Category Archives: on-set

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri director Martin McDonagh

By Iain Blair

Anglo-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for Six Shooter, his first foray into film, and followed that project with his feature film debut In Bruges. Starring Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes and Brendan Gleeson, that gangster action/comedy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008 and won McDonagh a BAFTA Award and an Oscar nom for Best Original Screenplay.

He followed that up with Seven Psychopaths, another twisted tale about some incompetent dognappers and vengeful mobsters that reunited him with Farrell, along with a stellar cast that included Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Tom Waits.

Now McDonagh is back with his latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This darkly comedic drama stars Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a grieving, no-holds-barred vengeful mother. After months have passed without any progress in her daughter’s murder case, she takes matters into her own hands and commissions three signs leading into town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s respected chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

The Fox Searchlight Pictures release also features an impressive team of collaborators behind the camera: director of photography Ben Davis, BSC, production designer Inbal Weinberg, film editor Jon Gregory and composer Carter Burwell.

I recently spoke with McDonagh about making the film, which was nominated for a Oscar for for Best Picture. McDormand and Rockwell also received Oscar nominattions. Ok, let’s find out more…

L-R: Martin McDonagh and Woody Harrelson on set.

This film starts off like a simple tale of revenge, but it then becomes apparent that there’s a lot more going on.
Exactly. I never wrote it as a simple revenge piece. It was always going to be a dark comedy, and the main thing I wanted was to have a very strong woman in the lead — and a shockingly outrageous one at that. I wanted to write the character as real and human in her grief as possible.

Is it true you wrote the role with Frances in mind?
It is. I immediately thought of her as Mildred as I felt she had all the elements that Mildred needed. She had to have a kind of working class sensibility and also not sentimentalize the character. And I knew she had the range and could play the anguish and darkness of Mildred but also deal with the humor, while staying true to who Mildred is as a character.

So what would have happened if she’d turned down the role?
I probably wouldn’t have done the film. I’m so glad she wanted to do it and I didn’t have to worry about it. It definitely wouldn’t have been the film it is without her.

What did she bring to the role?
First, she’s the best actor of her generation, I think, and she brought a lot of integrity and honesty, and I knew she’d play it truthfully and not just go for laughs, and not patronize Mildred and try and make her more lovable — because she isn’t very lovable. She was completely fearless about taking it on.

What about Woody?
He has less time to play with his character, but again he brought a lot of integrity, and he is very lovable — a guy you instantly like, a decent good guy.

You also reunited with Sam Rockwell, whose character ultimately takes the biggest journey.
Like with Frances, I specifically wrote the part for him, as I always have his voice in my mind when I write these dark but slightly comedic characters. And again, there’s something inherently lovable about Sam, so while Dixon seems to be everything you would despise in a man — he’s a racist, he’s violent, he’s obnoxious — Sam also makes him redeemable, and gives him this slightly child-like quality. By the end, he doesn’t do a 180-degree turn, but Sam gives him enough of an inner change that should come as a surprise.

Ebbing is a fictional place. Where did you shoot?
In a little town called Sylva, near Asheville, North Carolina, in the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a nice place that doesn’t hint at anything dark, and it had all the locations we needed, all close by. It was a really joyful shoot, just under two months, and it had a great family feel as I’d worked with several of the actors before — and the DP, 1st AD and some others. All of the locals were very helpful.

How do you feel about the post process?
I really enjoy it, especially the editing and looking through every single take and making notes and then going through all the performances and crafting and sculpting a scene with editor Jon Gregory. I love all that, and watching actors do what they do. That’s the biggest joy for me, and what’s so interesting about post is that scenes I felt could never be cut out when I wrote them or shot them may turn out to be unnecessary in the edit, and I was happy to lose them. I find editing very relaxing and you have time to explore all the material as you piece it together. The parts of post that I find a bit tedious are dealing with CGI and VFX, and all the waiting around for them.

Where did you edit and post this?
We did it all in Soho, London, at Goldcrest and various places.

Tell us about working with the editor. Was he on the set?
Jon came out to North Carolina a week before the shoot so he could see the place and we could talk about stuff. And as it’s a small, walkable place, I could wander over and see what he was up to while we were shooting. Jon’s great in that if he felt we’d missed a shot or moment, he’d let me know and we could do a pick-up, which is no problem when you have all the actors there. That happened a couple of times.

The main challenge was keeping the right balance between all the dark stuff and the comedy so that it flowed and wasn’t jarring. Tone and pacing are always key for me in the edit, and finding the moments of tenderness — that look in someone’s eyes as the rage and anger take care of themselves. I think the film’s more about loss and pain and hope than dark anger.

Who did the visual effects work, and how many visual effects shots were there?
There are a few, mainly taking stuff out and clean up. All of the fire sequences were done with real fire, but then we added VFX flames to enhance the look. And the whole Molotov cocktail scene was done with VFX. The scene where Sam goes across the street, up the stairs and then throws the guy out the window was all real — and done in one unbroken shot.

L-R: Martin McDonagh and writer Iain Blair.

How important are sound and music to you?
Hugely important. It’s half the film, at least, and I’ve loved Carter Burwell’s work ever since I saw Blood Simple. He’ll always do the opposite of what you’d expect and play against convention, which is partly why he’s so good. But he also comes up with beautiful melodies. I went over to see him in New York in the middle of the edit, and he played me a few ideas, which I loved as it had this great mix of Americana and Spaghetti Western. The score he wrote works perfectly for the characters and the themes. I love doing the sound mix and hearing how it elevates all the visuals so much. (Burwell received one of the film’s six Golden Globe nominations.)

Who did the DI?
Colorist Adam Glasman (at Goldcrest Post), who did my other films. I’m very involved, and pop in and give notes, but I really trust Adam and the DP to get the look I want.

The film’s getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz. How important is that to you?
It’s a small film with a small budget — obviously not one of the huge blockbusters like Star Wars and so on, so it’s great to be included in the conversation. It’s helped give it a lot of momentum, and I kind of like all the attention!


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.

On Hold: Making an indie web series

By John Parenteau

On Hold is an eight-episode web series, created and co-written by myself and Craig Kuehne, about a couple of guys working at a satellite company for an India-based technology firm. They have little going for themselves except each other, and that’s not saying much. Season 1 is available now, and we are in prepro on Season 2.

While I personally identify as a filmmaker, I’ve worn a wide range of hats in the entertainment industry since graduating from USC School of Cinematic Arts in the late ‘80s. As a visual effects supervisor, I’ve been involved in projects as diverse as Star Trek: Voyager and Hunger Games. I have also filled management roles at companies such as Amblin Entertainment, Ascent Media, Pixomondo and Shade VFX.

