Interview with Filmmaker / Photographer – Danny McShane
A first for The Modern Itinerant. However, interviews were always intended as a way to share what else is out there, what other people are doing with their time, creatively or otherwise. The idea for interviews came about while sitting in a straw bale building workshop at the MREA Energy Fair (an annual event focused on clean energy and sustainable living), nestled neatly amongst the cornfields of Custer, Wisconsin – one ear to the speaker and scratching some draft questions into a notebook.
First up I’d decided to interview Filmmaker / Photographer Danny McShane. A few weeks have passed since I sent that initial query his way “hey, would you be interested in doing an interview thingy? You’d be kind of the first.” He took some time, was busy with work, which I guess is good for a photographer? Probably skeptical on what it would end up looking like. Now I’m in Mexico, post-surf and somewhere along the morning routine and diving into the hammock with a coffee. This morning a return email popped up from Danny filled with insights and an array of incredible images.
It’s difficult to interview someone you already know for a wider audience, but here goes, a raw an unedited response.
TFH: Danny McShane is a Photographer / Filmmaker from East Coast Australia…….. Ah fuck it, who better to do it, describe who you are and what you do: –
DM: Haha you already nailed it! I’m a filmmaker and photographer based in Brisbane in Australia. With my photography I only shoot on film and I mainly do portraiture and a little bit of landscape stuff. With filmmaking I’m interested in both documentary and fiction but find myself doing more and more documentary type content because I don’t have to rely on a crew and expensive gear. Ultimately I’d like to make a feature film though – that’s my ultimate dream. I won’t have lived a full life until I make a feature film. Besides that I watch a lot of films, read, listen to music, surf.
TFH: This all came as an email from me to you via the Internet, where are you right now?
DM: I’m at work at the moment. I’ve been flat-out lately and haven’t had a chance to get back to you so filling these in from my desk at work.
TFH: Throughout the years we were close you didn’t quite fit the mold; you made music, drew exceptionally well, I guess I’d consider you an artist first and foremost. How did that develop into photography?
DM: Haha cheers man! I started getting into photography just after you changed schools. One of the older guys I used to surf with in Coffs loaned me one of his film cameras and from the moment I got that first roll back from Big W I was hooked straight away. I bought an Olympus OM10 off ebay really cheap and used to take it with me everywhere – 14 years later I’m still using that same camera.
TFH: Let’s stick with photography for now. One glance at your webpage (dannymcshane.com) and what can be described as an impressive portfolio, it’s obvious you’ve a fondness of film. Is it love? Why film?
DM: Absolutely I love film! I’m obsessed with it I don’t have any interest in shooting digital. In my opinion film is aesthetically and technically superior to any digital camera, hands down. It captures a greater dynamic range, it looks better and I love the grain. I also love the discipline of shooting on film. You can’t just shoot 1000 images and make 1 of them look good on a computer. You have to slow down and think about what you are doing and make every frame count. It also forces you to engage with the person or situation you are shooting instead of just firing off 1000’s of test images and checking the monitor on the back of the camera until you get it right.
TFH: Your page also tells a story of a structured education, we both have university degrees but for me I’ve learnt more outside the classroom. For those looking to make a start in filmmaking or photography – where do you think you learnt most?
DM: In high school I was pretty distracted and would often just bail on school to go surfing. My marks were pretty bad so the only uni degree I could get into was Marketing at Southern Cross University in Coffs. When I got my marks back after high school my dad said I could either go to uni in Coffs and keep living at home or I could move out and try to find a career in surfing. This ultimatum was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me because it really snapped me into gear. I went to uni in Coffs – I didn’t really like the degree but at least I was doing something. Towards the end of the degree we did an advertising unit where we got to make a TV commercial. At that point I’d made a bunch of surf videos and was really psyched on photography so I really enjoyed the process of making a TV commercial and telling a story through filmmaking. After that I was convinced advertising was the path for me so I went to Brisbane and did an internship at an ad agency as a copywriter. It was the worst 3 months of my life and made me hate advertising! So I rethought where my interests lied and I realised it was with telling visual stories. I’d always been a pretty big movie buff and had been making surf films for a while so making that connection with filmmaking was really the first time Id ever felt clear about the direction I wanted to head in. So I moved to Brisbane and went to film school and it was amazing and really opened up this whole new world I really immersed myself in. The degree itself was pretty good and I learnt a lot at different things throughout the degree but most of the big things I learnt were through actually just getting out and making films. The more films I made the more I understood the discipline and craft of filmmaking. With something like filmmaking I don’t think you ever stop learning, each new project teaches you something new. I definitely agree most of what I have learnt happened outside the classroom. Same with photography, I have never studied photography or enrolled in a class I just learnt through trial and error. It took me ages to figure out how to expose an image and I wasted a lot of money getting horrible rolls of film developed but eventually I started figuring it out. Then once you learn the technical aspects and figure out how to expose an image I think it’s just through more trial and error that you figure out how to frame shots or put someone at ease so you can take an honest portrait of them. There’s definitely theory that can help teach people those things but I think making mistakes and then figuring out what you did wrong and how you could fix it is always a more effective way of learning a discipline. So definitely my path through education has taken a few weird turns and I’ve learnt a lot outside the classroom but I’m also grateful to where it’s led me, for the people I’ve met whilst studying and for the opportunities its afforded me along the way.
