Tag Archives: Oscar Awards

The A-List: La La Land’s Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Damien Chazelle may only have three feature films on his short resume, but the 32-year-old is already viewed by Hollywood as an acclaimed auteur and major talent. His latest film, the retro-glamorous musical La La Land, is a follow-up to his 2014 release Whiplash. That film received five Oscar nominations — including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay for Chazelle — and three wins, including Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons.

Now officially crowned as this year’s Oscar frontrunner, Lionsgate’s La La Land just scored a stunning total of 14 nominations (including Best Director), matching the record held by All About Eve and Titanic. It also recently scooped up seven Golden Globes, a record for a single movie, as well as a ton of other awards and nominations.

Damien Chazelle

Set in the present, but paying homage to the great Hollywood musicals of the ’40s and ’50s, La La Land tells the story of jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who meets aspiring actress, playwright and fan of old movies Mia (Emma Stone). They initially ignore each other, they talk, they fight — but mainly they break out of the conventions of everyday life as they break into song and dance at the drop of a hat and take us on an exuberant journey through their love affair in a movie that’s also an ode to the glamour and emotion of cinema classics. It’s also a love letter to the Los Angeles of Technicolor dreams.

To bring La La Land to life, Chazelle collaborated with a creative team that included director of photography Linus Sandgren (known for his work with David O. Russell on American Hustle and Joy), choreographer Mandy Moore, composer Justin Hurwitz, lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and editor Tom Cross who cut Whiplash for him.

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

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the musical is dead have been greatly exaggerated. You obviously love them.
I do, and I also don’t think they’re just escapist fantasies. They usually tell you something about their era, and the idea was to match the tropes of those great old movies — the Fred and Ginger musicals — with modern life and all its demands. I’m a huge fan of all those old musicals, and I drew my inspiration from a wide mix of all the MGM musicals, the Technicolor and CinemaScope ones especially, and then all the films of Jacques Demy. He’s the French New Wave director who made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort and A Room in Town. But I was also inspired by ‘90s films about LA that really captured the grandeur of the city, like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts or Pulp Fiction.

It’s interesting that all your films are so music-driven.
I used to be a jazz drummer — or a wannabe — so a lot of it comes from that. Probably frustrated ambition (laughs).

Is it true that you never used a hand double for Ryan Gosling when he was playing piano?
Completely true. He could play a little bit of basic piano stuff, and he’s definitely musical, but he was adamant right from the start that he would learn all the pieces and play them himself — and he did. He practiced intensely for four months before the shoot, and by the time we shot he could play. There’s no cheating. They’re his hands, even on the close-ups. That’s how committed he was.

The dancing must have been equally demanding for both Ryan and Emma?
It was. They both had a little dance experience — him more than her, I think, but fairly minimal and in different styles than this. So they had to do a lot of rehearsal and training, and Mandy Moore is a great dance instructor as well as a choreographer, so she did both at the same time — training them and building the choreography out of that and what suited each actor and each character. It was all very organic and tailored specifically for them.

The big opening dance sequence with all the cars is such a tour-de-force. Just how tough was that to pull off?
It was very tough. I had an amazing crew, and once we’d found this overpass ramp we had to figure out exactly how to shoot it for real with all these cars of different colors and eras, so there was a ton of insane logistics to deal with. That was going on while Mandy was working on all the choreography, either in the studio or in parking lots, since we couldn’t rehearse that much on location. The last thing to add was the crane. I’d storyboarded the whole sequence and shot a lot of the rehearsals on my iPhone so we could study them and see how we wanted to move the camera with the crane.

There’s been a lot of talk about it being one long uncut sequence. Is it?
No. We designed it to look like one shot but it’s actually three, stitched together invisibly, and we shot it over a weekend.

Talk about working with Linus Sandgren, who used anamorphic lenses and 35mm film to get that glamour look.
We had a great relationship, as every time I had an idea he’d one-up it, and vice-versa. So he really embraced all the challenges and set the tone with his enthusiasm. There was a lot of back and forth before and during the shoot. We wanted the camera to feel like a dancer, to become part of the choreography, to be very energetic, and we had this great Steadicam guy, Ari Robbins. He did amazing work executing these very difficult, fluid shots. I wanted the film to be very anamorphic, and today, scope films are usually shot in 2.40 to 1, but Linus thought it would be interesting to shoot it in 2.52 to 1 to give it the extra scope of those classic films. We talked to Panavision about it, and they actually custom-fit some lenses for us.

Do you like post?
I love it, especially the editing. It’s my favorite part of the whole process.

Tell us about working with editor Tom Cross. Was he on the set?
He visited a couple of times, but I think it’s better when editors are not there so they are more objective when they first see the coverage. He starts cutting while I shoot, and then we start. I like to be in the editing room every day, and the big challenge on this was finding the right tone.

