PJ Dillon Nominated for Best Cinematography in Television Drama

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PJ Dillon has been nominated for Best Cinematography in Television Drama by the British Society of Cinematographers.

Dillon was nominated for his work on the Ripper Street season one thrilling finale, ‘What Use Our Work?’

The full list of nominees:

PJ Dillon  for  Ripper Street – Ep 8

Gavin Finney BSC  for  The Fear

Christopher Ross BSC   for   TopBoy -Series 2

Paul Sarossy CSC BSC  for   The Borgias: The Gun Powder Plot (no 309)

Following final judging, the winner will be announced and the award presented at the BSC Operators Night at the Hotel Russell on Friday, 6th December 2013.

 

Click here to read an interview with PJ Dillon

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From the Archive: Lens Flair – an interview with Director of Photography PJ Dillon

 

 

 

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pic: molodist.com

PJ Dillon is one of Ireland’s most respected cinematographers. His long list of impressive credits includes his work on Vikings, Ripper Street, My Brothers, Kings, The Runway, Rewind – his directorial debut and Earthbound, Alan Brennan’s Irish sci-fi comedy, which opened in Irish cinemas earlier this year. Dillon has just been nominated for Best Cinematography in Television Drama by the British Society of Cinematographers. Steven Galvin caught up with PJ Dillon to discuss his craft and his work on Earthbound.

 

 

Can you tell us a little about your introduction to the film business?

 

I graduated from DIT in 1989. I’m from Listowel in Kerry and fortuitously at that time Jim Sheridan was making The Field. John B Keane was my neighbour and he knew what I was studying in college and trying to get a break into the film industry. He came over to me one evening and told me about The Field and said, ‘Do you want me to see if I can get you a job?’ Of course! So he took me to meet Jim Sheridan on a recce and I got a job as a trainee clapper-loader on the second unit.

 

It was always my intention to be a cinematographer – when we were making films in college I always gravitated towards being a cameraman and that side of things. After college I tried all the usual routes and getting onto sets pestering cameramen and production managers but had no success at all, but there weren’t actually that many films being made at the time – maybe two or three a year at that time. The other way into the business was to work on commercials. But at that time it was inconceivable that you would come out of college and start working as a cameraman. Back then you had to go through the hierarchy of starting as a trainee clapper loader, becoming a clapper loader; then a focus puller and a camera operator and then after you’d gone through all the levels eventually a cinematographer.

 

Which I presume is a great learning curve?

 

Yes – a fantastic learning curve. Even today it stands to me. It gives you a real appreciation of the difficulty in other people’s jobs. And standing on set seeing other people solve problems is a great way to learn how to solve problems! And of course there’re times when you’re looking at people working and you say, ‘Well I’m never going to do it like that!’ It can work both ways.

 

Which also feeds into an understanding of the collective nature of filmmaking itself.

 

Absolutely. And it is completely a collective, collaborative effort. It is one industry where if you isolate yourself you won’t do very well. Your work will be better the more inclusive you are in the film industry.

 

What was it that attracted you to cinematography in particular?

 

Probably like everyone else I went into college thinking I wanted to be a director. While there, I got my first experience of actually working with film cameras, shooting film, and the whole process of actually exposing film, watching it in a screening room was completely magical to me. And I thought ‘this is it for me. I’m not going to find anything better than this.’

 

So the technical, practical side fascinated you?

 

Well, yes – and it was being able to use the technical practical tools in an aesthetic way. I remember we’d shoot our own college films on 16mm and of course we’d be delighted we made this but then I’d go to see films in the cinema of artists at the top of their game and I’d be thinking ‘how did they make it look like that?’ And as you get better and start to achieve that, there’s a real thrill and something deeply satisfying about it.

 

And I presume that would still be a part of the way you work as a cinematographer – figuring out how you achieve a certain look, like a puzzle. There’s a script there, there’s an idea there, and you have to work out how to get what you and a director want.

 

Absolutely. For me, references play a huge part in any discussion I have with a director. Once I read a script and get a feel for what it’s about, the next step is to talk to the director and what can they compare it to and what are their references. The references might not necessarily be films; they may be photographs or paintings – it can be quite abstract. But they’re about tone and mood and emotion and all of those things that go into getting what you want.  It’s not that you’re not trying to copy something else but more about the feel of it. So yes, looking at other people’s work and asking how they achieved that.

