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AKA Blackbird

I’ve known actor-writer-director James Callis for over 20 years, ever since he came to live with me on arrival in LA in the early noughts. Leaving behind a stellar career on the London stage, including award-winning performances in plays alongside Bob Hoskins, and on the screen, as the universally loved best friend in the Bridget Jones Diary franchise, James was re-locating to take on the Everest of Hollywood. He would subsequently conquer the small screen with his unforgettable portrayal of Dr Gaius Baltar in the much-celebrated remake of Battlestar Galactica.

But James is also a writer and director, having co-written and co-directed the feature film Beginners Luck starring Julie Delpy. So it was no surprise when he told me he had embarked on recording a dramatization of his emergent novel Morpheus Descending. I first read the manuscript a decade ago and encouraged James to develop it as it embodied many of the qualities James displays in his acting; wit, playfulness, and a mastery of the dramatic flourish. The post-apocalyptic genre it navigates is also a world he knew intimately.

When James asked me to contribute to the project, I leapt at the chance. Having followed its path for a decade, I felt invested in what had now become a.k.a. Blackbird. Besides James’ virtuoso performance, he engaged the copious talents of many of his Battlestar cohorts, including Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Tricia Helfer and Michael Trucco. It was a thrill to be in such brilliant company.

The resulting work is a seven hour-long, sci-fi opera (almost literally as James had composed all the accompanying incidental and scored music) that was replete with penal colonies, intergalactic warring forces, clones, meta-narratives and identity crises. The next stage of this monumental work is being explored as I write this. Perhaps the ultimate form of a.k.a. Blackbird will be a serialized drama or published as the most epic audiobook in history. Either way, for me, this 2022 Space Odyssey has been the ultimate trip!

Farewell, for now

And so, my stint as writer in residence comes to an end. I never tire of coming home, but it’s extra special when there’s a creative job-of-work to do.

Writer-in-Residence, Marc-Ivan O’Gorman, at Carlow College, St. Patrick’s

Provincial Ireland often apologises for itself, and Carlow self-deprecates more than most; it is a place that aggressively hides its light under a bushel. The home of saints (Columbanus, Moling), and scholars (John Tyndall, William Dargan), it is a small but beautifully formed gem-shaped county that, in sporting parlance, punches above its weight. Picturesquely nestled between the Blackstairs and the Wicklow mountains, salved by the biggest of the Three Sisters, the river Barrow, my home county, also consistently provides the restorative tonic of natural splendour.

The work, too, was life-affirming. A central component of my writer in residence role was teaching writing, an activity I have participated in for nearly 30 years and one that enriches me. My diverse background working in theatre, film, animation and radio suggested focusing on ‘dramatic writing’. Not everyone is interested in screenwriting, and for a novice writer getting a movie made seems an insurmountable task, but many have aspirations to write for the stage or radio. My view is that the principles of dramatic writing are the same across the different media.

We examined writing for film, the stage and even animation. I also set my students a radio monologue assignment, but I discuss that in more detail in a separate post.

I want to thank all at Carlow College, St. Patricks, County Carlow Library Service and, of course, Carlow Arts Office.

I hope the experience for the writers’ group attending my class was as rewarding as it was for me to give it. I did get some lovely feedback, so hopefully, that’s an indication of how the programme was received.

“Just want to say how informative and fun it was, attending your class. The power and appeal of stage and screen captivate me more and more….”

Marlene

“Thanks a million, Marc-Ivan, for a wonderful learning experience.”

Noreen

“This will sustain me and give me the push to carry onwards and upwards.”

Gaye

“Marc-Ivan delivers a very interesting course. He is an excellent teacher and very helpful.”

Helen

“Marc-Ivan’s refreshing perspective seems to incorporate a multitude of views from world philosophy, theatre, cinema, radio and more to deliver an inspiring and informative learning experience every class.”

