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IFTA Q&A Series: John Hayes on Directing
11 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
John Hayes
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.

John Hayes is nominated for Best Director - Drama for Obituary. Hayes has been previously nominated in this category for his work on Dublin Murders. Other recent directing credits include Redemption.

IFTN: How did this project, and your involvement as director, first come about?

JOHN: “I was first approached about Obituary through my agent Mark who sent me the script for episode one along with a pitch deck, which gave an overview of the story and the main characters. Straight away the originality of Ray’s writing and the character of Elvira leapt off the page. I'd been looking for something different and this project definitely ticked that box. I loved the dark humour and macabre feel of the world that Ray described, and couldn’t wait to dive in. The following week I had a call with the exec producers Paddy and Laurent and it was pretty clear from the start that we were all on the same page about the type of show that we wanted to make. Things just took off from there.”

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

JOHN: “We shot Obituary in Donegal in January and February last year and the weather was brutal. We were on a very tight schedule and the first week of the shoot was almost entirely outside, which was a baptism of fire. Thankfully we had a great cast and crew who got stuck in, despite the conditions, and making the show was good fun and a real team effort.”

“My favourite moment on the shoot happened at the end of that first week when we’d been shooting outside in lashing rain all day and had already dropped a scene due to the weather. It was the last set-up of the day and we were supposed to shoot a small dog chasing a pork chop that was tied to the back of a remote controlled car being driven by Elvira’s best friend Mallory.”

“With the luck we were having I didn't think there was a chance in hell that we'd get the shot but because the animal handler and the dog were an expensive hire and had come up from Dublin for the day we had to give it a go. So we waited for the wind and rain to die down a bit and to my amazement the dog did it perfectly the first time and that’s the take that’s in the show. It was a great way to end a tough first week and lifted everyone’s spirits.”

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

JOHN: “Every actor is different and getting to know them and how they work, and most importantly building a sense of trust with them, is crucial. I always try to meet with the actors individually beforehand to talk about the scripts and to listen to their thoughts, ideas, and sometimes fears and to explain my vision for the project. It’s important that they know that you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. If there’s time I find rehearsals are a useful way to get a sense of how the actors like to work and what they might need from me as a director. We did a little rehearsal on Obituary but mostly we just talked about the characters and the story, creating an open dialogue and getting comfortable with each other. Advice I’d give to aspiring directors is to be prepared and know what you want when you come to set each day but also be open to new ideas, wherever they might come from, and be willing to adapt your vision on the day.”

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

JOHN: “My first role as a director on a narrative story was on my short film Two Fat Ladies in 2003. Previously I'd been directing promos and commercials for a few years so I had a good deal of directing experience at that point but that was my first time telling a story so to speak. Because of my commercials background I was very prepared (shot lists, mood boards etc.) and probably micro-managed things a little too much back then. I still like to be prepared arriving on set but over the years I’ve definitely become more relaxed, particularly around the actors. I've also become more confident in how I want to tell the story and know when I have what I need. I’m lucky to work with some great people so I try to give them the space to do their jobs and keep my focus on telling the story.”

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

JOHN: “That’s such a tough question as there are so many directors whose work I admire. 70s cinema has always been a big favourite of mine and the great directors of that period Coppola, Scorsese, Friedkin etc. continue to inspire me. I grew up watching Spielberg movies and have been revisiting some of them with my kids recently and it's been great to see how they respond to them. I’m also a big fan of anything that David Fincher does and when I was directing commercials Jonathan Glazer was a hero of mine and seeing how he’s grown as a filmmaker over the years is a continuing inspiration.”

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

JOHN: “Lenny Abrahamson continually does great work whether it’s in film or TV. Lorcan Finnegan is also building an interesting body of work and it’s great to see filmmakers like Lee Cronin breaking out and working in Hollywood. There are also several Irish directors working in TV, both here and abroad, whose work I admire and I’m always keen to see what they do next.”

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

JOHN: “Getting to direct anything whether it’s a short, TV drama, or a film takes a lot of luck and perseverance. If you’re like me, once you do eventually make it to the first day of shooting, you’re usually a bag of nerves. A piece of advice that was given to me early on, and I'm only now taking heed of, is to try to enjoy it because you'll only get to make this story once. I think that’s pretty good advice.”





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