Siobhán Ní Ghadhra – Owner/Producer Danú Media, Production Manager, Ros Na Rún
With two Emmy wins, five Emmy nominations and a long list of international co-productions to her name, Siobhán Ní Ghadra, director of Danú Media and Production Manager of Ros na Rún, believes the film industry in Galway could be on the cusp of greater things.
Tell us about yourself - your background, how you got to where you are today?
I am a Galway girl born and bred. I was brought up in Furbo, just outside the city, which was probably much further outside the city when I was growing up. Now it's kind of been sucked in there.
My mother is from Galway, my father's a Limerick man, so he got a job and they moved down after they got married in the early 70s and they got this site in Furbo and built a house on it. It was very much in the countryside then - there were one or two houses. They were just as Gaeilge; the older neighbours spoke Irish, but they spoke English to their kids, so we were kind of unusual in the mix there.
I went to school locally in Furbo and went to secondary in Spiddal. I then went to UCG as it was at the time, NUIG now with a gang of girls from Spiddal who have remained my true friends to this day. In first year, I did Soc and Pol, Economics, Irish and French and then I did Economics and Irish for my degree. I finished my degree in 1997 and that was around the time that TG4 started; it was literally one year on air. There was this postgraduate course in UCG at the time, the Higher Diploma in Communications as Gaeilge. It was a hard enough course to get into at the time because there was such a buzz around TG4, so I applied for that and got it. There were only 12 in the class so I made some great friends there as well. That was a year-long course and that's what started my career in this area.
So what did you after the Communications course?
I graduated in 1998 and applied for a job in Concorde Anois, which was Roger Corman's film studio here in Galway. I applied for a job as a PA and didn't get that job - we've often joked about that since because my now husband (Producer John Brady) ran the studio at the time. It wasn't him who interviewed me. They called me back two weeks later and said, that there was this American producer coming over to work in the studio and he needed a PA for his time on the film and would I be interested in that. So I said 'Yes please, and thank you'. There was a time when there weren't a lot of jobs and a big thing was to have a job before the graduation in October, so I got my job before graduation and started there and was there for nearly three years. It was great. We worked really, really hard, really long hours for very little money, but it was a fantastic training ground. I loved every minute of it. Loads of people in the industry here and nationally started there and I have great memories and great friends from that time. And a husband, of course.
Where to from there?
I finished up in Concorde in the year 2000, and then had a short-lived career as a Múinteoir in Tuam, teaching Irish in the secondary school. I was just subbing for somebody, but I realised pretty quickly that that probably wasn't for me; I didn't have the temperament for it. I started working as a PA in Telegael in 2000 and I stayed there for 13 years after that. I was in the dubbing department - revoicing cartoons, animation projects from English into Irish for TG4 and RTE. My first job there was a very junior role - logging tapes. Then Bríd Seoige, who was the Head of Production there at the time, called me up and asked if I'd be interested in voice directing, so I said I'd give it a go. I was still probably pretty young and pretty naive at the time. I remember Flipper was my first series and I was really, really nervous. I had a great sound guy working with me who very much held my hand; he knew alot more than I did about it and a great bunch of cast. So that began my voice directing career in Telegael. Then a few months later, Bríd decided to leave Telegael and the job of Head of Production was advertised, so I applied for it and got it. So I was Head of Production there initially and I was promoted after a number of years to Chief Operating Officer and that was the position I held when I decided to leave in 2014. It was a great time - there was a great bunch of people working in Telegael. I got to travel internationally, got to work on a lot of series, won two Emmy awards, and won IFTA awards.
Tell us about the Emmys?
We worked with a lot of companies overseas - US, Asian and Australian animations studios - from all over the world really. I won't lie, it was tough. It's a very international world and you're literally on call 24/7. You have conference call with Americans last thing in the evening and Australia first thing in the morning - the world of co-production never sleeps, as somebody famously said. So then a series we worked on for Discovery Kids called Tutenstein got nominated for an Emmy, so we took off to LA, really with zero expectation of coming home with an Emmy to Spiddal, but that's what happened on the night. It was pretty surreal; I still remember waking up the next morning in the hotel room in LA. It hadn't been a terribly late night, because everyone went home really early. We were a little bit like, 'OK, where's the party?', but that's not how it worked out. Then I woke up in the hotel room the next morning and I glanced over at the bedside locker and there was this Emmy sitting there and I was like, 'Wow. That did happen. That is coming home with me.' So yeah, luckily, the same thing happened again in 2007. We were nominated again and we won again, so it was amazing. I remember coming home on the flight from LA going, 'What do I do with this thing?' I didn't want to parade through the airport carrying this Emmy in my hand, so I wrapped it in my coat and put it in a plastic bag. Then when I put it through the x-ray machine, the security guard came over going, 'Excuse me ma'am, is this your bag? Then he said, 'This is your Emmy? Well, congratulations'.
