Scannain caught up with writer/director Emma Eliza Regan to talk about her new short film Wild Fire Nights, ahead of its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh.
It’s another night for Lila – a rudderless millennial caught in a destructive whirl of reckless nights – until an alarming discovery forces her to face the grave consequences of her actions.
Wild Fire Nights is a very contemporary film and a bit of a warning to the today’s youth “I was trying to peel away the surface, and show a very private world of young Irish women today and capture the palpable, doom-struck nihilism of the ‘selfie generation’, so I made a glossy looking but a tragic commentary on our culture.
The central character Lila gets wasted alone in her Celtic-tiger looking apartment to numb all her hurt, as well as block out her dilemma over her unwanted pregnancy, so it touches on the current debate surrounding abortion options in a subtle way.
I was also responding to the impact social media has on young women, creating a generation that relies so heavily on validation from others and where worth comes from sex appeal and vanity.. all these his fake-perfect worlds we are bombarded with, which seems to have created this increasingly totally disillusioned and insecure wave of Irish women without any sense of identity… because nothing is real or personal anymore. It has all these crazy consequences on the psyche of young women which I could see around me every single day, anytime I looked at my phone whether it was Facebook or Instagram it was there, so I was trying to show the darkness of it all. Actually, for a while, I was even going to call it ‘Unfiltered’, but the Wild Fire seemed to really depict the destructiveness and waste”.
Wild Fire Nights is Regan’s directorial debut “I took the sense of responsibility of directing to heart, because I absolutely love film and I strongly believe in the impact it can have, and I started to feel that directing was the one place where I could contribute something that had the possibility significant to the world – I was able to use my own voice, instead of offering just the little box of my performance. It was at the point where I just felt so powerless over my career, I wanted to move on from playing school girls, and although I really tried to pursue work that was different – like I’m proud of being a part of films like Love Eternal, and I worked hard to change my casting perceptions around in terms of roles like Cleo in Darkness On The Edge Of Town, nothing really was changing, and the reality was I started to feel really disillusioned over roles I was being offered, so I wanted to use my other capacities too and create films that weren’t being made.I’ve had to pull my weight on other departments on low budget films over the years anyways, I’ve always been someone who’s observing & contributing ideas, I hang around on set watching what’s going on even after I’m wrapped… so it was a natural decision for me.
I’ve had to pull my weight on other departments on low budget films over the years anyways, I’ve always been someone who’s observing & contributing ideas, I hang around on set watching what’s going on even after I’m wrapped… so it was a natural decision for me.
I still have so much to learn in technical departments, but in terms of performances I knew what I wanted and had complete trust in the cast, and it was very easy with to communicate with them all. There is still so much I would change, I’m looking over with my editor and trying to get the sound mix right, and all I see is the mistakes I’ve made, knowing what I’ve learnt now from the process of doing it, so I’m not even totally satisfied but at least it’s going in the right direction”.
Regan also wrote the script “I suppose as a girl in my twenties myself, I felt I could write about these topics in a way that’s totally genuine and authentic. I was reading so many scripts as an actress, and I felt few writers understood the inner-workings of that whole world – so I just started writing what I saw and questioned around me. The character itself came from the ladies on a night out – I was in a cubicle, and there were empty vodka and pregnancy tests thrown on the floor, and that image was such a very dark juxtaposition that it stuck with me and became the basis of the plot… also, it funny how on a night out all you see is happy faces, but the second you are in the ladies there seems to be all these girls crying and fixing their mascara, so I get characters from all those elements. I’ve two more scripts in development, so I’m only getting started”!
