Carmel Winters • Director
by Naman Ramachandran
Snap is Carmel Winters’ debut feature. The €800,000 budget was raised through a mixture of funding from the Irish Film Board, Regional Support Funding, the Irish Tax Break (section 481) and a small post investment.
Cineuropa: How did Snap evolve? What made you choose this subject?
Carmel Winters: I was teaching Creative Writing (Drama) in the University of East Anglia at the time and I performed A-Picking At A Bone, at the theatre there. In the play, a one-woman show, I played both characters – Sandra, and her teenage son Stephen. The response to the characters and their story was extraordinary. I felt an overwhelming tenderness from the audience towards the characters. Sandra and her son’s complex relationship resonated deeply with people; women and men of all ages saw aspects of themselves in them they didn’t often see acknowledged.
Now, at the same time, I was sifting through ideas for a screenplay that could thrive on, and not just survive, a low-budget production. I’d been watching a great deal of European low-budget films and I noted two things. One, I didn’t always enjoy the low-budget “aesthetic” that tended to emerge as a by-product of little money and time, and two, those films that transcended that aesthetic and roped me in as a viewer did so because of the strength of the characters and the storytelling.
I knew that Sandra and Stephen were characters that would connect with a cinema audience but I wasn’t yet convinced of the play’s raison d’être as a film until I began exploring their relationship to the camera and how loaded that was, how within the film itself there is an interrogation of what it means to be caught on camera, and with the camera... This not only answered the question of why this play should become a film, it also gave me the opportunity to investigate a visual style that, while not being big-budget dependent, could be imaginative, original, compelling – and intrinsic to the story.
I understand that the project began as a play and that you invented some part of the story as a training scenario for psychiatrists?
I developed Sandra and Stephen as characters in a dramatic scenario I presented to trainee psychiatrists. The idea was to present the psychiatrists with a fictional scenario that would allow them to practice the skills they would need to deal with challenging real-life situations. The interns were fascinated by the complex dynamics between mother and son. Here were people behaving in ways that concealed rather than revealed their true motives. I remember a number of the interns even cried as they unpicked what had made this mother and son so estranged and yet so bonded in ways that they themselves could not recognise.
I invented lots of characters over the years in this way but Sandra and Stephen sunk deep hooks into my imagination. The character of Sandra, in particular, campaigned me for a platform beyond that training scenario. Her voice was constantly in my head, defending herself – and her son – to an imaginary audience. And yet there were so many holes and contradictions in her defence, so many fragments to the puzzle of who she was. I love characters that don’t unravel easily. I love characters that are as much a compelling enigma to me as a writer as I hope they will be to the audience later. Sandra was that and more. And there was Stephen – just out of her reach, incapable of understanding himself unless he was given a story that might move him towards just that. So the writing was a form to service to these characters whose vitality demanded passage into the world.
Details of their circumstances changed over the time I spent with them as characters but that ambivalent tension between mother and son that inspired me to write the play ‘for’ them is captured on the screen in Snap in a very pure way. It’s wonderful to see that flame of essence survive the combined creative and technical challenges of filmmaking.
What are your future projects?
I have a theatre play B for Baby coming up at the Abbey, Ireland's National Theatre, in September as part of the Dublin International Theatre Festival, a TV series Mind in the pipeline, and am working on a delicious new feature film The Road to Joe coming up. It’s a darkly funny love story about a pair of oddball outsiders thrown together when their worlds fall apart.
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