Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a cinematographer?
I went to Dun Laoghaire college of Art where I did the degree in Cinematography - this was a great experience and I thought the college was great. I got to shoot quite a few projects on film there and learned mostly through trial and error. It was a great time to experiment and we used to try stuff like cross processing and bleach bypass or shoot stuff on title stock or Super 8. Film was a very plastic unpredictable medium and it was fun to push it around. It was unusual to find a college that embraced the film workflow as DLCAD did. It was a great place to go in that you got a very practical grounding.
Can you tell us how you came to be involved in this project?
I was sent the script by Lenny to read and thought it was mental. It was this very off-beam narrative which could be played a number of ways depending on the view you took. I knew Lenny would find his own unique slant on it - and he did. I think it’s a great film and one I will watch again and again.
What were your initial thoughts about it?
It was a kind of unique story in the sense that it had this skewed central premise but everything else was played straight. The protagonist was also, in some senses, the bad guy - in that he’s contaminating artistry with commercial intent but the narrative plays him as though a hero in a straight narrative. I think it’s a unique script.
Can you describe your relationship with the director?
Lenny and I worked together on quite a few commercials back in the day and then I shot his film Adam and Paul - which was hard work but a great experience. We shot it in 4 weeks as a guerilla crew on Super 16mm. We shot in some of the hardest areas in Dublin where we met some of the best people. Afterwards Lenny and I did a TV series called Prosperity which was a series of stories about people clinging to the bottom financial rung set in contemporary Dublin. Many locations opened my eyes to the poverty level here in Dublin - with families burning the floorboards to heat the house and rows of back gardens all rammed in by joyriders. Again many great people under incredibly difficult circumstances.
Were there any particular references that you and the director kept in mind while shooting?
We discussed the effect of some directors create in their films - I recall talking about Kaurismäki and the Coen Brothers - both of whom have very deliberate styles which point up the gaps and beats in the action - downplaying the bigger, broader aspects and allowing the more subtextural moments to come forward. It’s a kind of heightened aspect that isn’t quite observational nor presented but somewhere in between.
Did you try anything new or unusual?
We shot in New Mexico for a portion of the film which was interesting and challenging - as it entails different crewing systems and adapting to their workflow.
Who were your crew on this job?
In Ireland Cormac O’Maille was the focus puller and did the most amazing job. Barry Conroy was similarly fantastic as Gaffer and certainly had his work cut out for him due to the location’s awkward access. Everyone was amazing and worked really hard. I think the crew really believed in the Lenny and the film.
Can you tell us about your preferences of format and lenses?
We shot Alexa - which gives that flat 5219 film look for the most part. It is the least digital of the available cameras at the moment. We tested RAW which has some advantages but given our workflow didn’t make sense in the end. There was some testing of shooting at various f-stops and although shooting wide open is de rigeur and generally incredibly pretty - it comes at a cost to performance because the depth of field is so low that it may restrict blocking so we opted to shoot at a more manageable 2.8 whenever possible. This makes it less photographic in a sense but this wasn’t a problem because Len and I had opted to not give the film too much of a forced drama “look” opting to make it look more naturalistic to counterpoint the offbeat quality of the situation. The photography style, we felt, should stay in the background.
Who has influenced you during your career?
Many great Dp’s - Conrad Hall immediately springs to mind - his stuff was always fresh. Benoît Debie recently has done some stuff I like. I love Roger Deakins’ work- it’s always in service of the film’s premise and he doesn’t have hard and fast rules about what will work lightingwise which is refreshing (in fact we discussed “The BIg Lebowski” as a lighting reference for Frank - not too showy and letting the realism of the story come forward).
Have you seen anything lately that you admired or that inspired you?
Jonathan Glazers Under the Skin features some interesting work by Daniel Landin - I like it’s uncompromising pursuit of that hard seventies aesthetic - recalling beautifully bleak cinema like Kes. Some very interesting choices.