Wolfwalkers: Cork screenwriter has his fingers crossed for Oscars success
Instead of donning a tuxedo and strutting down a Hollywood red carpet for the Oscars, Will Collins will be putting on his best pyjamas and loading up on coffee at his home in Donegal.
Without Covid, it could all have been so different for the Corkonian screenwriter behind Wolfwalkers, but he’s still looking forward to linking up with his colleagues from the Cartoon Saloon studio.
Nominated in the Animated Feature Film category at the Academy Awards, the Wolfwalkers team hope to have a Zoom party like they did for the recent Golden Globe and Annie Awards.
“Kila had the instruments out and the craic was good,” says Collins. “Win or lose I can’t wait to have a proper in-person celebration with the entire team when it’s safe to do so.”
Collins has come a long way since his lightbulb momen at the age of 11 while watching TV in his Co Cork home. It was the swashbuckling Indiana Jones who first ignited what would become a lifelong love affair with cinema – and made him first think about a career in film.
“I knew from the age of 11 when I saw Temple of Doom on a video at home when my family were out at matches,” he says. “I had a moment of epiphany where I saw the cuts of the film, I saw the film being made.”
It led to a young realisation that magic was being made before his eyes.
“These are actors. There’s a camera there. They’re setting up shots. And in the exhilaration of that moment, I remember: ‘That’s what I want to do’. And I didn’t know what ‘that’ was.”
That hunger for creativity has brought him all the way to cinema’s biggest stage. Wolfwalkers, a stunning animated movie about a young hunter named Robin, and Mebh, a girl who walks with wolves, is Ireland’s big hope at this year’s Oscars. Wolfwalkers sees directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart as well as Paul Young and Stéphan Roelands nominated in the Animated Feature Film category.
For Castlemagner-born and raised Collins, who wrote the screenplay from a story by Moore and Stewart, it marks the latest highlight in a hugely successful collaboration. “When Tomm and Ross came to me with their idea for Wolfwalkers, I immediately jumped on it, because they were presenting me the possibility of writing an action script, and something that had a higher tempo and higher drama, higher stakes.
“It was such a delight to do it and I actually loved writing the first copy. In my head, I’m almost writing like an editor, I’m seeing the cuts, you’re trying to keep track of where the characters are in an action scene. I’m trying to keep the rhythm of the film on the page as well. If it’s fast paced on the screen, it has to be fast paced on the page. So there has to be shorter sentences and snappier sentences.
“There has to be an urgency to the writing as well. I relished that because I hadn’t ever imagined I’d be writing an action/adventure coming-of-age story set in Cromwellian Ireland in 1650.”
Wolfwalkers’ nomination marks quite an Oscars strike rate for the Kilkenny based animation studio – all four of its features have been nominated for Animated Feature. Collins also wrote the screenplay for one of those, Song of the Sea. Last week, Wolfwalkers generated further awards-season buzz when it won five Annie Awards, the animation industry’s highest accolade. A huge amount of time and work goes into animation storytelling and Collins’ first draft was several years ago, while Song of the Sea was still in production in 2014.
“The screenplay for Wolfwalkers is here,” he says via Zoom. “It’s about 117 pages. You should be able to read it like a stage play and imagine what’s happening on the screen. I write the action and I write what happens. I think the hardest part really is before the writing. It’s the figuring out of the story, all of the complexities of the story. You never write one screenplay for a film. In the case of Wolfwalkers, you write nine screenplays, you get notes and you start again. So you build the film from scratch over and over again.”
It was this talent for visualisation that made the young Collins first consider a career as a cinematographer. In his teens, he would imagine the world in cinematic moments all the time. When he started to work with other young filmmakers in Cork, having got more involved through a film society while in college in Tralee, he began to learn what his strengths were. “I love stories. And I found that my impulse and a place that I would express myself best was putting words on the page.
