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The beauty of things coming full circle is highlighted in our interview with the Misread team ahead of their premiere at the 35th Galway Film Fleadh this week. It was just this time last year that the team were applying for the 2022 Ardán/ RTÉ Shorts Commission, as Sinéad and Dan were at the Fleadh mid-promoting Sinéad’s acclaimed short film Lamb. In between screenings and events, they were sending voice notes and Google Docs back and forth with writer Aisling as they pieced the application together.
Misread is the story of Gary, who is living at his mother’s house after coming out of prison, where he has been tasked with driving his brother Daniel to college every day. The short is the culmination of a year’s work between scriptwriter and co-director Aisling Byrne (Run of the Mill Arts), co-director Sinéad O’Loughlin, and producer Kilian Waters (Arcade Film), their first time working as a production team.
This isn’t their first rodeo though; all three creatives have done their time on previous shorts. Aisling came into Misread just after closing post-production on her award-winning work Headspace, along with several years working in theatre, and then film projects, with a focus on social engagement and inclusion. Sinéad had three short films under her belt, having also migrated to film from the theatre world, and Kilian had 15 years of experience to hand as an award-winning producer and filmmaker.
In fact, it was through Kilian Waters and Dan Keane of Arcade Film that Aisling and Sinéad became aware of each other’s work, and subsequently ended up working together on this one. Both had worked on projects separately with the Arcade Film team, who they credit with pushing them both further and challenging them to take up leadership roles like directing for film or adapting theatre work for screen – something they might not have considered otherwise, as the barrier to entry had seemed too high. In an industry where female and diverse representation is lacking, this push to self-actualise can be vital.
Both Aisling and Sinéad had worked in parallel with Arcade Film on work for their various projects, but they hadn’t worked together before this film. It was just after the post-production phase of Headspace that Aisling spotted the Ardán/ RTÉ Short Commission callout, and she began working on a script that would meet the scheme’s requirements. While she was approaching Arcade Film as producers, Aisling also approached Sinéad about directing the piece. She had seen Sinéad’s previous work and was a fan, so in a need to fit a brief of writer/ producer/ director team, Sinéad seemed like the perfect choice.
For Sinéad, as they hadn’t worked together before, it was the script that got her on board. She had done development work with Arcade Film when they had done open calls for scripts, and in that there can be a wide variety of work sent into you (the good scripts, the ones that need a bit of work, and the ones that just don’t show themselves). On reading the script for Misread she just found it really strong. That and the fact that they had both co-orbited in the Arcade Film family, it was an indicator that this could be a good fit, or as Sinéad noted, an indicator that they both ‘weren’t lunatics’ about to form a team.
The concept for Misread came from working on Headspace, starring Mark Smith, where Aisling also worked with Daniel Ryan and was keen to write a piece for him. Aisling is the Director of Run of The Mill, an arts organisation that platforms learning disabled talent across theatre and film. The original plan had been to write a two-hander for Mark and Daniel, but she eventually found that that idea could not be housed under the Commission that they were applying for. So, with that project temporarily put aside, she wrote a script that would then be performed by Daniel Ryan and Craig Connolly as brothers.
Aisling has said she is one of those people who works better to a deadline, so the process definitely worked for her in creating the script, and then as a team, once shortlisted, Sinéad noted that preparing the pitch to bring in-person to Galway before a panel allowed the team to gel before pre-production. Deadlines can sometimes be the antithesis of what a creative team wants to hear about as it can be seen to stifle the process, but for the Misread team, they did say that this Commission was the fastest that any of them had ever moved through pre to post to produce a final short film.
Co-direction was a new challenge for both of them, but Aisling was delighted to have the fresh perspective and the notes on the script. Sinéad was also well aware that she needed Aisling’s expertise in the room in terms of working with learning disabled talent, so they were both delighted when the co-direction proposal was okayed by the panel. They also then had Dan give input as cinematographer, as he thought about how he might shoot in a car, and this strengthened their application pitch. Sinéad spoke about the double-edged sword that is the application process, in that you put this all together and you work on it all and there is still a sizeable chance it won’t be successful, but Kilian, as producer, was of the attitude that successful or not, they were going to make the film, so that did provide a cushion.
