Tag Archives: filmmaking

The A-List: Collateral Beauty director David Frankel

By Iain Blair

Oscar-winner David Frankel is probably best known for his enormously successful films The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, but the writer/director has an eclectic slate of films under his belt, including The Big Year, Hope Springs and One Chance.

Frankel owns a “Best Short” Oscar for his film Dear Diary, an Emmy for his direction of the miniseries Band of Brothers, and an Emmy nom for the Entourage pilot. In addition, he directed several episodes of Sex and the City, and the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

David Frankel

Frankel’s new film, Collateral Beauty, is a drama about a successful New York advertising executive who suffers a great tragedy and retreats from life. While his concerned friends try desperately to reconnect with him, he seeks answers from the universe by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. But it’s not until his notes bring unexpected personal responses that he begins to understand how these constants interlock in a life fully lived, and how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.  Frankel assembled an all-star cast, including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Peña, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren..

The drama’s behind-the-scenes creative team included director of photography Maryse Alberti (Creed), editor Andrew Marcus (American Ultra) and composer Theodore Shapiro (Trumbo).

I spoke with Frankel about making the film.

There’s been a lot of mystery about this film and the plot?
Will plays this advertising guy who loses his six-year-old daughter to cancer and he spirals into a deep hole. He’s devastated, he’s divorced, he’s not functioning at work anymore, and everyone tries to help him reconnect, but nothing really works. Then they come up with this wacky scheme, which involves hiring some actors to help him answer the questions he’s asking of the universe. I saw it as this screwball drama — a little crazy — but also very grounded and emotional. There’s a lot of moving moments and tragedy, but I think it’s quite uplifting and hopeful.

useYou got an amazing cast. Any surprises with Will Smith?
He was everything I expected and more. He’s such a risk-taker and keeps challenging himself as an actor. He took on stuff here he’s never done before, and Jacob Latimore was very impressive, really able to hold his own with the others, and there was a very unlikely pairing of actors — Helen Mirren and Michael Peña — that was unexpected and which worked out so well.

You shot this on location all over New York. How tough was it?
People complain about it a lot, but I never do. We shot it in eight weeks. It was great and wherever you go, people would help decorate the streets with Christmas lights and the street vendors would come out, and neighbors would help keep the streets quiet while we shot, so there was all this enthusiasm and great support. And you can’t really fake New York, and I love the fact that wherever you point a camera, it looks amazing.

You shot digitally, but it has a very filmic look.
Right, and I really struggle to see the difference between film and digital now, because digital’s so good. Maryse did a great job. She shot Dear Diary for me 20 years ago, and we quickly picked up where we left off. The goal was to make some very beautiful images and focus on composition and the performances.

Do you enjoy the post process?
I love post because it’s the time of discovery. When you’re shooting, it’s a time of wonder — when you’re scratching your heads for weeks on end and trying to deal with the schedule and budget and all that. Once you’re in post, you finally sit down to start telling the story you want, and when you start solving the puzzles that are in front of you in the cutting room, it’s just so satisfying. We did all the post in New York, and all the cutting at The Post Factory in Tribeca, and then we did all the sound work at the Warner Bros. mixing stage. We also recorded the music and orchestra in New York, so it was very much a New York production.

Talk about working for the first time with editor Andrew Marcus. Was he on the set?
He was on set a lot, and he actually lived just down the street from one of the locations, so he’d stop by a lot and we’d discuss stuff every day. He was so enthusiastic right from the start, and I think he’s quite brilliant. The way I work with editors is to tell them at the wrap party, ‘Pretend I got hit by a bus on the way home and you have to now finish the movie. Don’t just do an assembly and string scenes together.’ The big challenge on this was getting the tone right, as it’s such a strange mix of humor and really heavy drama, and sometimes all in the same scene.

You shot in early spring, but there’s a lot of winter, so you must have needed some VFX?
Right. We used VFX to add some Christmas decorations, lights, some snow, and we had to do clean-up. Mr. X in New York did all that.

