Is Ireland Capable of Producing an Epic Sci-Fi Thriller?
By S.J. Robinson
This is a question which has been floating around in my head the past few weeks. At present, with summer cooling off, and the weather after taking a sharp turn to autumnal, typical-Irish and dreary, I feel an urgent and pressing need to inject some life and spark into Ireland once again. Something exciting! Something with a bit of hype and buzz around it! Something that would get people talking and create jobs in the process. What better way than with a seriously cool, home-grown sci-fi film, involving so many of the talented and creative people that this wonderful Emerald Isle has to offer?
Now, I have to admit I don’t even know where the sci-fi part of me even came from. Five years ago, after the close of my bread shop in Cork City, I embarked on a writing journey to reach a destination which, at that time, had not yet become clear. In fact, I had decided to sit down to write a very different reflective, confessional-style book... When, all of a sudden, the bones of this altogether intriguing story started to piece together in my mind. A trickle of ideas at first, but then slowly the tap was turned fully on...
Enter PROJECT CODE-X. A laboratory setting. A project, shrouded in mystery. Then all of these awesome characters appeared on the scene. A villain boss. A woman trapped. The plot unfolds, with a central dilemma at the heart of it... What on earth is this now? I wonder, as I brainstorm ideas. What about that confessional-style book? Needless-to-say that reflective book has been shelved for the time being, replaced by what the literary world calls a High-Concept Thriller. We also want cross-genre fiction, the literary world says, it’s important these days. Okay, I take note, but now the story is writing itself. I play only a minor part, more of a spectator on the sidelines. And what PROJECT CODE-X ends up becoming surprises even me! I end up with something that I’m sure George Lucas himself would be proud of (drum roll): A series of High-Concept Literary Thrillers, with blended elements of sci-fi/ dystopian/ paranormal, and essentially dealing with the eternal struggle between light and dark forces. Have I a future world setting? Check. Have I bucket loads of Biblical allegory? Check. Allusions to Milton, Dante and Shakespeare worked in? Check, check, check. Not forgetting enough literary merit to bag a few book awards? Sure, why not. All in all, it has been an interesting journey so far, and yes, I will admit it, I believe I have finally come to terms with the sci-fi nerd inside of me!
Not that the entire world isn’t embracing sci-fi these days, everywhere you look sci-fi is become more and more prevalent. Even closer to home, we saw Disney shooting Star Wars out on Skellig Michael not too long ago. Then, from the mega-budget to the low-budget, we see Wales only across the water coming up with its own indie sci-fi film Offworld last year. Maybe sci-fi is no longer nerdy, but rather "it’s the new cool". I mean let’s just take a good look at all these sci-fi ‘dudes’: they know everything that the regular Joe Soap like you or I should know about the latest and greatest gadgets and technological advances but don’t. They have the heads up. For instance, most of us haven’t a clue of all that our phones are capable of doing, until we tune in to the latest techie on Youtube who can fill us in on the cool stuff we’ve been missing out on all this time. Maybe we should stop hiding and just get in touch with the sci-fi nerd that’s in all of us? If you can’t beat them, let's join them, I say. We need to catch up. And with all the advances in technology in our everyday world, there is just no escaping the sci-fi revolution. I mean the things which were thought to be sci-fi in the past are actually a reality now. Examples include: hover boards, now by the likes of Lexus; driverless cars, now by Google, Audi and Ford; and the famous PADD in Star Trek is now the Apple ipad. I think it’s obvious now that all those nerds, who were possibly getting bullied in school for wearing glasses, are having the last laugh now with their multi-billion dollar companies.
So with sci-fi definitely becoming the new cool, this brings me back to Ireland as a host to an epic sci-fi. Of course, we have no shortage of tech giants who think Ireland is great place to call home, but I wonder has this country got all of the ingredients necessary to make a truly great sci-fi movie? For this, we will need three essential ingredients: Location, Team [Crew/Cast], and Script. Okay, so let’s take script first. According to Graham Storrs, the script needs to have the X-FACTOR. He explains that it’s this X-factor which makes the difference between science fiction and 'truly great' science fiction, and that this X-factor involves exploring the human condition. Graham received the greatest insight from a publisher in attendance at Worldcon (The World Science Fiction Convention) who said something to this effect: "I want to see a manuscript that shows me a future that might happen and asks, ‘Is this really what we want for ourselves?'" Of course, being the author, I am naturally biased in saying that the PROJECT CODE-X trilogy definitely has that X-factor (and not just because it has an X in its name!). Honestly, one of my main motivations in writing these books has always been to examine the human condition and the nature of man. I wanted to get to the very root of who we are as human beings: to examine the things that break us and make us, that test us and shape us; and to find out who we really are collectively as a people.
