Co Tyrone vets write RTÉ-commissioned short drama

  • Photo: (c) RTÉ

    Six new short online dramas were released last month by RTÉ and Northern Ireland Screen for the new season of Storyland.

    Now in its ninth season, Storyland aims to showcase creative talent from across the island of Ireland within film-making, and brings original stories to both a national and global audience.

    One of the 20-minute films commissioned is ‘A Deal’s A Deal’, written by Co. Tyrone vets Francis and Geraldine Scullion. It was produced by fellow Tyrone-bred Pearce Cullen for Wolfhound Media and directed by Belfast-based Mick Gordon.

    Six new films have been commissioned as part of Storyland 2019 (c) RTÉ

    The film focuses on a misguided and disgruntled teenage pigeon fancier that reacts badly to the death of her champion young bird. It stars Derry Girls and Game of Thrones star Ian McElhinney, along with Stuart Graham, Rose Henderson and Laura Hughes.

    As Northern Ireland is a small place, it turns out Sync NI’s Niamh Campbell is an old neighbour of Geraldine and Francis’. She grew up close friends with their twin daughters, and got chatting to Francis about Storyland to discover the couple’s passion for screenwriting.

    I know you and Geraldine are vets, so how exactly did you get into writing?

    A couple of years ago I finished a scientific thesis about pigeons for which I was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This project spanned a number of years’ work and writing on a very specific topic and I decided to take a well-earned rest from scientific publications and write a bit of something just for fun.

    I had sent a chapter of a story, which had been on my mind for a few years, into a NI Library writer’s month programme. One of the options was to meet with a published author who would read and discuss the submission. I got the opportunity to sit with Brian McGilloway who persuaded me that I had to finish the book. That book eventually became The Left Handed Hurl. After a year Geraldine and I decided to try and make a screenplay from the book. We knew absolutely nothing about screenwriting but we entered The Left Handed Hurl Screenplay into the Austin Film Festival which is the largest screenwriting contest in the world with over 10,000 entrants each year. We managed to get into the second round of that contest which meant we were in the top 15%.

    Francis and Geraldine Scullion are originally vets from Co Tyrone

    How did you find out about Storyland and how did you originally get involved with it?

    After the encouragement of moving up the ranks in a major screenwriting competition we decided we should try and learn more about the art of screenwriting. We contacted NI Screen and they told us we should try some of their screenwriting programmes. Through NI Screen we heard about the RTE Storyland Competition which was run in conjunction with NI Screen. We attended a short introductory meeting in Belfast where we found that RTE Storyland was designed to help develop new screenwriters. We were impressed by the professional and slick organisation of the competition, so we decided to enter a short film script for it. 

    What gave you the plot idea for the film?

    For some reason competitions like to ask for a story based on a theme. I think this makes it easier to judge as everyone is trying something similar but it does mean that you have to sit a while and think of a new story. The theme for RTE Storyland 2019 was revenge. There is an old adage, saying ‘write about what you know’ and since we have been treating racing pigeons for over twenty years, we knew that the pigeon fancy is comprised of a world of characters from every walk of life. The pigeon fancy is full of friendships, rivalries, jealousies and competition, a whole hotch potch of emotions ripe for stories. This gave us a wide background with which to work. But this is fiction and so we also get to stretch the story a bit. In screenwriting we came across another old adage that, ‘it does not need to be possible, just plausible’.  It would be highly unlikely for any pigeon fancier to do the sorts of things we eventually had them do in our story regarding revenge.

    Ian McElhinney in 'A Deal's A Deal' (c) RTÉ

    Also, I noticed Ian McElhinney from Derry Girls/Game of Thrones is in the film! How did he get involved and what was he like?

    This was the nice thing about this contest. With generous help from a pigeon fancier friend, Gerard Delaney, we had the most wonderful loft location for shooting. The contest put us in contact with some of the best professionals in the Irish film industry and we got to work closely with them right through the whole process. It was daunting to work with producers like Stuart Drennan and Pearce Cullen, as well as directors, actors and all the ground crew. The director, Mick Gordon chose the cast and Ian McElhinney, a real gentleman, was obliging enough to manage to fit our film into his really busy schedule. He was also gracious enough to chat to some of our family during his lunch break, about both Game of Thrones and Derry Girls, as well as some of his other roles. All the actors were great and the more established actors like Ian McElhenny, Graham Stuart, Rose Henderson and Laura Hughes all see this type of short film as a chance to give something back to up and coming film makers.

    The whole thing was great fun from start to finish. The opportunity to get on set, to see how a film is made, to see the masses of behind-the-scenes personnel with their myriad of different tasks and how each and every one approaches their task so professionally was a real eye opener and very exciting. The experiences made us both want to try and do this a bit more.

    You can watch all six Storyland 2019 online dramas on RTÉ here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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