Ned O'Hanlon Interviewed

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Ned O'Hanlon, producer of several U2 music videos and films (Zoo TV - Live from Sydney, U2 Elevation - Live from Boston), founded Dreamchaser Productions in December of 1990, after leaving the Dublin based film company, Windmill Lane Pictures. In February 1991, Ned produced U2's "Achtung Baby", and 3 years later produced the inaugural MTV Europe Music Awards.

Aja Ferretti ([email protected]), a friend of U2 Station, was able to exclusively interview Ned through an exchange of emails, upon discovering his email address on his website, On November 16, 2002, Ned O'Hanlon sent his 14 answered questions back to Aja. The following interview is the product of Aja's ambitious work.

Thanks again for doing this Ned!! We all really appreciate it!! Guaranteed to be easier than A-levels, here are your questions! Just fill in below with your answer.

1. How involved are the talent/those who commissioned your company in the finished product? How does this influence or change your original vision of the end result?

It depends. If the commission comes from the artist, then they usually have a great deal to say about the finished product. If a record company commissions, then the artist is not usually that involved. It's our job to try to deliver the 'Live Experience' as best as possible for a TV audience. Live music is hard to get across on TV, so it's usually quite a task. Without a killer performance, it's hard.

2. In what ways do you attempt to capture the feeling of a live show in the filmed version? Is this a goal of your work, or do you try to convey something else?

Camera position is pretty crucial, maintaining a link between the artist and the audience, but to my mind the really vital element is the sound mix. Most artists want to hear their sound as close to studio quality so what happens is that the mix you get usually has no audience - Big snooze! Sometimes we would include another aspect to the live show - maybe some backstage/interview/narrative of some sort. This is really on a case by case. It really depends on the artist and the show as to what is the most appropriate. We would always try to enhance the show from a television point of view.

3. What difficulties are encountered with capturing a live performance? Are there advantages to doing what seems to be an eternal "one take" kind of thing, rather than something like a music video, where there's a possibility for many takes? Are these two far too different to compare?

The # 1 difficulty is usually in dealing with the touring crew. In all cases, from a touring perspective, the sight of a film crew usually creates a lot of tension. Film crew people can appear arrogant and superior to the "Roadies" and the touring guys resent outsiders coming in to change the show to suit the camera... As more and more shows get filmed, this dynamic is changing but it still exists to some degree. The producer's first job should always be to be proactive about this and head off as much potential grief as early as possible. A clear understanding from the Producer that the touring personnel have years of experience doing what they do and that they know the show way better than the film crew will ever know is really important. After that, it's usually a matter of arguing about camera positions ( The band want the close-ups, but don't you dare put a camera on the stage), who pays for the seat kills, arguing with the Health and Safety people (do you REALLY think you can bring cameras in here?) and finally - lighting. The band never wants to see the audience. It ruins the vibe. They won't like it. BUT on the telly - where's the fucking audience!! Live-to-air shows are the best. It really gets the adrenaline going. Jeopardy. Great fun. You have to get the band on stage at the appointed minute and after that, what happens, happens. The Best. In most other cases, you would probably shoot two nights and cut from both. Still better than shooting a promo. Promos are a very different discipline so it's hard to compare. Long answer - sorry

4. Why did you choose live performance work? Whose work or what recorded performances influenced you to get involved with this aspect of filmmaking?

Didn't really make a conscious decision. I started working on the pre-production of U2's Zoo TV extravaganza, on the screen elements and gradually ended up being responsible for all film/television aspects of that tour, culminating in the live show we shot in Sydney. We kind of went on from there. Wish I could say it was some grand plan but we're still making it up as we go. I'm not sure we were particularly influenced by anyone to get into this business.

5. What steps did you take to become successful?

Still working on that one! As the cliche goes, you're as good as your last job.

6. How has digital video changed/helped/hindered the process of live recording? Has it changed your technique at all?

Digital is great. Especially as you can make look more like film than analogue video. We now use a lot of DV cameras on our productions. We are looking forward to our first all DV shoot. It's just around the corner. Digital technology also means lighting is a lot less critical in one sense. You can work in much lower light and still manage, with a good post-production grade, a great looking performance.

