Category Archives: Director

The A-List: Lion director Garth Davis

By Iain Blair

The plot of Lion, the new awards-buzzy Weinstein film, sounds like an over-the-top, completely made-up Hollywood tearjerker — a five-year-old Indian boy named Saroo (Sunny Pawar) wanders onto a train, falls asleep and wakes up thousands of miles away from his home and family. Frightened, he ends up in chaotic Kolkata. Somehow he survives living on the streets, escaping all sorts of terrors and close calls, before ending up in an orphanage.

Eventually, Saroo is adopted by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) and finds love and security as he grows up in Hobart. As an adult, not wanting to hurt his adoptive parents’ feelings, Saroo (Dev Patel) suppresses his past and his hope of ever finding his lost mother and brother, but a chance meeting with some fellow Indians re-awakens his buried yearning. Armed with only a handful of memories, his unwavering determination and Google Earth, Saroo sets out to find his lost family and finally return to his first home.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and Garth Davis.

This true story, adapted from the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, was directed by Emmy Award-nominated Garth Davis (Top of the Lake). The screenplay was by Luke Davies (Candy, Life).

I talked to Davis about making the film and his workflow.

This is your first film. What were you looking for in a project?
I’d read a lot of stuff, but I only wanted to make something I was very moved by, scared by, where there was something I could explore and question. I was just so moved by this story and felt there was a lot that I could bring to it. Producers Emile Sherman and Iain Canning of See-Saw Films, who did the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech, offered it to me at Sundance in 2013. We were there for the world premiere of the TV series Top of the Lake, which I co-directed with Jane Campion for See-Saw. I just had to do it. We got the rights and I began doing research very early on — even before the book came out — and digging into the story in a deeper way, and retracing all the steps in India and Australia.

When you first read this, did you think, ‘No one’s going to believe this. It’s just too Hollywood’?
Yes. That was the big risk of doing it. So the task for me was to make a movie that was a lot more complicated, with a lot more detail, because the basic story was very simple. Luke did a great job with his script in expanding it all. But when I began, I didn’t really have the end game in mind. I was very excited by the story, curious about the characters and also curious about how the miracle came about. It was a great spiritual story as well, which really attracted me.

Photo: Mark RogersYou’ve had successful career directing commercials. How did that prepare you?
They’re great preparation in terms of your practical skills, shooting in lots of complicated situations, dealing with tons of problems — so you get very experienced on set, but also in telling stories succinctly, paring things down to what works and what doesn’t.

You assembled a stellar cast — along with co-star Google Earth — but one of the great challenges must have been finding an Indian boy to play Saroo as a five-year-old?
It was, and we screen-tested thousands of children before we found Sunny. He’s a natural and we got lucky, because children can be good actors from about the age of eight but it’s very difficult to find a five year old capable of acting. But I knew it was important to have a small boy, as it’s visually very powerful having a tiny boy lost in the big, wide world, and he had this great look behind his eyes; he turned into an actor before our very eyes. And then Nicole and Dev and everyone just got called in by the story — that was the hook.

You shot on location in Kolkata. Was that tough?
Very tough. Absolutely. I enjoy complicated locations, but shooting there’s not for the faint-hearted as you’re dealing with all the crowds, the heat, the pollution, the dust. We kept it as agile as possible, and there’s glory there if you can get it right. But you run into so many problems, like you’re allowed to shoot on this railway platform for three hours, and then you get there, the train arrives, and there are padlocks on every door, so your three hours turn into 40 minutes.

Do you like post?
Love it, as you’re crafting all the way to the end. We did it all in Melbourne at Digital Pictures and Iloura, who did all the VFX. Then we did all the sound at Sound Firm with sound designer Robert Mackenzie. Sound design was very important in this film to the story, and we established a lot of audio maps, all the sounds of nature, and we had a lot of subtle stuff going on.

Tell us about working with editor Alexandre de Franceschi, who’s a frequent collaborator with Jane Campion, and who cut John Curran’s The Painted Veil.
He never came to the set. He was in Sydney while we were shooting and then when I got back, he came up to Melbourne and we began cutting. We watched the assembly and then all the rushes together. This had a special emotional alchemy, so the challenge was to not move too quickly through a sequence or something got lost. We had to honor the emotional arc of the story, so it was a very artistic thing. On the one hand, you had to structure the story, but on the other we had to really pay attention to that arc and it was a very detailed edit. It took us about six months in the end.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Yes, and the main VFX stuff was the butterflies, and the matte painting of the guard running beside the train on the embankment. We had a big problem when we shot that, as they wouldn’t let us take the train out again, and we ended up shooting that scene in the railway yard which was really depressing. But the matte painting worked very well, And then during the edit we decided to combine two Google searches into one, but they were shot at different times in different locations, and Dev was wearing a t-shirt in one and long-sleeved shirt in the other, and Iloura changed the tee to a long-sleeved shirt, which was pretty amazing.

