Thursday, March 02, 2006

Rodney Lee's Gist

The most shocking thing for screenwriter Rodney Lee about his first foray into theatre was the speed at which a production happened. “This play took about a year to put together,” says Lee. “An incredibly short amount of time, when you think it might take five years to get a film project together.”

Or longer. Lee first came to the attention of Fishamble theatre company when he won the Tiernan MacBride International Screenwriting Award in 2003 for his script, 69. After reading that script, Fishamble commissioned Lee to write The Gist of It, rehearsed the play and are staging it. Meanwhile, that award winning script is still in development.

The Gist of It, however, does not leave the world of film behind completely. The story is based on the end of term rush to finish a student film as experienced by two film students, one a popular, artful dodger, the other a troubled would-be avant garde filmmaker. Lee, who studied film in Dun Laoghaire, couldn’t help but draw on his own experience in film school for the play.

“A lot of what’s in the play is based on personal experience of working with very self-absorbed people,” says Lee. “But sometimes the films that came out were quite good. But I just felt that it doesn’t really justify them behaving the way they do.”

Not that the experience was a bad one overall.

“I remember one film I worked on, being out in a field at 3am, being hosed by the fire brigade to simulate rain over a dead body. Twenty crew out there trying to get this one shot! All together, trying to make this happen. And the feeling, the spirit of it was amazing. You feel like laughing, but the awfulness of it all is almost irrelevant. You feel like you’re alive when it’s happening.”

Coming from a film background, and by his own admission, not being a particular fan of the theatre, he was startled quite how flexible the live form could be.

“When I started writing the play, I had quite a fixed idea of what theatre was and what I could do there and how different it was for film,” he says.

“I realised there wasn’t really much that you couldn’t do in the theatre. If you look at something like Stones In His Pockets – with 100s and 100s of edits and scene changes – that’s more than you would get in a film even. So I learned that you can do most things in the theatre, but you have to do it in the heads of the audience”

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