Tag Archives: Oscars nominations

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.

Oscar-nominated sound editors, mixers share insights with AES LA section

By Mel Lambert

A recent meeting of the Audio Engineering Society’s Los Angeles section offered an opportunity to hear from a number of Oscar nominees and winners as they shared their experiences while preparing dramatic film soundtracks, including how the various sound elements were secured, edited and mixed to picture, plus the types of hardware used in editorial suites and dubbing stages.

Whiplash, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, was re-recorded on Technicolor at Paramount’s Stage 4 by dialog/music mixer Craig Mann and sound effects mixer Ben Wilkins (see our interview with Wilkins), using tracks secured on location by production mixer Thomas Continue reading

RSP’s Tim Crosbie gets VFX Oscar nom for ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’

VFX supervisor Tim Crosbie, from Australia’s Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) is part of the team nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects for the film X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Crosbie supervised the team of RSP artists involved in creating the film’s “Kitchen” scene where time appears to stand still as the super-fast Quicksilver moves around the Pentagon cafeteria distracting guards who are attacking a group of mutants. Also named in the nomination are the film’s VFX supervisor Richard Stammers, Digital Domain’s Lou Pecora and Object Inc.’s Cameron Waldbauer.

The X-Men “Kitchen” scene involved a blend of live-action, CG objects and visual effects. RSP collaborated with Stammers and director Bryan Singer to bring the scene to life through the production of scores of CG props, including frying pans, knives, pots of boiling soup, carrots and bullets, as well as the cascades of water droplets. Each of these elements needed to be rendered in near microscopic detail, placed precisely within the geometry of the kitchen and choreographed to move and react realistically to lighting, other objects and characters.

RSP also integrated Quicksilver into the near frozen environment. That illusion was accomplished through a combination of live action, a stunt double, greenscreen photography, a partial CG body replacement and a shimmering “rain tunnel” that forms around Quicksilver (caused by his swift passage through the near motionless falling water). All of this had to work properly in 2D and stereo 3D. The studio’s main tool is Houdini.

Crosbie reports that pulling off a sequence like Quicksilver’s visit to the Pentagon is more than a matter of managing data. “This work is grounded in realism,” he says. “Even though it’s a fantastical event you still want to feel as though you are there. The biggest challenge is to find that balance between an exciting, magical event and one that looks real.”

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“All of us at RSP are extremely proud of our work on X-Men: Days of Future Past and to have it recognized by our peers is very gratifying,” says RSP executive producer Tony Clark. “We are very grateful to director Bryan Singer, visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers and 20th Century Fox for giving us the opportunity to work on such a fun, exciting and challenging project.”

RSP’s X-Men work has been recognized by other organizations as well. Crosbie is also named in a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects.  RSP artists are named in two VES Award nominations, Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal/Live Action Motion Media Project (Dennis Jones) and Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture (Adam Paschke, Premamurti Paetsch, Sam Hancock and Timmy Lundin). X-Men: Days of Future Past is also nominated for one of the VES Awards’ Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects-Driven Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture.