25 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Mark O'Connor discusses his new crime drama, Darklands
08 Oct 2019 : Nathan Griffin
Darklands is available on the Virgin Media Player
IFTN caught up with director Mark O’Connor to find out more about making his debut TV series Darklands, where the inspiration for the series came from and the transition from feature film to television drama.

Darklands debuted on Monday, October 7th on Virgin Media One and runs for six weeks.

Created by Mark O’Connor, Darklands is set amidst a gang war in a small Irish town and tells the story of Damien Dunne (O’Hara), a 16-year-old schoolboy with aspirations to become a professional MMA fighter whose life is turned upside down when his gang-affiliated brother, Wesley, goes missing after a drug deal goes wrong. With Wesley out of the picture, Damien begins to feel the pressure to step up as a provider for his family.

This series is produced by Parallel Films and Stalker Films for Virgin Media Television in association with Freemantle Media, Screen Ireland and the Broadcast Authority of Ireland.

Darklands sees writer/directors Mark O’Connor make his transition into television after the success of his Irish blockbuster Cardboard Gangsters, which became the most successful Irish film of 2017.

IFTN caught up with Mark ahead of the show's release to find out more about the making of Darklands.

How did the idea for Darklands come about?

“When I was making my first feature film Between the Canals I spent 2 years working with the After School’s project in Sherriff Street with Peter Coonan doing research. The Sherriff Street Feud was going on at the time and we witnessed some teenagers from normal families, take a wrong turn. One particular incident hit us very hard. While we were shooting the film a teenager on a BMX shot a man dead in a car in the same spot as Peter Coonan’s character was to be killed the next day. We had to move the scene to a different location out of respect for the family.”

“It was then that I had the idea of doing a TV show about a feud and exploring the idea of a teenager from a normal family that gets caught up in it, how he gets pulled into it and how he changes, in an effort to try to examine the bigger questions for society.”

“I wanted to make something through a teenager’s eyes and his group of friends. I was initially going to call it ‘Between the Canals’, the tv show, then the name changed to ‘The Sheriff Street Feud’, but I wanted it to be fiction so then I called it ‘Bubble’. Some years later I developed the idea and Virgin Media came on board and I brought on my co-writer Adam (Coates) and we developed the story and the characters into the new name ‘Chrysalis’! Then after that, the producers came on board and it became ‘Darklands’”

Your last feature film Cardboard Gangsters had major success at the Irish box office in 2017. Why did you feel it was the right time to branch into television drama?

“When I had the initial idea for Darklands, TV drama wasn’t as big as it is now and I was thinking of developing it as a feature film, but then I watched the Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad. What struck me was how the story and characters were evolving through the episodes. Breaking Bad had similarities to my idea where we see a slow change of a character from good to bad and that’s when I thought it will work as a TV show.”

How did Virgin Media get involved with the series?

“TV3 were very supportive of my film King of The Travellers starring John Connors so I decided to pitch an idea to them about a TV show called BARE set in the travelling community. They came on board and supported it and I developed Bare for 9 months. When I saw Love/Hate’s final Season I felt there were similarities to Bare and I didn’t want Bare to look like a spin-off to Love/Hate so I dropped Bare and decided to develop my original idea for Darklands instead. Then TV3 became Virgin Media and continued to support me, despite the switch of ideas.”

Did you approach the project differently to a feature film and if so, how?

“Yes, I spent much more time developing it and prepping. I did shot lists instead of the usual storyboards as it was just too many pictures to draw! I tried looking at the bigger picture knowing that what we were making should appeal to mothers, fathers, young people, and all ages and also to an international audience so we took that into consideration in the location scouting, the casting, the shooting and editing.”

From a writing point of view, how did you find the transition to longer-form drama?

“It was a much bigger undertaking. It was 6 years in total writing. When you make a character change or story change in a TV show, the ripple effect can go right across the season so there was constant rewriting. I found the working process very exciting as the story and world is so large and there are so many different decisions you can make as a writer.”

Could you tell us a bit about the casting process?

“Louise Kiely came on board as our casting director which was great because she has a great team and they cast the net far and wide. I was literally watching hundreds and hundreds of self-tapes at night-time and taking notes, trying to cast every role according to the characters we had in our heads. It was a long drawn out meticulous process and it was very difficult because there are so many good actors in Ireland.”

“For some roles, I saw 5 great actors but this was not about casting the usual faces. I was looking to cast for the characters and find new talent but I tried to go with my gut on every decision. Casting the lead role of Damien was particularly hard because I was looking for a teenager who could act and was also a great fighter and I think we were very lucky to find both in Dane.”

What can you tell us about Darklands?

“I’ve spent 6 years researching gangland when making Between the Canals and then Cardboard Gangsters and now Darklands. My co-writer Adam has life experience in this world so what we aimed to write together was a show which would portray the true reality and horror of gangland while also being an exciting television show which has appeal and is not just grim violence.”

“Every project needs some glamour but that can be through the cinematography or the costumes or the dialogue and the whole Darklands team worked very hard on all these different parts. This really was a team effort. From the support I received from my wife and the inspiration from my son to the phenomenal crew who worked tirelessly to create something special, to Virgin Media and our amazing cast and the producers, I am so grateful and appreciative of everyone that was involved in getting this project off the ground.”

Can you tell us a bit about your experience on set?

“It was very intense and rushed. I started with doing 6 takes and quickly realised we didn’t have time for even three takes! But the energy on set was amazing and everyone was working so hard to make a great show. Every day was exciting, and I enjoyed rewriting scenes as we were shooting them when something got stale!”

The show is produced by Parallel Films and Stalker Films - How did you find working with them and what did they bring to the show?

“Stalker Films is a company run with my wife and brother so that was great and easy and working with Parallel was great too. They are highly experienced, we had Alan Maloney backing us and then Ruth Coady and the team working very hard to make the show what it has become.”

Darklands continues on Virgin Media One next Monday at 9pm.

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