That’s me in the chair, conferring on setup.

It was with my filmmaker hat on that I recently partnered with Craig, a long-time veteran of visual effects, whose credits include Westworld and Game of Thrones. We thought it might be interesting to share our experiences as we ventured into live-action production.

It’s not unique that Craig and I want to be filmmakers. I think most industry professionals, who are not already working as directors or producers, strive to eventually reach that goal. It’s usually the reason people like us get into the business in the first place, and what many of us continue to pursue. Often we’ve become successful in another aspect of entertainment and found it difficult to break out of those “golden handcuffs.” I know Craig and I have both felt that way for years, despite having led fairly successful lives as visual effects pros.

But regardless of our successes in other roles, we still identify ourselves as filmmakers, and at some point, you just have to make the big push or let the dream go. I decided to live by my own mantra that “filmmakers make film.” Thus, On Hold was born.

Why the web series format, you might ask? With so many streaming and online platforms focused on episodic material, doing a series would show we are comfortable with the format, even if ours was a micro-version of a full series. We had, for years, talked about doing a feature film, but that type of project takes so many resources and so much coordination. It just seemed daunting in a no-budget scenario. The web series concept allows us to produce something that resembles a marketable project, essentially on little or no budget. In addition, the format is easily recreated for an equally low budget, so we knew we could do a second season of the show once we had done the first.

This is Craig, pondering a shot.

The Story
We have been friends for years, and the idea for the series came from both our friendship and  our own lives. Who hasn’t felt, as they were getting older, that maybe some of the life choices they made might not have been the best? That can be a serious topic, but we took a comedic angle, looking for the extremes. Our main characters, Jeff (Jimmy Blakeney) and Larry (Paul Vaillancourt), are subtle reflections of us (Craig is Jeff, the somewhat over-thinking, obsessive nerd, and I’m Larry, a bit of a curmudgeon, who can take himself way too seriously), but they quickly took a life of their own, as did the rest of the cast. We added in Katy (Brittney Bertier), their over-energetic intern, Connie (Kelly Keaton), Jeff’s bigger-than-life sister, and Brandon (Scott Rognlien), the creepy and not-very- bright boss. The chemistry just clicked. They say casting is key, and we certainly discovered that on this project. We were very lucky to find the actors we did, and  played off of each other perfectly.

So what does it take to do a web series? First off, writing was key. We spent a few months working out the overall storyline of the first season and then honed in on the basic outlines of each episode. We actually worked out a rough overall arc of the show itself, deciding on a four-season project, which gave us a target to aim for. It was just some basic imagery for an ultimate ending of the show, but it helped keep us focused and helped drive the structure of the early episodes. We split up writing duties, each working on alternate episodes and then sharing scripts with each other. We tried to be brutally honest; It was important that the show reflect both of our views. We spent many nights arguing over certain moments in each episode, both very passionate about the storyline.

In the end we could see we had something good, we just needed to add our talented actors to make it great.

On Hold

The Production
We shot on a Blackmagic Cinema camera, which was fairly new at that point. I wanted the flexibility of different lenses but a high-resolution and high-quality picture. I had never been thrilled with standard DSLR cameras, so I thought the Blackmagic camera would be a good option. To top it off, I could get one for free — always a deciding factor at our budget level. We ended up shooting with a single Canon zoom lens that Craig had, and for the most part it worked fine. I can’t tell you how important the “glass” you shoot with can be. If we had the budget I would have rented some nice Zeiss lenses or something equally professional, and the quality of the image reflects the lack of budget. But the beauty of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera is that it shoots such a nice image already, and at such a high resolution, that we knew we would have some flexibility in post. We recorded in Apple ProRes.

As a DP, I have shot everything from PBS documentaries to music videos, commercials and EPKs (a.k.a. behind the scenes projects), and have had the luxury of working with a load of gear, sometimes with a single light. At USC Film School, my alma mater, you learn to work with what you have, so I learned early to adapt my style to the gear on hand. I ended up using a single lighting kit (a Lowell DP 3 head kit) which worked fine. Shooting comedy is always more about static angles and higher key lighting, and my limited kit made that easily accessible. I would usually lift the ambience in the room by bouncing a light off a wall or ceiling area off camera, then use bounce cards on C-stands to give some source light from the top/side, complementing but not competing with the existing fluorescents in the office. The bigger challenges were when we shot toward the windows. The bright sunlight outside, even with the blinds closed, was a challenge, but we creatively scheduled those shots for early or late in the day.

Low-budget projects are always an exercise in inventiveness and flexibility, mostly by the crew. We had a few people helping off and on, but ultimately it came down to the two of us wearing most of the hats and our associate producer, Maggie Jones, filling in the gaps. She handled the SAG paperwork, some AD tasks, ordered lunch and even operated the boom microphone. That left me shooting all but one episode, while we alternated directing episodes. We shot an episode a day, using a friend’s office on the weekends for free. We made sure we created shot lists ahead of time, so I could see what he had in mind when I shot Craig’s episodes, but also so he could act as a backup check on my list when I was directing.

The Blackmagic camera at work.

One thing about SAG — we decided to go with the guild’s new media contract for our actors. Most of them were already SAG, and while they most likely would have been fine shooting such a small project non-union, we wanted them to be comfortable with the work. We also wanted to respect the guild. Many people complain that working under SAG, especially at this level, is a hassle, but we found it to be exactly the opposite. The key is keeping up with the paperwork each day you shoot. Unless you are working incredibly long hours, or plan to abuse your talent (not a good idea regardless), it’s fairly easy to remain compliant. Maggie managed the daily paperwork and ensured we broke for lunch as per the requirements. Other than that, it was a non-issue.

The Post
Much like our writing and directing, Craig and I split editorial tasks. We both cut on Apple Final Cut Pro X (he with pleasure, me begrudgingly), and shared edits with each other. It was interesting to note differences in style. I tended to cut long, letting scenes breathe. Craig, a much better editor than I, had snappier cuts that moved quicker. This isn’t to say my way didn’t work at times, but it was a nice balance as we made comments on each other’s work. You can tell my episodes are a bit longer than his, but I learned from the experience and managed to shorten my episodes significantly.

I did learn another lesson, one called “killing your darlings.” In one episode, we had as scene where Jeff enjoyed a box of donuts, fishing through them to find the fruit-filled one he craved. The process of him licking each one and putting them back, or biting into a few and spitting out pieces, was hilarious onset, but in editorial I soon learned that too much of a good thing can be bad. Craig persuaded me to trim the scene, and I realized quickly that having one strong beat is just as good as several.

