Interview with producer Caoilinn Handley

  • A producer is a leader or a boss?

Both really, but the mark of a good producer is definitely one viewed by their team as a leader, who goes by example and isn’t afraid to get stuck in!

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

One of the biggest things I look for in my crew is a passion for what they’re doing, and a willingness to do the best that they can do, even if it’s hard. I think it’s important to focus on quality rather than quantity, or often in the case of film, quality over speed. It’s something we really focused on with Starry Night, from the production design, to the camera work, even down to the food!

  • What do you look for in a script?

Characters, hands down. A script that sucks me in is one where I’m invested in all of the characters from the get-go, ones that I could easily follow for 90 minutes even if they’re not the lead.

  • How do you select a director?

It’s always a bit different, really. For Starry Night myself and Emma ended up seeking each other out, and then got Rachel on board to write – we all wanted to tell the same story, which is hugely important. On the flipside, I’ve recently come on board another script where myself and the DOP sought out a director from the LGBTQ+ community to help tell the story, as it’s an aspect of life that we don’t have personal experience with. But I did my homework first, and asked around about her work ethic and how other crews found her – it’s crucial that my directors are open to collaboration right from the beginnings of the script to the final cut of the film; both with myself and other team members.

  • Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.

I’m a firm believer in the technique we used for Starry Night – get the story down first, flesh out the characters, figure out your beats, set in in a castle if you want to! Then, when we’re nearing the final draft, we can start talking about “do we need this location, this character?”, can we tell the same story
in a different way?”. Once you know the characters, and their stories, intimately, it’s easy to tweak the script to fit your budget (or vice-versa), without compromising on quality.

  • How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?

As you can probably guess from my previous answers, I get very involved! I always try to get on board quite early on in the development of a script, sometimes when it’s no more than a treatment. On projects where I come on board later, I scrutinize the script with a fine-toothed comb, and question the writer/director on why certain things happen, is there another way to do this? Characters are a key thing for me here, especially those from a minority – stereotypes are blacklisted from my productions!

  • How much influence as a producer do you have with the choices made by the director and/or DP?

It depends a lot on the dynamics of the team. Generally, I trust the director and DOP to do their own thing to tell the story. But I keep an eye on monitors on set, and will speak up if I think something doesn’t look quite right. If they want to do something that takes a long time, we sit down and talk about it beforehand – both to make sure it’s the best way to tell the story, and also for me to ensure that I can give them all the tools they need to achieve it.

  • What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?

That a well-fed crew is a happy crew, and a happy crew make great films! No matter what the budget, you need to keep your cast and crew well-fed with decent meals, and proper breaks. Homemade cookies on the trickier days help, too!

  • If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?

Oh that’s a tough one now. Definitely something with loads of production design, where we can create our own world within a world. I love telling Irish stories, especially in a time where much of the films we see are American or British – there’s something so refreshing about seeing your own country, your own people, on screen, and travelling with them on journeys you can relate to yourself.

  • What does the future of film look like?

Equal, I hope – there’s been a huge push in Ireland for equality and diversity across the board, with the 50/50 by 2020 campaign. It’s definitely getting better, but we’re not there yet, especially with attitudes towards minorities on and off screen. But you can see the change happening as more and more young people come up through the ranks, so I’m optimistic for the future!