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Soap Series: Interview with ‘Ros na Rún’ director Déirdre Ní Fhlatharta
31 Jul 2015 : Seán Brosnan
‘Ros na Rún’ returning for its’ 20th season in September
This summer IFTN is taking a closer look behind the scenes of Ireland’s soaps – continuing our series we talk to Déirdre Ní Fhlatharta – director of TG4 Irish-language soap ‘Ros na Rún’.

By her own admission, she has lost count of how many episodes of ‘Ros na Rún’ she has directed. Just about to commence production on the soap’s 20th season (which will broadcast in September), Ní Fhlatharta, whose other credits include ‘Fair City’, ‘Paisean Faisean’, ‘Cogar’ and ‘Garraí Glas’, talks about the training programme on the soap, the benefits of working on other productions and how to maintain quality when dealing with constant time pressures.

IFTN: You are now of course a veteran director of ‘Ros na Rún’ but you have been with the soap since its inception in 2008 holding a variety of jobs…..

Déirdre Ní Fhlatharta: ‘I have been directing ‘Ros na Rún’ for almost 15 years now but I have been there since the start. I started out as a Script Supervisor from day one. ‘Ros na Rún’ has a very strong ethos on training and growing people into roles. So, after two years of PA work, I started doing various courses through ‘Ros na Rún’ and EO Teilifís and low and behold I started directing! Drama directing is my dream so I never looked back. Aside from directing, I was also the Series Producer of the show for a few years but at the moment I am back directing! So, it certainly was a great variation.’

What way do the directing cycles work on ‘Ros na Rún’? How many blocks of episodes would you be given at one time?

‘A ‘Ros na Rún’ cycle consists of either a three episode cycle or a four episode cycle. To break it down, a director gets five weeks per cycle. On average, there would be nine days of shooting to record four episodes. The beauty of ‘Ros na Rún’ however is that we also have multi-camera set-ups which go through an Outside Broadcast Unit so we can run two cameras on a scene and block it accordingly. It’s edited as we go along. We also have the beauty of a single camera studio so stylistically you can have a bit more freedom there – you can try different things and bring a few artistic touches to it at times. However, sometimes it can be left pressurized with regards to time when working with the single camera set-up.’

With regards to time pressure then, is it difficult to maintain consistent quality on the show when you are tasked with working so quickly?

‘I have been doing it for so long now – I mean over 15 years so I possibly could have directed over 200 episodes of the show by now. It all comes down to experience. You need to manage your time well and be really organized. You have to come in with a plan but always have a plan B in case that plan goes haywire – which it could very quickly! We don’t have the time to sit around and have long discussions about different ways to do things if something is not working. We have to make decisions on the floor to keep everyone going. Luckily, we have a very strong team on ‘Ros na Rún’ that are well able to deal with it. But, yeah it comes down to time management – you need to prioritize your scenes and know what’s going to take a long time – for example a big fight scene – and then work accordingly.’

Different directors have different strengths – would the producers of ‘Ros na Rún’ share out the episodes accordingly? For example, would a director skilled in dealing with those fight scenes always be given the episodes where they are prevalent?

‘You’re on the button there actually! Every producer works differently but when I was Series Producer, I would have certain directors in mind for certain episodes. We have a pool of about 15 directors that we alternate on ‘Ros na Rún’ but yes I would have been very familiar with their styles – so I would know that Mr X would be strong to do a wedding episode or Ms Y could do an action packed episode. So, yes I would pick out certain directors based on their strengths. Most definitely.’

As we mentioned ‘Ros na Rún’ is now coming up to its 20th year – is there any pressure now working on a show that has been around so long?

‘Not to be funny about it but even though it has been 20 years, we are treating it no differently than if it was any other year. There is always pressure to deliver good quality programming that satisfies an audience. We ultimately want to keep our audience entertained so we are always on our toes and pushing the limits to deliver that.’

For any new faces coming in to direct ‘Ros na Rún’ then – would there be any mentorship system put in place to bring them in on the ‘Ros na Rún’ way of doing things?

‘I have mentored people in the past and we would certainly allow people come in and shadow directors to see what has to be done. Sometimes with drama directing, people discover that it is very intense – I mean there is so much prep involved – and they might discover that it is something they do not want to do. They may rather other genres. But yes, trainee directors are very much guided through what we want here at ‘Ros na Rún’ but the time has to come too for them to fly on their own.’

‘It depends on the individual but they would normally start out shadowing a director and then they might be given a half or full episode of a cycle and then perhaps a full cycle. But it really does depend on the individual and what they are ready for.’

On a personal note, does knowing the set-up of ‘Ros na Rún’ so well make things a lot easier or does it throw up any fresh issues?

‘Being so familiar with the show definitely makes things easier but it is also healthy to work on other stuff as well. I have directed ‘Fair City’ in the past which is something I really enjoyed – they have a great crew up there. It’s slightly different – I suppose the biggest difference being that I was working through the medium of English – but at the end of the day it was a very similar set up – same time pressures and all of that. It’s definitely healthy to work on other productions – to learn new things and new ways of working.’

It is kind of interesting in Ireland to see so many writers and directors taking advantage of their freelance tags to work on other soaps – there doesn’t seem to be much rivalry between ‘Ros na Rún’, ‘Fair City’ and ‘Red Rock’ which can only be healthy for the industry…

‘It’s extremely healthy for the industry. Years ago, when the recession kicked in and we were all wondering if we would still have jobs we wouldn’t have dreamed of having 150 people employed on ‘Ros na ‘Rún’ today. It’s just a small village on the west of Ireland and there is a fantastic buzz around the place at the minute – we can’t wait to start shooting.’

In terms of turnaround then – I know ‘Fair City’ is three weeks from shoot to broadcast date – is that a similar timeframe to ‘Ros na Rún’?

‘To give an example of how far ahead we work – when it comes to around Mid-October – we would have our Christmas episodes in the can. So, we always have about two months padding before they go out to broadcast.’

And you said there is 15 freelance directors alternating all the time?

‘More or less. Obviously we don’t all work together but at any one time you could have six directors working in the building. There could be two directors in pre-production, two directors in the studios and two directors in the edit.’

With ‘Ros na Rún’ providing such an excellent training ground for you then – what advice would you give to any young directors who may be eyeing work on a continuing drama?

‘There was a great support system here and it was invaluable for me I think. And not just for me – the amount of people who graced the doors of ‘Ros na Rún’ over the years and went on to work in some great productions here in Ireland and across the water.’

Stay tuned to IFTN over the coming months for more features and interviews on soaps and long-running dramas in Ireland such as ‘Fair City’ ‘Ros Na Rún’ and ‘Red Rock’.

Tom Collins: “For me it's all about the work, which is about creating a reflection of a modern Irish cultural identity that can travel beyond borders, history and these shores.”
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