This week, we chat to veteran DOP and Director, Joe Dyer, on working with music superstars and BAFTA nominated TV shows.
How did your career start?
I started at the BBC and Granada in the north of England working as a freelance camera assistant filling in for staff crews who were unavailable. I assisted cameramen to do interviews, documentaries, and anything we could for the TV companies. I often worked on shooting football matches for news bulletins – sensing when you thought there may be a goal, running the camera with the hope that you were right! The film was then rushed on a bike to the labs and put through video transfer to go on the news still wet! The quality was embarrassing!
You’ve worked with a lot of high profile talent including Annie Lennox, Kylie Minogue and Bryan Adams – how do you work with them effectively, so they can take direction from you?
With directing Annie Lennox, the secret I believe, was always that we were able to get inside each other’s heads and see that we understood the same sensibilities. Annie has very strong views and visual ideas and I found my role was to make these dreams a reality. With artists like Kylie Minogue and Bryan Adams, when working with them as a DOP it was more trying to understand the needs of the director (Kevin Godley) in the case of Bryan Adams and feel the hugeness of the idea and be very, very brave! Art is my background and those times were about art not technology.
When working on music videos with talent, do you have ever have conflicting views of opinion regarding its content? If so, how do you get around this?
The level of trust between a director/DOP and the musical artist is very important. Who wants a video that does not reflect the song, the way a band sees its self, or the meaning of the lyrics. So yes, there are conflicting views but the secret is to keep the conflict positive and respectful. We are all allowed an opinion!
You have worked on a number of BAFTA nominated shows as a DOP – what is your advice to aspiring DOPs?
Be true to yourself, as no one can take that away from you!
What has been your favourite project you have worked on to date?
Everything seems to be very retro for me nowadays, I loved, and I mean LOVED doing the work with Annie Lennox and thought it would take me on a road to other projects in a similar vain. I also enjoyed immensely working with director, Bill Eagle, on Weird Shit Happens, because it was so ‘off the wall’. There are always many ‘favourite’ pieces to remember.
How did you manage the transition as a DOP on music videos, to being a director on drama, docs and features?
The transition from being a DOP was difficult as the industry love to put people in boxes as one thing or another. My belief is that some people are just made to be either or; they can feel and see the vision of the script in both the lighting and the directing. Many DOPs become directors and indeed actors as well – it just depends on the animal. I feel that knowing each other’s craft builds a confidence that is positive for a production, and with experience, can take it further.
Is there much cross over between the music production and TV/film production worlds? How do you think working across both has helped you?
The predominant point of music videos was the freedom to do whatever you wanted without the constraints of the main TV companies’ responsibilities. It is my belief that they learnt a lot from music videos and realised that there was a lot more talent out there than they realised. So, the crossover was there but with a lot of suspicion – soon though we had The Chart Show and The Tube who were innovative cutting edge shows for the time. I think we all agree that record companies have traditionally been slow to respond to new ways of operating and I think the music videos were way ahead of them. I still celebrate and look for the cutting edge music shows and enjoy them. Working on Live From Abbey Road was one of them.
Music is extremely varied with lots of different audiences. How do you ensure you understand what type of audience you are targeting?
The targeting of the audience has never been my concern, I just want to make relevant and worthy films. The X Factor attitude is not in my vocabulary.
Since you graduated and started out as an assistant, how do you think the industry’s attitudes have changed towards recent graduate and juniors?
Well this is THE question to answer. Firstly, in my assistant days the attitude of the unions was very protectionist towards its members in the industry. I used to have mixed feelings about why but I must admit that watching what is happening today makes me realise that we need a union. The old system of apprenticeship has been lost, the moving through the ranks from clapper loader to focus puller to operator then DOP has gone. With new technology this was bound to happen but how does a feature film gaffer electrician or focus puller feel when someone, who happens to own a red epic camera and knows all the tech specs, turns up but has no idea about running a crew or how to respect the skill base of the experienced people around him/her? Or more importantly, start this endless price war where production gets everything for nothing because all these young hopefuls are looking to get their showreel started. What happens when you move on with life? Someone will just undercut you even more …it’s a vicious circle.
How do you think the industry will develop in the coming years?
I think talent will always prevail but I don’t want to see the current trend of undercutting continue. There is no minimum wage, no real quality control amongst the day to day work; it only exists at the top of the tree. Literally anyone can call themselves a DOP nowadays and it is a scandal. Where has the craft gone?
Is there anything you haven’t yet done in your career, which you would love to do?
I would love to make a film/TV series that matters and educates the people to be better people.
Joe Dyer is a freelance DoP and Director, and a ProductionBase member.