Category Archives: Director

Showtime’s Homeland: Producer/director Lesli Linka Glatter

By Iain Blair

Since it first premiered back in 2011, the provocative, edgy and timely spy thriller Homeland has been a huge hit with audiences and critics alike. It has also racked up dozens of awards, including Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes.

The show, which features an impressive cast — namely Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin — is Showtime’s number one drama series is produced by Fox 21 Television Studios and was developed for American television by Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon. Homeland is based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War from Gideon Raff.

Lesli Linka Glatter

Producer Lesli Linka Glatter is an award-winning director of film and episodic dramas. Her TV work includes The Newsroom, The Walking Dead, Justified, Ray Donovan, Masters of Sex, Nashville, True Blood, Mad Men, The Good Wife, House, The West Wing, NYPD Blue, ER and Freaks and Geeks, just to name a few. Most recently, she directed the first two episodes of Dick Wolf’s limited series Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders for NBC.

Glatter was nominated for a fifth Emmy for directing the Homeland episode “America First,” and in 2015 and 2016 she was also among the producers acknowledged when Homeland received back-to-back Emmy nominations for Best Drama. 

Glatter began her directing career through American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, and her short film Tales of the Meeting and Parting was nominated for an Academy Award. Her first series was Amazing Stories, followed by Twin Peaks, for which she received her first Directors Guild Award nomination. She made her feature film directorial debut with Now and Then, followed by The Proposition. For HBO she directed State of Emergency, Into the Homeland and The Promise.

To say her career has been prolific is an understatement. I recently spoke with Glatter about making Homeland, the Emmys, her love of post and mentoring other women.

Have you started Season 8?
Not yet. We’re not even prepping yet since we just finished Season 7. The first thing that happens is the writers, myself, Claire, Mandy and the DP go to DC to meet with the intelligence community, and what we find out from talking to these people then becomes the next season.

Is it definitely the final one?
I think that’s unclear yet. It might go on.

Do you like being a showrunner?
I love it. As a producing director I love being involved with the whole novel, the whole big picture of the season, as well as the individual chapters. There’s an overall look and feel and tone to each season, and I also get to direct four of the 12 episodes. We have other amazing directors who come in, and that creates energy and brings in a different point of view, yet it fits into the whole, overall storyline and feel of the season. We have this wonderful working environment on the show where the best idea wins, so it’s very creative. Then every year we reinvent the wheel, with a new look and feel for the show.

What are the big challenges of showrunning?
A complex show like this is filled with all sorts of challenges and joys, in equal parts. Obviously, everything starts with the material and the script, then I have my partners in crime — Claire and Mandy — who’re so creative and collaborative. The big challenge is that we try to make each season new and fresh. People might look at one of Season 7’s shows and think we have it all dialed in with the same sets, the same crew in place and so on, but we’re always going to a new place with a new crew and new sets, and we shoot for 11 days, but nine of those are usually on location, so we have very few on stage. In terms of logistics, that is really challenging. Every episode’s different, but that’s generally how it works. Then we’re exploring very relevant and timely issues. We just dealt with “a nation divided” and Russian meddling, and these are things that everyone’s talking about right now.

As mentioned, you direct a lot of shows. Do you prefer doing that?
It’s more that I see myself as a director first and foremost, although I love showrunning and producing as well. I want to be the producer that every director would love to have, since I try to give them whatever they need to tell their best stories. I have a great line producer/partner named Michael Klick. He’s the magic man who makes it all happen. The key in TV is to have great partners, and our core creative team — DPs David Klein and Giorgio Scali, our editors, production designers, costume designers — are all so talented. You want the smartest team you can get, and then let the best idea win, and we always aim for a very cinematic look.

Where do you post?
We did all the editing on the Fox lot and all the sound mixing at Universal. Encore does the VFX.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s where it all comes together, and you get to look at everything you’ve done and re-shape it and make it the best it can be. Along with everyone else, I have my idea of what each episode will be, and then we have our editing team and they bring all their ideas to it, so it’s very exciting to watch it evolve.

Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have three editors — Jordan Goldman, Harvey Rosenstock and Philip Carr Neel — because of the tight schedule, and they each handle different episodes and focus solely on those… unless we run into a problem.

You have a big cast and a lot of stuff going on in each episode. What are the big editing challenges?
Telling the best possible story and staying true to the theme and subtext and intent of that story. The show really lives in shades of gray with a lot of ambiguity. A classic Homeland scene will feature two characters on completely opposing sides of an issue, and they’re both right and both wrong. So maybe that makes you think more about that issue and question your beliefs, and I love that about the show.

This show has a great score by Sean Callery, as well as great sound design. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music.
Sean’s an amazing storyteller and brilliant at what he does, as the show has a huge amount of anxiety in it, and he captures that and helps amplify it — but without making it obvious. He’s been on the show since the start, and we’ve also worked with the same sound team for a long time, and sound design’s such a key element in our show. We spend a lot of time on all the little details that you may not notice in a scene.

How important are the Emmys to you and a show like this?
You can’t ever think about awards while you’re working. You just focus on trying to tell the best possible story, but in this golden age of TV it’s great to be recognized by your peers. It’s huge!

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of opportunity for women in movies. Are things better in TV?
Things are changing and improving. I’ve been involved with mentoring women directors for many, many years, and I hope we soon get to a point where gender is no longer an issue. If you’d asked me back when I began directing over 20 years ago if we’d still be discussing all this today, I’d have said, “Absolutely not!” But here we still are. The truth is, showrunning and directing are hard and challenging jobs, but women should have the same opportunities as men. Simple as that.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

MPC directs, provides VFX, color for Fiji Water spot

To launch the new Fiji Sports Cap bottle, Wonderful Agency came up with the concept of a drop of rain from the clouds high above Fiji making its way down through the pristine environment to showcase the source of their water. The story then transitions to the Fiji Water Sports Cap bottle being used by athletes during a tough workout.

To bring that idea to life, Wonderful Agency turned to MPC with creative director Michael Gregory, who made making his MPC directorial debut, helming both spots while also leading his VFX team. These spots will air on primetime television.

Gregory’s skills in visual effects made him the perfect fit as director of the spots, since it was essential to seamlessly depict the raindrop’s fast-paced journey through the different environments. MPC was tasked with building the CG water droplet that falls from the sky, while reflecting and magnifying the beauty of the scenes shot in Fiji.

“It was key to film in low light, cloudy conditions in Fiji,” explains Gregory. “We shot over five days with a drone in the most remote parts of the main island, taking the drone above the clouds and shooting many different angles on the descent, so we had all the textures and plates we needed.”

