By Gary Frazier
“The Hole Truth,” a short film penned by Tennessee Screenwriting Association member Irish Johnston, will be shown at the 50th anniversary edition of the Nashville Film Festival during the first weekend in October of 2019. We asked Irish to share her story about herself, the script, and the process of seeing the film come together.
TSA: Tell us about yourself (where you are from, how you ended up in Nashville, etc.,) and how you became interested in writing, specifically writing for film.
Irish: I was born in Nashville, but spent a significant part of my childhood in New York City. My father is a writer, so I grew up surrounded by creativity and odd working hours. I initially was introduced to the film industry through acting, which took me out to Los Angeles for a few years. I quickly realized that I had an appetite for all aspects of film making, in front of the camera, behind the camera, and eventually creating content. I think my acting background has influenced my writing style to pay attention to the characters. I have taken several classes on screenplay writing, including at Watkins and online, and attend the TSA meetings as often as I can.
TSA: What is “The Hole Truth” about?
Irish: “The Hole Truth” is a dark comedic short film about a suicidal woman’s disappointment in the shallowness of human beings. In this exaggerated world, the main character, Suzanna (Sprague Grayden), finds herself in a new job where she gains access to hear strangers’ heartfelt confessions. Her initial excitement quickly fades into despair as the confessions border between shallow and absurd. As she plans her exit strategy, she discovers a magical hole that leads to an unexpected real connection.
TSA: What inspired you to write “The Hole Truth?”
Irish: The initial idea came from an article about a terrific, and real, project called “Story Corp.” Which, I am sure, is not shallow at all. But I started thinking about what if the audio capsules left in the Story Corp files, for generations to listen to, were actually really disappointing to hear? Add that to what feels to me like a current social climate lacking in real human connection, and voila! Dark comedy.
TSA: Tell us about the writing process for “The Hole Truth.” How long did it take from idea to finished script? What were some of the lessons made, mistakes learned along the way?
Irish: The actual writing of it took about a week. But the ideas were marinating for a while before that. The main character, Suzanna, has a very strong, sort of judgmental, perspective to me, and she was a lot of fun to write. I decided to have a Narrator (Katherine Morgan) help move the story along, which was a more playful voice to write. Getting to watch this screenplay go from the page to the screen, has been super informative. I hope the lessons learned will translate into my future projects.
TSA: Your script won Best Short Screenplay at the Sun Valley Film Festival in Ketchum, Idaho, which in turn led to initial funding for the film. Tell us about that experience.
Irish: That whole experience was crazy fun. I absolutely adore the Sun Valley Film Festival and how much they appreciate and support writers. From beginning to end, they made me feel very special, and that is so hard to come by in this industry. Winning felt a little surreal, and completely unexpected. And then, honestly, I had a feeling like I wasn’t winning necessarily, but rather being given this huge daunting task of producing and making a film, which I didn’t feel ready for. But the SVFF surrounded me with a lot of talented people to help navigate through that. And I made some terrific friends along the way.
TSA: ”The Hole Truth” had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $30,000. How did the Kickstarter come about, and what do you think made it so effective?
Irish: My co-producer out of Boise, Karen Toronjo, suggested Kickstarter, so we just jumped in and figured out how to do it. We were lucky to have a lot of friends and family who were excited and wanted to support the project.
TSA: The film was ultimately shot in Boise, Idaho. Were you on set for the shoot? What was that like?
Yes, I was on set for the shoot, no way I would miss that. I love watching films get made. There is something so special about seeing that process for me. But at that point I was more in the producer role – not the writer role. I had handed over the story to the director, Russell Friedenberg, and felt very confident in the choices he would make. I am a collaborator at heart, and love to see what happens when several people’s creative visions merge together.
TSA: Tell us about the folks who partnered with you (director, producer, actors) who helped make the film a reality.
Irish: It started with my co-producer Karen, who introduced me to Russell, the director. He brought in the cinematographer, Gregory Bayne, a true talent. They all knew each other from other projects, so there was already some chemistry there. Russ and I cast it, finding Sprague, and Phil Burke (Russ had worked with him before). Then, I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to cast and use a cinematographer from Nashville, Mark Ramey, to do some cut away “confession” shots we weren’t able to get in Boise. We also recorded Katherine’s narration here in town.
TSA: The script was also one of three finalists in the 2018 Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. And now, the film itself is going to be shown at NaFF 2019. How does that make you feel?
Irish: Feels great! Nashville has a talented and supportive film community. We are lucky to be in a city that values writers and creativity. And now, to have “The Hole Truth” screening in the festival, makes me very proud.
TSA: How has the TSA helped you and your writing?
Irish: I love the TSA meetings. I cannot get enough of the core structural questions, “What does your main character want?” “What obstacles does he or she have?” It is mystifying how I can never hear those questions enough, and how often I lose track of them while writing. Writing can feel very solitary, and TSA offers a supportive space where you don’t feel alone.
TSA: What’s next for you?
Irish: I have several short screenplays submitted to festivals and competitions. One, which was workshopped in the TSA meetings, has won an award, and I am considering producing it. I am also working on a feature that I have brought pages into TSA for feedback.