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IFTN Speaks to ‘An Bronntanas’ Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh
22 Oct 2014 : Seán Brosnan
Five part TG4 series ‘An Bronntanas’ will begin its run on Thursday October 23rd, with the feature film version being put forward as Ireland’s choice for the 2015 Foreign Language Oscar and garnering good reviews.

IFTN talks to Ciarán Ó Cofaigh – a stalwart of Irish language programming – whose Connemara-based production company ROSG were instrumental in catapulting ‘An Bronntanas’ to both the big and small screen.

IFTN: Even though ‘An Bronntanas’ has not aired yet, it’s safe to say it’s been a hit following good reviews at this year’s Fleadh and being chosen as Ireland’s submission for the 2015 Foreign Language Oscar. It has obviously paid off now but did you think at any time there was a great risk in investing your time and money into something that is very new to Irish language television and Irish television as a whole?

Ciarán Ó Cofaigh: After the broadcast and all the work that came before that, we will have spent around four years working on ‘An Bronntanas’ and there is always a risk involved in backing something. In this case ‘An Bronntanas’ was actually made. In some cases an idea or project might never get off the ground. It’s a risk for the funders, it’s a lot of money. But I think the biggest risk from my point of view with ‘An Bronntanas’ was undoubtedly the work we did with the boats, the action scenes. Those are areas that are very complex, anyone that works in CGI will tell you that water, fire and hair are the three things to avoid! But we had rescue boat scenes set on the wild Atlantic coast, at night! That would have been the riskiest element of the production but to be honest by the time we got that far into the production, we knew exactly what we were doing. We spent a good year and a half trying to figure out how to do those scenes so we had it very well figured out between ourselves, the DOP Cian de Buitléar and the FX team from Team FX.

But of course the days we were shooting the storm scenes the weather was lovely and calm so we had a lot of work to create a storm! We knew there would be a lot of post-production work involved with those scenes but we aspired to get of much of it ‘In Camera’ as we could. Once that aspect was shot we could then add to the storm scenes in post-production. So, for me, that was the riskiest part of ‘An Bronntanas’.

Who’s idea was it to have ‘An Bronntanas’ air as a film and as a five part TG4 series?

Basically, it began as a six part series but when we were trying to raise the funding we realized we couldn’t raise the amount we needed to shoot the six episodes. At that stage we went back to TG4 and said ‘look it, this is where we are’, hoping that they would still keep to their original level of financial commitment. Thankfully they agreed, but they insisted that we would deliver a feature length version of the series as well. It was a good idea from TG4 as the film version seems to have ‘legs’ of its own. Obviously it worked! It’s great because there is now another feature length drama as Gaeilge which is rare. As far as I know there are only five feature length drama films as Gaeilge. So, we shot the series with the structure of the film in mind and even though there is obviously less in the film than the series, a lot less time and by default less depth to it, it still works really well as a stand-alone piece. Anybody who has watched it seems to have enjoyed it. Obviously it was selected to go on for the Foreign Language Oscar and it was chosen to close the Galway Film Fleadh this year which is a big thing really. So yeah, we were very happy with the legs the film has grown on its own!

When we were talking to DOP Cian de Buitléar, you were commended for giving them the time and money to shoot in some very untraditional areas of Galway giving the film a unique feel. Was this an important aspect of the film for you? I have never seen Galway looking so well on film before…

We were conscious of the fact that we were responsible to the funders but we spent as much money as we could during the filming to make the piece attractive with high production values. We were filming all around Connemara, South and North, so logistically it was a complicated production. When we were filming in Roundstone, for example, we would have to accommodate crew and cast in Roundstone. This was an oddity in itself considering we are a Connemara based company, but that’s what it took to achieve what we wanted to. It wasn’t really my decision to spend the money where we did, I just wanted to keep enough money for the post-production [laughs]. But we had a fair idea where the money was going from the start.

Are you excited by the reaction that ‘An Bronntanas’ will get when it airs? It has a good script, distinguished director and a stellar cast. Do you think it could be to TG4 as ‘Love/Hate is to RTÉ?

Since people have been watching Nordic Noir like ‘The Bridge’ and ‘The Killing’ or even ‘Borgen’ on TG4, they have less of an issue with subtitles as they would have had five or six years ago. So, I am hoping that most people would be used to subtitles for TV drama. In ‘An Bronntanas’ there is a mixture of Irish, English and Polish spoken, but mostly Irish. It’s definitely a very entertaining series. We are very proud of it and I hope that Irish people would have enough of an interest in it to tune in even if they have to read subtitles every now and again. I would be delighted if the public responded to ‘An Bronntanas’ as well as they do to ‘Love/Hate’. I’m a fan of ‘Love/Hate’ and I think it’s a very good series but ‘An Bronntanas’ is a bigger production logistically. I mean, ‘Love/Hate’, because of their established fan-base, can create drama just by using two or three characters in a room talking. But ‘An Bronntanas’ is quite different, it’s very much an action/thriller. As I said earlier we filmed all over Connemara, with action, guns, explosions and boat rescue storm scenes at night. So, logistically, it’s a much bigger thing. I hope that the people who like ‘Love/Hate’ would like ‘An Bronntanas’ as well but it is a very different story.

You mention the great story to ‘An Bronntanas’. Were you tempted to make this great story in English at all? To possibly reach a bigger fan base?

I wasn’t tempted really. I never really thought about it! I am an independent producer with an independent company (ROSG). This was a co-production between ourselves and De Facto Films so we all have different agendas and aspirations. To run a company you need turnover, so I would produce work in any language, but we have a certain drive towards producing work as Gaeilge. It definitely gives me a great feeling of satisfaction when we are involved with a production like ‘An Bronntanas’ and we have achieved something in Irish that has never been done before on such a scale. Whether it is with our productions ‘Cré na Cille’ (Arthouse), ‘Na Cloigne’ (Supernatural Thriller) or the ‘Síol Scéal’ short film initiative (24 half hour shorts to date) we coproduced with Eo Teilifís, when it is done as Gaeilge it is always breaking new ground. I believe, whether I’m right or wrong, that we can make a positive difference on behalf of the Irish language. There is always an added dimension in proving that strong, relevant TV and Film can be produced as Gaeilge. In saying that though, I think ‘An Bronntanas’ could definitely do well if it was adapted to other languages. It’s a good, strong story and I hope that there’ll be interest in doing it in other languages.

Finally, what’s next for you and ROSG?

Well, I’m not sure! We have a couple of things in development, hopefully they will come to fruition! There are no guarantees when you’re independent. Hopefully we can bring one of our projects to the production stage and we will be working!

‘An Bronntanas’ begins its five week run this Thursday, October 23rd at 9.30pm on TG4. It was produced by ROSG and DeFacto Films with financial contribution from TG4, Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), Bord Scannán na hÉireann/The Irish Film Board, ILBF/Northern Ireland Screen, and private investment through Section 481.

Read our interview with ‘An Bronntanas’ star Owen McDonnell here.




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