For the Fiji section, Gregory and team used the Zenmuse X7 camera that sits on a DJI Inspire 2 drone. “We chose this because logistically it was easier to get it to Fiji by plane. It’s a much smaller drone and isn’t as battery-hungry. You can only travel with a certain amount of batteries on a plane, and the larger drones that carry the Reds and Alexas would need the batteries shipped by sea. Being smaller meant it had much longer flying times. That meant we could have it in the air at height for much longer periods. The footage was edited in Adobe Premiere.”

MPC’s VFX team then got to work. According to lead compositor Oliver Caiden, “The raindrop itself was simulated CG geometry that then had all of the different textures refracted through the UV map. This process was also applied to the droplet reflections, mapping high dynamic range skies onto the outside, so we could achieve a more immersive and richer effect.”

This process enabled the compositors to animate the raindrops and have full control over motion blur, depth of focus, refraction and reflections, making them as realistic and multifaceted as possible. The shots were a mixture of multiple plates, matte painting, 2D and CG clouds, which ultimately created a sequence that felt seamless with reality. The spot was graded by MPC’s colorist Ricky Gausis.

The tools used by MPC were Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Adobe Photoshop as well as Foundry Nuke for the VFX and FilmLight Baselight for color.

The latest Fiji campaign marks a continued partnership between MPC and Wonderful Agency — they previously handled VFX for Wonderful Pistachios and Wonderful Halos spots — but this latest campaign sees MPC managing the production from start to finish.

Therapy Studios provided the final audio mix.

 

Cinna 4.13

Prolific writer/director Paul Schrader on his latest, First Reformed

By Iain Blair

With his latest film in theaters now, a look back at director and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s movie credits shows just what a force he has been over the years in Hollywood — and especially in the ambitious, serious and hugely influential cinema of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

He wrote Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. He reteamed with Robert De Niro and Scorsese on 1980’s boxing saga Raging Bull. That same year saw the release of American Gigolo, starring Richard Gere as a high-priced male escort, which he wrote and directed.

Paul Schrader with writer Iain Blair.

Schrader has also written and/or directed The Last Temptation of Christ (reteaming again with Scorsese), The Mosquito Coast, Cat People, The Comfort of Strangers, Affliction, Bringing Out The Dead (yet another Scorsese collaboration) and Dog Eat Dog.

In his new film, First Reformed (his 21st feature and 12th as writer/director), Schrader examines a crisis of faith centered around a former military chaplain devastated by the death of his son in the Iraq War. Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York about to celebrate its 250th anniversary.

Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of violence.

I talked recently with Schrader about making the film and his workflow.

Why did you want to make this type of film?
When I first began my career as a critic in the early ‘70s, I wrote a book, “Transcendental Style in Film,” about spirituality. It looked at various theological concepts in the work of such auteurs as Robert Bresson, who was a big influence on this film, Yasujiro Ozu and Carl Theodor Dreyer. While I liked those films, I never thought I’d make one myself. It just wasn’t me. I was too intoxicated with action and violence, empathy and emotion back then, and these are not really parts of the spiritual tool kit.

When people tried to make connections with my films and the book, which is now coming out in a new updated edition by University of California Press, I’d just say, “No, that’s not me at all.” But then three years ago I started thinking, maybe it’s time for me to do one of these films.

What did Ethan and Amanda bring to their roles?
I cast Ethan for several reasons. He’s the right age, for one thing, and he also looks the part — and by that I mean that his face and the way he carries himself were right for the character. Toller has a sickness of the soul, what Kierkegaard called sickness unto death, or “angst” in German and despair in English.

He tries to deal with his struggle with faith in various ways: by following all the rituals of the church, writing in his journal every day and drinking. But when he tries to counsel Amanda’s husband, who doesn’t feel there’s any future or any reason to keep going, he catches his virus in a way. This manifests itself in despair about the future of human life on the planet. So I told Ethan, “This is a role to lean back from. As the audience moves in, you have to recede. Don’t come to the viewer. Keep leaning back.” And he understood that completely. He’s very smart. He’s a writer, director, playwright and musician and instinctively knew what to do.

With Amanda, we got very lucky because she’s not only a great actor, but she was pregnant in real life, and that’s actually quite hard to fake on film. So often, women who play pregnant women have the stomach, but the face isn’t any different, and of course that changes too. She was on hiatus, because of her pregnancy, but we managed to make the schedule work for her.

You shot on location. How tough was it?
It was fast — just three weeks — and no big problems. With all the new technology, shoots are so much faster, and actors like it much better. In the old days, you’d spend hours lighting and blocking, and they’d spend most of the day in their trailers. Now, there’s hardly any waiting around in between scenes and setups, and it’s better for everyone.

Where did you post?
At The Post Factory (now Sim Post) in New York.

Do you like post?
I love it. It’s very collegial and relaxing after the shoot. I love editing, even when things go wrong. About five years ago I made this film Dying of the Light, a psychological thriller with Nic Cage. It was a bit of a debacle, and the film was taken away from me. While I was doing the next film, Dog Eat Dog, I realized what I should have done with editing Dying. So I said to Ben Rodriguez, the editor on Dog, who was trained by the great Hank Corwin, ‘I don’t need you on First Reformed, since it’s a very sedate film, but we should be able to re-cut Dying while we’re also working on this.

I had permission to do this, and if you Google “Schrader Rotterdam Dark,” you’ll see a lecture I gave earlier this year detailing how and why I decided to do the re-cut, which is now titled Dark. So we were editing both the glacially paced First Reformed and the completely over-the-top Dying at the same time, and it was a lot of fun.

What were the main editing challenges on this?
Keeping the right tone and pace, and I actually thought it was going to be slower than it is, as I’d decided to make slower films. So when I first showed it, I warned people that it was slow, but then people disagreed with me. The thing with slow cinema is that you have to modulate when you withhold from an audience, and if you withhold all the time, it becomes sort of monotonous. So you have to withhold a little, and the pacing becomes critical. In the end, there was very little left on the cutting room floor. We shot very close to the bone and hardly wasted anything.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there are some impressive VFX sequences — notably where the two leads begin to levitate and then fly off through all these fantastic environments. Do you enjoy working on VFX like that?
No, I don’t. They were all done by Cloak & Dagger VFX and Atomic Art. Cloak & Dagger’s Brian Houlihan was the VFX supervisor. They did wonderful work and I’m very happy with the results. The great thing about VFX today is you can do all the cleanup so easily, and you don’t do signage anymore. You do it all in post. But I don’t enjoy the long process involved and all the waiting.

You’ve always had great music in your films, like David Bowie in Cat People and Blondie in American Gigolo. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in this and to you as a filmmaker.
It’s so important… if you get it right. But when you start to work on the quiet side, on the contemplative side, music becomes very tricky, as it’s the easiest way to dictate emotion and feelings — happy, sad, frightened, angry — to the audience. You’ll get them coming towards you by telling them how to feel all the time. But you should let them wonder how they should feel.

