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Self-consciousness can make the face ugly. -- Bono

Ned O'Hanlon: A Dream Chaser Goes Solo, Too

@U2
Ned O'Hanlon might be the most difficult man in Ireland to reach right now. But he's got a few good excuses: Dreamchaser Productions, the video company he founded in 1990, is shutting its doors; he's starting up a new production company, Solo Too, without longtime partner Maurice Linnane on board; as producer, he has work to do related to next month's launch of the U2 Go Home - Live at Slane Castle video; and he's busy with the campaign for U2's next studio album.

Despite having to juggle those commitments to U2 and to his company, O'Hanlon agreed to an interview with @U2 last week by phone. (To be precise, he agreed to the interview a couple weeks ago, but it wasn't until last week that he was able to slow down enough to talk!)

O'Hanlon started Dreamchaser Productions from the basement of his house in December 1990, and two months later the baby company took over all TV and film work for U2's Achtung Baby. Since then, the Dreamchaser name has been on every live concert video U2 has released, on music videos from "The Fly" to "Sweetest Thing," and on innumerable other TV shows (such as A Year in Pop) and video clips (think U2-in-the-studio performances such as "Don't Take Your Guns to Town").

The upcoming Slane Castle video will be Dreamchaser's swan song. O'Hanlon and Linnane had a "serious falling out" earlier this year, and decided it was time to go separate ways. Linnane is now directing a live talk show on Ireland's TV3, while O'Hanlon plans to continue what he's been doing, but under the Solo Too name -- as in, "I can do this solo, too."

O'Hanlon, then, is the man to ask whether or not the Zoo TV Sydney and PopMart Mexico City videos will ever be issued on DVD: "I really hope so," he says, "but we're not doing anything on that as yet." He's also the man to ask if the new album has a name: "As far as I know, which isn't much, no names as yet." To be fair, it's quite possible that's the company line and O'Hanlon isn't able or willing to spill the beans about such a prized piece of information. Can't blame him for that, especially when our conversation did cover a variety of juicy topics, like who dies in the "All I Want Is You" video, why Elevation was the most difficult live show to shoot, video tributes to a deceased, 3-legged dog, and what went wrong with the "Red Hill Mining Town" video. But we began with the most timely topic of the bunch, U2 Go Home - Live at Slane Castle.



What are your memories of those two Slane shows? It was such a difficult and odd period for Bono with his dad passing -- how did that impact the work you guys were doing?

It was a very difficult time for him, and for the band. The home shows for U2 -- Irish shows -- are always kinda high-pressure, anyway. The level of expectation is always pretty high, as it is everywhere, but particularly at home. And they obviously want to be at their best, as they do everywhere, but with the home crowd...(pauses)...it's a very heartfelt time, and there's always an enormous amount of pressure brought to bear on them when they play at home. Suddenly they become the most popular guys on the block and everybody's a friend, and everybody knows somebody, and everybody wants to be backstage. And if that worked out, there'd be more people backstage than there'd be out front.

It's the kings returning to the castle. In this case, literally, right?

Yes, and that, from a management perspective, is a complete nightmare. But the show itself -- the last tour was primarily designed as an indoor show and it was a carefully considered point of view they took to stay indoors and not do the huge outdoor venues. And that was the charm and success of that show. It was stripped bare, there was nothing really to it. It was just the four guys on a stage crankin' it out. So, in order to supply a pretty voracious market, they decided to bite the bullet and do this one show, initially, at Slane Castle, which is an institution here. They ended up having two shows to stage, and they were reluctant to shoot the shows at all, having already shot this tour in Boston, and that was very successful. They're always very conscious of their audience, and they didn't want to be seen to be putting out another one that was from the same tour. It was quite a hard sell for me to convince them that it was a good thing to do -- to shoot this show at all. Really, I think the only thing that convinced them to do it was that we would do it just for archive. It never had to go anywhere, it never had to be released, but that it would be a shame to miss what would be a pretty unique event -- to play outdoors the only time on this tour. It was a sort of homecoming, really. My argument was, "How could you not shoot it?" So, on that basis, they went ahead. And we did it pretty much as a scratch production. It wasn't anything on the scale resource-wise or money-wise as the show we shot in Boston.

You mentioned the idea of just doing it for the archive. Online, there were petitions started by fans in Europe and the petitions were presented to Universal. Did any of that play a role, in the end, of getting that released?

