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Tom Cruise in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT. Director Chris McQuarrie.

Mission: Impossible — Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie

By Iain Blair

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 22 years since Tom Cruise first launched the Mission: Impossible franchise. Since then, it’s become a global cultural phenomenon that’s grossed more than $2.8 billion, making it one of the most successful series in movie history.

With Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Cruise reprises his role of Impossible Missions Force (IMF) team leader Ethan Hunt for the sixth time. And writer/director/producer Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the series’ previous film Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, also returns. That makes him the first filmmaker ever to return to direct a second film in a franchise where one of its signature elements is that there’s been a different director for every movie.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Director Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie

In the latest twisty adventure, Hunt and his IMF team (Alec Baldwin, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames), along with some familiar allies (Rebecca Ferguson, Michelle Monaghan), find themselves in a race against time to stop a nuclear bomb disaster after a mission gone wrong. The film, which also stars Henry Cavill, Angela Bassett, Sean Harris and Vanessa Kirby, features a stellar team behind the camera as well, including director of photography Rob Hardy, production designer Peter Wenham, editor Eddie Hamilton, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson and composer Lorne Balfe.

In 1995, McQuarrie got his start writing the script for The Usual Suspects, which won him the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. In 2000, he made his directorial debut with The Way of the Gun. Then in 2008 he reteamed with Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, co-writing the WWII film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. He followed that up with his 2010 script for The Tourist, then two years later, he worked with Cruise again on Jack Reacher, which he wrote and directed.

I recently talked with the director about making the film, dealing with all the visual effects and the workflow.

How did you feel when Tom asked for you to come back and do another MI film?
I thought, “Oh no!” In fact, when he asked me to do Rogue Nation, I was very hesitant because I’d been on the set of Ghost Protocol, and I saw just how complicated and challenging these films are. I was terrified. So after I’d finished Rogue, I said to myself, “I feel really sorry for the poor son-of-a-bitch who does the next one.” After five movies, I didn’t think there was anything left to do, but the joke turned out to be on me!

Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible - FalloutWhat’s the secret of its continuing appeal?
First off, Tom himself. He’s always pushing himself and entertaining the audience with stuff they’ve never seen before. Then it’s all about character and story. The emphasis is always on that and the humanity of these characters. On every film, and with the last two we’ve done together, he’s learned how much deeper you can go with that and refined the process. You’re always learning from the audience as well. What they want.

How do you top yourself and make this different from the last one?
To make it different, I replaced my core crew — new DP, new composer and so on — and went for a different visual language. My intention on both films was not to even try to top the previous one. So when we started this I told Tom, “I just want to place somewhere in the Top 6 of Mission: Impossible films. I’m not trying to make the greatest action film ever.”

You say that, but it’s stuffed full of nail-biting car chases and really ambitious action sequences.
(Laughs) Well, at the same time you’re always trying to do something different from the other films in the franchise, so in Rogue I had this idea for a female counterpart for Tom — Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) was a more dynamic love interest. I looked at the other five films and realized that the biggest action scene of any of those films had not come in the third act. So it was a chance to create the biggest and most climactic third act — a huge team sequence that involved everyone. That was the big goal. But we didn’t set out to make this giant movie, and it wasn’t till we began editing that we realized just how much action there is.

Women seem to have far larger roles this time out.
That was very intentional from the start. In my earliest talks with Tom, we discussed the need to resolve the Julia (Michelle Monaghan) character and find closure to that story. So we had her and Rebecca, and then Angela Bassett came on board to replace Alec Baldwin’s character at the CIA after he moves to IMF, and it grew from there. I had an idea for the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) character, and we just stayed open to all possibilities and the idea that these strong women, who own all the scenes they’re in, throw Ethan off balance all the time.

How early did you integrate post into the shoot?
Right at the start, since we had so many visual effects. We also had a major post challenge as Tom broke his ankle doing a rooftop chase stunt in London. So we had to shut down totally for six weeks and re-arrange the whole schedule to accommodate his recovery, and even when he got back on the movie his ankle wasn’t really healed enough.

