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Filming floats like a butterfly for Westport producer

Living

IN HER ELEMENT Martina Niland on set.

Áine Ryan chats to acclaimed producer, Aughagower native Martina Niland about her burgeoning career

AR The last time you chatted to The Mayo News it was September 2007 and your parting words were: “I would love if somebody handed me a script on Mayo.” Any update?
MN I am still determined to bring a film to Mayo – it’s just about finding that right project and also about weighing up the costs of doing so too, as shooting regionally can be expensive. That being said, what you are getting is beautiful varied scenery and landscape. I think it is very important that films shoot in the regions and are not all set in Dublin and that we continue to grow talent in front and behind the camera in the regions.
‘Float Like A Butterfly’ [Niland’s latest release] was shot in beautiful West Cork and I am shooting a new film in Connemara at the moment called ‘Death of a Ladies’ Man’. The Western Region Audiovisual Producers Fund has been hugely important in making that happen.
I am inching closer to Mayo. I would love to make a project around Grace O’Malley, and have been working on some ideas. She was such a fascinating and inspiring figure and I believe one of the most important in Irish history, so watch this space.

AR You have been very busy moving from Samson Film to establishing Port Pictures, tell us a little bit about that journey?
MN I decided to set up my own company a couple of years back. Before that, I was a lead producer with Samson Films in Dublin for about ten years, where I learnt a huge amount working across a range of projects and budgets and developing some strong relationships with talent also, I just felt the time was right to branch out on my own.
This industry can be so hard and stressful at times but equally it can be exhilarating and extremely fulfilling and when it’s your own company even more so – on both fronts.  
I called my company after beautiful Westport of course – a town I love very much. Since setting up the company, I have been developing a slate of film and some TV ideas too and generally trying to build a network of smart, talented, people to work with.

AR You were basking in the international success of ‘Once’ when we last talked. Was the experience very different with the success of ‘Sing Street’?
MN ‘Once’ will always be very special and hard to beat – I joke that it’s called ‘Once’ for a reason. That success is hard to replicate. Making a film with a small team of people on a shoestring budget and have it take-off in that way, with an Oscar among its many accolades, it’s pinch-yourself stuff really. Hard to say if that sort of success would happen today with all the changes that have happened in the industry since 2006 – maybe not. We seemed to just hit a moment with that film and I am so glad we did.
With ‘Sing Street’, it was also amazing but yes, different in the sense that it was a bigger film, John (Carney) was well established in the industry and we had resources. It was one of the best, most fun shoots with a great bunch of people in front and behind the camera, and those songs. I went to the Golden Globes then with ‘Sing Street’ when it was nominated, and that was so much fun and very relaxed – though we were beaten on the night by ‘La La Land’.

AR Another defining movie that you were involved with was ‘Pavee Lackeen’. Now ‘Float like a Butterfly’ focuses on Traveller culture again. Can you expand on your interest in the subject?
MN I am interested in all cultures to be honest, and in great stories, stories I feel deserve to be in the world and have something important to say. That’s the yardstick I try to use when choosing to take on material to develop. ‘Pavee Lackeen’ was that for me, as is ‘Float Like A Butterfly’. When Carmel Winters, sent me the script for ‘Float Like A Butterfly’, I knew I wanted to come on board and produce. We had worked together previously also on ‘Snap’ in 2010, so I knew she was going to make a very special film.
It’s about time we had a film where a young female Irish Traveller girl is at the centre – not a victim but a hero, representing not just Travellers but also the underdog and fighter in every single one of us. It’s vital that the people and the life of that community and in particular the women of that community are reflected on screen – it needs to happen so much more!

AR You must be very busy. How often do you get back to see your family in Aughagower?
MN I can get very busy at times but I am lucky in that I can also have some downtime when I am not in production and can escape west for a few days or even a few weeks sometimes.
During those times, I can work from anywhere really once I can connect to the internet – I set my office up in the living room when I am home and my mum drops in the cups of tea every few hours. What’s not to love!
I try to get home more and more often. I am very close to my parents (my rocks) and all of my family (there are a lot of them), so I am blessed in that sense.

AR Do you feel the whole branding of the Wild Atlantic Way has been good for your home town and, indeed, the marketing of the west of Ireland as a backdrop for making films?
MN The Wild Atlantic Way is wonderful and I only see it as a positive thing, bringing more visitors to the West to experience its beauty, and it’s also a great resource for people locally.
I know I am biased but don’t think there’s any where more beautiful that the west coast of Ireland – a stunning backdrop for a movie – I can’t wait to make a film there.  

AR You mentioned you are filming in Connemara at the moment. Can you share a sneak preview of the script?    
MN The film is a co-production between Ireland and Canada called ‘Death of A Ladies’ Man’, and it stars the wonderful Gabriel Byrne and Brian Gleeson.
Inspired by the work of Leonard Cohen and set to some of his most beloved music, it tells the funny, magical and emotional journey of Samuel (Gabriel Byrne), whose second or third mid-life crisis takes a fantastical and somewhat grave turn when he returns to his family cottage in Ireland and meets the woman of his dreams, who is full of unexpected surprises.
The Irish portion shoots in Spiddal, Barna and Carna in Galway and the film will be released in 2020.

For more on Martina Niland and her work, see www.portpictures.ie