Tag Archives: Danny Boyle

A-List: Director Danny Boyle talks about T2 Trainspotting

By Iain Blair

It’s been 21 years since Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting stuck a heroin- and adrenaline-fueled needle into the jaded veins of pop culture, electrifying audiences everywhere with its terrifying fever-dream tale of Edinburgh junkies. Let’s not forget the shocking and provocative imagery — visions of dead babies crawling across ceilings and the scene of Ewan McGregor slipping down the disgusting toilet in search of his drugs.

Now Boyle is back with a worthy sequel, T2 Trainspotting, along with the original cast of angry young men now facing mid-life crises — Renton (McGregor, who’s still running to the amped up track of the first film’s “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and “Sick Boy” Simon (Jonny Lee Miller).

Drugs, violence, vengeance, hatred and friendship all feature prominently in T2, along with aging and the toll time takes on people and relationships. But then Boyle, who won the ’08 Oscar for Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire, has always been attracted to kinetic, controversial stories that explore memory and time. He has pushed the cinematic envelope as far as he could, with such eclectic films as Shallow Grave, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later, Trance, Steve Jobs, Sunshine and 127 Hours.

For his latest film, he reteamed with DP Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot 28 Days Later, 127 Hours and won the Academy Award for Slumdog Millionaire; editor Jon Harris, whose work on 127 Hours earned him an Academy Award nom; and composer Rick Smith.

I spoke with Boyle about making the film, his production and post workflows, and why cinema is the only art form that can really examine time.

Successful sequels are notoriously tricky to pull off, and it’s been 21 years since T1. Why the long wait?
Weirdly, we never thought about doing a sequel when we did the first one. There was no pressure to do another, and I think we all felt it was a one-off. But as the years passed and it settled in people’s minds, it kind of stayed there. It didn’t fade like most movies do, and the characters all remained very vivid in people’s minds.

Then Irvine Welsh, who wrote the Trainspotting book, wrote a sequel, set 10 years later. We had a look, but we didn’t like it. We felt it would disappoint people, and there wasn’t really a reason for it to be. But when 20 years loomed on the horizon, we felt it was the last chance to do something, so we went to meet Irvine in Edinburgh, talked for a week and came up with a story that was far more personal — about getting older and how it alters your behavior. You see their faces and how they’ve aged, and there’s pathos there.

How do you top T1? Or do you even try?
You don’t try. We didn’t want to simply remake the first one, and this is really based on two books — the original and then Porno, Irvine’s sequel. So it blends the present and the past, and we felt very confident about that approach, and no longer had that crippling fear of disappointing people. We all believed in it.

Was it hard getting all of the original cast back for it?
Strangely, it wasn’t, even though coordinating all their schedules was not easy, as we shot in over 70 locations and a dozen sets in under two months, with only four weeks when they were all available at the same time. I think it really helped that we did it exactly like the first one. Everyone was paid the same — and not very much, and they would get back-end, again all equal. And the four roles would get equal screen time. Doing it that way made all the usual roadblocks fall away — it circumvented all the agents, managers and so on. Everyone was like, “OK, let’s do it.” If the script hadn’t been very good, it probably would have been different, but they all felt they had great material to play with, so it went very smoothly.

You added a new DP Anthony Dod Mantle, and new editor in Jon Harris to the mix. Did that help bring a fresh POV to the film?
I think so. Brian Trufano, who gave T1 that great vivid look, has retired and we invited him to the set, but you kind of have to go with your new partners you’re now working with, and I needed that shorthand I have with Anthony now — same with Jon.

How did you and Anthony stay true to T1, but also keep it current and its own thing?
We wanted to acknowledge Brian’s amazing work and the use of color and some of the really inventive shots, but you have to make it your own, especially as there’s moments that deliberately pay homage to the first one.

You know you’re going to borrow from the first one, but you can’t be slavish to it. It had to create its own right to be there. So we replaced that freshness you got from the first one with a different kind of experience, a slightly more reflective one, as it’s about the passage of time, really. So they try to recreate that effortless bravado of T1, but you can see the slight strain it takes now. They can’t quite do it.

Even though both films are set in Edinburgh, isn’t it true you actually shot the first one in Glasgow?
Yes, because of the tiny budget — just $3 million, and Glasgow was a lot cheaper. We did just one day in Edinburgh. We had a bigger budget on this and felt obliged to shoot it in Edinburgh, and the pride of all the locals was amazing. It gave us that sense of place which is far more important in a reunion — returning to a place, what’s the same, what’s different. The first one basically takes place in their heads, and the actual locations were fairly irrelevant.

Iain Blair and Danny Boyle.