We then had to shoot a lot of stuff piecemeal, and I knew, in order to make the release date, we had to start cutting right away when we had to stop for six weeks. But that also gave me a chance to re-evaluate it all, since you don’t really know the film you’ve shot until you get in the edit room, and that let me do course corrections I couldn’t have done otherwise. So, I essentially ended up doing re-shoots while still shooting the film. I was able to rewrite the second act, and it also meant that we had a finished cut done just six days after we wrapped. And we were able to test that movie four times and keep fine-tuning it.

Where did you do the post?Mission: Impossible: Fallout Tom Cruise
All in London, around Soho, and we did the sound at De Lane Lea.

Like Rogue, this was edited by Eddie Hamilton. Was he on the set?
Yes, and he’s invaluable because he’s got a very good eye, is a great storyteller and has a great sense of the continuity. He can also course-correct very quickly and let me know when we need to grab another shot. On Rogue Nation, he also did a lot of 2nd unit stuff, and he has great skills with the crew. We didn’t really have a 2nd unit on this one, which I think is better because it can get really chaotic with one. Basically, I love the edit, and I love being in the editing room and working hand in hand with my editor, shot for shot, and communicating all the time during production. It was a great collaboration.

There’s obviously a huge number of visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
I’d say well over 3,000, and our VFX supervisor Jody Johnson at Double Negative did an amazing job. DNeg, Lola, One of Us, Bluebolt and Cheap Shot all worked on them. There was a lot of rig removal and cleanup along with the big set pieces.

Mission: Impossible Fallout

What was the most difficult VFX sequence/shot to do and why?
The big “High Altitude Low Opening,” or HALO sequence, where Tom jumps out of a Boeing Globemaster at 25,000 feet was far and away the most difficult one. We shot part of it at an RAF base in England, but then with Tom’s broken ankle and the changed schedule, we ended up shooting some of it in Abu Dhabi. Then we had to add in the Paris backdrop and the lightning for the storm, and to maintain the reality we had to keep the horizon in the shot. As the actors were falling at 160 MPH toward the Paris skyline, all of those shots had to be tracked by hand. No computer could do it, and that alone took hundreds of people working on it for three months to complete. It was exhausting.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
It’s so vital, and for me it’s always a three-pronged approach — music, sound and silence, and then the combination of all three elements. It’s very important to maintain the franchise aesthetic, but I wanted to have a fresh approach, so I brought in composer Lorne Balfe, and he did a great job.

The DI must have been vital. How did that process help?
We did it at Molinare in London with colorist Asa Shoul, who is just so good. I’m fairly hands on, especially as the DP was off on another project by the time we did the DI, although he worked on it with Asa as well. We had a big job dealing with all the stuff we shot in New Zealand, bringing it up to the other footage. I actually try to get the film as close as possible to what I want on the day, and then use the DI as a way of enhancing and shaping that, but I don’t actually like to manipulate things too much, although we gave all the Paris stuff this sort of hazy, sweaty look and feel which I love.

What’s next?
A very long nap.


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.

Color for Television Series

By Karen Maierhofer

Several years ago I was lucky enough to see Van Gogh’s original The Starry Night oil on canvas at a museum and was awestruck by how rich and vibrant it really was. I had fallen in love with the painting years before after seeing reproductions/reprints, which paled in comparison to the original’s striking colors and beauty. No matter how well done, the reproductions could never duplicate the colors and richness of the original masterpiece.

Just as in the art world, stories told via television are transformed through the use of color. Color grading and color correction help establish a signature look for a series, though that can, and often does, change from one episode to another — or from one scene to another — based on the mood the DP and director want to portray.

Here we delve into this part of the post process and follow a trio of colorists as they set the tone for three very different television series.

Black-ish
Black-ish is an ABC series about a successful African-American couple raising their five children in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. Dre, an advertising executive, is proud of his heritage but fears that culture is lost when it comes to his kids.

There is no struggle, however, when it comes to color grading the show, a job that has fallen to colorist Phil Azenzer from The Foundation in Burbank starting with this past season (Season 4).

The show is shot using an Arri Alexa camera. The dailies are then produced by the show’s in-house editor. The files, including the assembly master, are sent to Azenzer, who uses the raw camera files for his color grading, which is done using Blackmagic’s Resolve.