You know...I don't know. I certainly was aware that those petitions were there. I'd got word from some of the people who set up those petitions, who contacted me to say, "Listen, is this thing ever going to come out?" I could only respond with "I don't know. If it were up to me, definitely, but it's not up to me." I think that they [U2] were aware that there was a great deal of interest in the show, but I think it needed the time to pass from that moment because it was such a unique moment for the band. Enough time needed to pass for them to look at that in an objective way and say, "Is this something that we'd be interested in doing?" At the time they were so caught up with Bob's passing and all that that brought to bear on Bono particularly, and the other guys as a band. In the way these things work -- and this is just my own opinion -- those shows ended up being really extraordinarily special shows. The second show particularly, which is the show we shot, was a killer show. They were just really on their game. From a performance point of view, it was really great. So I think over time, they were able to look back and just say, "What was all that about?" And we finally did that about this time last year, and they went, "This isn't half-bad!" And so it went from there.

You mentioned having two shows released from the same tour. Certainly for U2, and I would assume for other bands, it's pretty unusual to have two shows from one tour released.

That was the first argument when I suggested that I shoot Slane. They said, "We've done it already. Why would we do it twice?" But this one -- it's not like this is the official tour document. This is just a moment in time. It's much more about a homecoming. It's really just a celebration of U2 playing at home. It's a different take on the same show, but it's a fantastic show.

A lot of fans are wondering why "Mysterious Ways" isn't included on the track list. Can you shed any light on that?

Well...(pauses)...

Some fans have said it might be because Bono brought his daughter on stage and he may not have wanted her in the video.

I'm not sure that's the reason. It just felt a bit funny where it was in the set, but you know...(pauses)...I don't think anybody will be disappointed about it when it comes out.

So, in other words, it's gonna be a hidden track. I'll read between the lines there, Ned!

(Laughs)

One last question about Slane and Elevation. The third leg of that tour was so different after 9/11. Did the band give any thought to shooting a show from the third leg?

I don't believe there ever was, certainly nothing I was ever privy to. And I wouldn't necessarily be privy to those conversations.

Okay, some general questions...As a band, how much interest does U2 take in video in general -- both the shorter music videos and the longer concert videos and such?

They take huge interest and a great deal of care. It's like with any band, videos are kind of a necessary evil. In the main, I think they're regarded as major pains in the arse. But if you do have to do them, you may as well take them seriously, and I think that's the way they go at it. Certainly, Bono is all over it and Edge, too. And Larry and Adam take a very careful interest in it, as well, in coming up with the right idea for the videos. You might say U2 have kind of a hit-and-miss track record in terms of the videos they've made over the years -- and I think more hit than miss -- but once they go with an idea and a director, they go all the way. No matter how they feel about it on the site and the set, they'll always allow that director -- they'll just do whatever they're asked to do and wait to see the end results.

If they're so interested and hands-on, does that make your job easier? Or is it more difficult because maybe sometimes they're meddling in something you don't want them meddling in?

There's always a bit of that, you know. That's inevitable with people who are very hands-on. And they do get very hands-on, particularly in the concert stuff. We have, over the years, put out a number of different videos for them but we are more consistently involved with the live stuff. Yes, they're very involved. And sometimes it works great, sometimes they come and have a look -- anytime they come and have something to say, it's always fantastic to hear because it's always a great take on it. You may not agree with it, but it's always well worked out. It's never like, "I don't like...THAT." You always get a full breakdown as to what's wrong with it, and it's well reasoned. And as I said, you may not agree with it, but you cannot argue with the veracity of the point of view. And sometimes things do get broken because they're overworked. And that's a pity. But most times the relationship works pretty well, and the end result is usually a better thing for that involvement.

Someone close to the band mentioned before that the band videotapes just about everything they do, whether it be in the recording studio, or out making public appearances, etc. Is that an exaggeration?

That is an exaggeration. They did take a complete about-face. Up until Achtung Baby, cameras were basically forbidden. And that included during the shooting of Rattle and Hum! (Laughs) Talk to Phil Joanou, he could tell you! (More laughs) They were the most reluctant during that period, during Rattle and Hum. They didn't want to have cameras near anything. But come Achtung Baby, it was the complete opposite. And for that whole tour, Zoo TV, we stalked them everywhere they went. And we used pretty much every frame of that. There's very little of that that hasn't seen the light of day in one form or another. But since then, there comes a balance in everything. When they're up and at it, yes, there are cameras around a lot. But by no means all the time. They'd never get anything done if that was the case. And the recording process -- sometimes we do go in and shoot some of the recording process. And there's time set aside to do that, because you couldn't just have people aimlessly wandering around shooting everything ad nauseum, if, for no other reason that it would be the most boring thing to shoot in the world.

But you know there are U2 fans who would want to see it!

Oh, even the die-hards would get bored, I guarantee it. (Laughs)

I'm not so sure of that!

There's only so much of watching Edge go [makes a droning sound] blung...blung...blung for three days on end. (More laughs)

Let me ask about some of the short-form music videos you've done. Do you have a favorite of the videos you guys did for the band?