Dev Patel and Rooney Mara star in LIONCan you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love sound because it creates this immersive experience. You can have an interior scene and have sound from 100 meters away, and you may not consciously notice it, but it places it in context. So I decided very early on that the sound design would be crucial on this. So, for instance, when Saroo first wakes up alone on the platform, there’s no sound to create that sense of peril — just the cicadas, which becomes overbearing. And I love music and didn’t want to be afraid of using it.

Where did you do the DI?
At Digital Pictures with colorist Olivier Fontenay. I’ve done so many for the commercials, so I’m pretty experienced. The difference is you’re working with the cinema screen a lot more, doing the sound mix with Dolby Surround, and working with far higher image resolution, which I loved. I’m completely in the world of the movie and I don’t want to leave.

What’s next?
I’ve shot my second film, Mary Magdalene, and we’ll be doing all the post back in Melbourne again where I’m based — the same set up basically. I’m so excited about it.

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.

Paramount Pictures

The A-List: A conversation with Arrival director Denis Villeneuve

By Iain Blair

Dark and super-intense dramas are the specialty of acclaimed French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. His 2010 feature film Incendies, a drama about the legacy of civil war in Lebanon for a Montreal immigrant family, earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. Villeneuve made his Hollywood directorial debut with Prisoners, a suburban-vigilante drama starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It too was nominated for an Oscar. He followed that with Enemy, an eerie thriller starring Gyllenhaal as a history lecturer who discovers an unexpected alter ego.

Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Iain Blair.

But it was his explosive 2015 hit Sicario — about an idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt) whose hunt for justice thrusts her into the lawless US/Mexican border where drugs, terror, illegal immigration and corruption challenge her moral compass — that really got Hollywood’s attention. The film received three Academy Award nominations, including Best Achievement in Cinematography (Roger Deakins) and Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Alan Robert Murray) and paved the way for his latest film, the sci-fi drama Arrival.

When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team, led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers. But this Paramount release is not your usual alien invasion epic.

I spoke with Villeneuve, who’s currently in post production on his biggest project to date — the sequel to the cult classic Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling — about making Arrival, which has been nominated for eight Oscars, including best director in Villeneuve and best editor in Joe Walker. (Read out interview with Walker here.)

This is your first sci-fi film, but definitely not your usual kind. What was the appeal of doing it?
Yes, it’s my first but I was raised on sci-fi and was swimming in it as a kid. I read a lot of comic books out of Europe — those great graphic novels. I was dreaming of doing a sci-fi film for a very long time, but was looking for the right story, and then this came along. I was so excited because this was a chance to do something very different. It’s an alien invasion, but told from an intimate point of view, by this person who’s in mourning and dealing with strong emotions in her life, and who suddenly is thrust into this momentous ARRIVALevent. So it’s about aliens but also a mother-daughter story.

This is also your sixth film with a female protagonist. Why do you love having women at the center of your films?
The truth is, in my first two films I had two female leads and for me it was a way to get some critical distance from my subjects. I don’t know why. Then it just carried on from there. I’m in love with women and femininity and very interested in the female world, and I love to tell their stories. For me, being a man is about taking control, but being a woman is more about listening, and I love the tension between the two.

Is it true that with Sicario, there was some pressure to change the female lead to a man?
Yes, but it was telling this story of drug violence through a woman’s eyes that really interested me. That really interested me! I like strong women.

What did Amy Adams bring to this role?
A great sense of her character’s internal life, her inner world. She has this great capacity to play several layers at once, and is able to convey very strong emotion without words, which I don’t see too often.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
By far the biggest was creating the aliens and figuring out this new life form — its way of thinking and behaving, its culture and its language. Creating something that’s never been seen before without it looking just like a visual effect was very hard and took a long time.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?ARRIVAL
From the very start, and you now have to prep for post. Even so, it still feels like the process is too fast. I like to have a lot of time in post and the edit to think about the film and change things, but all the VFX guys were very hungry to get started as soon as possible, and that caused some tension. It was a very complex cinematic structure, and I needed to be able to play with it in the editing room.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love post and editing — so much so that if I wasn’t a director I’d be an editor. It’s insane the amount of creativity you have in post, and you don’t have to deal with all the problems with weather and actors and equipment and time and money. You can just focus on the creative part of actually making the film, so I love post. We did the whole film in Montreal. We shot it there, and used VFX houses there, and there are so many good ones — Rodeo, Oblique FX, Alchemy 24, Raynault and Hybride.

Talk about editing with Joe Walker, who cut Sicario for you and was Oscar nominated for 12 Years a Slave. Was he on the set?
Joe never likes to visit sets, for a very specific reason — when he sees all the hard work and pain we go through to get a particular shot, it makes him afraid to cut. So he came to Montreal and we sent him dailies and he started. Then he worked with me on the director’s cut. It was a very long edit and we worked non stop for about eight months. It’s the longest edit I’ve ever done, first because it was a nonlinear structure, and second because we wanted to give clues to the audience without revealing too much.