So with the script taken care of, we can look at locations next. There is no denying that Ireland has an abundance of unusual landscapes and dramatic features which would suit a sci-fi film down to the ground. From Mizen Head to Malin Head and every nook and cranny in between, there are rakes (for non-Irish readers, this is Irish slang) of weird and wonderful sites and locations in Ireland to choose from, which would create a cool, futuristic, other-world feel. I actually used Mitchelstown cave as the inspiration for one of the settings in the second book Beta to Psi; while the majestic Powerscourt Estate would be another gem location for several other important scenes from this particular book. And there are many other locations which would be great to use too: the Cliffs of Moher and its older brother Slieve League in Donegal, the 99 steps at Mizen Head, the amazing Ring of Kerry, to name but a few more. While researching potential locations, I stumbled across a fantastic location for the final scene of Alpha in the wonderful travel blog of Janet - the Journalist on the Run - and when you see it you will instantly recognise why. The haunting and rugged cliff landscape of Inis Mor island is home to the unusual entitled Serpent’s Lair, which itself is surrounded by a jagged and graded Roman-style amphitheatre which occurs naturally in the rock.
As for crew and cast, this one should not be difficult. We have shipped out much talent, but much talent still remains and there are many Irish filming projects taking place at present. Recent examples include both a mix of mainstream and indie films: A Date for Mad Mary, directed by Darren Thornton and starring Seána Kerslake, Sing Street directed by John Carney (whose indie-hit Once received incredible international acclaim), The Secret Scripture, directed by Jim Sheridan and based on the book by Sebastian Barry, the list goes on and on. I think in all good Irish films, it is never down to just the actors, or to the director, or to the photography, or to the screenplay which makes a film great, but rather it's the combination of all of these ingredients masterfully blended together which ultimately makes the finished product turn out so well.
So this leads me back to my originally question: Is Ireland capable of producing a sci-fi thriller of epic proportions? Well, my conclusion is a unanimous one of one: YES, absolutely! Science fiction is the literature of our times. It is everywhere and there is no escaping it. Our whole society has become technology-orientated and this is what makes sci-fi all-the-more appealing than ever before. Yes, I like my walks in nature. Yes, I like my fashion too. But, Yes, it’s also true that I like a healthy dose of sci-fi from time to time! (...soppy romance stories and distasteful erotica I'm afraid just don’t do it for me). Furthermore, I think a sci-fi film set in Ireland would most definitely attract nearly the entire cinema-going population of this nation, even with a sci-fi tag on it, for the simple fact that generally Irish people love all things Irish-related. Maybe, it’s because we're such a small country, we tend to feel like some kind of large-scale community (sure Dublin is only up the road from Cork, after all!) Furthermore, far from what Fintan O’Toole believes (in his criticism of Disney shooting in Ireland), I think a sci-fi film on a grand scale would provide a huge boost to the Irish economy, in terms of providing jobs as well as indirectly for the tourist trade, not-to-mention that great atmospheric buzz, which is created when a high-profile project is being filmed locally. So would you go to see a home-grown Irish sci-fi film? And do you think Ireland is capable of producing it Hollywood-style? Please share your comments in the blog or get in touch with me via inmail/email. Thank you so much for reading!
- S.J. Robinson is the author of the PROJECT CODE-X series of high-concept thrillers. She is also the proud mom of two awesome kids, who she wants to see inherit a better world and brighter future. To stay connected with her and to receive more interesting content, you can sign up for her monthly newsletter right HERE where you'll get a free advance reader copy of the first book Alpha.
- If you'd like to see what the Serpent's Lair on Inis Mor island looks like, then check out the travel blog of Janet, The Journalist on the Run HERE at this link. See number 26 of 50 unique things to do in Ireland - "Cliff-Diving into the Serpent's Lair" (...Not for the faint-hearted!)