When Covid put a stop to her work as an actress, Jade Jordan wrote her own short film, then became one of the first Black Irish women to write, produce, and star in their own short funded by Screen Ireland. Here, she writes about making the move to the other side of the camera…[restrict]
People always ask why acting as a career? And you know what, it’s a great question. I know almost every actor has asked themselves that at some point. I definitely have numerous times. Will I go back and study? What else can I do? Should I “get a proper job”? Should I be up there at this stage in my career? What am I doing?
The criticism, the judgement, the questions we ask ourselves as actors are endless. It’s for the love of art and the freedom for most actors, at least that is why I do what I do. It has never been about the money or fame. I mean, the money would be nice. As an actor you spend a fair bit of your time unemployed unless you are fortunate enough that the work is continuous, and you’ve had that “lucky break” starting out.
Even the people at top have gaps or “downtime” though, unfortunately that’s the aim of the game, but you always graft in that downtime in my opinion. Actually, I’m not a fan of that phrase “downtime”. I don’t believe there should ever be this kind of time.
Keep the brain moving, find out what’s happening around you, do workshops, read, write, mind yourself, mind your head, keep on top of your craft and always be ready. It’s a particularly challenging career; at times it’s unlike so many other creative lines of work because so little is in your control.
You sit by the phone waiting for that someone to give you the “yes”, and for the elusive “you’ve got the role”. But in recent times I’ve learnt that that’s not healthy; it’s a waste of precious time.
I am, like most of us are, my own worst critic. I used to be very fond of the phrase “I couldn’t do that”. Compare myself to others in the industry and ask why I am not working? Why am I not getting seen for that? Maybe this isn’t for me? Maybe I’m not good enough; the inner voices sometimes take over.
It might be an age thing, but in recent years I’ve just learnt how to be present, how to breathe and to know that if you do your homework and trust your abilities you will eventually get where you are meant to be.
I was always lucky that I had the support of my mam from a young age. From the age of four, performing was what I wanted to do and she has always been my biggest supporter, I feel truly blessed.
I’m very aware it’s not a “normal” career path but I guess that’s what I like about it. What’s normal anyway? I started attending the National Performing Arts School in 1994; every weekend felt like I was in the movie Fame. Growing up there as a kid, it was magical. All walks of life went there every weekend; the buzz of the school was electric. The NPAS have always stood by “inclusion” and “Be Who U Want To Be” and I guess that’s why they have made such an impact on so many performers life’s actually.
I did well in school, but I was never the academic type; I learned everything off like a script and that’s how I got through. I was always a million miles away creating lovely little scripts and scenarios in my head. The creative world for me was so much more appealing than a textbook. Moving to London in 2009 seemed like the right thing to do, settle for a few years, then go to drama school. I trained from 2011-2013 and then I was out into the big bad world and trying to bag a gig. I did bag gigs, but they were all either profit share or free. My thinking was always “ah well look, you need things for the CV”.
There comes a point where you have to say enough is enough.
It was a massively slow start with a lot of no’s and kick backs. Years of ‘dear god I must be mad’. I remember thinking one day ‘what do I have to do here to move forward?’ I saw actors around me writing and putting on their own work, and I knew I would love to be able to do that, but I was terrified and didn’t think I could.
A close friend said to me as we sat in Soho one day sipping coffee, “why don’t you write your family’s story”. I thought that was a great idea, it was always something I had wanted to do. That December when I flew home to Dublin for Christmas, I started filming my Nanny on camera. This continued for about a year every time I came home. It got me thinking maybe eventually as an actor I could write something with the material. That was 2016, life got in the way and it was put on a shelf.
I sat and watched the world come to a halt in March 2020, and like most people I thought ‘what am I going to do with my time?’ The creative world really took a hit, so I knew work wouldn’t be around for a while anyway. I dug out those videos and started with the family’s story.
My family’s story had always fascinated me. I refer to my Nanny as a rebel, although I must admit she wouldn’t say that about herself. In the seventies, she married a black man and went on to have 3 beautiful mixed-race children. An interracial relationship or marriage was a rarity in those days. I guess I’ve always wanted to shed light on my Nanny’s choices and how those choices were met by society for her and her children.
The world is slowly but surely getting there in terms of accepting a much more multicultural society but there’s still room for discussion of past and sometimes present behaviours towards this. There were questions asked, there were assumptions made, judgements, comments, confused faces not only for my family back in the day but in my experience too growing up in Dublin as a woman of colour.
