Monday 7 December 2009

An Interview - Daragh Carville

Daragh Carville is a playwright and screenwriter. His plays, which include Language Roulette, Observatory and Family Plot, have been widely produced in Britain and Ireland, and as far afield as France, Germany, Holland, and the U.S. He has also written for television and radio. His television drama about drugs awareness issues for young people, The Family, was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1998. His radio play Regenerations, first broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 2000, was nominated for the Richard Imison Award. His adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2003.

Daragh’s first feature film, Middletown, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2006. The film, which stars Matthew MacFadyen, Daniel Mays, Eva Birthistle and Gerard McSorley, was directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey of Green Park Films. It was nominated in nine categories at the 2007 Irish Film and Television Awards, including Best Film and Best Screenplay, with Eva Birthistle picking up the award for Best Actress. Daragh’s second film, Cherrybomb, starring Rupert Grint and James Nesbitt, was selected as part of the Generations section of the Berlin Film Festival, and opened there in February 2009. It goes on general release in 2010.

Daragh Carville has won the Stewart Parker and the Meyer Whitworth awards. His most recent play, This Other City, produced by Tinderbox Theatre Company, opened in Belfast in April 2009.

Q1. What are you writing at the minute?

I'm working on a new screenplay, provisionally called Tiger, for BBC Films. If all goes well it'll be directed by Brian Kirk and produced by Michael Casey, who I've worked with a lot in the past, notably on Middletown (2006) and Cherrybomb (2009).

Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?

God I wish I had more of those! I work from home which means I have to do a certain amount of juggling life and work. Typically I'll leave the kids to school in the morning, go for a run, shower and get to my desk so that after getting emails etc out of the way I can switch off the internet and start writing properly by ten. I'll generally work through till after three, when I pick the kids up from school. In reality though the work bleeds into all sorts of other areas too, depending on where I'm at with a project.

Q3. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I'm always writing! Which is not to say I'm always at my desk actually putting down words. Because I work in film and theatre, which are collaborative media above all else, I spend a lot of time on planes and trains, traveling to meetings and what have you. And then when a project is actually in production, whether it's a film or a play, it's important to be there, to be as hands-on as possible. I love that side of the process too - casting, rehearsals, the day to day business of production itself. So that's pretty all-consuming. And of course you need to keep reading and watching other people's work too. So what little down-time I do have is devoted to the family.

I'm lucky though in that I am able - at the moment at least - to work on my writing full time. I previously worked at Queen's University in Belfast, where I taught Creative Writing, specialising in scriptwriting. I worked there for ten years and loved it, but it's been great to get back to full time writing. Long may it last!

Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the screenwriting scene?

I wish the BBC Writersroom website had been around when I was starting out. Actually, come to think of it, the internet wasn't around when I was starting out. But the Writersroom is a great resource. The BBC Writers Academy is probably the best way in to writing for TV for new writers and the Writersroom provides details of that along with many other useful bits and bobs.

Other than that, it's all about just doing the work, putting the hours in and getting your work out there. It's about learning the craft - which you do by trial and error, by writing and learning from your mistakes. Also by watching films and TV and reading as many scripts as you can. It's amazing that some people who say they want to write screenplays don't actually know how scripts work, what they look like, what they do and don't do. There's are a lot of websites out there which offer scripts free for download so there's really no excuse. The Writersroom has a good selection of TV scripts and even offers free screenwriting software, so as I say that's a good place to start.

And finally - going back to what I mentioned earlier about collaboration - probably the most important thing of all is to work with good people. You need to seek out producers, directors, actors and learn from them. Screenwriting is not a solitary trade, it's not like writing poetry or novels where you can - in theory - be sequestered away in your garret or whatever. It's a collaborative process. It has to be. So you have to learn how to collaborate. Which is a skill in itself actually.

Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?

It's been a year since Harold Pinter died but he continues to act as an inspiration. The death of Frank Deasy was a tragedy: he was a brilliant writer and a fine, decent man. He leaves behind an impressive legacy, both in terms of his work and his role in highlighting the issue of organ donation.

