TW talks to film maker and writer,Ciaran Davies

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Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a Welsh born film maker, writer, actor and musician. I love all parts of film, creativity and the arts. I’m based in Ireland.

 

 

Where did your love of film making and writing begin?
Ever since being a child I have loved movies. The cinema was always an experience, a special event. The smell of popcorn, the sound of peoples’ excitement. You could feel them lose a heartbeat or forget to breathe in the dramatic moments. It’s a wonderful experience, like watching a dream unfold. I was always a big reader as well. It’s amazing how you can jump into a book and be taken away to far away lands. There is nothing like seeing a wonderful movie that has also been immaculately written. As Hitchcock said there are three things a movie needs, “Story, story and story” To mix great movies with great writing is a true feast. The Third Man is a great example. Amazing, iconic and timeless.

 

What directors and writers influenced you growing up?
Terry Gilliam is an amazing film maker, artist, writer and creator. His vision and ability to create beautiful dream like stories is astounding. Brazil, Baron Munchhausen, Twelve Monkeys, Time Bandits are visionary epic masterpieces each and everyone of them. Then we have the hard, uncompromising directors like Sam Peckinpah, John Huston, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone. There films were tough, visually spectacular and in keeping with tradition of the old west, exploring loneliness, madness, violence and passion. Clint Eastwood, of course, is a genius. Director, actor, producer, pianist. The man exudes charm and charisma, his face eats up the screen and his directing craft is honed to perfection. The western is an amazing genre and a springboard for many others. Grainne Uaile the movie is a Celtic western and was from the early days of its conception.

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Where did you study?
Studied fine art painting and went on to be an actor. Worked with various studios in set, camera, sound and production capacities. Worked with people and learned the craft practically. The best way to learn anything is by doing it. We are always learning. Especially in this digital age. Technology is advancing every week now and work environments are constantly changing with it.

 

 

What was your first project and what did you learn from it to help refine your film making?
The first film was a feature called ‘Intersection Number Nine.” It was an art house, film noire, crime/super natural horror. Violent, tense and edgy, about nine gangsters stuck in limbo being forced to relive their individual paths by their demonic leader zero. Their stories are inter-weaved and we gradually uncover the parts they played in the ultimate bank heist gone wrong. The brief was to mix a classic gangster noire story with an occult/super natural horror. It was a great experience, with a great cast and was seen at some great art house festivals on the international circuit. Since then we have worked on comedies, fantasy sci-fi and now historical action. Every film or project each has something special. They are all diverse and different in their own way. The challenge of working as a team to create the impossible is hard, grueling, has many sleepless nights but is rewarding in many ways. We are always learning, every day of our life.

 

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Where did it go from there for you?

We filmed Grainne Uaile the movie, and both parts to our epic sci-fi/fantasy comedy, “The Smoker and the Dame who wore red shoes” over the last 18 months. All 3 movies each hit the 180 minute mark and so are huge projects. Previously two of our short experimental films, “The Final Duel” and “The 5th dimension” did the International festival circuit and were well received.

 

Is historical action a genre that appeals to you in general or just this character’s particular story?

Long before there was television, the tribes of the village would gather around the fire on a starry night and listen to the elder or the Shaman of the tribe tell them stories of their people and traditions. In later centuries, the oral tradition was written into books or even painted on walls. In the twentieth century books and films became the avenue for experience our cultural stories. Film is a great avenue to record our history, and our important society tales, to educate and entertain the young and old alike. Historical movies are fabulous entertainment and also highly important art forms. The past lets us know who we are, where we have come form and it can help us think about where we might be going. Classic movies such as Ben Hur, Spartacus, The ten commandments and the Kirk Douglas epic The Vikings are great inspirations and as timeless as the stories they tell.

 

What was the genesis behind Grainne Uaile? What research was involved and what was it about her that inspired you to do a movie about her?
Grainne Uaile is one of the most important women in history and embodies the spirit of Ireland. Her tale is full of adventure, politics, sadness and vengeance. We wanted to tell her story and we wanted to be accurate. There was a lot of research involved, a lot of detective work. The subject is fascinating and we looked at her life, the political structure of the time and also the culture in the 16th century. It was very detailed.

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It’s a three hour movie which is very ambitious. Why did you decide to tackle her story and was it always intended to be three hours?
Grainne Uaile was an amazing woman and her story is fantastic. A noble woman who commanded her own fleet, stood up to the might of the English and also her fellow men who were in power. She was a fighter, a gambler and a tough pirate. She met Queen Elizabeth and they spoke to each other in Latin. This is a very strong woman and a story full of adventure and drama. The film follows her through her life and spans 70 years. We wanted to go back to the style of some of the classic epics and knew from the beginning that it would be a long film. Her life was so full and detailed, brimming with adventure and emotion, historical important events, culturally significant time lines. We wanted to show it all in one movie. It would easily have fitted into four hours. This is a very important tale. It was also a great opportunity to present a strong female character. In recent years the role of women in cinema has been kept to either the victim or the love interest. In this film, Grainne Uaile, played by Irish actress Fionnala Collins, is a tough badass woman who doesn’t take any shit from any one. She also has a strong feminine side. What we are presenting is a real woman. A tough character that an audience will identify with.