We had a variety of issues with other areas of post, but with no budget we could do little about them. Our “mix” consisted of adjusting levels in our timeline. Our DI amounted to a little color correction. While we were happy with the end result, we realized quickly that we want to make season two even better.

On Hold

The Lessons
A few things pop out as areas needing improvement. First of all, shooting a comedy series with a great group of improv comedians mandates at least two cameras. Both Craig and I, as directors, would do improv takes with the actors after getting the “scripted version,” but some of it was not usable since cutting between different improv takes from a single camera shoot is nearly impossible. We also realized the importance of a real sound mixer on set. Our single mic, mono tracks, run by our unprofessional hands, definitely needed some serious fixing in post. Simply having more experienced hands would have made our day more efficient as well.

For post, I certainly wanted to use newer tools, and we called in some favors for finishing. A confident color correction really makes the image cohesive, and even a rudimentary audio mix can remove many sound issues.

All in all, we are very proud of our first season of On Hold. Despite the technical issues and challenges, what really came together was the performances, and, ultimately, that is what people are watching. We’ve already started development on Season 2, which we will start shooting in January 2018, and we couldn’t be more excited.

The ultimate lesson we’ve learned is that producing a project like On Hold is not as hard as you might think. Sure it has its challenges, but what part of entertainment isn’t a challenge? As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it.” Well, this time, the hard work was worth it, and has inspired us to continue on. Ultimately, isn’t that the point of it all? Whether making films for millions of dollars, or no-budget web series, the point is making stuff. That’s what makes us filmmakers.

 

 

Cinna 4.13

Timecode Systems intros SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6

Not long after GoPro introduced its latest offering, Timecode Systems released a customized SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black cameras, a timecode-sync solution for the newest generation of action cameras.

By allowing the Hero6 to generate its own frame-accurate timecode, the SyncBac Pro creates the capability to timecode-sync multiple GoPro cameras wirelessly over long-range RF. If GoPro cameras are being used as part of a wider multicamera shoot, SyncBac Pro also allows GoPro cameras to timecode-sync with pro cameras and audio devices. At the end of a shoot, the edit team receives SD cards with frame-accurate timecode embedded into the MP4 file. According to Timecode Systems, using SyncBac Pro for timecode saves around 85 percent in post.

“With the Hero6, GoPro has added features that advance camera performance and image quality, which increases the appeal of using GoPro cameras for professional filming for television and film,” says Ashok Savdharia, CTO at Timecode Systems. “SyncBac Pro further enhances the camera’s compatibility with professional production methods by adding the ability to integrate footage into a multicamera film and broadcast workflow in the same way as larger-scale professional cameras.”

The new SyncBac Pro for GoPro Hero6 Black will start shipping this winter, and it is now available for preorder.


Kevin Tent, ACE, on directorial debut Crash Pad and editing Downsizing

By Randi Altman

To say that Kevin Tent, ACE, is a prolific editor is in no way hyperbole. He has cut some of the most celebrated films of the last few years as a frequent collaborator of director Alexander Payne. They worked together on seven films, including Paramount’s upcoming Downsizing, as well as About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska (for which Tent earned an Oscar nom). Other editing credits include Blow, Girl Interrupted and The Golden Compass.

Not long ago, Tent left his dark editing room to step behind the camera for his directorial debut — the indie comedy Crash Pad, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Hayden Church, Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrev. Not too shabby a cast. Oh, and it’s funny. Even when not laughing, I found myself smiling.

Kevin Tent (left) on set.

While Tent isn’t going to shut down his Avid Media Composer anytime soon, he did enjoy the challenge and experience of taking the helm of a film. Crash Pad had a run of about a half dozen film festivals, was in theaters for a limited release and is available for digital rental. It comes out on DVD December 5, just in time to be a stocking stuffer.

Ok, let’s dig in with Tent, first about Crash Pad and then about editing Alexander Payne’s latest, Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig and Christoph Waltz, among othersOh, and when you are done with this piece, check out our interview with Tent about cutting Nebraska.

Is directing something you always wanted to do, and how did you decide on this film to direct?
It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a few years, but I’ve been so busy editing that I put it on the back burner. Finally, I just decided if I was going to try to do it, I should do it sooner than later, because I’m not getting any younger (laughs). I looked around for a comedy script, and I found Jeremy Catalino’s Crash Pad, which was really funny and kind of a backwards-romantic comedy. It took us a few years, but we finally got it made.

Why that long?
I’d be editing a film and that would take nine months or so, and then I’d have a month off, and think, “Oh, now I’ll try to get this movie made,” but it doesn’t work that way. It takes a long, concerted effort. When Downsizing got pushed for a year to wait for Matt Damon’s availability I thought… this was my chance. I was fortunate enough to get Bill Horberg on as a producer, and once that happened he got the ball rolling.

You have a pretty fantastic cast, including Thomas Hayden Church, who was in Sideways, which you edited. How did all of that come about?
The first character we wanted to cast was Stensland, and we were so lucky because we really wanted Domhnall Gleeson. He hadn’t done very many comedies but I had seen him in About Time and thought he’d be great. Lucky for us he said yes. Once he joined us, then we had to get the character of Grady. Because I knew Thomas from Sideways, he did us a favor and joined the team. He and Domhnall got along great; their chemistry worked both on screen and off-screen.

Then fortunately the beautiful and talented Nina Dobrev, who was looking to do something comedic, joined us. The last person to join was Christina Applegate. We were incredibly lucky to get this great cast on a very small movie, and for a first-time director.

What did you shoot on?
We used an Arri Alexa with old Panavision anamorphic “B” and “D” series lenses. Seamus Tierney our DP was so excited about our camera package. He promised the film would look great and beautiful, and he was right. I think the Alexa worked really well with our 23-day schedule, and how fast we had to move.

As you were directing, were you able to take off your editor’s cap, or were you editing in your head during the shoot?
I did know I needed to get coverage, and I was always thinking, “If this scene is terrible or doesn’t work, I can cut out there, or come in here.” Editors are good at figuring a way out of something if you’re in a jam. There was comfort in knowing if this scene doesn’t work at all, we’ll figure out some way around it.

Franco Ponte was my editor, and he was editing scenes and the movie while we were shooting. He was phenomenal.

L-R: Kevin Tent and Crash Pad editor Franco Ponte.