So it was very tricky, especially since two of my main characters were completely digital. So it was a tough edit and it took time to work it all out. Joe was also very involved in all the sound design, as he began as a composer and then as a sound editor, so we did the sound together as we cut.

Denis Villeneuve and Amy Adams on set.

The VFX play a crucial role. Talk about working with VFX supervisor Louis Morin, who did Sicario for you, and whose credits include The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain.
I’m very grateful to him because he understood that the edit was very complicated, and I put his team under a lot of time pressure, as I took my time. The spaceships and aliens were designed, but all the scenes with them and everything else had to evolve in the edit. Then we had hundreds of computer screens in the military tents and we had to feed all those, which was a lot of work, and then all the military equipment. It was very complicated.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
Definitely the aliens. If you have a machine-like alien, it’s a lot of work but not difficult to do. What is really hard, is creating a life form that looks real — not like a visual effect — and one the audience will accept and have an emotional experience with. Hybride did them, and while it was a huge challenge, they did a fantastic job. And I was very involved. I sat down with the artists to share ideas and that’s the only way you can get it right.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
In Montreal with Harbor Picture Company colorist Joe Gawler (who worked out of Mels, which used to be Vision Globale). It’s so important and dealing with the aliens was the main thing. But the rest was fairly simple as we did so much in camera.

What can you tell me about Blade Runner 2049?
(Laughs) Not much. I’m not allowed to say much, but it was the biggest, most ambitious and longest thing I’ve ever done, and we’re currently in the middle of post on the Sony lot. It’ll be out next October.

What’s next?
Nothing. I need a long break to recharge after doing the last three films back to back.

Check out the trailer:


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.

G-Tech 6-15
catherine orchard

Derby picks director Catherine Orchard for roster

New York-based production company Derby has added Catherine Orchard to its directorial roster. Formerly a graphic designer and art director, Orchard’s work in the creative departments of various brands and magazines has helped her to develop an eye for strong imagery in combination with humor and lyrical storytelling.

She has worked with a variety of brands and magazines, including Bobbi Brown, Alice + Olivia, Jane, Travel + Leisure and Vibe. Most recently, she has been directing for Loft and Teen Vogue.

We checked in with Brooklyn-based Orchard to find out how she works and what her process is like: “Whenever I start a project, I look at what the existing elements are and break them down to what’s key and what needs to be said or shown. Then I let my imagination wander and take inventory on the many ways to put those particulars into a story. I like having a starting point of knowing the character (so cliché, but how else?!) and then the tone and look follows.”

That goes for any project, she says, whether it be commercial, narrative or experimental. “I’m interested in trying out some of the technical things, like practical lighting tricks, VFX and camera movements if it makes sense for the story’s look and tone. I also do research to sort out what the story might actually look and feel like. Then I revise. That’s usually the way I start each and every one of my projects.”

When asked about a recent job, Orchard talked about working with the kids from Netflix’s Stranger Things for Teen Vogue. “We had less than one hour to film, so I thought playing a game of charades would be fun — they made up their own dreams and nightmares. I should mention that serving candy to kids at 9am is a very cheap trick, but it worked!”

While Orchard hasn’t yet helmed a job for Derby, future projects can be expected to come from her in early 2017.  Orchard joins Derby’s directorial roster, which includes Lucas Borrás, Nickolas Duarte, The Bozzwicks and John Poliquin. Since the company launched in the fall of 2015, Derby has produced campaigns with its agency and brand partners for Listerine, Lucky Charms, Johnson & Johnson, Sauza, Erno Laszlo and others.


The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.

iain-and-pablo

Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.

Jackie

Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.

Jackie

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)

Neruda

Neruda

Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.

Neruda

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.


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.


GenPop’s Bill Yukich directs, edits gritty open for Amazon’s Goliath 

Director/editor Bill Yukich helmed the film noir-ish opening title sequence for Amazon’s new legal drama, Goliath. Produced by LA-based content creation studio GenPop, the black and white intro starts with Goliath lead actor Billy Bob Thornton jumping into the ocean. While underwater, and smoking a cigarette and holding a briefcase, he casually strolls through rooms filled with smoke and fire. At the end of the open, he rises from the water as the Santa Monica Pier appears next to him and as the picture turns from B&W to color. The Silent Comedy’s “Bartholomew” track plays throughout.

The ominous backdrop, of a man underwater but not drgoliathowning, is a perfect visual description of Thornton’s role as disgraced lawyer Billy McBride. Yukich’s visuals, he says, are meant to strike a balance between dreamlike and menacing.

The approved concept called for a dry shoot, so Yukich came up with solutions to make it seem as though the sequence was actually filmed underwater. Shot on a Red Magnesium Weapon camera, Yukich used a variety of in-camera techniques to achieve the illusion of water, smoke and fire existing within the same world, including the ingenious use of smoke to mimic the movement of crashing waves.

