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The Mighty Quinn
Behind the scenes of
"Daughter of Dismay" with Director James Quinn

The 70mm Newsletter
Interview transcribed by: Mark Lyndon & Margaret Weedon, in70mm.com. Recorded at: World premiere, October 2019, Schauburg Karlsruhe. Pictures by: Thomas Hauerslev Date: 04.04.2019
James Quinn, Austrian independent filmmaker next the poster of "Daughter of Dismay in Karlsruhe.

James Quinn, an independent filmmaker, has pulled off one of the most courageous, bold and ambitious Large Format film projects of recent years Ė
"Daughter of Dismay". Without any of the powerful backing of a major studio, he has brought genuine 70mm Widescreen production to the worldís two leading Large Format/ 70mm Film Festivals The Karlsruhe Todd-AO Festival and The Bradford Widescreen Weekend. Thomas Hauerslev caught up with James in Karlsruhe and Bradford. Karlsruhe had the distinction of hosting the World Premiere of "Daughter of Dismay".

Thomas Hauerslev: It was a great pleasure to show your film. World Premiere, James Quinn, Ladies and Gentlemen! And James has courageously said yes to be interviewed here on stage. I will first ask him a few questions to get him going and after that, if any of you delegates have any questions we will have a Q&A.

Thomas Hauerslev: How did this story come about?

James Quinn: Two years ago, I randomly met this person who lives in my home town and it turned out she was very interested in the occult, obscure movies and all the kind of stuff that I like. She ended up asking, since I was doing photography at the time, if we could do a photo shoot. She asked me to do a kind of witchy and occult thing, but I didnít want it to be clichťd devil worshipping. I wanted to do a visceral thing. We ended up doing a 35mm black and white photo shoot.

The pictures blew me away, once they came out. She had a very unique way of emoting with her face. She just looked very sad in the pictures. When I looked at the photo I immediately had a story in mind. I started writing a screenplay, and I literally finished it in two days, because I knew what I wanted to happen. I revised it after that, but the basic story was formed very, very quickly, because I immediately knew the story for the witch.

I ended up calling her with: ďDo you want to be in a movie?Ē She said yes. At first we were planning on shooting in anamorphic 35mm. We did a lot of tests. Really, Iíve always wanted to shoot 65mm, obviously, itís the dream of any filmmaker. Opportunity ended up showing up for us, where some Hollywood production had a bunch of film cans which had film that was not used for their film so we ended up getting it for half the price, which made it very affordable. So we ended up switching to 65mm, a bunch more people came on board, and we started getting really big people interested like Joseph Pasarro, who did "The Conjuring" and "Insidious".

Two weeks before the shoot, our cinematographer [Ben Brahem Ziryab] called me and said "...what if we go even bigger?" I said "65mm five perf?" and he said "...what if we shoot in eight perf and have IMAX prints made?" It sounds absolutely awesome, but it is not that easy to get there. Itís a bunch more money in cost. We managed to make it work and we shot it in eight perf and thatís how the whole thing came to be.

THa: What were the challenges of shooting in 65mm?

JQ: Especially when you are having 15 perf blow ups made, you literally see every single leaf on the ground. You have to be very, very specific with how you are shooting. We had five minutes of actual shooting time for each scene and two hours of rehearsal. All of our eight production assistants run around and literally check the ground, and the woods just to make sure there wasnít a pen or a cup or anything. You are going to see them obviously. That was very challenging. I was horribly afraid of there being a plastic cup somewhere in the background. In 70mm you are going to see that, especially IMAX. Fortunately, that worked out. We very intensively ran around and tried to make sure that every single thing about the set was perfect. The whole production attitude changes when you are shooting a format like that, because you are very limited to a certain amount of takes. You canít just shoot at a shooting ratio of one to twenty. You canít do twenty takes per scene. Fortunately, because we did not have any dialogue, we were able to actually limit ourselves to a maximum of around three takes per scene, which is why we rehearsed so much. It was definitely something that was a challenge. I actually appreciated it because everyone was so tense and on edge that they just ended up being their best selves. It ended up benefitting the whole work ethic in the production.

THa: Where was it filmed?