My favorite would have to be one of the most unseen ones, which is "All I Want Is You."

Isn't that the first one you produced?

Yes, it is, but not for that reason. As a production it was also the scariest, nightmare time of my life -- that shoot. But as a video, it's one of my all-time favorites. It's one of my all-time favorite tracks -- U2 tracks. And tracks, indeed. That video has a very special place for me.

The obvious question, then, is who dies at the end of that video?

Well, y'know...(pauses)...it's easy to work it out. She dies.

She dies?

She dies. Because all the other players are there, at the funeral.

But don't we see her, after the--

That's the dream sequence. And actually, we don't see her after that. The last time we see her is being buried. We see the strongman, the bald guy standing beside the boyfriend, with the dwarf throwing the ring in on top of the coffin.

Well, the mystery is laid to rest, no pun intended.

Yes, she dies.

The "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" video -- what were the reactions of the band members when they saw themselves animated like that?

They loved it! They loved it because they weren't in it! (laughs) It was easy for them! No, I think they really got into that. Kevin Godley got into that, and Maurice [Linnane]. It was a co-directing and co-editing job. They [U2] really liked the idea. We had too little time, and not enough money, frankly, to put that video together. The fact that we got that level of animation going in -- I think we had three weeks to animate that. And so every frame of animation actually ended up in the cut, and they liked it a lot. I'm not sure the representations were entirely accurate, but the sense of it was very good. Kevin wrote the script for the scenario.

There's a lot of in-jokes and references in the video.

There are a lot of in-jokes.

Who came up with the idea to put all those in?

That was Kevin. The last one -- I ended up in a reasonably shameless, but very rock-and-roll manner -- when the video was so late, I literally ran out of an edit suite in London and jumped on the Concorde, as you do (laughs), to deliver the tape to MTV in New York for its world premiere the same day. And I had to bring it down for their legal people to look at it. And in one of the animated shots, there was a pan down as they're walking down the street -- as Bono's reading The Screwtape Letters or whatever it was -- there's a pan down from a shop sign which, in America, says "Mr. Swampy's." In the original it says "Mr. Pussy's."

Which was right in Dublin, a café.

Right in Dublin, yes. There was a drag artist here in Dublin, and Bono and -- it might've been the whole band -- and Bono's brother, Norman Hewson, were responsible for running a place called Mr. Pussy's. So that was sort of an homage to Mr. Pussy, but it wouldn't pass the censors in New York. So I had to go into an edit suite there and just change that to "Mr. Swampy." Swampy was the name of a dog that Kevin Godley owned, a 3-legged dog that had died about three weeks beforehand. (Laughs)

Another video that gets talked about a lot that none of us has ever seen -- there was a video for "Red Hill Mining Town".

Ah-hah!

Have you ever seen it?

I have.

Will we ever see it?

Noooo! (Laughs)

Where is it?!

It's buried in a big mine somewhere, I'd imagine.

What was the change of plans for that?

It just didn't work out. I wasn't involved in that video at all. I'm not trying to wash my hands of it, it was actually before my time. I wasn't really working with the band at that point in any kind of ongoing basis. Neil Jordan directed it, who was, even then, a pretty serious movie director. I think he shot it in movie terms. I think he fell foul of trying to tell a story that he normally has two hours to tell in three-and-a-half minutes, and it just didn't work out. (Pauses) It doesn't have many redeeming features.

Speaking of videos from that era -- will we ever get a DVD for the Best of 1980-1990 songs?

A DVD? That's a good question, I don't know. I guess when that went out it was just on the cusp of when DVD stuff was really starting to take off. It didn't seem that important at the time is my guess. I'm not sure it's something they've ever revisited. It's a good idea and certainly I'd love to do it.

Back at the very beginning, you were operating in the very early days out of your basement.

Yes.

Dreamchaser is, if I have my math right, about two months old and all of a sudden you get put in charge of all the video work for Achtung Baby, which segues into Zoo TV, etc. Was Dreamchaser ready for that at the age of two months?

What do you think?! (Laughs) No, we were not. Paul McGuinness will happily tell you this -- I'd been working with the band prior to setting up Dreamchaser, and I'd known them for a long time prior to that, as well, because my wife ran their management company for many, many years, so we did know each other. In fact, Dreamchaser was originally set up by Paul McGuinness, my wife Anne-Louise Kelly, and Barry Devlin, who directed some of the early videos. They set it up because Anne-Louise -- when she started working with Paul, she decided that she wanted to get back into video production and television production. And Barry Devlin, who's a friend of all of ours, wanted to direct. So those three decided they'd set up a little company themselves, and they'd have a bit of fun with it. So they did that. And then for the next three years or so, I produced all of Barry's directing material through the company I was working for before. So when I left that company to set up my own company -- Barry had decided he didn't want to direct anymore, so I went to Paul and Anne-Louise and said, "Listen, there's a whole body of work that I've produced and you have this dormant company. Can I buy it from you?" So I bought it from them for a pound, and I went from there.