While Whiplash was all about punctuated editing so it reflected the tempos and rhythms of the drumming, La La Land is the polar opposite. It’s all about lush curves, and Whiplash is a movie about hard right angles. So on this, it was all about calibrating a lot of details. We had a mass of footage — a lot ended up on the cutting room floor — and while some is heightened fantasy, some is like a realist drama. So we had to find a way for both to coexist, and that involved everything from minute tweaks to total overhauls. We actually cut the whole opening number at one point, then later put it back and dropped other scenes around it. There’s probably no number we didn’t cut at some point, so we tried all possibilities, and it took a while to get the tone and pacing right.

Where did you do the post?
At EPS-Cineworks in Burbank; then on the Fox lot. Justin, the composer, was also there working on score cues next door, and we had our sound team with us for a bit, way before the mix, doing sound design, so it was very collaborative. It was like a mini-factory. Crafty Apes did all the VFX, such as the planetarium sequence and flying through space sequence, as well as the more invisible stuff throughout the film.

Obviously, all the music and sound was crucial?
Yes, and it helped that we had a lot of the score done before we shot. Justin was with us for the edit, and we’d do temp stuff for screenings and then tweak things. I had a great sound team led by Andy Nelson, who were phenomenal. Just like with the VFX, it had to somehow be small and intimate while also being huge and epic. It couldn’t be too glossy, so all the music was recorded acoustically and the vocals are all dry with very little reverb or compression, and we mixed in Atmos at Fox.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonnet from EFilm. She did Whiplash for me and she’s very experienced. The DP and her set the template for the look and color palette even before the shoot, and then Linus and I’d go in for the DI and alternate on sessions. Our final session was literally 48 hours long non-stop — no sleep, no trips outdoors — as we were so under the wire to finish. But it all turned out great, and I’m very pleased with the look and the final film. It’s the film I wanted to make.

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.

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

The A-List: Hidden Figures director/co-writer Ted Melfi

By Iain Blair

When writer/producer/director Ted Melfi (St. Vincent) first came across the true story behind his new film, Hidden Figures, he was amazed that it had never been told before. The drama recounts the history of an elite team of black female mathematicians at NASA who helped win the all-out space race against the Soviet Union and, at the same time, brought issues of race, equal rights, sexism and opportunity to the surface of 1960s society.

Focusing on a trio of women who crossed gender, race and professional lines, it stars Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson (Empire, Benjamin Button), Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help), singer Janelle Monáe (making her motion picture debut) and two-time Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves).

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Ted Melfi

Based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film was written by Melfi and screenwriter Allison Schroeder (they both received Oscar noms for Best Adapted Screenplay), who reports that the subject matter was already embedded in her DNA. “I grew up a NASA baby in Florida,” she explains. “My grandparents and dad all worked there, and then I interned there for four years during high school and worked for a missile launch company after my freshman year at college.” She then channeled that family history and her own workplace experiences into a story about “what it was like to be a woman in science and mathematics back then.”

Not long ago, I spoke with Melfi about making the film and his workflow.

This is a very timely film, dealing as it does with racism, sexism and all the issues with Russia and the space race. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s a completely unknown true story for many reasons, the main one being that all the material was classified for so long because of the Cold War and our fear of Russia. So everyone on the space program was sworn to secrecy, and even the astronauts themselves didn’t know who’d be flying until days before a launch.

While we have parades celebrating astronauts, athletes and so on, we don’t have parades for mathematicians. So I wanted to make an American classic, a movie about this crossroads in America where you had the fight for civil rights and the space race. That’s how I saw it in my mind — how did all that collide?

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.You got a great cast. How tough was it casting the women?
Taraji was my first thought for her role and she said yes right away on the phone after I just pitched her the storyline. Octavia was also on board right away. Janelle was the hard one, in that it was tough casting her role. We wanted someone fresh and different, and once she came in to audition, we knew she was perfect for it, and she just blew it away.

Did you get a lot of cooperation from NASA?
Not only did we get tons of help from them, but I’ve become good friends with some of the guys there. They pored through draft after draft, gave notes and really helped us craft all the math. So everything in the film is completely accurate from a scientific, mathematical and engineering standpoint, and they were so helpful. We also had a math scholar who helped us and Taraji with her math and all the equations, so we spent a lot of time on research.

What was the biggest production challenge?
How to pull off the space race, because we were essentially a low budget film — a $25 million movie — and we didn’t have the money or time to recreate all the launches and rocket stuff. So we had to find a very clever way of combining archival footage and VFX with all the live-action footage. You see those transitions throughout the film; we’ll have a piece of archival footage and then roll right into something we shot, with all the VFX incorporated into that.

Getting all that archival footage was both tricky and easy — easy as NASA has a huge archive, but they also have a lot of footage that they couldn’t find. So we had to send a film historian specialist to DC to dig through all of NASA’s film reel archives in this massive vault, and that was a lot of work, since they have thousands and thousands of them of every piece of footage ever shot of all the launches and landings and so on. We wanted the original negatives, and he was able to get almost all of them. Then we re-scanned them and blended them into our footage.

You shot on location in Atlanta. Was that tough?
Yes, in that we had just 43 days, which is very short for something of this scope.

