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Hannah Quinn on Directing
23 Jun 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Director Hannah Quinn
With the IFTA Awards Viewing Season in full swing, we showcase Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

Quinn has been one of the leading Irish directors making a name for themselves both in Ireland & the UK in recent times following her work on Netflix drama The Stranger and Virgin Media Television’s original drama Blood.

A director on upcoming Netflix fantasy-drama Fate: The Winx Saga due for release later this year, Hannah boasts an impressive list of credits as 1st and 2nd A/D, which has seen her work with Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan) Ridley Scott (The Martian, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down), and Alfonso Curón (Children of Men). Quinn has also worked as an A/D on several Irish productions in recent years including Lance Daly’s Black ’47, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour, Stephen Burke’s Maze, Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, and Stephen Bradley’s Noble.

What attracted you to this project and why did you want to direct it? (Blood)

“I only got to read the first episode of the six-part series Blood when I pitched for it, but it had me hooked and I was desperate to know what happened next, that's always a good sign. Blood is a distinctly clever series written by the very talented Sophie Petzal and keeps you guessing right to the very end.  I loved working on my 3 episodes especially the finale episode 6 which tells the back-story of what happened to the mother Mary played by the brilliant Ingrid Craigie and skillfully matched by Adrian Dunbar playing her husband.”

What was your approach to making this show, and where did you take inspiration from during the process? What is your general style of working with the team, cinematographer, etc., and what is the most important focus for you during the whole production?

“The lead director of Blood was the brilliant Lisa Mulcahy who laid down terrific groundwork in casting, crewing, and design for the series.  I took what she had already created and built on it.  Our shared cinematographer was the talented Kate McCullough who I had limited prep with as she was shooting Lisa's block during my prep time.  We would meet on the weekends to get to know each other.  Collaboration in a friendly space is the best way to bring out the most creative input from everyone on a set and also knowing and appreciating what everyone's skills are.

“To show what I wanted for a scene, I would share images from other films or paintings that I felt set the tone of what I was looking for and bring photos I had taken on my set recces of how I wanted to create it.  For episode 6 of Blood, I wanted to create painterly portraits of Mary in her final days.  I try to bring as much cinematic aesthetic to every scene with extensive planning and imagining of how a scene should look, feel, and be executed. There are immense time constraints in television and film these days, so it's massively important to make sure you make the most of every shot you get, literally. Also on the day, you may meet with disaster, have to scrap all your plans and start from scratch.”

“My main focus is to do the script the justice it deserves, with enough planning and get a happy workflow balance.”

How do you like to approach working with actors in general to get the best results and what advice would you give to aspiring directors on this front?

“Always talk to all of your actors, ensure you make time for rehearsals no matter how big or small their part.  Do it before the shoot as it can get too crazy on a set, even if it's over the phone or over breakfast. Brilliant actors will discover really interesting traits of their characters; ignore their suggestions at your peril.   Ensure your actors feel welcome and nurtured on set, especially young and or inexperienced actors. Be playful.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during production?

“Directing is the best seat in the house and my favourite moments are usually completing all the 1sts; the first shot, the first scene, the first day, the first week, etc. also showing the first of our editor's weekly assemblies to the cast and crew so we can all see the initial results of our endeavours.”

What was your first role as a director (feature/short), and how has your style changed over the years?

“My first short film was My Bonnie, adapted from the tiny play Sanctuary written by my talented sister in law Liz Quinn.  It was set on an Atlantic beach and we shot around the tide and the best light of the day. I still love to go to challenging locations and get the whole crew up before dawn to shoot at magic hour, but I’m still learning what my style is.  I've definitely got more confident in learning to trust my instincts and that helps me a lot.”

What do you think of the current state of filmmaking in independent and mainstream cinema? Are there trends you’re excited about or that you like/dislike?

“I love that streamers like Netflix are finding new and neglected audiences, meaning viewers are getting more diverse films and TV series’, which in turn are available to everyone, hopefully creating more understanding of other people's struggles.  I also love that people like Reese Witherspoon and Ava DuVernay transitioned into production bringing a whole host of new and more interesting stories to the screen. 

“It's also really exciting to see an Irish series like Normal People touch a nerve with so many people worldwide.  I think these kinds of intimate stories of the interior; bring more compassion and understanding to the complexities and simplicities of human nature.  My kids are of the Generation Z era, they've never known what it is like not to have technology at their fingertips (except when I ban the internet) and they constantly inhale so much online content and stories, so I can't wait to see what their generation will do.”

What filmmaker or director’s work has influenced or inspired you the most? 

“I worked as an A/D on several Ridley Scott films and got to watch him create epic work. He doesn't miss a trick, pays great attention to detail, knows what he wants and loves what he does, that’s inspiring. 

“I am also married to a class cinematographer Tim Fleming and we’re always exploring new and interesting shows, films, photographs and paintings.”





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