So a lot of films in this style don’t use music, or very little. They only use sound effects. That’s what I started doing on this, for about two-thirds of the film. But then I started working with Lustmord, a composer who works in ambient sound and who’s basically a sound designer, and now I think the two disciplines — composer and sound designer — have combined.

What about the DI?
We did it at Company 3 in New York with colorist Tim Masick (who used Blackmagic Resolve), and I love the process. It’s fun and not at all stressful compared with the shoot, and I’m pretty involved with it. We chose not to go with the usual film look on this one. It’s so easy now to apply an algorithm in the DI and make your movie look like it has film grain. But the DP, Alexander Dynan, and I both felt it didn’t need that, and I love the cool, austere look we ended up with. (Check out our interview with Tim Masick here.)

It’s interesting how that aspect of post has really changed. When I first began, you’d shoot for 10, 12 weeks and do just three or four days of color. Now, you shoot for three weeks and do color for three weeks, and that change has helped lower costs all around.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did, and I’m very happy with it. In many ways it’s a kind of high-wire act, making this kind of film, as there’s very little room for failure when you deal with spiritual matters and such serious subjects.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


The Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

Kids in jeopardy! The Demogorgon! The Hawkins Lab! The Upside Down! Thrills and chills! Since they first pitched their idea for Stranger Things, a love letter to 1980’s genre films set in 1983 Indiana, twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer have quickly established themselves as masters of suspense in the science-fiction and horror genres.

The series was picked up by Netflix, premiered in the summer of 2016, and went on to become a global phenomenon, with the brothers at the helm as writers, directors and executive producers.

The Duffer Brothers

The atmospheric drama, about a group of nerdy misfits and strange events in an outwardly average small town, nailed its early ’80s vibe and overt homages to that decade’s master pop storytellers: Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. It quickly made stars out of its young ensemble cast — Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink and Finn Wolfhard.

It also quickly attracted a huge, dedicated fan base, critical plaudits and has won a ton of awards, including Emmys, a SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series and two Critics Choice Awards for Best Drama Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. The show has also been nominated for a number of Golden Globes.

I recently talked with the Duffers, who are already hard at work on the highly anticipated third season (which will premiere on Netflix in 2019) about making the ambitious hit series, their love of post and editing, and VFX.

How’s the new season going?
Matt Duffer: We’re two weeks into shooting, and it’s going great. We’re very excited about it as there are some new tones and it’s good to be back on the ground with everyone. We know all the actors better and better, the kids are getting older and are becoming these amazing performers — and they were great before. So we’re having a lot of fun.

Are you shooting in Atlanta again?
Ross Duffer: We are, and we love it there. It’s really our home base now, and we love all these pockets of neighborhoods that have not changed at all since the ‘80s, and there is an incredible variety of locations. We’re also spreading out a lot more this season and not spending so much time on stages. We have more locations to play with.

Will all the episodes be released together next year, like last time? That would make binge-watchers very happy.
Matt: Yes, but we like to think of it more as like a big movie release. To release one episode per week feels so antiquated now.

The show has a very cinematic look and feel, so how do you balance that with the demands of TV?
Ross: It’s interesting, because we started out wanting to make movies and we love genre, but with a horror film they want big scares every few minutes. That leaves less room for character development. But with TV, it’s always more about character, as you just can’t sustain hours and hours of a show if you don’t care about the people. So ‘Stranger Things’ was a world where we could tell a genre story, complete with the monster, but also explore character in far more depth than we could in a movie.

Matt: Movies and TV are almost opposites in that way. In movies, it’s all plot and no character, and in TV it’s about character and you have to fight for plot. We wanted this to have pace and feel more like a movie, but still have all the character arcs. So it’s a constant balancing act, and we always try and favor character.

Where do you post the show?
Matt: All in Hollywood, and the editors start working while we’re shooting. After we shoot in Atlanta, we come back to our offices and do all the post and VFX work right there. We do all the sound mix and all the color timing at Technicolor down the road. We love post. You never have enough time on the set, and there’s all this pressure if you want to redo a shot or scene, but in post if a scene isn’t working we can take time to figure it out.

Tell us about the editing. I assume you’re very involved?
Ross: Very. We have two editors this season. We brought back one of our original editors, Dean Zimmerman, from season one. We are also using Nat Fuller, who was on season two. He was Dean’s assistant originally and then moved up, so they’ve been with us since the start. Editing’s our favorite part of the whole process, and we’re right there with them because we love editing. We’re very hands on and don’t just give notes and walk away. We’re there the whole time.

Aren’t you self-taught in terms of editing?
Matt: (Laughs) I suppose. We were taught the fundamentals of Avid at film school, but you’re right. We basically taught ourselves to edit as kids, and we started off just editing in-camera, stopping and starting, and playing the music from a tape recorder. They weren’t very good, but we got better.

When iMovie came out we learned how to put scenes together, so in college the transition to Avid wasn’t that hard. We fell in love with editing and just how much you can elevate your material in post. It’s magical what you can do with the pace, performances, music and sound design, and then you add all the visual effects and see it all come together in post. We love seeing the power of post as you work to make your story better and better.

How early on do you integrate post and VFX with the production?
Ross: On day one now. The biggest change from season one to two was that we integrated post far earlier in the second season — even in the writing stage. We had concept artists and the VFX guys with us the whole time on set, and they were all super-involved. So now it all kind of happens together.

All the VFX are a much bigger deal. For last season we had a lot more VFX than the first year — about 1,400 shots, which is a huge amount, like a big movie. The first season it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very old-school approach, with mainly practical effects, and then in the middle we realized we were being a bit naïve, so we brought in Paul Graff as our VFX supervisor on season two, and he’s very experienced. He’s worked on big movies like The Wolf of Wall Street as well as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, and he’s doing this season too. He’s in Atlanta with us on the shoot.

We have two main VFX houses on the show — Atomic Fiction and Rodeo — they’re both incredible, and I think all the VFX are really cinematic now.

But isn’t it a big challenge in terms of a TV show’s schedule?
Ross: You’re right, and it’s always a big time crunch. Last year we had to meet that Halloween worldwide release date and we were cutting it so close trying to finish all the shots in time.

Matt: Everyone expects movie-quality VFX — just in a quarter of the time, or less. So it’s all accelerated.

The show has a very distinct, eerie, synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Grammy nominated duo. How important is the music and sound, which won several Emmys last year?
Ross: It’s huge. We use it so much for transitions, and we have great sound designers — including Brad North and Craig Henighan — and great mixers, and we pay a lot of attention to all of it. I think TV has always put less emphasis on great sound compared to film, and again, you’re always up against the scheduling, so it’s always this balancing act.

