From casting directors to actresses, here are the Irish women to watch out for in the film industry

Following our success at the Oscars, Irish film is on the up – and the hype is really building around The Young Offenders, the Cork film out next month that’s already been dubbed comedy gold. Esther McCarthy meets the film’s producer, Julie Ryan – one of a growing number of women making their mark on Irish movies.

Following this year’s success for the Irish during awards season, a new wave of Irish cinema is in motion - much of it propelled by females working in the business – to prove that Oscar season was no flash in the pan.

There’s a feeling of optimism in native movie circles as emerging talents endeavour to consolidate the opportunities created and doors opened by filmmakers like John Carney and Lenny Abrahamson, and actors like Domhnall Gleeson and Saoirse Ronan.

Much of this next wave is being driven by women across the film sector who are involved in some of Irish cinema’s funniest, most moving and anticipated new movies, including Cork comedy The Young Offenders and touching indie drama A Date For Mad Mary. 

But who are these women and what is it like to work in the movie industry? 

We spoke to some of them about how far Ireland’s film industry has progressed – and how the best could be yet to come.

Julie Ryan - Producer

Buzz is steadily building for The Young Offenders, an energetic comedy set in Cork and based around two teenagers who head west in search of a cocaine haul that has been washed ashore.

Inspired by the real-life seizure of cocaine off the coast of West Cork in 2007, the film was produced by Julie Ryan, who along with writer/director Peter Foott and his vibrant cast, have succeeded in creating comic gold on a low budget.

Buzz is building for the Corkmade film ‘The Young Offenders ‘ starring Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, which has succeeded in making comic gold on a low budget. The film is released on September 16.
Buzz is building for the Corkmade film ‘The Young Offenders ‘ starring Alex Murphy and Chris Walley, which has succeeded in making comic gold on a low budget. The film is released on September 16.

Already established in TV production, this is the first feature for Julie, from Lisgoold in East Cork, on what has been a colourful and varied career path so far.

She worked in the sports department in TV3 (sport, especially horse riding, is her other great passion) before working on RTÉ’s The Panel.

But it was during a period in LA that she decided producing was what she wanted to pursue. 

“It was an amazing experience because I got to work with some of the biggest studios in the world.

“I worked for a creative marketing company, we went on the set of major films for DVD bonus features and all the various marketing material. 

"It was great for me to meet all the producers, directors, everyone behind the scenes and get their insights.

“One minute we were interviewing Justin Bieber and the next Nicole Kidman. I got to work with some of the best in the business. I learned so much.”

On returning to Ireland, she was reacquainted with Foott, who offered her a job on RTÉ’s hit hidden camera series The Fear. 

And for one summer they decided to hatch a plan.

“We thought, rather than go and look for work elsewhere, let’s make this feature film together. It was the logical move for us and we were both itching to do it. 

"He told me his idea and I loved it straight away. I didn’t doubt for a minute that he would absolutely kill it.”

The film is poised to garner lots of attention for its two young leads, Chris Walley and Alex Murphy.

“The boys were amazing. We made it over the summer, but there were times where it was absolutely lashing raining and we were hiding under cover at the side of a mountain, trying to cover the boys and make sure they didn’t get soaked.

“This is my first feature. The subject matter was so much fun that it was easier to get people involved when I was pitching it to people.”

For Julie, who is now pursuing further film projects in tandem with her TV career, the real winner in the movie is Cork. 

“The city and county look amazing, and 99% of our cast and crew are local. I think Cork comes up trumps in this film — on camera and behind.”

The Young Offenders opens on September 16.

Tara Lee - Actress

She’s already a respected musician, but the multi-talented Lee is also forging an impressive career as an actress. 

The Co Wicklow-born star, already a familiar face from hit TV series The Fall, is in two acclaimed upcoming movies.

From casting directors to actresses, here are the Irish women to watch out for in the film industry

A Date for Mad Mary, a touching Irish comedy drama about a woman searching for a guy for her best friend’s wedding, has received rave early reviews. 

Tara plays a musician who befriends the title character, allowing her to showcase both talents on screen.

“I get to sing like myself but play another character who’s nervous on stage, because this person she really cares about is watching her. It was interesting to play someone different, but it felt more natural to me.

“It’s very surreal because we shot it so long ago,” she said of the buzz for the film. 

“It didn’t really dawn on me until I was sitting there with family and friends (at the premiere) and hearing people’s reactions, hearing them laugh and cry. 

"It was such a beautiful experience, I’d never really expected it or thought about it.” 

She also features in the forthcoming Moon Dogs, about two step brothers who fall for the same woman on a Scottish road trip.

“It’s directed by Philip John, who worked on Downton Abbey. Musician Anton Newcombe did the score which was one of the main things which attracted me to it.

“The character had so many traits, but not one of them was to do with her appearance. It was a really ballsy, gutsy character. I got this really obsessive feeling that I had to do this! I really saw myself in her. I’m really proud of it, and I’m hoping it’ll do well.” 

