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IFTA Q&A Series: John Paul Kelly on Production Design
04 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
John Paul Kelly
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 Paul Kelly is nominated for Best Production Design for A Haunting in Venice. Kelly has previously been IFTA nominated for his work on The Other Boleyn Girl and The Guard, and won an IFTA award for Best Production Design for The Theory of Everything. He also won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or Movie for The Lost Prince.

IFTN: What was your favourite moment on production, and how was your collaborative process with the director?

JOHN PAUL: “Handing over the set to director Kenneth Branagh was I think my favourite moment of the production. Ken and I realised very soon after visiting the beautiful palazzos in Venice that for practical reasons we would need to build our version in entirety on stage. I had less than six months to deliver the set which was a pretty big ask for something on this scale.”

“Ken was supportive of my design ideas and using our scale models was able to add his own storytelling requirements and ideas before leaving my team and I to get on with the build. The day I walked Ken around the enormous stages at Pinewood containing the palazzo’s finished interior and exterior builds (including a pretty decent chunk of canal!), was a big day indeed. Thankfully, the director finished the tour with a very big smile on his face!”

“To build a complete world on stage was a great experience for me. We shot other exteriors in Venice but everything about the palazzo was created by my team and I in Pinewood. Another favourite moment was seeing the completed miniature build of the palazzo exterior and surrounding streets for the first time. It was one third scale but still the size of two tennis courts complete with miniature gondolas!”

IFTN: What tips can you share with budding Production Designers looking to break into the film industry?

JOHN PAUL: "Keep at it and keep knocking on doors. It may seem like a very competitive industry and it is but the cream floats to the top, so have faith in your talent and work hard."

IFTN: How do you balance creative vision with practical considerations, such as budget and logistics, when designing sets and props?

JOHN PAUL: “It is always a balancing act but my supervising art director Peter Russell and construction manager Jo Hawthorn did everything in their power not to compromise my designs too much in order to meet budget and time constraints. We did, as always, have to reimagine some ideas to make them more cost effective but hopefully this was noticeable only to us. Given the choice I would have had a few more frescos!”

IFTN: Production design plays an important role in making the world of a film feel real. How do you approach creating a sense of authenticity in your designs?

JOHN PAUL: “My team and I research everything down to the very last detail, and with that as the firm basis of the design it’s important to remember that we are dramatic storytellers not documentary historians. An atmospheric, dramatic, beautiful and exciting world for the actors to inhabit needs to find balance alongside the historical accuracy.”

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

JOHN PAUL: “Don’t be too precious about your designs, this is a collaboration after all and that’s why we love it."

Bloomsday Film Fest: Director Martin Turk and Line Producer Jeremiah Cullinane discuss Kino Volta
Actors Hannah and Emily Dargan discuss The Watched
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