Film students urged to get reel

CARMEL Winters,the playwright and filmmaker who is University College Cork’s new film artist-in-residence, says she is not peddling the illusion that students are guaranteed work afterwards.

Winters, who wrote and directed her debut film, Snap, is lecturing 24 students in their second year of the BA in film and screen media. “What I’m doing with the students is a marriage of the theoretical and the practical,” says Winters. “The students are there because they want to make films. But it’s basically a lottery, no matter what country you live in. The respected psychologist Daniel Kahneman said that if you interview a group of 18-to-20-year-olds about what they want to do, the one group that is pretty much guaranteed to be unhappy with their choice are the people who choose performing arts.

“It can be film, theatre or music. Essentially, the success rate is very low. I know that I’m at UCC teaching film and that attitude might sound defeatist, but I believe it’s real.”

Winters says the students should not take the rate of failure personally. “Students should actually grapple with it and come to terms with it from day one. You’re working with a law of diminishing returns. A very tiny percentage of filmmakers who get to make a short film will go on to make a feature film. And of those who make their first feature film, a very tiny percentage will go on to make a second feature.”

However, Winters encourages people to follow their dreams. “But where I’d be really rigorous in speaking to a young person with an ambition to work in the performing arts is in advising them not to predetermine too early what specific area they want to work in. Often, you’ll find people writing scripts for 15 years. They might never have had the opportunity to realise that they actually love stage management. Nowadays, people are reviewing their career choices right into middle age, and beyond.”

Winters, who is in her 40s, studied drama and English, and a postgraduate degree in drama studies, at TCD. She had a long incubation writing and directing while working part-time in an Irish bar in California, before teaching creative writing in the prestigious degree course at the University of East Anglia.

She says that talent and a nose for success are not the same thing. “There are vastly talented individuals, probably on our streets begging, or alcoholics in bars or in institutions. Talent doesn’t necessarily rise to the top. I think there’s a kind of canniness that some people possess around how to make the best out of whatever system they’re in.” Winters, whose controversial play, B for Baby, won best new play at the Irish Times Theatre Awards in 2011, likes to work both in film and theatre.

“One of the challenges of theatre is broadening the audience, which has become quite small and somewhat exclusive. There’s a lot of work being done in Cork. While there are opportunities here in theatre, there are also great limitations, in terms of really having a voice as part of your tribe and culture.”

Winters will be making a new feature film next year and teaching, she says, will feed into the experience. “The main character in my next film is 15, a bit younger than the students I’m teaching. But through teaching, I’m all the time being informed by perspectives other than my own.

 


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