Given that sexism is a main theme, and there’s so much talk now about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, was it intentional or coincidental that you hired a female DP, Mandy Walker?
It was a bit of both. I met with a bunch of DPs, and she was just great. It’s a shame that just three percent of the world’s DPs are women. So I try to approach my professional life with a very inclusive attitude, just in general, which means you have to work at it and be pro-active, and 35 percent of our crew were female, and extremely diverse.

Do you like post?
I love it, until you get to the very end. (Laughs) For me, after the shoot, when I literally feel like collapsing because I’m so tired and exhausted. Then I get to this room with a couch, and can finally sit down. So it’s like a vacation in a way, where I get to enjoy and discover stuff every day. At times it’s depressing, when there are problems, but it’s mainly a time of exuberance and joy for me. But at the end, say the last month, it becomes the same as the shoot, with all the time and money constraints, and the pressure to get it done in time.

Where did you do the post?
All on the Fox lot. We did the editing and had our whole team in the same building — our sound team, music guys — and it was awesome, like a small family. The only problem was that we got a very truncated post schedule. Based off all the dailies, the studio decided they wanted to release it early in time for all the awards season stuff, so suddenly we had to deliver it in October instead of for Christmas. That meant we got eight to 10 weeks cut out of post. That left us with just 26 weeks all in, which isn’t very long for something of this scope. Most movies this size get way longer than that. So that was tough.

Tell us about working with editor Peter Teschner, who cut St. Vincent for you. Was he on the set?
Yes, he was in Atlanta with us, cutting from day one as we shot. Basically, I let him do his thing, he puts the movie together in a rough assembly, and we began with a cut at just over two and a half hours. Then we got down to two. Normally, that first rough cut is the most depressing day of your life, but this one wasn’t. There was a lot of work to do, but it was enjoyable work.

Obviously, all the VFX were very important, right?
Very. It’s a period piece, and with all the capsule and rocket scenes there was a lot of stuff to do. We used Cgfluids and ILP for all the VFX, and probably had 400 to 500 shots, and maybe half of those were clean-up, like removing any modern stuff, such as streetlights and cars and so on. But then we had around 100 shots of capsule stuff — the capsules in orbit, pieces of the rocket going up, and then John Glenn’s re-entry and fire scenes.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to every scene. People say it’s half your movie, but I think it’s often more. Just watch your movie without sound or music and you go, “This is so awful! It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” but then you start adding all those layers and it suddenly all comes alive. It’s all these little things that add up to huge things and how an audience feels emotionally and how they respond.

I had a great sound team — Andy Nelson was the re-recording mixer and Derek Vanderhorst was the sound designer, and those guys are brilliant. When you’re in space and in the capsule, you need to feel all that, the intensity of the rocket. Then musically we had a great team with Pharrell and Hans Zimmer and Ben Wallfisch. They came on board very early, before we even began proper production, to map out the musical plan. So we had music to shoot to. We shot Taraji’s running scenes to Pharrell’s track, which was a big benefit.

Where did you do the DI?
On the Fox lot with colorist Natasha Leonett from Efilm at their room there. She’s done a ton of films, including La La Land. She’s brilliant.

You’ve had a long and very successful career directing over 100 commercials, so I assume you’re very involved?
You’re right. I’ve been used to doing coloring for over 20 years, as my DP was never around, so Mandy came in for a few days and then I did my thing. It’s the final piece of the post workflow and I love it.


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.

‘Ex Machina’ VFX team gets Oscar

Artists from London’s Double Negative and Milk VFX took home the Oscar for Best Visual Effects for their work on Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. In winning, Milk’s co-founder, Sara Bennett, became one of two women to ever win the Academy Award for VFX — the other was Suzanne Benson for her work on Aliens during the 59th Academy Awards.

Bennett got the gold along with Double Negative’s Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris and Mark Ardington. This is Dneg’s second win in as many years, taking home the statue for work on last year’s Interstellar.

“I am beyond excited!! We are thrilled and honored to be recognized by The Academy for our work on Ex Machina,” says Bennett. “It was a privilege to work with Alex Garland and to bring his incredible vision to life, alongside Andrew Whitehurst and the Dneg team. I would love to see more women in prominent creative roles in our industry — I was a little shocked to find out I was the third-ever female VFX Oscar nominee.”

“I’m still in shock, I think, but what an incredible experience and what an amazing group of people to represent,” says Double Negative’s Whitehurst

Norris says, “It was an honor and privilege to represent out team at the 88th Academy Awards — it was an amazing experience that’s still sinking in!”

Double Negative

“The whole crew did an incredible job, and should be, rightfully, proud,” says Ardington.  “Our work stands on the shoulders of every other department from day one — from reading Alex Garland’s amazing script, through to the beautiful cinematography, striking production design, ingenious costume and make-up, awesome soundtrack and, of course, the wonderful performances from Alicia, Oscar, Domhnall and Sonoya.  What a journey this has been.”

Double Negative delivered 303 shots for Ex Machina, but that number is slightly deceptive due to the length of the shots — their average shot length was eight seconds and their longest shot was 1,800 frames.

According to Whitehurst, “The work on Ex Machina was focused around the creation of Ava, a robotic character, realized through the careful duplication of Alicia Vikhander’s performance mapped onto a fully articulated CG robotic body.”

