21 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Elisabeth Gooch on Writing
10 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Elisabeth Gooch
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Elisabeth Gooch is IFTA-nominated for Best Script - Film for Lies We Tell. This is both her first produced screenplay, and her first IFTA nomination. Gooch’s next project, The Shuttle, is currently in development.

IFTN: How did this project first come about?

ELISABETH: “Le Fanu’s 1864 gothic novel Uncle Silas has a fabulous premise, that the person who’s supposed to protect you is actually out to get you, but an infuriating Victorian drip of a protagonist. The spark for Lies We Tell was deciding to set Maud free of her creator, to tell a modern story about abuse of power: a contained psychological thriller where a teenaged heroine fights a home invasion by her own family.”

“Providentially, Screen Ireland announced the POV scheme competition. So instead of applying for a ‘First Draft’ SI loan with the script sample, treatment, and writer-pitch, I approached producer Ruth Carter (we’d met at an SI function, she kindly/recklessly gave me her email) and director Lisa Mulcahy (we’d been on a Screen Training Ireland course a couple of years earlier, and kept in touch). Even more providentially, both said yes.”

IFTN: How would you describe your writing process? What conditions help to produce your best work?

ELISABETH: “A combination of left-brain/right-brain work: pre-writing, non-writing (aka structured procrastination), rabbit holes of reading and research, scribbles (later indecipherable) in fancy notebooks or shreds of paper to reach clarity on character, theme, and story. Then structure-work mapping acts, story beats, character turning points and arcs, and prose documents to test strengths and weaknesses. After all the prep, by the time you open Final Draft, it doesn’t feel like you’re writing the characters, you’re writing them down. Everything feels real and urgent.”

“With an energised team aligned on what film we wanted to make and why, dedicated HODs and crew, a serendipitously perfect location, and especially our witty, courageous actors, Lies We Tell has been an absolutely ideal experience. What a privilege to participate.”

IFTN: What differences were there between the initial script and the completed film?

ELISABETH: “The first draft, building on the POV competition sample, contained elements that later proved unnecessary/expensive/dangerous (Maud’s double-diary, a herd of deer, smashing oil lamps), happily jettisoned along the way. Development was a dream, momentum galloping towards full funding. Every change is meaningful because it represents the hearts and minds of the brilliant, generous individuals who came together to make Lies We Tell.”

IFTN: How did you first get into writing professionally, and what have you learned through your experiences that would be of use to aspiring writers?

ELISABETH: “My background is academic (mediaeval history). But stories are stories: about people, choices, meaning. The long and sometimes discouraging journey towards becoming a working screenwriter makes the destination of sitting in a theatre with an audience all the sweeter. Connecting with colleagues on a human level means you continually feel lucky to collaborate over the many years it takes to bring a project to fruition.”

IFTN: We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to combating this as a writer when developing work?

ELISABETH: “Writers might give ourselves grace when first noodling fragile, evanescent ideas. Criticism, from ourselves and others, is healthy and fundamental to the development process. We can cultivate gratitude for the attention of smart, committed people who push us to make the script as robust as it needs to be.”

IFTN: What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

ELISABETH: “Be the person you’d want to work with.”

IFTN: Writers are often told to kill their darlings. How do you learn when to let something go or to fight for it?

ELISABETH: “The note that stings most might just open a new creative door, where a different (and perhaps even more entrancing) darling awaits!”

Oscar-nominated Todd Field discusses directing at IFTA Masterclass
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