30 May 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network
IFTA Q&A Series: Eleanor Bowman on Cinematography
18 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Eleanor Bowman
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Eleanor Bowman is IFTA-nominated for Best Cinematography for Lies We Tell. The film is nominated for 13 IFTA Awards overall, including Best Film. Last year, at the film’s World Premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh, Bowman won Best Cinematography in an Irish Feature. Bowman has previously been IFTA-nominated for Best Cinematography for How To Tell A Secret and Wildfire Film’s OCD & Me.

IFTN: What was your approach to the cinematography of this film, and where did you take inspiration from during the process?

ELEANOR: “The film is set in 1864, pre-electrification, this inspired our lighting philosophy to be as naturalistic as possible. We decided to shoot the film without the use of electric light, using available light for our day scenes and candlelight at night.”

“Director Lisa Mulcahy had a picture of Joseph Wright of Derby’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump taped to the cover of her notebook, which served as an initial reference for our night scenes. We also researched other painters working at the time whose style might suit the tone of the story. Petrus van Schendel’s candlelit paintings were a major revelation to me and became a big influence on how we lit our night. We also looked at some of the Dutch Golden age painters like Gerrit Dou and Godfried Schalcken.”

IFTN: Tell me about your collaborative process with the director, how did you help bring their vision to life?

ELEANOR: “It was important to Lisa that the film felt authentic, so every light source had to be motivated. Our lighting package mostly comprised of 200 double-wick candles imported from Germany which we used sparingly. We would speak at length about how many candles would realistically have been lit in a room and where they would be. We discussed where action would naturally have played out in a room and blocked our scenes accordingly.”

“Our location, Ardgillan Castle, lent itself perfectly to Lisa’s vision as it was also constructed pre-electrification and designed to make the most of available light with its large windows and North/South aspect. We had conversations about how to create a sense of unease with our camerawork: which scenes had an energy to them, and which should have a stillness. We discussed things like how our characters should be framed to convey their emotional state, and what focal lengths would best suit each scene. Sometimes on the day our plans went out the window and we just followed instinct.”

IFTN: Tell me about your experience on set, and your favourite moment during production?

ELEANOR: “We had a very tight schedule. 20 days to shoot a period drama, so the margin of error was razor thin. There was literally no time for mistakes. In November, you run out of daylight fairly quickly, so our shoot days were intense and we had to be clever about how we covered them. There were times we ran out of light mid-scene, so we had to choose our angles carefully, knowing how we could cheat them. It was such an exciting experience seeing all the various elements come together on screen. The costumes, production design, hair and makeup, all contributed greatly to the look of the film. Once the performances were added to the mix it was magical. We all knew we were making something special.”

IFTN: How has your approach to the work evolved since you began in the industry and what have you learned?

ELEANOR: “It might have taken me a while to realise that good cinematography isn’t about creating beautiful images. Pretty camerawork rarely tells a story. I’ve learned to not rush too much into forming rigid ideas about how a project should look until I’ve really gotten to know the director, the script and our limitations. It’s important to keep an open mind and be adaptable. I’m also much better now at enjoying my downtime. The phone usually rings again.”

IFTN: What other Irish cinematographers have you been most impressed by recently?

ELEANOR: “I’m always excited to see what Suzie Lavelle and Kate Mc Cullough are doing. They’re trailblazers. Tom Comerford’s work on Baltimore was gorgeous. The other cinematographers nominated this year have all impressed me immensely. It’s an honour to be mentioned alongside Robbie, Richard, Narayan and JJ. We have an incredibly talented pool of cinematographers in Ireland who have been making an impact internationally. The Irish Society of Cinematographers, under Stephen Murphy and Tim Fleming has done excellent work in bringing the community together.”

IFTN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career, that you’d share with aspiring cinematographers?

ELEANOR: “Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. They will make you look better! Honestly, that’s the trick! We couldn’t have made a film like Lies We Tell without the expertise of talented focus puller Sarah Dillon and 2nd AC Lauren O’Brien, Noel Greene’s naturalistic work as gaffer and Nik Panteris’ beautiful colour grade. Good cinematography requires a great team.”

“Also, don’t let fear of failure prevent you from taking an opportunity. Take the risk, chances are you’ll be glad you did.”

Director Colm Quinn discusses documentary Ransom 79
Oscar-nominated Todd Field discusses directing at IFTA Masterclass
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