26 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Lisa Mulcahy on Directing
08 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Lisa Mulcahy
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.

Lisa Mulachy is nominated for Best Director - Film for her work on Lies We Tell. The film is nominated for 13 IFTA Awards overall, including Best Film and Best Script - Film. Mulcahy has also recently directed two episodes of The Tourist season 2, starring Jamie Dornan. Mulcahy has been IFTA-nominated four times previous to this, and won the IFTA for Best Director Soap and Comedy in 2015 for Red Rock.

IFTA: How did this project first come about?

LISA: “I was approached by Elisabeth Gooch during 2018 about her script and the new POV scheme which had just been launched by Screen Ireland to promote women’s creative voices in the film Industry. She asked would I be interested in directing the film. Producer Ruth Carter was already on board. I had met Elisabeth on a writing course a few years earlier, we liked each other, and I knew I wanted to work with her so I said ‘Yes, please!’.”

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

LISA: “It was a very tight schedule (20 days) but we had a lot of fun making the film. The entire crew and cast were completely committed so everyone was brilliantly focused and prepared. One of my favourite moments was when we shot the scene with Maud and the rest of the family at the breakfast table the morning after she is attacked. Aggi (O’Casey) is so wonderful in this scene. Heartbreakingly vulnerable yet forceful. And David (Wilmot) and the rest of the cast are excellent in their individual responses to her situation. Working with actors is such a privilege and this was one of those stand-out moments that reminded me how lucky I am to do what I do.”

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

LISA: “The director/actor relationship demands trust on both sides. An actor needs to know they can depend on the director to present them and their work in the best possible way and this includes how you respond to their performance as well as how you film them. Directing actors almost always requires various degrees of tact and diplomacy. All actors approach their work differently so a director needs to be able to assess how each actor does their best work and try to create that environment for them.”

“My advice to aspiring directors? Know your script and the characters inside-out so that no question you get (and they will be many) will throw you. You need to always have an answer to a question. There can often be several possible answers and that’s where great creative conversation can come. If you don’t have an immediate answer, let the actor know that you will have a think and come back to them.”

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

LISA: “I directed a short film called ‘The Very Stuff’. It was pretty much self-funded by myself and the producer and everyone did it for nothing. Some really experienced crew got involved so there was great support. Even my mother helped with the catering and was an extra, which was lovely. We shot in the west of Ireland and it was an absolute blast. I still conceive scenes and work collaboratively in much the same way as I did then. I love the collaboration of working on film and TV drama so would never want to change that. And I really like to have fun when I work and when that stops, I’ll stop.”

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

LISA: “I can’t pick just one film-maker but directors whose work I love to watch would include the following: Robert Altman, Andrea Arnold, Stephen Frears, Sam Mendes and  Sofia Coppola. Two of my favourite films recently were Elvis directed by Baz Luhrmann and The Zone of Interest directed by Jonathan Glazer. Both brilliant.”

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

LISA: “I’ve recently been on a jury for Irish short films for a festival here and it was really exciting to see the work of so many up and coming filmmakers. I won’t mention anyone in particular as the results are yet to be announced but there are some really talented directors out there. Of the more established directors, I think John Carney consistently makes great films and I thought Emer Reynolds’ documentary The Farthest was a complete triumph. And of course there’s Dearbhla Walsh, who continues to give us fabulous TV drama.”

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

LISA: “I was once mentored by Steven Frears in a director’s workshop. It was a brutal yet invaluable experience. He said to me at one stage ‘it’s your job to make actors look good’. I didn’t take that to mean that I needed to try and make people more handsome or beautiful but that it is my job as a director to provide a safe space in which actors can do their best creative work.”

“That means being incredibly well prepared in relation to the script, the characters, the visual and aural story you will be telling. Being confident that you know what you are doing and that they can trust you. That’s what I try to do.”

Director Colm Quinn discusses documentary Ransom 79
Oscar-nominated Todd Field discusses directing at IFTA Masterclass
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