Tag Archives: Golden Globes

The A-List: Oscar-nominated director of The Salesman Asghar Farhadi

By Iain Blair

Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi burst onto the international film scene with his 2011 film A Separation, which won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also earned Farhadi an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and won the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival.

After being named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People following the release of A Separation, Farhadi moved to Paris to film The Past, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film.

After the success of these films, two of Farhadi’s earlier works, About Elly (Winner: Best Director, 2009 Berlin International Film Festival) and Fireworks Wednesday (2006), found US distribution and critical acclaim.

Farhadi’s latest film, The Salesman, is another low-key, intimate and suspenseful drama that starts off innocently enough, but which slowly peels away layer upon layer of a relationship to reveal the shifting internal struggle beneath. After their old flat becomes damaged, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young couple living in Tehran, are forced to move into a new apartment. However, once relocated, a sudden eruption of violence linked to the previous tenant of their new home dramatically changes the couple’s life, creating a simmering tension between husband and wife.

A master of slow-burning, visceral dramas that expose domestic discord through his multi-layered screenplays, Farhadi uses the story to study the psychology of vengeance and a relationship put under strain while continuing to explore the condition of women in Iran and the male psyche. The film was a Golden Globe nominee for Best Motion Picture Foreign Language and is up for an Oscar this year for Best Foreign Language Film.

I recently talked to Farhadi about making the film, and his workflow.

What were you aiming for with this film?
I was going for a lot of different things. One was the idea of taking Arthur Miller’s play and then trying to erase the boundaries between theater and life so that the audience begins to wonder, “Is this part of life or is it part of a play?” The other thing that mattered to me was the relationship between the audience and these characters. To what extent could the audience put themselves in the characters’ shoes? In my previous films, audiences could relate, but this was different and a new experience for me.

There are certain actions taken by the characters that people may not approve of, but hopefully can understand. It’s a paradoxical situation for the viewer —while they may disapprove strongly, when you ask them what they would do in the same situation, their reactions can be far more extreme than those taken by Emad after his wife is attacked. I very much wished to place a viewer in this position, where they were tested.

Why did you choose Death of a Salesman as a backdrop to your drama?
When I reread the play, I came across so many similarities between it and the couple in my film. My couple is like the Iranian version of Willy Loman and his wife Linda, and I’d always had the idea of doing a film that takes place in the world of theater. I grew up doing a lot of theater, and I always loved the play. When I began writing my script, I developed this idea of characters putting on a play. The idea that it was a mirror of the actual lives of the characters. They’re actually playing Willy Loman and Linda, and the film and play are very close to each other thematically. For me, in the play the most important aspect is the humiliation, which is also the main theme of my film. It’s humiliation that causes Willy Loman to destroy himself, and Emad feels completely humiliated by what happens to his wife. There’s also the theme of boundaries, of personal space and safety in that space.

Your last film, The Past, was shot in France. How important was it to shoot this in Tehran?
Very important. In fact, I was all set to go to Spain to make a film, and it was all planned and ready to go, with Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem starring, and Pedro Almodóvar as a producer. But it was going to take a while to get everyone together, and I suddenly felt I just wanted to stay in Tehran. It was a purely emotional decision, and I didn’t know how to tell everyone in Spain, but I told my producer, “My heart tells me I should stay in Iran and do this film instead.” I prefer to make most of my films in Iran.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, but I also find it a very difficult experience. I always feel very restless in post, as I go to every minute of every bit of post production and watch everything. It’s all about deciding what to cut and get rid of — and that kills me. You spend so much time and effort collecting all the raw material and then you get into post and it really becomes about dispensing with a lot of stuff you love, and these decisions are so final. I find it very hard.

Where did you do the post?
Since About Elly, I’ve always done all the post at Moon Studios in Tehran. I do all the editing there as well as all the sound design and audio work. It’s a very relaxed place to work. We did the DI at Studio Kamrani in Tehran with colorist Hootan Haghshenas. Again, I’m there for every minute of it.

Tell us about working with editor Hayedeh Safiyari, who also cut A Separation and About Elly for you.
Before we start shooting each time, I give her the script and we talk a great deal about it. We don’t discuss the edit — just the characters and the story. She visits the set sometimes, but not as an editor, it’s more about just looking around and getting the atmosphere. Then after the shoot, we sit in the edit room together, but I don’t say anything. She does her work. We don’t cut the film and then start changing stuff and fine tuning it. We cut each scene like a fine cut and get them right by adjusting length and pacing and so on, and at this stage we talk a lot. It’s a very successful working relationship, and we cut this in about four months.

