Tag Archives: director

Big Block adds comedy director Richard Farmer

Who doesn’t like to laugh? No one. Well hardly no one. So when a director is able to evoke that sort of response from an audience, it’s amazing. That was the thinking behind Big Block’s addition of comedy director Richard Farmer.

This Oklahoma native began his career as an agency producer in Los Angeles after spending time post-college living in London, Seattle and Prague, working on indie films and videos. After a few years, he went on to produce for Mindfield, a production, editorial, and animation company for commercial television and music videos.

Since stepping behind the lens, Farmer has directed a prolific amount of commercials, each featuring his absurdist humor. Whether it’s carnivorous bunnies for Wendy’s, a magically appearing Fancy Bear for Free Credit Score or creating ’90s R&B songs about iconic memes for LG V20 phones, Farmer knows just how to create a memorable and compelling spot.

The recent LG spots are an example of Farmer’s style. Shot exclusively on the LG V20 phone, Farmer took well-known memes, from Double Rainbow to Damn Daniel and “remastered” them in high quality, showcasing a mash-up of his skills across the realms of narrative, music and VFX. Farmer has already hit the ground running at Big Block, having just booked a job for Simon Malls.

We asked Farmer what he likes about working with editors on his projects: “I love it when the editor really embraces that they are a partner in the process and know they have the freedom to take risks. Editors that are brave enough to push the creative and what was shot to new areas. Freak me out. Open it up and move the boundary. Show me new possibilities. I’m always blown away when that magic happens.”

 

Behind the Title: Director/Designer Ash Thorp

NAME: Ash Thorp (@ashthorp)

COMPANY: ALT Creative, Inc.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ALT Creative is co-owned by my wife Monica and myself. She helps coordinate and handle the company operations, while I manage the creative needs of clients. We work with a select list of outside contractors as needed, mainly depending on the size and scale of the project.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I fulfill many roles, but if I had to summarize I would say I most commonly am hired for the role of director or designer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Directing is about facilitating the team to achieve the best outcome on a given project. My ability to communicate with and engage my team toward a visionary goal is my top priority as a director. As a designer, I look at my role as an individual problem solver. My goal is to find the root of what is needed or requested and solve it using design as a mental process of solution.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I believe that directing is more about communication and not how well you can design, so many would be surprised by the amount of time and energy needed outside of “creative” tasks, such as emails, critiques, listening, observation and deep analysis.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
As a director, I love the freedom to expose the ideas in my mind to others and work closely with them to bring them to life. It’s immensely liberating and rewarding.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Redundancy often eats up my ambitions. Instructing my vision repeatedly to numerous teammates and partners can be taxing on my subconscious at times.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The late evening because that is often when I have my mind to myself and am free of outside world distractions and noise.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Nothing. I strongly believe that this is what I was put on earth to do. This is the path I have been designed and focused on since I was a child.

SO YOU KNEW EARLY ON THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I grew up with a very artistic family; my mother’s side of the family displays creative traits in one media or another. They were and still are all very deeply committed to supporting me in my creative endeavors. Based on my upbringing, it was a natural progression to also be a creative person.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
As for client projects that are publicly released, I most recently worked on the Assassin’s Creed feature film and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare video game.

For my own projects, I designed and co-directed a concept short for Lost Boy with Anthony Scott Burns. In addition, I released two personal projects: None is a short expression film devised to capture a tone and mood of finding oneself in a city of darkness, and Epoch
is an 11-minute space odyssey that merges my deep love of space and design.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
With Epoch being the most recently released project, I have received so many kind and congratulatory correspondences from viewers about how much they love the film. I am very proud of all the hard work and internal thought, development and personal growth it took to build this project with Chris Bjerre. I believe Epoch shows who I truly am, and I consider it one of the best projects of my personal career to date.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON FOR EPOCH?
We used a pretty wide spectrum of tools. Our general production tool kit was comprised of Adobe Photoshop for images and stills, texture building and 2D image editing; Adobe Bridge for reviewing frames and keeping a clear vision of the project; Adobe Premiere for editing everything from the beginning animatic to the final film; and, of course, our main staple in 3D was Maxon Cinema 4D, which we used to construct all of the final scenes and render everything using Octane Renderer.

We used Cinema 4D for everything — from building shots for the rough animatic to compiling entire scenes and shots for final render. We used it to animate the planets, moons, orbits, lights and the Vessel. It really is a rock-solid piece of software that I couldn’t imagine trying to build a film like Epoch without it. It allowed us to capture the animations, look, lighting and shots seamlessly from the project’s inception.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THIS WORK?
I am personally inspired by so many things. Epoch was a personal tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Carl Sagan, my love of space and space travel, classical sci-fi art and literature, and my personal love of graphic design all combined into one. We put tremendous effort into Epoch to pay proper homage to these things, yet also invite a new audience to experience something uniquely new. We hope you all enjoyed it!

