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“The hope is that if the film rings true for people, it will engage and be a supportive and inspiring experience”; Director Ruth Meehan discusses The Bright Side
20 Aug 2021 : Nathan Griffin
Gemma Leah Devereux in The Bright Side.
Writer/director Ruth Meehan spoke with IFTN ahead of the release of her debut feature film to give us an insight into developing the story and its origins, taking on difficult and complex subject matters, assembling a terrific cast led by Gemma Leah Devereux, and working with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.

The Bright Side releases in Irish cinemas this Friday, August 20th with Breakout Pictures handling the distribution.

The film follows Kate McLaughlin, a world-weary stand-up comedienne who is in a dark place and wants out. Her morbid prayers are answered in the form of a cancer diagnosis, but to placate her family, she begrudgingly agrees to undergo chemotherapy. Armed with staggering levels of cynicism and a plethora of blackly comic jokes, Kate gets off to a bad start with four other women she encounters in the chemo ward; four women from all walks of Irish life, whose unsolicited friendships are perfectly designed to blow open her shut down heart. 

Inspired by Anne Gildea’s best-selling memoir I’ve Got Cancer, What’s Your Excuse? The Bright Side is a fresh new dramedy about the healing power of love, laughter, and friendship.

Meehan first came across Anne Gildea’s book in Dublin airport on New Year’s Eve 2014. “It was a year after I lost my younger sister, Alacoque, to cancer and I was still reeling from the experience,” Meehan told IFTN. The director knew Gildea from her time studying communications in DCU and found Anne’s account of her experiences with cancer refreshing and inspiring. 

“At the time myself and Jean Pasley had been looking for a story to develop for Screen Ireland’s, first time director, Catalyst program,” Meehan explained. “I approached them both suggesting that Anne’s memoire could be a great jumping off point for a really interesting screen story.”

Meehan and Jean Pasley, co-writers of The Bright Side, first wrote a fast draft, which simply included narrative and extending characters, for the Screen Ireland Catalyst application. “Although we weren’t successful in the Catalyst award, Rory Gilmartin, who was the project manager at the time, thought the script strong enough to give us some development funding,” Meehan recounted.

Although excited with the prospect of developing their idea, the writing duo were aware from the outset that they were taking on a difficult subject matter with a difficult central character, however the pair embraced the challenge and persevered. “We welcomed the creative challenge of taking an outrageous central character in a very dark place and seeing what it would take to open her to other people, her own pain, and ultimately her life,” Meehan told IFTN.

“Jean and I also shared a very similar hot/cold barometer for when we thought something was funny, moving, too much, too subtle, too trite, credible, sentimental, powerful, surprising, etc,” said Meehan when discussing herself and Jean’s writing dynamic. “Sometimes we wrote together, sometimes we took scenes and wrote them separately and then bounced them back and forth between us.” 

Meehan and Pasley were also supported by several script editors at various stages of the projects journey such as Dearbhla Regan, Mary Kate O Flanagan, and Eimear Markey. “(They) also helped to ensure the script always felt that it was moving forward,” said Meehan.

Last month, The Bright Side was selected for the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it makes its UK premiere on Friday, August 20th“I am delighted to be screening at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2021,”Meehan told IFTN. “It’s so fantastic that our UK premiere coincides with our release date in Ireland through our distributor Break Out Films.”

It is only fitting that the release of an uplifting film such as The Bright Side’s comes as the film and cinema industry attempt to gradually return to pre-COVID norms following two years of frustration and uncertainty. “We’ve all been in the grip of a global existential crisis these past two years, but the hope is that if the film rings true for people, it will engage and be a supportive and inspiring experience,” said Meehan.

“Although there is much darkness in the film, The Bright Side has always been about what it takes for our main character to find her way out of that darkness,” Ruth told IFTN. “It will be really interesting to see what kind of appetite there is for a film that deliberately and consciously engages with profound emotional pain (albeit housed in humour and irreverence) at a time when people have been experiencing so much uncertainty and anxiety.”

The Bright Side stars Gemma-Leah Devereux as comedian Kate McLoughlin with support from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Siobhan Cullen, Derbhle Crotty, Barbara Brennan, Karen Egan, and Kevin McGahern. 