7. How is the issue of sound dealt with? I can imagine that with a video done to market, that it's recorded live and added in post, but how do you do it for something like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show that's aired live?

Actually the Hall of Fame is not live. That show usually runs about 5-6 hours long on the night. It goes out two nights later. This means a huge post production job which usually means a group of seriously sleep-deprived people end up feeding the last two parts of the show to the network as the first part is on air, after which same group of people go drool into some warm beer..... Audio wise we usually mix the music ourselves and, in fact, that's the easiest part of that particular show. But that can be artist specific. The Moonglows would leave it to us. The Eagles, well, that's a different story. In general, a separate sound recording truck is the easiest way to get the sound. 48 track digital recording usually would be enough. This allows to record each track separately so post-production has the greatest flexibility. It's important to record the sound that way, particularly if it's live to air. The guys mixing for the house are doing a very different job. They are concentrating on a very dry, clean sound, whereas, for TV you need to hear the audience and the ambiance of the live sound - a PA sound - to make it great. - Another long answer....

8. Is your work purely documentary or is there an element of "performance" on the part of the talent otherwise absent with the absence of your cameras?

Sorry, I don't understand that one.

9. Is this particular part of the business difficult to get into? Is it like mainstream films where it's all about connections, or is there more of an emphasis on talent and experience? A bit of both perhaps?

It's not that easy to get a start. It is a relatively small industry, so yes, contacts are really useful and important. Initially at least. You have be able to prove you have the goods though. If you can nurgle your way in then you'll do OK if you have any spark. Of course, you need the experience to get to be really good. But if you can get a start, you'll get the work.

10. Is there any attempt to make the production itself entertaining? What I mean is, does your team take advantage of any sort of creative camera angles or lighting schemes to make THE show YOUR show?

Well, of course! We do try to put our stamp on the production. Just to point cameras at something is never going to be sufficient. How you light it, the choice of lenses, shooting style, set design, etc., all lend itself to developing a style.

11. How do you familiarize yourself with the show to prepare for what you will be shooting?

See it as many times as possible. Not always possible. We've quite often shot shows completely blind and usually they work out. There's a greater sense of live in these circumstances - on account of having no clue what we were doing. In that case you'd make a feature of that in the shooting style.

12. What steps should a college student take to get involved with this part of the industry? Is there a sort of entry-level?

I'm not that sure about how that works in The States. Here in Ireland, it's a little more parochial and so can be easier to maneuver around the obstacles.

13. What about unions? Are there strict union policies, as in feature filmmaking?

Unions are a nightmare! Particularly in your great country. Particularly in the bigger cities and venues. It adds a huge cost in both time and money to a production and you have to be so careful of not getting on the wrong side as a tough union house can cause real problems. As far as joining a union, you would need to talk to an American involved in production. There are obvious merits, but there can be restrictions as well. It's a balancing act...

14. And this last question is for me; Lord knows it looks like an essay. You don't have to get into it if you've had enough questions for the day: I was watching the "U2 Elevation Live From Boston" DVD with the "Another Perspective" special feature and saw director Hamish Hamilton shouting commands at different camera operators while looking at a bank of TV screens. What is he doing? Is this meant to mark certain shots for the edit in post, or is he directing the various camera operators at what shots he wants? How does he juggle that many cameras at once?

Hamish, splendid man that he is, does like to get really enthused about his work. He is indeed instructing the cameras as to what he wants. Hamish's skill is in making sure he has enough great camera shots he can choose from so his line-cut (live cut) is as good as it can be. He needs to instruct the cameras as he is the only one who can see all the camera shots and so how they best work together. He also had the benefit of seeing the show many times so he had a very good idea of what was coming up. That way he was able to get his cameras in the best positions to capture the moment.

So, now you know!

Best wishes

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on November 16, 2002 9:54 PM.

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