Guest Post: Shadowing Director Lisa Mulcahy on RED ROCK

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Hannah Quinn, Assistant Director talks about her experience shadowing Director Lisa Mulcahy on RED ROCK.

Earlier this year, I had the experience of shadowing Director Lisa Mulcahy on one of her blocks of the hugely successful TV3 serial drama – RED ROCK, for 5 weeks.  Each cycle consists of 10 days prep, 8 days shoot and 5 days edit.  In those 8 days, 4 episodes are shot.  Yes; that is 1 episode every 2 days and each episode is 22 minutes.

There could be four Directors all on at the same time, maybe two are in prep, one is shooting and one is in edit.  Meanwhile the impressive cast and crew, roll from one cycle to the next just about managing to inhale their new scripts for each block, before they begin shooting it.  We were starting cycle 32.

I first met Lisa over 20 years ago as her trainee Assistant Director and have worked with her many times since, so I knew she wouldn’t mind me asking her lots of questions.  RED ROCK is a furiously paced show which sometimes has to shoot 20 script pages a day and with a new cycle filming every 8 days there is scant room for mistakes or reshoots.  The Directors are hugely responsible for making that happen and have to be overly prepped, ready for fast decision making. I planned to spend every minute watching how the hell Lisa was going to do it.

On day one, Lisa hit the ground running, straight into a tonal meeting with the Executive Producer – Gareth Phillips, Story Producer – Ciaran Hayden and Script Editor – Kieran Grimes, questioning every line, every beat, every motivation, every back story, timelines etc.  There is very little rehearsal time with the actors, who will need to be assured that the Directors know their characters and can make sense of their story lines.  Only two of our four shooting scripts are ready to be issued but there are treatments for the other two to work with for the moment.

Lisa’s long experience as a Director and Assistant Director really showed, as she methodically broke down her scripts and she got me to approach the scripts as if I was going to direct them all myself.

I had been following RED ROCK on TV3 but the Series Producer, Paula Heffernan, also gave me links for the upcoming episodes, which were in post production as well as the scripts leading up to our episodes. This major binge fest really helped me get a handle on the RED ROCK road show.

I sat in on Lisa’s meetings with the Costume Designer, Inez Nordell, Hair and Make-up Designer, Rosie Blackmore, Art Director, Tracy O’Hanlon and her team, Director of Photography, Declan Emerson and Editor, Erin Foley, to discuss all elements required for cycle 32.  Lisa nabbed the actors between costume changes and gave them the heads-up on what was coming up in her episode’s, as some hadn’t yet time to read their scripts.  Based on the quick chats with the actors, Lisa then ascertained how much rehearsal time she’d need and got the lovely Sandra Conneely, the scheduling Assistant Director, to fit that in to the busy week.

RED ROCK is mostly shot in interior and exterior sets at the old John Players Factory but there are a couple of days on location on most blocks, which gives RED ROCK a realistic setting and helps the show stand out.  We headed out with the delightful locations team Dave O’Mara and Michael Byrne to do some scouting for a prison exit.  As we would lose time travelling to this location on the shoot day, two other sets, were swiftly found in locations nearby, to be scheduled in on the same day.

Lisa worked out a shooting schedule that could work for her and talked it through with Sandra and whether it fitted with actor availability.  The limited amount of extras budgeted for each block have to be utilised efficiently to make RED ROCK look like a busy Garda station and also a couple of new parts had to be cast.

Through all of this, Lisa is steadily working out how she’s going to shoot each scene and how little time she will have to do it.  On top of all of this, as part of the shadow directing scheme, Lisa will be generously letting me direct some of these scenes and she’s keeping me on my toes by not telling me yet which ones I will get to direct. This means I’ve got to know how I’d shoot the scripts as thoroughly as she does. No pressure.

The other two shooting scripts are issued, immediately followed by a 2nd tonal meeting and pink page revisions are issued for the first two episodes.  When I’ve time, I pop onto the set to see how Directors Rob and Ronan Burke approach their respective episodes and get to know the friendly cast and crew, captained by 1st Assistant Director Nick McCarthy, who had initially recommended me for this scheme.

Shoot days 1 & 2 of cycle 32 shoot alongside shoot days 7 & 8 of Director Rob Burke’s cycle 31.  Actors are crossing over from one shoot to another and it all goes very well. I perch as near as I can to Lisa and have the relaxed luxury of silently witnessing her considered approach to every shot, scene and the day as a whole. Coming from my Assistant Director background, the hardest part was to forcibly resist the urge to tell everyone to be quiet and shout ROLLING!

Red Rock shoots mostly with two cameras helmed by DP’s Ciaran Tanham and Declan Emerson. On a small set, which needed only one camera, Lisa sent me out to get GV’s with Camera Operator, Mark Byrne and Assistant Camera, Danny Kelly.   Three extras who thought they were wrapped for the day, two innocent students on work experience, a Garda car and Erin’s red bike got hauled in for some action-packed background action on the RED ROCK Garda station sign.

On shoot day 5, Lisa planned to give me a scene to direct with Sharon and Paudge, played by the wonderful Jane McGrath and Pat Ryan, two of the show’s leads.  I really like these two and we got a few minutes to rehearse before the crew arrived from the 1st location.  It was a sensitive scene of a page and a half and I had 40 minutes.  That’s not much time for 3 or 4 set-ups and no more than one or two takes, so you have to have a plan and you have to know how to communicate it as efficiently as possible.  Jane, Pat, Declan, Nick and the crew immediately rallied and kindly gave me all the support I needed to get on with it.

Over the next couple of days, Lisa very generously let me direct scenes with four more of RED ROCK’s brilliant cast, Andrea Irvine, Liam Carney, Róisín O’Donovan and Anthony Brophy.

The last day of our shoot loomed large with a page count of 19 3/8 and three set moves.   Lisa and the cast & crew breezed through it with 4 pages down by 09:30.  That day was surprisingly one of the most relaxed, even though the cast and crew were gearing up for yet another new Director and 4 new scripts.

Post production next; 5 days in editing with Erin who had already started fine cutting the assemblies.  For each of the first four days one episode had to be ready for viewing by 5pm.  We stocked up on galaxy bars and mandarins.  Each episode, would be viewed by the Studio Producer – Paul Walker who would make suggestions for revisions.  The episode would then be distributed to the Executive Producers, and any notes would come back and be absorbed into each episode.  By the end of the 5th day, all four episodes would have their final cut.  Although these ep’s would go on to get a sound edit and final grade, this was as far as the Director brings it.  Lisa got me to edit the scenes I had directed, with Erin, who thoughtfully brought me through the process within the limited time we had.

The whole experience of being a shadow director was a gift for me.  Even though I normally work quite closely with the Director in my day job as an Assistant Director, and it was a huge advantage to have that short-hand experience, getting a chance to clear the mind and watch the Director make the show the best it can be from start to finish under real time constraints, was my absolute privilege.

Hats off to Lisa Mulcahy and Paula Heffernan for initiating the Red Rock Shadow Directing Scheme, especially as it creates opportunities to bring more women Directors into the fold and for Screen Training Ireland for supporting the scheme.