Ahmed

Carlow Little Theatre Society reading monologues produced by the Writer in Residence programme

Centenary of Hollywood’s Greatest Murder Mystery

In the last couple of weeks, I got a very encouraging reaction to my work on William Desmond Taylor. The Irishman, who became a major film director and whose murder shook Hollywood, has been a recurring subject of my writing for several years now. The centenary of his death on February first prompted Newstalk FM to re-air, Who Killed Bill?, the PPI award-nominated docu-drama that I wrote and directed.

The channel gave the show a decent push as they broadcast it the two weekends bookending the centenary and posted it as a podcast here: https://www.newstalk.com/docudrama

Directing Actors during the recording of ‘Who Killed Bill?’

It’s satisfying to have older work given a new lease of life but better still to have a new commission. So I was chuffed when RTE Culture reached out with a request to write an article on the Carlow man who came a cropper in California. I’ve written several times for the Irish national broadcaster, and their site has a substantial readership. For this piece, I visited Taylor’s resting place in Hollywood Forever cemetery and the site of his murder, the currently uninspiring location of a Ross – Dress for Less parking lot.

You can read it here:

https://www.rte.ie/culture/2022/0124/1275526-who-shot-william-desmond-taylor-the-irishman-who-shook-hollywood

On the site of Taylor’s Murder 100 years later

There is yet another exciting Taylor-inspired project in the offing, the details of which I shall post here shortly but in the meantime you can find tons of great WDT info here:

https://williamdesmondtaylor.co

In the Can

We recorded our last monologue.

As a culmination of the writing residency in Carlow examining the mechanics of dramatic writing, I set the writers’ group an assignment to write a one-minute monologue for radio.

I wanted the group of twenty-odd writers to create something as a final assignment. I also wanted them to write something that could be produced during the residency. I stressed throughout the programme that, unlike literary writing, dramatic writing only exists to be performed. Performance means collaboration, and collaboration implies a toing and froing of creative input. To understand the nature of drama as a writer, you must understand the needs of actors, producers and directors.

So that was the requirement, to have something completed and then have it performed. It wasn’t reasonable to expect neophyte writers to produce a screenplay, even a short film screenplay, in that time, much less have it filmed. Covid obviated a staged performance; having actors and an audience in a room was not feasible. So I settled on monologues; these could be written and re-written within the schedule, and, again, considering the time constraints, actors could rehearse and perform them. I also chose the radio as the medium. The actors would not need to commit the lines to memory, and the potential audience would be more significant than whatever audience we could fit in a room.

Not every member of the group submitted a piece, but we had the actors from the Carlow Little Theatre Society read every monologue completed. Out of a dozen or so monologues, we picked 8 to rehearse and subsequently record. Carlow College, St. Patricks was very helpful in supplying a large room to rehearse and a sound-proofed room to record, and Monica Hayes of KCLR FM was very kind in coming twice to record. A covid scare meant one of our actors, Gemma Lawlor, was unavailable before Christmas to record Dorenna Jennings moving piece ‘Number 3 Store Street’, so we taped it in January.

In a subsequent post, I will supply details of all the pieces, including writers and actors and the recordings themselves, but it’s nice to know it’s all in the can.

Back on the Beeb

This week, I was invited by producer Steven Rajam to contribute to his BBC Radio 4 show on Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. Steven had heard my RTE show on Brian O’Nolan, Bones of Contention, and thought I might give my dhá phingin on this posthumous masterpiece. Never backward about coming forward on Myles na gCopaleen, I eagerly obliged.

Flann on the radio



As part of the Exploding Library series, which takes a fresh look at classic novels, this episode had Comedian Mark Watson examine the under-valued gem by the man from county Tyrone. A couple of the same voices that featured in Bones of Contention were there, including the always engaging Julian Gough. My own contribution was modest enough but I was delighted to be involved nonetheless. I do love radio.

My previous flirtation with the BBC was also on Radio 4, when Steve Punt travelled to Ireland on the trail of murdered Hollywood director, William Desmond Taylor. The Punt PI team came to Taylor’s home town of Carlow and interviewed me on the man and land of his birth. All great craic.

Anyway, here’s my latest contribution to auntie Beeb: Link

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