After wrapping the live-action shoot with Thornton, Yukich edited and color corrected the sequence. The VFX work was mostly supplementary and used to enhance the practical effects which were captured on set, such as adding extra fireballs into the frame to make the pyrotechnics feel fuller. Editing was via Adobe Premiere and VFX and color was done in Autodesk Flame. In the end, 80 percent was live action and only 20 percent visual effects.

Once post production was done, Yukich projected the sequence onto a screen which was submerged underwater and reshot the projected footage. Though technically challenging, Yukich says, this Inception-style method of re-shooting the footage gave the film the organic quality that he was looking for.

Yukich recently worked as lead editor for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. Stepping behind the lens was a natural progression for Yukich, who began directing concerts for bands like Godsmack and The Hollywood Undead, as well as music videos for HIM, Vision of Disorder and The Foo Fighters.


The A-List: Bleed for This director Ben Younger

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Ben Younger had been MIA for quite a while. Back in 2000 he made a splash with his acclaimed feature debut, Boiler Room. This tense crime drama, which starred Ben Affleck and Vin Diesel, was set in the high stakes, testosterone-fueled — and sometimes illegal — world of brokerage firms and investment banking.

Five years later, he directed his second film, the Meryl Streep/Uma Thurman romantic dramedy Prime, which grossed $67 million worldwide and cemented his reputation as someone to watch. Then Younger disappeared from sight.

Director Ben Younger and writer Iain Blair.

Over a decade later, he’s back with his third film, Bleed for This, a super-intense boxing drama and the true comeback story of Vinny Pazienza, the “Pazmanian Devil” (Miles Teller), whose boxing career should have ended when a terrible head-on car smash left him with a badly broken neck and few chances of ever walking again, let alone fighting in the ring. Yet he refused to throw in the towel and staged the sport’s most unlikely comeback so he could defend his middleweight world championship.

I spoke with Younger about his disappearance from the industry, making this film and his love-hate relationship with post.

It’s been 11 years since your last film. What the hell happened?
It’s been even longer — 12 years (laughs). I wanted to make this motorcycle racing film, Isle of Man, back in ’07, but no one would make it. I got a little disenchanted, a little upset. I tried to get another movie made, couldn’t get that off the ground either. I stepped back and decided to take five, six years off and go the experiential route instead.

I learned to fly, I became a cook in Costa Rica, went surfing and raced motorbikes for a year professionally. I did all the things my dad never got a chance to do because he died so young. He hated his job, was miserable, and I didn’t want to do that.

I heard you’re not even a boxing fan, so why make this film?
It’s not a boxing film like the usual ones. It’s this incredible comeback story about this guy who had a passion for boxing. I don’t feel that passionate about anything in my life where I would risk paralysis to do it, like he did. So by that measure, it didn’t matter what Vinny did. I would have told the same story whatever his profession. That’s what drew me in.

What did you hope for the film?
Because it’s set in the world of boxing, you can’t avoid comparisons with other films in the genre, so it was important not to fall into cliché and the tired old tropes of every boxing movie. I just wanted to differentiate myself. There’s a lot of humor, which is always a big part of my movies, and I like humor in very dramatic settings.

Martin Scorsese executive produced. Did you ask him for any advice, considering he made Raging Bull?
No, and he didn’t really offer any. He got involved after he showed Boiler Room to his Wolf of Wall Street crew, and then he called me to meet up after reading this script. I was in Costa Rica, cooking, and he said, ‘You’ve got to get back here. I’m going to help you make this movie.’ And he did.

What did Miles Teller bring to the role?
Preparation. He’s a monster. Eight months of training and he knew his boxing. We shot for just 24 days, on a $6 million budget — not enough time or money — so I knew I couldn’t be on set worrying about the boxing itself, or we’d have been in big trouble. So he took all that off the table for me.

Do you like the post process?
I have a love-hate relationship with it. Every movie, inarguably, gets made in post. There’s no question. Same with my other two films. This was written in post, re-imagined in post, reconfigured in post. But there’s something I hate about sitting in a dark room for 12 hours a day. It fucking kills me. It’s a very depressing work environment. You have to do it, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

You edited the film with Zac Stuart-Pontier who cut Martha Marcy May Marlene and won two Emmys for HBO’s The Jinx. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He was a PA on Prime, his first job in the industry. He was at NYU and took a semester off to work on the movie, and then his career took off. He wasn’t on set at all as he was still on The Jinx, so we had an assistant editor log it all and he started after the shoot.

We did it all at Harbor Post — everything. It took a good six months. The big problem was I made a mistake in the script, putting the car crash in the middle, and it didn’t work. So we had to ruthlessly cut the first half down so it happened more like a first act, and we lost a lot of stuff. It was a shock to me, but now I’m like, ‘What were you thinking?’

