After years hard work and planning, Amy is coming home. On May 2, Songs for Amy received its West of Ireland premiere at the IMC Cinema in Galway. The premiere represented the end of the long journey for cast and crew, and especially for Burren based writer/producer Fiona Graham. Andrew Hamilton finds out more.
From her home on the northern edge of the Burren, writer and filmmaker Fiona Graham can survey some of the richest music country in all of Ireland. It is this music that has become one of the driving force behind her first feature film.
Yet there was no need for Fiona to become a filmmaker. After working for years to establish her own successful marketing business, many in her position would have sat back and reaped the rewards of all her efforts. But that wasn’t the road for Fiona.
No sooner had she been nominated for the Irish Businesswoman of the Year back in 2003, that she had decided to pack it all in and try her hand as a screen writer. Nearly a decade later and Fiona is about to once again reap the benefits of all her effort. Only this time she’s in it for the long haul.
Her debut film ‘Songs for Amy’ received its West of Ireland premiere in Galway on May 2. The film is not only written by Fiona, she also took on the challenge of producing the feature – something which tested all of her business skills.
“It has been a huge education, I’d say that it has been the most challenging thing that I have ever done in my life. I was lucky to have people around me who were so supportive and helpful but it was a case of doing what I had to do and coming out on the other side of it,” says Fiona.
“The combination of producing and writing is not that usual in film but it did have its advantages. Let’s say if there was a delay in shooting, and we didn’t get everything we needed on a particular day, I would be able to solve the problem without having to be too precious about the script.
“I could cut thing and work the film together in another way. We had to find new solutions all the time and a lot of the time the new solutions were better than what we had before. I think me taking on both roles saved a lot of arguments between the writer and the producer of this film.”
‘Songs of Amy’ is very much a film rooted in the West of Ireland – in the musical moments of Clare and Galway. The film tells the story of struggling musician, Sean O’Malley, (played by Sean Maguire), who writes an album of songs for the love of his life, Amy (played by Lorna Anderson) in the hope of redeeming himself.
“The inspiration really came from living here and from the music scene in the west of Ireland. People say that you should write a script that could be filmed anywhere but in the case, the place here is really a character in the film. So it couldn’t really have been done anywhere else,” continued Fiona.
“When you wander around here you can here music on every street, music coming out of all the shops and houses. It is not like that everywhere – there is something different about this part of the world. I also wanted to write something about songwriting and where songs come from.
“The music came together so well it very funny. We really weren’t looking to get local musicians involved, not in particular. It was all serendipity. Konrad [Director, Konrad Begg] had come across Kinvara musician Ultan Conlan on YouTube. Konrad lives in London so it was a complete chance that he happened upon Ultan. He contacted me and said that ‘this guy lives near you – go and find him’. I had no idea how close to me Ultan lived.
“I then met Jim’s [Bellharbour’s Jim McKee] manager at the Meteor Music Awards and he suggested that I go see Jim play. So we went to see him and his music turned out to be quite similar to Ultan’s. The styles are different but the work really well together. It sounded like the same band could own both songs. We also then have some music from Patrick Bergin, Eleanor Shanley and the Alabama 3.
“Both Ultan and Jim are incredibly talented musicians and they really threw themselves into the film. It wasn’t so much that there songs effected the direction of the film itself – it is more so that their songs were a perfect fit and exactly what we wanted for the film.”
‘Songs for Amy’ is a comic romantic story rather than a romantic comedy. The distinction is important as the main thrust of the story – the relationship between Sean and Amy – is dramatic and often dark, with the comedy coming from the failed attempts of Sean’s band to rescue the situation.
The film feature a talented ensemble cast including James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones), Barry Ward (Silent Witness), Ford Kiernan (Still Game, Field of Blood), Kevin Ryan (RAW) and Patrick Bergin – who even sings a song for the films soundtrack.
“Patrick has read a very early draft of the story and he said, straight away, that he was in. There were a few different characters that we thought Patrick could play but in the end he play a legendary folk musician and he also sings on the movie which is great. He has a great voice. We had great fun putting this together – it was incredibly hard work but great fun,” continues Fiona.
“I think this an incredible performance from Sean. He is really, really great in it. He worked really hard, he sings all the songs himself and he spent a lot of time with Ultan and Jim. He really owns the character to the point that it is really hard to separate the character from Sean. He learned to play guitar for the role which I think shows great commitment.
“We wanted a girl who had something about her that was different. The kind of girl who would make someone want to write an album of music about her and Lorna fit the bill perfectly. She has a quality that you can’t quite put your finger on and that is what we wanted.”
Songs for Amy had its Irish premiere in Dublin at The Screen on May 1 before its West of Ireland premiere in Galway the following day. It is showing at the IMC Galway all this week.