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IFTA Focus: Q&A With ‘WB Yeats: No Country For Old Men’ DoP Ronan Fox
31 Jan 2013 : Ronan Fox was in conversation with Eva Hall
Ronan Fox
Nominated in the Director of Photography TV category

What camera did you use to shoot W.B. Yeats: No Country For Old Men?
We shot using the new RED Scarlet camera, although we recorded on an external recorder, an Atomos Samurai, with ProRes files. The reason being that shooting RAW on the RED would have resulted in much larger files, slower to transfer and much more space required in the edit, for a documentary that was commissioned for broadcast, not a theatrical release, and with a broadcaster that transmits standard definition. We used Canon lenses, both primes and zooms.

What do you prefer to use, digital or film? And why?
These days, I don't have a preference, since the digital area has improved so much. I shot ‘Studs’ with Brendan Gleeson a few years ago on a Sony 750HDCAM camera. The limitations in shooting digital that existed then simply don't feature now with the Alexa and RED. I do miss the whirring sound of my ARRI SR though!

Can you give an example where your cinematography alone was used to tell a part of the story in ‘W.B. Yeats: No Country For Old Men’?
The closest example I could give would be the visuals I shot for Yeats' death bed. The director, Maurice Sweeney, really wanted to stay away from typical re-enactments with actors so we worked at creating footage that was suggestive, representational. I lit the actors with one light only, to throw their shadows on to a lot of muslin cloth that I had hung from a roof. We used a fan to slowly move the cloth and some weird filters on the lens. And then I (deliberately) shot most of the images out of focus! I think it's funny that the gig I shot deliberately soft has got me on to the IFTA stage!

Can you tell us one trick of the trade that only cinematographers might know of that you used on the ‘NCFOM’ shoot?
Nope. Can't give the secrets away! Although I will say that some funky filters were used that were custom made for the shoot.

’NCFOM’ was filmed in parts of France as well as the UK and Ireland. How did the weather and light in France compare to Ireland and did it affect the shoot at all?
It didn't really. The thing about shooting a documentary, as opposed to a feature or a TV drama, is that you really have to think on your feet, particularly when shooting outdoors, in a way you usually don't have to with drama. On a doc, you're in a location once. There's no coming back. There (usually) hasn't been a recce. And if you need to shoot in a graveyard, as in France, or feature Ben Bulben in Sligo, a rain cover set is not an option! So you take what you can get and you make the best of it.

Many people refer to cinematography as being an art form. What does that reference mean to you and do you agree with it?
It can be. Many people think calling it such is pretentious and arrogant. And that can be true also. But when something works visually, beautifully and perfectly, and changing parts of it simply cannot make it better for what the visuals are trying to say, then yeah, I'd call elements of cinematography an art form. Being a cameraman/DP is a creative role. I don't think that using technology, be it cameras or lighting etc, instead of a paint brush or a pencil, lessens the viability of cinematography as an art form. It's arguable that all creative processes are in some way, forms of art.

What new technological developments are you looking forward to in the field of cinematography, and what new developments would you like to see?

I don't really keep abreast of what's coming down the tracks.

What other profession in the film & TV industry would you like to try?
Whereas I have huge respect for some other disciplines within the film and TV industry, I'm quite happy where I am. I think my time would be better spent improving my knowledge and capabilities as a cameraman rather than getting side tracked to another role.

What would winning the IFTA Award for Best Cinematography mean to you?
Walking off the stage with a statue would be nice, but I think the big winner (as is the case in the TV sound and editing categories), is the fact that such skills in documentaries and TV are recognised and acknowledged. Having shot TV drama, features and many documentaries over 22 years, I can honestly say that the difficulties in shooting a good documentary far outweigh those on a feature. Small crews, usually three to five people, very tight budgets and ever decreasing shooting schedules make sure of that!

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