And the hardest thing about making the film? “Well the amount of responsibility I took on, I had a huge amount of work with performing, getting locations, insurance, health and safety, getting crew together, everything down to my own make-up, it was all guerrilla in that way and it would have been great to have someone who could have handled the producing side for me – so I could focus more on the film itself. Oh, I should probably mention the day in Aran – where we all walked for miles over rocks and stone walls carrying all the equipment to get a few shots! One major incident was losing the hospital location twenty-four hours before the first day of shooting, it had all been secured and the insurance was arranged in advance, but some member of the HSE canned it… so it was Good Friday, and the country felt shut down, absolutely nobody would get back to me, so my amazing production designer (IFTA-winning Steve Kingston) said he would build me the ward from scratch…and we did this was all on a tiny to nothing budget. The result was clearing out a warehouse, moving boxes, moving furniture, painting walls white, carpentry, putting in a little window, borrowing an old hospital bed… he brought so much support to the film in the pre-production stages that he became my co-producer.
On another level, I found it difficult to make a short in general! I wish I could have had the time to develop the story to show all I wanted to show. I had to chop down so many performances that I wish I could have retained, and lots of scenes didn’t make it, but those were the horrible, difficult calls that I had to make, and I worried so much they would sacrifice the story. Working with a small budget was also so hard when you want it to punch above its weight and stand amongst films that have proper budgets”.
Getting a cast and crew in place is no small feat “Nearly everyone I had worked with and clicked with, so I knew they were right for the part, so I didn’t have to do one audition. Dara Devaney and I had worked in the Abbey together in the Plough, I was so young at the time and he was almost brotherly in how he would look out for me – so besides the fact that he is the most seriously talented actors I know, it was the fact that he’s got such a genuine and honest quality to him, and I knew our ease with each other that would come through on screen. With James Browne, again he was someone I met at the very, very start, I did a version of A Midsummers Nights Dream when I was 17 – I played a balletic Puck to his dark and moody Oberon, so we’ve always had a history and a chemistry. Then, earlier this year I was in the screening of Without Name at ADIFF and was so impressed with his screen presence, he’s got something very inaccessible, emotionally distant and dangerous about him that I needed for Flynn, and he was compelling in every scene. He’s also going to be in Maze which screens at the Fleadh, so he’s gaining a momentum now. With David Murray, we worked with one another on Jack Taylor – and again, was the first and only choice for the role – because I needed a lot of vulnerability as well as masculinity, and David just brought such a natural edge and compassion to that scene. Then with Gerard McSorley, it was just fate – I hadn’t cast the psychiatrist, and was thinking of him as a rough guide to what I was looking for, I’d seen his as the psychiatrist in The Butcher Boy, and I get this lovely e-mail from him out of the blue, and I offered it to him there and then. He’s someone I admired for years on film, and he brought a lot of real and powerful truth to that scene. We did one take that was eight minutes, and I was in floods of tears and it wasn’t even my take. I found Marion, who played grandmother Peggy from my friends Brian Bourke and Jay Murphy, and she was just perfect too.
With my crew – it was tiny. I met Brian Durkan on a film previously, and we got on well so he became DOP and brought his assistant Rossa O’Dowd along with him. Besides the camera, I only had location sound, which was Stephen Molloy who was recommended to me by a friend, and Steve Kingston who did all the amazing design and props, as well as helping AD and produce. That’s how tiny the set was. We had a few more come out for a day, and they were mostly all mates of mine I had worked with before.
In post-production, I worked with Ronnie Quinlan as editor and Paul Rowland doing the sound mix, I have to say they’ve been absolutely brilliant and dedicated & beyond patient. I’ve been going over to their houses after work in the evenings, so they must be sick of me at this stage. My old pal Philip Morozov did the grade in London, and then Ilan Eskerhi and Jessica Dannheisser have worked on the score, with the club music by Iarlaith Forkin”.
The premiere at the Fleadh is just the first step for the film “I’m submitting it to a lot of the festivals, so I’ll see – I can only hope that people respond to it and it opens up some line of dialogue about the psyche of young women”.
Wild Fire Nights plays as part of the New Irish Shorts: Way Out West programme, which showcases film and filmmakers from the West of Ireland. The programme takes place on Wednesday, July 12th in the Radisson Blu Hotel at 2.30pm.