You’ve collaborated with composer Theodore Shapiro a lot. How important is sound and music to you?
It’s huge. I’ve worked with just one composer my whole career, and Ted wrote this beautiful score that’s perfect, because it’s such an emotional movie but it also needed a very restrained score that doesn’t tell you how to feel, and I had the most fun being in the studio with him and trying stuff out. And all the sound design is so crucial to it too —capturing the sounds of New York, the subway trains.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did the DI at Company 3 in Chelsea, with Tim Stipan, who’s a genius. He just did Silence with Scorsese and he has this fantastic eye for storytelling through color. I’m always involved with the DI, but even more so this time as Maryse had to go off to shoot Chappaquiddick, so I did a lot of the sessions with Tim, and it probably ended up a little warmer with me in there.

This is releasing at the same time as this new little film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are you nervous?
No, not at all. It’s good counter-programming. The Devil Wears Prada opened against Superman and did great. I like to think people want choices.


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 Stephen Frears on Lance Armstrong film, ‘The Program’

By Iain Blair

At first glance, the long film career of acclaimed British director Stephen Frears might look a little schizophrenic. He’s made big Hollywood studio pictures and high-profile films with big stars, such as The Queen (his second Oscar nom), Mary Reilly, Hero, the Oscar-nominated The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons. But he’s probably better known for such smaller, grittier, non-star vehicles as My Beautiful Laundrette, The Snapper and The Van, films that provide a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience.

Either way, Frears has always embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he first honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules, and made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career. In the mid-1980s he turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career.

Stephen Frears (center) on set.

He’s also a director who’s happiest when he’s on location, and he got plenty of fresh air shooting his latest film. The Program is the true story of the meteoric rise and fall of one of the most celebrated and controversial men in recent history — Lance Armstrong, the notorious seven-time Tour de France champion.

I talked with Frears, whose credits also include Philomena, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Chéri, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity and Prick Up Your Ears, about making the film, his love of post and why he has no plans to retire.

How do you go about deciding what your next project will be and what made you choose this?
I just look for interesting stories. I’d read about Lance Armstrong and thought it was really interesting, relevant and a really good modern crime story.

What were the biggest challenges of making this?
I knew nothing about who Lance Armstrong really was, I knew nothing about cycling and I knew nothing about drugs. How about that? I know a bit more now.

Did you meet Armstrong?
No, I never did, but then I never met the Queen either. He’s still an enigma to me. He’s a very odd bloke who still, to this day, won’t quite come clean.

You love location shooting. Where did you shoot and how long was it?
We shot for about three months. It was tough since we shot in the Alps in autumn, so we were fighting the weather. We also shot in Belgium, which doubled for northern France, and some scenes in Texas, Italy, Paris and Geneva. We had to shoot the Tour on location, because of the majestic landscapes and settings, and then we had that great contrast with all the tiny hotel rooms.

The great Danny Cohen, who also shot the Oscar-nominated films The Danish Girl and Room, shot this. What did he bring to it?
A fantastic eye and a real sense of what it’s like for the riders racing at 40 or 50 mph down these mountain roads. We used a mixture of small cameras on the bikes, with cranes and helicopters, and he’s a brilliant DP. I loved working with him so much that I used him on my next film.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was about six months, all in London, and we started off in a small cutting room in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, and then moved to Goldcrest for the rest of the post.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it’s so different from the pressures and chaos of the shoot. It’s far more analytic and methodical, and it’s when you discover the good choices you made as well as your mistakes. This was a very complicated film to make, as it covered a lot of years and races, and all that had to be pieced together in post. The truth is, a little cycling goes a long way, so we really had to balance all the races with all the drama behind the scenes. You don’t want to bore the audience with endless races.