 

You’ve recently worked on Ripper Street and Game of Thrones. How does working for television differ from film?

 

There are differences. With Game of Thrones the budget is 7 or 8 million an episode and, funnily enough, you probably have more money and more time than you would shooting a low-budget feature. But generally shooting a film is quite different in that you do have more time. I think TV is very much story-orientated; it’s about getting into scenes quickly and getting out quickly. Being very efficient. With films you tend to have the freedom to linger a little more. There’s more breathing space.

 

Ripper Street and Game of Thrones – they’re very stylized and there’s obviously a certain look that has to be adhered to. How does that work across a series with different DOPs?

 

It depends. With Game of Thrones the first DOP to shoot on it the year I worked on it was Kramer Morgenthau. And he was incredibly helpful to me, telling me what he was doing and involving me in his testing period. He wanted me to be able to continue the look that he was developing. That was particularly rewarding. But I’ve also worked on TV shows where there’s been no communication between DOPs. That can happen, sometimes, for budget or scheduling reasons. And sometimes it could be a different director with a different vision or the producers might want you to disregard what’s come before.

 

Moving on to Earthbound. How did you originally get involved?

 

Alan [Brennan, director] and Heidi [Madsen, producer] rang me out of the blue. They handed me a script. I read it. I thought it was really funny and quirky. I met the two of them, liked them and agreed to do it.

 

And working with Alan?

 

It was Alan’s first feature so it was quite daunting for him, but he met it brilliantly. I thought he was inventive and temperamentally just great. Alan has great quirky ideas and he did a great job executing them, particularly working with a limited budget and schedule – it was a 4-week shoot. Alan had a clear idea what he wanted and the kind of films he liked. In this case there were a lot of comic book references we discussed to capture the mood of the film. It was great fun to do.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the format you used?

 

We shot anamorphic. We were shooting on RED with anamorphic lenses for widescreen. And that was for two reasons really – Alan wanted to get that ’70s American sci-fi feel. Also anamorphic is used in a lot of major action movies. It’s got a very particular look – that widescreen look. What anamorphic lenses do is they squeeze the image, which is then unsqueezed again when you project. They have some very particular characteristics which viewers might not be aware of but subliminally the anamorphic lenses are working in a particular way that give you that epic widescreen Hollywood look.

 

The other thing about them is that they have a characteristic where they flare in a different way to standard lenses – that blue flare you get when for example headlights are on screen – that’s a classic artifact of anamorphic lenses. That’s what Alan was looking for.

 

Obviously, there’s much debate at the minute about the digital revolution in filmmaking. What’s your own preference – shooting on film or digital?

 

If I’m to be brutally honest, my preference would be to shoot on film, though the choice very much depends on the specific project and I’m quite happy shooting on digital formats. Certainly there’s greater immediacy with digital – you’re now shooting on high-definition formats and viewing on hi-def monitors on screen. Pretty much what you see is what you get – though obviously there’s a certain amount of grading that goes on afterwards and so on – but that was not the case on film. On film what you were looking at was a video tap – the on-board monitor. You weren’t looking at the end product. That immediacy appeals to directors and producers because they really know what they’re getting.

 

As good as the Arri Alexa is, which would be my personal favourite of all the digital formats, I still don’t think they have the subtlety that film can achieve. However that gap has closed radically even in the last three or four years.

 

You used the Arri Alexa on Ripper and Game of Thrones.  What is it about it that you prefer?

 

I think it has a greater dynamic range and the camera themselves feel more film intuitive. If you’ve come from a film background, the Alexa just feels more like a film camera.

 

Do you have any particular advice for someone looking to get started in the business?

 

Persevere. It’s funny; some people have it as a life ambition while others just seem to fall into it by accident. But what I would say to people who want to be DOPs is ‘shoot’ – just go out and shoot. If no one’s asking you to shoot for them, generate stuff yourself. The technology is really affordable now. When I started you couldn’t just go out and shoot because a roll of film cost 100 pounds and you’d have to rent a 16mm camera and you’d have to process it. To shoot something was an expensive thing to do. That’s not the case anymore. Anyone who’s serious can get the money together, get their hands on a decent inexpensive camera and start learning to shoot! Shoot as much as you can. That’s one of the reason Filmbase was founded – to make filmmaking accessible and that is even more so the case now. Technology is getting cheaper all the time. And getting better.

