27 November 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
PJ Dillon - Primetime Emmy Award Nominee Talks with IFTN
06 Sep 2018 : Nathan Griffin
PJ Dillon with director Jakob Verbruggen on the set of The Alienist.
IFTN caught up with Irish Cinematographer PJ Dillon to talk about his first Primetime Emmy nomination, the release of ‘Black 47’ and the bright future in store for Ireland’s film industry.

One of Ireland’s most seasoned cinematographers, PJ Dillon has worked across a number of Ireland’s biggest television productions including HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, History’s ‘Vikings’, Showtime’s ‘Penny Dreadful’, BBC’s ‘Ripper Street’, and aMC’s ‘Into the Badlands’.

Dillon first came to prominence with his short film ‘Headwreaker’, which picked up an Irish award for ‘Best Short Film’, in 2000. PJ went on to receive his first Irish Film & Television Academy Award in 2009 for his work on Marian Quinn’s ‘32A’. Since then he has picked up two further IFTAs for ‘Best Cinematography’ in 2011 (‘The Runaway’) and 2014 (‘Ripper Street’), he has also been nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers for his work on ‘Vikings’ in 2013.

Most recently, Dillon received his first Primetime Emmy nomination for his work on TNT’s ‘The Alienist’, a period mystery-drama starring Daniel Brühl, Dakota Fanning and Luke Evans. PJ also celebrates the release of Fastnet Films’ ‘Black 47’, for which he wrote the screenplay alongside Pierce Ryan and director Lance Daly. The western-styled thriller, which stars Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, James Frecheville, Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford and Barry Keoghan, marks the first ever feature length film set during the era of The Great Irish Famine.

IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin caught up with PJ Dillon to ask him a few questions.

IFTN: Congratulations on receiving your first Primetime Emmy nomination for Cinematography on TNT’s Limited Series ‘The Alienist’. How humbled were you by the nomination?

“Thank you. It's a fantastic honour and as you say I'm absolutely humbled. I was given a wonderful opportunity by TNT and Paramount to create the photographic look of the show, it was a big responsibility, so it's nice to have the work recognised by the Emmy nomination. “

IFTN: As a Cinematographer you must have relished the opportunity to be involved in the project (‘The Alientist’) from the beginning of production to help develop the aesthetic and look of the show?

“It was a dream. Every aspect of the show, production design, costume, set decoration etc. is exquisitely crafted and Chris Symes, the producer, really understands scale so in some ways it was easy to shoot! Jakob Verbruggen, the director, also has a really keen visual sense and dislikes standard coverage so he encouraged a very bold visual approach in terms of how we photographed the show. We did put a lot of work into conceptualising the look of the show though and it was gratifying to be able to execute that.”

IFTN: ‘Black 47’ has been a long time in the making since your original short film ‘An Ranger’ was made back in 2008 – How important was it for you to see Ireland’s first feature film made about The Famine?

“I think it's terrific that Fastnet have finally brought it to the screen. I was very conscious that there had never been a film about The Famine and I wanted to try to write one but I couldn't figure a way to approach it that until the notion of doing it as a western came to me while watching 'The Outlaw Josey Wales'. I pitched the idea to Pierce Ryan and we wrote the first draft in 2007 so it's taken a while, but it is pretty fantastic to see the characters we created eleven years ago come to life on the screen.”

IFTN: Where did the original concept come from? Was it inspired by a particular event you had read about or were you interested in exploring a fictional narrative from that part of Irish history?

“A lot of the scenarios in the film are loosely based on actual events - for example the Courtroom scene was inspired by Myles Joyce's trial for the Maamtrasna Murders, where an innocent man was tried and executed for a crime he didn't commit without being able to understand a word of the court proceedings as he spoke no English.

“I think there is a folk consciousness in this country of the injustices suffered by people at that time and the sub-plots in the film are a very conscious attempt to tap into that folk memory, I think it's why the film is resonating so strongly with Irish audiences. There are dozens of other scenarios we wrote that didn't make it into the film for various reasons, a scene involving cannibalism for example, but Pierce and I have already started writing a tv series based on our original concept. We are able to develop those scenarios further and expand on the themes in a way that is not possible in a feature.

“The main character Feeney was inspired by a guy called John Connors from Duagh, in Kerry, the village my dad came from. He was a private in the British army in the Crimean war and was one of the first recipients of the VC. I read about him somewhere and it got me thinking about all of the Irishmen who joined the British army out of economic necessity in the years after the famine. They certainly weren't fighting for love of country and it got me thinking about the irony of their situation, and the resentments they must have had to swallow, fighting for a flag that had caused such misery for them. It was easy to develop that concept from there into a revenge western.”

IFTN: Having worked as a cinematographer on a number of international TV production in Ireland  including (‘Vikings’, ‘Into the Badlands’, ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Ripper Street’, and ‘Penny Dreadful’) - How impressed have you been with the strides taken by the Irish industry itself and do you see more productions continuing to choose Ireland as a filming destination in the future?

“The standard of production here is extremely high, and the crews are exceptional so I think International productions will continue to be attracted here. Obviously the tax breaks play a huge role but projects wouldn't commit to come if they weren't sure that the infrastructure and crew were capable of delivering at the highest level exist.”

The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards take place on Monday, September 17th at the Microsoft Theatre, California.

‘Black 47’ opens in Irish cinemas nationwide on Wednesday, September 5th, 2018.

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