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Internet, computers and physical traveling devices (like cars, planes).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I try and limit my time spent on social media, but I have two Facebooks, Instagram, Twitter and a Behance account.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I frequently listen to music while I work as it helps me fall deep into my mentally focused work state of mind. The type of music varies as some genres work better than others because they trigger different emotions for different tasks. When I am in deep thought, I listen to composers that have no lyrics in their work that may pull away my mind’s focus. When I am doing ordinary tasks or busy work, I listen to anything from heavy metal to drum and bass. The scale of music really varies for me as it’s also often based on my current mood. Music is a big part of my workday and my life.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I actually let the stress in and let it shape my decision making. I feel if I run away from it or unwind my mind, it takes double the effort to go back in to work. I embrace it as being a part of the high consumption industry in which I have chosen to work. It’s not always ideal and is often very demanding, but I often let it be the spark of the fire of my work.

Bringing the documentary Long Live Benjamin to life

By Dayna McCallum

The New York Times Op-Docs recently debuted Long Live Benjamin, a six-part episodic documentary directed by Jimm Lasser (Wieden & Kennedy) and Biff Butler (Rock Paper Scissors), and produced by Rock Paper Scissors Entertainment.

The film focuses on acclaimed portrait artist Allen Hirsch, who, while visiting his wife’s homeland of Venezuela, unexpectedly falls in love. The object of his affection — a deathly ill, orphaned newborn Capuchin monkey named Benjamin. After nursing Benjamin back to health and sneaking him into New York City, Hirsch finds his life, and his sense of self, forever changed by his adopted simian son.

We reached out to Lasser and Butler to learn more about this compelling project, the challenges they faced, and the unique story of how Long Live Benjamin came to life.

Long Live Benjamin

Benjamin sculpture, Long Live Benjamin

How did this project get started?
Lasser: I was living in Portland at the time. While in New York I went to visit Allen, who is my first cousin. I knew Benjamin when he was alive, and came by to pay my respects. When I entered Allen’s studio space, I saw his sculpture of Benjamin and the frozen corpse that was serving as his muse. Seeing this scene, I felt incredibly compelled to document what my cousin was going through. I had never made a film or thought of doing so, but I found myself renting a camera and staying the weekend to begin filming and asking Allen to share his story.

Butler: Jimm had shown up for a commercial edit bearing a bag of Mini DV tapes. We offered to transfer his material to a hard drive, and I guess the initial copy was never deleted from my own drive. Upon initial preview of the material, I have to say it all felt quirky and odd enough to be humorous; but when I took the liberty of watching the material at length, I witnessed an artist wrestling with his grief. I found this profound switch in takeaway so compelling that I wanted to see where a project like this might lead.

Can you describe your collaboration on the film?
Lasser: It began as a director/editor relationship, but it evolved. Because of my access to the Hirsch family, I shot the footage and lead the questioning with Allen. Biff began organizing and editing the footage. But as we began to develop the tone and feel of the storytelling, it became clear that he was as much a “director” of the story as I was.

Butler: In terms of advertising, Jimm is one of the smartest and discerning creatives I’ve had the pleasure of working with. I found myself having rather differing opinions to him, but I always learned something new and felt we came to stronger creative decisions because of such conflict. When the story of Allen and his monkey began unfolding in front of me, I was just as keen to foster this creative relationship as I was to build a movie.

Did the film change your working relationship?
Butler: As a commercial editor, it’s my job to carry a creative team’s hard work to the end of their laborious process — they conceive the idea, sell it through, get it made and trust me to glue the pieces together. I am of service to this, and it’s a privilege. When the footage I’d found on my hard drive started to take shape, and Jimm’s cousin began unloading his archive of paintings, photographs and home video on to us, it became a more involved endeavor. Years passed, as we’d get busy and leave things to gather dust for months here and there, and after a while it felt like this film was something that reflected both of our creative fingerprints.

Long Live Benjamin

Jimm Lasser, Long Live Benjamin

How did your professional experiences help or influence the project?
Lasser: Collaboration is central to the process of creating advertising. Being open to others is central to making great advertising. This process was a lot like film school. We both hadn’t ever done it, but we figured it out and found a way to work together.

Butler: Jimm and I enjoyed individual professional success during the years we spent on the project, and in hindsight I think this helped to reinforce the trust that was necessary in such a partnership.

What was the biggest technical challenge you faced?
Butler: The biggest challenge was just trying to get our schedules to line up. For a number of years we lived on opposite sides of the country, although there were three years where we both happened to live in New York at the same time. We found that the luxury of sitting was when the biggest creative strides happened. Most of the time, though, I would work on an edit, send to Jimm, and wait for him to give feedback. Then I’d be busy on something else when he’d send long detailed notes (and often new interviews to supplement the notes), and I would need to wait a while until I had the time to dig back in.

