Advice from a Writer – Colin Downey
Colin Downey is a writer, director and cinematographer who graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. He has written and directed a number of films including Babyface, The Looking Glass and, most recently, The Shadows , which premièred at the 25th Galway Film Fleadh. Here he explains how he looks into the mind of his characters and stays true to his own ideas.
Sometimes as a writer, you find a reservoir of ideas and you realise that, with luck, this reservoir will never run dry. Your task then, as I see it, is to create the right vessel for the ideas. Sometimes you choose correctly and it strikes a chord, sometimes your choice goes against convention and you may come up against obstacles in the short term. But if you stay true to the ideas, they will endure and re-emerge in time. We all have to express what is unique about us. Ultimately, if a writer follows his/her own originality, they will not only be satisfied creatively but will be well rewarded financially also.
Albert Einstein once said that all time is happening at once and although I wouldn’t claim to fully comprehend that statement, I believe I was led in that direction by the way the story progressed. Some mysteries and abstractions have deliberately been left in the story of The Looking Glass. I tried to draw people into a relatively simple story and at the same time open up doors to some bigger questions about memory and identity.
I’ve always written my films with certain actors in mind. This limits the need to workshop the characters to know if it’s going to work or not. When you think of a certain actor in a role, even if they don’t end up playing the role, you can get to a truth about the character as you picture how they will play it in a unique way. I had worked with Patrick O’Donnell on many projects before and I knew he would bring a special quality to the character of Paul. As a result, he was always in my mind as I was writing the treatment and then the script. When I first met Natalia Kostrzewa, I expanded the character of Paul’s girlfriend, Claire in the story. I felt Natalia could bring a really compelling quality to a character that was fairly lightly sketched in the treatment.
I had a very strict structure in the script, which fed into the shoot schedule. All the shots were carefully planned and I tried to control the story from idea to screen. This was not always easy and no matter how well you make your plans, some shots can end up a little bit compromised. This forces you to think on your feet. Fortunately, I had a great production team and a wonderful cast and crew to help me in these situations. I also had lots of experience on ‘no-budget’ features and this helped me to adapt to whatever situations came along.
Sometimes in scenes, things happen that are a lot more interesting to you than what you were trying to realize in the initial script. In these situations, it’s good to be able to change direction and allow the film to evolve in the direction it wants to go. I’ve only ever directed my own scripts and ideas so far, although I am working on a number of adaptations at the moment. I’m sure working with a great screen writer would be wonderful but, at this stage, it helps that I don’t get too offended with myself if the script needs to be changed!
This article first appeared in Issue 135 of Film Ireland Magazine.