Writes Kyran Leahy – Film & TV Editor
Ireland has had its fair share of representation in film and television recently. The country has become the backdrop to several coming-of-age stories as of late that have achieved global attention. You have the college romance story of Normal People, the portrayal of teenage life during the end of the Troubles with Derry Girls, and the utter chaos that some teenagers can get up to in the city with The Young Offenders. It came to my attention recently that there is an independent web series currently being developed that is based in Cork entitled Jag. I reached out to the directors of this upcoming series, Abbey and Arann Blake, to learn some more about this project, the amount of work that goes into creating a series and how it came into fruition. They were delighted to speak about everything from directing, to personal experiences, and sandwich making.
Abbey describes Jag as “an anthology style series following people in their twenties in Cork”. She felt “that the biggest conflict with people our age is usually relationships, so we just followed that thought and wanted to represent people our age – people just out of college or in their final year of college. It is a weird age that isn’t really represented well in the media, you know? So, we thought we’d write about that. You have these coming-of-age movies about secondary school students, you have the standard college movies, and then it jumps ahead to movies about people in their thirties. I think being in your final year of college or just coming out of it is one of the weirdest times in people’s lives. You just get the thought of ‘What am I actually supposed to do now?’ You’d feel guilty for still living the student life when you’re no longer a student.”
The idea of an anthology style web series was in the minds of the two for a while. Arann said that “We’ve been toying around with the ideas and stuff for nearly two years now I reckon. It was something that we always wanted to do. It was a big project, we worked on the script for ages, the first draft for the first episode was made two years ago and we just took it from
there”. Abbey added that the idea of the series came from a script she previously thought of, “I really wanted to write this Queer story with two women, but make it natural, with no mention that they are queer, or anyone talking about them being queer. I just wanted a real-world relationship that just happened to be between two women, something completely natural. I started writing the script in college and I brought it home to Arann, and we just worked from
there.” Arann was a UCC Dramat student, while Abbey studied Film in St John’s Central College, so they had a lot of help from those around them in creating the series. “Me and Arann were lucky that we’re siblings, so we were locked down together last year and could develop the series together”.
As directors of the show, Abbey and Arann took inspiration from the directors they adore, as well as from their knowledge of Cork. Arann states “We worked on it in a naturalist style because it was something that we were both very interested in. You could say it was kind of American mumblecore style as well, early Greta Gerwig, Joe Swamberg style, that kind of thing. They do this style that is natural and is always about people in relationships. I think because of our resources, with student actors and Cork as a backdrop, as much as we love other genres, we felt we could take inspiration from stories that we experienced ourselves, and stories of our friends dating around the districts from Cork.” Abbey added that “What I like about the idea of an anthology style series is that you can have one character appear for a bit in one episode and then they pop up a few episodes later out of nowhere – like that is literally Cork! We always seem to come across the same circles in Cork all the time and they all seem to be connected one way or another.” Everyone knows everyone in Cork and knows everything that happens in Cork. It is a county full of drama – perfect for a series.
One big problem with filming nowadays is making sure that everyone works within the restriction guidelines of the pandemic, an issue which Arann and Abbey took very seriously. “It was daunting to be fair. We got really lucky when we filmed it around August when restrictions had eased. We also were lucky with the weather. There was a lot of Googling on what we could do and what we could not do. We had Andy, who was our COVID Officer, making us sign a statement of agreement to follow the rules – wear a mask, sanitise, the whole lot. Even for an independent production we just wanted it to be as safe as possible, because morally, if we broke guidelines, we would feel awful, so we had to be as careful as possible and reduce the risk. You want to film naturally but you have this invisible killer in the air like some form of Bogeyman. Thankfully, it worked out and we did not experience any problems. It was mostly outdoors, and it benefitted us as we got a lot of nice, natural lighted scenes because of it.”
The show is entirely independent, being funded from the staff’s own pockets and donations. There was only a small number of staff involved, and everyone played their part in ensuring the best outcome. “We were very well organised, thanks to everyone. Before filming a scene, I’d meet with the DOP to set up the scene, Andy would help with the lighting and Arann speak with the actors. We were well bonded and could trust each other with our roles.” Obviously, since it was a small production, catering and other works had to be done by the staff. You would not see Steven Spielberg making a round of tea for his staff behind the scenes, but Arann and Abbey made sure to help in whatever way they could. Arann said “Everyone does everything. We don’t go into our trailers after filming, we carry props in and out of sight and help out. I was making lunch for people, and sadly not a lot of people liked my sandwiches because I had to make them with the surgical gloves. Anyway, you couldn’t lay back and just do your own job. No one is getting paid for this, so you go on with it and do your best for the sake of it.”
Balancing the work that came with developing a series with other work was a challenge for all involved with the show. Arann and Abbey are also two thirds of the Art-Punk band Pretty Happy, and balancing their workloads proved to be quite the experience. “When we were shooting, there were no gigs going on because of restrictions, but then the Kino reopened and asked if we wanted to play two gigs. So, we had Jag, then we had these two gigs. We also had Arann and Andy moving to London straight after. Trying to practice in the middle of a series was insane. You’d come home wrecked, properly shattered. It was hectic, but the good kind of hectic, when you’re tired but you feel accomplished. It was something that we both loved doing so it made it all worth it.” Abbey recounted. Arann was also working on a play for his theatre company Mint Productions at the time, and though he claims those few weeks to be “a complete blur” where he “felt like Jim Carrey’s Yes Man agreeing to all these things I barely had the time to do”, the results were rewarding and something that hopefully does not have to be experienced ever again.
There are three episodes of the series that are currently in post-production, and while there are many ideas for the future, Abbey and Arann would prefer quality over quantity and are focusing on perfecting what they have. “Post-production takes so much time, that’s nearly done. We just want it to look amazing and show how much effort went into it from all of us. Our crew was amazing with our AD’s, DOP, producers, our actors, everyone.” They are hoping for a release sometime this year but are prioritising a screening for those involved. “People love a premiere, we all do, so we’re not just going to throw it out there. We want a screening and will do it whenever we can because of the pandemic. We want to throw it in as many festivals as we can and not just whack it up on YouTube. Hopefully, we can throw it out to European and American festivals sometime, but our priority is letting our casting crew see it first, together”.
You can follow updates on Jag on the Instagram page @jagseries. Thank you to Abbey and Arann for their time, and I for one will be very excited to watch the series when it comes out.