3 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Director Nick Ryan Brings ‘Electric Picnic’ To Screen
13 Aug 2008 :
Electric Picnic
IFTN caught up with Nick Ryan before the premiere screening of his latest ‘Electric Picnic: The Documentary’ at Dublin’s IFI this week. The Image Now Films director talks about shooting the documentary at last year’s summer music festival, his move towards feature films and plans to change his style of this year’s event.

As a well known commercials director Nick Ryan has been behind high profile campaigns for clients from Boru Vodka to MTV, with the helmer making occasional forays into music video (Bell X1) and documentary filmmaking. More recently the writer/director/producer has broken into narrative filmmaking, completing his debut award winning short ‘A Lonely Sky’ in 2006 and is currently in production on three other shorts; producing Frameworks’ ‘Bad Robot’ for Ruairi Robinson; writing and directing the IFB short ‘The German’; and producing Owen Ryan’s Signatures short ‘Uncle Bill’s Barrell’.

Filming 160 hours of footage in this his third instalment of the documentary series ‘Electric Picnic’, Nick Ryan describes the 90 minute film as a “labour of love”. The three day music event has become a highlight on the Irish summer music festival calendar with acts such as the Manic Street Preachers, Polyphoic Spree, The Beastie Boys, The Magic Numbers, Soul 2 Soul, The Undertones, Iggy Pop all featuring among the 2007 acts.

Talking to IFTN from his editing suite where he’s adding final touches to the film, the director is looking forward to premiering ‘Electric Picnic’ 2007 to Irish audiences.

This is your third year of directing the ‘Electric Picnic’ documentary. What is it about the project that keeps bringing you back?

Well, we weren’t actually going to do the film for 2007 but a request had come from somewhere within The Beastie Boys camp wondering if we were filming or not. The films we’d done on previous years had been very well received with Arcade Fire and the likes because the style was very loose so I think maybe the record company had seen something we’d done. That in itself, for me personally because I’m a big Beastie Boys fan, was the major thing to bring us back. Not to denigrate anybody else within the Picnic line-up, it was more when they specifically asked about it, I thought, “Oh, well that’s intriguing”.

Did that make you feel good, the idea that your work was getting out there?

It’s weird because my personal love is film, I love documentary as well but in terms of ‘Electric Picnic’ it’s kindof benign as a documentary. It’s not really a hard hitting under the skin kindof thing, as much as you’d try to do that. It tends to be more of a Woodstock film - sorry to compare this to Woodstock – but nobody ever thinks they are making history here. I don’t think anyone making Woodstock thought the event would be historic, you just do your best to try and capture a moment. That to me is the challenge.

So what kindof planning goes into a project like this?

You try to plan, you go down with the best laid plans. For example, on this one I did run around with Bobby Butler who is the site manager and right hand man for POD Concerts which was great but it’s very difficult when the actual festival starts. It’s budgeted so low and, in my own fault, we were covering too many music acts last year, 26 acts in total, which meant a lot of overlapping with only 9 or 10 cameras and you’re spread very thin.

Here’s the thing, if you had a game plan to go down and follow say three sets of punters, you’d be lucky that one of them turns out to be actually interesting. The same with the acts, they won’t give you the access that you’d think you’d get. In the first year the only person who was really interesting was Rob Birch from the Stereo MCs. The Stereo MC’s were around in the early 90’s so he was really relaxed and he spoke honestly. Arcade Fire were cool but they’d obviously done a lot of interviews, Royksopp had absolutely nothing to say. Seriously, we were at the back of the house and you could see all MTV and so on and it was like a chain line – it was just drilled out. Rob Birch was great because nobody else really wanted to interview him. It’s very rare at that level because you just don’t have the time to gain somebody’s trust that they will give you anything. Then it just becomes a Smash Hits profile and that’s just not me.

So what is the aim for when you get down there?

You try and capture the essence of what it is. You do have a game plan but you have to try and go with what goes on. If it was Oxygen you would try and cover people burning tents and the mayhem, which I think is overplayed to be quite honest, and there is a little bit of a rough element slipping into the Picnic, but it’s still benign so it’s very hard.

This year we intend to scale it right down in terms of the music. Just film seven acts and then concentrate on one good Irish band, go with them and see it from their perspective. When we were approached to do it the first time in 2005 that is the way I always wanted to do it, but money was not permitting and it never is. RTE are the only ones going to give you money and, to be quite honest, music is low on the agenda these days.

So this is an independent production for Image Now Films?

Very, much so yeah. POD would help out a bit but just because they are involved. This is the fifth year of the Picnic so the way we look at it is that we’re archiving it at the moment so that in the future we’ll be able to release something that will show the flavour of the festival over the years.

So moving on to the production, does the notorious Irish weather play a factor?

We’re hardy folks, we have people out in the rain. It’s part and parcel of it, you don’t go to festivals in Ireland without expecting to get soaked.

