In Depth In Orbit with Katie McNeice
I’ve been going since I moved up to Dublin seven years ago and actually started off as a volunteer. To come back this year with my first film and not only get into GAZE but win it is something I’d never imagined could happen. There’s a sense of belonging and community at that festival I really don’t think I’ve experienced anywhere else. It’s an incredibly moving but important event.
KMN: That’s an interesting question because I have to admit I didn’t set out to write a sci-fi film. I didn’t even consider ‘In Orbit’ sci-fi myself until I got feedback from people who had read the script and eventually seen the film. It’s funny because we’re obviously influenced by what we watch. I’m a big Black Mirror fan but in general I think we’re getting a really diverse wave of content coming out now for TV and film with this emotional quality which hinges on tech.
With In Orbit I was trying to explain not just what loneliness looks like, but the feeling of it; what is it like to be in this isolated mind? What is it like to feel you are in a world of your own, under a sense of shame which isn’t of your making and which no one else can understand? That’s what my experience of growing up gay was and the primary goal of the film is to communicate that emotionally because explaining to someone with words alone is never enough. People don’t understand it. I think we’re all so wrapped up in devices and social media now that watching Maura flick through holograms to communicate her feelings is relatable in a way. She can’t show the interviewer what her life has actually felt like, but she can borrow images of devastation, death, war and heartbreak from elsewhere.
Secondly I think the involvement of social media in the marriage referendum had a lot to do with it. You’ll notice all my tweets have #YesInOrbit on them. That’s a nod to the swell of public conversation which surrounded the vote a few years ago. In one sense it was great everyone was talking it out and thankfully the result was good, but having other people debate your right to love is heartbreaking.
KMN: Thanks. It was a gamble doing that and I didn’t know if people were going to follow it, especially with an entire lifetime in one short. I’ve been asked by so many people now if it’ll ever be adapted to a feature because there’s so much of the story we don’t see. Fleshing it out as a feature length screenplay is definitely on the maybe list for 2020.
FID: In getting the audience in Maura’s head, it helps that there are two great performances from Claire Loy and Aire Ni Mhuiri – how did you work with those performers to bring Maura to life?
KMN: I’m so proud of the actors on this project. Claire was the first to come on board and strangely for a short film she was involved for almost a year. I had to do a live pitch at the London Short Series festival last year and wanted something visual to bring with me. I also needed to get the VFX tried and tested before we got into production so it made sense to shoot a teaser.
Claire’s got this really intense, intelligent quality to her which really makes the character of Maura, I think. There’s very little dialogue in the 2019 section of the film but you can tell at all times there’s so much feeling behind every moment she’s in. I think the character was with her for so long and we had so many discussions about what the intentions of the script were, she was completely immersed in it by the time we started filming.
With Áine, I was actually scouting for an actor to play Amy when I came across her headshot. There’s such a likeness between herself and Claire! I couldn’t believe it. With the themes of sight and vision in the film I wanted to be sure all the actors had striking eyes. Both of them have that naturally emotional look and it really helped with Áine’s more demanding scenes in the interview, I think. Rehearsing the movements of the holograms with Áine was really important and talking through the beats of the script in terms of what it meant to Maura. A lot of the voice over is so poetic to pull off that sense of memory and dreams that nailing the dialogue was my focus with her. She’s got such a lovely voice and a natural rhythm in her speech. It really drives the whole film.
As much as possible I wanted to align Áine and Claire in the edit, so matching Áine’s posture to hers as we filmed the interview scene was a focus as well.
FID: You mentioned earlier getting the VFX ready for pre-production, what was that process like?
You’ll also notice I use #daoine on all my social media posts. I wanted to use a gender-neutral word when directing Claire and Sarah and this is what we landed on. It started off as a fond word I could use to address everyone on set and it’s become a cornerstone of who we are as a team.
I wrote out the whole film in prose form, bolding key feelings and putting in as much on colour as I could. From there I sketched out the emotional anatomy of the film, end-to-end, with every beat noted in it. I strung together a diagram from this were you see the positive and negative experiences mapped out. Because of the two time periods in the film, these feelings sometimes happened simultaneously and that was the real challenge for Emer; to communicate strength, heartbreak, hope and regret all at once.
We put so much effort into pre-production together that she had a rough pass of the score delivered before we even shot the film. It was so helpful in terms of pacing the actors and blocking out scenes to already know what the tone was going to be.
The biggest influence on the score was Max Richter’s work on Arrival. Emer loves him as a composer as much as I do so it was a great fit.
KMN: Absolutely, yeah. We’ve gotten to a point now I think that homophobia looks ridiculous, even if it hasn’t died down completely. But what we’re lacking is that deeper understanding of identity when it comes to gender, queerness, and similar. We’re making so much progress on these things but not near enough. The stories I want to tell are very much the ones I wished I’d heard when I was younger. My next short (fingers crossed) is called Lambing and is based around a couple expecting their first baby in rural Ireland. It looks at what the medical process actually is in this country when a baby is born with intersex, the social fallout that can follow and the impact it has on the parents’ mental health.
I also co-wrote the feature adaptation of Lily with Graham Cantwell last year. It was incredibly taxing to be writing an eighteen year old girl at the same time as prepping In Orbit in which the characters are forty and eighty. That coming-of-age story of young gay women hasn’t been told in Ireland yet though. It’s just missing.
So even though juggling a full-time job with the feature script, my own scripts and then directing a short was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, I’m glad I did. Being a part of Lily and helping bring an authenticity to her story based on my own experiences is something I’m very proud of. Graham’s achieved so much with his short already I can’t wait to see the impact the feature has on young people in Lily’s situation.
Secondly I think Screen Ireland and similar funding bodies should be willing to take risks on people. I funded In Orbit myself because I hadn’t directed before. There was no way anyone would have funded it and yet it’s premiered at the Fleadh, where it got a Special Jury Mention and won its second festival with the award at GAZE last week. It wasn’t a “safe” project financially, technically, or even narratively and I think we need to be more open minded to supporting films that take risks like mine does.
Follow the hashtags #YesInOrbit and #daoine on Twitter, FB and Instagram for upcoming screenings of In Orbit.