Writer Iain Blair and Asghar Farhadi.

Can you talk about the importance of sound in the film?
It’s really important to me, not just in post, but during the shoot. For example, when we first see a character, the viewer doesn’t get any additional information visually. But you can feed an audience more and more information using sound. That’s why, when we rehearse a scene, I don’t even look at the monitor. I just listen. That tells me so much more. In post, I always strive to make the sound as realistic as we can. We try not to introduce too much sound, and it’s rare for me to use much music in my films since that stirs up so much emotion. Usually, it’s just used over the end credits.

How important are the Oscars and other awards to you?
They’re very important for smaller indie movies like mine, but any success is always a two-edged sword. It makes your film known to a far bigger audience, all over the world, but the danger is that it also puts you in a competitive situation, both with yourself and others, and that’s not healthy for a filmmaker. (Editor’s Note: Farhadi has gone on record that he will not be attending this year’s Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles in reaction to President Trump’s travel ban, as Iran is one of the seven countries that is affected.)


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: Elle director Paul Verhoeven

By Iain Blair

Director Paul Verhoeven has never been afraid to go where most other directors fear to tread, especially in the thorny areas of sex, violence and gender politics. Happy to shock and outrage audiences, and adept at moving effortlessly between genres — and blurring the lines between high and low culture, dreams and reality — Verhoeven has also always possessed a sly sense of humor that percolates just below the surface, even as those audiences are horrified, and mesmerized, by what they see.

After first making a name for himself with 1973’s Oscar-nominated Turkish Delight, Verhoeven became a major Hollywood and international player with such blockbusters as RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. His resume also includes Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Dutch-born Verhoeven returned to European filmmaking in 2006 with Black Book — a fast-paced World War II resistance thriller — and then disappeared. But he’s now back with the acclaimed revenge thriller Elle, which stars Oscar-nominated Isabelle Huppert as a divorced, middle-aged mother and ruthless CEO of a leading video game company who, in the very opening scene, is violently raped by a masked intruder in her Paris home. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a perverse and thrilling game. Huppert picked up a Golden Globe this year for her performance in the film.

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

It’s been 10 long years since your last film. What happened?
I just couldn’t find anything that excited me. I tried, but several projects I liked fell apart. In general, the scripts I read weren’t on the level of Black Book, plus I wanted to try something different, so I wrote several books and kept looking.

This film seems at first to be a rape-revenge thriller, but it isn’t just that, is it?
No, certainly not. It was originally going to be set and shot in America and would have been more of a straightforward rape-revenge thriller, but I wanted to make something far more politically incorrect and controversial. Something that examines the strengths of the heroine who lives by her own rules and ultimately gets what she wants. She refuses to be a victim, and in the novel it’s based on she doesn’t go into revenge mode, which would have been a cliché and boring. It goes in another direction, which I found intriguing and liberating, and that’s why I made it. It was unknown territory for me, as it leans so much on the social relationships and the characters themselves. I’d never done that in my whole career.

Is it true you tried to get an American actress, but no one wanted to take it on?
Yes, we tried about six A-list actresses, and they all refused to do it.

So what did Isabelle Huppert bring to the role?
She’s fearless and brings absolute authenticity. We actually met at the start of the project and she was very keen to do the movie. But we thought it’d be set in America, and later my producer said to me, “Why are we fighting to do it in the US? It’s based on a French novel and Isabelle really wants to do it — let’s get her and shoot in Paris.” And he was right. I realize now that I couldn’t have made this movie in America, and that without her in the role the movie would have been a very hard sell. Although you might not sympathize completely with her, you believe her. She made the third act work and be acceptable artistically.

You shot digitally, right?
Yes, on Red Dragons, which I loved. I always had two running, very close together, with a slightly different angle so in the edit you could cut to either since it’s the same movement from the actors. I even used another DP for the “B” camera, so they worked like two “A” cameras.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing in Amsterdam, Holland. Job ter Burg, who cut Black Book for me, worked with me for several months, and then we did the rest of post — the sound mixing, color correction and so on — in Paris, with some stuff in Brussels. We recorded the score in London, so post was very spread out.

