My name is PJ Dillon, I’m a Director of Photography and sometimes director. Originally from Listowel in Kerry I’ve lived in and around Dublin for the last 25 years apart from a few years I spent living and working in New York. I did a diploma course in Communications, specializing in film production in DIT (College of Commerce) then got my first film job as a trainee on ‘The Field’ in 1989. I worked as a camera assistant for 10 years before shooting my first feature film in New Hamshire in 1999. I’ve been shooting since then.
DO YOU MAINLY WORK IN IRELAND, ABROAD OR BOTH ?
Almost exclusively in Ireland. When I do work abroad it is usually on Irish based productions.
WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON OR WHAT IS THE LAST PROJECT YOU DID ?
Most recently I shot the second series of ‘Roy’ a kids show for CBBC, before that a sci-fi comedy feature film called ‘Earthbound’ for Alan Brennan and five episodes of the TV show ‘Primeval’, but the project I’m going to talk about here is Ian Power’s feature film ‘The Runway’ which we shot in 2009 but which goes on release on June 10th
HOW DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT?
I had known Ian for a number of years but had never worked with him, he sent me the script, had a look at my reel, we met and talked and he offered me the job.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE PROJECT ?
The project is a feel good film set in Co. Cork in the 1980’s. It is very loosely based on a real incident when a South American pilot had to do an emergency landing in a small rural town. The plane was unable to take off from where it landed as the surface was unsuitable so over the following months the town built a runway to get the plane back in the air.
Ian took the bones of the real story, embellished the facts and wrote a very funny, warm script about how the building of the runway affects the people of a small and rather depressed Irish town.
We shot the film over six or seven weeks in the Summer and Autumn of 2009 in Luxembourg (mostly interiors) and around Schull in west Cork.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE DIRECTOR?
This was Ian’s first feature as a director but he has made a number of very accomplished short films and loads of commercials. He is a very talented guy who plans carefully and knows exactly what he wants. He is also a very good communicator so it’s possible to work fast because he never comes to set without a very clear idea of what he wants to achieve with every scene.
What I really liked about working with him though was that he encouraged me to push the envelope at all times. He doesn’t believe in taking the safe option so where a lot of directors would baulk at certain things (lighting, framing etc.) because they were not strictly conventional, Ian would embrace this. He gave me the freedom to try things stylistically that some other directors would be nervous of. This suited me because I firmly believe that you will never create anything memorable if you stay in the safe zone, the best work is always found at the margins.
WERE THERE ANY PARTICULAR REFERENCES THAT YOU AND THE DIRECTOR KEPT IN MIND WHILE SHOOTING?
Ian is greatly (though not exclusively) influenced by American mainstream cinema of the 1980’s so the references were films like ET, Back to the Future, The Goonies and Close Encounters.
WHAT FORMAT DID YOU USE & WHY ?
We shot on Red for financial reasons, as film was just not an option. At the time Red was the best available digital format for our budget. We ran some tests and concluded we could achieve the look we were after.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR PREFERENCE OF LENSES ?
I chose a set of uncoated zeiss standard speeds. I didn’t want the film to look too crisp, clean and frankly digital so these lenses, which are older and tend to flare easily, suited me perfectly. In addition we used black promist diffusion filters as these were very in vogue in the 80’s and they worked really well in helping to emulate the style we were trying to recreate.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE STYLE AND TYPE LIGHTING ON THIS PROJECT ?
The film uses a lot of hard back-light and very little else. The lenses and filters, combined with a light, though constant, haze of smoke, helped to bring detail into the shadow areas rather than using fill light to do it. I’m generalizing of course but that is pretty much how we lit every interior. With the exteriors we always tried to stage scenes so that they were back-lit by the sun and Ian has to take a lot of the credit here as he was very conscious of what I needed to make scenes work and was prepared to schedule and stage them in a way which worked for me. That is not to say that the photography dictated the drama, it didn’t, but Ian very quickly picked up on what I was doing and factored it into his decision making for each scene.
DID YOU TRY ANYTHING NEW ON THIS PROJECT?
New for me but tried and tested in the 70’s and 80’s by Vilmos Zsigmond, Jordan Cronenweth, Dean Cundey and Caleb Deschanel!
WHAT CINEMATOGRAPHERS HAVE INFLUENCED YOU DURING YOUR CAREER ?
Vilmos Zsigmond and Michael Seresin, both of whom I was lucky enough to work with when I was an assistant as well as Chris Doyle, Dion Beebe, Javier Aguirresarobe, Storario, Deakins, Alemendros...the list is long.