We did some test screenings, and people loved watching all the gambling, the women and so on, but then after the crash scene, retroactively they hated it. They were like, ‘Why take us on the hour-long detour?’ Because of The Jinx, Zac was very used to working in a docu-drama environment, and we had all this great archival footage of Vinny, and I thought maybe we would use some of it at the end credits. But we ended up putting it in the middle of the movie. We break the fourth wall so many times in the editing, and no one seems to mind. We cut from Vinny to Miles to Vinny, and it just works.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s over half the film, and when you don’t have the budget it’s the cheapest thing you can do to radically improve your film. A good score and mix can improve it by 25 percent, easily.

Where did you mix the sound?
All at Harbor on their huge new Atmos stage, but my supervising sound editor Coll Anderson has his own studio in Woodstock where we did the pre-mixes.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven film, but I’m assuming there was some in the crash scene?
And crowd replacement stuff at the fights, some compositing. It was all done by Eyeball in LA. They did a great job on the crash, and they’d never done that sort of thing before.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
Hugely important. I worked closely with DP Larkin Seiple and colorist Andrew Francis at Sixteen19 in New York, who has an amazing eye. I think I was able to give them a fresh set of eyes after they had been at it for 10 hours. I would take a look and ask, ‘Why is this so blue? Why is this so warm?’ And they would go, ‘You’re right,’ and adjust it a little.

Did it turn out how you originally envisioned it?
From a macro perspective, definitely. It was more the little things — the crash, the archival footage — that changed.

What’s next?
No more long breaks. I’m making Isle of Man next year. It’s funded and happening.

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.


Slim adds feature director Jeff Baena and director/DP Wondo

Slim has grown its roster with feature film director Jeff Baena and automotive director/DP Wondo. Baena is currently finishing up his third directorial outing, the comedy The Little Hours, which is due to be released in 2017. In addition to his film work, Baena recently directed a comedic campaign for Hulu with actress Aubrey Plaza. Baena says his Altman-esque approach to directing allows his actors to bring a bit of their own personality to each of their characters.

He began his career as a PA for Robert Zemeckis in Los Angeles following his completion of film school in New York. He later met director David O. Russell while working as an assistant editor, leading the two to co-write I Heart Huckabees (2004). Baena went on to direct Life After Beth (2014) and Joshy (2016), which featured ensemble casts including Aubrey Plaza, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Thomas Middleditch, Alison Brie and Jenny Slate.

Director/DP Wondo has also joined Slim. With over 20 years behind the camera, Wondo is an expert on the Russian Arm — remote control cranes and gyro-stabilized flight heads that are mounted on customized performance vehicles — and is accomplished at shooting for VFX. He has directed spots for Mercedes Benz, Chevy (Commonwealth), Kia (David&Goliath), BMW, Porsche (Cramer Krasselt) and Bugatti. He divides his time between Los Angeles and Berlin.

Main Photo: L-R: Wondo and Jeff Baena.


The A-List: Moonlight director Barry Jenkins

By Iain Blair

Moonlight may only be Barry Jenkins’ second film — his first was the 2008 low-budget debut Medicine for Melancholy — but he’s already established himself as a filmmaker to watch. Written and directed by Jenkins, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

At once a vital portrait of contemporary African-American life and an intensely personal and poetic meditation on identity, family, friendship and love, Moonlight focuses on the particular, but reverberates with universal truths. Anchored by performances from an ensemble cast that includes Naomie Harris, André Holland, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes, Alex R. Hibbert and Jharrel Jerome, the film is a moving portrayal of the moments, people and unknowable forces that shape our lives and make us who we are, and since its premiere at Telluride is justifiably getting a lot of awards buzz.

Our writer Iain Blair and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins.

I recently met up with Jenkins to talk about the process of making Moonlight.

Can you talk about the film a bit?
It’s based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which is a coming-of-age story that not so much defied the genre, but that more readily captured what it was like to grow up where we both did, in Miami. It focuses on three different times in this kid’s life, so instead of all the usual beats we take these three big beats and dramatize them in realtime.

You use three actors to portray those different times as the kid wrestles with his sexual identity and what it means to be a gay black man, but you’re not gay. Did you have any trepidation taking this on?
At the start, I felt it might be too much of a stretch, as I tend to feel certain stories need to be told by the people who lived them. But at the same time, in talking with Tarell, I knew he trusted me to present his voice and to be empathetic.

The film was shot by cinematographer James Laxton. He shot your last film and was nominated for an Indie Spirit award. What did he bring to the film?
He didn’t want to compromise the visual aesthetic, despite the very low budget we had, so we worked with a smaller crew and a few more days than we could afford — and even then we did this in just 25 days. The other thing is, there are always problems and mistakes on the shoot that you can fix in post, but we had so little money that we were very limited in what we could do. Thankfully, we had some partners who did us a lot of favors.

You shot on location in the pretty rough area of Liberty Square in Miami. How hard was that?
It wasn’t hard at all, once we had made the inroads. That neighborhood hasn’t changed much in the past 25 years, so there was this real patina and authentic look that we didn’t have to create.

