26 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Ian Hunt-Duffy on Directing
10 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Ian Hunt-Duffy
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing 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 about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Ian Hunt-Duffy is IFTA-nominated for Best Director - Film for Double Blind, and for the 2024 Screen Ireland - IFTA Rising Star Award. Double Blind is Hunt-Duffy’s feature directorial debut. His short films have been nominated for multiple awards, including an IFTA nomination for Gridlock, starring Moe Dunford and Peter McKenna. He also produced Vincent Gallagher’s short Love Is a Sting, which was also IFTA-nominated for Best Short Film. Hunt-Duffy was nominated for the Bingham Ray New Talent Award at Galway Film Fleadh 2023.

IFTN: How did this project first come about?

IAN: “I have a great working relationship with screenwriter Darach McGarrigle, having gone to film school together, and collaborating on a number of short films over the years. We both love stories full of suspense and tension, and I knew for my first feature film that I wanted to do something self-contained, but high-concept. Darach had the initial hook of ‘If You Fall Asleep You Die’ and I just thought it was so evocative and memorable and instantly wanted to develop a film around it. That was the jumping off point for Double Blind, and from there we came up with the idea of a pharmaceutical drug trial that goes terribly wrong. With our producer Simon Doyle, we applied for Development Funding from Screen Ireland to write the screenplay and were lucky enough to get their backing and support. It was a long journey from script to screen, the development process beginning in 2017, and filming 5 years later in 2022.”

IFTN: Tell me about your experience on set. What was your favourite moment during production?

IAN: “I loved it. Even though it was incredibly challenging and stressful at times with a tight schedule of 23 days, to get the opportunity to direct my first feature film was a dream come through. I remember when I first walked onto the set and saw this large crew of people - the props and art department, camera and lighting team, stunts, costume department, hair and makeup - everyone working incredibly hard to create a film that had been living inside my head for years, that was really humbling and exciting.”

“I think one of my favourite moments during production was the day we filmed the levitation scene with Millie Brady. I had never done any wirework before, and given our budget, I didn’t really know if we could actually achieve the scene as it was written. In the script the character rises all the way up to the ceiling and then swims down through the air, but I remember trying to temper Darach’s expectations that she might only be a few feet off the ground! So it was really exciting to see what our stunt supervisor Lauterio Zamparelli and his team were able to accomplish. That was a special day.”

IFTN: How do you approach working with actors, and what advice would you give to aspiring directors on this front?

IAN: “Filmmaking is all about collaboration, so I try my best to create an environment and atmosphere of trust on set, where the actors feel safe and comfortable to collaborate and be creative. It’s your job as a director to allow actors to be vulnerable, and to protect them and their performance. Double Blind is a film with an ensemble cast, which I love because when you have six actors together, that’s six other imaginations in the room with you. That’s exciting, and as a director you can feed off that creativity.”

“In terms of advice, you need to be as prepared and passionate as possible, and get your actors fully invested in the story and their characters. If possible, try to get to know each other ahead of time to build a relationship and understanding. Each actor’s process is different, so you have to discover what they need from you as a director to deliver their best work. And always be aware that your energy is infectious. If you come in feeling down or low energy, it will infect the actors. If you come in up and enthusiastic, that can lift them as well. As a director you set the tone and energy on set.”

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

IAN: “My first role as director was on my short films in college, like my graduation film The Euthanizer. I’ve always been a very visually led director, drawn to films with bold and dynamic compositions. So even though I was still starting out back then and had zero budget, I tried to make the film as visually interesting as I could. I’m also a fan of suspense stories, films that grip an audience. So over the years I’ve tried to combine these two interests, and refine and strengthen my visual and storytelling style through my short films and now my first feature film. It’s a constant process.”

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

IAN: “I love the work of David Fincher, so he is definitely a director who continues to inspire me. I also grew up watching John Carpenter films, so he is a big influence. The Thing is one of my favourite films and was a strong reference for Double Blind for the tone and atmosphere I wanted to create.”

IFTN: What other Irish filmmakers have you been most impressed by recently?

IAN: “I was lucky enough to have Lee Cronin as a mentor, and what he achieved with Evil Dead Rise was so impressive and exciting, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does next. I’m also a big admirer of Kate Dolan’s work. You Are Not My Mother was so confident and assured.”

IFTN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

IAN: “It sounds obvious, but the best piece of advice I was given is to always focus on communication. Directing is all about communication: with your cast, your crew, and your audience. As a director you need to have a clear vision for the film in your head and be able to clearly communicate it, to make other people see what’s inside your head. You also have to be able to listen and take on board ideas or creative contributions from your collaborators. Communication is everything.”

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