In terms of writing I've admired this year, in British TV I loved Jimmy McGovern's The Street. It was the exact opposite of everything I'd been hearing about what was required for contemporary TV drama - it wasn't high concept, it wasn't 'genre-redefining'. It just focused on the 'old-fashioned' virtues of character and story and in so doing created a real state of the nation series. Having said that, I do also revere writers like Russell T Davies and Joss Whedon who are able to put a new spin on existing genres. I loved RTD's 'Torchwood' series three, having hated the first two seasons. This must be the first series in TV history that does the opposite of jumping the shark.

In terms of TV comedy, 'Peep Show' and 'The Thick of It' were the highlights for me.

As far as American TV goes, I'm still in mourning for 'The Wire', having worked our way though all five seasons in short order. Haven't found anything to fill that space, though I loved David Simon and Ed Burn's Iraq war drama 'Generation Kill'. Staying in that kind of gritty, hard-boiled territory to some degree, I really liked Stuart Neville's debut novel 'The Twelve'. And I'm not just saying that because he's a fellow Armagh man!

Q6. What are you reading/watching right now?

Reading a brilliant book by Graham Robb called 'The Discovery of France', a kind of psychogeographical exploration of French history and culture. Watching 'The Thick of It' and looking forward to David Tennant's swansong in 'Doctor Who' at Christmas. Also looking forward to Owen McCafferty's new play, 'The Absence of Women'. He's the daddy, Owen is.

Q7. Plans for the future?

I'm focusing on the new screenplay at the moment but beyond that I'd like to do some more writing for TV. And I'm itching to get back to the theatre too. I'd love to write something for the new Lyric building.

Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?

As ever, it's the things you don't do that you regret. As a young writer I turned down a few opportunities that, looking back, I could probably have learned a lot from. But having said that, I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do when I was a kid, so I really can't complain.

Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?

Oh Christ. Well, I've already talked about the importance of collaboration, and I guess the worst writing experiences are when the collaboration doesn't work, when you just don't see eye to eye, or - worse - when trust breaks down between collaborators. That's when things get messy. I've worked with some brilliant, brilliant people but there have been one or two occasions when things haven't worked out. And no, I'm not naming names! But yeah, that can be pretty soul-destroying. But whatever doesn't kill you blah blah blah.

Other than that, well, you do get the odd day when it just doesn't work and you think everything you write is shit and that you're a fraud and you're gonna get found out. If you're lucky, though, those days are more or less balanced out by the good days, when you get lost in the writing and it really flows.

The one other thing that can be a bit of a pain in the hole is when your work gets reviewed. I try not to read reviews but they always get back to you and, as I think Norman Mailer said, 'the good ones don't help and the bad ones still hurt.'

Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven’t asked you about?

No, I think that about covers things!

Thank you, Daragh Carville!


adrian mckinty said...

Excellent IV as usual Ger. Great job!

Gerard Brennan said...

Cheers, Ade, though Mr Carville did all the hard work.

Very generous with his advice, wasn't he? Wish I could get my arse in gear and do some more screenwriting...


adrian mckinty said...


I know nothing about screenwriting but one thing that impresses me is that unlike novel writing when you score you really score. One screenplay can launch you into the big time in a way a book never can.

Gerard Brennan said...

Ade - I never looked at it like that before. Hmmmm...

I've some limited screenwriting experience. I was lucky enough to get onto an individual development programme through NI Screen last year. I learned tonnes. Mostly how hard writing a screenplay is. Then rewriting it. And rewriting it. And rewriting it.

The development officers were brilliant and really knew their onions, but I remember feeling completely gutted after one of the sessions. It's an exhausting process. Which probably explains why I haven't mustered the energy to tackle my TV series idea yet.

Well, that and the novel rewrite my agent suggested about... feck, six month ago?


seana graham said...

Uh, would you two just get your expletive deleted acts together and write an expletive deleted screenplay already?

I'm serious as bullets here. It would be brilliant.