Currently based in London, Tara has a music publishing deal with BMG Chrysalis (“they have Debbie Harry, who’s a massive inspiration for me”) and is gearing up for more live performances. But acting has become a great passion.

“It’s a weird one. Music was always the first thing for me, and I never really wanted to act, but (casting director) Maureen Hughes cast me in a role and I fell in love with it.

“We’ve just finished shooting The Fall 3 and I think that’ll be out in the autumn.” 

Everyone wants to know what it’s like to work with Jamie Dornan, she said.

“He’s a lovely, lovely guy and very talented.” 

She agrees that it’s a great time for women in the film industry. 

“There was something in the air at the Galway Film Fleadh in July. The majority of people going on stage to collect awards were women. 

"Things are changing, and Ireland is progressing a lot faster than people give it credit for.” 

* A Date for Mad Mary opens on September 2.

Louise Kiely - Casting director

Finding the perfect actor to play a character is a skill that can make or break the believability of a story. For casting agent Louise Kiely, it’s a passion. 

From casting directors to actresses, here are the Irish women to watch out for in the film industry

The woman who has matched the people to the projects for such recent hits as Sing Street and The Lobster — as well as dozens of TV shows and commercials — trained as an actress before turning her hand to this profession.

“It was sort of a happy accident to be honest,” she says now. 

“I was part of a cooperative agency called Castaway Actors and the idea behind it was that actors represent themselves. You spent a couple of weeks in the office a year and it educated me in contracts, negotiations — the business and administrative side of representing actors.

“I discovered that I enjoyed the scheduling, meeting set-ups and organising people in that way,” she says.

She and fellow actress Orla Fitzgerald, who has since returned to her original profession, decided to set up business.

“We thought: ‘Shall we try this?’ I certainly hadn’t any idea of how a career would be forged out of it, but we came up with a name and sent out an email and got an email back within the space of about 45 minutes. We were thrilled. We just followed our instincts really,” she says.

In the past couple of years, Kiely has become one of the most sought-after casting directors in the business, her eagerness to find new talent earning her respect within the industry.

“We tend to throw the doors open a bit, as much as we can. I like to be surprised by new faces and new people. I feel it’s important we do whatever we need to cover as much territory as possible, though that depends on the individual job.

“For Sing Street, we went everywhere. We had open castings, we put it up on social media and luckily there were queues and queues of people, and that’s where we found some really important characters — Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who plays the film’s endearing lead Conor) and Mark McKenna (his friend, music maestro Eamon).”

Her approach to her job is based partly on instinct.

“In the way that a character has an emotional quality, a vibe, a person has a vibe as well. And if you’re intuitive, you can gauge that. 

"That’s not to say that an actor couldn’t recreate that, of course — that’s their job. But it’s always nice when there’s a similarity between them, it feels very immediate and real then,” she says.

She believes that it’s an exciting time for women in the film industry — and for the industry in general.

Aoife Kelleher - Director

Her first documentary feature, One Million Dubliners, was a heart wrenching story of Glasnevin Cemetery and the characters which populated it.

From casting directors to actresses, here are the Irish women to watch out for in the film industry

Now Aoife Kelleher is turning her observational storytelling style to the village of Knock, Co Mayo, but Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village also digs deeper.

The film, to be released in late August, opens with the story of the 1879 apparition, what brought people to Knock in the first place and what brings them there today.

“It feels like a very interesting time to be looking at that, because we’re at a very interesting point in Irish culture and society where it feels like there could be a move towards a more secular society,” she said. 

“Yet at the same time you’ve got Knock, which gets over a million visitors every single year. It’s looking at who we are. 

"This is an exploration of faith in Ireland and where it’s at now, through one of the key narratives which was this apparition in 1879,” she says.

She had never been to Knock before beginning to research her film. 

“I spent a lot of time there shooting and researching, getting to know people. In loads of respects it wasn’t anything like what I imagined. 

"Knock is very striking. The basilica is like something from a Tim Burton movie, with its quirky-looking exterior.”

For Aoife, who also makes documentary series including the acclaimed Growing Up Gay for RTÉ, this is a significant time for women in the film industry.

“Coming off the two best picture nominations, Brooklyn and Room, there is a feeling that there’s more to come. The industry is really expanding at the moment. 

"It’s been a really tough few years, with the budget for the Film Board retracting and the same for RTÉ. But now there’s a real sense of expansion and everyone’s excited. It really is a great time to be working in film in Ireland.

“It was so significant when the Irish Film Board said they would move, over the next few years, to introduce gender parity in their commissions. I do think that’s really important. 

"There has been an assumption for a long time that it’s possible for women’s stories to be told by men, that people don’t necessarily have to be involved in an industry for their stories to be told, and I think that’s very, very far from the case.”


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