Technically speaking, the biggest issue might just be my use of Final Cut Pro 7. The film is made as a scrapbook from multiple sources, and quite simply Final Cut Pro doesn’t care much for this! Because we never really “set out” to “make a movie,” I had let the project grow somewhat unwieldy before realizing it needed to be organized as such.

Long Live Benjamin

Biff Butler, Long Live Benjamin

Can you detail your editorial workflow? What challenges did the varying media sources pose?
Butler: As I noted before, we didn’t set out to make a movie. I had about 10 tapes from Jimm and cut a short video just because I figured it’s not every day you get to edit someone’s monkey funeral. Cat videos this ain’t. Once Allen saw this, he would sporadically mail us photographs, newspaper clippings, VHS home videos, iPhone clips, anything and everything. Jimm and I were really just patching on to our initial short piece, until one day we realized we should start from scratch and make a movie.

As my preferred editing software is Final Cut Pro 7 (I’m old school, I guess), we stuck with it and just had to make sure the media was managed in a way that had all sources compressed to a common setting. It wasn’t really an issue, but needed some unraveling once we went to online conform. Due to our schedules, the process occurred in spurts. We’d make strides for a couple weeks, then leave it be for a month or so at a time. There was never a time where the project wasn’t in my backpack, however, and it proved to be my companion for over five years. If there was a day off, I would keep my blades sharp by cracking open the monkey movie and chipping away.

You shot the project as a continuous feature, and it is being shown now in episodic form. How does it feel to watch it as an episodic series?
Lasser: It works both ways, which I am very proud of. The longer form piece really lets you sink into Allen’s world. By the end of it, you feel Allen’s POV more deeply. I think not interrupting Alison Ables’ music allows the narrative to have a greater emotional connective tissue. I would bet there are more tears at the end of the longer format.

The episode form sharpened the narrative and made Allen’s story more digestible. I think that form makes it more open to a greater audience. Coming from advertising, I am used to respecting people’s attention spans, and telling stories in accessible forms.

How would you compare the documentary process to your commercial work? What surprised you?
Lasser: The executions of both are “storytelling,” but advertising has another layer of “marketing problem solving” that effects creative decisions. I was surprised how much Allen became a “client” in the process, since he was opening himself up so much. I had to keep his trust and assure him I was giving his story the dignity it deserved. It would have been easy to make his story into a joke.

Artist Allen Hirsch

Butler: It was my intention to never meet Allen until the movie was done, because I cherished that distance I had from him. In comparison to making a commercial, the key word here would be “truth.” The film is not selling anything. It’s not an advertisement for Allen, or monkeys, or art or New York. We certainly allowed our style to be influenced by Allen’s way of speaking, to sink deep into his mindset and point of view. Admittedly, I am very often bored by documentary features; there tends to be a good 20 minutes that is only there so it can be called “feature length” but totally disregards the attention span of the audience. On the flip side, there is an enjoyable challenge in commercial making where you are tasked to take the audience on a journey in only 60 seconds, and sometimes 30 or 15. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being in control of what our audience felt and how they felt it.

What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Lasser: To me this is a portrait of an artist. His relationship with Benjamin is really an ingredient to his own artistic process. Too often we focus on the end product of an artist, but I was fascinated in the headspace that leads a creative person to create.

Butler: What I found most relatable in Allen’s journey was how much life seemed to happen “to” him. He did not set out to be the eccentric man with a monkey on his shoulders; it was through a deep connection with an animal that he found comfort and purpose. I hope people sympathize with Allen in this way.


To watch Long Live Benjamin, click here.

Quick Chat: Brent Bonacorso on his Narrow World

Filmmaker Brent Bonacorso has written, directed and created visual effects for The Narrow World, which examines the sudden appearance of a giant alien creature in Los Angeles and the conflicting theories on why it’s there, what its motivations are, and why it seems to ignore all attempts at human interaction. It’s told through the eyes of three people with differing ideas of its true significance. Bonacorso shot on a Red camera with Panavision Primo lenses, along with a bit of Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera for random B-roll.

Let’s find out more…

Where did the idea for The Narrow World come from?
I was intrigued by the idea of subverting the traditional alien invasion story and using that as a way to explore how we interpret the world around us, and how our subconscious mind invisibly directs our behavior. The creature in this film becomes a blank canvas onto which the human characters project their innate desires and beliefs — its mysterious nature revealing more about the characters than the actual creature itself.

As with most ideas, it came to me in a flash, a single image that defined the concept. I was riding my bike along the beach in Venice, and suddenly in my head saw a giant Kaiju as big as a skyscraper sitting on the sand, gazing out at the sea. Not directly threatening, not exactly friendly either, with a mutual understanding with all the tiny humans around it — we don’t really understand each other at all, and probably never will. Suddenly, I knew why he was here, and what it all meant. I quickly sketched the image and the story followed.