JQ: It was filmed in Austria in a forest thatís five minutes away from my house.

THa: Thatís convenient!

JQ: Yes. The reason I wanted to shoot there was because I grew up in those woods and itís a very fairy tale-like forest. It has weird things. The scene where the witch starts digging, that weird wooden thing behind her was just there. We didnít build that. So there is this weird, strange forest, totally bizarre. There are fallen over trees, all overgrown, some random people built these wooden contraptions, and it was absolutely perfect. I had been wanting to shoot something very wide and epic there for a while and this was my chance.

THa: Five minutes from your house and you just stroll up on your bicycles, with the camera on the shoulder and some cables. How did you do it in the forest?
More in 70mm reading:

"Daughter of Dismay" World Premiere at the Schauburg

"Daughter Of Dismay" on BluRay Ė Coming SoonÖ

Director of Photography Ben Brahem Ziryab in Conversation
JQ: Technically itís a quick walk up there in five minutes, but you actually have to get there with all the crew, tripods and all the generators. So we did have to take another route to get there. That was actually the part that was the most painful, actually trying to figure out how we were going to do it. We shot it at an ASA film speed rating at 50, which is basically nothing, thatís as low as you can go. We had no natural light because during the two days we were shooting, the weather changed completely. It was extremely dark in the woods. We had all this equipment we had to get into the woods. Because it is so thick and there are a lot of steep hills, when our gaffer came over to the woods for the first time, we showed him around and he said it was impossible to do this! We had two tons of cables and one of them was three times as thick as my arm! We had 18K (18.000 watt) lights in tiny cars. The camera was a challenge too, especially since all shots are dolly shots. So it was definitely very challenging for our carpenter to actually build the sets and get them into the woods.

THa: It is just one place? How did you do that because it looks different from scene to scene?

JQ: We had to use a bunch of tricks. We had two different locations in the woods. They were right next to each other. They were a couple of hundred feet from each other. Since we could not move around too much, and we had just two shooting days, we recycled the same spots. We would move the camera 180į and shoot in the opposite direction. Because the forest is so rich, it just looked like a completely different place. We were able to completely keep the lighting set ups and, pan the lights and recycle the surroundings around the forest. It was pretty much all shot in the same couple of feet.

THa: How many people were working on the production for those two days?

JQ: I donít remember how many were on set. I think we had around forty people on set and seventy people in total including post production.

THa: Forty people on set?

JQ: Yes it was around thirty five to forty people.

THa: Ok impressive! The film is shot in eight perf.

JQ: It was shot in eight perf, yes.

THa: Obviously, this is a five perf version of the film. So how do you go from eight perf to five perf without cropping?

JQ: You have to think in a way to make it a different experience. Itís a different version and almost a different film. There are certain things that are in the fifteen perf version that are obviously very tall that we donít have in this 5-perf version. And so we try to give it a different approach, like when the witch is hanging herself. The camera is always up and her head is cut off. We try to be more mysterious about those parts and make it a little more mysterious. In 15 perf it is a completely different thing. Because it is so tall, you see the top of the trees. And so we had to work with a way to make it a completely different film, basically. Otherwise it becomes very hard because you frame it in a way that you have the entire thing. In the 5-perf version itís a bit awkward, because in the fifteen perf version you are going to have so much top and bottom, that it seems weird. That would be like Omnimax!

It was definitely a challenge. According to the guys from FotoKem, who did our prints, they had also worked on all the Nolan and Tarantino movies. So they knew what they were doing. They said it was pretty much unprecedented, what we did, because we wanted to shoot it in a way that worked that is the best for 15-perf, but also make it work in 4 or 5-perf. We did not want in a way that Nolan does. He works it in a way that the image is centered and can be used for 5-perf or IMAX, so you donít have any reframing to do and basically you donít have to pan up and down. Which we did and apparently, no one has really done that before. The guys from FotoKem were working very hard in reframing shot per shot. I know it was very annoying for them. They were very happy to take the challenge. They said they just hadnít done that before. Itís one of the reasons that the 70mm five perfs took so long. It took them so long just to get the work done of reframing. It wasnít every shot that was reframed, only about eight. We tried to keep as many of the frames with as many details as possible. So you had tilt up and down, and some panning around. Obviously, the wood is the same. That was a big challenge for them.
"According to the guys from FotoKem who did our prints, they had also worked on all the Nolan and Tarantino movies. So they knew what they were doing." James Quinn

THa: Is there anyone in the audience who has a question?

