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From the panto to Hollywood

Sarah-Kate Fenelon.

By Peter McDermott

During the summer, the Irish Echo asked County Wicklow native Sarah-Kate Fenelon to write about her life in the film industry since leaving Ireland.

In her subsequent essay, the Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University graduate wrote: “Being a producer is at the best of times an invisible job, and often a thankless one as a result, but working with writers and world builders to create stories that make audiences feel something or challenge their mindset is a privilege that is not lost on me.”

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Fenelon told us about her adventures working on film sets in various parts of the world, adding: “It’s safe to say film has made me work at problem-solving and learn to stay calm in increasingly stressful situations.”

“And yet,” she said, “the Hollywood machine is a different beast altogether and one that I am getting to know as a production specialist for Neil Gaiman’s production company.”

Fenelon wrote: “I have been able to work on some of the biggest TV shows of 2018, 2019 and 2020 and have seen them come into fruition – “Good Omens,” “Sandman,” “Anansi Boys,” “American Gods” – starting from the pitch meetings, to greenlight, to production through post and finally to their launch across the world.”

We followed up with her to ask some questions about favorite things, with an emphasis on the arts.

Aside from being with family and friends, what do you most like about being at home in Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow?

Sitting by the fireplace and drinking tea on a rainy day. It's something you don't get to do that often, if ever, in Los Angeles – the weather's too good or there isn't a fireplace, and you're probably more likely to be offered coffee anyhow. If you're lucky enough to have a good chat over the tea, so much the better.

Is there anything in your background that would have suggested a career in the arts? Would your family have preferred that you had done something else?

I was extremely fortunate growing up to have parents who not only loved the arts themselves but exposed us to everything from books and films, to theatre and music. Every Christmas we were brought to a play as a present. What started as the panto became “A Christmas Carol,” then “Great Expectations” and “The Importance of Being Ernest” and so on. When I told my parents I thought I might pursue a career in film, I found their surprise rather ironic, because in many ways, I am a filmmaker today because of them.

What are your five favorite films of all time?

I'm always rather hesitant to pick favorites because our taste changes so much as we mature and as our life experience adds color to the things we see, but the films I go back to again and again, the ones that don't age for me and are as good the 10th time, as they were the first, would have to be, “Breakfast at Tiffany's,” “Casablanca,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Godfather” and “Call Me By Your Name.”

Name three TV shows, whether currently running or not, that you particularly admire?

I wasn't allowed watch much TV growing up, which is perhaps another unconscious reason why I make it today. Nevertheless the landscape of TV has transformed dramatically since then and these days it's hard to see any differences between the quality of TV vs. film. The TV show “Friends” holds a special place in my heart and will always remind me of home and the Leaving Certificate! “Fleabag” is a fantastic breath of fresh air and wickedly relatable, and “Chernobyl” was the best thing I've seen all year.

Other than your career, what are your passions?

I love music. Strangely, I think I love music too much to work in it. I never believed people when they told me how working in your hobby can ruin it somehow, but now I see what they meant. I watch films differently than how I watched them before. They held magic for me I didn't understand – and that was a blessing. It takes a lot for me to be swept away by a film nowadays, but when it does happen, it's so much more powerful because I know what took to do that. With music, I don't think I could afford to lose the magic.

For a long working day, would you prefer a very early start or working past midnight?

I am definitely an early bird and the most efficient and productive in the morning...with coffee. I'm strangely drawn to night owls though, which is problematic as it's sometimes as if we are working in different time zones.

Apart from your work, what’s the best thing about life in Los Angeles?

I remember reading an article about how David Lynch loved the light in Los Angeles and I didn't really understand what he meant until I moved here myself. The light flooding in your window in the morning has to be one of the best things about L.A., especially coming from Ireland where you never know what kind of day you will get. You can wake up in L.A. and feel its potential in its sunshine. It can affect your mood and perspective and work. Waking up to natural light was a game changer for me.

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