In this week’s edition of The Third Degree, actor, writer and director Caroline Harvey provides an insight into the film industry in Ireland, how she started out, projects she is working on and how she feels the industry is changing.
Hi Caroline, how are you? Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, please?
Hey, great to chat to you! I’m from Dublin originally and came up to Bundoran to surf and sure had two kids and never went back! I originally trained in Make-up and Special Effects and worked as a makeup artist in a plethora of student short films and realised I loved film. I trained then in theatre and stage but dropped out before my third year because I found it soul destroying.
I got a place on a new year course for screen acting called The Factory (now Bow St), we were the guinea pigs for a new style of screen training for actors and got to work with incredible directors like Lance Daly, John Carney, Jim Sheridan and acting coach Gerry Grennell who were teaching a really refreshing new perspective on screen acting.
You write, act, and direct…is any one more important to you than the others, or do you see them all as parts of a whole?
This will be my first time directing (so I’ll tell you after I shoot in November, ha!). But even from the development process as a director, I feel that all parts need to be equally strong. If there is weakness in one or the other it will jar with an audience or miss the mark on a really good vision or story. Writing is definitely the foundation that needs to be laid out correctly from the start, because with the best will in the world, the best actor or director can’t prop up a weak story, nor will an audience forgive it!
You wrote and starred in the film Wednesday’s Child (about a social worker called Marie) a year or two ago. The inspiration was from a memoir by Shane Dunphy, but was there anything personal in it for you?
I read Shane’s book as a teenager, and it really left a mark. I grew up in a working-class area of Northside Dublin that felt the sting of all the usual trappings of poverty. Families that buckled under the pressure of addiction, unemployment, unchecked and unsupported mental health issues, lack of education or opportunities. Mine was one of those families and it helped me to understand that this is a huge social issue, and the people trying to help are human too with flaws and struggles.
It was a difficult film at times, but quite non-judgemental where other films would have been less subtle. Was that a deliberate choice, or simply what arose from the nature of the material?
Creating a narrative that is non-judgmental and merely shows a very ‘everyday’ scenario for people in social care was a deliberate choice and what I lost most sleep over! To be able to understand and justify every character’s behaviour from aggressive, defensive, well-meaning to apathetic. There is no hero, no villain, no saviour, no right, no wrong. The film explores the notion of apathy, how much can we care, keep caring even when it means sacrificing our well-being and safety. How do we safely and sustainably make a difference and support families in crisis so those in social care aren’t burning out and leaving?
You’re now working on a film called The Crucible, to be filmed around Bundoran. Can you tell us much about that? Was the crowd-funding part of the process interesting or draining?
Yes, The Crucible follows the story of Hannah who is forced to face past traumas and mortality head-on when a storm makes landfall on the day of her surf assessment and things go from bad to worse.
It’s funny because I was so anxious about going the crowd funding route. I just hoped that funding would land and I could quietly make the film and no one would even know I’d made anything until I’d wrapped!
I felt so vulnerable putting my vision and myself out there and there would be tumbleweeds and two months of me begging people to give me money. But in actual fact, the support that flooded it from the start brought me to tears. It’s tough to put yourself out there and you do feel vulnerable, so the fact that friends, family and perfect strangers went out of their way to show support is just incredible. It took the huge financial stress off the project so that I could just get to work, creating the project and putting the team together with the confidence that I could afford to pay them.
I will never forget the kindness and support I’ve received since starting the campaign, I am so grateful to everyone that got behind me. I still had wobbles and the niggles of self doubt. But when you know a community of kind people had and have your back it really inspires you to just go for it.
You worked on Fair City for a few years – is TV acting very different?
One of the biggest factors that differentiates them is time! There’s TV, film and then soap TV acting. For film they might shoot two MAYBE three scenes per day if they are small and have three months to shoot a two-hour film. That’s a lot of time to get the scenes to a high standard especially for performance. TV dramas perhaps would have a higher turnover per day but not far off that. A lot of time to work through scenes and performance. They have scripts months in advance.
Then there’s TV soaps like Fair City. The turnover is enormous! You are shooting four episodes per week over four days. I’ve been on the show when they were shooting up to twenty one scenes a day! Your precious scene that you want to throw all your emotional heart into could be the last scene of the day with fifteen minutes to go and you just have to deliver. Once you have wrapped on a Friday, you get a whole new batch of scripts and start all over again for the next week. You film two hours of aired footage a week, so a feature film a week.
It’s the best performance fitness you’ll ever get!
Presumably being a writer, actor, and director means you’re less likely to have those quiet periods that actors talk about. How far in advance are you thinking about or working on a future project?
Yes, getting involved in the whole film making process helps empower you to feel creative continually, and not when some person in an office has picked up your headshot and allowed you to work.
I have a few projects that I’m developing and writing now that will probably not even shoot for another two or three years! But I also love the development phase and it’s quite cool to see a concept start to materialise if you can shake off the impatient divil on your shoulder!
Will CGI and superheroes kill cinema? Have they in fact already killed it?
Films were really heading in a fascinating direction with model making and that whole artform with the likes of Jim Henson’s Creatures, to Rick Baker who designed ‘American Werewolf in London’, and with the original Jurassic Park with the use of model making/robotics. Just the texture and look of those films, there is no comparing CGI. It is such a shame that CGI overtook model making in film. But then you have Guillermo Del Toro’s Pans Labryinth that managed to create these incredible imaginative creatures that are what make the film so magical.
Now, I do like superhero films, at least I did but I’ve missed the last fifty – but I was a fan of Marvel! But yes, superhero movies are a little saturated but they will always have their place in film and storytelling I think!
Are there any local issues (anything at all, film-related or not…) you would like to draw attention to?
The housing crisis is a huge one. It would be a lovely discussion to open up with friends and family about the ethics of having or sitting on vacant houses. Perfect family homes just lying there while there is a housing crisis. Is it a good time to perhaps sell the surplus? There are more vacant houses than you can shake a stick at around Bundoran and the surrounding areas.
The book or the film?
Your perfect night?
Dinner and cinema
I Origins, Stand By Me
Alt J, and also a secret sprinkle of ABBA.
Your nickname at school?
Puddy – I was a bit chubby
What do you look for most in a friend?
What angers, frightens, or disappoints you?
Unfairness and dishonesty.
How do you relax?
Book or bath or both!
Do you have a particular motto/belief that you try to live by?
“Be orderly and regular in your life, so you can be violent and original in your work’’ Gustav Flubert. I love that quote because it reminds you to take care of yourself and save the turbulence and whatever is going on and channel it in a creative way.
If anyone else would like to take part in this interview, to raise a profile or an issue, or just for fun, please contact Paul at Dnthirddegree@gmail.com