Yeah, we moved back to London to edit it and do all the post. Jon was in Edinburgh, but he never came to the set. He’s one of those smart editors who doesn’t want to know where the door is on the set. He just wants to see what you actually shot. We cut for about 10 weeks and the main challenge of editing this was balancing how much to use of the first one, and how to use time as a texture. There are some freeze frames. The ones in T1 were used in a pop culture way. In this, they’re more about using time.

Time’s always a big theme for you, isn’t it?
You’re right, and film is the only art form that really looks at time in detail, because film is time. When you edit, you’re basically compressing time, speeding it up, freezing it — you can stop time in movies, which is amazing. No other art form can do that. The other amazing aspect of film is that a cinema visit is also an expression of time. Unlike with any other art form, an audience says, “I’m yours for the next two hours.” They give you that time, and in return you give them time that’s telescoped, stretched, even stopped. It’s extraordinary, really.

The music and sound on T1 had such an impact. How did you approach it on this film?
The big issue was: “Do we touch it or not? Do we refer to it or not?” We decided that, if we were going to use music from the first film, it had to be remixed and re-imagined, so that it would still have the same power — it’d be the same, but different. So Prodigy remixed “Lust for Life,” and we used this great Edinburgh band, The Young Fathers, who did several tracks. We did all the sound mixing at Pinewood with Glenn Freemantle and his team at Sound 24.

You must have a very well-oiled post machine by now. Was it the usual team doing the VFX?
Yes, we did all the visual effects with my usual guy, VFX supervisor Adam Gascoyne at Union Visual Effects in London. He’s done all my films for a long time now, and it’s a great relationship; he’s very much a key partner in building it all. A lot of the VFX were invisible — corrections, clean-up, but we didn’t do anything with the actors’ faces to age them or make them look younger. There’s a whole hallucination scene on the moors with a deer, when they get back on the heroin, and Adam did some great work around the pub to create this industrial wasteland.

Where was the DI done?
At Technicolor in London with colorist Jean-Clement Soret, working on the FilmLight Baselight, who does all my grading. Anthony and I trust him entirely. The big challenge was how to get a bold, colorful look that didn’t just copy the first one, and Jean-Clement did an amazing job. He’s not just a colorist. He’s really a post DP.

[From Jean-Clement Soret: Working on a sequel to such a seminal project offers unique challenges and the opportunity to revisit earlier creative inspirations. While the themes of the story are at times dark and depressing, it is a comedy: the photography and grade created a collage of very strong looks with nostalgic flashbacks, rich-cinema feel using high contrast, as well as re-grade of shots of the original footage from Trainspotting 1. There are many visual references to the first film and interesting use of color assembly.

[“To ensure that Trainspotting 2 developed its own visual style like TS1 did 20 years ago, director Danny Boyle and DP Anthony Dod Mantel looked to how developments in technology have changed the filmmaking process in the intervening period. Twenty years have passed between the two projects and camera acquisition, workflows and people’s understanding of visual narrative have developed to give access to a much deeper range of color tones. Similarly, Dod Mantel experimented with radical choices around lighting throughout proceedings.”]

Will you do T3 in another 20 years, like “7 Up”?
(Laughs) That’s a great idea. Michael Apted’s series was actually an influence on this. But you need a real reason to do it. We’ll see.

What’s next?
I’m shooting the first installment of this new drama series, Trust, for FX. It’s all about the Getty oil heir.


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 Danny Boyle on posting ‘Steve Jobs’

With Academy season approaching, we checked in with the Oscar-winning director

By Iain Blair

Danny Boyle, who won the 2008 Oscar for Best Director for Slumdog Millionaire, has always been attracted to controversial stories and pushing the cinematic envelope as far as he could, as such eclectic films as Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary, 28 Days Later, Trance, Sunshine and 127 Hours make very clear.

His latest film, Steve Jobs, continues in that tradition with its complex portrait of the visionary co-founder of Apple. Starring Michael Fassbender in the title role, it eschews the usual lazy Hollywood conventions of biopic storytelling — taking a strictly linear approach and throwing in some flashbacks — and instead presents, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s impressionistic script, Boyle’s inspired direction and editor Elliot Graham’s fluid cutting (which is getting a lot of Oscar attention), a visually and thematically audacious take on its notoriously enigmatic subject.

Writer Iain Blair and director Danny Boyle

I met up with Boyle recently about making the film, his love of post, and the Oscars.

You took a very complex anti-hero and threw away the usual biopic rulebook.
I’m glad you said that, because you always want your form and your subject to be the same, and here’s a guy whose mantra was, “Think different.” So right there, that’s a command to not do the same old biopic treatment — and Aaron Sorkin wrote this brilliant, unorthodox script, which really attracted me to the project. I felt this had to rock you back on your heels right away about how you approach this story and personality.

