Tag Archives: Oscar

The A-List: Jackie and Neruda director Pablo Larraín

By Iain Blair

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has been hailed as one of the most ambitious, iconoclastic, daring — and important — political filmmakers of his generation thanks to such films as No, a drama about the 1988 plebiscite that brought an end to the Pinochet era; Tony Manero, about a man obsessed with John Travolta’s disco dancing character from Saturday Night Fever; and The Club, a drama about disgraced priests.


Writer Iain Blair and director Pablo Larraín.

He’s also one of the hardest-working directors in the business, with two major releases out before Christmas. First up is Fox’s Jackie, about one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century. It stars Natalie Portman as first lady Jackie Kennedy and is set in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassination. That’s followed by Neruda, which focuses on the life of Pablo Neruda, one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century. Neruda is Chile’s Oscar submission, and Jackie, Larrain’s first English-language film, is also getting a lot of Oscar and awards season buzz.

I talked to Larraín about making the films and his workflow.

Why make back-to-back films?
I never planned it this way. I was going to make Neruda, and then we had to push it six months for a lot of reasons. My last film, The Club, won an award at Berlin, and Darren Aronofsky headed up the jury and asked me to direct Jackie, which he produced. So I ended up doing Jackie right after Neruda.

So what does a Chilean director shooting in Paris bring to such an iconic American subject?
The view of an outsider, maybe. We were doing a lot of post on Neruda in Paris, and the film was mainly made and cut there at Film Factory. Natalie was also living there, so it all came together organically. We built all the interiors there — the White House and so on.


Neither film is your run-of-the-mill biopic. Can you talk about Jackie, which has a lot of time compression, random memories and flashbacks?
I don’t like normal biopics. They’re very tricky to do, I think. More than anything we wanted to find and discover the specific sensibility that was Jackie and examine all the events that happened after the assassination. It was also about capturing specific emotions and showing her strengths and weaknesses, and all the paradoxes and controversies that surrounded her. So we approached it from fiction. Good biopics aren’t really biographical; they just try to capture a sense of the person more through atmosphere and emotions than a linear plot and structure.

You must have done a lot of research?
Extensive — looking at newsreels, interviews, reading books. Before all that, I had a very superficial idea of her as this person who was mainly concerned about clothes and style and furniture. But as I researched her character, I discovered just what an incredible woman she was. And for me, it’s also the story of a mother.


What were the main technical challenges of making this?
The biggest challenge for me was, of course, making my first film in English. It wasn’t easy to do. My other biggest challenge was making a film about a woman. In my films, the main characters have always been men, so that was the biggest one for me to deal with and understand.

Do you like the post process?
I love it — and more and more, the editing. It’s just so beautiful when you sit with the editor, and every scene you’ve shot is now cut in that first cut. Then you go, “Alright, where do we go now, to really shape the film?” You start moving scenes around and playing with the narrative. I think it was Truffaut who said that when you shoot, you have to fight with the script, and then when you edit, you have to fight with the shoot, and it’s so true. I’ve learned over the years to really embrace post and editing.

You worked with editor Sebastián Sepúlveda on Jackie. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He began cutting while we were shooting, and when we wrapped we finished cutting it at Primo Solido, in Santiago, Chile. We did all the pre-mixes there too.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece, but as with any period piece the VFX play a big role.
Absolutely, and Garage, a VFX company in Santiago, did about 80 percent of them. They did a great job. We also used Mikros and Digital District in Paris. I like working with visual effects when I have to, but I’m not really a greenscreen guy (laughs). Both films were fun to do in terms of the effects work, and you can’t tell that they’re visual effects — all the backgrounds and so on are very photorealistic, and I love that illusion… that magic. Then there’s a lot of work erasing all the modern things and doing all the cleanup. It’s the kind of post work that’s most successful when no one notices it. (Check out our interview with Jackie editor Sebastián Sepúlveda.)



