Every Monday morning, a group of Irish filmmakers gathers for a creative meeting in an old warehouse by Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock.
The building is home to the Factory, a studio set up by writer-directors Kirsten Sheridan (“August Rush”), John Carney (“Once”) and Lance Daly (“Kisses”) to harness their collective energy into fostering a new wave of Irish cinema.
Since the trio took over the space in 2009, they have transformed it into a fully equipped production facility, with five studios, its own camera department, editing suite, screening theater and recording studio.
It’s also become the hub for a community of writers, directors, producers and other artists who are collaborating to develop each other’s projects under the Factory Films banner, and using the facilities to experiment with production.
The weekly session is a chance to swap ideas, to kick about each other’s scripts and to push, challenge and encourage one another to bring their projects to fruition.
Aside from Sheridan, Carney and Daly, the cast of regulars includes producers Martina Niland and John Wallace, and writer-directors Shimmy Marcus (“SoulBoy”), Mark O’Connor (“Between the Lines”) and Kieran Carney (“Zonad”).
Others drop in and out, either by invitation or their own request.
“We’re pretty much open door,” Sheridan says. “So far it’s been mainly writers, directors and producers, but we are encouraging visual artists, photographers, comedians, cinematographers, etc., to make it a wider net.”
Factory Films already has two films in post-production — Sheridan’s teen suspense drama “Doll House” and Carney’s ghost story “The Rafters,” both shot last year.
The next step is to raise finance for a slate of half a dozen features emerging from the communal development process, to be shot using the Factory’s own facilities.
According to Sheridan, the aim is to focus on “personal, honest storytelling,” in order to deliver work with a distinctively Irish voice that can connect with an international audience.
“Films like ‘Once’ and ‘Kisses’ are rough around the edges, but with a lot of heart and charm in them. I spent time in Los Angeles, and that’s what seemed to connect with people. It’s how people view the Irish character,” she says. “Rather than doing the Dogma thing and setting rules, we decided that the way to find a national identity is through that openness, to keep asking each other why, why this film, why this story, why is it personal to you? The more you can focus on what makes it personal, then you will get something like a wave.”
The fact that the Factory has its own production facilities is essential to this process, she says. It gives filmmakers the freedom to test out their ideas, rather than getting stuck in development while trying to raise finance.
The Factory also runs a non-profit training arm for young actors, writers and directors, which provides a readymade talent pool for pilots or micro-budget projects.
This isn’t just confined to films. The Factory is also working on TV projects, such as a quiz show that Marcus and Carney recently piloted at the studio.
“We’re looking for a producer to run the TV side. Traditionally there’s a quite a big divide between TV and film in Ireland, which hasn’t been helpful at all, but now the snobbery is going away. We would like to do TV drama and good old-fashioned comedies,” Sheridan says.
The original idea for the Factory emerged from a conversation between Sheridan and Carney two years ago at the Galway Film Festival, about the isolation of screenwriting compared with Carney’s previous experience in a rock band.
“John was saying he’d love to have somewhere to go to call home,” Sheridan recalls. “So we decided to talk to people about spaces. For the first time in Ireland, you could find spaces again because of the recession.”
Sheridan and Carney, now joined by Daly, found an empty warehouse that had previously been used as a dance school. “It was a shell of a place, in bits, but it had five really big studios,” Sheridan says.
The landlord gave the first year’s rent for free. “The refurbishment was funded through the films John and I made last year,” Sheridan says.
They invited casting director Maureen Hughes and recording engineer Kieran Lynch to move in, and started to build up the group of collaborators. Rory Concannon joined from the Dublin Film Festival to run the business side.
Niland, who produced “The Rafters,” and Wallace, who produced “Doll House,” have become increasingly involved since Christmas in pulling the slate into focus.
“That’s when the Monday morning meetings started,” Niland says. “It’s very fluid and organic, but once we have our slate of five feature projects, it will get more structured. For the moment it’s just run on passion and excitement and energy, everyone is giving their time for free. The next step is getting some money for writers.”