Minds Behind the Magic: John Paul Tansey

In this feature of Minds Behind the Magic series, Lynette Chong learns more about John Paul Tansey's wide range of experience from music videos to documentaries. 

Introducing John Paul Tansey, filmmaker. 


*Lynette: John – you have a wide range of experience from documentaries to music videos and comedy series. How do you think Trailer Music fits into your portfolio and how do you think it is different from what you have done in your previous works?

Film making is a collaborative art for sure, but sometimes on projects competing interests can dilute an original idea.  The term “death by a thousand cuts” was created for such scenarios.  In the case of Trailer Music, Tom and Nicole seemed determined from the outset to protect the integrity of the process and were very trusting of the filmmakers to discover their own stories, guided of course by the music.  That was very liberating.  I was lucky to have Greg Elms, a very talented photographer, shoot the film. He brought his very strong sense of composition and helped shape the film’s look. And Zhongda Wang our second cameraman created that beautiful drone shot at the end of the film. The idea for the film came to me the first time I listened to Nicolas’s composition - so I tried to hang on to the purity of that first idea - where in one moment a lovely piece of music conjures up a very specific idea – and to not change it.  That was very satisfying. 

*L: Moving across three countries, what are the key differences or similarities in the film and music industry? Share with us some interesting experiences in the changing landscape

The first film I ever made was shot in Ireland on Super 16mm film and edited on a Steenbeck.  Obviously that was the mid 90’s - quite a while back, but I remember rolls of film and sound tape hanging from stands in the edit room like bunting.  When you decided to make a cut it was a really big deal -  it took a minute or two to splice each edit - so you really deliberated about every cut.  It’s easy to forget how much technology has changed filmmaking and sometimes that sense of “consideration” gets lost.  I think every country has its own particular film culture, but filmmakers wherever they are share many traits. They’re usually a bit mad, but the commonalities are more pronounced than the differences. 

*L: You have made Melbourne home since 2003. How does where you live influence how and what you make, and how do you think Melbourne currently affects your work and process?

It’s always a challenge when you’re a new arrival in a place. Having moved from Ireland to New York, and then New York to Melbourne, my “schmoozing” skills were quite well honed. That helped me survive my early days here. After a few years I think you become attuned to a new city or country and absorb part of the culture but you try to keep looking at things as an outsider – it’s important if you’re a filmmaker to show the audience something of themselves that they might not already know, or be aware of. It’s important to surprise. Sometimes you have to fight to maintain that sense of otherness.  

*L: What made you apply for the role as a filmmaker for Trailer Music 2?

I wanted to do a small film with my dear daughter Ailbhe (12) who really loves performing. In the story, she plays a character that goes on a little adventure. The audience gets to go on that ride with her, but crucially doesn’t know the girl’s full story until the last shot of the film. So, in a way the audience is forced to reevaluate how it perceives the film and its characters. My daughter’s teenage years are about to kick in, and I hope years from now she can look at this little film and remember what she was like and how much fun we had making it together.

Catch more of John at Melbourne Music Week!

Trailer Music II - 12 & 13 Nov 2016, 8pm. 

Bookings online here.

Learn more about Trailer Music II here.