What was the process like bringing the film to life as an independent project?
After I wrote the script, I shot principal photography with producer Thom Fennessey in two stages – first with the actor who plays Raymond Davis (Karim Saleh) and then with the actress playing Emily Field (Julia Cavanaugh).

I called in a lot of favors from my friends and connections here in LA and abroad — the highlight was getting some amazing Primo lenses and equipment from Panavision to use because they love Magdalena Górka’s (the cinematographer) work. Altogether it was about four days of principal photography, a good bit of it guerrilla style, and then shooting lots of B-roll all over the city.

Kacper Sawicki, head of Papaya Films which represents me for commercial work in Europe, got on board during post production to help bring The Narrow World to completion. Friends of mine in Paris and Luxembourg designed and textured the creature, and I did the lighting and animation in Maxon Cinema 4D and compositing in Adobe After Effects.

Our editor was the genius Jack Pyland (who cut on Adobe Premiere), based in Dallas. Sound design and color grading (via Digital Vision’s Nucoda) were completed by Polish companies Głośno and Lunapark, respectively. Our composer was Cedie Janson from Australia. So even though this was an indie project, it became an amazing global collaborative effort.

Of course, with any no-budget project like this, patience is key — lack of funds is offset by lots of time, which is free, if sometimes frustrating. Stick with it — directing is a generally a war of attrition, and it’s won by the tenacious.

As a director, how did you pull off so much of the VFX work yourself, and what lessons do you have for other directors?
I realized early on in my career as a director that the more you understand about post, and the more you can do yourself, the more you can control the scope of the project from start to finish. If you truly understand the technology and what is possible with what kind of budget and what kind of manpower, it removes a lot of barriers.

I taught myself After Effects and Cinema 4D in graphic design school, and later I figured out how to make those tools work for me in visual effects and to stretch the boundaries of the short films I was making. It has proved invaluable in my career — in the early stages I did most of the visual effects in my work myself. Later on, when I began having VFX companies do the work, my knowledge and understanding of the process enabled me to communicate very efficiently with the artists on my projects.

What other projects do you have on the horizon?
In addition to my usual commercial work, I’m very excited about my first feature project coming up this year through Awesomeness Films and DreamWorks — You Get Me, starring Bella Thorne and Halston Sage.

Commercial and film director Jessica Sanders joins Sanctuary

Sanctuary in Culver City has added director Jessica Sanders to its roster. Sanders, who has a background in documentaries and character-driven storytelling, got her big break in advertising with a Sony “make.believe” short film, for which she won a Cannes Young Director Award. The film also got the attention of Steve Jobs, who personally handpicked her to direct the launch ad for the Apple iPad.

During her career, the filmmaker has earned an Oscar nomination for Sing, a short doc on aspiring young vocalists. She also got a Sundance Special Jury Prize for After Innocence, her documentary about wrongfully convicted men cleared by DNA that serves as the basis for her upcoming feature film, Picking Cotton.

Sanders, whose resume also includes campaigns for Amazon, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Honda and Toyota, is currently working on a three-film campaign for Land Rover out of agency Spark44’s London office. She will be also be directing a short film for Refinery29’s SmashBox Anthology Series, produced by Sanctuary and Sanders.

Main Photo: Elisabeth Caren

Tips: From editing to directing

By Dave Henegar

Recently, I was asked by a client of mine to direct a national commercial. At first I thought, “What a fantastic opportunity!” Then reality set in. I realized that for the last 23 years I’ve been editing for some of the greatest commercial directors in the industry, but I had no idea how they did what they did.

So, naturally, I felt a mix of excitement and anxiety. After picking myself up off the floor, I thought about the many years I was lucky enough to work with such beautiful pieces, and my confidence grew as I recounted the varied and ingenious ways those directors told their stories. From the way they composed their images to the art direction of every meticulous detail. The great effort they put into connecting one shot to the next.

As their editor, I realized my life was much easier when all of those details were worked out well in advance. In fact, the worst projects I’ve worked on were the ones where directors set up many cameras and simply “captured” the action and said to themselves “we’ll figure it out in the edit.”

With that in mind, I set out on day one to craft a 30 second story that had a structure similar to the great directors I had worked with in the past. Thankfully, the commercial turned out to be a success, and I was proud of the final product.  In fact, there was very little I would change if I had to do it over.

So in light of the fact that I’ve only directed one commercial, I was asked to give my thoughts on making the leap into directing from editorial. Perhaps the best way to do that is to offer up the top five lessons I learned that may help other editors who dream of becoming directors.