Did you learn how to direct by editing?
It didn’t really work that way. Directing requires a bunch of different skill sets — I was amazed at how different and difficult it was, how much I didn’t know and how much I learned. If I ever get a chance to do it again, I think I would be much better at it.

The film set is all pretty hectic. A cutting room is nice and quiet. You’ve got your footage, and you watch a take a number of times and then make your decisions. On the set, there’s a sort of controlled mayhem. You do a take, and then 20 people turn around and ask, “Well, what do you think? Good?” And you’re like, “I have no idea. I’m not quite sure, let’s go again.” It’s all-pretty crazy.

It must have been a little intimidating for your editor, Franco Ponte. How did you choose him, and how did that relationship work?
He was my assistant editor more than 10 years ago on a film I did up in Canada, and he has since become an editor. He’s very smart, articulate and was always very supportive. We approached the film in a traditional way. He did an assembly and then we started recutting scenes and the whole movie. I did a little cutting on my own; we would trade scenes back and forth till we were both happy with them.

He did some of my favorite cuts in the movie — things that I would have never thought of. I was very lucky to have him.

How did you work together to enhance the comedy with the edit?
It was always my intent — and I told the actors, too — to think of it as a kind of 1940’s screwball comedy. Comedies back then were not only smart and well written but also seemed loose and free. Never taking themselves too seriously. We cut it that way, too. The pace is pretty quick. There’s not a lot of air between jokes; we didn’t wait for laughs. We just kept cutting to the next line or joke.

What about the DI? How involved were you in that part of the process?
I was involved. It was done up at Encore in Vancouver. Our colorist was Thor Roos who did a terrific job. Seamus got to chime in and make adjustments from down here in LA. He’s always so busy shooting, but we were able to get him for an afternoon.

What kind of directive did you give to Seamus, initially, and to those working on the DI in terms of the look?
We wanted it to look rich, colorful and poppy. That was something we had talked about in pre-production since a lot of it takes place in a dingy apartment. So whenever given the chance — when we were outside or in a club or someplace — we tried to give it some visual dynamics with color and that kind of thing. I think it looks pretty good, especially considering our short shooting schedule.

It almost felt like it was taking place in a different time.
I’ve heard that before. I actually think the reason for that, possibly, is because ofthe lenses we used. Those are old and very cool lenses, so maybe they added more to the quality of it feeling dated. That wasn’t our intent, but it didn’t seem to hurt!

What was your favorite part of directing?
Watching a scene with an audience and hearing them laugh. That’s when you know it all worked. It was also a lot of fun to be on the set with the actors and the crew. Thomas and Domhnall had the crew laughing all the time. It was really hard, but it was really great to work closely with these people who came in and kicked ass for a couple of weeks on this movie.

You have such a great relationship with Alexander Payne, did you ask him for any directing tips?
He’s the best. He was so supportive, and it wasn’t so much the technical stuff, like, “Don’t forget to do this or that.” He never really said too much about that, but he always wanted to see how the days were going. It was great to know that some of the things he goes through I was going through as well, and that I wasn’t alone. That was really comforting. He was always there for me, and, of course, he was there looking at cuts and stuff like that.

Will you try it again?
I would try it again if I could find the right project, because it is a huge commitment. It’s going to take a couple of years of your life, and you’ve got to make sure that’s something you really want to do. I’m starting to think about it now that Crash Pad is running its course and coming out.

CUTTING DOWNSIZING
Let’s switch gears and talk about editing Downsizing for Alexander Payne.

This is your seventh film with Alexander. How does that relationship work, and do you typically keep up with camera?
Yes, I was cutting as they were shooting. I also had an overlap while finishing Crash Pad, so Joe Bini helped with assembling some of the movie. But our typical process now is that when Alexander comes back from shooting we basically start from scratch on the movie. We watch dailies together and do a first-pass director’s cut. Then, we’ll go back and look at things from my first assembly and compare the cuts.

That’s basically how we have been working since the end of About Schmidt, where he didn’t really want to watch an editor’s assembly. He wanted to just start cutting.

What are the benefits of that? Just a clean slate kind of thing?
Yes, it’s a clean slate, and it’s also a long enough period of time where he has some perspective on the footage and he remembers what they shot on the set. He remembers what he liked then, but he likes to look at it all again fresh. Our first pass together is almost like an editor’s assembly, but it’s a really good one.

Also, we get right in that stage where we start dropping lines, we start talking about maybe we should move this here, or we should come into the scene at this point. We start talking about what we’ll do on future passes of the movie as well.

This process takes a little more time, but Alexander is established enough where he can get a few extra weeks on his director’s cut if he needs it. We take it from there, and then we get into the real nitty-gritty of editing. It’s slightly unorthodox compared to how other people cut, but that’s how we’ve been doing it for the last few years.

Well, it seems to have worked.
Yeah, I think our first cuts are pretty good. Even if the first cut’s not great, we already know what we’re going to do on subsequent passes.

I’m assuming you worked with Media Composer on this one as well?
We did. Don’t leave home without it is what I always say.

Do any scenes stand out as your favorite?
There is a big sequence where the downsizing happens, and that is one of my favorites. It’s choreographed beautifully. The acting is great. The photography is great. The production design is great. It cuts like butter. We originally cut it to Bolero, which was in the movie until the very end, and it worked great. The long, long build-up climaxed at the reveal of the downsized patients. Composer Rolfe Kent’s greatest challenge was to beat Bolero, and he did. He totally nailed it.

I also love the scene with Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. We called it “The Tiny House” scene while in the cutting room. Those two are terrific in it.

Anything else about Downsizing that you would like to add?
I think it’s a pretty wild and crazy movie, funny, unexpected and original. Alexander really pushed himself to make something different, unique and unusual. but, it still has the same themes and sentiment that a lot of his other movies have. I think it asks us – what are we doing here on this planet? What does it mean to be human? What is this human experience all about? And it does all this through humor and pathos. It really is an Alexander Payne movie in the end.

I hope that people see Downsizing and they like it. I hope that people see Crash Pad and they like it. I think … it’s all I could hope for.


The A-List: LBJ director Rob Reiner

By Iain Blair

Director/producer/actor Rob Reiner has long been one of Hollywood’s most reliable, successful and versatile talents. Over the past three decades he’s created a beloved body of work in a diverse mixture of styles and genres that includes comedy (When Harry Met Sally, The American President), fantasy-adventure (The Princess Bride), satire (This Is Spinal Tap), suspense (Misery) and drama (Stand By Me, A Few Good Men).

Writer Iain Blair and director Rob Reiner.

