First Encounters: Pierce Ryan and Birch Hamilton

‘We’ve seen each other do absolutely everything’: college friends Pierce Ryan and Birch Hamilton. Photograph: Eric Luke

‘We’ve seen each other do absolutely everything’: college friends Pierce Ryan and Birch Hamilton. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Pierce Ryan is a screenwriter whose first feature film, ‘Standby’, starring Brian Gleeson (‘Love/Hate’) and Jessica Pare (‘Mad Men’), is due for release this year. He has written four award-winning short films as well as scripts for ‘Fair City’. Filming of his second film ‘The Ranger’, co-written with PJ Dillon and Eugene O’Brien, starts later this year. He lives in Drumcondra, Dublin


I saw Birch before I met her. It was 1995, UCD and to a guy fresh out of 10 years of all boys’ schooling, every girl in the Arts block looked like she’d flown in on the back of a giant swan. She had pink hair and this incredible walk, a purposeful stride. Then we met properly when she auditioned for a play I was helping to direct.

We were both 17, both in first year Arts. She was open and friendly right from the start and I’d probably have noticed that even more if I hadn’t spent most of the time wondering “What kind of name is Birch? Is it really a name?” I’d never heard of anybody called Birch before.

We got to know each other after that, had a shared passion for films. She had a deep interest in European arthouse cinema but would give me a patient ear as I argued the merits of Superman II. Birch ran for auditor of the film society and I got first-hand experience of how persuasive and organised she can be when she got me to dress up in a monkey suit and walk with her poster around the campus like some kind of North Korean dictator.

After college our lives took us in different directions: she went off and travelled, lived in Paris and London, became a mum. I had decided I wanted to give this writing thing a go.

A couple of years ago she became head of the Screen Directors’ Guild, a job that utilises all of her talents and skills. Most important for me is that it’s given us a chance to rekindle our friendship. She’s one of the few people I know I can talk to who understand the ups and downs of the business, in particular from a writing point of view; her dad is a writer, so I think she has an understanding of the lifestyle. She’s the steady horizon when you need it.

Birch and I still have a similar circle of friends. The friends you make in college are different from friends you make at any other time in your life, probably because you’ve got to see each other at your most serious, most outraged, most reckless, most scared . . . and that’s probably all over breakfast.

We’re much closer friends now than we were before. We talk a lot still about the kind of things we talked about in college but other subjects have come into the conversation, like family, or 30-something dating in Dublin, God help us. She’s a really good sounding board for any kind of frustrations I have, with the industry or life in general. If she has a bad date or I do, we ring each other up. Hopefully we provide each other with a sane ear, make each other realise maybe the other sex isn’t completely mad.

I hope Birch and I continue to be friends whatever happens.


Birch Hamilton studied entertainment law and worked in film development before becoming executive director of the Screen Directors Guild of Ireland (SDGI). Last year, she founded Digital Biscuit, an event aimed at showing directors how to get the best out of technology. She lives in Dún Laoghaire with her daughter Maria, 5


I’d just started college and auditioned for a play Pierce was directing: he had this old man’s black overcoat on and glasses, and a grumbling way of talking. I was a bit intimidated, I thought he was way older. But UCD’s Dramsoc was a great place where everyone let go of their inhibitions; Pierce had a way of making me feel relaxed when he was directing. And then we became really good friends.

There were about eight of us in college who were really, really close: it was a kind of Utopia, so much fun. It was really intense, three or four years of our lives when we saw each other every day. We’d be going through all the ups and downs, going to all the parties, sleeping on couches – you’d see everything, all the debauchery, the hangovers, the fights.

Pierce is a great piano player and singer and he had a legendary college party in his parents’ house in Drumcondra once where we ditched the rave music and sang along with Pierce around the piano to Beatles songs all night. I helped produce the first short film Pierce wrote and his parents were so supportive of him when we took over their house to shoot for the weekend.

We did fall out of touch for a while, after I’d gone travelling, and after having Maria – I’d only see him every couple of months.

Lately, there are three of us – Irene, Pierce and me – who are closer ’cos we’re single. We’ve done an unofficial singles night out, meeting up for a movie then going out to dance the night away. A friend of mine came out with us in October and she and Pierce are now dating, so our singles night worked for him. I do think it’s really important to have a male friend, he gives me a male perspective. He gets really angry if a guy would mess me around and that’s kind of nice.

I admire Pierce – it’s amazing that he’s stuck it out as a writer. It takes about four years to make a film and it’s a real accomplishment as a writer to have a film made. Because my dad [Hugo Hamilton] is a writer I think I really understand how artists work; Pierce seems very jokey but like all artists, he is vulnerable. I’m kind of an enabler of artists.

Pierce and I have seen each other do absolutely everything; it’s lovely to have a friend like that. It’s like arriving home, being around him. I could really tell him anything that’s going on. It’s nice to have a completely platonic male friend in my life.


Digital Biscuit 2014 is a three-day event with demos and speakers on the latest film/TV technologies attended by actors, directors and film industry leaders from around the world.

Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World, is guest director. It takes place from January 22nd to 24th in the Science Gallery, Dublin. See digitalbiscuit.ie

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