 

This article originally appeared in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 143, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

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Focus on 'Rewind'

Rewind

DOP turned-director PJ Dillon and his producing team John Wallace and Alex Jones talk to Niamh Creely about their new Irish feature currently in cinemas and the scheme that funded it.

How did having a DOP’s visual sensibility affect your writing of the script?

PJ: Well, having shot a number of low-budget feature films, I would have had a fair idea of the pitfalls to avoid. There were certain rules that were laid down at the Catalyst Project: no special effects, no shooting at night, no X, no Y. But as I was sitting there I was thinking ‘that’s not really the case at all.’

John: Yes, we actually did everything we were told not to do. But we didn’t do it from a position of ignorance. We did it in the knowledge that what we were doing was achievable.

PJ: And when it came to the shoot, Ken Byrne was DOP, who I’ve worked with a lot over the years. We were both very conscious that we were a low-budget film shooting in winter and the look of the film was designed around that. I knew what our limitations would be and I knew what sort of opportunities that shooting in winter would present. Being a DOP, obviously you’re starting with an advantage there.

And would there be any particular scene in the film that you wrote with specific visuals in mind?

PJ: The burning caravan. But if that had been mooted at the Catalyst Project it would have been laughed out of the room.

Alex: People would have had seizures!

PJ: But we were lucky that we had the right production designer, Philip Murphy, who was very pragmatic. When we looked at it, it wasn’t going to cost us much.

PJ, you worked with Allen Leech before, on Deep Breaths. Both of the characters he plays have a similar menacing character…

PJ: [laughter] We really enjoyed working with Alan and when I was trying to think of an idea for the Catalyst Project that menacing character of his was in my mind. In fact, I pretty much wrote the first draft of the script with him in mind. We did some workshops with him after we were shortlisted and developed the character in that way.

Right. And was there a long waiting period after you were shortlisted?

PJ: I can’t remember exactly when we were shortlisted, but we were initially meant to shoot in April 2008. And then there were some issues, which hadn’t been sorted out between the Catalyst Project and the various unions.

John: Talks hadn’t reached a certain stage by the time we were due to shoot so…

Alex: We had to postpone.

PJ: We were due to shoot and a couple of weeks before we were actually going to kick off we had to stand down. And then because of all of our schedules and Alan’s schedule, the next available window for us to do it became January 2009. So there was a seven month hiatus.

John: I mean, I think it would have been a very different film.

PJ: Yes, definitely.

Alex: You know, just even the season….

So you wouldn’t have been shooting in winter? Did that mean rewrites?

Alex: Yes, we would have been shooting in spring. So it did have a qualitative change to the project. But there was only a small amount of rewriting. Not too much.

What did you shoot on?

PJ: We shot on red. And just developed it from there. Ken has an amazing eye.

Were there any particular scenes that caused you serious issues?

PJ: Not particularly, no. The only thing that caused us a little bit of trouble was all the low-loader car work. And on one of the days it was snowing until lunchtime – we just had to keep shooting. That was in the forest. So we just found parts of the forest where the snow hadn’t hit the ground yet!

Alex: What I will say about PJ is… we never went over.

John: No.

PJ: I think there was one day we went over by half an hour and that was because we had a problem with a technical thing on the low loader. Every other day we finished early. It was just really good prep, you know. On something like that you don’t want to make the crew work overtime that you know you can’t pay. We were very conscious of looking after the crew. And actually, with the way the finance is structured with Catalyst, the crew and cast are your partners – if we make the sale, it’s split even.

Do you think that you were in the minority at the Catalyst Project, coming from the technical side of things?

PJ: I’d say so, yes. People who actively make an active living out of working in the film industry would have been the minority.

Alex: I thought there were quite a few writers there.

John: Which is a good thing. Because it’s very pragmatic, very ‘look, this is what you need’. Which writers may not be exposed to otherwise.

Was there anyone in particular who stood out for you as helpful?

PJ: Well there was a guy called Jan Fleischer, who is a script editor. He made a really good impression on us. And then later he came on board our project as a mentor. I never actually met him. But we had an ongoing phone and email correspondence over a couple of months. Lenny Abrahamson was also really helpful at the editing phase.