Delegate: Congratulations on getting so much atmosphere, really powerful atmosphere across in such a short space of time. Itís quite miraculous. I want to ask you about Dolby Atmos, talking of atmosphere and how you set up the Atmos for 2:39 aspect ratio, I believe, according to IMDB which has a very impressive entry here in the tech spec section.

JQ: So our digital versions-we have a digital IMAX version in a regular digital 2k and 4k version and those have a taller aspect ratio, 1,85 by 1. It just allowed us to have a little more than the original IMAX aspect ratio. The Dolby Atmos version is actually 2,39 by 1, because Dolby Atmos theaters have Scope screens and we did not want to show a 1,85 version on those screens. It would have just been awkward and so we had the opprtunity and made that work too. The Dolby Atmos mix was interesting. We were very, very fortunate with our sound engineer, Steve Maslow, a veteran who did ďThe Empire Strikes BackĒ and ďRaiders of the Lost ArkĒ. He won three Academy Awards, which he was very proud of. He kept talking about it! Heís very sweet! He is an absolute genius. He knew immediately what I was trying to go for. So the Atmos mix, I believe itís a twelve channel system. Thatís a whole different thing. Obviously, it would be absolutely incredible if you could have the 70mm projection with an Atmos mix. I donít think that most 70mm theaters are equipped for Atmos Sound. I think you could technically hook it up, but it would be a massive undertaking just for a very short film. It would just not make a lot of sense. The Atmos version is interesting because there are a lot of different layers. This was a 5.1 surround sound and the Atmos version is just very, very deep and rich. For instance the music is a little more voluminous because you have more speakers around. We didnít mess too much with the music. What really shines in the Atmos version is the Foley. You get the leaves swirling around the witch and when you can see the witch coming, appearing from behind the tree you can hear her coming from behind you before you can even see her. All these little sounds and details were very big and also the whispering voices - we did a swishing effect where it pulls through. Even though itís digital I really loved the Dolby Atmos version because itís very different. Which is one of the things I was very excited about doing the project. Just having the one film that is basically different, films with all these different versions. We have a 35mm version too, which is also again completely different. It is a 1,85:1 flat print. All those versions are completely different. I will always prefer the 70mm version, because thatís what it is meant to be. In the Atmos version it was definitely interesting getting to experiment, especially with an artsy film like this, where it is all about the atmosphere.

Delegate: Are you saying that the actor died in the production of that film? How did you set up the witch, appearing to kill herself? Was that a stunt double? How did you actually do that scene?

JQ: I have shot someone hanging themselves before, so I knew what to do. I came up with my own little technique of making it look like she is actually hanging herself. We made it look like the rope was tied to the tree on the side of this fallen over tree. But in reality, there was a production assistant standing outside of the image holding the rope. She did jump down and the rope did tighten. It wasnít tied to anything, so he just let it go So she just literally jumped on the ground, because the rope tightened, and we just cut it off right there. That gives the impression of her hanging falling into the rope. The sound effect helps. That was one of the most expensive parts of the movie. We had an exact dummy made for the scene where she hangs on the tree in the very last shot, which literally looked exactly like her. The special effects guys completely went out of their way. She had teeth and a tongue, you could pull her lids open with eyeballs under there It was a little creepy. It was cool because it enabled us to hang her up. At first we were thinking of doing it all with a visual effects shot, but the problem is that when you do the effects shot, you canít do it photochemically because the print was completely printed from the original negative, with no digital steps between. With the effects shot, with green screen and everything would have been a digital effects shot, basically. It would have been printed in 70mm from a 4k file and I did not want that. I chose the expensive road and actually had a dummy made that looked exactly like her. No one died, fortunately!

THa: Where does all the sound mixing take place? Is that in Austria? At home on a computer?

JQ: No we were mixing it in a sound studio in LA.

