Monday 23 April 2018

'Eipic' tale: a very different sort of Rising

Rebellious teens take over the village post office in TG4's new e1m drama. We visited them on set

Rebels: Cian Ó Baoill, who plays Oisín, and Fionn Foley as Sully in the forthcoming TG4 series, Eipic
Rebels: Cian Ó Baoill, who plays Oisín, and Fionn Foley as Sully in the forthcoming TG4 series, Eipic
Eipic Director Louise Ní Fhiannachta on the set during filming

Olaf Tyaransen

Amongst the inevitable deluge of 1916-themed dramas and documentaries that will be hitting Irish screens next year, it's fitting that at least one of them will make history. Well, television history at least.

Currently being shot in the sleepy county Galway village of Woodford, TG4's forthcoming six-part musical comedy series Eipic will be the first post-watershed teen drama ever to be broadcast in this country.

Scripted by Misfits writer Mike O'Leary, and featuring a cast of young unknowns, the €1m-budget series - which sees five rebellious teenage musicians take over a midlands post office in an attempt to achieve online fame - is described by its production company Magamedia as "a bold story about escape, empowerment and what it means to be a teenage 'hero' in contemporary Ireland, set to an eclectic modern soundtrack, and all against the backdrop of the 1916 centenary celebrations." Expect plenty of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll - as Gaeilge.

Eipic is set in the fictional midlands town of Dobhar. A quiet village surrounded by heavily wooded hinterland, Woodford - which also served as the location for Lenny Abrahamson's Garage - is currently a hive of activity with the production taking over most of the main street.

The old Waldorf dance hall has been transformed into an abandoned post office. A few doors down, the local chipper Zam Zam's has been renamed Destiny's Chips for the duration. "We're on day 16 of a 30-day shoot, so we have the back broken," executive producer Paddy Hayes of Magamedia tells Review. "Woodford has one B&B and no hotels, so we have 42 people being put up in private accommodation. It's an old mart town, and I'm sure it was thriving in its day, but only four buildings in the main street are occupied today. So there are lots of empty houses.

"We've also taken over the local Mercy College as our production office. We were kind of lucky with the timing in that we arrived just as the Leaving Cert ended, and we'll be out of here before the kids come back."

Magamedia were previously behind the critically acclaimed TG4 crime drama Corp + Anam, starring Diarmuid de Faoite and Maria Doyle Kennedy. Aimed at a younger audience, Eipic is quite a different proposition. "Corp + Anam did very well critically, and TG4 were delighted with it so we made two seasons," Hayes explains, "but we knew there was a gap in terms of audience for the station. A lot of their stuff is aimed at thirtysomethings so myself and [producer] Ciara Nic Chormaic went looking for writers to come up with something that would work for a teenage audience."

They found their writer in the UK-based Mike O'Leary. "He's originally from Cork, but based in London," Hayes explains. "He had come from that school of C4 comedic dramas like Misfits, Glue and Skins. So he came up with this post-watershed drama aimed at teens. Often, you'll see in Irish television that if you aim at 11-year-olds, and you have 11-year-old characters, 11-year-olds ain't gonna watch it. Six-year-olds watch it. Same if you aim at 16-year-olds… 12-year-olds watch it.

"So in order to cater for that audience of 17 and 18-year-olds, we had to make it a little bit risqué. The idea is that a teen watching this with their folks will go for the coal scuttle because it'll be a little bit cringey to watch with the folks. That's the sensibility we're aiming at this."

Eipic will see the main characters making much use of YouTube, Twitter and other social media. "The kids who take over the post office have a plan to reach out to other teenagers globally. They know that you're only ever a few hits away from becoming an internet sensation and that's their motivation. The first song they do, one of the girls falls arse over tit with her knickers in the air, and the accident of that leads to people sharing it. That's how they become an internet sensation rather than the music."

Music will be a key factor in attracting Eipic's intended audience. The series will feature Irish-language cover versions of songs by acts such as The Jam, LCD Soundsystem, Future Islands, FKA twigs and Joy Division. "TG4 find that dialogue-heavy material is hard to get an audience for. Music and sport works for them because it's not that language-dependent. So, with Eipic, the music is almost like a Trojan horse. You get them in through that and they'll stay."

Needless to say, the cast all had to be both musically proficient and Irish speaking. 22-year-old Dubliner Fionn Foley plays the band frontman Sully, backed up by Fionnuala Gygax (23), Roisín Ní Chéilleachair (20), Cian Ó Baoill (20) and Daire Ó Muirí (17). "Ray Harman produced all the music with us in Cauldron Studios in Dublin," Foley explains. "I was a bit in awe of him at first because I've been Spotify-ing 'Something Happens' for years. He was fantastic. He could easily recreate the songs note-perfect. One of the ones I do is The Jam's 'A Town Called Malice', and to get that organ sound is so difficult, but he did it and still brought an originality to it. You know, he didn't just recreate the songs that people already know in English."

Mike O'Leary originally wrote the scripts in English before Magamedia had them translated. "One thing that's really lovely about the script - and it's translated quite well into the Irish as well - is that there's no censorship of the more gritty and downright immature side to the Irish teenager," says Foley. "We had to take all the 'c**ts' out, but it was a small price to pay. We got a good few 'f**ks', a 'bollix', and there's a 'pr**k' or two thrown around."

The cast spent two weeks rehearsing in Woodford before filming started, and are all living locally for the duration of the shoot. "It's been so helpful because we were able to get immersed in the town," explains Fionnuala Gygax. "For me, being from Dublin, it's alien to live in such a rural place where there's no Wi-Fi or anything like that. But it's helpful to understand where the characters are coming from, and why they are the way they are, and why they want the things they want, growing up somewhere like this."

The series is being directed by Louise Ní Fhiannachta, previously best known for her creative documentary on Páidí O Sé, Rí an Pharóiste.

"When Páidí died I thought it was really important his story be told by his own people so I set out to tell the hero's journey," she explains. "The effect that his stardom had on an isolated community, and the hope that it brought an isolated community.

"Eipic has a similar theme of the hero's journey or at least examines what it is to be a hero in Ireland in 2016. Here you have this character of Sully who wants to rise up against the oppression in his one-horse town, and decides to do so through music, to escape through music, and bring his friends along with him.

"They each have their own individual struggles along the way, their own individual hero's journeys. That kind of story is always a huge attraction for me."

Eipic will be broadcast on TG4 in 2016

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