Azenzer starts a scene by rolling into the establishing shot and sets the look there because “you can see all light sources and their color temperatures,” he says. “I get a feel for the composition of the shot and the gradation of shadow to light. I see what light each of the actors is standing in or walking through, and then know how to balance the surrounding coverage.”

In his opinion, networks, for the most part, like their half-hour comedies to be well lit, more chromatic, with less shadow and contrast than an average one-hour drama, in order to create a more inviting, light feel (less somber). “And Black-ish is no different, although because of the subject matter, I think of Black-ish as more of a ‘dramedy,’ and there are scenes where we go for a more dramatic feel,” Azenzer explains.

Black-ish’s main characters are African-American, and the actors’ skin tones vary. “Black-ish creator Kenya Barris is very particular about the black skin tones of the actors, which can be challenging because some tones are more absorbent and others more reflective,” says Azenzer. “You have to have a great balance so everyone’s skin tone feels natural and falls where it’s supposed to.”

Phil Azenzer

Azenzer notes that the makeup department does an excellent job, so he doesn’t have to struggle as much with pulling out the bounce coming off the actors’ skin as a result of their chromatic clothes. He also credits DP Rob Sweeney (with whom he has worked on Six Feet Under and Entourage) with “a beautiful job of lighting that makes my life easier in that regard.”

While color grading the series, Azenzer avoids any yellow in skin tones, per Barris’s direction. “He likes the skin tones to look more natural, more like what they actually are,” he says. “So, basically, the directive was to veer away from yellow and keep it neutral to cool.”

While the colorist follows that direction in most scenes, he also considers the time of day the scene takes place when coloring. “So, if the call is for the shot to be warm, I let it go warm, but more so for the environment than the skin tones,” explains Azenzer.

Most of the show is shot on set, with few outdoor sequences. However, the scenes move around the house (kitchen, living room, bedrooms) as well as at the ad agency where Dre works. “I have some preferred settings that I can usually use as a starting point because of the [general] consistency of the show’s lighting. So, I might ripple through a scene and then just tighten it up from there,” says Azenzer. But my preference as a colorist is not to take shortcuts. I don’t like to plug something in from another episode because I don’t know if, in fact, the lighting is exactly the same. Therefore, I always start from scratch to get a feel for what was shot.”

For instance, shots that take place in Dre’s office play out at various points in the day, so that lighting changes more often.

The office setting contains overhead lighting directly above the conference table, like one would find in a typical conference room. It’s a diffused lighting that is more intense directly over the table and diminishes in intensity as it feathers out over the actors, so the actors are often moving in and out of varying intensities of light on that set. “It’s a matter of finding the right balance so they don’t get washed out and they don’t get [too much shadow] when they are sitting back from the table,” explains Azenzer. “That’s probably the most challenging location for me.”

Alas, things changed somewhat during the last few episodes of the season. Dre and his wife, Rainbow, hit a rough patch in their marriage and separate. Dre moves into a sleek, ultra-modern house in the canyon, with two-story ceilings and 20-foot-tall floor-to-ceiling windows — resulting in a new location for Azenzer. “It was filled with natural light, so the image was a little flat in those scenes and awash with light and a cool aura,” he describes. Azenzer adjusted for this by “putting in extra contrast, double saturation nodes, and keying certain colors to create more color separation, which helps create overall separation and depth of field. It was a fun episode.”

In the prior episode, the show toggles back and forth from flashbacks of Bow and Dre from happier times in their marriage to present day. Azenzer describes the flashbacks as saturated with extremely high contrast, “pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable.” When the scene switched to present day, instead of the typical look, it was shot with the movie Blue Valentine in mind, as the characters discussed separating and possibly divorcing.

“Those scenes were shot and color corrected with a very cool, desaturated look. I would latch onto maybe one thing in the shot and pop color back into that. So, it would be almost grayish blue, and if there was a Granny Smith apple on the counter, I grabbed that and popped it, made it chromatic,” explains Azenzer. “And Dre’s red sweatshirt, which was desaturated and cool along with the rest of the scene, I went back in there and keyed that and popped the red back in. It was one of the more creative episodes we did.”