THa: Thatís a big thing I suppose. Do you work primarily in Austria or do you work in The States?

JQ: Iím planning on moving to The States, next year. Iím trying to figure out a visa because they are not in The EU. Iím in Austria half of the year and in the US, the other half.

THa: When you made a private film, I probably can say itís a private film, you end up with a lot of negatives developed.

JQ: Yes and a bunch of prints.

THa: What do you do with all that to make sure that Schauberg gets a print? Do you take them back home or are they stored in some vault somewhere?

JQ: FotoKem is archiving the negatives and I have the actual release prints. Iím storing them. The day before I was leaving for Karlsruhe, we received the 70mm IMAX print. I hadnít actually seen the print as it is. Itís pretty insane! It weighs sixty pounds. I expected it to be large, but itís a completely different thing. The 35mm print was leaning directly against itís a tiny little roll. I am holding on to the positive prints.

Delegate: How do you use the dummy today?

JQ: Itís a very interesting question! (Laughs) The special effects guy asked me if I wanted to keep it or if he could archive it and hold on to it. I do not have space for another person! They had to hold on to it. Actually thatís a really funny story. The dummy was riding in their passenger seat. They came from Germany, driving for about eight hours and the dummy was sitting in their passenger seat. They sent me a picture because they had it sleep in the bed in the hotel and they went out to get breakfast and when they came back, the room was cleaned. So someone must have felt very awkward! The hair was a wig so it was a bald dummy. I felt very bad for whoever had to clean the room.
James Quinn and Caroline Angell in Bradford

Have you had any reactions to the film? You have previewed and shown it in the last couple of weeks for some festivals? Tell us a little bit about that.

JQ: We only really had two major screenings. One of them was in London, the other was in The Frankfest in 4k laser IMAX. The response to that was absolutely great. We had two screenings back to back. It was completely sold out which was great. 800 people saw it. It was a very happy moment The response was very great. We had a lot of people talking about it already.

Positive and negative responses have patterns. Most of the people who love it love it for the same reasons that the people who donít like it donít like it. It was very interesting to see the responses to it. Mostly very positive feedback. People very much appreciate the atmosphere, the dark mood of the witch, which the film lives really off of. We had one 35mm screening, also in the UK, in a town that I canít pronounce.

THa: You worked on this film for the past two years and you photographed it last summer and you see the result on this screen in this cinema, does it live up to your expectations?

JQ: We had a test screening of the 70mm print in Vienna. It looked like shit because whatever happened, the projectionist messed up. It was extremely dark. I donít know how you do that. It was extremely dark and you could not really see that much. It was also out of focus, so I was really mad, because I had high expectations for that theater to do a test screening. I didnít really know what it looks like in its full 70mm glory, so this was a very, very important moment for me. Almost emotional. I had been working my ass of off for two years now just finally seeing it in 70mm a big screen, with the audience is just a very great thing.

THa: Thank you


THa: Are there any final questions for James?

Delegate: I am from Vienna, Iím curious, which cinema?

JQ: I donít think it had anything to do with the venue per se. It was the Gartenbau Kino. They usually have extremely good projection standards. I have seen 70mm films there multiple times and it looked amazing. My guess it was just too quick to arrange with the film just in. I donít know. I will still go see 70mm films there because they have a great, big screen. They usually have a very high projection standard. I just donít know what happened. It was obviously frustrating.

Delegate: Was the photochemical print directly from the camera?

JQ: It was directly from the camera negative. We made a digital link. We had to keep the code information. We sent all the negatives to FotoKem and they cut the original negative from the answer print and from that we made the 5 perf productions. Itís all directly from the original negative. There is not one digital step. According to FotoKem, we are the only people on the planet who are currently doing photochemical IMAX prints. Itís not "the thing" anymore. We are the only people left besides Christopher Nolan.

THa: What is it that excites you about the quality of photochemical processing of your film?

JQ: I donít think there is anything like photochemical 70mm prints. Iíve seen 70mm films printed from a 4k D, I like "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" and it looks good. But it just does not have this hyper clarity. Itís an almost immersive feeling of being in the movie, where you see every little thing. You donít have to look for details, they just jump at you. I donít think thatís something you can get with a 4K DI, because itís sold just for 4k. Doing an actual 70mm print is so much higher than that, especially since we shot it at ASA 50 which gives you even more depth, more sharpness, a little more contrast too.

