19 August 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Conor Masterson talks filming 'The Frames: In The Deep Shade’
11 Apr 2013 : By Kevin Cronin
'The Frames: In The Deep Shade’ - an artfully composed black & white documentary film directed by Conor Masterson about one of Ireland’s best-loved bands - received its premiere at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival this year and will reach a wider audience this month with an Irish cinema release on 19th April.

Captured over 18 months beginning with The Frames’ 20th anniversary tour in 2010, the film combines concert footage with interviews with Glen Hansard and his fellow band members in an experimental style not typical of the music documentary genre. Conor Masterson told IFTN about his vision for the project and experience of getting close to The Frames, in a labour of love for all involved.

Born in Leopardstown, the photographer /filmmaker grew up in Crumlin and lives in London where he has worked as a photographer since 1995.

Mr Masterson, can you tell us how the project came about?

‘I had made a couple of short films and had been working with the band for a number of years as a photographer. Glen is quite a film fan and has studied film, so we talked about the project quite a bit. He’d seen a couple of my films where I’d gone to Paris, which were shot from the hip in a very naturalistic free-flowing style, full of visual observations. I suggested filming on the 20th anniversary tour because it was a significant time and I was going to be in Dublin working as a photographer. We had a conversation where it was decided it would be great to use the visual approach and style of my earlier films.

‘The music is absolutely a character in the film. There’s no way you can have just snatches of music. It became very obvious that whatever notions we had about being abstract that the music is the heart and soul of the film.

‘Tongue-in-cheek, at the very beginning of the process, I said jokingly I’ll only make the film if we can make that bit in ‘Star, Star’ where all the music drops out and Joe Doyle plays ‘Hotel Lounge’ - which is the colour piece in the film. For years they’ve done that and it’s one of the things they do very well as a live band. It’s really organic. They’ll stop playing one song, do a bit of another song and then back into another one. The moment when they do that is an incredibly powerful piece of music.’

How did you decide upon on a visual style that would complement the music onscreen and why the choice of black & white?

‘I thought about using colour but immediately I realised that a lot of the concerts were going to be happening indoors and, aesthetically, there’s going to be horrible lighting, fluorescent green, and it’s not going to look pretty onscreen. Not even neutral, it’s going to be ugly lighting. I do remember Glen and I saying ‘black and white is kind of beautiful, isn’t it?’ It was one of those easy decisions we hardly even talked about. The film doesn’t follow the traditional route of explaining the band’s backstory and history.

Given the unique approach and style, is the documentary tag appropriate?

‘I think it’s worth saying we don’t think of it as a documentary. We’re only calling it that because it’s not a drama. At the beginning we were going to make an art film and use abstract imagery, free flowing and loose. It was never going to be a definitive Frames documentary. To have fly-on-the-wall bits and beautiful shots was our template right from the very beginning.’

Was there a song or a moment on the 20th anniversary tour that really stood out for you as particularly memorable?

There was a gig in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, in London, which can be a very noisy venue. The acoustics of the room can be very distracting but on that night The Frames literally just exploded off the stage. They’re always consistently good but I think there was a special buzz about them. They’d been touring for three years doing the Swell Season and were really enjoying playing the Frames songs again. There were a lot of smiles that night.

‘I had another clip of a guy from the Crane bar who was a poet. It was a live music session and he’d just stood up. I used it in the film because I felt it had a nice synergy to it. I’ve been back there three times in the past 18 months and nobody knows who he is. I was trying to find him and show him the clip and finally decided I really wanted to use it in the film. I still haven’t heard anything back.’

How did you balance the documentary segments against the musical performances?

‘I took a very brutal approach when I was editing. It’s a very seductive film to make when the music is so powerful. I was confident about the visuals because of my background in photography. As soon as any section of the film had done its job, I was quite happy to cut to something else. I didn’t want it to be a two and a half hour film, so there’s a lot of extra footage I might use at a later stage. Not being too precious about the material helped it. Audiences are so sophisticated now that in terms of the visual styles they’re used to, that I liked to give them things they wouldn’t expect.'

Was the film made for fans or is it equally accessible by general audiences?

'I was very conscious of the fact that it’s very easy to make a fan’s version of a music film. My intended viewer was always some critical person with their arms folded who had no idea who The Frames were, and they had just turned the film on, on late night TV, and their attention was held by the film and they were intrigued.'

What did you see as the main challenge of making a film based on people you’re so close to?

‘I thought it was a healthy attitude to be a bit sniffy about doing a music film. I didn’t want to do a very literal music film. I didn’t want to be seduced by a band’s great music on stage. No matter how good the finished product is, that approach would get tired very quickly. So I wanted to dig beneath the surface and knew, having worked with the guys, that they’d be relaxed with me and knew this was an opportunity to observe their chemistry as people.’

Can you tell us about your experience of first seeing The Frames in Whelans in 1998. How did they capture your imagination to the point that you’re working with them all these years later?

'I’d first heard ‘Revelate’ when I was living in England. Ironically The Frames used to play down the road from me all the time. I’d never heard them live at that point. They were playing at Whelans when I was home in Dublin for Christmas and the very first song they did was a five-minute instrumental and straight off the bat they struck me as a really powerful live band. They’re not afraid to try new things with their music and - without being precious - they would experiment with how they played things and surprise you. Over the next year of two, I saw them a few times in London and got to know them and managed to take some photos for them. I think it’s quite telling that the film is called after an instrumental track, ‘In The Deep Shade’.

Where did you study as a photographer in Ireland?

'I did photography in IADT, Dun Laoghaire. When I was 19 I applied to film school and didn’t get it, but photography suits me down to the ground and feels very natural to me. I’ve drifted into film and I think my natural style is storytelling. It took me years to realise that I’m always trying to tell stories with still images, which might be a terribly clichéd thing for a photographer to say. I chuckle at the fact that the only thing I ever had an impulse to take from college in the library is the magazine ‘American Cinematographer’. So the writing was on the wall even then.’

‘The Frames: In the Deep Shade’ will open at the Light House Cinema, Triskel Cork, and selected cinemas nationwide on 19th April.

Tom Collins: “For me it's all about the work, which is about creating a reflection of a modern Irish cultural identity that can travel beyond borders, history and these shores.”
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