Then on the flight home, I was sitting beside this guy, a musician from Ireland and he was reading an article in the paper about a company from Spiddal winning an Emmy, telling me about it. I was sitting there thinking, 'Do I say it or not?'. So I did and himself and his buddies took out all their musical instruments, and started playing Irish music. Then the cabin crew announced that the Emmy winners were on the flight, they brought out champagne and this little girl got up Irish dancing. It was so surreal - and really lovely.
What an achievement!
It was. We were building a new house over the last few years and they were in storage and I brought them out. Now they're sitting on a shelf in my sitting room. I'm immensely proud of them.
So what made you decide to set up on your own?My husband and I decided to set up our own company. We had been talking about it for a long time, setting up on our own and developing our own projects. Around the same time, Maire Ní Thuathail, who runs Eo Teilifis, and produces Ros na Rún, had been talking to me about possibly coming and doing some work with her. The timing seemed right, so we decided to live the dream and try and make it on our own.
And how's it going?
Really, really good. We're really busy; we've just finished post production on a drama series for TG4 called Fir Bolg. I'm still working as a production manager with Ros na Rún, so we've just wrapped season 20 there, which has been a fantastic experience. There's a great bunch of people working there. It's very intensive during the shoot period, but it really works well for me because it's local, the hours aren't too long and it's a shorter shooting season. So I suppose it's very family friendly for me at this stage of my life and it gives me the freedom to work on other projects. We have a few projects in development with the Irish Film Board and a few other coproductions that we're working on, so watch this space...
What's your drive behind continually producing and creating, and with such energy?
I really genuinely consider myself very lucky to work in an industry that I love. My husband and I were having a cup of coffee with somebody a few weeks ago and a discussion started around the industry and afterwards, my friend said to me; 'God, I wonder what the dinner conversations in your house are like', because we'd both be quite passionate about what we do and don't always share opinions. We do talk a lot of work in our house and once our kids are in bed, our conversation can be a lot of, 'Did you hear..?' 'Did you see... ?' 'Such and such is doing this', or 'Did you get that email off to that person?' or 'Did you get a chance to read that script?' so I consider myself very lucky to work in an industry that I love. I love dealing with people. I think it's very much relationship-based and reputation based and thankfully, most of the people I've worked with over my career have come back and worked with me again and I've worked with them again. I love the social element to it as well. You go to Cannes, you go to LA, you got the Galway Film Fleadh, different film festivals, Berlin. You meet lots of people - it's good in that sense. I'm a bit of a talker, so I like to meet people. I like to sit down and socialise.
For me, I'm lucky I'm within five miles of where I grew up, five miles from where I went to school. I'm a bit of a homebird; I've never travelled very far. I'm married to somebody who works in the industry, so I think that helps a lot as well, because we get it and if either of us have to go travelling, the other gets it. We understand each other's schedule and the concept of deadlines. I think it would be much more difficult if I was married to someone who had a regular nine to five job, because I have his support, he has my support and it works really well, we work really well together in the business. There are days I'm wrecked; don't get me wrong. But I'm very interested in it. When my kids are in bed at night, I'd be online, reading industry stuff. I'd be reading scripts, I'd be talking to friends of mine in the States about projects. It's that whole thing, If you like what you do you'll never work a day in your life, so I'm lucky enough to be in that boat.
What do you enjoy about the technical side of your job?
There's two sides to that - I love to read a script. I like reading anyway, so I like to read books, I like to watch movies. I love it when a script lands on my desk and I read it and it catches me. That can be rare to be honest. You have to read an awful lot of scripts to find one, but when I find one that really gets my attention - the ultimate page turner - I love that. Even when I'm reading a script and if we move into production, I love how I may have seen it happening versus how somebody else will see it. I love how people will get something completely different out of the same piece of work.
