Paul Duane – All You Need Is Death


Posted 1 month ago in Film Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

Ahead of the release of All You Need Is Death, Paul Duane’s debut horror feature, we spoke to the artist about punk, people, and the handcarved pathways that brought it to the screen.

My introduction to Paul Duane’s work was a little different.

It was the early days of the pandemic, and like many, unburdened for too long by human contact, I opened up that hellscape that was Twitter dot com. Granted, it was often just to shout at bigots, or to beg for the reinstatement of gibbetting as a punishment, but soon enough I ended up following a bearded avatar who talked about film, actively disliked idiocy and had a lot of sensible viewpoints on things I cared about. I recognized him later at a Deadlians show and thought, “Oh, that’s that legend from the internet.”

Now, it transpires that he has made the first film I have actively anticipated since ‘Prometheus’ reminded me of the folly of optimism.

‘All You Need Is Death’ is a lovingly crafted, fiercely original and singularly Irish folk horror tale, released through XYZ Films. Starring Olwen Fouéré, Simone Collins and Charlie Maher, and scored by the distinctive dark timbres of Ian Lynch, the visionary behind the Fire Draw Near podcast, One Leg One Eye and co- founder of doomed folk primogenitors Lankum.

To borrow the film’s tagline: “A young couple who collect rare folk ballads discover the dark side of love when they surreptitiously record and translate an ancient, taboo folk song from the deep, forgotten past.”

In a twenty year career as a documentary filmmaker, director, and creator in film and television, Paul Duane has earned some justifiable notoriety. As well as directing stints on ‘Casualty’ and ‘Ballykissangel’, co-creating the harrowing ‘Amber’ I urge people to seek out his astounding 2018 documentary, ‘While You Live, Shine’, that follows Chris King, an American audiophile and musicologist who bravely contends that “anything recorded after 1941 is garbage.”

‘All You Need Is Death’ is the auteur’s first foray into genre film, and I’ve been waiting with bated breath since a buddy told me it was a story about a haunted folk song. Ishmael Claxton, Duane’s friend,  sometime collaborator, and photographer for this article, was kind enough to host us in his living room, late in February, in the midst of a packed schedule of jet setting to worldwide screenings to speak to little old me, and because I lack tact, I immediately brought up the topic of the dying creative spaces in the city.

“When I was looking at locations a year ago, I was brought to two separate places, both unoccupied. In both situations, the person taking care of each place said to me that it should be used for artists’ studios. One is the Debtors’ Prison, on Green Street, which was squatted, at one stage, similar to the Phibsborough squat. That place could be refitted as a massive artists workspace if they got the electrics and plumbing working. It’s not a huge cost. A crowd called the Green Street Trust tried to do that in the 90’s, couldn’t get the money together, gave it to the DCC. As far as I know they’ve just sat on it for the past twenty-five years.

The other space is Ushers Quay, there’s an unoccupied building with a theater space, the Riverside Theatre, in the basement. These spaces do exist. Good people have the right idea about them, but somewhere there’s a blockage. With the Ushers Quay building, it’s a health and safety concern, with the Debtors’ Prison, it’s a big refit, but places like those could provide a space for every artist in the city, and I don’t know why DCC aren’t doing it.”

 

I mention this because there seems to be a vibrant punk rock pulse beating through your work, from your friendships and collaboration with people like Ian, as well as  Ruskavellas/Deadlians frontman, Sean Fitzgerald, the folks from the Mary Wallopers…

“It’s a great scene. I tell everyone when I’m traveling that the music scene in Ireland is the best it has been in my lifetime. When I was a kid in the 80’s, the bands all wanted to be U2, so the 80’s was shit. The 90’s, slightly less shit. And so on.

This recent improvement seemed quite sudden, and I’m convinced it was because of the crash in 2008, young people growing up in the shadow of the crash. Also, the destruction of the music business. Nobody can make any money anymore, so suddenly you don’t have any careerists anymore. All you have is people who want to make music, and play music, and communicate with people, and the results have been amazing.”

 

Have you seen similar effects in the film industry? Obviously, the costs of putting a film together aren’t quite the same as picking up a guitar. 

“With music, you can always earn your crust, whereas I can’t exactly busk up a film. I also find film funding in Ireland way more conservative than how novels, poets and musicians are treated, meaning that a lot of Irish films seem to end up looking like television. There’s constant news stories about how Ireland’s film industry is in great shape, largely because some Netflix shows are filming here, which is not the same thing as having a film industry. It’s having a service industry.  Or about the Oscar nominations for ‘Poor Things’, for example, great people and everything, the DOP Robbie Ryan is a very old friend, but in the end it’s a Greek director telling a Scottish story.”

 

Everything about ‘All You Need Is Death’, by contrast, is uniquely, authentically and gratifyingly Irish,  as well as being fiercely independent. How did you arrive at that decision?

“I was sitting at home, having been turned down yet again for funding for a feature I wanted to make – this one based on Oisin Fagan’s novel Nobber – and I decided I had had enough, I would make a film on my own, with what money I had. So I started thinking about what hadn’t been done.

I love horror movies, and there’s a huge amount of interest around folk horror, and folk music is huge in Ireland, and horror leaning into folk music hadn’t been done, so that’s what I decided to do.

It’s the first script I ever wrote entirely by myself. The first person I sent it to was Ian [Lynch], I didn’t know him then but his interests are a perfect overlap with what the film’s about. He’s a musician, he has a PhD in folklore, and he loves horror. When he told me the script was exactly what he’d been waiting for someone to make, I thought “Now I have to make it.”