MoonlightDo you like the post process?
I love it, but to be really honest, I love production more, as it’s less finite. Post is so finite, and it’s a very complex puzzle you have to solve. When we shot the swimming scene, we thought we had six hours, but it turned out we only had 90 minutes. You feel anything’s possible in those 90 minutes, whereas in post you’re trying to find the best shot, the best footage to tell the story, and the pressure’s on. (Laughs) And then the post budget was very small.

You edited the film with two editors — Nat Sanders who cut your first film, and Joi McMillon. Tell us how that relationship worked.
We used this system called the Atomos Samurai, since they weren’t on set. We didn’t have the budget to fly them out, plus they were cutting Season 5 of HBO’s Girls when we started.

So the way this system works is that our DIT on set was basically duplicating all the dailies in HD, and it was like a mirror image of the actual dailies — with a very simple LUT placed on them — and then they were shipped to LA. Nat and Joi worked off that for the entire process. Both of them were at film school with me, and I think the original plan was that Joi would be Nat’s assistant, but as the footage began to come in, and as there were these three distinct stories to cut, it just made sense that Joi would take one of the stories. That’s how it happened.

MoonlightSo they did an assembly while I was shooting, and then when I got back, we rented a small office in downtown LA, and that’s where we cut the whole film. We edited for roughly four months. I’d go in and sit with them pretty much every day. We were all in the same room, with me in between, so I could just turn and see his cut, and then what she was doing. It was a great set-up, and it also meant that they each got fresh eyes to view the material, as they weren’t often working on the same story at the same time.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s huge. I wanted this to be totally immersive, and as the character’s adopting all the trappings of hyper-masculinity, all the other elements around him echo that, like the hip-hop stuff. And composer Nick Britell did all this great chopping and screwing with the orchestra.

Where did you mix the sound?
We did it at Wildfire here in LA.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but effects must have played a significant role in the final look?
Absolutely, and VFX house Significant Others worked hand in hand with our colorist Alex Bickel at Color Collective. Both are in New York, and the VFX house did us a huge solid. The biggest thing they did was where we have the opening Steadicam shot. We were shooting anamorphic, usually wide open, and there was a focus gaffe, and they went in and just nailed it.

There was a mic pack they had to erase, and a bunch of creative stuff they did — like where a shot begins, and it’s not Steadicam but then becomes Steadicam. They also comped in the ocean in one shot at the end, where it was just too dark to see it.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
Extremely important. We did it at Color Collective, and Alex Bickel (who used Resolve 12) was the third person I hired, right after the DP. I knew it was so crucial, and we spent a lot of time getting the look just right.

There’s been so much talk in Hollywood about the lack of diversity — in front of and behind the camera. What’s your take?
It’s tricky. There are so many films this year that are being framed as addressing this lack of diversity — and the outrage that’s arisen, but it takes so long to make a film. I think it’s the build-up of frustration over the past four or five years that’s just bubbled over in the past year.

As a fairly rare sight in Hollywood — a black filmmaker — do you feel you’ve had to struggle a lot to get this far? After all, it’s taken you eight long years to make this.
I think there are certain struggles when you’re a black filmmaker making black stories, and they’re mostly based on myths — black audiences only like this, black characters act like that, and so on. But for me, my last film, relative to its budget, was pretty popular, and the long gap between my films is all down to me; it’s doesn’t have anything to do with the system.

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 A-List — Director Ed Zwick talks Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

By Iain Blair

Director, screenwriter and producer Ed Zwick got his start in television as co-creator of the Emmy Award-winning series Thirtysomething. His feature film career kicked off when he directed the Rob Lowe/Demi Moore vehicle, About Last Night. Zwick went on to direct the Academy Award-winning films Glory and Legends of the Fall. 

Zwick also produced the Oscar-nominated I Am Sam, as well as Traffic — winner of two Golden Globes and four Academy Awards — directed by Steven Soderbergh. He won an Academy Award as a producer of 1999’s Best Picture, Shakespeare in Love.

Ed Zwick

His latest film, Paramount’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, reunites him with his The Last Samurai star Tom Cruise. It’s an action-packed follow-up to 2012’s Jack Reacher hit that grossed over $200 million in worldwide box office.

The set-up? Years after resigning command of an elite military police unit, the nomadic, righter-of-wrongs Reacher is drawn back into the life he left behind when his friend and successor, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), is framed for espionage. Naturally, Reacher will stop at nothing to prove her innocence and to expose the real perpetrators behind the killings of his former soldiers. Mayhem quickly ensues, helped along with plenty of crazy stunts and cutting-edge VFX.

I recently chatted with Zwick about making the film.