Do you like post?
I love it. You’re glad the shoot’s over, with all the stress over budget and schedule, and you can finally relax and make your film. You’re completely free to discuss structure and change anything you want, although we didn’t change much in terms of the scenes and order. The first cut came in at two and a half hours. We eventually cut about 25 minutes because certain scenes didn’t fit with the drama as they were too slow and interrupted the narrative flow and pace. So we did a bit of compression, but we didn’t re-order it.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but they were important, right?
Right. They were done by Mikros Image in Paris, and there were a lot of small things.  We used VFX to change backgrounds and so on, and VFX were really useful in all the scenes with the cat, because a cat is very difficult to direct (laughs). They do what they want. So some of the shots, like the cat with the bird, are composites with bluescreen. So it was all about improving what we’d shot on the day, and little touches, nothing like the big VFX sequences in RoboCop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both so important in film, and you’re trying to find the best atmosphere for each scene. Sometime when you shoot in the street, the traffic’s so loud you have to fix all the dialogue in post. Then finding the right music was crucial, and I had very long talks with Anne Dudley, the English composer who scored Black Book for me, about what we wanted to express, what would work and why. I’m a big fan of Stravinsky, and the unusual way he composed his symphonies, which subverted the norm. I wanted to use both modern electronic music and sounds along with symphonic music.

I prefer to listen to music, like classical, that you don’t necessarily go out and copy, but you understand what it adds to the images. So Anne and I’d listen to Janacek and Stravinsky and others, and slowly it becomes obvious what the score should be. Then she began writing her own music. So during post I would go to London a lot to work on all that with her. For me, once you have the right score, it elevates the movie into a whole new level that the visuals alone can never match.

This is France’s official Oscar entry, and we’re starting awards season. How important are awards to you?
Important, but not as important as the movie. It’s great to get recognition, but I never made a movie thinking about Oscars or awards, and I made this because it’s audacious and different from any other movie.

What’s next? Do we have to wait another 10 years?
(Laughs) No, no! Please, I feel very guilty about that. I should have made at least one, but time passed and suddenly it’s a decade later. Now I’m very aware of my age. I’ll probably be dead if I wait that long again, so I have several projects lined up, some French projects, an American film, and some Dutch ones, and I promise you I’ll say “yes” to one of them soon.


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.

Kabir Akhtar: Editing The CW series ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’

By Randi Altman

When Kabir Akhtar, ACE, who cut season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, got the itch to start editing, he didn’t even know that what he was doing was actually editing… he was just having some fun. In high school, Akhtar would use his computer, multiple tape decks and stereos to record and mix different songs, creating mash-ups, remixes and even musical voicemail messages. An editor was born!

After moving out to LA and paying his dues working on unscripted and music video shows, Akhtar went on to earn one Emmy nomination for editing the Billy Crystal opening sequence from the 2012 Academy Awards broadcast and another (along with frequent collaborator AJ Dickerson) for his work on Netflix’s Arrested Development in 2013.

With an editing resume that now also includes New Girl, The Daily Show and Behind the Music, Akhtar took on directing (the pilot episode of the MTV series 8th & Ocean, Unsolved Mysteries, the Billy Crystal/Melissa McCarthy opening for the 2012 Oscars, and the TV Diaries pilot for Fox) and garnered an associate producer title on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

This Penn graduate, who went on to film school at the University of Miami, knew all along that he wanted to work in scripted television. “I moved out here to get involved in narrative filmmaking and storytelling, and I felt very strongly that until I got a job doing that, I wasn’t going to stay at another job very long.”

Akhtar also knew he didn’t want to do the same job for years at a time. He was young and wanted to have different experiences that allowed him to meet different people. “I think I intentionally avoided having a steady gig for a very long time because as I moved from one job to another, I continued to build a network of contacts and people that I liked working with. I got more experience and more credits, which I think served me well in those early years. Others like the financial security that comes with having a steady job. I know my path is not for everybody.”

Akhtar still works freelance, too. In fact, while on hiatus from The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, he cut the pilot for Speechless for ABC, which just got picked up.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper with Akhtar and find out more about what led him to this quirky TV series, which is a one-hour musical comedy.

When did you get involved on the show, and what’s your workflow like?
I edited the pilot, which was a half-hour show, in the fall of 2014. We thought we made a great show, but Showtime passed. The good news was it was shopped around to other networks and got a pick-up at The CW. They turned it into a one-hour show, which was such a unique thing because nobody was making a one-hour musical comedy.

You have cut traditional half-hour comedies in the past, how was this different?
When the show became a one-hour, it gave us the opportunity to do more dramatic storytelling in addition to the comedy. In half-hours, you’re moving really fast to try to tell a story and land jokes, but with a one-hour you have time to dig into supporting characters’ stories and have more built-out emotional scenes. We can take the time to land emotions instead of just being in a race to get X number of jokes out every minute.