Biopics can be great, but they usually skim the surface, as they have to cover a lot of territory. With this I thought, can you do the same? Assemble the same sense of a person by intensively exploring three particular moments? And I believe you can. I’d argue you learn more this way than with the traditional skimming stone approach.

You always post in London, right?
Yeah, we shot it all in San Francisco — I insisted on that. It’s expensive, but the value of the real locations was enormous. There aren’t many in the film, so we probably could have replicated them somewhere else, but you get that organic element and legacy of the place that birthed this whole new era we’re all living through now. And then we moved back to London to edit it and do all the post. We cut at Goldcrest in a tiny room, and it’s always the same huge change of post — after the massive beast of the shoot with all these people, you end up in a little room where you actually make the film. Every DP hates hearing that, but it’s the truth. You make your film in the editing and post.

Film Title: Steve Jobs Film Title: Steve Jobs

The film was edited by Elliot Graham, who also cut Milk and X-Men 2. Is it true he wasn’t even originally brought on as the editor?
Yes, he was hired as a temporary, or assembly editor, just to do the first assembly while we were shooting because our editor wasn’t available for the shoot. But as soon as I began working with him, when we started cutting during the shoot, I realized just how amazing he is, and I told producer Christian Colson, “Tell the original editor to go and find another job, as this guy is so special.” And we persuaded him to come back to London with us, and I think what he did is absolutely brilliant — world-class work. We cut together for three months, and then we started the test screenings, and got the composer back in to polish some of what he’d done, and went from there.

I also heard that your approach to the music on this film was very different?
Yes, I really wanted to change the usual way I go about dealing with music in post. I’m very dominant and hands-on with music and composers, and I loved Daniel Pemberton’s work, especially what he did for Ridley Scott with The Counselor. So I told him, ‘Write all the music for this before we even start shooting it,’ but it’s very difficult to compose for Sorkin’s dialogue, as it’s continuous, emphatic and rhythmic, and you need to be able to follow it. That’s the buzz of it. So he had to respect the word, and he also had to create three different scores for the film’s three parts, to differentiate them as much as possible, but they’re also inter-linked, like a fugue. And there was no film to show him. It wasn’t easy for him, as it’s a bit like working in the dark, but he wrote some wonderful pieces that actually fit the scenes perfectly.

Film Title: Steve Jobs

Where did you do all the sound mixing?
At Pinewood, with Glenn Freemantle and his team at Sound 24. Then we added all the music from Daniel, and that way you get a great soundscape for the film. I’ve always been very particular about sound.

You must have a very well-oiled post machine by now. Was it the same team doing the VFX?
Yeah, I did all the visual effects with my usual guy, VFX supervisor Adam Gascoyne at Union Effects in London. He’s done all my films for a long time now. It’s a great relationship, and he’s very much a part of building it all. We had some very obvious effects, but as we were shooting so freely in these dressing rooms — which all have mirrors — that it was a problem.

So Adam was on set with us the whole time, and every day after we’d finished he would go in and take all these still shots of the process, and that enabled him to replace all the times we caught crew in the mirrors and stuff like that. So we had a lot of invisible VX work like that, a lot of clean up, as well as the more visible stuff.

Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on set.

Danny Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin on set.

There’s a great sequence where Jobs is in a corridor talking about a NASA rocket launch, and the corridor’s like a launch tube, and that was the most fun VFX shot to do for all of us. There’s also a bit where we wanted an image of the NASA ground control, stripped along the wall, and we tried the real stuff but it just didn’t look real! We ended up using footage from Apollo 13. I called Ron Howard and said, ‘Can we use it? It’s much more convincing than the real footage.’ Isn’t that weird? We also used Ridley Scott’s iconic 1984 ad in the film.

Where was the DI done?
At Technicolor in London with this really great colorist, Jean-Clement Soret, who does all my grading. It was very complex as we shot on 16mm, 35mm and digital, and all that had to be graded while retaining the original quality. I’m there for the whole DI as the look is ultimately down to me, but I like to leave them to it for the most part. (Editor’s Note: Soret used the FilmLight Baselight and Technicolor proprietary LUT in ACES colorspace.)

How important are the Oscars and all the awards?
They’re all extremely important, I feel. Not just the actual awards, but the increased visibility they give your films.

Film Title: Steve Jobs Film Title: Steve Jobs

Where do you keep your Oscar?
(Laughs) To be honest, it’s a bit intimidating, so I keep it out of sight. I don’t need the added pressure of looking at it when I’m starting a new film.

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.