Screen rounds up the hottest writing, directing and producing talent coming out of Northern Ireland.
Writers & directors
As one of only three Brits to win an Oscar this year, acclaimed Belfast-born director George flew the flag for Northern Ireland with his live-action short, The Shore, which was backed by Northern Ireland Screen and produced by his daughter, Oorlagh George. George Sr, who also has Oscar nominations under his belt for Hotel Rwanda and In The Name Of The Father, premiered his new film Whole Lotta Sole at Tribeca last month. The Belfast-set dark comedy stars Colm Meaney and Brendan Fraser. George may spend most of his time in New York, but it enables him to act as an ambassador for his homeland. “I see it as my duty to promote Northern Ireland and I’m always looking for projects to make there.” He is currently developing a US courtroom drama, which he is looking to shoot in Belfast.
Armagh-born director Kirk has been quietly carving out a successful international career, directing episodes of Boardwalk Empire, Game Of Thrones and Luck for HBO, and last year’s adaptation of Great Expectations for BBC TV. Now a hot property in Los Angeles, Kirk is shooting the pilot for ABC’s new drama Gilded Lilys (from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes). Attached to direct Universal’s action thriller Midnight Delivery, which Guillermo Del Toro is producing, Kirk is also developing Paper Wings, a project with Sony and Will Smith’s company Overbrook that has Tom Cruise attached to star. Kirk is also set to direct a remake of The Osterman Weekend with Summit. Kirk’s last Northern Ireland-set film was the 2006 award-winning drama Middletown, produced by Michael Casey, but he is always open to projects that will take him home. “When I was growing up in Armagh, there was no possibility of having a film career in Northern Ireland, but now that’s changed,” he says.
Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa
Husband-and-wife directing team Leyburn and Barros D’Sa made their first feature, teen drama Cherrybomb, in 2009. Now they return with Good Vibrations, a biopic of Belfast’s punk godfather Terri Hooley, who set up his famous record shop and label Good Vibrations against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. The film has been produced by Canderblinks Film & Music, the company set up by Leyburn and Barros D’Sa with local producer Chris Martin and Northern Ireland-born, Los Angeles-based composer David Holmes, whose music credits include Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s franchise and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. The pair are developing a slate that includes a project based on a play by Good Vibrations lead actor Richard Dormer, The Gentlemen’s Tea Drinking Society, as well as a feature set in Venice at the time of the plague. “We won’t always tell stories about Belfast, but we would never cut off our links and we’ll always have a base here,” says Leyburn.
Blaney had written several shorts before being discovered by UK production company Ecosse Films last year, which took on his script Love Bite about a werewolf who has a taste for virgins. The teen sex comedy, directed by Andy De Emmony, is due to be released in the autumn. Now, Blaney is working on a number of projects with development funding from Northern Ireland Screen, including two for Generator: Sunrise, about a vampire who is trying to give up blood, and Sisters, the biopic of a nun who ran a school during the Troubles. The latter is at the financing stage, with Mark Huffam producing alongside Colin Vaines.
It was thanks to a screenwriting course set up by Northern Ireland Screen in the late 1990s that local writer Wright had his first taste for the profession. He went on to write the screenplay for the 2008 horror film Red Mist, produced by Generator. Now he has a number of projects on the go, including a sci-fi thriller with Generator, Runners, which he describes as “Gladiator meets Blade Runner with futuristic ultimate fighting”. He has also written Craven, about a US woman who buys a haunted house in Ireland, which he is developing with Gary Sugarman of Hub Media. “I grew up watching horror films and I used to think, ‘Why are these films not being made in Belfast?’ But now it seems to be a good time to be writing genre films with a Northern Irish twist,” says Wright.
Mark Huffam, Simon Bosanquet [pictured], Aidan Elliott
Since it was founded in 2008, Generator has produced six films in Belfast, including Red Mist, Cherrybomb, Killing Bono and Ghost Machine. With offices in Belfast and London, Generator’s latest local projects are Terry George’s Whole Lotta Sole and Keith Lemon: The Movie with Lionsgate UK, which is due to be released in the UK in late summer. Huffam and Bosanquet continue to produce big-budget international fare: Huffam is executive-producing Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Bosanquet is producer on Carlo Carlei’s Romeo And Juliet. The company’s presence in Belfast has been a key factor in luring studio productions such as Game Of Thrones and Your Highness. “We try to work with Northern Irish writers and directors where possible,” says Huffam.
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Hot Shot Films
The first feature from Hot Shot Films will be the $2m (£1.3m) urban fairytale Jump. Directed by Kieron J Walsh with a script by Lisa McGee from her play of the same name, it is a UK-Ireland co-production with financing from Northern Ireland Screen and the Irish Film Board. Jump is being sold by AV Pictures and stars Nichola Burley and rising local actor Martin McCann, who played Bono in last year’s Killing Bono. Further projects on Byrne’s slate include Maze, about the 1983 Maze prison escape, and The Longest Road, based on the story of Byrne’s aunt who emigrated to Canada to escape the Troubles. “It is about coming to terms with the Troubles and telling the best stories about them, while forging a new visual identity for the next generation,” says Byrne.
Contact Hot Shot Films, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Jackson, Eoin O’Callaghan
Big Fish Films
Big Fish Films brings together Eoin O’Callaghan, co-producer of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Five Minutes Of Heaven, and Kevin Jackson, who worked as assistant head of drama at BBC Northern Ireland and who produced the 2011 festival hit Behold The Lamb. The pair are now developing Ron Hutchinson’s The Prisoner Of Zenda, a swashbuckling epic currently out to directors, and The Truth Commissioner, a psychological thriller based on David Park’s novel, which O’Callaghan is adapting. Meanwhile Robert Carlyle is attached to Green And Blue, written and directed by Pearse Elliott, about a gay football fan who falls in love with a young man on the run.
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Colin McIvor, Katy Jackson
The first feature to come out of Wee Buns was the low-budget Cup Cake, which won the audience award at last year’s Belfast Film Festival. McIvor and Jackson are now developing projects including Zoo, based on the true story of a woman who cared for a baby elephant in her garden during the 1941 blitz in Belfast (it has development funding from Northern Ireland Screen and is being written and directed by McIvor). Also on the slate is low-budget comedy drama Joe And The Rocket, about a farmer who decides to convert his grain silo into a rocket so he can visit his late wife in heaven.
Contact Colin McIvor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael McDowell, Damon Quinn, Tim McGarry
Hole In The Wall Gang
Former barristers turned TV comedy writers, this trio have formed their own production company and have a number of projects which have picked up development funding from Northern Ireland Screen. These include low-budget comedy drama Asia’s Communion, about a priest who discovers he has a child from a one-night stand some 10 years earlier, and courtroom drama The Traitor, based on the real life trial of Nazi broadcaster Lord Haw-Haw. “Five years ago we wouldn’t have existed, but now we’re being given the opportunity to generate our own projects out of Belfast. It is beginning to happen,” says McDowell.
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