11 December 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Eleanor Bowman on Cinematography
02 May 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Eleanor Bowman
To mark the 20th anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and collaboration; what inspires them; and what recent work in the industry they most admire.

Eleanor Bowman is nominated for Best Cinematography for How to Tell a Secret. She was previously nominated for an IFTA in 2015 for Best Director of Photography Television for Wildfire Film’s OCD & Me. Bowman’s previous credits include shorts such as The Grass Ceiling, Strong at the Broken Places, and Andrew Legge’s The Girl with the Mechanical Maiden, as well as features such as Conor McMahon’s Dead Meat. She’s currently filming Lisa Mulcahy’s upcoming film Lies We Tell.

IFTN: IFTA celebrates 20 years this year. How does this significant milestone reflect the growth and strengthening of the Irish film industry over the past two decades? 

ELEANOR: “It’s a truly exciting time for Irish filmmaking. Over the last 20 years, for a small country, we have really punched above our weight. It’s wonderful to see your friends and peers achieve recognition on the world stage. A whole new generation of Irish filmmakers will have been inspired by this year's Oscars. The buzz leading up to them was like Italia 90.”

IFTN: What was your approach to making this film, and where did you take inspiration from during the process?

ELEANOR: “The film was inspired by Shaun Dunne’s documentary theatre play Rapids. Anna Rodgers and Shaun Dunne as co-directors reimagined it for cinema. It was an exciting prospect taking a stage play out of the theatre and into the streets and on location. For me it was a thrill finding more visual ways of telling the story so we weren’t just shooting straight monologues to camera.”

“Being a low-budget film we had to come up with inventive ways to create effects otherwise beyond our budget. There’s a bit of a kick when you cobble together a moving ring light out of a child’s hula hoop and somehow against the odds it works beautifully.”

IFTN: Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during production? 

ELEANOR: “Working on How to Tell a Secret was a really positive experience. We were a small crew of close friends and there was a feeling we were making something special. We got to meet some brave and inspirational people who trusted us with their stories. We also got to set a car on fire and not get arrested.”

IFTN: What was your first paid role as a DoP, and how has your approach to the work evolved over the years?

ELEANOR: “When I started out, I was shooting everything I could, mostly for free and for the experience. I offset this with some paid work assisting on films and operating cameras on concerts and events. I think my first paid job as a DP was on a series for TG4 called Fuil & Dúch (Blood and Ink). It was a project about real-life murders that inspired great works of Irish literature, directed by Ciarán Cassidy and Michael Kinirons.”

“I Co-DP’d it with Suzie Lavelle, which was a wonderful experience for me. It was my first time meeting another female cinematographer and I was inspired greatly by watching her work. She was very generous in sharing her knowledge and I’m still wowed by her talent.”

IFTN: What filmmaker or cinematographer has influenced you the most? 

ELEANOR: “There are so many, it’s too hard to settle on one. When I first discovered Ellen Kuras, I couldn’t get over how many incredible-looking films she had shot. I went on to do my thesis on her and she kindly gave her time to answer my questions. She was incredibly accommodating. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is still a favourite of mine.”

“Robby Müller’s work on Paris Texas might have been the film that made me want to become a DP. Emmanuel Lubezki, Darius Khondji, and Matthew Libatique have all shot films that have contributed to my love of cinematography.”

IFTN: What Irish cinematographers have you been most impressed by recently? 

ELEANOR: “Everything I see from Kate McCullough takes my breath. I, Dolours was inspiring and I loved her work on An Cailín Ciúin. The other cinematographers in my category have all been a source of inspiration over the years. Suzie Lavelle, Cathal Watters, Piers McGrail, and Peter Robertson are all heroes of mine and it’s a privilege to be included amongst them.”

IFTN: Is there an Irish film over the last few years that you wish you had been a part of? 

ELEANOR: “Andrew Legge’s film LOLA. It is such a clever and inventive film. I worked a lot with Andrew over the years, filming most of his shorts, and had really hoped to be involved in his feature. Life had other plans and the timing didn’t work out for us.”

IFTN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career, that you’d give to aspiring cinematographers? 

ELEANOR: “‘You are what you say you are’. As an aspiring cinematographer, you can be full of insecurities. Even after shooting several projects, I found it hard to call myself a cinematographer. Until you start calling yourself one, you won’t be hired as one.”

“Also, try and be deaf to the negative voices, including your own. We can have a tendency to be our own worst critic, and maybe that’s not always healthy. I was once told ‘there are enough people out there hitting you on the head with sticks for you to be doing it to yourself’. I think that’s something worth trying to remember.”

The 20th anniversary of the IFTA Awards Ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 7th.

Director Sinéad O’Loughlin discusses Oscar-qualifying short Lamb
IFTN Festive Q&A with actor Albrecht Schuch
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