Funding a film, even a modest 15 minute short, can prove to be a soul destroying process for even the most established of filmmakers. Without a back catalogue and recognisable signature, persuading investors to take a punt on your passion project takes grit, determination and, in Ger Duffy’s case, some good old-fashioned pestering.
Counting U2’s The Edge among his friends (they met at a party through a mutual friend while Ger was working as an assistant director on RTE crime drama Love/Hate, and they bonded over their shared love of film), Ger impressed him with his concept for his second short, Void.
Having tried and failed to secure funding through the usual industry channels, and also hitting a wall with some of The Edge’s film contacts, Ger (37) finally managed to get the man himself on board as an executive producer.
“I think I moaned enough about it that he came on board and he half funded it with me,” laughs the Baldoyle native. “I had a load of savings and he gave me half the budget so that was great – I finally had the money to do it after four years.”
Ger’s own savings came from working as an assistant director on three seasons of Game of Thrones; part of season 5, the Battle of the Bastards on season 6, and all of the final eighth season which bid farewell to viewers last month. It was hard-earned cash on an “all-consuming job”.
“It takes your whole life away and your weekends and you’re a zombie on your days off,” reveals Ger of working on the long-running fantasy series, most of which was filmed in Northern Ireland.
“You’re just so bummed out from literally just work and sleep and work and sleep and this particular season of Game of Thrones was a HBO blank cheque, a once in a lifetime sort of job where they told everybody to just absolutely go for it, and we got all the biggest toys, all the biggest people and they just threw the kitchen sink at the end of this massive series.
“It was a lot of fun but I’m not 100 per cent sure I’d do it again… to put myself through 55 night shoots in a row. I’m very proud of it, it was absolutely a feat of filmmaking, and I was privileged, but no, not a hope, never again!” he laughs, but concedes, “Having said that, if I hadn’t done Game of Thrones I would not have made Void. I put every penny I made from that into this film.”
Void charts the inner turmoil of a young man with a tragic secret and stars just one actor, Laurence O’Fuarain, who Ger happened across at a film industry party; “His face was perfect. What I told him was, ‘Hey, you’ve got the perfect face, you’d look great in my short!’ and he was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’”
The character, Michael, is struggling with mental health issues and his story is inspired by that of a troubled young man Ger encountered while travelling through the US in 2008.
“He was a brash young fella staying at a hostel and not many people really liked him. He seemed to go out of his way to make enemies and offend people. I sort of got along with him quite well, but he had a tragic secret behind it all,” explains Ger.
The young man received a phone call every morning at reception and, when he didn’t show up one day, Ger answered on his behalf and spoke to the man’s mother. She revealed that after a night out drinking a year previously her son had offered to drive his best friend and brother home. He crashed the car and both were tragically killed in the collision.
Ger never addressed his friend’s past with him, cognisant of the young man’s privacy, but he kept in touch on his return to Ireland. Several years later, however, he heard that his friend had passed away following an overdose.
“It consumed him in the end,” says Ger. “I just couldn’t get my head around it. He just seemed unable to forgive himself. It was a real tragedy. It broke my heart. I didn’t realise how much it had affected me until quite a few years later and I just blurted it out on to the page.”
Over the past decade Ger has worked as an assistant director on series including the aforementioned Love/Hate and GoT as well as RTE’s Resistance, and RTE/BBC production The Young Offenders. As such he has had access to talent for Void including DOP Eoin McLoughlin who last year shot the BTS video for Beyonce’s Vogue September issue. Void is also produced by Louise Byrne of Motherland, the production company behind last year’s hugely successful documentary short 99 Problems.
In 2015, his first short, Little Bear, won the Audience Award at the Dublin International Film Festival and now Void has been selected for the Galway Film Fleadh, screening on July 11. Hopes are high it will traverse the global festival circuit.
“It’s a funny thing to sit there and watch other people watching your short film. It’s very weird. It will be very, very nerve wracking. As much as I don’t do nerves, it’s somebody else critiquing your work,” says Ger. “I hope it gets a good reaction and I do hope it gets good scope around the planet and is seen by lots of different audiences.”
In the meantime he’s working on Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson’s new seres for the BBC, an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, which is currently filming in Dublin.
“Because I’ve been an assistant director for 10 years I’ve worked with amazing directors and Lenny was one I really wanted to work with for so long. In my opinion he is our best director and I have thought that since Adam and Paul,” he says.
“When I finally got to work with him the best thing about it was I’d heard all these stories about how he was a genuinely lovely human being and, unfortunately, that isn’t the natural order of things in film. You meet some really hard nosed so and sos so it can be very difficult if you’re working a 75 hour week with them. Lenny is an angel. He’s really helped me to rediscover my love for film.”
Indeed, a decade standing at the shoulders of some of the country’s finest filmmakers has helped to hone and inform his own skills and style.
“You can’t help but take some influences from what they do,” he says. “But sometimes I’ve been sitting there saying under my breath, ‘I can do this better’ so now I’m putting my money where my mouth is with Void!” he laughs. (He is not, he hastens to add, referring to Mr Abrahamson!)
Void will screen at the Galway Film Fleadh on July 11 and will have its first Dublin screening at the Devlin Hotel in Ranelagh on August 24th alongside a selection of other Irish shorts, with all proceeds going to Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) in Dublin.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.
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