You’ve worked in so many genres, but this is your first crime thriller. 
I’ve always loved crime thrillers — especially films like Three Days of the Condor and Bullitt where the characters and their relationships are far more important than the action. That’s where I tried to take this.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackTom Cruise is famous for being a perfectionist and doing all his own stunts when possible. Any surprises re-teaming with him?
Yeah, I always say the most boring job on set is being Tom’s stunt double. Tom is a perfectionist and he loves to be involved in every aspect of the production, so no surprises there. He has such a great love for all the different genres, but a particular love for action films and thrillers. It was very important for him that he didn’t do something that was like all the other films out there. I think we all felt that superhero fatigue has been setting in, so the idea was to do things on a more human scale, and make it more realistic and authentic, both with the characters and with the action.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
We shot it all in New Orleans, and it’s a road movie. So we had to shoot Washington, DC, there too, and create a cross-country journey with different airports and so on. We did all of that with some sleight of hand and extensions and VFX. I think it’s also a challenge to come up with new settings for action pieces we haven’t seen before, and that’s where the parade and rooftop sequences in New Orleans come in, along with the fight on the plane. The book it’s based on is set in LA and DC, but they’re both tough to shoot in, and with the great tax breaks in Louisiana and all the great locations, it made sense to shoot there.

Jack Reacher: Never Go BackEvery shoot is tough, but it was pretty straightforward on this, though shutting down the whole French Quarter took some doing —  but all the city officials were so helpful. The rooftop stuff was very challenging to do, and we did a lot of prep and began on post right away, on day one.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I can sit there with a cup of coffee and my editor and rewrite the entire script as much as I can. It’s the best part and most creative part of the whole process.

Where did you post?
We did it all in LA. We just set up some offices in Santa Monica where I live and did all the editorial there.

You’ve typically worked with Steve Rosenblum, but you edited this film with Billy Weber, who’s been nominated twice for Oscars (Top Gun, The Thin Red Line) and whose credits include The Warriors, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beverly Hills Cop II, Midnight Run and The Tree of Life, among others. How did that relationship work?
Steve wasn’t available so I asked him, ‘Who can I hire that you’d be jealous of?’ He said, ‘There’s only one person — Billy Weber. He’s your guy.’ He was right. Billy’s legendary and has cut so many great movies for directors like Terrence Malik, Tony Scott, Walter Hill, Martin Brest, Tim Burton, and he’s a prince. I love editing, and I loved working with him. He’s a great collaborator, and I was very open to all his ideas.Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

He came to New Orleans and we set up a cutting room there and he did the assembly there as we shot. Then we moved back to LA. Billy lives on the other side of town, so to beat the traffic we’d start every day at 6am and wrap at 3pm. It was a great system.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
I love working with the audio, and Henry Jackman did a great, classic-modern score. It was crucial, not just for all the action, but for some of the quieter moments. Then we mixed the sound at Fox, with Andy Nelson who’s now done 10 of my movies.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but the VFX play a big role.
You’re right, and we didn’t want it to look like there was a ton of CG work. In the end, we had well over 200 shots, including stuff like the Capitol Dome in DC in the background and tons of bullet hits on cars and enhancements. But I didn’t want all the VFX to be at all noticeable. Lola and Flash Film Works did the work, and often today where you need bullet hits on a car, it’s far cheaper and more time-effective to add them in post, so there was a lot of that.

How important was the DI on this and where did you do it?
We did it at Company 3 in Santa Monica with colorist Stephen Nakamura, who is brilliant. We went for a natural look but also enhanced some of the dramatic scenes [via Resolve]. It’s remarkable what you can do now in the DI, and as we shot on film I wanted to preserve some of that real film look, so I think it’s a light touch, but also a sophisticated one in the DI.

What’s next?
I don’t have anything lined up, so I’m taking a break.


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 A-List: Director Terrence Malick’s team behind Voyage of Time

By Iain Blair

A new Terrence Malick film is always a cinematic event, and his latest, Voyage of Time, doesn’t disappoint. Thought provoking and visually transcendent, it’s nothing less than a celebration of life and the grand history of the cosmos. It’s a journey that spans the eons from the Big Bang to the dinosaur age to our present human world… and beyond.

A labor of love, several decades in the making, it also represents Malick’s first foray into documentary storytelling and will be released in two formats: Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, the 90-minute version narrated by Cate Blanchett, and Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, a 45-minute version narrated by Brad Pitt.

Of course, as all cinephiles know, it’s hard to say which is the bigger mystery, Malick or the origin of the universe. The reclusive, enigmatic, thrice Oscar-nominated director — who taught philosophy at MIT before attending AFI — is the writer/director of such films as Badlandlaves, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life, To the Wonder, Knight of Cups and an upcoming untitled project starring Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara. But in the 43 years since the release of Badlands, Malick has rarely done any press.

Happily, longtime collaborators, such as producers Sarah Green and Nicolas Gonda, as well as the film’s VFX supervisor, Dan Glass, and producer, Sophokles Tasioulis, were eager to talk about making the film and Malick’s vision for it.

How long has this labor of love been in the making?
Nicolas Gonda: The ideas behind this film have been gestating ever since Terry’s childhood. He’s always been fascinated by nature and man’s place in the universe. It’s always been on his mind. Sarah and I began working very actively on it about 14 years ago, making budgets and planning all the different shoots we knew we’d need. About four years ago, we joined forces with Sophokles, who brought his great experience making natural history documentaries to both the post part of it and the international distribution.