So that's not actually answering the question you asked me, which was Were we ready? No, we weren't ready, and we didn't know what to expect. And McGuinness would say the same. I had a desk in their office from October to January, the year before that tour started, and I was just helping them coordinate all the stuff for the screens, and then as the need for promotional materials started to show up, I got more and more involved in that. We went out and shot some stuff, and we were putting together a half-hour rockumentary for MTV at the time. The end of that rockumentary was the band taking the stage for the first show in Lakeland on the Zoo TV Tour. So we went out to Florida to shoot that. We were due to come home two days later, and we came home two years later! And we literally had packed for a couple of days. We changed airline tickets ten times, and went out and bought extra clothes, and made all kinds of excuses to our significant others, and we were out on the roller coaster. And it was quite a trip.

The roller coaster took you to Sydney. You weren't just recording a show for video, it was a worldwide pay-per-view--

That's right.

-- and it was the night after Adam missed a show. Would "chaotic" be an understatement?

"Nervous" would be an understatement. (Pauses) In fairness, it wasn't chaotic. It was tense. It was incredibly tense. And particularly the first night, the night Adam missed, was incredibly tense. That was our safety show. When you get to the point where you're rolling cameras to shoot the big show on the tour, that is, in itself, even when all things are going great, an incredibly tense moment. Yeah, that was about as heavy as it got. It wasn't in any way chaotic, it was actually very calm...and very heavy.

That video went on to win a Grammy Award--

Yes, it did!

And yet, the Elevation video did not even--

It didn't even get nominated!

-- get nominated, and I was surprised by that. Were you?

I was disgusted. I was genuinely gobsmacked. And I can't even remember what won, but I looked at the nominees, and I thought it definitely deserved to be in there as a nominee, whatever about winning. I was absolutely gutted, I really was. I thought the Boston show was fantastic. I don't understand that. Because, you know, in so many ways, that was the hardest show to capture.

In what ways?

Well, first of all, there's no backdrop on the Elevation Tour. It's pretty much in the round. There's no bells and whistles. There's screen action for a marginal part of it. To try to capture the geography of the stage, to nail the geography of the stage and where the band are in relation to each other with that heart -- everything about that was really hard to do. And also to maintain the integrity of the lighting of the show, because that whole thing was about lighting. That whole show was about four fellows up on the stage, and lights. That's it. And that was its splendor, that it was that simple. But to capture that for TV -- you know, live music and TV is generally a snore. And to capture that show for TV was even more so, because we had so little to play with. You know, having a backdrop is an amazing thing to have from a television point of view because it gives you a context. It gives you a touchstone so everybody knows where you are. There's this big screen there, and it's in the corner of a frame, or it's in the left of a frame, or the right of a frame, so you always know where everybody is. But with this one, there's nothing. You're just shooting into spaces.

In contrast, with the PopMart Tour and everything being so large and grandiose -- the video screen and the lemon -- was that an easy one to do?

Yeah, it was much more straight ahead, if you like. In terms of capturing the show it was a bit more straight ahead because it had that geography that was easy to grasp. From a production point of view, it was a nightmare because it was in Mexico. And (laughs) that had many now-hilarious problems, but at the time not so funny. Like when we had one of the trucks with all the lifting gear commandeered at the border with a million dollar ransom...or two tickets.

Are you serious?

Two days later, they said they'd settle for two tickets.

Commandeered by who? The border guards?

Yeah, or somebody saying they were border guards...so, all of those things make life difficult but they look funny when you look back at them.

One last question, if I could. You mentioned many years ago that one of your favorite stories from working with U2 over the years was being mistaken for Bono.

(Laughs)

So what's the story?

Well, I don't know if you've ever seen me, but I don't look very much like Bono. I'm caucasian, and that's about the end of it. Other than that, there is no comparison. He's a much more handsome devil than I am! (Laughs) It was just one of those things. I can't remember where we were. We were in a restaurant and Maurice was with me, actually. It was only because we were in a restaurant next to the hotel where the band were staying. It was in America...it might've been Atlanta. And these people came up and they were very insistent that we were Bono and Edge and insisted on autographs and all that sort of stuff. (Laughs) And we actually gave the autographs, but we signed them "Ned" and "Maurice", and they went off very happy with that and thanked Bono and Edge profusely for the autographs! (Laughs)



U2 Go Home - Live at Slane Castle is due for release November 17th/18th.