 

As writer, director and co producer, is that an added pressure or does your passion for the project overcome that?

It’s a large project, with a lot of people involved and was a year in the making. We became a solid team, there was a real family atmosphere. We had a common goal to make a beautiful movie about a very important subject. That’s the great part of film, working together as a unit to create the impossible. It’s like recording a moment of time for posterity. There are many different people who play many different parts. It’s simply amazing to watch different people do different jobs and seeing how it all works together. It was a challenging project and everyone pulled together to make it happen.

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How did you go about securing the actors? Was your previous work on independent movie making an asset or was it open auditions?
All the projects which we do are open auditions. There were a colossal amount of applicants for Grainne Uaile. We went through them all individually and gave everyone the chance to audition. There is a huge wealth of talent in Ireland.

 

Similarly for locations. Do you need special permits and licenses to film there?

Pre-production is the crucial part. There is a lot of organizing and a lot of logistics to swim through before sailing. The locations, due to the nature of the movie were often remote, with little or no amenities. There were no trailers, green rooms or hotel rooms. The actors were battle with the elements and harsh conditions every day, often in the Irish rain and wind. It was a tough and grueling process for the performers and their endurance was pushed to the limits. They end result is a gritty, authentic and realistic depiction  of life in 16th century Ireland.

 

Obviously as a pirate Queen, you need pirate ships. Where did you find those?

Finding the right ships was tricky. They had to be vessels Grainne would have liked. Their trade routes sometimes went as far as Zakyntos and Spain, so their were a lot of influences. She loved spices and foreign wines and would often bring them back with her. They would attack ships who ‘dared’ to use the O’ Malley coastline without paying for the privilege. These ships had to be fast and silent. The look of them was very important and we put a great deal of thought into them. Just as important as James Bond and his Austin Martin!

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How long has it taken to film and complete?
With pre-production, production and post production, it’s 12 months.

 

Did you have to adapt any part of her life to make the movie more action packed or change the story slightly?
The historical story of Grainne Uaile is full of drama, political intrigue, personal struggle, triumph, piracy, adventure and action. It’s all there. We stuck very closely to the actual historical events. The actors brought a wonderful magic to the piece. We were interested in story and character. Also, the action is not performed by stunt people. The sword fights are all performed by the actors. We chose to return to the great days of Errol Flynn and the Hollywood swashbucklers.

How do you know when someone is right for a part?
The character becomes alive in the actor. You see their face change. Their eyes have conviction. They ARE the character.

What sort of platforms do you use to promote it?
There are many great platforms out there now thanks to people like your self Owen.

How do film festivals fit into showcasing it?
Film festivals are great platforms to network with other like minded people and to show your work to other industry professionals, film buffs and multi cultural audiences.

Overseeing such a big project must have caused some sleepless nights. What was the hardest part of getting it completed?
We had a great team and everybody involved was very passionate about this film, we worked hard and everyone brought something very special to the table. It was a great adventure.

From doing it, what would be the best piece of advice you would give to any budding film maker out there?
Watching a film is like going on a dream journey. The suspension of disbelief. The mental travels of the imagination. Everything is possible. It’s all about telling stories we really want to tell.

Has the arrival of shows like Game of Thrones made it easier for Irish film makers to get their work out there?
Being a fantasy and history enthusiast its great to see so many imaginative shows out there. HBO are make some amazing shows in the fantasy and horror genres. The BBC have always been great in fostering the creative. Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Robin of Sherwood may not have had massive budgets but the people who made them were incredibly creative and inventive, and consequently the shows have become classic. Star Trek, The twilight Zone and the Outer Limits are also fantastic and have helped pave the way for imaginative based projects. With the advent of the digital age shows such as Thrones, Spartacus and the Vikings are creative a great interest in fantasy and history. The HBO show, Rome is particularly outstanding and deserves great praise.

Has your involvement with independent film making opened your eyes to the talent out there that is as yet undiscovered?
There is a huge wealth of talent. Being creative is part of being human.

What are you currently working on?
Grainne Uaile will at the festival circuit this summer. The first part of the Smoker in the winter. You can expect the official Grainne Uaile trailer summer time. We are currently in pre-production for another adventure story and are casting. Its an open casting. We want to give everybody the opportunity to become involved.

Where can people find out more about Grainne Uaile?
Grainne Uaile the movie is on Facebook and twitter and we regularly post updates there so join up for news
Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grainne-Uaile-the-movie/539840459372629
Twitter
https://twitter.com/UaileGrainne
movie website
http://www.grainneuailethemovie.com/

 

Irish history seems rife with energetic characters. In your research has anyone else sparked your interest?
Yes it has. We are excited by a number of stories which we are developing right now.

Ciaran, thank you very much! 

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