You can’t mix it for a movie theater as very few people have that set up at home, so you have to design it for most people who’re watching on iPhones, iPads and so on, and optimize it for that, so we mostly mix in stereo. We want the big movie sound, but it’s a compromise.

The DI must be vital?
Matt: Yes, and we work very closely with colorist Skip Kimball (who recently joined Efilm), who’s been with us since the start. He was very influential in terms of how the show ended up looking. We’d discussed the kind of aesthetic we wanted, and things we wanted to reference and then he played around with the look and palette. We’ve developed a look we’re all really happy with. We have three different LUTs on set designed by Skip and the DP Tim Ives will choose the best one for each location.

Everyone’s calling this the golden age of TV. Do you like being showrunners?
Ross: We do, and I feel we’re very lucky to have the chance to do this show — it feels like a big family. Yes, we originally wanted to be movie directors, but we didn’t come into this industry at the right time, and Netflix has been so great and given us so much creative freedom. I think we’ll do a few more seasons of this, and then maybe wrap it up. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Il Postino director Michael Radford on his latest film, The Music of Silence

By Iain Blair

British director and writer Michael Radford is probably best known for Il Postino, a huge international hit that earned five Oscar noms, two BAFTA awards (for Best Director and Best Foreign Film) and a raft of other honors.

Radford, who began as a director of documentaries, has returned to Italy with his newest film, The Music of Silence. Loosely based on Andrea Bocelli’s 1999 memoir of the same title, it tells the story of a blind boy who against all odds becomes one of the most successful entertainers and opera singers in the world. It stars Game of Thrones actor Toby Sebastian as the singer’s alter ego, Amos Bardi.

We spoke with Radford, whose credits include 1984, White Mischief, Dancing at the Blue Iguana and The Merchant of Venice, about making the film, his love of post, and his upcoming projects.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making this film?
I always look for a good story and something different. When I was offered this, I came in and rewrote it with Anna Pavignano, who worked with me on the screenplay for Il Postino. I didn’t want to just make the usual biopic, and I actually turned it down several times before they finally persuaded me to do it.

Just as well. It was a huge hit in Italy.
I know, and I’m thrilled.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to make a fully Italian film that didn’t betray the culture. I certainly didn’t want to do a hagiography of Andrea Bocelli, so I set out to make a very simple Italian movie, all in Italian. That was my goal, but the producers wanted me to shoot it in English, but using Italian actors. I kind of liked the idea, although it was a bit of a compromise. I loved working with the actors, and at least they appeared to be real Italians, not actors pretending to be Italians.

You got a fantastic cast, including Antonio Banderas and Game of Thrones star Toby Sebastian, who actually looks like a young Andrea Bocelli.
You’re right, he does, and that helps a lot — especially when the real person’s still very much alive. Luckily, everyone in Italy loved him in the role. He was really great. Such a good young actor, and he was my rock.

You shot it all in Italy. How was the shoot?
It was tough, as we had a tight budget and schedule, just over five weeks — much smaller than a similar film in the US or the UK, and everyone works far shorter hours than in England or the States. So I had a lot of battles over the budget, and we ended up having to cut quite a few scenes from the script. On top of that, we shot it mainly in the wintertime, which was hard for everyone despite how it looks on screen. But you can do so much in post now with digital effects that you’d never guess.

I hear you’re fluent in Italian. That must be a huge help when you have to yell at the crew?
Yes, although that can be counter-productive. Everyone in Italy yells at each other all the time. The crews are great there, really hard-working and professional, and I can discuss stuff in fairly colloquial terms, which helps. It’s always a great pleasure working there, as I’m well-known there and people give me great seats in restaurants (laughs).

Do you like the post process?
I do, very much. When I was starting out, I’d turn up for every single minute of it — I’d never leave the editing room or sound mix. That comes from being in film school, where you want to do it all. But now I tend to stand back far more. I’ll talk to the editor for a week or so, then leave him alone, then come back and see what he’s done. It’s a much more relaxed process — and also a much more useful one, as that way you can take a step back and have a clear vision of what you’ve done and what you want to achieve.

Where did you post?
All in Rome.

Talk about working with editor Roberto Missiroli.
He came to visit the set now and then, but he wasn’t cutting on the set. He began cutting while we were shooting and did a very rough first cut and assembly, so when I walked into the editing room we could start right away. He was fantastic to work with. A real discovery, and he had great ideas, which is what you want in an editor.

What were the main editing challenges?
We had to recuperate the scenes that we’d lost because we didn’t have time to shoot them in the end. So we almost had to try and reconstruct the film as we were going along, and then we had to keep that sense of drama and momentum.

How involved was Andrea Bocelli, given that he’s blind?
Because of his condition, it was a limited contribution. He had to try and understand what we were doing, even though he couldn’t see it — and amazingly he could. But he kept out of the picture for the most part, as did the family, until the time came to show them a rough cut. Then the family was always in the background — not in the editing room, but around — and you’d go, “Did this happen like it’s portrayed in the scene?” They’d say, “No, it wasn’t like that at all!” And you’d have to say, “Well, this is a movie, not a documentary,” and have to explain it to them. So there was a bit of a tussle, but then they understood what we were trying to do, and they were very supportive.

Obviously, sound was crucial for this. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker?
They’re incredibly important to me, especially on a film where the sound was always going to be a challenge because of all the different voices. We did all the sounds effects at New Digital Film Sound in Rome. Music is always so important to me, because of what you can convey emotionally with it in a scene, and of course there’s a lot of music already recorded that I wanted to use, and not just of Andrea.

It also helped that the editor was really fantastic with music. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right composer, and I talked to a lot of well-known musicians in Italy who didn’t quite fit the bill. We started off using a lot of temp pieces, and then I found this amazing composer, Gabriele Roberto, who lives in Japan and scores Japanese films, and he was perfect.

You must have used some VFX?
We did, especially for the big concert scene that has over 100,000 people in the audience and a huge orchestra. That was actually shot in a small blue box on a stage at Cinecitta in Rome, and I loved the way that turned out. Then when we shot all the scenes at the seaside, it was a dead calm day, so in post they created this really rough water that no one could go into, and that was quite hard to do. Then we used a lot of VFX to enhance scenes and for cleanup and so on.

How important is the DI to you?
Very important, and I’m always very involved. I love working with light, and if I can get the look naturally, I’ll do it.  I also love the way you can do so much in the DI and really fine-tune the look.

Did the film turn out the way you first envisioned it?
No, not at all. I had a much grander vision for it, but then it got smaller and smaller (laughs). I think I’d have gone for something less sentimental, but there’s a lot about it I really like.

