Friday, August 25th, 2006
The films I have made so far and the one I am now about to make are all family films,” director Martin Duffy, who grew up as the youngest of 15 children, tells us.
Martin’s romance with film sprung up during his childhood in Crumlin, a working class area of Dublin, Ireland. “I developed a love of film as a child. When I was 12, I bought an 8mm projector and some reels of cartoons. I don’t know what it is, but I absolutely love film. It is where I find myself and where I lose myself…At the age of fifteen my first job was as an apprentice projectionist in the Kenilworth Cinema, Harold’s Cross, Dublin.”
Martin later landed a job at the Irish TV station RTE editing dramas and documentaries. In 1995, Martin plunged into making features with his semi-autobiographical film The Boy from Mercury. His experiences shooting that film are chronicled in his book The Road to Mercury.
Since then Martin, who has lived in Berlin, Germany for the last three years, has directed the features The Bumblebee Flies Anyway (with a “dream cast” of Elijah Wood, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Janeane Garofalo) and The Testimony of Taliesin Jones (US: Small Miracles). He is currently working on a comedy called Summer of the Flying Saucer, which tells the story of a flying saucer that crash lands in Ireland during the “Summer of Love.”
Of all directors Martin most admires Billy Wilder for his range and mastery of many genres, and of his own gifts as a director he says, “I believe my greatest strength is that I trust my sense of where the heart of something is; that’s a sense that developed through my years as a film editor, but it is also part of who I am. I am analytical to a fault, but am also a softie…Janeane Garofalo told me that there are different kinds of directors and I was in the ‘nice guy’ category; actors did their best for me because they liked me and didn’t want to see me fall on my face!”
Martin stresses that filmmaking is a collaborative process. “Being a filmmaker is not about having total control—it’s about being able to discern the gifts of those around you as well as knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.” This was a lesson he himself had to be taught by experience. “Letting go more and being more open is what I needed to learn. I have learned more to receive the gifts people bring to a film and let the people flourish. The whole process is about trust, and I believe that gaining strength as a filmmaker is about gaining the capacity to trust your collaborators and trust yourself.”
Partly due to his prior experience as an editor, Martin relies heavily on storyboarding when planning a film. “I have to make a film in my head before I go on to work with others in bringing it to the screen. I couldn’t draw to save my life, but I storyboard (to use a merciful term, I do ‘visual sketches’) for an entire film before I make it; shot by shot for every scene. That’s partly through my editing skills. But I need to see each scene of a film in my head and draw it and have it on paper before getting into the filmmaking process. I am not great at making decisions on the spot, therefore long before preproduction I have sat alone and thought my way through the film and drawn up my ‘visual sketches’ and then I can look back on them as the basis for answering all the questions needed for finding my way through the delightful puzzle of making a film.” For this process Martin recommends the book Film Directing Shot by Shot by Stephen Katz, which he still refers back to when visualizing a film.
In addition to reading The Road to Mercury, those interested in learning more about Martin Duffy’s work can visit his website at duffyberlin.com, which features several of his articles about filmmaking. He also plans to include a blog for The Summer of the Flying Saucer and his other upcoming films.
And you can expect to see a lot more from Martin Duffy as he is scheduled to direct a film a year for the next three years—which is exactly the way he would have it. “[Directing] is the only work I have ever found in my life that fully and completely absorbs me and stretches me to my limits. Work is an important part of my life—and my personal life has suffered because of that—and working as a director is where I find the ultimate refuge and the ultimate canvas for my gifts.”