The allocated mentorship hours provided within the scheme were found to be invaluable to the whole team. Katie Holly, as Mentor to the Producer, was able to give notes on cuts, and also helped Kilian and the team source the studio for the green screen. This made a huge difference to the expense and the experience of the shoot as they were able to do all the car scenes in a contained space.
Brendan Muldowney, as Mentor to the Director, came into the office to go through the pre-production drafts. As a lecturer – he is well-versed in dotting i’s and crossing t’s to ensure all aspects of the process are covered, so he was able to walk the team through the finer details and circumvent any potential logistical issues. He was also happy to chat to Sinéad about the industry and offer advice on her career.
The scriptwriting mentorship was more complicated to utilize in the same way, as Aisling noted that in applying for the Commission you need to already have a script in place. But in saying that, having a few hours of Mark O’Halloran’s time, even to have his eyes on the script, was invaluable, and on rewatching the piece she could see the value Mark brought to the story with that outside perspective. In fact, the steers he suggested were much more significant than she initially realised. Two scenes outside of the car, that are now two of her favourites, didn’t exist before Mark’s input. He also challenged Aisling to look at her loyalty to some, in her words, ‘gimmicks’ or ‘motifs’, that she had been clinging on to.
When speaking to Daniel, you can see the creative work he does immediately lights him up. In fact, when the interview ends, he’s not ready to leave, he’d be very happy to stay chatting for longer about it all – coming to Galway and being nominated for the award. He knows the Misread story inside out and he loved working with his co-star Craig Connolly. Daniel explained to Aisling at one point on set, that although they had worked together on Headspace and other ROTM work, this was a special one as in this one he wasn’t a periphery character, he’s actually the lead. Even if he was tired during filming – it does take it out of you – his Mam notes, that despite all of that, he loved every minute of it, he loves the work. It’s in these conversations that you can see the importance of the work done by organisations like Run of the Mill or Blue Diamond Drama Academy, where Daniel is currently attending summer camp. It’s through these efforts that Daniel and others with differing abilities can have their chance to shine.
Aisling has learned a lot over the years about the practicalities involved in working with talent with learning disabilities in an inclusive way. In creating the script with Daniel in mind, for example, she has found it’s important not to be extractive and to keep the words as authentic to the actor as possible.
But, as she said, it takes a village to make for an inclusive set, inclusion in any art making. It’s important, in order to allow for representation, to make those simple changes to accommodate different needs. In an industry that can often be driven by deadlines and turnarounds and bottom lines, the little changes that the Misread team were making can seem a bit radical – but they are possible if you are willing. Things like shorter filming days and finishing by 6pm or rolling takes, or Aisling or Sinéad sitting in the back of the car to prompt on lines as needed. It was the whole team making room. They both noted how generous as an actor Craig was, in running lines between scenes and in his way of working with Daniel. He was generous in a way that he didn’t have to be, and this all contributed to a lovely set environment.
Both Aisling and Sinéad have projects in the pipeline that they are excited about, and they are about to put together a strategy for festival promotion, something they have both gone through before so they can bring that joint experience to. It’ll be about deciding what festivals where they feel the film would be received well, but as Sinéad says, you never know till you get there how a film is going to land.
But before that, they are going to just enjoy the Galway Film Fleadh with the Arcade Film family. They have created something special with special people, and one of the joys Aisling notes is getting to watch the final piece on the big screen with Daniel and his family and celebrate that achievement. And Sinéad speaks about how important moments like this are, especially after Covid, when a whole industry thought they might not be working in the same way ever again, it’s important not to take it for granted.
Book your tickets here to watch Misread this Friday, July 14th at 10am at the Town Hall Theatre.
To find out more about the next round of the Ardán/ RTÉ Shorts Commission email firstname.lastname@example.org
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