Let’s talk about Neruda, which is also not a typical biopic, but more of “policier” thriller.
Yes, it’s less about Neruda himself and more about what we call the “Nerudian world.” It’s about what he created and what happened when he went into hiding when the political situation changed in Chile. We created this fictional detective who’s hunting him as a way of exploring his life.

Along with Jackie, he was a real person. Did you feel an extra responsibility in making two films about such icons?
Yes, of course, but if you think about it too much it can just paralyze you. You’re trying to capture a sense of the person, their world, and we shot Neruda in Chile, Buenos Aires and a little bit in Paris.

What did you shoot the films on?
We shot Jackie on film and on Super 16, and Neruda on Red. I still love shooting on film more than digital, but we had a great experience with the Red cameras and we used some old Soviet anamorphic lenses from the ‘60s that I found in LA about eight years ago. We got a beautiful look with them. Then we did all the editing in Paris with Hervé Schneid but with a little help at the end from Sebastián Sepúlveda to finish it in time for its Cannes debut. We changed quite a few things — especially the music.


Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in both of the films?
Well, film is an audio-visual medium, so sound is half the movie. It triggers mood, emotion, atmosphere, so it’s crucial to the image you’re looking at, and I spend a lot of time working on the music and sound with my team — I love that part of post too. When I work with my editors, I always ask them to cut to sound and work with sound as well, even if they don’t like to work that way.

How is the movie industry in Chile?
I think it’s healthy, and people are always challenging themselves, especially the younger generation. It’s full of great documentaries — and people who’ve never worked with film, only digital. It’s exciting.

What’s next?
I don’t quite know, but I’m developing several projects. It’s whatever happens first.

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: ‘The Danish Girl’ director Tom Hooper

This relatively low-budget film is generating a ton of Oscar buzz

By Iain Blair

British director Tom Hooper and The King’s Speech — his film about the true-life story of the stuttering King George VI and his Aussie speech therapist — swept the Oscars in 2011, with the film winning him Best Director, along with Best Picture and a Best Actor Oscar for Colin Firth. Now the Oxford-educated Hooper, who got his start shooting commercials and such hit TV shows as Prime Suspect, East-Enders, Elizabeth I and John Adams, and whose film credits include Les Misérables and Red Dust, is getting more Oscar buzz for his latest movie The Danish Girl.

Tom Hooper and Iain Blair

Tom Hooper and Iain Blair

Starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), The Danish Girl, from Focus Features, tells another real-life story, this time of Lili Elbe, a Danish man who transitioned to a female in the 1920s with the help of his artist wife, played by Alicia Vikander.

I recently spoke with Hooper over lunch about making the film, which was shot with a Red Epic Dragon, and edited on a Media Composer.

Transgender issues are suddenly very much in the zeitgeist, but you must have started working on this quite a while ago?
Yes, and it’s been a long journey, and a real labor of love. I fell in love with the script seven years ago, but it was very hard to finance and risky to do. In fact, a lot of people close to me advised me not to try and make it. But here we are, and I’ll be speaking at The White House on a panel about the film and these issues. So a lot has changed since 2008, and now it’s being embraced, so it’s pretty amazing.

Is it true you first gave Eddie the script over the barricades while you were shooting Les Misérables?
It’s true. I slipped it to him and he called the next day and said, “Yes, let’s go,” and I had to tell him to hold on, that it’s not that easy… we’ve still got to pull it all together.

What did Eddie and Alicia bring to the mix?
They’re both actors with a lot of unusual qualities. Eddie has this emotional openness; an emotional translucency that allows audiences to find it very easy to identify with him, which was key for the role. I first saw that in him when I cast him in Elizabeth 1.

Alicia has so much heart, and is so kind and compassionate, and she brings this inner strength to the role. You never think of her character as the victim. She also makes goodness very interesting, which is incredibly hard to do. It’s far easier to play a villain.