Milk VFX, which worked on about 100 shots on the film, designed and created Ava’s CG brain, which is seen during the conversation between Nathan and Caleb in the construction lab. For the design of Ava’s brain, Milk was briefed to use jelly fish references while incorporating a computerized “tech” feel in its design.

Using Side Effects Houdini, the build was fully procedural with strong emphasis on the ability to quickly choreograph and combine major features to reduce the turnaround of versions during the look development phase.

Milk VFX

Starting from a sculpted core mesh, a complex set-up was built to create the main features of the brain, including frills, tentacles, pores, antennae, wireframe cages and air bubbles. The Milk team opted for noise-driven animation over simulations in order to avoid having to rig and animate each shot separately. Collisions were solved by post deforming wires and meshes using volume collision approaches where necessary. The resulting brain asset was then brought into Maya for shading and lighting using Arnold and finally composited in Nuke.

Milk was also tasked with devising a look and style for Ava’s visual point of view — seen at the start of the film when lead character Caleb wins the office lottery, and in the bathroom scene. A range of supporting 2D shots was also created, including environment fixes, compositing and monitor inserts with animated graphics.

The Revenant’s sound team takes home BAFTA

The Revenant sound team has won the Best Sound award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards ceremony . Winning the award was supervising sound editor and Formosa Group talent Lon Bender, along with supervising sound editor Martin Hernandez, supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Randy Thom, production sound mixer Chris Duesterdiek and re-recording mixers Frank A. Montano and Jon Taylor.

Other nominees in the category include Bridge of Spies, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. 

“I am very pleased that our crew was recognized at the BAFTA Awards for their hard work and artistry,” said BAFTA winner and Formosa’s Lon Bender.  “It is an honor to have had our film included among all the other nominees this year.” 

Bender is also nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound Editing for The Revenant. His 30-plus year career in sound dditing includes BAFTA nominations for Shrek and The Last of the Mohicans, Oscar nominations for Drive and Blood Diamond, and BAFTA and Oscar wins for Braveheart, which he shared with Formosa’s Per Hallberg. 

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) is an independent charity that supports, develops and promotes the art forms of the moving image by identifying and rewarding excellence, inspiring practitioners and benefiting the public. 

The A-List: The Big Short’s Oscar-nominated editor Hank Corwin

By Jean Lane

Editor Hank Corwin is no stranger to receiving accolades for his work — he has been recognized by the ACE, the Los Angeles Film Critics Society and the AICE — but this year he is nominated for the granddaddy of awards: the Best Editing Oscar for The Big Short.

Corwin has a diverse resume, having worked with Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life and The New World, Robert Redford on The Legend of Bagger Vance and Oliver Stone on Natural Born Killers, Uturn and Nixon. He also owns Lost Planet, a commercial editorial shop that has offices in Los Angeles and New York, where he keeps his hand in spot work and music videos.

Hank Corwin

Hank and I have a history together in the commercial world — once upon a time I worked for Lost Planet in New York as head producer — so after many years out of touch, we caught up about life, editing and the complex story of The Big Short, the Oscar-nominated film directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers).

Congratulations on the Oscar nomination, your first! Are you planning to attend the ceremony?
I think my wife Nancy would kill me if we don’t go. I’ve toyed with not attending, just to see how she would react, but yes I plan on attending.

Had you worked with Adam McKay before?
Never. He had already started shooting and my agent contacted me about the film. They sent me the script and it was exquisite. It’s an adaptation of the Michael Lewis book and it’s heady stuff, which I didn’t understand completely, but I saw it as a wonderful challenge.

What is Adam’s style of working? Was there a lot of improvisation on set?
He does come from an improv place and that world. What he would do, unlike many directors I’ve worked with, was first he would get the coverage he needed from the script and then he would allow his actors to start improvising. He would throw out new lines and new scenarios and have them riff off those. I would get loads and loads of footage, which I was able to use. I was able to use the mistakes as well as the scripted stuff.

Were you on set during the shoot or near set?
Adam was five or six weeks into the shoot when I came in. I had a commercial job in Prague, so I flew into New Orleans to meet him for the day. I think he wanted to make sure I had two hands and two eyes. He made reference to the Michael Winterbottom movie called 24 Hour Party People, which had some similarities to breaking the fourth wall. He wanted me to see it, which showed me that he was really open to trying new stuff. The most important thing with a director and an editor is the trust and feelings of safety in the relationship. The director ultimately has to trust the editor, and the editor has to feel safe to try things without worrying about getting fired.

I try things and sometimes directors don’t like them. I was very fortunate that I tried stuff and Adam liked it. We talked through the stuff he wasn’t happy with and it became a very musical relationship, like we were playing jazz. He would play one instrument and I’d play the other.

