31 January 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Soap Series: Interview with ‘Red Rock’ director Lisa Mulcahy
18 Aug 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Mulcahy directed 16 episodes of the first season of ‘Red Rock’
This summer IFTN is taking a closer look behind the scenes of Ireland’s soaps – continuing our series we talk to Lisa Mulcahy who directed 16 episodes of the first season of new Irish soap ‘Red Rock’.

An established helmer of feature films (‘Situations Vacant’) and television drama series (‘The Clinic’, On Home Ground’), Mulcahy was one of several acclaimed directors to answer when ‘Red Rock’ came knocking last year.

Here, Mulcahy (whose upcoming feature ‘The Legend of Longwood’ will be released to Irish cinemas on October 23rd) takes us through her first taste of directing a soap.

IFTN: I know you have directed for television for shows such as ‘The Clinic’ and ‘On Home Ground’ but continuing drama and soap was new territory for you – what drew you to ‘Red Rock’?

Lisa Mulcahy: ‘I had heard about the project last July but the person who really approached me about it was Peter McKenna (Series Creator). I met with Peter and we had a chat about the series and I thought it was nice to be part of something that was new. To start a new soap I quite a brave thing to do. Peter was very ambitious for it, as was Ed (Guiney) and John (Yorke) the producers. They were very adamant that although this was a soap – we were not going to shoot it like one. It was going to be single camera or two cameras which is the way all dramas are shot. It also definitely made a difference to me that DoP Ciarán Tanham was on board so I said I would love to be a part of it.’

And you ended up directing 16 episodes of the first 80 episodes which is quite a big output?

‘Yeah so I ended up doing four blocks of four episodes. Each block is about five weeks work, give or take. We prep for 10 days which is the most luxurious element of the work – if you can call it luxury! We then shoot for eight days and edit for five days and that is generally in and around the time-frame of a block of episodes so it quite a fast turnaround.’

With that schedule of shooting, would it be possible for some of your blocks to clash with each other? Could you be on post on one block whilst entering prep of another block?

‘Not really actually. As a director, once you start into the scenario where you’re posting on something and doing prep on another thing, your attention is obviously divided and the work can suffer so I don’t do it. I might have done it before when I did the first season of ‘The Clinic’ - posting one block whilst prepping another – but it’s not an ideal thing to do and thankfully they don’t do it on ‘Red Rock’. There is so little time to edit that when you are editing, you should just be editing and not have your mind on anything else.’

Matt Carter was tasked with kicking off the show directing the first two blocks (eight episodes). You came directly after Matt though – was it hard to meld your style into the new ‘Red Rock’ ethos?

‘I definitely think it was the hardest on Matt as he had to set out the style of the series. Also, talking about getting caught up working on different blocks – I am sure Matt was working on two different blocks there to get those episodes out and I am sure there was some weekend work involved there!’

‘I don’t think there was any added pressure for me coming into this as the second director. I don’t think the style of the series is enormously ground-breaking or strange. I think they experimented with different feels in the first eight episodes when they were cementing a style but by the time I came everyone was aware of what the style of the series was.’

When working on a block, could you be working on a scene from the first episode of that block and next be shooting one from the fourth?

‘Oh yes. In every day of the eight days of shooting, you will be working on scenes from every single episode.’

I imagine that could be hard on everyone, particularly on actors. As all soap fans know, a lot could happen in three episodes and to go from one headspace to another and back again must be difficult.

‘This is long-term storytelling so if you are talking about four episodes, then you are talking about two episodes that will be going out one week and two episodes that will be going out the following week. Even if there is something incredibly dramatic that occurs at the end of one episode, the actors take this in their stride. I always make sure when prepping to sit with all the actors and go through all their scenes. So, any issues actors may have with the script I am working on will be ironed out long before we get to the floor because there isn’t time for script content or character arc once you get on the floor.’

On a personal note, did you have any reservations working on a soap? Some directors might turn up their nose at the continuing drama, particularly directors who have helmed feature films such as yourself?

‘No, I didn’t have any reservations. Peter McKenna is a very good writer so I knew I was going to be working on good material. He was really ambitious and aiming high with the storytelling. I want to do good work and for good work you need good storytelling.’

‘So, the fact that this was an ongoing drama that could go on for years and years was irrelevant to me. If I am still there in 10 years, it would be because the stuff is still really, really good.’

As a feature film director, did you find it advantageous having this freelance work this year?

There is very little home-grown drama in Ireland. Increasingly, directors are having to move from Ireland in an attempt to get work. Something like ‘Red Rock’ – although it is a soap – is very different to something like ‘Fair City’. It’s like a drama – we maybe don’t have the time or the budget of other dramas – but the actors and storytelling are very good.’

‘It was a good experience coming in for five weeks – prepping, shooting and posting – and then going off for a while doing your own thing before coming back for another five weeks. It’s just great to be directing. With the feature film that I finished last year (‘The Legend of Longwood’), I worked on that for two years but only directed for six weeks. It can take a lot of time and prep to get something like that finished – so to have something like ‘Red Rock’ there is great experience because you are directing all the time.’

The four blocks you worked on would have equated to over five months work – do you think that maybe could have stopped from working on other stuff? Or even developing ideas for scripts that you have?

‘I am sure it would if you were doing it all the time. When I am doing ‘Red Rock’, I have to be completely focused on it. I can’t be doing other things but yes when I am working on ‘Red Rock’ there isn’t time to be doing any development work.’

Who are you in contact with when working on ‘Red Rock’ to make sure your episodes adhere to the overall ‘Red Rock’ ethos?

‘I would work closely with the story producers in the script department. They would be assigned to certain blocks – for example Peter McKenna was the story producer on two of my blocks. Once we do the edit and we are happy that it is at a good stage to be shown to someone else, we would bring the story producer in and then a discussion would take place about what works or what doesn’t work and then subsequent changes would be made to the episode before they are sent out to the Executive Producers. The story producer would also be watching the rushes every night so I don’t think a director would get away with doing anything drastically different.’

Would you have to watch the rushes or the early edits of the blocks that have come before to keep it consistent?

‘If I am doing a block I would make sure that I have read all the scripts that have come before it. When I was assigned the block of episode 76-80, I had by that stage read all the scripts but that’s just me. If it wasn’t possible for me to read all the scripts, I think I would at least read the eight before. As well as that, I also sit down with the actors who are in my blocks and discuss in detail their story arcs.’

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’.

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