What’s next?
I’m developing a couple of really interesting projects. One is an American movie about the treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who found a galleon full of gold from the 1600s. It’s a great story. The Italians have asked me to do a film about the famous car manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini, with Antonio Banderas playing him and Alec Baldwin as Ferrari.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Behind the Title: Prism director Alex Vivian

NAME: Alex Vivian

COMPANY: Prism

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I’ve been with Prism, a Brooklyn-based live-action experiential company, since EPs Tom Rossano and Elliot Blanchard launched it in early 2017. They really push everyone at Prism to manifest their ideas in interesting ways and to pool our talents together to tell stories for our clients.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Bringing ideas to life in a little rectangular frame.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The staggering amount of work required for something that looks so simple and blasé on screen.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with amazing people, and the fact that I get to do what I love and actually call it a job.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The creative struggles and emotional lows that can come with putting everything on the line.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I love architecture and design so maybe something in that realm.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I don’t really know anything else, I’ve been shooting and editing since I was 12. So I’ve just built and built on this inner drive to keep making film projects. I’d be lost without it.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
I love creating worlds and the language of the moving camera. There’s no greater feeling than nailing a great shot or take. On set, there’s a little dance/leg kick that I do behind the camera when we’ve got something I’m stoked on.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
I’m creatively happy with everything I’ve done, but I’m also never satisfied to end there. I have so many ideas and projects I’d love to make… and I’m really interested in building on my own style and evolving and progressing as a director.

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
I love bringing back the people who have helped me through the hard times of low budgets and lack of resources. It’s those times that bring out the best in people and I’ve been fortunate to forge friendships through it all.

How to Ride Bitches: This comedy short is an example of Alex’s work.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’ve just collaborated with a long-time friend for his first EP and music video release. I’ve also created a short film for a startup tequila brand — their first piece of content. Really excited to put those out soon, and a couple more that are in the works.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My film school graduation film. It’s a story about how the relationships of a group of friends change when they are drafted for the Vietnam War. It was a 25-minute epic, set in the ‘70s and shot on 16mm reversal film. I spent six months writing it after interviewing countless veterans, and each scene was a slice of someone’s life. I went through so much just to even get that made that I can only look back with pride.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Laptop, iPhone, surf cams.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Get out in the ocean and surf. Nature is the key to happiness.


Director HaZ Dulull on his sci-fi offering The Beyond

By Randi Altman

Director Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is no stranger to making movies. Before jumping into writing and directing short sci-fi films, he was a visual effects supervisor and producer. His short film resume includes Project Kronos, I.R.I.S. and Sync. Recently, his first feature film, The Beyond, was released by Gravitas Ventures.

When I first met HaZ a few years back, we were both at an Adobe event — on a canal boat in Amsterdam during IBC. We started talking about visual effects, the industry and his drive to make movies.

This Brit is friendly, intelligent and incredibly hands-on in all aspects of what he does. His latest is The Beyond, which he describes as “a cerebral science-fiction feature film that blends the realism of documentary with the fantastical, ‘big idea’ nature of the science-fiction films of today.” The Beyond tells the story of a ground-breaking mission that sent astronauts — modified with advanced robotics — through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first-of-its-kind interstellar space journey.

HaZ on set

HaZ was so hands-on that he provided some of the film’s visual effects and edited the film. Here is the trailer. If you like what you see, the film is available for purchase or rent on most digital platforms.

When I reached out to HaZ to talk about The Beyond, he was in Vancouver working on an eight-part TV series for Disney called Fast Layne. “I directed episodes 1 and 2, and am currently directing episodes 7 and 8,” he says. “The beauty of starting and ending the series is it allowed me to set the show’s style and tone.”

It seems he can’t sit still! Let’s find out more about how he works and The Beyond

Can you talk about prepro? How much of that included visual effects prepro?
Most people who know me will say I’m obsessed with prep. I had about six months of hardcore prep on this, from doing little storyboards, known as HaZ-Grams, right through to previs of the key sequences.

But even during the script-writing stage (six months before actual prep), I was coming up with visuals to support the ideas I was writing in the script. Sometimes I would knock up a test VFX scene just to see how complex it would be to create this idea I was writing in the script. Prep worked hand in hand with the script development and the budgeting of the film. The film was self-financed and later additional financing came in (during post production of the film), so I wanted to ensure everything was mapped out technically, as there was no “fix it in post” scenarios in this film — I wouldn’t allow it.

During location scouting, I would have my iPhone with me and shoot a bunch of footage and still imagery, so when I went back home I could write those locations into the script to make them work with the scenarios depicted in the film.

As part of prep we actually shot a test scene to really see if this mocku-mentary format would work to tell a grounded sci-fi story. This was also used to attract crew and other casting to the project, as well as get distributors primed early on.

Many shots from that test actually made it into the final movie —I wasn’t kidding about not wasting any budget or material on this production! So prep pretty much helped shape the script too, as I knew I wasn’t in the financial position to write stuff and then go and build it. I had to reverse engineer it in a way. In the film we have tons of locations, such as the Space Centre with actual real rockets. We also had a team in Iceland shooting alien landscapes, and we even shot some scenes in Malaysia to give the film a global feel — with each of those opportunities the script was tweaked to make full use of those location opportunities we had.

You shot with Blackmagic cameras. Was that your choice? The DP’s? Have you shot with these before?
From the start, I knew we were going to shoot on Blackmagic cameras. This was mainly down to the fact my DP Adam Batchelor — who had shot Sync with me and the proof of concept tests we did for this film — was a Blackmagic advocate and knew the cameras inside out, but more importantly he was able to get cinematic imagery using those cameras.

Blackmagic was very supportive of the film and have been of my career since my short films, so they came on as one of the executive producers on the film. No one had ever shot a full feature film using just the Blackmagic cameras. We also then used a Resolve pipeline to delivery. So The Beyond is the perfect case study for it.

Can you talk about that workflow? Any hiccups? 
I think the only hiccups were the fact we were using a beta version of Resolve 14, so there were the expected crashes, etc. That would usually be seen as risky on a feature film, but luckily we didn’t have a distributor in place with a release date, so the risk was minimal.

The good thing was I would generate an error log report from Resolve and send it over to Blackmagic, who would then instantly send out a new patch. So we were looked after rather than being left on our own to scream at the monitor.

We stuck with a Pro Res 4444 QuickTime workflow for all material from footage to VFX renders, and enabled proxy on the fly within Resolve. This was great as it meant I was working with the highest-resolution imagery within Resolve, and it was fairly fast too. Things started to slow down when I had multiple layers of VFX and composites/groups, which I then had to render out as a new clip and bring back in.

How did you and the DP develop the look you wanted? Any scenes stick out that you guys worked on?
I was very fortunate to get Max Horton, who had worked on films like Gravity, to come onboard to grade this film at the Dolby Vision lab in London’s Soho. We also did an HDR version of the film, which I think is the first indie film to have an HDR treatment done to it.