Now the co-founder of Castle Rock Entertainment, who first found fame as one of the stars of the long-running hit series All in the Family, has taken on the timely subjects of political in-fighting and civil rights in LBJ. After powerful Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (Woody Harrelson) loses the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), he agrees to be his young rival’s running mate. But once they win the election, despite his extensive legislative experience and shrewd political instincts, Johnson finds himself sidelined in the role of vice president. That all changes on November 22, 1963, when Kennedy is assassinated and Johnson, with his devoted wife Lady Bird (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by his side, is suddenly thrust into the presidency.

As the nation mourns, Johnson must contend with longtime adversary Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Michael Stahl-David) and one-time mentor Georgia Senator Richard Russell (Richard Jenkins) as he seeks to honor JFK’s legacy by championing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In addition to an all-star cast that also includes Bill Pullman, Reiner assembled the below-the-line team of DP Barry Markowitz, editor Bob Joyce and composer Marc Shaiman.

I spoke with Reiner about making the film, which is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz — particularly for Harrelson’s performance — and his love of working quickly.

You don’t seem like someone who would jump at the chance to direct a film about LBJ. So what was the appeal of making this?
You’re right. I didn’t initially think I’d ever make a film about Johnson because I was draft age during Vietnam, and I hated LBJ. He was my enemy and could send me to my death. But I’m older now, and I’ve spent a lot of time in politics and crafting policy, and it’s given me a far greater understanding of what he was able to accomplish — domestically, at least, because his domestic policies and accomplishments are only second to FDR’s. You can’t ignore Vietnam of course, but had it not been for the war, he’d have gone down as one of the greatest presidents of all time.

So I thought, let’s take a look at him and really examine the man. I always thought of him as this bully, and a bull in a china shop, boorish and holding meetings while he’s using the toilet, and so on, but I did a lot of research, read a lot of books and got a much fuller picture of this complicated man. And two things struck me; he had a recurring nightmare where he was paralyzed, which I thought was very strange, and there was his relationship

with his mother, who withheld her love to him. It was very conditional, and he often felt unloved by her, which is also very interesting. So I wanted to use this narrow sliver of time, when he was facing his most challenging moments, to examine the man and his true nature.

Casting the right actor as LBJ is obviously crucial, but what made you choose Woody — who’s brilliant and a revelation — as Johnson?
No one thought it made sense when I told them Woody was starring. It was like, ‘Really?’ But first of all, he’s a Texan, and he’s a great actor, so I knew he could deliver the whole range needed, as he also has this very sensitive side. He also has this humanity and great sense of humor — so it was this all-in-one package.

Were you surprised by just how timely it’s become?
Completely, especially since we shot this way before Trump became president. It’s now become a different film, which is bizarre. I’ve never had a situation before like this, where I finished it, it was the film I set out to make, and then a few months later I’m looking at a totally different film — and I haven’t changed a frame. It’s so weird.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
We did most of it in New Orleans, some in DC, and some in Dallas, which was the biggest challenge logistically. They only gave us six hours to shoot the motorcade assassination scenes in Dealey Plaza, so I planned it out very carefully and we used four cameras and 12 different angles. Period pieces are always tough, getting rid of modern stuff especially, so going in we knew all the problem areas with our locations and we had all the CGI stuff and post integrated into the budget and schedule from the start.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love shooting, but pulling together all the material with your editor and doing all the post is where you really make your movie.

Where did you post?
We did it in a couple of different places. Bob Joyce and I did the cutting at our Castle Rock offices, and then we did some other stuff and the DI at Local Hero, and I’m very involved in the DI. We spent a lot of time going through every shot. And I love working digital, as you can manipulate every frame if you want. (Local Hero’s Leandro Marini used Assimilate Scratch on a Silverdraft Demon workstation for the DI.)

Joyce cut your last feature film, Being Charlie. Tell us about that relationship, and the editing challenges.
He wasn’t on the set. We sent him dailies back here in LA, and he knows what I want. I don’t even talk to him. He did a rough assembly and then we start cutting when I got back. I don’t even look at dailies because I know exactly what I’m shooting. I start editing in my head as I go, but Bob might suggest getting an extra shot, and I’ll do that. I shoot very quickly, and we did this in just 27 days.

That’s amazingly fast for a film of this size and scope. Is it true you also edit quickly?
You won’t believe this, but we actually edited this in just one week. There’s a lot of interlocking pieces, but I’m a puzzle guy. I love crossword puzzles, all that stuff, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So we had our first cut in a week, then you show it and make changes. But they were all minor. We didn’t do any reshoots. Sometimes we’d add CGI and some archival footage. There was a whole section with civil rights protests on TV, and we also added a scene at a lunch counter, to add some flavor.

Period films always have a lot of VFX. Can you talk about them?
We built a certain amount, like the whole White House interior set, and then one of my favorite VFX shots is the whole motorcade coming out of the White House at the end. We shot that on a parking lot in New Orleans, and Pixel Magic composited in all the background, the White House, the gates and so on. Then the opening shot of Air Force One was a composite — we had nothing there. Same with the big scene at the Lockheed plant. Most of the planes there were VFX, and they also extended the hangar where we shot.There’s a lot of clean-up, changing store fronts, and we added crowd people to the extras in various scenes.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
I’ve done nearly every film with composer Marc Shaiman, who’s brilliant and so versatile. He wrote a great score, and then (supervising sound editor) Lon Bender has worked with me for a very long time. They’d build more tracks than I need, and then I would start weeding stuff out because I don’t want it too busy. My big thing is get the birds out of there. Too many birds!

What’s next?
I’ve got this idea for a 12-part streaming historical drama series, but it’s still a secret.


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 Todd Haynes on making Wonderstruck

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Todd Haynes is a supreme visual stylist with a deep affection for period pieces and a masterly touch when it comes to dealing with such adult themes as desire, repression and regret. Now Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — brings those gifts and his sense of wonder and imagination to his new film Wonderstruck, which is based on an illustrated children’s novel by Brian Selznick. Selznick also wrote and drew “The Invention of Hugo Cabaret,” which became Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

Set in the 1920s and the 1970s, Wonderstruck tells the story of Ben and Rose, two deaf children from two different eras who secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known, while Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his home and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out on quests to find what they are missing that unfold with mesmerizing symmetry.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its young stars’ performances — opposite co-stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams — and for Haynes, whose credits include Carol, the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine, Safe and Mildred Pierce.

I spoke with Haynes about making the film.