That’s a great analogy. So how did you tackle this multi-character, multi-story film?
What do they say? A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. The financial part of the script is heady stuff and hard to understand. I figured the best way I could start is to try to understand and develop the characters and give each character his (and his group) editorial signature. The Steve Carell character, Mark Baum, was very angry and explosive, and I tried to reflect that in the editing. The Christian Bale character was very introverteLeft to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprisesd and introspective, and I tried to make his editing very internal, almost like on a biological level. You know the real Mike Burry has Asperger’s, and Christian Bale, after meeting the guy, really captured him. I tried in the editorial to get very focused into details, the way he might be experiencing the world. I think the operative idea on the cutting of the film was it had to be experiential. I was trying to get us inside of them.

It sounds like you were focusing on Burry and Baum — your main instruments — and then you’ve got your other characters that fill in the composition. Am I on the right track?
You know, I’ve never thought of it quite that way, but absolutely. I was thinking of it more like a collaboration of ideas. We were working on a number of different levels. First of all, you have the levels of each character and each grouping, but then you have the flow of the film.

It starts with a surreal moment with the old bankers, then we go into the montage of the crash; it’s kind of wacky and funny, but tinged with anxiety. The film starts comically, and then toward the middle of the film, it becomes a dramatic film.

In the third act, after they come back from Las Vegas, you have this disintegration… the scene with Carell and Marisa Tomei shows all his anger has been washed away, like he’s gone through a breakdown. I tried, very deliberately, to fragment his conversation. That’s a very pivotal scene. It’s a scene I love very much — he completely changes. That act, toward the end of the film, funnels into this tragedy. Each chapter in the film had a different emotional valance. You started with a comedy, you went to a drama and then you ended up in a tragedy. It’s very sad actually, the movie is very sad.

Steve Carell plays Mark Baum in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

I think that’s why it’s so beautifully edited — it really does take you through this experience. I was able to follow all the finance stuff, which I’m not familiar with at all.
It comes so much from Adam. One of the really big ideas editorially was if you are able to understand emotionally where these people were coming you would be able to understand the terms and stuff, as opposed to just talking about financial instruments that are abbreviations or initials, like CDOs and synthetic CDOs.

When postPerspective spoke to Adam about making The Big Short, he mentioned that the composer was housed next to your cutting room, and that he would score as you cut. Whose idea was that?
The composer is this young guy named Nicholas Britell. Nick and I just sort of evolved it. We would look at dailies and talk about them even before Adam got involved. I would tell him the emotions I wanted to feel and he would tell me the emotions he felt. He would sit at his computer and come up with tones and we would play it against some of the shots. He was developing the music as I was cutting. He became my co-editor on a certain level.

I’ve never heard of a process that unique.
I’ve never had that kind of collaboration before. I think Adam, Nick and I wish all our film projects could stay this way. I would love to work this way again.

Were you involved in the DI? Were you present for the color?
A little, but Adam primarily did that. Our DP Barry Ackroyd was working on a film out of the country, but he was looking at stuff. One of the neat things about this movie was that it was shot on film! There were just little elements that I loved that you don’t get anymore because digital is so clean. I was able to use the flash frames so we could flare out. I could take a flash frame and slow those frames down and make an impressionistic moment. The cuts themselves didn’t have to be classically beautiful, but they had to work very well on an emotional level.

You’re taking a character and trying to feel what they’re feeling and making connections via images. It’s sort of the way I see the world. It’s not linear, but most people don’t see the world in a linear way.

You definitely don’t see the world in a linear way!
You’ll walk in the street and hear a horn from a car on your left, then somebody’s baby will be crying on the right then there’ll be an old lady with a walker. These are all just impressions. The sum total of it makes your experience, so why not do that on film? Film gives you the ultimate opportunity to take those events. This is where you need a really smart director so you can create a more whole character, a more three-dimensional character as opposed to a one-dimensional third-person character that you’re looking at.

Clearly, he captured a lot of footage that you were happy with.
I’m so lucky. Adam is such a student of film, so he was able to get that stuff.

What is your favorite part of finishing after you lock picture? Color, visual effects, sound?
I love the mix. Traditionally it’s where film really comes alive. We had a sound supervisor named Becky Sullivan who was just wonderful and understanding. It’s tough being a mixer or a sound person because everybody has different aspirations. I wanted her to try things kind of ass backwards and she indulged me in some places and then came up with ideas that were fantastic.

The work itself was the best part of cutting this movie. I was trying stuff and felt safe. Again I attribute that to Adam. I would see things and they would be the culmination of ideas that I‘d been working on for years.

You worked solo on The Big Short as opposed to The Tree of Life, where you were one of five editors. Which do you prefer and why?
I did have an additional editor, Liza Espinas, who cut a couple of scenes. When you work with multiple editors, like with Terry Malick, it was very collegial. He only had people in one at a time. Oliver Stone, would throw in multiple editors and pass scenes around.

You share your time between features and commercials, and you pick your features carefully. How do you decide which ones to do?
I’ll read the script and if I really love the script, if I love something about it, then maybe I’ll go for it. I get great rewards out of doing commercials occasionally as well. The process can be very similar. I’ve had wonderful times doing commercials.

