First-time short film Director Ian Hunt-Duffy made the move from the producer’s seat to make a gripping short film project which not only won top prizes at both Cork and Foyle Film Festivals in the same weekend, but earned him an IFTA nomination.
Producer Simon Doyle and Hunt-Duffy are the pair behind Fail Safe Films, a Dublin-based production company specialising at present in commercial and corporate videos and films.
We chat to them about their current work, the support they received from Kildare County Council, the audience response to ‘Gridlock’ and what their plans are from here.
‘Gridlock’ is a Fail Safe Films project written by Darach McGarrigle and starring Moe Dunford (Black ’47), Peter Coonan (Love/Hate) and Amy DeBhrún (Jason Bourne).
IFTN: For readers who haven’t heard of the project, give us an overview of your company Fail Safe Films, the content you produce and what inspired the creative short film ‘Gridlock’?
Simon: Fail Safe Films is a film production company with a goal of creating high quality drama that engages with audiences. Having produced numerous award winning shorts over the years, our last two films—‘Love is a Sting’ and ‘Gridlock’—have garnered great success across the globe, with both films being long-listed for an Academy Award and nominated for an IFTA award. We are now moving into the feature film arena where we aim to replicate the strong narrative voice established in everything we’ve done to date.
Ian: The premise for 'Gridlock' was a thriller that's set entirely during a traffic jam. When a child goes missing from one of the cars, panic and hysteria quickly sets in and everyone becomes a suspect. I pitched the idea to writer Darach McGarrigle and he liked how it touched on the very primal fears of losing a child, paranoia, and not being able to trust the people around you. He came on board to develop it into a screenplay and together we further explored that idea of mob mentality taking over. We both love 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents'- these old high concept shows that managed to fit a huge amount of tension and suspense into a 20-minute episode- so we wanted to see if we could achieve that with a short film and create an exciting mystery for the audience.
IFTN: Kildare County Council was a fantastic support to your team, as are they to many projects in the area. Can you talk us through some of the support you availed of in the county?
Simon: Kildare County Council and Arts Council were amazing to work with. I had previously worked closely with Lucina Russell, the County Arts Officer, when producing Ciaran Creagh’s debut feature ‘In View’ with Dave Byrne of Underground Cinema, which is also up for an IFTA Award this year in the acting category for actress Caoilfhionn Dunne. So when it came to 'Gridlock' I had already built up a good working relationship with Lucina and knew that I could rely on her help and support throughout the production.
IFTN: Can you tell us what the audience response has been like to ‘Gridlock’ since you Cork Film Festival and Foyle Film Festival wins late last year?
Ian: The audience response has been extremely positive. I've seen 'Gridlock' with a crowd on a few occasions now, and because it’s a 'whodunnit' film you often see people whispering to the person next to them about who they think it is, or guessing what will happen next. So it's really rewarding to know that an audience is fully engaging with your film and getting caught up in the mystery.
Simon: Short films are quite unique as they are always viewed within a programme of other shorts, so it was our intention to make a film that would really stand out and get the audience invested in what was going to happen next. That way it wouldn’t matter what short came before or after, as it had captured their full attention and I think that’s why 'Gridlock' has resonated so well with audiences.
IFTN: When we spoke back in December you said your aspiration with ‘Gridlock’ was to make an American style genre film but with a distinctly Irish feel. Do you think you’ll continue with this style and approach in your future work?
Ian: Absolutely. 'Gridlock' was the type of film and genre that we all wanted to make and to have it be so positively received by audiences both home and abroad is very gratifying. I love high-concept, plot-driven thrillers, and so does Darach, but we hadn't seen many being made or set in Ireland. Typically they are American films, so we were eager to do our own version. We set out to get the best ensemble cast of Irish actors possible and also inject some of that black sense of humour that we Irish are renowned for. So we want to continue making films in that vein and that's what we're working towards right now. In many ways 'Gridlock' was the jumping off point.
IFTN: What projects can we expect to see from yourself, Simon and Darach in the coming months?
Ian: Darach and I are currently developing our first feature film together. We're fans of 'siege' style movies, where a group of people are trapped in a single location and must fight to survive. Movies like 'Assault on Precinct 13', 'The Thing', and more recently 'Green Room' are all brilliant examples of taut and efficient thrillers set in one location, and Darach came up with a great idea for how to do our own spin on it. It will also be another opportunity for me as a director to work with an ensemble cast, so I'm really excited about it. As well as that I'm also working again with Vincent Gallagher and Ben Cleary on a feature length adaption of our award winning short 'Love is a Sting'.
Simon: Along with Ian's feature debut, I'm also producing writer/director Ciaran Creagh's second feature film 'When Love Defies', an Irish-Polish co-production which is currently in development with the Irish Film Board. As well as this I’m also working with writer/directors Helen Flanagan and Allyn Quigley, two exciting young film directors on their respective feature projects.
IFTN: What impact has this IFTA nomination had on your confidence as a young first-time director?
Ian: It's an incredible honour to be recognised by the Academy for my work as a director, it's a real boost for me personally. I've been lucky enough to have success as a producer over the last few years, but directing was always my first passion, so it's great to be nominated alongside such strong work and talented people. It's very encouraging for me going forward as a director.
For a full list of #IFTA17 Nominees visit the Official IFTA Website