Advice from a Writer – Brendan Muldowney
Brendan Muldowney, writer and director of Savage and Love Eternal, talks to Steven Galvin about the importance of obsessions in his writing and the ‘Eureka’ moment.
Writing for me happened when I was young. In English in school when I was asked to write essays I’d be writing extra long essays – ridiculous nonsense – completely ripped off from Salem’s Lot, which I’d watched the night before. That’s the start of writing as a child – you know nothing, you start copying, basically ripping off stuff. That’s something you grow out of as you get older. I suppose when I was first making film, studying film, I would have still had that mindset. The only difference is that you start to have more life-experience, your principles and morals begin to get fully formed, you make sense of political things around you – you start to make decisions about the world.
When I was in college at first in IADT studying film, I had a revelation one day. In first year they had these five-minute exercises and what we had to do was write a script but it had to come from that day’s newspaper. When you’re asked that question it focuses your mind, and I found myself asking at that stage: if you’re put on the spot, where do your ideas come from? You start to impose your own narratives on the world and you realise that everything you do during the day has a narrative.
When Archimedes got into the bath and the water rose he had his ‘Eureka’ moment – he realised that was how he could measure the mass of objects. But the thing is that he didn’t just get into the bath and discover something. He was obsessive with these thoughts and I think that’s the key to where ideas come from for writers. Every writer has obsessions and interests – mine in my short films being death and religion and how people deal with existence. Every writer has these personal obsessions or themes and when you start obsessing over these things, everything you watch, everything you read filters through your obsessions. So it’s like that Archimedes thing – a bit melodramatic but that’s more or less what it is. Your obsessions can fire your brain into overdrive and then, when you least expect it, maybe daydreaming on a bus, an idea will suddenly come from your subconscious. I suppose that’s the ‘Eureka’ moment.
With the shorts, ideas used to come to me thick and fast. And maybe that’s something that comes with shorts – they’re simple; they’re one idea. Ideas still come to me through the same routes – whatever I’m interested in, whatever I’m obsessing over.
You’ll choose the subject matter that’s being filtered through your own obsessions. I’ve been working on an adaptation of a Japanese book called In Love with the Dead. The film is called Love Eternal, which is completely filtered through my obsessions – death, existence, the afterlife… So I was able to bring my own ideas to the material.
Then there’s rewriting. That’s what I’ve found myself doing for the last four years. It’s funny but the only time I feel enjoyment with what I’ve written is the first draft. After that it’s a struggle. It doesn’t get easier. I have learnt a lot – to take notes from people who can point out the problems but can’t help you solve them – that can be soul-destroying. I’ve found over the last few years that I go through these moments (I’m very hard on myself) where I struggle with a problem and I mightn’t write for a month yet every day you’re waking up thinking about it, you’ll try to get back to it, but you can’t. Yet you’ll still be thinking about it all day. Again it’s chasing that ‘Eureka’ moment, when something just clicks. That’s the magic you’re looking for – born out of obsession! And everything and anything can trigger that off.
This article first appeared in Issue 136 of Film Ireland Magazine.