1.  Pre-pro is more than half the battle
The day after I got the call from the agency I began drawing my own storyboards. I needed to understand quickly if I could pull off the grand concept the agency had presented. I must have drawn a hundred images. Like editing, I was rearranging shots in my head, but now I had to draw each one of those images and decide if they would work or not. Then came the process of the director’s treatment. Because I was a first-timer, I had to design and write the treatment myself. I took the treatment very seriously because I knew that it would be my one chance to prove that I understood what the client’s needs were and how to execute what the agency had carefully constructed. My words had to be clear and compelling — the images and layout had to be crafted and polished. Everything you present in your treatment is a reflection of your taste level. And lastly, location scouting is incredibly important. Design the perfect environment in your head before you begin your search, it will help you narrow down the vast number of images that will start pouring in from the location scouts.

2. Choose the Best Help You Can Afford
I would not have been able to achieve the look I wanted without the best cinematographer. Once I had secured best DP, I knew that he would bring with him his best keys. It’s a trickle down effect: choose the best and they’ll choose the best. The shoot day goes infinitely smoother and faster when the right people are in place.

3. Pay Close Attention to the Client
The client knows their audience far better than you will. You will be tempted to take their money and make the film of your dreams, but in my opinion that’s not what makes a good director. A good director is someone who can take the limitations and opportunities they’ve been handed and make an outstanding product.

4. Try Not to Edit Your Own Work
I believe that teamwork is better than a one-man-band. Talented teams can elevate a project. A talented editor will show you different ways in which your story could be told. As a director, it’s easy to get your storyboards firmly embedded in your head and simply edit what you had storyboarded. Let someone else you trust take your film in ways you didn’t expect.

5. Learn How to Present
Often times as editors we are required to say a few words before we press “play” for the first time. We may caveat the edit before showing it, saying something like “the sound is still rough” or “VFX aren’t in place yet.” Apart from that, we’re not required to go into great detail about deeper concepts. As a director, I learned that I was accountable for several hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for the vision I was trying to sell.  I have never spent so much time on the phone in my life!

Being a director is mostly about being a great communicator. You need to be able to effectively explain your concept and execution to the agency and the client — several times over! People who are prepared to plop down a six-figure check want to have everything explained to them in great detail. As well they should! If they’re paying the bill, they deserve to know what they’re getting for their money. Also being able to communicate with your crew is tremendously important. The more you communicate, the more respect you’ll get from those who are trying to help you bring your vision to life.  Respect everyone in your crew — period.

So that’s the top five, of what could easily be 25, things to think about when moving from editorial to directing.

To all my friends in editorial, I highly recommend trying it if you’ve not yet had the opportunity. It’s a challenging task but exciting. Take advantage of your many years of storytelling experience and put them behind the camera. It’s a humbling and exhilarating experience!

Dave Henegar is co-founder and editor at Butcher Post in Santa Monica.

The A-List: An interview with ‘The Big Short’ director Adam McKay

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Adam McKay has become one of the most successful comedy directors in Hollywood thanks to such hits as the Anchorman films, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys and Marvel’s Ant-Man, which he wrote. Considering his resume, he just might seem like the last person in town equipped to make The Big Short, a seriously dense drama about the devastating 2008 financial crisis that is still resonating through every level of American society.

McKay was not only up to the challenge, he took the complex catastrophe and an all-star cast — including Oscar-winner Christian Bale and Oscar-nominated actors Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt — and turned the film into a riveting examination of corruption, greed and incompetence.

I recently caught up with McKay to talk about his process on The Big Short, a Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises film.

Adam McKay and Steve Carell on set.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making The Big Short, considering you’re best known for comedies?
Even in the silly comedies we always have a POV of what’s going on in the world. So obviously Anchorman is skewering ratings-driven news in the US, and Talladega Nights was about Red State pride, and so on. I’ve always been interested in politics, In fact, I’ve written for Michael Moore’s TV show The Awful Truth and the Huffington Post.

So when I read Michael Lewis’ book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, it totally gripped me… the way he fused character with all this relevant information. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so two years later when my agent asked me if I had a dream project I immediately said The Big Short.

You took quite a radical approach with this very serious subject, making it very funny. So you couldn’t help yourself, while your outrage seems to simmer just below the surface?
I knew it had to be funny to sell the outrage. There’s two parts to this story: the first is where the outsiders know what no one else knows, while the big banks roll their eyes at them. They have the truth, and that part is very exhilarating and exciting, to see these corrupt banks be played by these guys. I knew that we’d always have energy and humor. Then there was the second part, when they learn that the corruption goes way deeper than they had imagined. Plus the fact that the whole world could collapse from this was a tragedy.

It’s also a genre-less story.
Yes! That’s exactly why I loved it so much. I believe the old genres are melting away a bit, so I could change tones on this. And, yes, it’s a tough subject, but learning about anything this important — to find out the truth — is exciting. We’re looking behind the curtain for the first time.

On top of a stellar cast, you got a ton of celebrity cameos illustrating knotty financial concepts.