“The film hinges on the central character, Kate McLoughlin. She is in every scene,” said Meehan when discussing the importance of finding the right Kate. “We knew from the outset that we were asking a lot with this role, someone with a huge range who could make people laugh and to break their hearts.”

“Initially we were looking for someone a bit older than Gemma Leah Devereux but once I saw her tape, I saw her clearly in the role. I saw that she could bring the pain, the irreverence, the heartbreak, and the fun of that character to life,” said Meehan. “I also saw that she had the level of commitment and desire to embody this role and I completely trusted her with it from the outset.”

Over the course of the film, Kate’s character is transformed by the characters she meets during her battle with cancer, particularly the four women she meets during her Chemo therapy. One of the greatest catalysts for Kate’s transformation is the youngest member of the four women, Tracy, played by Siobhan Cullen. “In the end, their relationship plays like a love story,” Meehan told IFTN. “They start out as great adversaries and end up as thick as thieves.”

“The final piece of the jigsaw that makes this relationship work only came about two weeks before the shoot when Eimear Markey and Lesley Mckimm, questioned the way in which their relationship played out,” Meehan explained.Even though it was so close to the shoot, I saw that the script could benefit from a reworking of this relationship to give it greater intimacy, poignancy, depth, and tension that could create the kind of bond that would provide the catalyst for transformation for Kate.”

Meehan also had the opportunity to work with one of Ireland’s leading actors Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who plays the role of Andy; Kate’s pharmacist who develops a close relationship with her following a rocky start. Anyone who has worked with Tom will tell you that he is an absolute gentleman and consummate professional,” said Meehan. 

“I cast him after I saw him in an interview and thought he had the most open, soft eyes. I saw a sensitivity in him that I hadn’t seen in any of the roles he has been cast in and thought he would make a wonderful Andy in our film, and he did,” Meehan explained. “He was a dream to work with and threw himself into the challenging prospect of playing Andy; a man holding it together who becomes emotionally unravelled by Kate.”

A Playground Pictures production, The Bright Side is directed by Ruth Meehan, written by Jean Pasley and Ruth Meehan, and produced by Tony Deegan with backing from Screen Ireland, RTE, and BAI.  

“I had worked with Tony previously on RTE productions. Together we formed Playground Pictures, and brought Paul Donovan on as executive producer,” Meehan explained. “Lesley McKimm had taken over from Rory Gilmartin as project manager in Screen Ireland and she continued to support the development of the film through production.”

Deegan told IFTN that he was all in from the moment he read the first draft of Ruth's script. “Having worked before with Ruth on our series Hostile Environment I already knew she was a very talented director but The Bright Side screenplay brought her to a whole new level, “ Deegan explained. “And here we are today, almost five years later and as Ruth's film is released in 36 cinema's throughout Ireland I'm just glad I played a part in getting such a personal film for Ruth onto the big screen.

Deegan and Meehan worked closely with Amy Rowan during the casting process and always had similar sense of what was right for the project. “From the outset Tony brought a huge level of commitment. He has an amazing capacity for problem solving while keeping a complex project like a feature film on track,” Meehan continued. “Our ambitions for what we were trying to achieve on our budget were high and there were many compromises, but we were always on the same page about tough decisions. Both of us were mindful of how to spend the money and time in the best possible way to give us the best chance of delivering the film we wanted to make.”

Meehan believes that without Screen Ireland, they simply would never have been able to get The Bright Side off the ground. “We are fortunate in Ireland to have a low budget feature film model through Screen Ireland, BAI and Section 481, that allows the development of a diversity of creative projects,” said Meehan. “It is the backbone of our indigenous industry and is crucial to the future of our ability to continue to tell our own stories.”

Like many filmmakers, the pandemic provided Ruth with an opportunity to focus on developing new work. “I am very keen now to continue to build on what I have learned from this experience,” Meehan explained. “The Bright Side has inspired me to focus more than ever on stories that track complex characters through life changing moments of realisation with humour and pathos.”

“It’s an exciting time in our industry and I am very grateful to be part of it.”

The Bright Side releases in 36 Irish cinemas nationwide on Friday, August 20th.

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.”
Over €4.6m allocated by Creative Europe to Irish screen industry in 2021
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