We had three to four days of grading with Max, and I was in the room with him the whole time. This was because I had already done a first-pass temp grade myself while editing the film in the beta version of Resolve 14. This made the workflow as simple as exporting my Resolve file and then the material hand-over to Max, who would load up the Resolve file, link up the material and work from there.

Max kept everything photographically like a documentary but with a slight cinematic flair to it. The big challenge was matching all the various sources of material from the various Blackmagic cameras (Ursa Mini Pro, the Production Camera and the Pocket Camera) to the DJI Osmo, drone footage and stock footage.

How many VFX shots were there? Who did them?
There were around 750 visual effects shots. I designed all the VFX scenes and handled a huge portion of the compositing myself, including invisible effects shots, all the space scenes, alien planet scenes, memory scenes and tons more — this would not have been possible without the support of my VFX team who worked on their assigned sequences and shots and also generated tons of CGI assets for me to use to create my shots in comp.

My VFX team members included my long-time collaborator John Sellings, who was the VFX supervisor for all the Human 2.0 sequences. Filmmore, in Amsterdam and Brussels, handled Human 2.0 scenes in the transcode bay with in-house VFX supervisor Hans Van Helden. London’s Squint VFX handled the Human 2.0 scenes in wake-up lab. Charles Wilcocks was the Human 2.0 CG supervisor who worked on the shape and look of the Human 2.0.

Hussin Khan looked after the Malaysian team, which provided rotoscoping support and basic comps. Dan Newlands was our on-set tracking supervisor. He ensured all data was captured correctly and supervised anything tracking related in the Human 2.0 scenes.

Another long-time collaborator was Andrea Tedeschi, who handled the CG and comps for the spacecraft carrier at the end of the film, as well as rendering out the CG astronaut passes. Rhys Griffith handled the rigging for the Human 2.0 characters in Maya, and also looked after the CG passes for the alpha Human 2.0 scenes using Blender. Aleksandr Uusmees provided all the particles and simulation rendered out of Houdini as CG passes/elements, which I then used to create the wormhole effects, alien spheres and other shots that needed those elements.

JM Blay designed and created the standalone motion graphics sequences to visualize the Human 2.0 medical procedure, as well as mission trajectory graphics. He also created several “kit-bash” graphics assets for me to use, including UI graphics, from his After Effects files.

Territory Studio created the awesome end titles and credits sequence, which you can read more about on their site.

As a VFX pro yourself, do you find that you are harder to please because it’s your wheelhouse?
Oh boy. Ask any of the VFX guys on the team and they will say I am a beast to work with because I am hands-on, and also I know how long things take. But on the flip side that had its advantages, as they knew they were not going to get revision after revision, because with each brief I also presented a proposed methodology, and made sure we locked down on that first before proceeding with the shots.

Was this your biggest directing job to date? Can you talk about any surprises?
It wasn’t my biggest directing job to date, as during post production of The Beyond my second sci-fi film Origin Unknown (starring Katee Sackhoff from Battlestar Galactica, The Flash) was green-lit and that had its own set of challenges. We can talk more about that when the film is released theatrically and VOD later this year via Kew Media.

This was, however, my biggest producing job to date; there were so many logistics and resources to manage whilst directing too. The cool thing about the way we made this film was that most of the crew were on my short films, including some of the key cast too, so we embraced the guerrilla nature of the production and focused on maximizing our resources to the fullest within the time and budget constraints.

What did you learn on this film that will help on your next?
The other hat I was wearing was the producer hat, and one thing I had to embrace was the sheer amount of paperwork! I may have taken the same filmmaking approach as I did on my short films — guerrilla and thinking outside the box technically and creatively— but making a commercial feature film, I had to learn to deal with things like clearances, E&O (errors and omission) insurance, chain of title, script report and a whole bunch of paperwork required before a distributor will pick up your film.

Thankfully my co-producer Paula Crickard, who is currently wrapping post on Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote, came in during the post stage of the film and helped.

The other thing I learned was the whole sales angle — getting a reputable distributor on board to sell the film in all worldwide territories and how to navigate that process with rights and IP and more contracts etc. The advise I got from other filmmakers is getting the right distributor is a big part in how your film will be released, and to me it was important the distributor was into the film and not just the trailer, but also what their marketing and sales strategy were. The Beyond was never designed to be a theatrical film and therefore I wanted someone that had a big reach in the VOD world through their brand, especially since The Beyond doesn’t have big-name actors in there.

What was the most challenging scene or scenes? Why and how did you overcome those challenges?
The Human 2.0 scenes were the most challenging because they had to look photoreal due to it being a documentary narrative. We did first try and do it all in-camera using a built suit, but it wasn’t achieving the look we wanted and the actors would feel uncomfortable with it, and also to do it properly with practical would cost a fortune. So we went with a full-digital solution for the Human 2.0 bodies, by having the actors wear a tight grey suit with tracking markers on and we restricted our camera moves for simplicity to enable object tracking to work as accurately as possible. We also shot multiple reference footage from all angles to help with match moving. Having an on set-tracking supervisor helped massively and allowed us to make this happen within the budget, while looking and feeling real.

Our biggest issue came when our actress made very tiny movements due to breathing in close-up shots. Because our Human 2.0 was human consciousness in a synthetic shell, breathing didn’t make sense and we began making up for it by freezing the image or doing some stabilization, which ended up being nearly impossible for the very close-up shots.

In the end, I had to think outside the box, so I wrote a few lines into the script that explained that the Human 2.0 was breathing to make it psychologically more acceptable to other humans. Those two lines saved us weeks and possibly months of time.

Being a VFX movie you would expect us to use a form of greenscreen or bluescreen, but we didn’t — in fact, the only stage used was for the “white room” astronaut scene, which was shot over at Asylum FX in London. There was an actor wearing an astronaut suit in a bright photography room, and we used brightly exposed lighting to give a surreal feeling. We used VFX to augment it.

As a writer and a director, how was it seeing your vision through from start to finish.
It didn’t really hit me until I watched the press screening of it at the Dolby Vision office in Soho. It had the fully mixed sound and the completed grade. I remember looking across at my DP and other team members thinking, “Whoa! It looks and feels like a feature film, and we did that in a year!”

You edited the film yourself?
Yes, I was the editor on the film! I shoot for the edit. I started off using Adobe Premiere CC for the early offline and then quickly moved over to Resolve 14, where I did the majority of the editing. It was great because I was doing a lot of online editorial tasks like stabilizing, basic VFX, pan and scans, as well as establishing temp looks while editing. So in a way there was no offline and online editorial, as it was all part of one workflow. We did all our deliverables out of Resolve 14, too.


Director Kay Cannon on her raunchy comedy Blockers

By Iain Blair

At a time when women are increasingly breaking down barriers in Hollywood, writer/director Kay Cannon is helping lead the charge. The director of Universal’s new film, Blockers, got her start at such comedic training grounds as The Second City, The iO West Theater and The ComedySportz Theatre.

