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!

Writer in Residence

Marc-Ivan O’Gorman in the Hollywood Hills House where Orson Welles co-wrote Citizen Kane

Following in the footsteps of the likes of playwright John McKenna, poet Jessica Traynor and songwriter Mick Hanley, I am taking up the post of Writer in Residence in my hometown of Carlow, Ireland.

The residency will involve teaching a weekly class, weekly one-on-one consultations with aspiring writers and developing a drama along a local theme. The course is on the fundamentals of dramatic writing, including writing for stage, radio and animation but with a focus on screenwriting.

I have written numerous dramatic pieces based on local events and characters, from the brutal aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion to the mysterious murder of Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. I have no doubt I will unearth another intriguing tale buried in the town’s past.

The first half of the residency will be conducted remotely, in line with Covid protection restrictions, but the latter half will happen ‘IRL’ in the magnificent 18th-century surroundings of Carlow College, St. Patrick’s.

Carlow College, St. Patrick’s, 18th Century center of learning, mother of rebellion.

“St. Pat’s” is the alma mater of the most celebrated rebels Ireland has produced, including leading Young Irelander James Fintan Lalor, legendary Fenian, John O’Leary, Easter Rising martyr, Michael O’Hanrahan, and the instigator of Australia’s Eureka Rebellion, Peter Lalor. Will I be able to tap into that renegade spirit during my sojourn?

The program, supported jointly by the Arts Council of Ireland, Carlow Arts Office, Carlow County Library Service and Carlow College, St. Patrick’s, concludes a three-year cycle with my contribution that runs from September 1st until the end of the year.

Flicker: The Life and Death of Hollywood Director

On Oscar Sunday I’m teaming up with Karie Bible to discuss the life, career and murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor.

I was born and bred in William Desmond Taylor’s hometown of Carlow, Ireland, but it was only after moving to Los Angeles to make movies that I became aware of my fellow emigre’s compelling story. I subsequently returned to Ireland to produce the well-received docudrama, ‘Who Killed Bill?’, about Taylor’s murder, and to establish in his honor ‘Taylorfest’, an annual Arts and Silent Film festival to celebrate the contributions of Irish filmmakers to early Hollywood.

Karie Bible has been the official in house tour guide at Hollywood Forever Cemetery since 2002. She has lectured at The Old Town Music Hall, The Queen Mary, The Homestead Museum and is also a “Lady in Black” to honor silent film star Rudolph Valentino.

Karie has appeared in the segments for Turner Classic Movies, CNN, History Channel and Travel Channel. Her book credits include “Location Filming in Los Angeles” with historians Marc Wanamaker and Harry Medved and “Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays” with Mary Mallory.

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A Bright and Guilty Place

So I’m on the bus. I’m soaking it all in, up the Ventura freeway, a route in part sponsored by “Bad Boys Bail Bonds”, we pass a shocking pink van advertising the essential “Topless Maid Service” (dial 1-844-SO-DIRTY), and I’m already computing the calculus of California. Is it better to take the 405 to the 101 to the 134 or the 105 to the 10 to the 5 to 134? These permutations were once a local pastime and the equivalent of Irish people scanning a grey morning and assessing whether it calls for the winter coat or just the windcheater. Of course, now there’s an app for all that.