to; owner of RKO Pictures - Ted Hartley; Bill Immerman (former head of 20 th Century Fox and producer of 2004’s ‘Sahara’ and ‘Ray’); Del Reisman (President of the Writers Guild of America and writer of Rawhide, Twilight Zone & The Untouchables); Irvin Kershner (director Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back); “Hollywood’s toughest agent” Jeremy Barber; marketing tycoon Gary Shapiro; Irish director John Moore (Flight of The Phoenix) and Oscar nominated director of ‘On Golden Pond’, Mark Rydell, who loves their script so much he wants to come on board as their American co-producer. Rydell promised them he would put ‘Sisk’ into the hands of every gangster movie-makers fantasy cast - Sean Penn, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro!
So with names dropping faster than Tony Montana’s circle of friends, how do they compare the LA scene they experienced in June to the one they face in Ireland today?
O’Malley begins the analogy: “Do you know why it’s different? Because they make movies! Number 1, they make movies. In the Irish scene, we want to make movies and, to the large part, we don’t. Every time you go to a meeting, you’re meeting someone who has done it, who knows what they are talking about and instantly I was aware that, to a degree, I’m very much an amateur because I haven’t made a movie. It ups the ante in the way that every meeting you go to is really important. You need to make sure you’re on the ball and that everything that comes out of your mouth is correct and you’re making sense because they’ll sniff it out. Also, the thing about LA is that everybody is your friend because you may be the next big thing, and nobody wants to insult the next big thing. So everybody is on your side - except when it comes time to writing the cheques and that’s when things change…”
We ask Terry what he thought of his brush with Hollywood the second time round? “I think there’s a level of professionalism, by professionalism I mean pragmatic application to a task. For example, if you give someone a script, they’ll read it that night and they’ll get back to you that night or the next morning. Give some one a script in Ireland? Six months later it’s ‘aaaaah, I’ve been so busy but I promise I will try’ ". O’Malley chuckles as Terry continues his berating, “they are constantly obsessed with the idea of looking at a script and trying to find what the author is intending to say. Whereas here, when we look at a script, we read it and we go “that’s shit”. We haven’t even got the courtesy to look beyond the words on the page but we immediately presume, arrogantly, that we know what we’re reading. Most of us haven’t a clue how to read here. Over there, they know what they want, they’re hoping to find it and if they get a hint of it off you, they will eat you up and pay you handsomely for the privilege. Whereas here you just get f **ked for free.”
Over the past 12 months the writers have experienced a leap forward in their careers and I ask them, like many in the industry, was it always their ambition to eventually move into features? They both agree their childhoods spent watching movie after movie were the best education they could find and their experiences, both in television writing and commercials are valuable assets as they branch out into this new area of their work. However, O’Malley is quick to point out that he will not be leaving the lucrative world of commercial directing behind and makes no apologies for doing so: “Like most directors I was only interested in making feature films, but after a couple of years on the dole I realised the harsh reality is that it’s all very well saying ‘I am a feature film director’ but you’ve gotta pay the bills…I discovered that you can make a very nice living out of commercials and I also discovered that I was learning, not sitting around for three or four years between movies and you hadn’t looked through a lens of a camera for three years, you’re shooting a couple of days every month… there’s a snobbery about commercials in that - commercials directors can’t make good movies - but you find me a features director and I’ll show you a commercials director. They all do it because you’d be an idiot not to, it pays well, it’s short, it’s quick, it’s fun, you walk away and you have a nice cheque in your pocket.”
So as the interview winds down , what advice would they offer to the thousands of budding filmmakers and writers who covet their position more than anything else?
Directed towards his fellow scribes, McMahon says: “Without the arrogance of being in a position of giving advice, but very simply from a writing point of view, just write. Write the first word, turn it into a sentence and turn it into a paragraph. There’s no secret to writing. It’s about hard work, it’s about application, it’s about getting it done and then it’s about re-writing. That’s the secret and it’s not a secret, it’s just hard work.”
And what if, in the highly unpredictable world of feature filmmaking in Ireland, it all goes belly up tomorrow, how would they feel?
It’s fighting talk from Terry: “You get up again, the amount of times things have fallen through, the amount of times you’ve been knocked to your knees…it’s a fight, a heavyweight fight. You just get up again, write a new script. I’m working on two new commissions as we speak. I’m into that dark place where your alone with two screenplays to write but the last thing you think about is fucking it up for failing. All you think about is getting it done and moving onto the next one.”
Brian graciously adds, “I have to say for me it would break my heart. This is a film that I have put four years of my life into and I think it deserves to be made. I believe it has a huge potential to be commercially successful, I believe it has the capacity to change the perception of Irish cinema because it’s based on an American model, its very commercial, accessible, exciting and it’s thrilling and yet very, very dark. I believe it’s a film that deserves to be made, should be made, and if it isn’t I’ll be devastated. But I don’t ever think that way, I believe I’ll be making that movie next year and you’ll see it in 18 months or two years time…”
“cut to two years time, Brian crying into his breakfast…” says Terry and they both laugh.
To find out more about the Tiernan MacBride Screenwriting Award go to www.irishfilm.ie
By Tanya Warren