On the production side, I have to say I love the logistics of it. I love the figuring out. On any given day, I could be dealing with a million and one different things, from closing a deal with an actor, talking to the bank about gap financing, sorting out a website, doing an interview, watching a rough cut, reviewing a sound mix, picking music for something, so it's really, really different every day and you could be doing anything. I like that element of it...and I'm a bit of a control freak, so I like the logistical side of figuring it out.
I would like to consider myself to be friendly and outgoing. I'm the chatty one, my husband is quiet. Some people would say I like to be liked, but I like to make people feel comfortable. I was actually quite shy as a child and I would hate to think of people feeling uncomfortable. At a social event, I will always be the one going over to chat to the person who's on their own. think you always have to make an effort with people, so I don't know what you'd call that - friendly? I'm a very sensitive person, I think, I can be very sensitive about things. And good craic, hopefully, sometimes - when I get out!
Any mentors or influencers along the way?
I don't know that I could pick one person. Maire Ní Thuathail who runs Eo Teilifis and has been 20 years producing Ros na Rún. She has a genuine interest in people and seeing people progress within the industry. Many people don't want to train the next person coming behind them for fear they'll take their job - there can be a sense of that, whereas Maire's really generous with her knowledge and her time and she's hugely supportive of people. People who want to do projects of their own outside of work time, she gives them the equipment and she gives them her support and her knowledge. She's really willing to facilitate that, to give graduates opportunities and to see the best in people and to try to figure out a plan for them. I think that's quite a talent and I don't think there's enough of that in this country. And it's not industry specific, I've seen her do it in other areas and I really admire it, I have to say.
Where do you think the filmmaking scene is at in Galway?
I think there are some great courses on offer for students in Galway. I think we have really smart well educated graduates. Obviously, everyone coming out of college needs some practical work experience and in fairness to Ros na Rún, over the 20 years it's been great training ground for people who've come out of college - entry level position, trainee positions - and there's a real prospect of actually getting a job at some stage, as opposed to doing an apprenticeship and moving on. I think that's important. I think Galway needs to move up a gear at the moment. Galway has hit its maximum level for its current capacity, so I think we have to make some brave decisions. I think we have a supportive council, the Irish Film Board headquarters are here, the Galway Film Centre does wonderful work, the Film Fleadh is well established, TG4 is here, but I think we need some longer sustainable production to happen in Galway in order for the industry to grow further.
What form would this take?
Some bigger projects coming into Galway. I think studio infrastructure within the city would be an important part of that. I think a long running TV series and attracting really international projects would be the way to go. TG4 is fantastic and again offers great opportunities to people, but it's at a certain level and I think in order to sustain a bigger, bolder growth industry for the film and TV industry, we need to aim a bit higher, we need to attract the bigger projects, we need to make sure the proper infrastructure is there in order to facilitate such projects coming in here and I think if that happens the opportunities are endless.
How would you like to see Galway develop?
I think there are some fundamental issues with the road infrastructure in Galway. I live 12 miles west of the city. It can, at times, take me as long to get from Indreabhan where my house is to the M6, as it takes to get from the M6 to the M50 on the other end. Out west of Galway City, broadband capabilities are very limited, mobile signals are very hit and miss. I have dealt with companies all over the world in really remote areas who still can have decent broadband speed, decent mobile signal, decent road infrastructure. For industries to grow in Galway, regardless of the industry, it's something that needs to be looked at. A lot has happened, but I think it's probably been city-focused, but there's a whole other world out there outside the city centre. I live in a house which is on the main road, only 12 miles from the centre of the city and I can have my phone on the table and it won't ring, because the signal is so poor. It really doesn't help, and within our industry, the technology has moved on so much. In the world of co-production for instance, you're working with partners overseas - something's been shot abroad and you're editing it here - just to simply upload and download files, which should be a really simple thing, is a challenge. Or else you can get a service here, but the cost is astronomical for small companies - it's just prohibitive and I think it's a shame. From a language perspective, I think it forces people in the Gaeltacht to move into the city or towards the city - then you lose a certain heritage and richness. I'm lucky enough; I live in the Gaeltacht, I raise my children as Gaeilge - that's very important for me, but I could easily pack up and live in the city because my business life would probably be easier if I did that.