When Azenzer first took over coloring the show, “everybody was involved,” he says. “I had a relationship with Rob Sweeney, but I was new to Kenya, the post team, and Tom Ragazzo, co-producer, so it was very collaborative at the beginning to nail the look they were going for, what Kenya wanted. Now we are at the point so when I finish an episode, I give Rob a heads-up and he’ll come over that day or whenever he can and bring lunch, and I play it back for him.”

It’s not as if the episodes are without change, though Azenzer estimates that 85 percent of the time Sweeney says, “‘Beautiful job,’ and is out the door.” When there are changes, they usually involve something nominal on just a shot or two. “We are never off-base to where we need to redo a scene. It’s usually something subjective, where he might ask me to add a Power Window to create a little shadow in a corner or create a light source that isn’t there.”

Azenzer enjoys working on Black-ish, particularly because of the close relationship he has with those working on the show. “They are all awesome, and we get along really well and collaborate well,” he says. Indeed, he has forged bonds with this new family of sorts on both a professional and personal level, and recently began working on Grown-ish, a spin-off of Black-ish that follows the family’s eldest daughter after she moves away to attend college.

The 100
Dan Judy, senior colorist at DigitalFilm Tree (DFT) in Hollywood, has been working on The CW’s The 100 starting with the pilot in 2014, and since then has helped evolve it into a gritty-looking show. “It started off with more of an Eden-type environment and has progressed into a much grittier, less friendly and dangerous place to live,” he says.

The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science-fiction drama that centers on a group of juvenile offenders from aboard a failing space station who are sent to Earth following a nuclear apocalypse there nearly a century earlier. Their mission: to determine whether the devastated planet is habitable. But, soon they encounter clans of humans who have survived the destruction.

“We have geographical locations that have a particular look to them, such as Polis (the capitol of the coalition),” says Judy of the environment set atop rolling hills lush with vegetation. “In this past season, we have the Eden environment — where after the planet incurs all this devastation, the group finds an oasis of thriving foliage and animated life. Then, gradually, we started backing off the prettiness of Eden and making it less colorful, a little more contrasty, a little harsher.”

The series is shot in Vancouver by DP Michael Blundell. The dailies are handled by Bling Digital’s Vancouver facility, which applies color with the dailies cut. As an episode is cut, Bling then ships drives containing the camera master media and the edit decision list to DFT, which assembles the show with a clip-based approach, using the full-resolution camera masters as its base source.

“We aren’t doing a transcode of the media. We actually work directly, 100 percent of the time, from the client camera master,” says Judy, noting this approach eliminates the possibility of errors, such as dropouts or digital hits that can result from transcoding. “It also gives me handles on either end of a shot if it was trimmed.”

Dan Judy

Vancouver-based Blundell sets the palette, but he conveys his ideas and concepts to Tim Scanlan, director and supervising producer on the show, with whom Judy has a longstanding relationship — they worked together years before on Smallville. “Then Tim and I will sit down and spot the show, setting looks for the scenes, and after the spotting session, I will fill in the gaps to give it a consistent look,” says Judy. Although Scanlan is in nearby Santa Monica, due to LA’s traffic, he and Hollywood-based Judy collaborate remotely, to save valuable time.

“I can remote into [Scanlan’s] system and color correct with him in full resolution and in realtime,” explains Judy. “I can play back the reference file with the dailies color on it, and I can split-screen that with him in realtime if he wants to reference the dailies color for that particular scene.”

For coloring the show, Judy uses Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, which is also used to conform the series. Using Resolve’s Project Management tools, the editors and colorists “can all work on the project and contribute to it live, in realtime, simultaneously,” Judy points out. “So, I can be color correcting at the same time the editor is building the show, and getting all of his updates in mere seconds.”

Scanlan uses a remote Resolve system with a monitor that is calibrated to Judy’s, “so what he is seeing on his end is an exact replica of what I’m seeing in my room,” Judy says.