I also very much wanted to do something original. I feel there’s a lot of weight currently being put on rehashing old ideas. If you apply for funding here in Ireland, you have to fill in a little box that asks you to name three recent films that made money and resemble your film. But why make a film that’s like another film? Just go and see that other film. But that’s what they ask, and I’m just not interested in that. It’s a business thing. I’m not a businessman. I’m not a content provider. I’m an artist”

 

So you have an idea. You have the burden of originality on your side. How did you move forward?

“I spoke to Peter Foott for some advice on creating a no-budget film, who I don’t know personally, but he had made ‘The Young Offenders’ entirely on deferred fees. As far as I know, there were two professional crew members on that first Young Offenders film, the cinematographer and the sound recordist, and everybody else was a mate working for a deferred fee, or a percentage on whatever the earnings might eventually be. His advice to me was: don’t do what I did.”

“Obviously Peter’s film was a huge success, so he spent a year running around to pay back everybody as promised, and it kinda took over his life, so he said “Look, if you’re gonna defer payment, defer it at the high end, the cinematographer, the sound recordist. Those people understand how the business works and how long it takes to get paid. If you have extras or people coming along for a couple of days, just pay them.”  So I put together a plan around that, sat down with my line producer, sat down with the crew, discussed the fees, which were very low, but everybody was fine with it. We put together a really strong crew, a lot of people working in more responsible positions than they might previously have done, but they rose to the occasion, and everybody had a great time on set, because everybody chose to be there. It was the most positive film set I’ve ever worked on.”

 

I saw you had Ishmael Claxton work on the movie, and I read that Sean Fitzgerald makes an appearance. One of the things I personally find so inspiring is how integrated and supportive the creative scene is here now, as opposed to maybe a decade ago.

“It’s great. I go to see Acid Granny or Deadlians and John Francis Flynn is there. Everybody goes to each other’s gigs, everybody supports each other. Electronic, experimental, metal, traditional, they’re all mates. I love Vinny [Enthusiastic Eunuch], and Leagues [Foggy Notions], and what they do. Daragh Lynch from Lankum and Róisín Barrett from the Mary Wallopers are in the film too, and I had written a role for Charles Hendy from the Wallopers but he wasn’t available to do it on the day so we re-cast.

Ish I met when he was directing a music video for my friend John Murry, who also turns up in the film. Since then Ish & I have become very good friends, and of course he’s a great artist who’s headed for big things.”

 

How have people been responding to the film?

“The response has been great so far. It’s really a film made for an Irish audience, and if anyone else likes it that’s a bonus. I’ve had strangers stop me on the street and tell me about how they can’t wait for the film to come out, which has never happened before in my life.”

 

Can you tell me about the next few months? What does the schedule of an auteur entail?

“The U.K premiere was at the Glasgow Frightfest at the beginning of March, and in the beginning of April, I’m headed to the U.S. for screenings in New York, New Orleans, Kansas City and Los Angeles. It’ll have a theatrical run over there and it comes out here and in the UK a week later on the 19th of April, and then on VOD, and then it will be on one of the streaming services, I’m not allowed to say which one yet.”

 

What comes next for Paul Duane? Is there some kind of cooling off period after you finish a project, or do you get right back on the horse?

“I was trying to get a new film shot this year but I couldn’t get the lead actor I wanted, so I put it aside to write a new script called The Something. I wrote the first draft in October and the second in February. I hope to get it finished by the end of February, it’s a leap year, so that’s an extra day.  It’s another creepy cosmic horror movie, a little more ambitious, a little more expensive. It has a kind of Stuart Gordon, ‘From Beyond’ or ‘Re-Animator’ vibe to it. My US distributor XYZ Films want to do more films with me, so hopefully I will get to make this big, nasty psychedelic horror movie, set in Donegal.”

 

Of the horror resurgence the world has seen over the last few years, is there anyone making anything you’ve found particularly inspiring?

“American stuff doesn’t really interest me these days. I like Oz Perkins, and there’s a couple of American independents making really good stuff, for instance the Adams Family. I watch a lot of films from different countries. South American horror is amazing. I saw a political horror film, Sorcery, or ‘Brujería’. It’s about German colonists in Chile, in the nineteenth century being battled by indigenous witches. It’s like ‘The Battle of Algiers’ with witchcraft. A stunning film. Asian horror, stuff from Indonesia, from Eastern Europe.

There’s a new British film from an animator, Robert Morgan, named ‘Stopmotion’ which is unbelievably scary. Gave me nightmares. It’s not really a horror film but Luna Carmoon’s debut Hoard is also absolutely unmissable.”

 

With a longstanding admiration for South Korean cinema, I am compelled to agree.

“There’s a lot of great stuff happening, but as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t happening in the U.S. I said that at the premiere there. I was asked what inspired me, and when I answered “Everything except American cinema” people laughed and clapped. There’s so much incredible non-English-language work coming out now that I just have very little interest in American cinema at the moment.”

 

The film has quite a lot of ‘hooks’, little things that make it stand out from the thousand ‘Cocaine Bear’ clones we’ve been enduring.

“The fact is the digital cinema revolution has put the means of production into the hands of many more people. I’m not a fan of this nostalgia for shooting on film. While it’s great, and stuff shot on film looks fantastic, stuff shot digitally can also look fantastic and I think it’s much more important that more people get to make movies. This, however, also makes it more difficult for any individual film to cut through. For a film to cut through in 2024, it has to have something specific and original about it, which is why I built things into this film so people who like these things have something to latch onto.”

“One of the issues I have with ‘genre cinema’ is that there tends to be a lot of filler that comes out, films that are a bit like ‘The Babadook’, or a bit like ‘Let The Right One In’. I want to rise above that. I don’t want to be paying homage to someone else’s film, I want to make a film people will pay homage to. That’s what you should be aiming for, in my opinion.”

@paulduanefilm

Words: Adhamh O’Caoimh

Photographs and Stills: Ishmael Claxton

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