You worked again with editor Valerio Bonelli, who cut the Oscar-nominated Philomena. How did that relationship work?
He didn’t come to the set. He just started assembling as we went. I really depend on my editor to have an objective view of what I’m doing. He’s a very clever editor, and I remember him as a film student. It was a very long, complex process, and he had to fill in scenes that were a bit sketchy in the script. He did a brilliant job.

Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?
Union VFX did them all and Adam Gascoyne — who did Philomena with me and who’s doing my next film — was the VFX supervisor. We probably only had a 100 or so, and most of them were clean-up work — as it’s a period piece — and building up the crowds that line the Tour route. It’s quite amazing to see them, like this huge traveling circus that moves around France.

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re so important to any film. I was lucky to work with composer Alex Heffes, who I didn’t know at all. He gave me what I didn’t know I needed because I haven’t a clue (laughs). I don’t know much about music, so I entirely depend on my composer and my sound team. I had a great team — sound editors Ian Wilson and Becki Ponting, and mixers Mike Dowson and Craig Irving.

Did you do a DI?
At Goldcrest, with DP Danny Cohen and colorist Diana Vasquez. I don’t pretend to be technically clever enough about the DI, so they do the work and show me things.

How has post changed since you began back in the ‘60s?
All the technology, especially with Avid and digital sound mixing, is a huge change. I think filmmaking today is a much more hit-and-miss affair. All the new technology sort of encourages that approach since you can sort of put it all together in post far more easily, whereas the films I make are made with great precision. So that sense of craft isn’t as dominant as it used to be, but the new technology has certainly improved things so much, and I love what you can do in post now. It’s much faster and more efficient.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It was a huge film to pull together and, as always, it turned out far better than I ever imagined. I’m always surprised at how my films turn out — that they’re so complete and the characters are so believable. I never know going in quite how the film will turn out, although you learn over the years what will probably work.

What’s next?
I just finished filming Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. It’s about a New York heiress, played by Meryl, who wanted to be an opera singer even though she was a dreadful singer and the worst singer to ever appear at Carnegie Hall. It’s not a comedy, but a lot of it’s very funny and a lot of it makes you cry. What more do you want?

Do you ever think of retiring?
Not really, although, since I began the whole industry’s changed so much. It’s unrecognizable today. First off, it’s a young man’s game. When I began, everyone involved was my age — and now I’m 74. There are a few old guys like me still directing — Clint, Woody, Ken Loach — but not many. I just feel grateful that they keep letting me make films. As long as I keep finding great material that’s interesting to me, I’ll keep making films.

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.

VFX supervisor turned director/writer launches HaZ Film

By Randi Altman

London — Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, whose film Project Kronos is being produced by Benderspink (We’re The Millers), IAM Entertainment and financed by Armory films, has launched his own film production company, called HaZ Film.

Dulull, who started as a visual effects supervisor and expanded into writing, directing and producing, is also currently developing a slate of feature film projects with major Hollywood studios, details of which will be released later this year.

Establishing HaZ Film allows Dulull a platform from which to create. “All the short films I create as proof-of-concept films demonstrate my ability to write and direct, but they also Continue reading

Behind the Title: Mike Jackman

Jackman Headshot

Mike Jackman is a filmmaker with over 25 years of experience. He has an extensive background in post production, working for such companies as Deluxe and The Weinstein Company in addition to working freelance on numerous productions.

He is now at FilmNation and Brevity Ventures. Read on….

NAME: Mike Jackman

COMPANY: FilmNation Entertainment (www.wearefilmnation.com) and Brevity Ventures (http://brevityv.com)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
FilmNation (@filmnation) is a feature film development, production and international sales company.

Brevity (@brevityV) is a technology start-up company in the media and entertainment industry offering super accelerated transport of files to multiple destinations with simultaneous transcoding in multiple formats!

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
EVP of Post Production at FilmNation and Chief Business Development Officer at Brevity.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
For FilmNation am part of the senior management team that helps steer the company and I oversee post production and international servicing of all our titles.

For Brevity I co-manage the company, oversee business development and am active in sales.

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