One scene in The 100 that stands out for Judy occurs early in the episode during the premiere of Season 5, which finds Clarke Griffin, one of the prisoners, trapped in a wasteland. He explains: “We had several different evolutions of what that look was going to be. I gave them a few designs, and they gave me some notes. Before the show was cut, they gave me little snippets of scenes to look at, and I did test looks. They came back and decided to go with one of those test looks at first, and then as the show progressed, we decided, collaboratively, to redesign the look of the scene and go with more of a sepia tone.”

Much of The 100 is filmed outdoors, and as everyone knows, nature does not always cooperate during shoots. “They deal with a lot of different weather conditions in Vancouver, unlike LA. They’ll get rain in the middle of a scene. Suddenly, clouds appear, and you have shadows that didn’t exist before. So, when that’s the only footage you have, you need to make it all blend together,” explains Judy. “Another challenge is making these amazing-looking sets look more natural by shadowing off the edges of the frame with power windows and darkening parts of the frame so it looks like the natural environment.”

Judy points to the character Becca’s abandoned lab — an elaborate set from last year’s season — as a scene that stands out for him. “It was an amazing set, and in wide shots, we would shape that picture with power windows and use color levels and desaturation to darken it, and then color levels and saturation to brighten up other areas,” he says. “This would make the room look more cavernous than it was, even though it was large to begin with, to give it more scope and vastness. It also made the room look dramatic yet inviting at the same time.”

All in all, Judy describes The 100 as a very edgy, dramatic show. “There’s a lot going on. It’s not your standard television fare. It’s very creative,” he says. “Tim and I did a lot of color design on Smallville, and we’re carrying on that tradition in The 100. It’s more feature-esque, more theatrical, than most television shows. We add grain on the picture to give it texture; it’s almost imperceptible, but it gives a slightly different feel than other shows. It’s nice to be part of something where I’m not just copying color for a standardized, formulaic show. This series gives me the opportunity to be creative, which is awesome.”

Dear White People
Sometimes color grading decisions are fairly standard on television shows. Black and white, so to speak. Not so for the Netflix series Dear White People, a comedy-drama spin-off from the 2014 film of the same name, which follows students of color at a predominantly white Ivy League college as they navigate various forms of discrimination — racial and otherwise.

Helping achieve the desired look for the series fell to senior colorist Scott Gregory from NBCUniversal StudioPost. Starting with Season 1, day one, “the show’s creator, Justin Simien, DP Jeffrey Waldron, executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser and I huddled in my bay and experimented with different ‘overall’ looks for the show,” notes Gregory.

Simien then settled on the “feel” that is present throughout most of the series. Once he had locked a base look, the group then discussed how to use color to facilitate the storytelling. “We created looks for title cards, flashbacks, historical footage, locations and even specific characters,” Gregory says.

Using stills he had saved during those creative meetings as a guide, he then color corrects each show. Once the show is ready for review, the executive producers and DP provide notes — during the same session if schedules permit, or separately, as is often the case. If any of the creatives cannot be present, stills and color review files are uploaded for review via the Internet.

According to Gregory, his workflow starts after he receives a pre-conformed 4:4:4 MXF video assembled master (VAM) and an EDL supplied by online editor Ian Lamb. Gregory then performs a process pass on the VAM using Resolve, whereby he re-renders the VAM, applying grain and two Digital Film Tools (DFT) optical filters. This gives the Red camera footage a more weathered, filmic look. This processing, however, is not applied to the full-frame television show inserts to better separate them from the visual palette created for the show by Simien, Bowser and DPs Waldron and Topher Osborn.

Scott Gregory

Once the VAM is processed, Gregory creates a timeline using the EDL, the processed VAM, and the temp audio, applies a one-light correction to all of the shots, and gets to work. As the color progresses, he drops in the visual effects, cleaned shots, composited elements, and some titles as they are delivered. Once the show is locked for color and VFX approval, he renders out a 3840×2160 UHD final 4:4:4 MXF color-timed master, which then goes back to the online editor for titling and delivery.

“Blue contaminated and lifted blacks, strong vignettes, film-grain emulation and warm, compressed filmic highlights are characteristics present in most of the show,” says Gregory. “We also created looks for Technicolor two-strip, sepia, black-and-white silent-era damaged print, and even an oversaturated, diffused, psychedelic drug trip scene.”