Why did he decide to make two versions of the film?
Sarah Green: Terry had a very strong vision for it, and he saw opportunities to expand on it this way — he saw it could be for both the educational and entertainment markets. So when he shot, it was for both films, and then we could just edit for each version.

Having worked on many of his films, tell us about Terry’s approach to post.
Green: He absolutely loves post and sees it as this wonderful, exploratory experience for him. Whatever the film is, he always likes to shoot a lot of footage during principal photography, and then he settles down to really explore it in post.

On this one, we all knew the beats he wanted to hit — whether they were emotional or cerebral — but post was also about trying the find the best way to tell this amazing story succinctly and the most emotionally.

Where did you do all the post?
Gonda: At our offices in Austin, and then we finished it all in LA, here at IMAX headquarters in Playa Vista, including the DI.

Sophokles Tasioulis: We had this great post supervisor, Jini Durr, and we were able to project all the VFX on the IMAX screen and really see what we had. It was a real education for all of us, because finishing in 4K is fairly standard, but here at IMAX, that’s their lowest resolution.

How did it work using two editors — Keith Fraase and Rehman Ali — who had also worked with Terry before?
Gonda: They were the main editors, but Terry used a number of editors on the project — a lot of young people who had work on specific shots or scenes. We’d joke that anyone over 25 would be kicked out of the edit room by Terry, because this film really gave him a chance to experiment and work with young kids, which he loved doing.

After all the years it took to become a reality, was Terry happy with the final film?
Gonda: Very, and I don’t think he could have done it 10 years ago. All the recent scientific discoveries put him in a position where it was possible, and using the great imagery of outer space from Hubble and NASA. But then Terry could have continued working on it for another 10 or 20 years.

Green: He’s so curious and knowledgeable, and there was always a new study, a new theory, a new discovery that would excite him. In the early days, he’d give me lists of cutting-edge scientists to contact and learn from. (Laughs) And when they recently announced they had finally discovered gravity waves, I think we all panicked — “Oh no, how will we fit that into the film now?”


 

The Visual Effects

In a career spanning more than 20 years in the industry, Daniel Glass has built an extensive list of credits as a visual effects supervisor on such films as The Hateful Eight, Batman Begins and The Matrix franchise. Voyage of Time is the culmination of a 10-year working relationship with Malick that began with the Oscar-nominated and Palme D’Or winner The Tree of Life.

When did you start on this film?
Ten years ago, but he’s been working on it for decades. He has footage in it that he shot back in the ‘70s. But it’s never really had a script, although obviously the story itself provides a timeline, and he had a huge amount of notes which formed the structure of the film. The whole thing was very much a journey in itself, and one major challenge was keeping up with all the scientific advances made over the past decade or so, and trying to incorporate those into the film.

I heard that you and Terry formed a “skunkworks” operation to deal with some of the imagery you developed?
Yeah, we set up this lab in Austin to do chemical experiments to see how various elements such as liquids, dyes, gasses and fluids — and combinations of them — behaved as we filmed them at high-speed. We used everything from gels and glass to smoke machines and fluid tanks to create a whole range of effects. We’d build up all these layers, to illustrate tiny debris in the cosmos or floating particulates at the microbial level, along with various models of orbs with strong backlight and so on. It really was fascinating work.

We also built our own “flow tables” that we filled with milk and dyes and paints, to mimic galaxies. And we used water tanks, because just a few drops of dye in a water tank can feel like vast nebulae or strange microscopic environments. Those were really effective, and we also used ferrofluids that become strongly magnetized in the presence of a magnetic field to explore other unusual effects, like black holes. When we played with the ferrofluids, we were able to create these wild, amazing shapes by controlling the current around them. So you get very bizarre yet organic effects that suggest some of the theoretical ideas surrounding black holes. We also used salt crystals on a disc, which we then spun very slowly to replicate the movement in asteroid belts. The big challenge was that nearly every effects shot was a one-off, so the breadth of it was a bit daunting.

Where did you do the rest of the VFX?
Like the film, they were very disparate, and from vendors all over the world. Terry’s original mandate to me was that he wanted every shot to feel as if it was created by a different artist, and while that was a beautiful ideal, it was a very difficult process to manage. But we got pretty close to it in the end. He always wanted the VFX to stem from an analog place first, and not have that overly polished, artificial CG look.

Is it fair to say that every shot has some kind of VFX?
Yes, although some are relatively minor, while others used layer upon layer to create an effect. In the end, we used pretty much every digital tool out there, including Maya, Nuke, 3D Studio Max, Flame for clean-up, Houdini, and a lot of custom renderers.

How do you look back on the project now?
In many ways this was a culmination of taking everything I’ve learned over all the films I’ve done, and then reapplying it in a different way, which made it immensely satisfying.

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.