The set of Ros na Rún is a home from home for the Ní Fhlatharta sisters and their niece
By Michelle Newman
“From script to screen,” is how Déirdre Ní Fhlatharta,who been working on Ros na Rún more than 22 years, describes her job. She has acted as series producer since season 10 but her love for directing means she keeps both roles firmly ‘under her hat.’
“They complement each other,” Deirdre says of the two roles. “My job is over the artistic and creative side of everything that goes out on screen. The directing is very useful because I know the characters of Ros na Rún, I’m familiar with the sets, the cast, the crew, so it’s quite advantageous to have both.”
For Deirdre a typical nine to five working day isn’t something she’s used to. As she says herself, her day ‘could throw up’ a multitude of complications but this unpredictability is as rewarding as it is challenging. Anything “from trying to do quick re-writes in the morning because of the weather or the rain, possibly re-shooting scenes for one reason or another, to dealing with cast and crew issues,” could take place on any given week.
“At one stage I counted 23 episodes I was across from script, to being broadcast, to being in the edit, to in production. There’s always something,” she says.
Deirdre believes being flexible and the ability to work well under pressure is a skill that is learned over time, similar to any other. “As we mature you have to take stock and have a better work life balance,” she says.
“I love having really, really busy days. It gets me thorough. I thrive on being busy.”
In order to operate as efficiently as possible Ros na Rún has two studios which run simultaneously during the week. The series is also a great source of employment for the area with over 150 people working on the show – including three other members of Deirdre’s own family.
“The four of us work in such different departments,” she says. “I would be in constant email and phone call contact with Louise, who’s the production manager. We would be the two forefronts of the production in a sense, for the day-to-day running of it.”
LouiseRichardson: production manager
No matter the job every company has a go-to person, a problem solver extraordinaire. At Ros na Rún that person is production manager LouiseRichardson.
“I started as a production secretary in the production office and from there I got to see how everything worked, which was great,” says Louise, who has been there for nine years.
Ros na Rún are well-known for providing training to their staff,Louise explains,and within 12 monthsshe was given the opportunity to train for and work in the staging department as a stage manager.
“The following year I was trained as a floor manager and I did that for about four seasons, I was the production coordinator for nearly two seasons and then I got the opportunity to be production manager.”
Working in lots of different areas within the show has been invaluable to Louise, allowing her to see elements of production from all sides.
“When I moved down to the staging department I could see the challenges that the crew in the studio had with how the schedules were put together, but having been a floor manager, I knew how long it took to do a scene and the difficulties with various sets,” she says.
Like her aunt Deirdre, a ‘normal’ day doesn’t exist for Louise whose remit is quite expansive.
“If there’s a problem with one of the vehicles, they’ll usually call me. If someone’s out sick they’ll call me to find a replacement. Day-to-day it’s just keeping an eye on how everything’s running.”
The closeness of the cast and crew is one of the things Louise enjoys the most about her job. “We really do get along so well, some of my best-friends work here. Super corny, but it’s true. We joke sometimes here in the office, clan [family] Ros na Rún,” she says.
“Every day is different and year in year out we get to meet so many different people. We get a lot of journalists coming down on set, Stephen Fry was here a few years ago. It’s a constant turnover of new people.”
Kate Ní Fhlatharta: senior script writer
What’s a soap opera without some juicy storylines to get stuck into week after week? That’s where senior script writer Kate Ní Fhlatharta’s role comes in.
“I pick up the stories at storyline stage when they are just mapped out,” says Kate.
What follows is a sit-down between Kate, the other writers and the series producer to read, go through and discuss these storylines, which can be a ‘very long day.’
“Then we bring that to another stage where we break it down, episode by episode and each writer is assigned a different episode. I’m the overall senior writer of all of those episodes,” Kate says.
“The writers work in blocks, so we might have 12 or 14 at a time. You’re looking after the creativity, the tone, the nuance, the continuity, the characterisation, keeping an overall view. I love it.”
If you’re not a fluent Irish speaker the English subtitles may hide the fact that not all characters on the show are using the same dialect.
“We have maybe four different dialects in Irish and that’s another interesting twist because we have characters from Donegal, Kerry, Dublin, Meath, Connemara. It’s our only soap in Irish, so when we’re writing we have to remain really authentic,” Kate explains. “The more handle the writers have on the different dialects, the better.”
Luckily this doesn’t seem to be a problem for Kate who, along with being a native speaker, also studied Irish at university. When it comes to writing and the content of the show, Kate communicates closely with her sister Deirdre and says working with her family is ‘absolutely great.’
“I think it cuts a lot of corners. As series producer, Deirdre has the final say on the content and the tone, so when I’m writing my own stuff I know her taste and it’s such a personal thing. She’s obviously in very close contact with TG4 and she knows what will pass for them. Knowing somebody really, really well is definitely an advantage.”
Marguerite Ní Fhlatharta: props buyer
On a given day props buyer Marguerite Ní Fhlatharta’s shopping list can see her ‘collecting a fish to collecting African artefacts’ and everything else in between. “Certain things are hard to get. There’s a lot of beg, borrow and steal,and calling in favours,” she says.
Before taking on the role of props buyer, Marguerite was an art director whichwas a big help as she had got to know the charactersand their individual stylethrough this.
There are four art directors working on Ros na Rún who work in two week blocks. The art directors will give Marguerite a list of the props needed for upcoming cycle and then it is up to her to find these items by whatever means necessary, all whilst working within her budget.
“If there is any major stuff the production designer will word me up weeks in advance, she says. “I picked up a few things today that won’t be needed until next month but because Galway is very, very busy, trying to get parking is probably the hardest part of it. We do a lot of research online first to cut down on time.”
Working in advance means certain season items are not necessarily available all year round. For instance,in the run up to Christmas when festive decorations filled the shops, Valentine's Day was on her mind.
“One of the art directors wanted heart-shaped cookie cutters for Valentine’s[Day] coming up becausethey wanted to make a heart shaped waffle. I have to buy equipment for people to cook with, we have a props kitchen and I just bought a dinner set today for one of the sets,” says Marguerite.
“It could go from something really small to do with food to something likegetting a huge raw fish for a scene where they’re taking a fish from the sea into the back of a van.”
Some things might sound easy to get in theory but that isn’t always the case, unfortunately.
“I often take stuff from my own house, I just took my son’s homework diary from his bag this morning! I get a lot of funny looks with certain shopping. You could have ten loaves of bread. If it’s a big quantity of one item, that’s when I get people in the queue looking at me.”