The looks for the flashback or “historical” sequences, usually somewhere in Act I, were created for the most part in Resolve. Many of these sequences or montages jump through different time periods. “I created a black-and-white damaged film look for the 1800s, Technicolor two-strip for the early 1900s, a faded-emulsion [Kodak] Ektachrome [film] look for the ’70s, and a more straightforward but chromatic look for the ’80s,” says Gregory.

Simien also wanted to use color “themes” for specific characters. This was reflected in not only the scenes that included the featured character for that particular show, but also in the title card at the head of the show. (The title card for each show has a unique color corresponding to the featured character of that episode.)

When coloring the series, Gregory inevitably encounters processing issues. “Using all the filters and VFX plug-ins that I do on this show and being in UHD resolution both eat up a lot of processing power. This slows down the software significantly, no matter what platform or GPUs are being used,” he says. In order to keep things up to speed, he decided to pre-render, or bake in, the grain and some of the filters that were to be used throughout each show.

“I then create a new timeline using the pre-rendered VAM and the EDL, and set a base correction,” Gregory explains. “This workflow frees up the hardware, so I can still get realtime playback, even with multiple color layers, composites and new effects plug-ins.”

Gregory is hardly new to color grading, having a long list of credits, including television series, full-length movies and short films. And while working on Seasons 1 and the recently released Season 2 of Dear White People, he appreciated the collaborative environment. “Justin is obviously very creative and has a discerning eye. I have really enjoyed the collaborative space in which he, Yvette, Jeffrey and Topher like to work,” he says. “Justin likes to experiment and go big. He wants the artists he works with to be a part of the creative process, and I think he believes that in the end, his final product will benefit from it. It makes for good times in the color bay and a show we are all very proud of.”


Karen Maierhofer is a longtime technical writer with more than two decades of experience in segments of the CG and post industries.

Company 3 colorist Tim Masick supplies dark DI for First Reformed

Tim Masick of Company 3 in New York worked on the DI for writer/director Paul Schrader’s latest, First Reformed. This film stars Ethan Hawke as a pastor of a small church in upstate New York who is tormented by the death of his son in the Iraq War. Amanda Seyfried also stars.

Masick had worked previously with Schrader on the director’s 2016 film, Dog Eat Dog, which was also shot by DP Alexander Dynan.

Discussions about films that influenced First Reformed — Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Diary of a Country Priest — were primarily filtered through Dynan, but Masick was aware of the influences of those as well as the inspiration of the recent Polish film, Ida.

According to Masick, Schrader “set the table in terms of the look, from costumes to production design and the minimal camera movement and constricted scenes. It’s not set in a pleasant place.”

Schrader, also wanted it dark and cold. “It was shot in January in upstate New York, so everything was on the cool side and everything was intentionally kept devoid of a lot of color,” explains Masick, who used Blackmagic Resolve. “Night interiors might have a bit of warmth from a practical, but everything in the grade was kept dark, even in an exterior if a patch of sunlight hit something we still held it down into what you’d call gray.”

On the specific cold tones, Masick says, “It’s set in an old empty church on its last legs, and it’s the middle of winter. We didn’t go super blue. It’s a mixture of colors of tones. I’ve read reviews that used the term ‘bruising’ in relation to the film, and that’s very interesting because that’s actually something we talked about in terms of his character — bruised. And so there are yellow and purple undertones —similar to the colors of an actual bruise.”

Tim Masick

Masick has been using Resolve for much of his career, and rreally like the way the nodes are set up. “I’m known to use a lot of nodes and quite a few layer nodes specifically,” he explains. “I think it gives me a lot of control. There are a lot of ways to do things in Resolve, but when I was mixing colors like the yellow and purple, I’d use a node for each of those colors and adjust their strength to affect how each one affects the image as a whole. I like to build up layers that I can fine tune individually. It’s the way I’ve always worked.”