How does that affect the way that you edit? Do you let a reaction go a little bit longer? Do you let a joke sit longer?
The thing that helps the most is that our writers don’t overwrite the show. My first cut will usually only be a few minutes over, and at the end we’re rarely stuck with a show that’s more than a minute over, which is great. It’s the worst when you get a show down to the end, to a deadline, and you’re still 30 seconds over and you have to take out a joke that everybody likes.

Doing Arrested Development for Netflix, we didn’t have those parameters. With a network show, you have to deliver a show exactly to time, but for Netflix (like some cable networks), we didn’t have to hit a specific runtime per episode, so we never had to lose a joke or a story point “for time.”

Kabir Akhtar and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star Rachel Bloom the day after she won her Golden Globe.

How much footage do you have for one episode?
For each one-hour episode, we shoot seven days. That includes two or three musical numbers, which are essentially music videos. Like all scripted shows, we have one day of editing for every day of footage that comes in, plus another two or three days to get a first cut together (but with us it’s typically been two).

Because we’re a one-hour show, the directors come in after my first cut, and they get four days. We work with our producers, and then we go to the studio, then to the network, then we lock the show.

What about cutting the musical numbers?
I switched to a standing desk a few years ago, and that makes it a lot easier to cut music, because I will inevitably end up dancing along as I’m cutting. I’m convinced that it helps. I started my career cutting so much music, so I’ve always loved doing it. To have the opportunity to be cutting musical numbers, comedy scenes and some dramatic scenes for one show is so much fun.

Would you like to share your philosophy of editing?
Attitude-wise, it’s about protecting the show, I really believe that’s job one.

What about technically?
I have a workflow that I believe is different than most editors. I think many editors do a first cut of each scene as it comes in. Then, at the end of dailies, they glue the show together. I am not good at that at all.

What’s your process?
When I get a scene, my assistant editor Kyla Plewes and I will work with the Script Windows in Avid Media Composer — it allows you to very quickly pick through takes and performances, and it’s opened up the amount of options you have in the limited time that you have. I’ll go through a scene left to right and start to frame it out to get it shaped right. As I’m going through, I feel like I’m too close to it. My eyes are right up against every detail in the frame, like continuity issues and the smallest nuances of performance.

I’ll start with a clean take for line one and then have a different take for the second line, and then I’ll realize it didn’t work so I’ll try that first take again and try another take for that second line — I’m intentionally making mistakes over and over to stay open to finding something great by riffing, and I just keep making copies in a sequence. I don’t delete any of the stuff I’m doing, I keep making a giant mess, like putting all the Legos together, except I have a copy of each Lego. Eventually, I find pieces that click together a way that feels right and work my way across the whole scene that way.

When I get to the end, I’ve figured out the connective tissue and I have many copies of all of the individual pieces, but I’ve no idea how they go together. I have piles of connected Legos, alt versions of selected takes, but not a finished sequence. Again, because I feel I’m too close to it, having just done it, I put it away and start the next scene. Then I come back to it at the end of dailies, about a week later, and it all makes perfect sense… the pieces that want to be in the show flow and stand out immediately. By then I’ve seen all the footage for the whole show and I can gauge accurately how best to tell the story we’re trying to tell.

Can you talk about assistant editors and how they fit into the mix?
When you have a good AE, it’s really important to give them opportunities to get better at cutting or at working with people. I don’t know how you’re going to learn otherwise. I think everyone is looking for someone above us to give us an opportunity. I can’t tell you how much easier it makes working on a show when you’ve got a great assistant. I think I had years of working on shows with no AEs at all.

Our lead assistant editor on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Kyla, works on the side editing online content, which I think is the way to go these days in terms of growing your editing skills.

If you want to keep learning your craft you have to find things to edit, right?
Yeah, I went the path of editing, editing, editing, editing. The only two jobs I’ve ever had are editing and directing. Going the AE route, you might get an episode to edit on a show that you’ve been working on. But that can also be tough, because the people you’re working for still see you as an assistant editor. It can be difficult to change people’s perceptions of you if you’re staying at one job for a long time. Also, if that’s your first editing credit, it can be a lot of pressure and there’s not a lot of room to fail without consequences.

I feel pretty fortunate that my first jobs were lower profile projects. I certainly made large mistakes, like delivering a show out of phase once. But I was working for such a small company, luckily I didn’t get fired.

You have to make mistakes to learn as you go, I imagine?
You work your way up to these bigger things. It’s bad to deliver a show out of phase, but it’s way worse to do that if your first one of those is on a big multi-million-dollar episode. Everybody fails; you have to fail to grow. I’m still doing both — but hopefully more growing than failing.

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Main Image: Kabir Akhtar and Rachel Bloom after hearing about her Golden Globe nomination for her performance on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.