What was the appeal of making this movie?
I wanted to make something adults hadn’t seen before and that I didn’t think kids had ever seen before. I wanted them to feel like someone believed in their ability to have their minds blown, and to look back to the past — all these things we think kids don’t do anymore, like turning off their phones and watching a black and white film with little dialogue, and dealing with a weird structure to the movie. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think kids are capable of all kinds of things and maybe we forget that.

This is your first film with kids in the leads. Was it something you always wanted to do?
Yes. I’ve worked with kids in a lot of my films, and I made a short, Dottie Gets Spanked, back in ’93 with kids as the main characters, but I’d never done anything like this… with two deaf kids as the leads.

The theme of deafness must have opened up a lot of possibilities, as the whole B&W section plays like a silent film.
Exactly, and the B&W bit was just the beginning. The deafness was there in Brian’s book and screenplay but to a degree I just didn’t appreciate when I first read his script, and then even after I’d shot it; I didn’t initially realize just how silent the movie is, and how little dialogue there is. There’s whole stretches without any talking, and then a character says something and it hits you. But I feel that if you’re into the movie, you don’t miss the talking in those sections.

The film was shot by your usual DP, Ed Lachman. What look were you going for?
It was a lot of fun bouncing between the different eras, and getting the B&W look and then New York City, which was a very different, look — but it’s kind of fun afterwards (laughs). That’s what challenges are. They’re not so much fun when you’re in the throes of dealing with them, but it was creatively tantalizing finding the textures and contrasts between the different eras, and we did a lot of planning and preproduction, focusing on all the detail.

Why do you love doing period pieces so much?
I think they make you ask, “Why are we watching this movie? Why is the director doing this or that?” So you set up a frame that makes you think about what the movie’s telling you about, so you have choices being made all the time. And looking at the past through a frame means you’re invariably also looking at where you stand now, and then you think about the relevance of the past and what it means today. It’s never about making today disappear. It’s about a conscious role in comparing the past and present.

Do you like the post process?
I really love it, because after all the craziness and time and money pressures of the shoot. You’re back in a small dark room, and you’re also down to a far lower overhead and the fewest number of people around, so it feels very cozy and intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in downtown New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI.

Todd Haynes and writer Iain Blair

The film was edited by Affonso Goncaves, who worked with you on Carol and Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship and the editing challenges.
So much of post was about editorial, and he was key to it all: the editorial language and how the film would ultimately work and connect with people. I really relish working closely with my editor, and he’s a great partner and very smart and knowledgeable. Our big challenge was figuring out how to deal with the two different stories and the time spent on each. Brian’s script marked all the intercutting very specifically, and it was all infused with a very cinematic quality that was very infectious. But I also knew it was something you have to wait and see how it actually works. And, ultimately, we learned that we had to spend more time with one story before cutting to the next.

You have to develop enough attachment to one character and to what they’re doing before you cut to the other. Then you have to pace it so you want to come back again. It was continually about finding the right balance. Then we actually screened a lot of cuts of the movie for kids, and that helped us so much and completely informed what we did. They reacted encouragingly — and maybe they misled us (laughs) — but they were remarkably specific with their comments.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Can you talk about that, and working with VFX supervisor Louis Morin?
Louis worked a lot with Denis Villeneuve and did Arrival and Sicario for him, and his credits include The Aviator and Brokeback Mountain, so he’s very experienced. I worked with him before on I’m Not There, and he’s a real artist and very sensitive. The best VFX shots in period pieces are the ones where you don’t fully rely on them; we did as much as possible in camera and practically, and then finished them with digital work by Alchemy 24 and Framestore. It’s a very close relationship between your production designer and VFX supervisor, and there’s always a lot of removal of contemporary stuff and cosmetic work and clean-up.

Given this is partly a silent film, can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important, it’s hard to overstate. My sound designer Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since Far From Heaven. This is the fourth collaboration with Carter Burwell, and like the sound designer and my sound recorder Drew Kunin he was involved from preproduction on.

So we’d all discuss sound and we recorded everything — all the dialogue for the B&W bits, all the ambiance, so we had it, even if it was just an indication of what we’d eventually do. We didn’t know how much marking with rhythm and percussion we’d use for the dialogue, and how effective it’d be — and I found that it wasn’t effective, and that every time we marked dialogue it just didn’t work. But we marked for gesture and that worked.

What’s next?
I’ve got a bunch of projects, including a documentary about The Velvet Underground. I’ve never done a documentary before and I’m excited about all the period research.


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 Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


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.


Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

We reached out to Big Block’s Paul and VFX supervisor John Cherniack to find out more…

How early did Big Block get involved in this F-150 campaign?
We worked with Detroit agency GTB starting in May 2017.

How much creative input did you have on the campaign? In terms of both original concept and execution?
Trillo: What was so original about this pitch was that they gave us a blank canvas and VO script to work with, and that’s it. I was building off a campaign that had been running for nearly 10 years and I knew what the creatives were looking for in terms of some sort of kinetic, constantly transitioning energy. However, it was essentially up to me to design each moment of the spot and how we get from A to B to C.

Typically, car commercials can be pretty prescriptive and sensitive to how the car is depicted. This campaign functions a lot differently than your typical car commercial. There was a laundry list of techniques, concepts, tricks and toys I’ve wanted to implement, so we seized the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at this. Then, by breaking down the script and pairing it with the different tricks I wanted to try out, I sort of formed the piece. It was through the development of the scripts, boards and animatics that certain ideas fell to the wayside and the best rose to the top.

Cherniack: Paul had some great ideas from the very beginning, and the whole team got to help contribute to the brainstorming. We took the best ideas and started to put them all together in a previz to see which ones would stitch together seamlessly.

Paul, Justin Trask (production designer) and I all spent a very long together going through each board and shot, determining which elements we could build, and what we would make in CG. As much as we wanted to build a giant gantry to raise the bar, some elements were cost-prohibitive. This is where we were able to get creative on what we would be able to achieve between practical and CG elements.

How much creative input did you have on set?
Trillo: The only creative decisions we were let to make on set were coming up with creative solutions for logistical challenges. We’d done all the pre-production work, mapping out the camera moves and transitions down to the frame, so the heavy lifting was finished. Of course, you always look to make it better on set and find the right energy in the moment, but that’s all icing.

Cherniack: By the time we started shooting, we had gone through a good amount of planning, and I had a good feeling about everything that Paul was trying to achieve. One area that we both worked together on set was to get the most creative shot, while also maintaining our plans for combining the shots in post.