“I met a young filmmaker who’s based in Cork, Max Le Cain. He’s involved in a great youth film festival called First Cut! in Cork. I ended up working with Max and other young Cork filmmakers who were making their films on the streets of Cork and I learned by being on set what a screenplay might be or might not be. It was the part where I felt most comfortable. I found myself drawn to looking at the pages, figuring out the film before we shot the film.”
It was that love for stories that made Collins feel excitement when he was first presented with a one-page idea for Wolfwalkers. “The gas thing about it is because I’m involved at the very genesis of a project, I have been involved in so many projects that never go anywhere. When I’m presented now, with a project that has got great DNA and a great germ, a great idea, it immediately pops.
“My job was finished in the summer of 2018 when we recorded the voices, so I was done. I feel the pandemic actually kind of helped us in a big way. Because audiences have been deprived of those big spectacle films this past summer, big animated films. And this very much quenches that appetite for those big, beautiful, traditional stories.”
Like Moore and Stewart, Collins particularly enjoys the collaborative process when it comes to filmmaking. “They had that experience of film being the glue that bound them at a young level,” he says of the directors.
“Tomm is looking for ideas, and he’s looking for collaborators. And I believe the origins of that come from their days in Young Irish Film Makers in Kilkenny (which runs programmes and workshops for young people) where they had to collaborate and work together to make their stuff. Their attitude of collaboration was born in those years.”
Collins is currently working on his next screenplay, an animated adaptation of Ryan Andrews’ family orientated graphic novel This Was Our Pact. The film will be produced by Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage, who will also voice the character of a talking bear. The movie is being made for Ken Duncan’s Duncan Studios – he was an animator on such family classics as Pocahontas and Hercules.
In the meantime, there’s just the little matter of the Academy Awards to get out of the way first.
This year’s Oscars features an exceptionally strong field across all the major categories, with several movies vying to make history.
The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Sound of Metal, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
The Favourite: Nomadland has been leading the charge all awards season, but under the preferential ballot system, another widely loved film could sneak a win.
Who I think should win: Nomadland. The tale of a woman trying to piece her life together after recession feels relevant and universal and is beautifully made. Wins for Minari and Sound of Metal would be fine by me also.
Chloé Zhao, Nomadland Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman David Fincher, Mank Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
The Favourite: This is Zhao’s to lose – but Fennell’s film has been staging a late charge.
Who I think should win and why: Zhao’s work on Nomadland is exceptional – sweeping yet intimate, with terrific performances from both its professional and untrained cast.
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Anthony Hopkins, The Father Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal Steven Yeun, Minari Gary Oldman, Mank
The Favourite: It would be regarded as a big upset if Boseman doesn’t win here. He has been winning posthumous awards all season since his untimely death from cancer.
Who should win: Boseman is terrific in his final performance and deserves all the love coming his way in what is an exceptional shortlist.
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman Andra Day, The United States Vs Billie Holiday Frances McDormand, Nomadland Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
The Favourite: This race is wide open, with Davis winning the Screen Actors’ Guild, Andra Day the Golden Globe, and Carey Mulligan the Critics Choice Award. If Nomadland gets to sweep, McDormand is expected to win.
Who should win: I’d love to see underdog Kirby come through in another excellent shortlist. In another year she would be a clear favourite.
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7 Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami Paul Raci, Sound of Metal Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
The Favourite: Kaluuya is a clear favourite here for his very strong performance in what is arguably a leading role. But this is not unusual.
Who should win: I loved Paul Raci’s work in Sound of Metal, a subtle yet memorable performance which served as great support to the excellent Ahmed.
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari Amanda Seyfried, Mank Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm Olivia Colman, The Father Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
The Favourite: Korean acting legend Youn is widely expected to take this. Hollywood has been falling in love with her all through awards season.
Who I think should win: Youn. Her work on Minari elevates an already powerful film and is by turns hilarious and moving.
Soul, Wolfwalkers, Over the Moon, Onward, Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
The Favourite: Soul has been grabbing the top slot throughout awards season. But…
Who should win: The Wonderful Wolfwalkers has been gathering strong momentum in recent weeks and could make history for Irish animation if enough wind gets behind it.