18 June 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“I wanted a killer hook, something memorable”, director Ian Hunt-Duffy discusses Double Blind
02 Aug 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Millie Brady in Double Blind
We caught up with director Ian Hunt-Duffy following his feature film’s Irish premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Director Ian Hunt-Duffy sat down with us to discuss Double Blind, his feature directorial debut. He spoke with us about screening the film at the Galway Film Fleadh, working with collaborators who have been with him since his first shorts, and the hunt for the very specific location at the centre of this film.

Double Blind is a contained, psychological thriller/horror that follows an experimental drug trial gone horribly wrong. The test subjects learn that they must stay awake or they will die, and as time goes on, paranoia escalates.

The film stars Millie Brady (Roadkill), Pollyanna McIntosh (The Walking Dead), Akshay Kumar (Count Abdulla), Diarmuid Noyes (Pure Mule: The Last Weekend), Brenock O'Connor (Game of Thrones), Abby Fitz (Redemption), Shonagh Marie (Britannia), and Frank Blake (Cherry). Simon James Doyle produced for Failsafe Films, and the screenplay was written by Darach McGarrigle. 

Executive producers are Emma Scott and Dearbhla Regan for Screen Ireland, Patrick Ewald and Katie Page for Epic Pictures, and Patrick O'Neill for Wildcard Distribution.

Shortly after having its world premiere at Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland, Hunt-Duffy’s feature debut had its Irish premiere at the 35th Galway Film Fleadh. The film played to a packed audience.

“You live with this film for so long, and you just want to see it with a crowd. So we were really happy with the response from Galway. It was sold out. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it. They laughed at all the funny bits, they gasped at all the horror bits. So it was really exciting for us.”

Hunt-Duffy was also nominated for the Bingham Ray New Talent Award at this year’s Fleadh.

“It was an incredible honour and a really welcome surprise. The lineup of other nominees was incredible, so to be included amongst these other artists was a great feeling. It was great to spotlight the film as a result, I think it gave a bit more attention to Double Blind.”

Through his production company Failsafe Films, Hunt-Duffy has directed a number of shorts, such as Gridlock and Low Tide, which gave the director and his collaborators a chance to experiment with genre as they prepared to take on a feature production.

“Myself and Darach McGarrigle, who wrote Double Blind and had written my short films as well, we’re both big genre fans. We were raised on John Carpenter, James Cameron, and John McTiernan. So we were always conscious with the shorts we were making to showcase the kind of work we wanted to do with our first feature.”

Gridlock, Hunt-Duffy and McGarrigle’s first short, is a mystery-thriller set during a traffic jam in which a young girl goes missing, and all the other drivers become suspects. Much like Double Blind, this thriller has a high-concept premise and contains itself to one location.

“Coming up to Double Blind I wanted something high concept again, and we wanted to be pragmatic in our approach. I knew we wouldn’t have a huge budget, so if we could do something that was contained in one location that would be advantageous from a budget and logistics point of view. But from a story point of view, you can have this contained, pressure cooker atmosphere, and create a lot of tension and suspense.”

He explains that the seed from which Double Blind sprouted was a suggestion from McGarrigle.

“I wanted a killer hook, something memorable. The initial seed of Double Blind Darach had was that rule of ‘If you fall asleep, you die’. And I just thought that was so catchy and evocative and instantly memorable. To take something innocent and everyday, like sleep, and make it deadly.”

From there McGarrigle wrote the script, with Hunt-Duffy and producer Simon James Doyle giving feedback.

“There would be a lot of back and forth between us. I'd be reading each draft, and giving notes. Our producer Simon James Doyle is a very creative producer, so together, I think we have a great creative team. We like to talk things through, brainstorm, and discuss ideas. Really interrogate the material. Darach, to his credit, is really receptive to that feedback. I think he’s written a brilliant script here.”

As well as continuing his collaborations with McGarrigle and Doyle, Double Blind saw Hunt-Duffy’s creative partnership with DoP Narayan Van Maele continue.

“Narayan is amazing, he’s someone thatI’ve worked with in film school. He’s shot all my shorts from my grad film onwards. We have a great relationship and a great shorthand. It was great that we were able to do my first feature together.”

Similar to the back and forth of developing the script, Hunt-Duffy describes his process with Van Maele, working on the shotlist and storyboard together:

“So I would go off and do my shotlist first, after I’ve broken down the script, then I would take that to Narayan and we would discuss it, revise it, add shots, pull reference imagery. I would do some storyboards myself, but we like to do photo storyboards if we can. Ideally, we get into the location and take photos of the scene. It’s a great way for us to figure out what’s what, and you can come up with ideas while you’re there.”

“From Gridlock onwards, I’ve learnt that you can prepare the shot list you want, but it can quickly go out the window. It’s not a hard rule, it’s a blueprint. Narayan’s really good at finding things on the day. I think a lot of the cast would attest to this, he’s a really great actor’s DP, in terms of following their movements or finding things within their performance, and adjusting the shot to accommodate their ideas.”

“It was great to have someone flexible and adaptable like that. It was a tough shoot. We only had 23 days, so we were constantly up against time. I think Narayan thrives on that!”

Hunt-Duffy elaborates on the location at the heart of the production and how its very specific location brief, an underground medical facility, proved difficult to find. Without the budget for a large set-build, they spent months searching, and eventually found what they were looking for in Limerick.

“We got in contact with Paul Ryan in Film Limerick. We gave them the brief and they thought they had some places that would suit it. We found this incredible building in Rathkeale in County Limerick. We were looking for something that could pose as an underground medical facility with a lab and dorm rooms. This industrial building had all the corridors and the common room area, and a lot of empty rooms where we could do small set-builds.”

“It was incredible. They gave us a lot of flexibility and access. We could paint the walls, do a mural, all sorts of things. Our production designer, Steve Kingston, and his art department and crew did an incredible job bringing this space to life.”

“We were also able to shoot in UL, the University of Limerick. So the lab was there, an actual lab. And the scene for the exam room where they get the drug, that was the physiotherapy room in the university. So just by virtue of going down to Limerick, we were afforded all these incredible locations we couldn't get elsewhere.”

Speaking with the Dundalk Democrat last year, Hunt-Duffy made the point that “horror has always had more going on under the surface than people maybe give it credit for”. As our interview came to a close, I asked him if he thinks the film has an added resonance coming out of the pandemic, as a sudden emergency lockdown and the subsequent claustrophobia of that is a key plot point in the film.

“It’s a strange one, because this was in development for four years. We got our first round of development funding from Screen Ireland in 2018. At the time, we had the term ‘lockdown’ in the script, but it had a totally different meaning, or at least not the significance that it does now. All of a sudden, post-covid, it did take on a new sort of resonance and a new edge to it that was fortuitous.”

“And in terms of the characters and theme, they’re all lost young characters. They’re directionless, have no secure income, they’re not on the property ladder… So that's speaking to a lot of young people's experiences in Ireland today. Horror is great at holding up a mirror to society, so we wanted to do a heightened version of that.”

For more information on Double Blind and Failsafe Films, click here.

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