I made that leap and started to write. A new journey, something I had no idea about. Hand to computer and I was off on an adventure. A few days into this new, addictive art form, a friend contacted and mentioned he had just seen Screen Ireland and Bow Street Academy were running a scheme for actors and suggested I should apply.
The scheme was called “the actor as creator” a talent development and showcase initiative for actors to make a short filmic piece with funding of €2,500. The piece needed to be the actors’ own writing, something that expressed their creative vision, and the successful recipient would create, perform, and produce the short filmic work. It was my first ever application and it took weeks. I went forward with a pitch I was passionate about and “voila” I managed to bag the funding which in a million years I had never thought I’d get. My first initial thought was “Jesus, where do I start now?”
I knew with it being my first piece that I needed it to be directed by a professional. Going into the process, I felt it was an opportunity to showcase myself as an actor, a producer and a writer, so it would be wise to get it directed. I was unbelievably lucky to have, in my opinion, one of the best in the business come on board, Dave Tynan. Dave is best known for his work on Dublin Oldschool and The Cherishing. After reading the concept and synopsis of my short, he said yes.
Dave was a huge help to my process even in the early stages of writing the script. If I’m honest it would be a ten hour film if he hadn’t guided me. One thing I have learnt in my new writing journey is less is more. We don’t need to explain it all, the audience will decide how they perceive it.
Director in place and having the script to the point where we both wanted it, it was time to put my producer hat on. I had never underestimated the role of a producer, but wow there is hell of a lot to think about.
Overwhelmed doesn’t quite describe how I felt when I looked at it as a whole. The budget didn’t allow for things that could be managed by me, so I took it all on, or what I could at least. I sourced the location, costume, props, and catering, transport and other niggly bits while Dave ticked away at his end.
It was crazy trying to organise things, as everything just kept on changing due to the pandemic. Dates, locations, restrictions, crew; we all depended on the news to shed some light so we could move forward. It was an unbelievable experience, but it was nerve wracking at times.
What I wanted out of the whole process was to make a great short film with a great director attached and to give the other actors a good reason to be on screen. I felt it was important to make the cast and crews’ time worthwhile, that they all deserved that, even if the budget did not stretch far.
It felt crazy but also fulfilling to be on the other side for a change. Normally as an actor you bag the gig, learn your material, and show up and deliver. But here I was organising everything. Normally you just meet your fellow actors on the job, but I got to have a say, make suggestions. Dave and I didn’t really have much chatting to do; we just knew who we wanted. From the get-go we were both on the same page.
It felt super empowering being able to have so much input and also being somewhat creatively responsible for the film. The prospect of the ideas that were once in my head now being made was scary. Will people get it?
A director’s job is to bring the vision to life and the producer’s job is to bring the whole film together. So basically if anything messed up my neck was on the line. If anyone had walked into my bedroom on the lead up to the shoot they would have easily thought I was a serial killer. Post-it notes covered one side of my bedroom wall; I couldn’t afford to miss a detail. I managed to do a massive amount of work on this and pulled it off mainly because I’m quite organised and I had the fear for weeks I’d forget something.
We had planned to shoot two days back-to-back in October, we managed to shoot one and then level 5 restrictions were announced. It put a spanner in the works, as we then had to rearrange dates for every aspect of the short. A month and a half later we wrapped; it all went smooth. I’ll never forget that feeling when we wrapped, I thought “oh my god, I did it” and I want to do this all again.
We are now in post production which is longer than expected due to us all working remotely, but it’s been a pleasure to watch it all piece together. Being on the other side has really made me want to write more and I feel I now have a better understanding for the other disciplines.
Our film The Colour Between is a story roughly based on one particular event that took place within my family. The story features an interracial couple, Annalise and Chris, and their son Leo. A sudden death within the family puts everything under threat. Questions are asked, decisions made. It is a film about family and a mixed race relationship, with non-acceptance at its core. Annalise and her beloved son are at the centre of it all.
It felt pretty amazing saying words I had written. Especially acting in something that is so close to my heart. To not only walk away from this with a massive smile, I also walk away with being one of the first Black women to write, produce, and star in their own short funded by Screen Ireland. Now that’s wicked; I get to represent and show a diverse Ireland. I am extremely proud of this film and can’t wait for people to see it.
The Colour Between will make its premiere in 2021. Theo Birali plays Leo, and the cast attached are Jade Jordan, Terry O’Neill and Aisling O’Mara. Directed by Dave Tynan. Music by Loah and Sal Dulu. Stills by Steve Gallagher.