I envy that you’re able to choose projects because it’s what thrills you.
Thank you. I love working with film and I can’t believe that people are actually paying me to do what I do! It’s not like playing a guitar, where if you have the guitar, you can play it. Somebody’s gotta pay for this. Making films is an expensive proposition, so I am blessed in that sense and that my wife puts up with me.

Jean Lane is a post production supervisor based in New York. She was head producer at Lost Planet NY from 2003 to 2005.

The 88th Academy Award noms; ‘The Revenant’ leads way

The 88th Academy Award nominations are out and, as expected, The Revenant is well represented, garnering 12 nods. George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road follows with 10, and The Martian received seven. While Star Wars didn’t appear in any of the above-the-line categories, it did get recognized for its technical achievement with noms for Film Editing, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

The 88th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 28 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. See below for a complete list of nominees, check out our links to coverage of the nominated films and talent, and good luck in those office Oscar pools!

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The A-List: ‘Anomalisa’ directors Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson

By Iain Blair

Maybe it was just a matter of time before director/writer/producer and Oscar-winner Charlie Kaufman — from whose quirky sensibility sprang such films as Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — turned his attention to an animated project.

Teaming up with director/producer Duke Johnson, whose previous credits include the Adult Swim shows Moral Orel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, the result is Anomalisa, another quirky dreamscape that this time uses stop-motion and puppets to tell its story.

Based on Kaufman’s 2005 “sound play” called Theater of the New Ear, Paramount’s Anomalisa follows the mundane life of Michael Stone, a depressed service rep whose life and attitude is changed dramatically after meeting an unusual stranger. But the making of the film was anything but mundane.

ANOMALISA

L-R: Directors Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson.

After the stage script was given to Dino Stamatopoulos, co-founder of Starburns Industries, and Dan Harmon, creator of NBC’s Community, Anomalisa began its transition to the screen. Its journey was helped by a Kickstarter campaign and took shape as Kaufman’s first animated film.

It was also Starburns’ own initial foray outside television. Launched in 2010, Starburns is a production studio specializing in stop-motion and traditional 2D animation. They won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Character Animation for “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” an episode of Community filmed entirely in stop-motion animation and directed by Johnson.

I recently checked in with Kaufman and Johnson as the Oscar races were heating up.

How did you guys originally team up?
Kaufman: After Dino saw the play, he went on to found Starburns, where Duke worked as a director. They were looking for a project, so we met up that way.

Once a film uses animation and puppets, people assume it’s a kiddie film, but it’s not, is it?
Kaufman: No, it’s an R-rated movie for adults.

ANOMALISA    ANOMALISA

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Kaufman: It’s pretty close to the play in terms of all the dialogue. The big challenge was taking that play, which wasn’t visual — in that it was just read by actors on stage — and turn it into a film. So we had to design the puppets, record the actors, do an animatic and figure out all the shots and how it would play in realtime… and design and build the sets and actually shoot it.

How did you co-direct this?
Johnson: We did it all together. The unique approach that animation takes versus live action is that a lot of the traditional post work is all done in advance. It’s very front-loaded. You start by editing an animatic — a version of the whole film — and it’s the voice records and storyboards edited together with temp sound, and that’s your blueprint. Then you take that guideline and try to animate it as closely as possible to that, with regards to the frame count. So all the blocking and figuring out the emotional beats of the characters and the shots — along with all the creative work of costume, set and production design — happen well in advance. So Charlie and I worked very closely on all that.

ANOMALISAIn a sense, animation is like one big post process?
Johnson: Yeah, because you’re always doing post. You start with ADR and storyboards, and you edit that together. Then as a shot is completed and you cut that into the animatic, so editing happens over the entire film, unlike with a live-action film.

What did DP Joe Passarelli bring to the project, apart from patience?
Johnson: We went to AFI together and he  had done a lot of live action, and then he did stop motion with me on Season 2 of Frankenhole. When we began this, we all wanted it to look different from the traditional stop-motion stuff where it’s broadly lit with a lot of bounce light. We wanted a very cinematic look, and Joe shot with a Canon 7D, with Nikon lenses and zooms, and lit it like a live-action film. He even built his own little lights for it, and eye lights were very important for us and the characters.

The film was edited by Garret Elkins. Tell us about the editing process.
Johnson: He was there from day one, and he essentially edited it twice — and the main editing is for the animatic. He did Frankenhole and Moral Orel with me, and an editor who specializes in stop motion he has some skill sets that are unique. He’s able to, at times, manipulate some of the frames as animation is a series of 24fps, creating the illusion of movement.  If a shot was problematic, he could rework things, use double frames or re-edit and adjust.

Tell us about the VFX. Aren’t they used a bit differently in stop motion?
Kaufman: Right. There’s a lot of clean-up and dust-busting. We shot on 18 stages with black curtains, and we used a lot of greenscreen where walls are missing so the animators had access. Those were done with visual effects and ceilings, and stuff like the cigarette smoke was all VFX. A lot of different houses worked on it, including Gentle Giant, Boundary VFX and Digikore.

ANOMALISA    ANOMALISA

There’s a lot of correcting for stuff in stop motion because of just how long it takes to shoot it. There are set shifts, as they’re made out of wood, and temperature changes affect them, and then lights burn out and the new bulb may be slightly different color-wise. So VFX is less about enhancing the animation and far more about painting away and correcting stuff. But we wanted it to keep that handmade and organic look.

