Thursday, August 10, 2017

8 Questions with ... storyliner Cian Taaffe

We all know how wonderful the actors on Ros na Rún are. But without the folks on the other side of the camera, there would be no show: without the lighting crew, it would be quite dark; without the wardrobe team, everybody would be naked; without the writers, there'd be a whole lot of the actors standing around looking at each other and blinking.

But what goes into coming up with the stories that keep the characters -- and the viewers -- occupied each season? Here's the fascinating inside story from Cian Taaffe, one of the Ros na Rún storyliners!

What are the different roles on the Ros na Rún writing team and what is your role?

There’s a huge number of people involved in getting an episode of Ros na Rún from its inception to what the audience finally sees when it goes out on air, between the Scripting and Production Departments. Even within the Scripting Department there are several different stages along the way and plenty of people working in various roles to make the magic happen, which includes storyliners, scriptwriters, structure editors, script editors, researchers, continuity supervisors, as well as one or two superhumans who keep us all on track and oversee everything.

My own role is as a storyliner (alternatively known as a story writer, but it means the same thing), and our job is to come up with the stories and decide what awful things we’ll be subjecting the characters to on any given week. Each episode consists of 4 storylines (give or take) and we work on blocks of 14 episodes at a time, breaking down exactly what will fall out in each episode. Once we’ve written those stories up for all 14 episodes the torch is passed on to the scriptwriters who will put their own stamp on their individual episodes and literally put the words in the characters’ mouths with that trademark Ros na Rún dialogue.

How long have you been working on Ros na Rún and how did your job there come about?

It’s been a bit over a year and a half since I began puppeteering the lives of Tadhg Ó Direáin and the other unfortunate residents of Ros na Rún, having first stepped into the story room back in January of 2016. Mostly luck and being in the right place at the right time is how I landed the job. I’d been a fan of the show since it first began airing in 1996, even though I was only 9 at the time, and that’s really where the story of how I got this job begins…

Just kidding obviously, it’s not that long a story, but I had grown up with Ros na Rún and have always been a fan of soaps, so towards the latter half of 2014 I started writing my own soap blog, making several industry contacts along the way, Ros na Rún included. The following July, Ros na Rún were holding some focus groups to get feedback from the viewers, and because I was on their radar thanks to my blog, I was asked to come along. Clearly I made a good impression because a few months later, in November 2015, I was invited down for a 3-day storylining workshop run by Ros na Rún and Gréasán na Meán Skillnet. I started officially a month and a half later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What's your background and what other kinds of things have you done professionally?

As far back as I can remember, I always had a passion for consuming stories, whether it was through books, film, television, or theatre, and all I ever wanted to do when I grew up was to be involved in something creative, so at every opportunity throughout my school years I’d be doing some sort of creative writing workshop, acting class, or film production course in my free time.

Once I was at college in UCD, I was involved in a lot of societies and clubs, including the radio station, newspaper, and An Cumann Dramaíochta, while also managing to pick up an arts degree in English & Irish, and a postgrad in Media through Irish along the way. Since graduating I’ve had a few different positions, including some work at 98FM, as an editor for, a tour guide in The National Leprechaun Museum, and several years as a stand-up comedian, before ending up at Ros na Rún.

How does the storylining process for the show work? Does the team come up with ideas for the entire season all at once, or is it a continuous process throughout the season?

The biggest point I should make about the storylining process is that we’re always about a year ahead of what is currently going out on air when we start working on the stories, so as an example, we’ve already finished writing our stories for Season 22 and are about to sit down in a few weeks and begin work on Season 23 (which won’t start airing until September 2018).

The first thing to happen when work begins on a new season is that the producers, storyliners, and scriptwriters, and a few others, will sit down and talk through all of the characters individually, discuss what direction we might like to take them in, and throw out some broad ideas for the season. After that happens and there’s a few ideas of where we might be heading with our characters, we start working on everything in more detail at story conferences a couple of weeks later, where we work on blocks of 14 episodes of a time, and there are 6 blocks per year/season.

The story conferences consist of 4 or 5 storyliners essentially locked together in a room for a week with a blank canvas and 14 episodes to fill, picking up where we last left off, creating stories and breaking down the episodes. At the end of that week, once the stories have been approved by the producers, the stories are divided up between the storyliners, and we go away and write them up in detail, individually, over the following 3 weeks. Those storylines are then put together linearly into one lengthy document, which is sent on to the scriptwriters who begin their part of the process, while the storyliners regroup and start work on the next block of episodes.

That’s a very general gist of how it works anyway; the process is a little more intricate and detailed than that, but certainly stories are constantly being discussed and worked on all season long both at the story conferences and outside of them.

Are there any storylines you've worked on that you've been particularly proud of/really enjoyed?

Season 21, which just aired its finale in June, was the first season I was involved in, and there were some great stories throughout the year, but the most memorable one for me was Adam’s storyline and the massive journey he went on throughout the season. For a character who was initially introduced as the “bad egg” who didn’t have many redeeming qualities, it was interesting exploring this year why he acted that way, and getting to see his endearing side first through his relationship with Fia, and then through his struggle in coming to terms with his sexuality.

By the end of the season Adam had certainly become a character that the audience want to root for, and that the other characters in Ros na Rún had started to welcome into the community. My favourite part of the storyline was when Fia found out that Adam was gay and was raging that she had been made a fool of, but when Adam started spiralling out of control and began heading down a dark path after being rejected by his mother, it was Fia’s forgiveness and empathy that made Adam see there were still people who cared for him. So those were a particularly memorable few episodes that I was proud to have played a part in, and I thought Seán Ó Baoill and Muireann Ní Raghallaigh were especially brilliant as Adam and Fia in those episodes.

There are a lot of stories coming up in Season 22 which I’m quite excited about too and dying to see play out onscreen, but especially interested to see what the audience reaction will be to those stories. Unfortunately I can’t tell you about any of those stories though, because they’re top secret, and I wouldn’t want to ruin any of the surprises we have in store.

Do you have a funny/interesting/weird anecdote about working on the show you'd be willing to share with us?

Something that people may not realise, because we’re a year ahead in storylining from what’s going out on air, is that when we create a new character we often end up discussing and writing that character many months before anyone is even cast in the role. So when we’re talking about that character in the story room, we’ll usually have an idea of what they look like in our own heads, or more often than not, as a group, we’ll imagine what A-list Hollywood celebrity would be perfect for the role and just start writing stories with that Hollywood A-lister in mind.

Ultimately, they always end up casting great actors in each of the parts, and once that actor starts appearing on screen, it’s hard to imagine anyone else as that character because they do such a fantastic job making the role their own. Although I do sometimes wonder if there’s an alternate universe out there where Ros na Rún is a huge Hollywood production with the likes of Liam Neeson playing Eric, Saoirse Ronan cast as Fia, or Jamie Dornan as Colm, because that would be hilarious (yet obviously nowhere near as good as the actual version we all know and love).

What's your favorite part about working on Ros na Rún?

The staff hoodies are really comfortable, so I’d have to say the hoodies.

My serious answer, though, is simply that I really love having such a large cast of characters to write stories for, especially given that some have been onscreen for over 20 years and it’s still possible to find new ways to keep them fresh and interesting. The best thing about having that many main characters to choose from is the ability to couple new and sometimes odd combinations of characters together who may not necessarily have had many storylines together in the past, because sometimes when you try those combinations you end up striking gold…

One of the best examples of this was last season when Mo and Bobbi-Lee were thrown into the pub working with Tadhg, because the three of them ended up bouncing off one another so well. Macdara Ó Fátharta, Marie Breathnach, and Annamaria Nic Dhonnacha all have great comic timing, and the chemistry between the three of them onscreen together was just a joy to watch. Getting to try out different characters together like that in various circumstances, whether it works out or not, is a lot of fun, so just having that opportunity is by far my favourite thing about working in Ros na Rún.

Also, the hoodies…

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be and what would you be doing?

Backpacking around Europe moving from hostel to hostel. If money was no object, I’d love to just travel around indefinitely and live in a different city each week, meeting new people all the time, and having various misadventures singing karaoke along the way.

And that's the inside scoop on where the stories that keep us entertained each year come from! Thanks to Cian for taking the time to reveal some of the inner workings of our favorite show! And remember, readers, Cian and I demonstrate the variety of places blogging about soaps can lead. In his case, to amazing job opportunities and hoodies; in my case, to carpal tunnel syndrome and the inability to tolerate fresh air and daylight.

Watch for more "8 Questions with..." features coming soon, including one with a truly iconic Ros na Rún star the beginning of next week, and don't forget to leave comments telling me whom you'd like to hear from and what you'd like to know about them!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work. And I got to play an extra which top it all off and was the highlight of my career.


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