What challenges did you face?
Trillo: I think I have a sort of addictive personality when it comes to logistical and creative challenges. Before this thing was fully locked in, before we had any storyboards or a single location, I knew what I had written out was going to be super challenging if not impossible. Especially because I wanted to shot as much as we could practically. However, what you write down on a piece of paper and what you animate in a 3D environment doesn’t always align with the physics of the real world. Each shot provided its own unique challenge, whether it’s an art department build or deciding which type of camera rig to use to move the camera in an unusual way. Fortunately, I had a top-notch crew both in camera (DP Dan Mindel) and production design (Justin Trask) that there were always a couple ways to solve each problem.

Cherniack: In order to have all of the measurements, HDRI, set surveys and reference photography, I had to always be on the move, while being close enough should any VFX questions come up. Doing this in 110+ degree heat, in the quarry, during three of the hottest days of the summer was quite a challenge. We also had very little control of lake currents, and had to modify the way we shot the boat scene in Brainiac on the fly. We had a great crew who was able to change directions quickly.

What was your favorite part of working on this campaign? What aspect are you most proud of?
Trillo: It was pretty spectacular to see each of these pieces evolve from chicken scratch into a fully-realized image. There was little creative compromise in that entire process. But I have to say I think I’m proudest of dropping 400lbs of french fries out of a shipping container.

Any major differences between automotive campaigns and ads for other industries?
The main difference is there aren’t any rules here. The only thing you need to keep in mind when doing this campaign is stay true to the F-150’s brand and ethos. As long as you remain true to the spirit, there are no other guidelines to follow in terms of how a car commercial needs to function. What appeals to me about this campaign is it combines a few of my interests of design, technical camera work and a dash of humor.

What tools did you use?
Cherniack: We used the software Maya, 3ds Max, Nuke, Flame, PFTrack for post-production.


Mother! director Darren Aronofsky

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/producer Darren Aronofsky made a big splash when his debut feature Pi won the prestigious Director’s Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He then quickly followed that up with 2000’s acclaimed drama Requiem for a Dream.

But his hot streak and momentum came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Brad Pitt dropped out of his expensive and ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain just weeks before shooting was due to start. Aronofsky scrambled to completely rewrite and retool The Fountain, this time starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Since then, Aronofsky has regained his momentum and continued to make visually audacious films as 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan (he got a directing Oscar nom, and star Natalie Portman took home the gold) and 2014’s Noah.

His latest film, Mother!, is another hard-to-categorize film — part horror story, part comedy, part fable, part psychological thriller — that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple whose relationship is severely tested when uninvited guests suddenly arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence and ultimately turning it into a literal war zone.

I recently talked to Aronofsky about making the film, and why he ditched the score.

This isn’t just a horror film. What sort of film did you set out to make?
After Black Swan I wanted to return to the horror genre, and I felt the home invasion genre hadn’t been used well in a while — and we can all relate to having house guests that overstay their welcome. So I felt that was a great starting point, and I also wanted to deal with larger issues — the planet we all live on, as guests in a sense. But I’m not really a genre filmmaker. For me, Pi was a thriller at its core, but I added lots of stuff and it became something else. I think I always do that. When I pitched Black Swan they felt it wasn’t enough of a ballet movie or horror film. It didn’t fit into any one genre. I just do what I think is cool and interesting, and then I start adding stuff.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning comedy and the increasingly dark, serious nature of the film?
It was tricky, but I think I was just truthful to what I’d written, and the intent of the characters does not change. They’re all very bad guests, and the level of the badness is what shifts, and the pitch changes. It’s like speeding up an old vinyl record — it just gets crazier and crazier, and more and more intense.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Technically, it was one of the hardest things me and my team have ever tried to do, because the last 25 minutes — the fever dream — were so demanding to choreograph and to maintain that nightmare fever-pitch for that long and have it build and build needed every department to work together in perfect sync.

The house is like another character. How did you deal with that?
It was vital to me that the film felt realistic and grounded for the first half, at least. I don’t think we could have pulled that off just shooting it on a stage, and we couldn’t find a real house that worked, so we went to great expense and effort to actually build the house up in Montreal where we shot. We actually built the house twice — the first time with just the first floor out in this beautiful field, which allowed us to do all the daylight sequences in natural light, and we shot those all in order. Then we built the full three-story house in a soundstage in Montreal for all the interior and night sequences, and as the house is like another character that morphs and changes, it really had to be a real house with all the plumbing and wiring, so that when it starts coming apart, it feels very real.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, and we did it all in New York at Sixteen 19. This post was very difficult and it ended up being 53 weeks – by far the longest I’ve ever done.

You cut this film with editor Andrew Weisblum, who collaborated with you on Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. How did that relationship work?
Editing was very tricky, because I wanted to pull the audience into Jen’s experience and not give them a chance to breathe, so we shot the film exclusively from her point of view, with hardly any wide shots, which usually allow you to get out of any sticky situations. Basically, the film is either shot over her shoulder, on her face or at what she’s looking at. This gives you incredibly limited coverage to work with in the edit, and Andy was forced to work with that. He began in preproduction, and we did three months of rehearsal which DP Matty Libatique, who’s shot most of my films, shot as a test. We then cut it together so we were able to look at a 100-minute rough version and get a sense of the camera movements and placement and how it would all look and learn from it. That was very helpful.

One of the biggest shocks of the film is that there’s no music. Can you talk about that decision and the importance of the sound design in the film?
It was a shock to me too! I’d hired composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s done films like Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and he wrote a wonderful score, and we worked on it for five months, but it was really weird — every time we played it to picture, it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then he said to me, “The score’s actually taking away from Jen’s performance, and pushing the film in another direction.” He was right. So we decided that the best score for the film was no score at all, which was pretty tough after all that work — and it scared the hell out of me, since I’ve always relied on music to be a major part of my films.

So I then turned to my longtime sound designer Craig Henighan and told him to just go for it, and that then became a huge part of the film. We actually kept some music cues all the way up to the mix stage, which we did at Warners, but ultimately realized we didn’t even need that because they suddenly stuck out.

Can you talk about the VFX, and working again with VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker.
Dan and I were roommates at college, and he’s done all my films. We had a huge number of shots — over 1,200, more than we had in Noah, although not so complex. We had a lot of different houses working on them, including ILM, Hybride, Raynault, and it was a mad rush at the end because the studio changed our release date, so we had to do two months of VFX work in just one month.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan who’s done all my films, and we worked very hard on the look to get this great, warm, lightly burnt butter look, so the DI was crucial.

Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
It’s always a constant evolution, and the colors a film takes on constantly shift and change, depending on the cast and production design and so on, but I’m very happy with it.

