuring Irish women in film, which, I have to say has been a joy to do, and very inspiring.