In terms of production logistics though, does it affect it?

No a lot. We’ve got one Digi-Beta in front of house, it’s got a great long lens and the rest of the cameras are all Z1’s, which is a great camera. The sound is all captured through the desk and it’s all mastered and mixed in post production.

So what does the editing process involve?

Out of the 160 hours, I think you’d find 120 hours of that is music and there’s a process involved to editing that. We select the acts we’re going to go with, we select a song that we’re gonna go with and that gets cut. Then you go through the footage to find stories and elements that you can put into a piece. There’s no narrative to it, we’re just capturing the essence and the flavour of it.

What equipment have you used in the post?

It’s Final Cut Pro, running off a MAC. We’ve got 3 terabytes of storage for the job, it’s all captured in on PAL.

After ‘Electric Picnic’ and you’re shorts are complete, are you hoping to move into feature filmmaking?

It’s hard to say, I’ve plenty of ideas for things. It’s difficult to talk about those things. Not even that it’s jinxing it – but every time ever read “we’re in-development with a film” I kindof think “oh yeah?” I see Ruairi Robinson in LA working hard on ‘Akira’ and he’s got the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio as a producer, and even then it’s difficult.

I did a film with Keir Dullea called ‘A Lonely Sky’ which got a lot of attention in America. That was a great project but all you try and do is build and capitalise on that. We try and make films that we would like to see, hopefully entertaining, fun, and they tend to be less of the traditional Irish films.

‘The Silent City’ and ‘A Lonely Sky’ were great projects, do you try to push the boundaries digitally with your films?

I’m lucky way I have that skill set. I come from a post production background, with a lot of computer animation and the same with Ruairi. In his film ‘The Silent City’ which I produced a couple of years ago at the same time I did ‘A Lonely Sky’, both of those films wouldn’t have been possible to do in any other way because who is going to do that work for you?

On ‘The German’, I shot it last November and I’m still doing the front end of it. It’s a film about a dog fight in World War II, an aerial battle so it’s got to look completely realistic. The bottom line though is that people shouldn’t look at it and go “Wow, those were great effects”, they should look at it and think “How did they afford to film a spitfire?” or “How did they get to America to film that?”

Most people ask me about ‘A Lonely Sky’, it’s set in the Mojave Desert, but it was actually a set on a B-stage and the rest of it all was CGI. It was a beautiful set painted by the production designer Paki Smith, 100ft wide by 20ft tall, and it looked so real from the inside. All the exteriors were map painting and everyone was like “How did you get over to the States to film that?” That’s when you know when you’ve been successful in terms of the CGI end.

To be honest though, everything serves a story. It has to be about the story. There’s a backlash against CGI because of that, I mean, take ‘Transformers’, it doesn’t get much better in terms of effects but, tell me, is the film any good?

You’ve come from a commercials background and you’re making your way into film – it seems a lot of Irish directors seem to take that route?

If you’re narrative driven I think it’s great. I like commercials but it’s hard to pin a style on anything I’ve directed. It’s worked out for a lot of directors - people like John Moore, whose done a lot of features at this stage, and people like John Hayes or even Ruairi, who hasn’t done a lot of commercials at this point but is clearly destined for film. Then you’ve got people like James Mather and Stephen St Leger.

There is a great group of people in this country who I think can go very, very far. The commercials side is great because it’s a breeding ground for directors. It’s a micro-college in the filmmaking process because you get to work with all the big toys at some stage. It’s a good way of looking at it and learning everything and a great way of making a living, if you can make a living doing it that way.

So your next project is ‘Electric Picnic’ 2008, the fourth film of the series, are you still learning at this stage?

This year it’s going to me more stripped down, much more focused on the festival rather than the music and much more about what’s happening on the ground. You learn every time you go down but beyond the physical geography the dynamic changes every year.

It’s organic and every time it’s different because of what it is. Personally speaking, I don’t think I want to spend the next ten years doing Electric Picnic, so maybe after this year I’ll hand over the reigns to some guy or some gal who has got a much better idea about how you should do it!

• Electric Picnic The Documentary screens at Dublin’s IFI on Wednesday 13 August at 10.45pm. An Irish broadcast date is TBC.
• For further info about Image Now Films visit www.imagenowfilms.com

'Electric Picnic' the Crew:

Producer: Olivia Leahy
Director: Nick Ryan
Editor: Joe Mc Hugh

Camera crew:
Dave Grennan
Aoife Henshaw
James Hourihane
Marie Lanna
Joe Mc Hugh
Conor O'Mahoney
Simon O'Neill
Nick Ryan
Robbie Ryan
David Torpey
Cathal Watters

Dumnac Ghulet
Trevor McKenna

Production Assistant: Andrea Pappin

Vox Pops Interviewers:
Avril Daly
Andrea Hayes

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