Kay Cannon

While writing and performing around Chicago, she met Tina Fey, a fellow Second City alumna. When Fey began 30 Rock, Cannon joined the creative team and worked her way up from staff writer to supervising producer on the show. She’s a three-time Primetime Emmy-nominated writer, twice for Outstanding Comedy Series and once for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She has also won three Writers Guild of America Awards, as well as a Peabody, all for her work on 30 Rock.

Cannon, who also served as a co-executive producer on New Girl, a consulting producer on Cristela and co-produced the hit feature Baby Mama, received rave reviews for her debut screenplay for the film Pitch Perfect, and she wrote and co-produced the hit sequels. She served as the executive producer, creator and showrunner of the Netflix series Girlboss, based on Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography, which starred Britt Robertson.

Now, with the new release Blockers, Cannon — one of only a handful of women ever to direct an R-rated comedy for a big studio — has stepped behind the camera and made an assured and polished directorial debut with this coming-of-age sex comedy that takes one of the most relatable rites of passage and upends a long-held double standard. When three parents discover their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

The film stars Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40), John Cena (Trainwreck, Sisters) and Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Suicide Squad). It is produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver, under their Point Grey Pictures banner (Neighbors, This is the End), alongside Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar) and Chris Fenton (47 Ronin).

Cannon leds an accomplished behind-the-scenes team, including director of photography Russ Alsobrook (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly (The Big Sick) and editor Stacey Schroeder (The Disaster Artist).

I recently talked to Cannon about making the bawdy film, which generated huge buzz at SXSW, and her advice for other aspiring women directors.

This is like a long-overdue female take on such raunchy-but-sweet male comedies as American Pie and Superbad. Was that the appeal of this story for you?
When I read the script, I really connected on two levels. I was a teenager who lost her virginity, and I’m also the mother of a daughter, and while she was only two at the time, it made me think about her and what might happen to her in the future. And that’s scary, and I saw how parents can lose their minds.

How did you first envision the film?
I grew up in a small town in the Chicago area and I was inspired by John Hughes and all his great teen comedies. I could really relate to them, and I felt he was speaking to me, that he really got that world and the way it looked. I wanted to do that too, and show how people really live, and I wanted it to feel real and grounded — but then I was also going to go to a very crazy place and got very silly. (Laughs) That was very important to me, because I wanted to make people laugh really hard, but also feel emotion.

Did you always want to direct?
It wasn’t always my dream. That’s shifted over the years. I started off wanting to be an actor on a sitcom, then writing one and then wanting to have my own show, which happened with Girlboss, so that was my focus for the past few years. To be honest, I’d kind of do movies when TV didn’t work out for me. A pilot didn’t happen, so I wrote Pitch Perfect, and then did Pitch 2 when another pilot didn’t go.

How did you prepare for directing your first film?
Being the showrunner on Girlboss was great training because I could shadow all the directors and watch them work, and I felt definitely ready to direct a film.

What was the biggest surprise of directing for the first time?
I pretty much knew what to expect — and that there will always be surprises on the day and stuff you could never have anticipated. You just have to work through it and keep going.

How tough was the shoot?
It was hard. We shot in Atlanta for nine weeks, and the last five were nights, and that’s very tough. I had a very long script to squeeze into the shoot. But Russ, my DP, was a huge help. We’d worked together before on New Girl, and he’s so experienced; he really guided me through it all.

Where did you do the post?
All in LA. We started at Sunset Gower, and then we took a break and did some reshoots in January, and then finished at Pivotal Post in Burbank.

Do you like post?
When I was at Girlboss I’d never experienced post before, so I was really afraid and uncomfortable with the whole process. It was so new and a bit daunting to me, especially as a writer. I loved writing and shooting, but it took me a while to get comfortable with post. But once I did, I loved it, and now it’s my favorite thing. I’d spend the night there if I could! As they say, it’s where you actually make the film and where the real magic happens.

Kay Cannon on set directing Leslie Mann and John Cena.

Your editor was Stacey Schroeder (pilot for The Last Man on Earth, for which she got an editing Emmy nom). How did that relationship work?
We’d worked together before on Girlboss, and we have a great partnership. She’s like my right-hand, and we’re automatically on the same page. We very rarely disagree, and what’s so great is that she’s extremely opinionated and has no poker face. I’m the same way. So it’s very refreshing to sit there and discuss material and any problems without taking anything personally. I really appreciate her honesty.

What were the biggest editing challenges?
Trying to balance the raucous comedy stuff with the serious emotions underneath, and dealing with some of the big set pieces. The whole puking scene was difficult as we shot three times the material you see, and there was a whole drug thing, and it was very long and it just wasn’t working. We previewed it a couple of times and it was seen as a poor man’s Bridesmaids. (Laughs) And then I saw Baby Driver and it hit us — what if we put the whole scene to music? And that was so much fun and it suddenly all worked.

Resistance VFX did the visual effects shots, and there seemed to be quite a few, considering it’s a comedy. What was involved?
You’re right. Usually comedies don’t have that many and we had a significant amount, including the puke scenes, and then all the computer stuff and the emojis. And then they did such a great job with all Amy Mann’s tears at the end. I really loved working with VFX, and the fact that they can create all this magic in post. I’d be constantly amazed. “Can you do that?” They’d sigh and go, “Yes Kay, we can do that, no problem.” It was a real education for me.

Where did you do the DI?
At Technicolor, and I was pretty involved along with Ross. I loved that whole process too. Again, it’s the magic of post. (Maxine Gervais was the supervising senior colorist. She used a FilmLight Baselight 5.)

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely.

Do you want to direct again?
Definitely, if I get another chance.

What’s next?
I’m writing a movie for Sony — another comedy — and I’ve got a bunch of projects percolating.

What advice would you give to any woman wanting to direct?
Do the work, and don’t quit when it gets hard. I think a lot of women quit before the magic happens, and there were times when I wanted to quit, but you can’t. You have to keep going.

Kay Cannon Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert (c) 2018 Universal. 


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.


Director Olivier Gondry returns to Partizan

Director Olivier Gondry has once again joined the roster at production house Partizan. Gondry, known for his commercial and music video work, made his first major mark with his commercials for HP, featuring his brother Michel and Vera Wang. Since then, this Paris-based director has gone on to collaborate with brands such as Audi, YouTube, Fiat, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nissan, Canon, Gillette, True Religion, Etsy and Trip Advisor.

Originally known as a visual effects artist, it was at Partizan where Gondry first established himself as a director. The renewed connection is a happy homecoming for Gondry and Partizan, which maintains offices in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, São Paulo and in the Middle East.