Once again you worked with DP Danny Cohen, who shot The King’s Speech for you. He’s quite a maverick, isn’t he?
That’s exactly the right word. He’s a bit of a rebel — he doesn’t mind breaking the rules — and he doesn’t get attached to a certain formula or way of doing things. This is our fifth film together, and I really feel he’s helped loosen up my style and not feel so bound by all the usual rules. He used some beautiful old lenses and very soft lighting inspired by several Danish artists, and I think the film looks perfect for the story and the period. He’s also the nicest guy in the world.

Tell us about working with editor Melanie Oliver, who cut Les Misérables, The Damned United and several of your TV series. How does that relationship work?
This is our sixth film together, and she did amazing work on the John Adams miniseries. She is a really gifted editor. Basically, she’s my greatest secret weapon, my great collaborator, and she functions almost like a co-director. I really feel that editors are often under-appreciated in that regard, and I rarely change a performance take once she’s selected it and cut it in, as she’s completely right about 90 percent of the time in her first assembly.


Performance and editing are like choreography, and they have to go together perfectly like a very intricate dance. If the editor picks the right moments, it can really elevate an actor’s performance, and then the whole film, and she does that all the time.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was all done in London at Goldcrest, where I usually do post, and then we did all the sound mixing at Halo, all over a period of several months. I love post and the calm after the storm of the shoot where you feel the meter ticking away every minute on set.

For me, the most interesting aspect of it is that, however clear the vision you had of the film before you began, once you sit down in the editing room and start working on, it begins to change into something different. You have to let go of that vision and just look at what’s in front of you, and then it’s all about servicing what the film’s become, and how you can get the best out of what you shot. I love getting the structure right and then the pacing and all the rhythms right — on this we ultimately ended up losing over an hour of material. You hate to cut sceDanishGirl_11447188149nes, but that really tightened it all up.

What about the music and sound? Were they more crucial than usual?
I think so. The next big thing for me in post after editing is adding all the music and sound, and composer Alexandre Desplat responded so well to all the changes. In this film the music acts like the narrator, so we had to be very careful in how we used it. Alexandre went through so many drafts of key scenes where you need to balance the pain and the joy that Eddie’s character is feeling.

Music and sound are always huge for me, but they were even more crucial in this, and a very big challenge, because it’s such a quiet movie. So all the sound effects had to be really effective and just right. I had a great sound team, including Mike Prestwood Smith, our re-recording mixer who did Captain Phillips and Mission Impossible, and we worked hard at getting stuff like the sound of the canals and boats rubbing together exactly right.

Then I love starting to show the film to get a feeling about all that. I always start off showing it to my family first, and then to close friends, and you see how it plays and you learn about it and gradually shape it, and hopefully all the pieces of the puzzle fall into shape by the end of post, and your movie emerges.

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Any period piece needs some VFX work. Who did the shots?
There were very few, and they were all done by Double Negative, who I worked with on Les Mis, and they did an amazing job considering the circumstances. This was a very low-budget movie — just about $15 million — and that meant we only had $100,000 for the entire VFX, which isn’t very much. We did need some key VFX shots, such as the shot of the trees at the beginning, and the train on the bridge, which was all CGI. Then there’s a lot of subtle stuff and clean-up work, and colorist Adam Glasman did the DI.

You’ve won an Oscar. How important are they and all the other awards?
I think they really can help with a small film like this. Look what happened with The King’s Speech. I still pinch myself that it did so well and that I won an Oscar.

Where do you keep it?
I know a lot of Brits keep it in the loo, but I keep mine on the mantle by the fireplace

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.


Oscar-winner Ben Wilkins on Whiplash’s audio mix, edit

This BAFTA- and Oscar-winner walks us through his process.

By Randi Altman

When I first spoke with Ben Wilkins, he was freshly back from the Oscar-nominee luncheon in Hollywood and about to head to his native England to attend the BAFTAs. Wilkins was nominated by both academies for his post sound work on Sony Picture Classics’ Whiplash, the Damien Chazelle-directed film about an aspiring jazz drummer and his brutal instructor.

Wilkins (@tonkasound) didn’t return to LA empty handed — he, along with fellow sound re- Continue reading