Location and scenery play a big role in the tone of a film and were especially important for writer and director Martin McDonagh with The Banshees of Inisherin.
The movie, set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, provided not only beautiful photography but flexibility by having everyone and everything in one isolated place, according to cinematographer Ben Davis. Ahead of the film’s screening at the Camerimage International Film Festival, which begins Nov. 12, Davis is diving into how he captured McDonagh’s vision in a new episode of The Hollywood Reporter’s Behind the Screen podcast.
“It’s an incredible place. You live on these islands and you’re separate. There’s a strangeness to how you feel when you’re on it, because you are separated from the rest of the world by the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s quite a wild ocean,” says Davis. “So you really feel this sort of sense of isolation, but kind of beautiful isolation, if that makes sense.”
There’s no doubt that the island provided an endless amount of visuals, but the cinematographer says there were challenges when they initially scouted the location. McDonagh had a colorful memory of the islands, having grown up there with his parents, but Davis described it as “rainy and gray” once they arrived. He had to find a balance behind the camera amid weather and accessibility.
“Where we are now in the world, that film reflects a lot of what’s going on in, around the world. And he, Martin, felt it. … He said, ‘I want it to be sad because it’s a sad story.’ But he said, ‘I also want it to be funny, and I want it to be very beautiful.’ And that was kind of our kickoff point, and then the storyboards,” says the cinematographer. “Like I say, they had a lot of imagery that was very much his voice. There’s a lot of Western imagery in it. I thought they were very unique.”
The Banshees of Inisherin also brought Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson back together with McDonagh 14 years after the premiere of the Oscar-nominated In Bruges.
This new film follows two lifelong pals, Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), whose friendship comes to a halt when Colm makes an unexpected decision to end it. Padraic then goes on a journey to fix their relationship, only to face an ultimatum and escalating consequences.
“It feels like an old fable and film, but it’s a slightly modern take on it, you know. There’s color in the costume that maybe wouldn’t have been there, and also in the shots and the lighting,” says Davis. “Martin was very keen that it was beautiful because it offsets what’s going on. … You’re on this incredibly beautiful place, but you are isolated; there’s a juxtaposition. And we wanted to try and capture that, and Martin was very keen that we did that.”
Listen to the full episode of the Behind the Screen podcast below.