2 March 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
“I put literally every penny I had into making this film,” director Paul Duane discusses All You Need is Death
18 Oct 2023 : Luke Shanahan
All You Need is Death
We caught up with writer, director, and producer Paul Duane ahead of the Irish premiere of his film All You Need is Death at the Cork International Film Festival.

In a career spanning over twenty years, Paul Duane has worked in both television and as a documentary filmmaker. He has co-created television series such as The Secret Diary of a Call Girl and Amber, as well as directing episodes of Ballykissangel, Casualty, and more. His recent documentaries have focused on both musicians and musicology (While You Live Shine, Very Extremely Dangerous), and now his debut fiction feature film will explore similar characters and themes through the lens of horror.

All You Need is Death follows young couple Anna and Aleks collecting folk ballads, the rarer the better. Following a tip from a fellow collector, they secretly record a song so ancient that it is in a forgotten dialect. But once they begin to translate the song, they discover the reason why it was never meant to be passed on.

The film’s cast includes Simone Collins (Barber), Charlie Maher (Conversations with Friends), Olwen Fouéré (The Northman), Barry McKiernan (Vikings: Valhalla), Nigel O'Neill (Boys from County Hell), and Catherine Siggins (The Samuel Project). There are also a number of notable first-time actors in the film. Duane is producing, with XYZ Films distributing. 

Scoring the film is Ian Lynch of Lankum. As well as being a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist in the contemporary folk group, Lynch has also lectured in UCD and guest lectured at Baltimore’s Johns’s Hopkins University. His podcast Fire Draws Near is an archive of traditional Irish music stretching back centuries.

We sat down with director Paul Duane ahead of the Irish premiere of All You Need is Death at the Cork International Film Festival to discuss the eclectic sources that have inspired the film, his independent approach to getting the film made, and what he plans to do next.

IFTN: This is your first foray into genre film, how has your background in documentary filmmaking informed your approach to this project?

PAUL: “That’s a difficult question to answer, but I’ll try. There are traces of various people I met while making documentaries in this script. The obsessive collector’s mentality from Chris King, 78 RPM record collector, in my doc While You Live Shine definitely found its way into the song-collectors of AYNID. Bill Drummond’s concerns about the morality of recorded music are also probably a factor. I had started out thinking maybe I could make a drama with the same size crew I used to make documentaries, or a few more people, but I soon learned that this would be impractical.”

“However, I made sure to cast non-actors like Barry (brother of Brendan) Gleeson, a legendary ballad singer but not previously an actor, Roisin from the Mary Wallopers and Sean Fitzgerald from The Deadlians, because I like mixing in ‘real’ people with actors. So maybe that’s a legacy of my documentary work!”

IFTN: At what point did Ian Lynch of Lankum become attached to the film?

PAUL: “He was the first person I sent the script to, and if he had said it wasn’t any good, I think I would have abandoned it immediately. However he loved it, and his positivity was the first part of putting the big picture together. His interests are like a Venn diagram of what the film is about. He’s a horror fan, particularly the work of HP Lovecraft, he has academic qualifications in folklore and Old Irish, and of course he’s a musician of genius both on his own and with Lankum. The first thing we did together was to write the song sung by Olwen Fouéré in the movie. I wrote the English lyrics as if they had been poorly translated from Irish, and Ian worked with a linguist to translate it into Old Irish, which Olwen then transformed again into something extraordinary. I’ve said before that listening to Lankum’s album The Livelong Day was what gave me permission to write this script. It’s unimaginable without their music.”

IFTN: You funded this project independently, could you walk us through how you went about doing this? What advice would you give to other filmmakers thinking of taking a similar approach to funding?

PAUL: “I had no option, really, after many years of being turned down for funding, first by the Irish Film Board and more recently by Screen Ireland. I realised I was getting older and getting nothing made. I had a small inheritance from the sale of my parents’ house after my Mum died, and a grant from the Arts Council for an experimental documentary I had intended making under Covid lockdown, but which was impossible to do post-lockdown. So I put the two together and figured out I had about enough to fund a fifteen-day shoot if it was very carefully planned and executed, and if we were very lucky in every way. It worked out, but could have gone very badly wrong. I was risking homelessness, because I put literally every penny I had into making this film. I needed it to succeed, I didn’t have any alternative. I have a Patreon where I am writing in great detail about the experience of making the film and trying to explain the decision-making process for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps. It's at Weird & Confusing if anyone wants to subscribe, I am updating it once a week or more.”

IFTN: What challenges did you face shooting the film in fifteen days, and what was your favourite moment during production?

PAUL: “We had every challenge imaginable. Time, money, weather. We shot in January as it was the best time to find crew members willing to work for little money or in some cases entirely deferred fees. I could only do it by planning ahead as much as possible, and then we lost a major location in mid-shoot a cast member became unavailable and had to be re-cast, we nearly lost a lead actor to Covid, we were continually racing against time to get our shoot day completed, and in the end we had to drop one filming day entirely and pick it up again a month later. But because nobody was doing it for the money, there was a tremendously positive atmosphere 90% of the time, much more so than you would find on better budgeted films where people tend to start gossiping and backbiting because they have time on their hands.”

“My favourite moment was probably shooting the final shot in the film, which called for our non-binary actor Ben Stewardson to appear almost naked and haloed in sunlight. In January, in Dublin, the sun appeared just at the right time in exactly the right place, by some miracle. The shot worked beautifully, Ben carried it off magnificently, and it’s a terrific ending for the film.”

IFTN: Do you think your next project will see your journey into genre filmmaking continue, or do you plan to return to documentary filmmaking following this project?

PAUL: “I hope to continue doing both, as an Irish filmmaker you can never really say never. I need to survive and the past year has been incredibly financially difficult. I have a feature ready to shoot next autumn pending cast coming on board, so hopefully there will be another film coming relatively soon. But I love factual filmmaking too, and would hate to let it go completely. We’ll just have to see what happens.”

All You Need is Death will have its Irish Premiere at Cork International Film Festival on November 15th.

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