Film course `a bit like sex'
At Renvyle House in Connemara dozens of writers, directors, actors, editors and technicians have been taking part in recent weeks in a series of film training courses run by Moonstone International.
Moonstone is a Scottish-Irish co-production which has secured funding worth £300,000 from Screen Training Ireland, Scottish Screen and the EU Media II programme to train emerging filmmakers from both countries. It has the support of the Sundance Institute in the United States, a film school set up by Robert Redford, which has helped develop independent film-makers there.
The idea is to train directors and writers by giving them hands-on experience of the craft in an intensive workshop atmosphere. They work with professional crews and actors and shoot scenes from individual projects, working to deadlines under the strict disciplines demanded by the industry.
One of the participants, writer/director Anthony Sellers, describes it as a "transforming experience" which helped to clarify and develop his ideas about his project.
Called Fairytale of New York, it is a romantic comedy about an Irish emigrant in New York. His conservative parents come to visit, not knowing their son has come out of the closet and is openly gay.
He says he gained invaluable experience from directing four scenes from the film, about 20 minutes in all, in conditions which imitated real-life film-making but which were free of commercial pressures. "The European ideal is that the film director is an auteur when he arrives on set. But we all know there are financiers [involved], there are schedules to be kept and things like that. Many people arrive, like me, from television with a different kind of experience of direction which may not be suitable for a feature film environment," he says.
"We may go over the top and try and control the set because we think we're the boss, whereas in fact we should be quietly in the corner being creative, looking after the actors, and having our first assistant look after the set."
Another participant from a television background, writer/director Hugh Farley, is working on a love story set in Dublin during the Emergency.
"What Moonstone offers in an opportunity to take risks," he says.
"I've spent the last three years with my writer's hat on. Suddenly to look at the script from a director's point of view, shoot the thing without the commercial pressures, edit the damn thing and have people who have years of experience watch you work . . . it's a bit like sex.
"It's industrial training with a spiritual dimension. You're encouraged to open up, you're encouraged to take risks. They are trying to help you find your voice, not impose their way of making a film on you."
He says training initiatives such as those run by Moonstone help to counter the received wisdom that directors and writers are born, not made. More importantly, they help emerging filmmakers to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with the traditional route: scrape enough finance together to make a short film and learn the ropes as you go along.
"We have a plethora of foundation courses in film in this country, but there is nothing at a mezzanine or advanced level. The result is that people who are approaching their first film and who are lucky enough to find some kind of production finance are going into the process and are making films that are not finding a domestic audience," he says.