Charlie, you’ve worked a lot with composer Carter Burwell. He told me that to score for the “vulnerable, normal” puppets, and to help the audience “open their hearts to them,” he used a cabaret-style approach.
Kaufman: That really suited this and is an integral part of the film. Initially, the music was written for the play and was a very big part of it, but of course we had to change quite a bit because of the timing, and we added things and took stuff away.

ANOMALISA

Where did you do all the post and mixing?
Johnson: Everything was done at Starburns, and then we did all the sound mixing on the lot at Warners.

How long did this take from start to finish?
Kaufman: Three years. I think we spent 21 months on the shoot. It makes a live-action film look very fast.

Charlie, you won an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine. How important are awards for a film like this?
Kaufman: Very important for a small movie like this, and obviously it benefits from the positive attention, which is what nominations and awards are.

Where do you keep your Oscar?
Kaufman: (Laughs) It’s actually in storage.

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: 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.

The A-List: An interview with Quentin Tarantino about ‘The Hateful Eight’

By Iain Blair

For Quentin Tarantino fans it’s been three long years since the colorful writer/director/producer and sometime actor blasted and cursed his way across the screen with Django Unchained. Now he’s back with The Weinstein Company’s The Hateful Eight, an even more deliriously over-the-top, ultra-violent western — set in the same era — that makes Django look almost sweet and gentle by comparison.

It’s also a mash-up of horror and mystery genres, with enough fake blood and red herrings to keep every Tarantino fan in the world happy. With a large ensemble cast, including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum, it tells a seemingly simple story: eight strangers get stranded in a mountainside stopover as a monster storm bears down on them. But nothing is quite what it seems.

All this is lovingly presented in the long-dormant Ultra Panavision 70mm format and shot by Tarantino’s long-time DP Robert Richardson, the three-time Oscar-winner who also shot Django, Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill: Vol 1 and for the director. It was edited by Fred Raskin, another frequent collaborator.

1    2
Writer Iain Blair and Quentin Tarantino having some fun during their interview session.

I spoke with Tarantino about making the film, just as the first screenings rolled out.

This isn’t just a western, so what film did you set out to make?
That’s a great question, because it’s always interesting, especially after you’ve gotten to this point and you’re finally showing it for the first time — thinking back to what actually made you sit down with a pen and blank paper and start writing. And on this, more than with most of my scripts, I didn’t really know where I was going 100 percent; I just needed to get the ball rolling.

The starting point was the idea of taking eight characters that you cannot trust at all — you cannot take anything they say at face value. Whatever they say they are, you can’t trust that. Who they even think they are, or present themselves to be, you can’t trust that.Then during the course of the movie, everyone — to one degree or another — has something about their past revealed, but you can’t even trust that!

The director and his cast on set.

The director and his cast on set.

So there’s no hero?
Exactly. There’s no moral center. There’s no Django or Little Joe Cartwright. There’s no one you can gravitate towards, or anyone you know is really who they say they are. All these characters are trapped together in a chamber-room situation because of the storm.

The blizzard almost seems like some kind of monster.
Yeah, from a monster movie, and that’s waiting to devour them if they ever leave. So everyone’s trapped, and it all develops from that premise. So it’s also a mystery drama.

There was also a lot of drama and mystery a while back when the script was leaked and you got mad and pulled the plug on the whole movie.
That didn’t actually change the film I set out to make that much. I didn’t suddenly radically change direction because of the leak. The reason I reacted so much was that I had planned to do this film in a different way than I’d ever done before. I’m used to writing one big long piece, and when I get to the end, that’s the end. But in this instance — and I’d never written a script like this before — I wanted to spend time with the material and not just get to the end, but write it three different times.

In the course of telling the story in three different drafts, I wanted to see where it took me, since I spent a long time on it. So I wrote the end of the first draft — not “the end,” but just “an end” — and then the first draft got leaked. I felt very violated and I did get mad, and said, “That’s it, it’s never getting made now!” I was going to punish the world, I was so mad (laughs). But eventually I got over it and I calmed down, and then pressed on with it.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT   THE HATEFUL EIGHT

How tough was the shoot?
It wasn’t that bad. We shot all the location stuff in Telluride, Colorado, in the real snow, and then we did all the stage work at Red Studios in LA.

How long was post, and where did you do it?
It was about seven months. We just rented a house in LA near where I live and converted it into an editing facility.

Do you like the post part of the process?
I love post. People say, “Shooting’s the most important part,” and you can make that case, because if you didn’t get the coverage you don’t have a film. You could write a terrific script and then bum-rush it because you either don’t have the talent or ability or time to do it correctly. I feel that editing and writing are mirror images of each other. It’s a similar discipline, and I’ve always felt that the final script draft is the first cut of the movie, and the final cut of the movie is the last draft of the script… or at least the story.