We called them “pop culture icon characters,” and they explain stuff like “collateralized debt obligation.” So Anthony Bourdain came on, and for the end we had wanted Jay-Z and Beyonce, but found it would be easier to get Angela Merkel. So instead we paired Selena Gomez with economist Richard Thaler in a casino.

The film was shot by DP Barry Ackroyd, whose credits include The Hurt Locker, Captain Phillips and United 93. What look were you going for?
We went for a very high-energy, “you are there” feel. There have been some great movies about Wall Street — like Wall Street and Margin Call — but they always present it with everyone in perfect suits in these solid, marble buildings; I felt this experience was the total opposite. I wanted it to be frenetic and anxiety-filled — since that’s how the real people experienced it — and that’s how most of Wall Street operates. That whole facade of conservative bankers in austere offices is a bit of propaganda sometimes. Barry was key to that look, and I’m a huge fan of all his work.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay.

Cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and director Adam McKay talking through a shot.

Where did you post, and what were the main challenges?
At Technicolor on the Paramount lot. I knew it was a very ambitious project with a lot of moving parts, so my main rule was that no idea was off limits; let’s try anything! I’ve never seen a post with so many ideas flying around all over the place. It was very exciting.

The film was edited by Hank Corwin, whose credits include The Tree of Life, Natural Born Killers, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Horse Whisperer and Nixon. Tell us about how that relationship worked, especially considering the sheer volume of visual information he had to process.
Hank is just so experienced and creative, and he was so good at pulling all the material together into this coherent story. Then we hired this young composer, Nicholas Britell, who started very early and had an office right next to Hank’s. We had this great system where Hank would cut a version of a scene and then we’d ask Nick to write something for it, and he’d often plug his keyboard directly into Hank’s set-up and actually score the scene as Hank cut it. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in post. So it was a very tight, very collaborative group.

BGS-02221R      THE BIG SHORT

Do you like the post process?
I love post, and this was one of the best posts I’ve ever had, starting with the DP and editor. They’re true masters of their craft.

This has some great VFX. Can you talk about them?
The big one that’s jaw-droppingly good — and it’s so good that no one realizes it’s a VFX shot — is the timelapse shot at the start of the film. ILM did it, and I wanted to illustrate how banking has grown over the past 30 years, from six percent of the GDP to 24 percent today. That’s why Manhattan’s real estate has gone through the roof.

So ILM created a sequence with all these buildings sprouting up, and there are even occasional smudges of rain on the camera, and no one’s ever guessed it’s just VFX. But if you stop and think about it, you know there’s no way it’s real.

The other big one is the glass eye for Christian Bale’s character. That was so tricky to do, since in reality you’re not that aware of someone’s glass eye except the odd occasion when it doesn’t move, and I didn’t want it to become too obtrusive. So we painstakingly went through every single shot to get it just right, and Lola VFX did a fantastic job on it.

Where did you mix?
Also at Technicolor, and mixers Anna Behlmer and Terry Porter just killed it. I’ve never done a mix quite like it, where it was shot about 80 percent verite, but the rest is framed more traditionally and we go into montages. The sound had to be ambient and real, but then sometimes it wasn’t. So it had to be momen-by-moment.

Where did you do the DI?
Efilm with Company 3’s Stephan Nakamura (who uses DaVinci Resolve). He did an amazing job. DP Barry Ackroyd was off shooting, so I was very involved.

What’s next?
I got a real charge from doing something so current, so I have a few ideas kicking around — one about climate change and another comedy with Will Farrell about immigration.

We’re well into awards season. You’ve been nominated for a Golden Globe for co-writing this. How important are awards to you?
Huge. This is a very unusual movie, so that validation helps a lot.

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.

Quick Chat: Interstate director Laurent Barthelemy

It wasn’t long ago that Laurent Barthelemy joined the new directors group Interstate — founded by executive producer Danny Rosenbloom and director Yann Mabille — as a partner and a director.

Barthelemy is probably best known for his work as a CG artist/designer at Pysop. While there worked he on the AICP Award-winning spot Crow for MTV, as well as the Clio and Cannes Lion Award-winning spot Human Chain for Nike. He later went on to direct projects for Michelin, British Gas, American Express, Showtime and TED.

As an independent director, he has helmed commercials for Google and Xerox, as well as the Heather documentary via production company Smuggler.

Let’s find out more about his move to Interstate and how he will us both his CG background and directing skills in his new role.

Why Interstate, and why now?
Interstate was launched by Danny and Yann, who are among my favorite people in the industry. They’re really great guys with tons of drive and passion. We are getting together with a tight group of like-minded artists to make something fun.

Can you talk about the differences of directing VFX/CG versus live action?
Time is the main difference. Do you like to improv on the fly and jam with your band? Or, like a classical music conductor, do you like to craft each musical queue with your orchestra before you play? I like the idea of a classically trained conductor jamming with a metal band!

