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Making The Cut: DoP John Conroy
22 Dec 2015 : Seán Brosnan
2015 is destined to be a big year for Irish DOP John Conroy with a trifecta of impressive international television shows airing in the New Year. First up, there is the Sky Atlantic show ‘Fortitude’. Starring Richard Dormer and Stanley Tucci, the show tells the story of a violent crime occurring in the gorgeous backdrop of a quiet town in Iceland.

Next up is all eight episodes of series two of the BAFTA-winning police procedural ‘Broadchurch’ which will also air in January 2015 with John currently working on series two of the Sky Atlantic series ‘Penny Dreadful’, which is filming at Ardmore Studios.

Here, IFTN talks to Conroy about shooting on glaciers, following on from other Irish DOP’s to work on ‘Penny Dreadful’ and the importance of work ethic and not giving up in the DOP game.

IFTN: Can you tell us about your work on ‘Fortitude’,‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Broadchurch’?

JOHN CONROY:‘Well I kicked off ‘Fortitude’ – I worked on the first three episodes so I had to set up the series basically. We shot in Iceland and we shot all the interiors in a studio in London which we built from scratch. Before we even got down to shooting however, myself, the production designer Gemma Jackson and the director Sam Miller worked for about two months on what we wanted the look of the show to be. We mapped out what we wanted and really worked hard on getting the look and the tone right. Gemma Jackson has worked on ‘Game of Thrones’ before and I loved being involved in something like this where there is a lot of unseen effort put in to give the show the right tone and I think it shows. As the DOP of the first three episodes, I wouldn’t say I necessarily had a harder job, but it was a little bit more responsibility to kind of lay down a marker for what way the show was going to look for any other DOP who came after, not that they wouldn’t all lay their own marker on it too but they would have a guideline for what the tone and the look of the show is.’

‘Shooting in Iceland, the weather was very cold – I think it was -20 degrees - and the environment was very harsh – I mean, we shot on glaciers! So we had to have two sets of gear for that. The magic hour in Iceland lasts about 30-40 minutes longer than anywhere else because of the low trajectory of the sun so whenever we had night shoots to do, we always made sure to do the wide shots in that magic hour rather than just shoot into black because it was such an amazing landscape. It meant we were able to keep the detail. There’s a shot in the show (and in the trailer below) where the camera is behind Richard Dormer where you can see the sky and the mountains – that’s all real and we were able to capture that. Basically, it was very difficult when we were shooting on a glacier because we were wearing one and a half inch crampons to walk around in because you’d slip – it was like shooting in an ice rink except the crevices were hundreds of feet deep and if you go into them you’re gone basically – there is no getting you out! So, it was very difficult and we decided to do it all on Handheld so you can imagine the difficulty filming on a glacier, all Handheld with crampons on but I think it came out amazing. It was such a gorgeous backdrop.’

‘On ‘Penny Dreadful’, I am following on from two other great Irish DOP’s – PJ Dillon and Owen McPolin - who worked on the show last year. So, I am kind of following on from the work they have done before. Owen set it up this year so I am happy to follow on from him and perhaps bring my own stamp to it but it’s set up really well.’

On ‘Broadchurch’, we shot the whole series in Dorset and all I can say is that it will keep the audience guessing right up until the very end! We didn’t even know what would happen until about three weeks before we were due to shoot the final episode so I don’t think the audience will be disappointed.’

What was your first job in the industry and what was your training/education?

‘Clapper boy on ‘The Field’ and I had worked in a company called Panavision which was then Joe Dunton Cameras as a camera technician before that.’

What do you enjoy most about being a DOP?

‘I love shooting the actors perform and seeing a great performance and hoping that my light will help capture the mood and capture the emotions.’

What do you consider the greatest talent you possess as a DOP?

‘My work ethic. Everyone has an ‘eye’ – you wouldn’t get where you’re going in this business without an ‘eye’ but it’s up to you what you do with it and how you handle it. So, basically you just have to work really hard at it.’

Describe your typical working day and the equipment you use.

‘A typical day would be leaving home very early and other than there is no typical day really. Equipment could be anything from a Technicrane to a Dolly to a Handheld – it could be anything really, you have to be ready for everything. It’s a case where I need to have a truck full of lighting gear, truck full of camera gear, truck full of grip gear so you just basically take out of that what you need and trust the people you are working with to help you achieve the shots you want.’

What DOP’s would have influenced you?

‘My father (Jack Conroy, DOP of ‘My Left Foot’) definitely did. Philippe Rousselot also – I was his focus puller. Oliver Wood, Dariusz Wolski. Oh and Adrian Biddle too of course.’

What Irish film or TV show do you wish you could have worked on?

‘I would have loved to have worked on ‘The Commitments’!’

What films and TV shows did you enjoy growing up that may have encouraged you to work in the industry?

‘Well, my father worked as a DOP – well he was a gaffer at the time - and I went on the set of ‘Excalibur’ and ‘Zardoz’ and I really fell in love with it – I was a kid – I was only eight at the time and since then it’s all I have ever wanted to do and all I have ever done really.’

What’s the difference between working on an Irish production and working on an international production for you?

‘Obviously, I’m away from my family and loved ones with an international production. Other than that, it depends because sometimes an international production doesn’t necessarily have as big a budget as the home-grown ones. So, it’s more of a case of just being away from home and getting used to that and learning how to work with different people. So, for ‘Penny Dreadful’ which I am working on at the moment - I am meeting people who I haven’t worked with or seen in a couple of years because I have spent most of my time based in London.’

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to get into cinematography?

‘Don’t give up and work hard. And do not listen to anyone when they say you can’t make it!’

‘Fortitude’ will be shown on Sky Atlantic in January 2015. Check out the teaser trailer here:




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