All Photos: Niko Tavernise


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 Philippe Falardeau takes on boxing with Chuck

By Iain Blair

On the surface, French-Canadian director Philippe Falardeau — whose drama Monsieur Lazhar was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards — might appear to be an unusual choice to helm a boxing film. But in his inspired hands, Chuck, the true story of Chuck Wepner, the first man to knock Muhammad Ali to the canvas while he was defending the title, lands a lot of impressive punches. Wepner was the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning Rocky franchise.

Director Philippe Falardeau

Set in the early ‘70s, Chuck tells the unlikely story of Wepner, who was the heavyweight champion of New Jersey and also sold liquor on the mean streets when he got his big shot to fight Ali. Ultimately, he didn’t win the fight, but he found instant fame as the underdog who lasted 15 rounds in the ring with Ali. That was nothing compared to when Rocky came out. Wepner quickly attained hero status as the real-life inspiration for Stallone’s script and was quickly anointed King of the Jersey shore.

However, just when Wepner thought he was invincible, life set him up for the ultimate K.O. The aftermath of that fight triggered a series of events and numerous legal struggles that led to Wepner grasping to stay in the limelight. These obstacles led to sobriety and redemption after serving five years in prison for cocaine possession.

Liev Schreiber stars as the flawed but charismatic boxer opposite Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan. The IFC Films release is also on Blu-ray presented in 1080p HD with English 5.1 DTS HD master audio, and on DVD and digital HD from Paramount Home Media Distribution.

I recently talked to Falardeau — whose films include The Left-Hand Side of the Fridge, which won Best Canadian First Feature at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival; the Warner Bros. release The Good Lie, starring Reese Witherspoon; and My Internship in Canada — about making the film.

Were you always a big boxing fan?
I was neither a fan or not, but I remember watching boxing at the 1984 LA Olympics and thinking there was something noble to it, and in sports I like duels between two people, like tennis. I don’t know a lot about boxing, and the script first caught my eye because I felt it’s not a typical boxing film at all. The big fight is in the middle of the film, and then there’s no big redemption fight at the end as usual.

Is it true you initially turned this down?
Well, I questioned if I was the right person for it. But as I read it the first time, I realized there was all this stuff I didn’t know about it, and it was a real page turner. It was more about the mythology of boxing and a cautionary tale about fame, which seemed very relevant in our era of social media when everyone wants to be famous.

There have been so many films about boxers, so what sort of film did you set out to make?
I was fascinated watching the actual fight on YouTube, and then I looked at a lot of archival footage since the script allowed for us to use some of that alongside what we had shot. All that really excited me, but the actual fighting sort of scared me. The thing is, the boxing you see in movies isn’t like reality, where it’s slow and messy, and nothing happens and then boom! Something happens.

So I wanted to make a film that showed the reality of boxing, not the movie version. After the whole fun ride of the first act, I think the story gets even more interesting when Chuck gets caught up in his whole new image and all the attention. Chuck really enjoys life. He’s a fun, playful, optimistic guy, sure of himself — really the opposite of Rocky Balboa. So the film had to be very playful — a drama that also didn’t take itself too seriously. So I tried to craft a movie where the rhythms, the editing, the archival footage and the tone all contributed to that feeling.

You got an amazing cast, with Liev Schreiber as Chuck, and Naomi Watts and Elisabeth Moss as his wives. What did Liev bring to the role, considering he looks nothing like the real man?
He brought so much, and he really agreed with my approach — let’s make it messy, not spectacular and just real. He spars a lot and really likes the sport, and he trained hard, so he was a great collaborator on this and he was very into it. And, of course, he’s a great actor, so we were able to explore a lot of levels.

Do you feel more of a responsibility when a film is about real people?
I do. I come from a documentary background, and I left documentary filmmaking because of the difficulty with that moral contract you have with the people you film. You want to make the best film possible, and that might mean making it more dramatic in the edit. That’s why I migrated to fiction.

With this, I met Chuck and his second wife, who are still together, and we all became friends. Chuck still calls me at home and keeps in touch. So it’s tough sitting next to him in a theater watching this, because at the same time you need to tell the truth of his story and shoot him in his underwear, snorting cocaine. But he knows he was no angel and we had to show that side.

Did you talk to Stallone at all about Chuck being the real-life inspiration for Rocky?
No, but the production needed his approval, and we got a few notes from him. We did get his direct help with the statue of Rocky at the end. It’s in his personal memorabilia collection, which he keeps at his LA office.

You shot this on location in New York City and Sofia, Bulgaria. Why Sofia?
That’s exactly what I asked when the producers told me, but in hindsight it was the right decision considering our budget. I ended up having double the time to shoot the Ali fight, three cameras, four times the extras for the crowd scene at the fight and a very competent technical team over there. So in all fairness, when producer Avi Lerner said we’d shoot in Bulgaria, he made the right call. I had to find solutions for the particular constraints, but half our job is always to find a way around new constraints. And, as it’s a period piece, that was a major challenge. For instance, finding old typewriters for some scenes.

Where did you post and do you like the post process?
We did all the post in Montreal at Technicolor, including the color correction. The sound was done partly in Sofia and partly in Montreal. The VFX was done in LA. I love post and always have. I also think people don’t have a clue just how much the success of a film depends on good post production, how much of a story you can build during the editing, and how much you can enhance your film in mixing and color timing.

The color and sound is vital in conveying a sense of intimacy, humanity and emotions. To get it right you need to work with artists in post. That’s why I love it so much. For me, the worst part of post is that first assembly. I always hate it! You can really measure the gap between your vision and your talent. I get really depressed and start looking for a new job outside film.

Can you talk about working with editor Richard Comeau, who’s cut over 60 films. Was he on the set?
No, he doesn’t care about your best takes, and he’s right because that’s completely irrelevant. So he’d start cutting as I shot, and we’d start the assembly. But an editor is not in your head, and to get the right POV and tone on a film you have to get in the room yourself. An editor can really help with restructuring and moving scenes around, but to get that specific tone you have in mind, you have to work on it with the editor.

Can you talk about using all the archival footage and making it seamless.
It wasn’t too tricky because I knew I’d be using archival stuff, and we also used a real 35mm grain in both the color and B&W bits, which also helped. The colorist, Nico Illies at Technicolor, did a great job on the DI. He used Filmlight’s Baselight.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, it’s a period piece, so you must have needed some VFX?
Quite a few, like the bear he fights, and then we had crowd enhancement at the fight. But all the hits we see on Liev’s face are real. They’re not enhanced.

What’s next?
I’ve got a couple of projects. One is a gold rush film, and the other is My Salinger Year, which I hope to start shooting early next year.


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.