How do you pick a VFX supervisor, especially since you are a CG artist yourself?
I am, indeed, demanding since I’ve been a VFX supervisor myself. But the most important factor for me is to find a supervisor who understands that it’s all about the emotion and the story we are telling. It doesn’t really matter how we get there. If they are solid technically and approach their craft with creative flexibility and a fresh eye every time, I love them.

Is there a particular camera you like to work with, or does it depend on DP or project?
Recently, I really enjoyed filming with the Red Dragon. It handles colors from nature beautifully. We were shooting a film called Campers in the middle of the French countryside, and the range of greens we captured is gorgeous. Of course, it all depends on the project and my collaborators. When we shot the documentary Heather, an intimate portrait of a female boxer from Brooklyn, we used a nimble little Sony F3 with older, slightly beat-up lenses and I think it worked well.

Laurent Barthelemy on set (left).

You have talked in the past about how you like working with actors. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
There is a bit of wanting to be an actor myself (smiles). Remembering my own stage fright, I know viscerally how vulnerable it is to be an actor. You put yourself out there entirely. It’s you bringing something out from your soul and your body. So I guess the first part of my answer would be that I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for each actor I work with. Then there is something truly magical in seeing a scene unfold in many different ways; a new world being created every time the actors and I have a quick word before a take.

Can you talk about a project you either just finished or are about to start?
The project Campers I mentioned earlier is very dear to me. It is a naturalistic film with a supernatural twist. We had a six-day shoot deep in Ardeche, a part of the French countryside we rarely see on screen. We came with our star cast from Paris and found a few non-professional actors there who were trusting and very generous with their emotions. We are now crafting some crazy VFX sequences on top of that world. It’s very exciting.

What are your roots? How did you get started in this business, and how did it evolve to where you are now?
I got started in this business after I did my first short film. The guys at Psyop saw it and gave me a chance. I owe a lot to Marco Spier and Marie Hyon, in particular, who believed in me.

My roots are in Japanese anime, French new wave and American cinema. Pretty different influences, but in a way their collective stimulations resembles my work today; mixing different inspirations and having a lot of fun doing it.

Looking back on your career, if you could change one thing or do one thing differently, what would it be?
I’d probably have kept working with actors the entire time. I took a hiatus to focus on animation and design, but I’m grateful for the experience and exposure to these different skills, which have brought me to where I am now.

The A-List: ‘Hotel Transylvania 2’ director Genndy Tartakovsky

By Jennifer Walden

Hotel Transylvania 2 has been kicking some box office butt since it was released on September 25. In this sequel  to the original, the story follows Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) and his posse as they team up to teach grandson Dennis, who is half-human/half-vampire, a few lessons on how to be a monster, all in an effort to (once again) keep daughter Mavis safely at home.

The sequel is not only a return for the “Drac Pack,” it was also a reunion for the Hotel Transylvania creative teams at Sony, with visual teams at Sony Pictures Imageworks and the post sound team at Sony Pictures Post being guided by director Genndy Tartakovsky.

Genndy Tartakovsky  

Genndy Tartakovsky

After finishing work on the original Hotel Transylvania (2012), Tartakovsky and the Sony animation team immediately started on Popeye and were concurrently developing Hotel Transylvania 2. “We had a script from Adam Sandler and Robert Smigel, which was completely different from what we ended up with in the movie,” notes Tartakovsky. “We worked out all the story problems and then we watched the film in animatic and storyboard form, to see what was good and what was bad.”

They made adjustments until the story felt solid, and then Tartakovsky and his team began work on the design, building sets and new characters in preparation for animation. He notes, “The story is what drives everything initially.”

Tartakovsky, who cut his feature film directing teeth on Hotel Transylvania, explains how that experience informed the entire process on Hotel T2. “I knew where we fell short on the first one visually and animation-wise, so we tried to strengthen that,” says Tartakovsky. “On the first film we just made it all work, but this time around we wanted to actually write some new programs to fit this style of animation. The style of this film, the style that we do, it doesn’t work well with computers, because computers are good for mimicking live-action.”

But the world of Hotel Transylvania doesn’t mimic live-action; it’s quicker and cartoonier. So tools based on real-world physics aren’t always applicable. Imageworks developed a new motion blur system and new ways to manipulate clothing. New rigging techniques were made, and they developed simpler ways to do the modeling. “We made a lot of animation tools to make this style a little more feasible and make it happen quicker.”

Another turbo-boost to the process came from Tartakovsky picking up visual elements for returning characters, like Dracula, Wayne (voiced by Steve Buscemi) and Frankenstein (voiced by Kevin James), and using those as a starting point for the sequel. “Everything was upgraded and then we developed a library system so if we liked an expression that Drac had from the first movie we could just punch it in and that would be the starting place,” says Tartakovsky. “We would be half-way there and then the animators would push and pull him to get him to be even more extreme or in a more specific mood.”