Olivier’s endeavors in the music world include work with such artists as Daft Punk, OK Go and The Vines. Most recently, Olivier created a slightly disturbing and compelling visual exultation of facial flux and melding bodies for Joywave’s Doubt.

“Partizan has been part of my life since forever,” says Gondry. “First as a brother watching Michel climbing the steps. I can still remember him telling me, ‘I met this producer [Georges Bermann].’ I was proud and curious already! It was here that I first transitioned from special effects to directing. I’m so happy to return to Partizan, to be back home and back with my brother.”

Gondry is also currently in development on a long-form narrative project.

End of the Line director Jessica Sanders

By Randi Altman

After watching the End of the Line, I found myself thinking about the short film’s content… a lot. Based on a short story by Aimee Bender, director Jessica Sanders’ version starts off with a man walking into a pet store, looking into what the audience assumes is a birdcage and walking out not with a bird but a little man in a cage.

We see how Big Man (Stranger Things’ Brett Gelman) tries to take care of Little Man (Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg) and then we see his frustration when the clearly well-read and intelligent Little Man tells the story of how he was taken from his family and put in a cage. Big Man’s behavior becomes increasingly disturbing, leading him to torture Little Man.

We reached out to director Sanders — who has an Oscar nomination thanks to her short documentary, Sing! — to talk about making the film, which is part of Refinery29 and TNT’s Shatterbox Anthology, a short film series dedicated to supporting the voices of female filmmakers.

Let’s start with cameras. What did you shoot on, and how involved in that process are you?
We shot on the Alexa Mini with Panavision primo lenses. I like to go over lenses/looks with my DP, but defer to what the DP wants to shoot on. For this project, I worked with ultra-talented DP Brett Pawlak.

How long was the shoot, and how much pre-production did you do? I’m assuming a good amount considering the VFX shots?
The film, although short (14 minutes), was essentially a feature in terms of preparation and the production scope/crew size, shooting for six days. We had about two months of intense prep leading up to the shoot, from scouting and art department. For example, we built a 30-foot penis and 30-foot cage. The VFX approach was an intensive collaboration between VFX supervisor Eva Flodstrom, my DP Brett, production designer Justin Trask, producer Louise Shore and myself.

We had 67 VFX shots, so I storyboarded the film early on and then photoboarded each shot when we had our locations. We had a specific VFX/production approach to execute each shot from a mix of practicals (building the giant cage), to strictly greenscreen (i.e., when the little man is on a calculator). It was a highly involved and collaborative process.

Was your VFX supervisor on set?
Yes. Eva was highly involved from the beginning for all of prep, and on set she was instrumental. We worked closely with a DIT video assist so we could do a rough VFX comp of each shot while we were shooting. After production, it took about four months to finish post and visual effects.

I wanted to work with Eva, as she’s a pro, having worked on Star Wars and Star Trek (also, there are very few female VFX supervisors). Our approach/philosophy to VFX was similar — inspired by Michel Gondry’s and Spike Jonze’s work in which the VFX feels human, warm and practical, integral to the story and characters, never distracting.

Can you talk about the challenges of directing a project with VFX?
I had never done a VFX-heavy film before, and creatively, as a director, I wanted to challenge myself. I had a blast and want to do more films with VFX after this experience. Because I surrounded myself with top artists who had VFX experience, it was a totally enjoyable experience. We had a lot of fun making this film!

This was likely a hard story to tell. As the viewer you think it’s going to be a sweet story about a guy and his bird, but then…
I read Aimee Bender’s short story End of the Line in her book Willful Creatures in 2005 and have been passionate about it since then. The story takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s funny, dark, explores themes of loneliness, desire and abuse of power, in a short amount of time. There are a lot of tonal shifts, and I worked closely with screenwriter Joanne Giger to achieve this balance.

How did you as a director set out to balance the humor, the sadness, the kinda disturbing stuff, etc.?
I played the film visually and tonally very grounded (i.e. the rules of this world is that there is a big person and tiny person world that live side by side) and from that I could push the humor and darkness. In the performances, I wanted there to be an emotional truth to what the characters are experiencing that feels human and real, despite the fantastical setting. So I played with a lot of the mix of feelings within this very grounded surreal world.

The color is sort of muted in an old-timey kind of way. Can you talk about what you wanted from the color and mood?
I’m very sensitive to color and attention to detail. We wanted the film to feel timeless, although it is contemporary. Costume designer Shirley Kurata is amazing with color blocking and visual storytelling with color. Because Big Man’s world is more depressed and lonely, his tones are gray, the house is dark wood. As Big Man gains power, he wears more color. My DP has a very naturalistic approach with his lighting, so I wanted everything to feel very natural.

When we colored the film later in post, the approach was to do very little to the film, as it was captured in-camera. Production designer Justin Trask is a genius — from how he designed and built the giant penis (to feel less naturalistic) to the details of Little Man’s cage (his furniture, the giant bread crumb on a coin). We had a lot of fun exploring all the miniature props and details in this film.

How did you work with your editors? What did they cut on?
Because of the VFX, we edited on Adobe Premiere. I worked with editor Stephen Berger, who helped shape the film and did an amazing job doing the rough VFX comps in the edit. He is great with music and brought musical inspirations, which led to composer Pedro Bromfman’s entire saxophone score. Pedro is a big composer from Brazil and did my last documentary March of the Living. Editor Claudia Castello is incredible with performance, building the emotional arc of each character. She edited Fruitvale Station, Creed and was an editor on Black Panther. It was a great collaborative experience.

You had a lot of women on the crew. It seems like you went out of your way to find female talent. Why is this so important to you and the industry in general?
As a woman and a woman of Asian descent (I’m half Chinese), it’s important to me to be surrounded by a diverse group of collaborators and to hire with as much gender equality as possible. I love working with talented women and supporting women. The world is a diverse place. It’s important to me to have different perspectives reflected in filmmaking and representation. There is a huge inequality of the hiring practices in Hollywood (4% of Hollywood feature films were directed by women last year), so it’s critical to hire talented, qualified women.

Do you think things are getting better for females in the industry, especially in the more technical jobs?
I’ve always hired female cinematographers, editors and worked with Eva Flodstrom for VFX. With my friend/colleague Rachel Morrison, who is the first female cinematographer nominated for an Oscar, I hope things are changing for women with more visibility and dialogue. Change can only happen by actually hiring talented women (like director Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) who works with female cinematographers and editors).

You’ve directed both narrative and documentary projects. Do you have a preference, or do you enjoy switching back and forth?
This film marks a new creative chapter and narrative direction in my work. I love my background in documentaries, but I am fully focused on narrative filmmaking at the moment.

How was Sundance for you and the film?
Sundance was an incredible experience and platform for the film. We were IndieWire’s Top 10 Must See Films. My creative team came out, including actors Simon Helberg and Vivian Bang. It was a blast!