John McIlduff is a young filmmaker with a vision, his film are easily identifiable, visually pleasurable to the eye while exploring the spaces created in-between the social narrative of life.
A busy man, John juggles writing and film-making with his young family in their Paris based home; on a rare moment of down-time we managed to chat before John had to fly back to Belfast to continue work on an Opera he and Northern Irish composer, Brian Irvine have been developing over the past few years, Dumbworld.
Originally commissioned between the Wexford Opera Festival and the Opera Fringe in Downpatrick, Postcards from Dumbworld, will to be performed in Dublin later this year, under the meticulous direction of John.
John who is fluent in French and Italian grew up in Bangor before moving on to study English Literature at Queen’s University in Belfast. Whilst at University John was bitten with the theatre bug, directing and acting in many college productions. After college John decided to pursue a career in theatre and continued his training by enlisting in the world-renowned Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, ‘I spent two years studying in the school and then after that I kind of used Paris as my base, although I was moving around an awful lot’.
It was during this time that John also met his Italian born wife Alexandra, who is also an actress and documentary filmmaker.
After Lecoq John returned to Belfast briefly and started Shibboleth Theatre Company in 1997, ‘I worked with a lot of people I had gone to the school with, we worked a lot in Paris and we rehearsed in Paris, we toured around Ireland and some of England, Scotland, France and Italy as well. We kind of moved around with our shows. The first show we did was a sort of a clown show, without noses, set on the Titanic, that came out of one of one of the pieces I had done, my final piece in the school’.
John then moved on to direct and adapt the novel Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, ‘which was more kind of eastern European influenced, I’d been working with a Polish Director called Komasa and I had worked with him on a couple of different projects and that inspired me into a more Stanislavski style, eastern European, big emotions’.
It was during his time with Shibboleth Theatre Company that John was given the opportunity to direct his first short film Ardita in 1998, ‘I was given some money from a region in Italy where I worked occasionally doing theatre projects to make a film, so I decided, well great, yes I will make the film, not knowing anything about filmmaking, my background had been purely theatrical up to that point so it was kind of in at the deep end’.
With his first film in the can John was beginning to change direction and it wasn’t long before he went on to direct his second short film, ‘A year or so later I make Sugar and Spice, which was part of the Northern Irish Premier Scheme that was running at the time. It was a very simple story about a girl who finds a dead body in the middle of a forest in Belfast and the body becomes her play thing for a number of days, so it was all kind of based on what you imagined her back story was, it was all pretty dark stuff’.
After this John went on to develop and direct, in collaboration with composer Brian Irvine, a series of films titled The Mysterious Art of Dancing, visually stunning John explains, ‘I wanted to push things more visually than I had been able to previously, I had been led by narrative, that was one of the things I wanted to free myself from and sometimes just to take simple concepts like a fish in a block of ice’.
John though is not just a talented filmmaker he also writes for French television, writing in both English and French, while also directing commercials in London and Paris. He also has numerous scripts in development, from sitcoms to features, ‘at the moment I’m writing sitcom episodes, both are new sitcoms, one that I’ve developed with a friend, which is a sort of a Simpson’s type sitcom but for real. Another project, I have been brought in on simply as a screenwriter is a version of Buffy and the Vampire Slayer, in French.
One of the feature films John also has in development resonates deeply with him as he explains, ‘East Belfast Yacht Club is a project I have been developing for a number of years with Pierce Moore from Raw Nerve Productions in Derry, it’s a story set in Belfast about men who build their own boats. I am hoping that it will be the first feature film that I make and it will be set and filmed in Belfast. I’m redrafting the script at the minute’.
John’s script East Belfast Yacht Club won him a place on the prestigious Moonstone International screenwriters’ lab as well as also winning the Media New Talent Award from the European Commission.
With all this in the mix, I ask John how does he manage to balance his life, ‘the majority of my time,’ he explains, ‘is spent writing, I have an office down in the centre of Paris, like everybody else I get up and bring the kids to school and I head off to my office where I am either working on my own on a project or with my co-writer Rudolph. I’ve gone through moments where you don’t have any work on, there’re ups and downs, but at the minute everything is pushing strongly ahead, I’m hoping that the feature film will happen next year. You spend so much time writing things that never get made or they get looked at a few years later, that’s when everything starts happening, you see what you wrote a year or two ago on stage or on the television, that’s great, you know. Hell I couldn’t do anything else, I realised that at an early age’.
In The Movies published in Homes & Lifestyle NI
Words by Tina O Rourke