Our cinematographer used a technique, where he very slightly over exposed, brought the brightness down and the colour timing, which gives it a very strong punch. That is what makes the contrast so thick. I didnít want it to look like a moving painting. I wanted the colours to have this plastic three dimensional feel. Fortunately he knew exactly how to do it. That is what excites me about photochemical print making. There is a depth to it that I donít think you can get any other way.

THa: And with those words I would like to say thank you to James Quinn, the Director of "Daughter of Dismay"

The Mighty Quinn, Part II
Bradford interview with James Quinn

THa: I have seen your film two times and a week has passed since Karlsruhe and you have seen it at least three times. What are peopleís impressions so far?

JQ: The audiences I have had with these screenings really like seeing it again. People are really excited with the format being revived. 2017 was a really great for 70mm and film in general. A lot of the Hollywood film makers loved screening in film again. The reactions were great so far. People appreciated that we did something darker with this format, that we didnít just make a big production with explosions, all the regular elements that people see in big movies. We wanted to do something thatís more art house driven, but still has an epic feel. People really appreciated that, so the reactions were great so far. One of the reactions was when the witch cuts herself.

People always look away and you can readily see people sitting in the theatre and holding their eyes shut. It was a lot of fun because we were hoping that people react to that. The special effects did a really great job. We specifically hired them for this because they were good.

Iím really happy with how it was received so far. People were really enjoying it. I know you always have people who donít enjoy it. Thatís just how it goes. But the cool thing about this was that the people who didnít like it didnít like it for the same reasons that the people who liked it did like it.

THa: I am one of those

JQ: Itís not very in your face, show donít tell, In our society right now, the attention span of people, at least of a lot of younger people, has changed and people want a lot of fast things. Some people cannot get on board with a lot of slow moving cinema. I really donít care, personally, because I am fan of slow cinema and art house cinema. I think people very much appreciated that we did something artistic, but also with some differences.

THa: What did you think of this presentation [on the deep curve Cinerama screen]?

JQ: I thought it was great! I have never seen a screen like that. It was interesting to see how it was made. I have never seen something like that. Having a screen behind a screen was also impressive. Screening on a curved screen is absolutely beautiful itís an experience! Itís almost immersive in a way, because you are almost surrounded by the screen. It was a very beautiful presentation.

THa: You screened it last night in Hamburg. How did that go?

JQ: The Hamburg screening went really well. It was a secret screening. Once a month on a specific Friday, they have a sneak preview, where they screen a secret premiere of a feature film. They donít tell you what it is and they include it in the programme. They were really interested in screening this in 70mm, which they did. It was absolutely a great screening. Itís also a very beautiful theatre, an old school theatre, almost like a little movie palace, like Karlsruhe. Not as impressive, it's OK as is visually vintage. But it was still very great for a lot of reasons. The audience asked a lot of questions which was great, it was a very beautiful presentation. We got to check out the projection room and see them thread the film. You donít get to see that, that often.

THa: I know you are busy, what are your plans now with the next premiere. Where are you going?

JQ: The next one is in Austria, three hours away from where I live, Innsbruck in the Leokino. I have never seen the theatre before, but they are actually doing two screenings on two days, the nineteenth and the twentieth. The nineteenth is an evening screening and the next day is in the morning. So I am going to be there for both of those. Thatís actually a single screening of the short film. Itís not going to be screening with anything, itís a special event. Iím very excited about that. Afterwards I am going to the States to have a screening at a film festival, called Nightmare Film Festival, a horror film festival. They are also screening it in 70mm in a beautiful theatre in the Gateway Film Centre in Columbus Ohio, which was named one of the twenty best art houses in the US. I know the projectionist. She is very good at her job. So I am very excited to see it at that show. After that, we have about twenty five screenings lined up. I canít even think of all of them! Weíve have got plans!

THa: Congratulations

JQ: Thank you so much!
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Updated 21-01-24