Main

In the case of Blobby — a minor character in the first Hotel Transylvania, Tartakovsky knew his role would be expanded in the sequel. He redesigned Blobby, giving him more rolls, giving him arms and lending an extra jellyness to the character. “We developed this whole system of jellying up and down. We knew the range that Blobby needed to be in, so we went for it. That’s the great thing about working at Sony Imageworks; the process is not super complicated for them because they’ve done all these VFX movies like Spider-Man and Edge of Tomorrow and Alice in Wonderland. They’ve done projects 10 times harder and they bring that experience to our world,” says Tartakovsky.

New characters include human-sized bats called Cronies that hang out with Vlad (Drac’s dad, voiced by Mel Brooks). Tartakovsky drew inspiration from Nosferatu for his initial sketch, which he then turned over to character designer Stephen DeStefano. “He really nailed it by finding the right balance between scary and funny,” Tartakovsky says.

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh was also tasked with balancing the scary with the funny, particularly during fight scenes and scenes involving Vlad and his Cronies. “We wanted to make sure that the scary elements didn’t overtake the film, so we made the music more fun and silly to take a bit of the pressure off that,” he explains. “Also, because we have much more of the human world involved, we ended up doing more contemporary music for this one.” One of Tartakovsky’s favorite moments in the score happens during the big fight at the end. “I saw the film in the theater this weekend with an audience and they were actually cheering on that scene — I think the music had a lot to do with that.”

Excerpt: ‘Detour: Hollywood— How To Direct a Microbudget Film’

By William Dickerson

The editing process is in many ways the final rewrite of the film, thus emphasizing the significance of post production. As a writer, I really appreciate and understand the need for a good editor and the importance of dedicating a comfortable chunk of time in post to complete the cutting of the film. This fact doesn’t make it any easier to endure the necessary, but often painful, test screening process. This can be a very traumatic experience for many filmmakers, since it is the first moment the film — the filmmaker’s baby — is displayed in public. And this first exposure is meant to invite criticism.

My baby is the film Detour, which I wrote and directed. It’s about a man trapped inside his car by a mudslide and who has to battle Mother Nature for his survival.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Detour: Hollywood, that details our final test screening of Detour, and offers some advice to filmmakers who are planning their own…

The Final Test Screening
The fourth screening of the film, prior to picture lock, took place at the Frankovich Barnes Screening Room on the campus of the American Film Institute. Since the last screening, we had taken out 13 minutes of the film, clocking it in at 87 minutes. It was tight and this was going to be the last screening. This is the screening where you should get as many people as possible to attend, and especially as many people as possible who are not in this business. This is the screening where you want to try to gauge the reaction you might get from a random audience seeing your film in a multiplex somewhere in the middle of the country and far away from Hollywood. These circumstances are often difficult to replicate, but try to do the best you can.

There were 50 to 75 people in attendance. This time we had questionnaires that we distributed, which we kindly asked audience members to fill out and hand in after watching the film. The questionnaire that we put together consisted of the following questions:

1. Were you ever confused about what was happening?
2. How was the pacing? Did you ever feel it moved too slowly? Too fast?
3. How would you describe the tone? Was it consistent?
4. What was the scariest/most intense moment for you?
5. What did you like the best? The least?
6. Did anything take you out of the experience?
7. Can you relate to Jackson and his situation?
8. What other movies remind you of Detour?
9. How would you describe this movie to someone who knows nothing about it?

This was by far our most successful test screening. If you’ve listened to the feedback and implemented the changes that you thought enhanced and streamlined the story, then this screening should be the most successful screening. The majority of the criticism involved small details, a lot of nit-picky stuff that seemed like matters of personal taste, rather than wrenches in the mechanics of the film. This is always a good sign. One detail that a person loves on his questionnaire, another person hates on his questionnaire. Those types of reactions cancel each other out, and you’re the one left to decide whose reaction is right.  And that is a real good place to be: finally a decision that you’re allowed to make based completely on your personal preference. If you get to this point, then you certainly deserve it.

Test screenings this late in the game are most useful in discerning issues of pacing. At this point in the process, the hope is that you’ve been able to construct the story properly on screen, and all issues concerning confusion, clarity and plot have been left by the wayside.

Now it’s an issue of feel. Where is it dragging? Where is it moving too fast? You are building an emotional rollercoaster ride and you must pay specific attention to the folks riding it.
At this last screening, sit near the back and watch people’s reactions. You’ve seen the film a million times; there’s no need to watch it again. Watch the audience. When are they looking away, looking bored or God forbid, falling asleep? When are their mouths open,
faces cringing, muscles tensing? When are they laughing? When are they crying?

Part of your job as a director is to observe human behavior, so make full use of that skill in this screening and bring what you observed back into the editing room with you as you tweak the final cut.

Check out my website for more and follow me on Twitter @wdfilmmaker.