When I’m writing, I love it, and am very invigorated, but by the time I’m ready to finish it I’m done with that process and ready to move on to the next one. Then I’m shooting and digging that, but then again I hit a point and I’m done. Life just stops while I’m making a film, and I get it back again after post.

The director and his cast on set.

The director taking a look a a shot..

The thing about post is that your gas tank is getting closer and closer to empty as you go, but what I’ve always loved about post is that after the whole hysterical carnival party atmosphere of the shoot is over, you’re suddenly all alone with your editor in a room and it’s all very serene, and what works works and what doesn’t doesn’t. Post is very much like the start of the whole process when you’re writing the script. It’s not hysterical then, it’s just very creative. What’s also interesting about post is that just about the time I’m getting sick of the whole process, you finish and you move on to the next one, and start the whole process all over again.

This is your third film with editor Fred Raskin. How does that relationship work?
He visited the set now and again — he does an assembly while we shoot, but I’m not necessarily going to watch it that much. It’s him getting familiar with the material and experimenting with stuff on his own. When I finish shooting, it’s not like I sit down and work through the assembly as a movie.

I feel the real editing only starts when I get in the room. I need to do all my homework — watching all the takes — and do that alone at home. I make notes and figure out where I want to go and how I can get there. Then armed with those notes, I come in and we start cutting together. At that point I’ll say, “Let me see what you did with the scene,” and we’ll compare versions. And on this there was a lot of great stuff he did that maybe I liked better than my ideas, so it’s back and forth like that.

There seem to be relatively few visual effects shots in this film.THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Right, not that many. The most VFX shots come into play once the storm and night hits, so we have all the storm effects outside, but even all that wasn’t just CGI. We ended up using movie effects snow blowing outside the window, and we then augmented it as needed. John Dykstra, our VFX designer, filmed more versions of that snow so we could add onto what we already had. Method Studios did all the VFX work, but we used a lot of practical stuff wherever we could, like squibs for the bullet wounds and so on.

How important is sound and music in your films?
It’s huge, and I actually figure out a lot of the music before I start writing, let alone shooting. They’re arrows that point me in the right direction, when I get cool bits of music. I’ll play stuff while I write and think, “That might be perfect for this scene.” Music’s a big part of the hook and inspiration for me when I’m writing. When I take a writing break, I’ll go upstairs and listen to the songs and I can actually see the movie in my head. I’m sitting in a theatre, with people watching the movie and hearing it, and I love it. It’s me projecting myself into the future and the finished film. There’s the White Stripes song I used, “Apple Blossom,” and I think it’s very effective. I can’t wait to see it with an audience.

Musically, this is the first original score you’ve used, and it’s the first western score in decades by the legendary Ennio Morricone. It seems like a perfect fit with your film.
He’s the maestro and a wonderful artist; it was a privilege to work with him. I had wanted to for a long time, but I felt this was the right movie for him. I don’t think the others were. I had this little voice whispering in my ear on this, saying, ‘It needs an original score.’ I never had that voice before.

THE HATEFUL EIGHTBut it’s not your typical “western” score.
Exactly. It’s more like a horror film score, and I think that’s how he saw it. That’s a good take on it.

It’s also like a stage play and an Agatha Christie mystery.
Yes, I definitely think you’re right there. The second half introduces the mystery element, and I’d never done that before. That was a lot of fun for me, and hopefully I pulled it off.

Where did you mix?
At the Cary Grant theater, on the lot at Sony. I have this great team — supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman and mixers Chris and Mike Minkler — and I’m very hands-on, but those guys know much more about sound than I do. I think they’re the best in the business, so I give them a lot of latitude to do what they want, and then we watch it and I give notes if needed. I also remember the sound on the day, so that factors in too. [Editor’s Note: Keep an eye out for our upcoming interview with Stateman.]

I assume the DI had nothing to do with the film print?
Right. We only did a DI for the DCP, so there would be like a film element that the DCP had to deal with as opposed to taking it straight off the negative. I usually do a DI but this was the first time I didn’t do one for the film print. I went the Chris Nolan way.

Where do you keep your Oscars?
I used to keep them in my writing room, but last year I changed that. I have a big video room with old videocassettes, and I keep them on the top shelf in the drama section.

Quentin Tarantino: “I’m not a director for hire.”

You’ve only directed eight films, including your 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs. Why so few?
The real answer is, I’m not a director for hire. I’m not combing through novels and reading piles of scripts so I can make more movies. I make a movie, I give it my all, and when it’s over I need some time by myself to figure out what’s next. When I do figure it out, I have to write it, and that takes almost a year. So it’s basically a three-year process on each film.

There’ve been a lot of rumors that you might retire soon. Say it ain’t so!
Well, at least from directing. The business has changed a lot since I began, and that doesn’t help. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a thing. And if shooting on film ever stopped being an option, I wouldn’t reach 10. I’d write novels or plays and direct those, since that’s where I’m coming from. I want all my movies to be made with a deep sense of passion for what I’m doing. I don’t want to just continue doing it because it’s all I know how to do. There is an umbilical cord from Reservoir Dogs to this, and I do like the idea of leaving you wanting just a little bit more.

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.