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Screenwriter Mark O’Halloran Talks About His Latest Film VIVA


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April 26, 2016 0 comments

We’d like to introduce a new series of posts on the Script Reader Pro blog — interviews with working screenwriters on the craft of screenwriting, agents, managers, how they got into the business and much more. 

There’ll be a wealth of information imparted on how to break into the industry right from the horses mouth, and so stay tuned for upcoming interviews too.

For the first in our series we spoke to Mark O’Halloran, who most recently wrote Viva.

The movie is set in Havana and follows a young man named Jesus who does make-up for transvestites. It’s a highly entertaining drama and we recommend you check it out.

Anyway, on with the interview with screenwriter Mark O’Halloran.

Tell us something about your background, where you grew up, where you’re living now, how long you’ve been a screenwriter, etc.

I was born in the west of Ireland in a small town called Ennis. I am the 8th of 10 children, a family size that was not so unusual back then.

I left there immediately after I finished secondary school at age 17 and after a couple of years working in various place in Ireland and elsewhere I attended drama school in Dublin.

I graduated there in the early 1990’s and worked in theatre mostly for a few years. When I reached 30 I began to write plays and one of my first plays was seen by a producer who commissioned my first screenplay; Adam & Paul. I live in Dublin.

What inspired you to become a screenwriter? Were there any particular movies or screenwriters who turned you onto writing?

Well I was an actor before I was a writer and so the move into screenwriting was sort of accidental.

I have always been a movie fanatic but never had ambitions beyond being a fan.

The films that I have always liked and that continue to have an affect on me include the films of Laurel and Hardy, Da Sica, Cassavettes etc. Strong character studies or vaudeville.

Did you go to film school? And if so, would you recommend it — how much of a help was it to your career?

I didn’t go to film school. I learned by trial and error, which seems to suit me perfectly. I am not from an academic background.

How did you get your big break with your first feature Adam & Paul?

It was a happy accident. I had written a play called The Head of Red O’Brien that was received rather well and a producer named Johnny Speers came to see it and he asked me to send him any ideas for features I might have.

So I sent him a short synopsis for Adam & Paul, which he liked and he set me up with Lenny Abrahamson. It was all very fortuitous really.

One of the most common questions we get is “How do I get an agent/manager?” How did you get your agent and manager and what advice would you give on how to do it?

I rarely plan anything – so I never went looking for an agent.

She sort of searched me out and we met and I liked her and that was that. I still like her.

As well as features you’ve also worked on TV with the series, Prosperity. Which do you prefer and which would say is easier for aspiring screenwriters to break in to?

Well TV was certainly more lucrative – but for me I prefer to write for the screen or the theatre. I seem to have more freedom that way. I guess it depends on what you are looking for.

If you had to recommend one screenwriting book aspiring screenwriters should read, what would it be?

I have never read a book about screenwriting.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see aspiring screenwriters make with their careers?

Writing what they think others will like and thus short-circuiting their own instinct.

How do you know when a script’s ready? Do you have a circle of trusted friends who read it and give you feedback?

There will always come a time when you need to step away from a script for a bit. That is not to say that the script is done but rather that a certain stage of the process is done and a draft is complete.

Time then affords you the head-space to get back in and further develop the piece. I do have people that I can send it to get feedback but that is usually only when I feel I am a little lost. I try to keep it between my director and my producer.

How do you get through a script? Do you have a set working routine? Working hours? Page count per day?

I used to say that if you were getting 3 pages done a day then you are rocking along.

As I get older I tend to be getting slower. In a good way I hope. I work a script until I know it is reaching some sort of completeness and coherence.

Your latest film, Viva, is about a make-up artist for a transvestite show in Havana. How did you come up with the idea? And how do you know when an idea for a script is worth developing?

Myself and the director took a working holiday in Havana to search out ideas and the story for Viva evolved from interviews I did with drag performers there. It is a very lively and inspiring scene.

You will know that an idea is worth developing because it grows in your head rather than withers and it keeps offering you ideas that you demand to be written.

Do you think it helps to write detailed character bios for your main characters — who their parents are, what high school they went to, etc. — before writing the script?

I tend to write these, yes. For me it is vital work. I rarely plot a script before beginning but I will know every detail of my central characters’ lives.

How do you give each character a different “voice” in your scripts?

Each character will use language differently just as each person you meet in your life uses language differently. It is part of the writers work to figure out how and why a character speaks the way they do.

What are some of your favorite movies of the past couple of years that you’d recommend people watch?

I loved Room. I also loved Diary of a Teenage Girl (which I only saw recently), Brooklyn, Ida etc.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring screenwriters what would it be?

Finish what you are writing and don’t be afraid to rewrite. Also never mention the camera in you stage directions. It is none of your business.

Are you on Twitter — is there some way people can keep up to date with your work?

I am an avid twitter user – @markohalloran

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