Now 42, he has lost mobility in his limbs and can no longer speak, swallow or breathe without artificial help, and he uses a Tobii I-15 eye-gaze computer to communicate. A tracking device captures the movement of Mr. Fitzmaurice’s eyes as they rest on a letter or phrase on a smartphone-like keyboard, causing the characters to appear on a screen. When his thoughts are complete, he focuses on a “speak” button, and a computerized voice vocalizes his words.
He used the computer to direct “Emily” for six weeks in the fall of 2014, not far from his home in Greystones, County Wicklow, just south of Dublin. By then, the producers Lesley McKimm and Kathryn Kennedy had signed on, lured by what Ms. Kennedy called “the most beautifully written script I’d read in a very long time.” And the film’s 2 million euro (about $2.67 million in 2014) budget had been provided by the Irish Film Board and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, among others.
Another 120,000 euros (at the time, nearly $161,000) — for support to Mr. Fitzmaurice — was raised through a crowdfunding campaign, buoyed by celebrity friends including Alan Rickman, Sam Neill and Colin Farrell, who narrated “It’s Not Yet Dark,” a new documentary based on Mr. Fitzmaurice’s best-selling 2014 autobiography.
But things he’d taken for granted as an able-bodied director — standing on set during shooting, quickly conveying changes to actors — were now formidable obstacles. Despite his computer proficiency, there is nonetheless a short delay while he types his thoughts — a pause that can feel like an eternity to those waiting for his instructions. In preparation, he created storyboards of each shot so that cast and crew members knew what was expected in each moment.
And because his computer doesn’t work in direct sunlight, Mr. Fitzmaurice had to direct the film’s many outdoor scenes from inside a dark tent. From dawn to dusk and sometimes throughout the night, he was there for every moment of the creative process, with his support director, Liz Gill, at his side.
“Liz was my arms and legs,” he said. “We developed a shorthand; with a wink she would know whether I would like a take, whether to move on.”
Working with people had originally drawn Mr. Fitzmaurice, a poet in his boisterous youth, to filmmaking.
“I’m not made to write in a garret alone,” he wrote. “I was good with people before M.N.D., able to disarm them, put them at ease. But with all my tools gone — body language, touch, varying tones of voice, a few stories, a relaxing joke, and nothing left but my thoughts appearing slowly on a screen — I felt that the greatest challenge would be to see if this changed body would still allow me to direct actors.”
Before shooting began, he spent long evenings emailing with Ms. Lynch, helping to develop her character and preparing her for the challenges ahead.
“You don’t realize until you speak with him how unnatural it feels to sit in silence with someone, especially someone you don’t know,” she said. “The silence brings up all your insecurities and vulnerabilities. I would say all what I’m thinking, but Simon can’t smile and can’t nod. It’s really an exercise in trust and collaboration, and not looking to the director for affirmation. ”
From the first day of shooting onward, Mr. Fitzmaurice was elated. So was his wife, Ruth, whose essays about their home life for The Irish Times have resulted in a memoir, “I Found My Tribe,” out this summer.
“Absolutely nobody wants a grumpy husband around the house who’s not working, and we were really just all behind him,” she said, recalling how she would pop down to the set after school with their five children, including twins they conceived in the summer of 2011, a few months after Mr. Fitzmaurice, having gone into respiratory failure, returned from the hospital on a ventilator.
Though his body has been rendered motionless, “I could not sit still now,” he wrote. “I’m completely addicted to work, to getting on the road. A fire has been lit inside me.” He is writing another feature script as well as ruminations on his life in anticipation of a sequel to “It’s Not Yet Dark.”
He is adamant that he loves being alive. “M.N.D. is defined by loss. By what it takes away. But this was me taking something back.”
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