John: And it wasn’t just for us, it was for our crew as well. So our sound guy or our production designer, or whoever, could get mentorship as well.

Alex: We also got to attend a lot of Screen Training Ireland classes and seminars, budget stuff, scheduling, health and safety, marketing, which was great.

John: One of the main things about it as well was that everyone was paid the same rate and people got a chance to upgrade. We worked with a lot of people who were more than capable to take that step up and prove themselves brilliantly as a head of department.

From a point of view of funding then, how exactly did it work?

Well the Film Board, Screen Training Ireland, BAI, TV3 and Filmbase all contributed.

Alex: Each of the three projects got €275,000.

John: And apart from what Filmbase invested, we could also use their facilities, Screen Training Ireland the same. That’s a huge help. Stuff like Filmbase’s rehearsal rooms – those things add up. It’s a great resource to have.

So once you had the funding, then basically your job as producers was all done for you…

John: Hah! No, okay, it was great in that way. The finance was already there, we just had to do the paperwork and work out our budget. That meant that Alex and I could work closely with PJ in the casting, the locations, etc. On a lot of films, especially independent films, your time is taken up just closing the film.

PJ: Everybody is there because they want to be there and not because the money is big. They want to work with us, they like the script, they like the project. It’s the people behind the camera, really, like say Sean Griffin, our first ad, or Jessica Bermingham our production manager.

The project funded the three winning projects, but then there are also all the ones that nearly made it. His and Hers, Savage, Snap are just some of them and there are still more in the pipeline. It’s almost like it sparked a mini generation of films, the Catalyst generation. What’s it like being part of that?

PJ: Well. I am not aware that… [laughter]

Alex: We know a lot of the people involved. But it’s not like we meet for coffee every Friday!

John: No, but it is great. I actually worked on One Hundred Mornings and Savage, I did all those before Rewind. That was good for me just in terms of talking to Seamus Byrne and Katie Holly and Conor Barry and asking them, ‘what did you guys do here?’ And I am still in contact with everybody. I think it made me a better producer, being able to work on those films in a first ad role.

So do you think there should be another Catalyst Project?

John: Definitely, there should be another Catalyst Project.

Alex: Someone at one of the seminars said that part of the thing was to allow filmmakers the freedom to fail.

John: Yeah. It’s important to….

PJ: …to cut your teeth.

Yes.

PJ: And to make mistakes in a less pressured environment than if it’s a purely commercial thing. It’s designed as a training scheme and that shouldn’t be forgotten, you know.

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Minister Mary Hanafin to Launch IFTA

On Wednesday 19th January in the Mansion House, Dublin, Mary Hanafin T.D, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport will officially launch the Irish Film & Television Academy 2011 roll-out as well as announce the IFTA Awards Honorary Award recipient and also convey her congratulations to IFTA 2011 Nominees.

Those in attendance will include:

IFTA NOMINEES:

Maya Derrington

Nominated Producer, Pyjama Girls

PJ Dillon

Nominated Director/Writer/DOP, Rewind, The Runway

Sarah Flood

Nominated Actress, Fair City

Edwina Forkin

Nominated Producer, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne

Katie Holly

Nominated Producer, Sensation

Macdara Kelleher

Nominated Producer, The Runway

Julie LeBrocquay

Nominated Producer, Burma Soldier

Rachel Lysaght

Nominated Producer, The Pipe

Catherine Magee

Nominated Producer, When Harvey Met Bob

Suzanne McAuley

Nominated Producer, Love/Hate, RAW

Eamon Morrissey

Nominated Actor, Fair City

Marcella Plunkett

Nominated Actress, Swansong: Story of Occi Byrne

Ian Power

Nominated Director, The Runway

Saoirse Ronan

Nominated Actress, The Way Back

& INDUSTRY GUESTS:

Ronan Flynn

Octagon Films

Brian Furey

BAI

Barbara Galvin

Screen Producers Ireland

David Kavanagh

Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild

Muirne Laffan

RTÉ Guide

Tommy McCabe

IBEC

Kevin Moriarty

Ardmore Studios

Michael O Meallaigh

TG4

Sheamus Smith

Former Irish Film Censor

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Issue 134 – Rewind

rewind-image1

DOP-turned-director PJ Dillon and his producing team John Wallace and Alex Jones talk to Niamh Creely about their new feature and the scheme that funded it. Dillon’s debut feature is a dark revelation of the crime one woman has sought to forget – as much as Karen would like to erase her past, it has caught up with her in the menacing shape of Karl.

