THE pandemic has seen many people put their lives and careers on hold, but for Cork filmmaker, Wesley O’Duinn, it presented a golden opportunity to showcase 12 talented artists working around Ireland.
“The Creative Hearts project came to us at the perfect time,” says Wes, ahed 41, from Garryvoe, East Cork.
Late in 2019, he decided to leave Dublin, where he had worked in the film industry for many years.
“It was a risk, it’s well known there are very few opportunities in film and TV outside of the capital,” admits Wes.
Then Covid arrived.
“Personally, it meant I was going to be parked up at my site where I’m building a house in Garryvoe for the duration, with no idea when or if our industry would be allowed to work”.
It was then that the brief from TG4 and Creative Ireland landed.
“It was not like any other brief for a TV show I’d seen before. It was pushing boundaries, challenging the filmmakers to venture out as creatively as possible, urging us to use every skill and any technology at our disposal.”
The government had given a green light for TV production to continue under strict guidelines.
“I immediately called Tomek, our director, and told him, ‘this is it, this is the one for us’.
“We’d been working towards a project of this magnitude all year and were ready and eager,” says Wes.
“The project proposed by Creative Ireland was completely fresh, requiring special treatment, skill and a whole new approach. The challenge outlined, to ‘create visual poems’ resonated strongly with us,” says Wes.
“First I called Burschi Wojnar, a well known, respected and talented Director of Photography. He jumped at the idea; it was right up his street. The DJ, Daithi was a no-brainer for the music. TG4 and Creative Ireland picked up on our energy and mutual understanding for the vision we all wanted to realise and, sure enough, our application to make the series was successful.”
Wes was sitting in the camper van in the field in Garryvoe when he got the green light. This was to be his bustling production office from which contracts and agreements were signed and plans to shoot all over Ireland were made.
“We had about two weeks of pre-production planning, not a long time for such a big project,” says Wes.
“My job was to get the gears in motion, hire the rest of the crew and equipment for what was needed. The logistics during lockdown were crazy.
“Most places were closed,” says Wes. “Getting food and accommodation on the road was tricky.”
Explaining to the gardaí where a big yellow camper van might be headed with a surf-board on the roof and a bike on the back might prove tricky?
“When I was stopped by the gardaí on the road en route to a film shoot location, naturally they were curious about my destination and asked if I was going surfing. I explained what I was at and I was waved on.”
Even as the team headed into the shoot schedule, there was a lot of flying back and forth between Creative Ireland, TG4 and Heavy Man Films to secure the creative artists to appear on the series.
“We were trying to strike a good balance of craft, art, spoken word, diversity, location,” says Wes.
Time was of the essence.
“Seán Cathal Ó Coileáin in TG4 proved invaluable to us,” says Wes. “He was there every step of the way. His expertise was invaluable.”
The show got on the road.
“Once we got going, it was a whirlwind,” says Wes.
“We had a 12 day shoot, moving between counties, driving late every night after a day of shooting during a national lockdown. It was no joke.”
The artists featured on the series were delighted.
“They were a joy to work with,” says Wes.
“As you can imagine, getting work as a self-employed artist during a pandemic is not easy. We provided a reprieve from the drudgery of Covid and together we generated a creative buzz, often releasing some pent-up creative energy. The experience was very unique,” says Wes.
“It wasn’t a situation where a director just tells everyone what he or she wants. It was a conversation that carried on throughout the day, a visual development through collaboration.”
They were all in it together.
“These people, after all, are artists like us,” says Wes.
“It made for a very creative, inclusive shoot.”
Good relations were crucial to the success and completion of the project. “The crew relationships were crucial to good work flow,” says Wes.
Right from the get go, the two hit it off and fed off each other. “You’d rarely see them separated, sharing ideas and details for lighting and shots; it was a ballet of sorts.”
“Their combined work ethic was infectious and spread throughout the rest of the crew.”
Niamho danced to a different tune.
“We had our Covid Officer, Niamho on site, a good, tough lady,” says Wes, smiling.
“She was always on the watch and kept us all safe.”
She had her own way of working.
“You’d never know when she’d hit you with a disinfectant spray! Her voice would ring out from across the set, reminding us of good practice.”
The days were productive, but long. “The crew all met the challenges, day in, day out,” says Wes.
When Covid hit, the troops rallied.
“We were scheduled to meet a tin- smith belonging to the travelling community,” says Wes.
“I called them the day before we were due to shoot him and sure enough they were hit by Covid.”
“The lads were shooting with musician Manus Lunny at the time and I didn’t want to worry them. I badly needed an artist for the next day. Niamho and I jumped into the camper and I gave her a laptop while I got on the phone to Seán Cathal and within an hour we had three potential artists, one in Cork, one in Dublin and one in Limerick.”
Willzee, a young up and coming Limerick rapper, was ecstatic to get the call.
“I’d bloody love to do that!’ he said. “You have to get me, Wes. You have to!”
And he did.
“Willzee nearly jumped down the phone when he knew we were on the way. He was thrilled.”
Wes wasn’t so happy when he had to tell the crew the new plan and turn the team around in north Donegal at the end of a long shoot to drive five and a half hours to Limerick. Halfway down the road one of the vehicles broke down and Wes had to turn back to collect the crew member.
“Despite our exhaustion, Tomek, Bruschi, and I stayed up very late planning for the next day. Our saving grace was we had a good flow going.”
Then the rain came.
“I won’t lie. There were a few cranky faces that day. Pressure was on, it was the last day of shooting. But like always, we pulled through.”
The charismatic Limerick rapper helped smooth the waters.
“We probably recovered our mojo from Willzee’s energy,” says Wes.
“The team clicked into gear like always. They dug deep to find the story as we trudged around the city of Limerick with our cameras and sound equipment, led by our ever-enthusiastic guide.”
Wes recalls the last emotional shots of the day.
“We were nestled in the recording studio. It was dark outside, each of us 10 coffees deep. There was a great stillness and a calm.
"I stood with the guys watching one of the final takes and the book, my own personal diary, which Willzee was using as a prop, closing as the camera on tracks silently crept in and then his eyes rising slowly to meet the lens, thinking, bang! That’s it.”
Despite the pandemic, the inclement weather and a few other challenges, Creative Hearts got made.
“We made it,” says Wes.
“As I drove back along the empty roads to my cosy parking spot in Garryvoe, I was delighted.
"We got there; 12 straight days on the road, meeting some of the country’s most vibrant and interesting artists; the voice of our nation.
"What an honour it as for us filmmakers to take this unique look inside their work. What an honour to have their trust. Creative Ireland and TG4’s vision was groundbreaking and we will be forever grateful to them for giving us the opportunity to fulfil that vision.”
Samhlú — Croí Cruthaitheach, featuring a selection of Irish artists, airs on TG4 soon, with one artist featured each month for the year. It can also be found on the TG4 player.