TFH: Photography and filmmaking is romantic as hell, is it sustainable for you or is there a second source of income propping up the weekend dream?
DM: To pay the bills I work at a film school looking after the equipment and teaching a few classes. I would like to be working for myself as a filmmaker and photographer but I have not yet been able to do this. The film school I work at is pretty cool though, it’s fun hanging out with film students, I get to use their gear and they’re pretty supportive of me taking time off to work on projects if I need to – so it’s a pretty good gig as far as day jobs go.
TFH: It’s easy to stay home, procrastinate and stare at a collection of cameras. From where do you draw motivation / inspiration?
DM: Photography for me has always been tied to adventure and getting outside and exploring. I’m constantly in awe of nature and natural light so I’d say my motivation is the natural world. I hate sitting at home editing photos which is one of the great things about film – you don’t have to spend hours sitting inside editing photos to make them look good. Most of the time what you get back from the lab is pretty close to a finished image. I go a bit stir crazy when I’m stuck inside all day. I try to get out in nature shooting as much as I can. In terms of influences I try not to get too caught up in what other photographers are doing. I admire a lot of photographers work particularly people like Lukasz Wierzbowski, Davis Ayer, Randy P Martin, Tamara Lichtenstein, Alison Scarpulla, Jason Lee Parry, Alec Soth, Chris Burkhard and people like that but I try not to let what they’re doing influence my work too much if possible. If anything I think I’m more influenced by movies, particularly the films of Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, Hal Ashby, Wim Wenders, Andrei Tarkovsky, Michelangelo Antonioni, Stanley Kubrick – just in terms of some aspects of their visual styles that have really spoken to me and I guess that has come out in some of my photography at times.
TFH: We’re both Australian but spend time in such different parts of the world. I’ve seen your travel photos from New Zealand, India etc. sprinkled all over the Internet, so many killer shots and perfect landscapes. Where else has your work taken you?
DM: So far I’ve been to Sumatra in Indonesia, I’ve explored Australia a bit, I’ve been all over India and around the north island of New Zealand. I’m really keen to check out Iceland, Greenland, Antarctica, Tibet, Alaska and the South Island of New Zealand, those are the places I’m planning on hitting next.
TFH: Any ‘must carries’ or favourite cameras or pieces of equipment?
DM: For 35mm I use a Canon EOS 1VHS and a Canon EOS 500 with a 24-70 2.8L, a 16-35 2.8L and a 50 1.2L as well as my old faithful Olympus OM10 with a 50 1.8 and 28 2.8 and a crazy fisheye. For Medium Format I use a Mamiya 645 Pro TL with an 80 1.9 and a 35 3.5. I also have a polaroid 250 with a little flash. My favourite 35mm and medium format film stocks are Fuji 400h, Portra 160 and Portra 400, Tri X Black and White and Ilford 400 HP5 and Delta 3200 when there’s no light. Lately I have also been shooting with cinestill 800T tungsten film and have been really enjoying the results with that too. I’m pretty happy with my kit but in terms of gear I wish I had I eventually want to buy a Contax g2 to carry around all the time, I want a housing for my 1V and it’d be great to get into 4×5 or 8 x10 large format film or wet plate collodion photography one day too.
TFH: I tend to take photos of things I like, not necessarily what people want to see. Give us an example of things you’re most proud of but suspect the Internet audience couldn’t care less about.
DM: I try not to think about whether the internet audience will like an image or not. If people like it that’s great and I’m really humbled by that but as long as I’m happy with the result or if it’s something I’ve shot for somebody and they’re happy then that’s all that matters to me.
TFH: What’s next for the ‘Danny McShane’ entity?
DM: Just saving to go overseas and chipping away at a few film and photography projects. I have two video portraits I’ll be releasing later this year, I’m developing a few scripts and I’m always shooting photos every chance I get.
TFH: In addition to the page already mentioned where else could we find you? (don’t be shy, list ‘em all)
TFH: Anybody you need to thank?
DM: You for expressing an interest in my work man. I really appreciate it and I’m truly stoked you like my work enough to feature it on your blog. You’re a legend.