How did having a DOP’s visual sensibility affect your writing of the script?

PJ: Well, having shot a number of low-budget feature films, I would have had a fair idea of the pitfalls to avoid. There were certain rules that were laid down at the Catalyst Project: no special effects, no shooting at night, no X, no Y. But as I was sitting there I was thinking ‘that’s not really the case at all.’

John: Yes, we actually did everything we were told not to do. But we didn’t do it from a position of ignorance. We did it in the knowledge that what we were doing was achievable.

PJ: And when it came to the shoot, Ken Byrne was DOP, who I’ve worked with a lot over the years. We were both very conscious that we were a low-budget film shooting in winter and the look of the film was designed around that. I knew what our limitations would be and I knew what sort of opportunities that shooting in winter would present. Being a DOP, obviously you’re starting with an advantage there.

And would there be any particular scene in the film that you wrote with specific visuals in mind?

PJ: The burning caravan. But if that had been mooted at the Catalyst Project it would have been laughed out of the room.

Alex: People would have had seizures!

PJ: But we were lucky that we had the right production designer, Philip Murphy, who was very pragmatic. When we looked at it, it wasn’t going to cost us much.

PJ, you worked with Allen Leech before, on ‘Deep Breaths’. Both of the characters he plays have a similar menacing character…

PJ: [laughter] We really enjoyed working with Alan and when I was trying to think of an idea for the Catalyst Project that menacing character of his was in my mind. In fact, I pretty much wrote the first draft of the script with him in mind. We did some workshops with him after we were shortlisted and developed the character in that way.

The full article is printed in Film Ireland magazine, Issue 134.

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Issue 128 – Shoots & Roots

Gavin Burke reports on the Catalyst Project, a scheme set up to nurture budding filmmakers.

shootsandroots

‘The main thing is that I got to write and direct a feature film. I got a huge amount of creative freedom to make the film I wanted to make and I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity.’ Conor Horgan, writer and director of One Hundred Mornings.

It’s tough making films. They cost a lot of money and because the economic downturn is showing no signs of levelling out just yet, the chance to get any kind of film made is becoming ever more precarious. With this in mind the Catalyst Project was launched in 2007 – 3 movies, 3 teams of writers, directors and producers, a budget of €250,000 each – and aimed at first-time filmmakers and emerging talent in all areas of production. Can a film be made on €250,000 and will low-budget filmmaking be with us for the foreseeable future?


Fast-track

‘Our aim was to encourage new talent, provide training and mentorship at every stage and to “fast-track” films into production’, says Alan Maher of BSÉ/IFB. ‘We felt that as much experience as possible should be gained on the ground without going through months or years of raising finance for a larger budget. It was hoped that new, distinctive voices would emerge from this process. Through the initial workshops, we also wanted to encourage filmmakers to talk to each other, to establish contacts and networks that would hopefully lead to exciting collaborations in the future.’

Whittling down a massive 400 hopeful projects to 50 and then to just three wasn’t an easy task, but it was completed in November of 2007. So where are we now?

One of the three films funded, Eamon, is the only film to have completed post-production to date. A brooding, satirical drama, Eamon’s plot follows a family on holiday whose attempt to get a short break from their problems at home doesn’t materialise as they are forced to fight for survival. ‘Nothing else can push you forward as a writer/director like making a low-budget feature film,’ says Eamon’s director Margaret Corkery. ‘It is very rare for a first-time feature filmmaker to get the opportunity to make a fully state-funded film with total creative control.’

Alan Maher’s ‘training at every stage’ has certainly benefited PJ Dillon, the director of Redux, a psychological thriller set in a rural town that sees the life of a woman (played by Amy Huberman) turn upside down when her ex-con boyfriend turns up to reveal a secret she has been keeping from her husband. PJ is in the middle of editing now, a skill he has a newfound respect for. ‘Nothing quite prepared me for editing a feature,’ says PJ. ‘Getting the rhythm and pacing of a feature film right is very difficult and should not be underestimated. I hope I’ve gotten this one right and, given the chance to direct another feature, I’m sure the experience gained here will inform how I approach shooting in the future.’

The full article is printed in Film Ireland 128

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