Masick started coloring on the show Beavis and Butthead, which he says required using a lot of keys to isolate portions of the frame and nodes to have the control to fine tune shots. You might think, ‘That was animated. Why did you need to do so much refining to the look?’ But the animation wasn’t always consistent, they didn’t always factor in the number of animation cels being used in a shot, and how that affects the overall look. So there was always plenty to do to isolate a character’s face or his shorts or shirt or the background. So I had to get good at keying and layering and I’ve always been able to work the way I like to work in Resolve.”

First Reformed is in theaters now.

The A-List: Veteran director Walter Hill

By Iain Blair

Over the course of a long and storied career, writer, director and producer Walter Hill has done it all. His career began in the early 1970s with screenplay credits for The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, and The Drowning Pool, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. In 1975, he made his directorial debut with Hard Times, a Depression-era street fighting drama starring Charles Bronson and James Coburn.

Since then, his projects have ranged from classic sci-fi (Alien) to classic westerns (The Long Riders, Geronimo, Wild Bill) and from action-packed thrillers (Extreme Prejudice) to buddy comedies (48 Hours, Another 48 Hours).

With his unique visceral style, Hill also made a successful foray into television, receiving both the Emmy and DGA Awards in 2005 for the pilot of the neo-western Deadwood. He also directed AMC’s acclaimed Emmy Award-winning debut television movie, Broken Trail, and was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards — he won an Emmy for producing and a DGA award for directing. Hill was also executive producer of the Emmy-nominated series Tales from the Crypt.

He has also written two graphic novels, which have been published in France, the second of which served as the basis for his provocative new film, The Assignment. The neo-noir, pulpy thriller, which he co-wrote with Denis Hamill, stars Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and Anthony LaPaglia. It tells the story of hitman Frank Kitchen, who is given a lethal assignment, and after being double-crossed discovers he’s not the man he thought he was — he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman (Rodriguez). Seeking vengeance, Frank heads for a showdown with the surgeon (Weaver) who transformed him.

I talked with Hill, whose eclectic credits also include Brewster’s Millions and Bullet to the Head, about making the film.

Many movies take years to get made, but this must be some kind of record — it’s been nearly 40 years since you first read a script for it. Why the long wait?
Denis wrote it back in ’76, and I was very taken with it. I thought it was an amazing and very unusual revenge story with some great twists, but I was very busy with other projects, and time went by before I called Denis and optioned the material. I then co-wrote a script, which I didn’t like, and so I let it go. About 20 years went by, and some five years ago I came across Denis’ original script in my basement, read it, still loved it and called Denis to find out if the rights were available. So I re-optioned it and this time figured out how to do it.

Walter Hill, directing The Assignment.

You did this as a graphic novel first. How did that help in terms of realizing the film version?
I think having done Tales from the Crypt and my first graphic novel in the meantime, all that really helped with my visual approach this time around. I did a draft in just two weeks and it worked. So the script became the graphic novel and then the film.

What sort of film did you want to make?
A neo-noir thriller in the graphic novel vein, with the freedom of a low-budget project. My agent and I knew it wasn’t a studio film, and he suggested I meet with producer Said Ben Said, who’s worked with Polanski, Verhoeven on Elle and Cronenberg, so I met him in Paris and made the deal.

This is your first film with female leads. How early on did you decide to have the male lead, Frank Kitchen, played by Michelle?
It took about six months to figure it out, and one big problem about casting for me was that I felt that if we cast a male actor as Frank, the movie would then become too much about the make up and VFX — and you also have a big challenge for the actor, playing this low-class, underworld Darwinian survivor who’s very macho. I felt that casting a woman would be far more interesting, so I changed that to a woman and I also changed the doctor from a man to a woman. That’s when it all fell into place.

What did Michelle bring to the role?
We had lunch, and she told me, “You’ll never find anyone better for this role,” and she was right. I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. It takes a brave actor to play the part, and Michelle’s very brave. I admire her performance a lot.

The whole outrageous, forced sex change angle has pushed a lot of buttons. Was that intentional?
No. Look, we live in an age of gender fluidity, which is a good thing. We also live in the age of the Internet, where opinions are instantaneous and everywhere. The movie’s not a comment on transgender issues and was never going to be about transgender issues. For the record, there’s nothing that disputes or ridicules the current transgender theory.

Frank Kitchen is not a villain, and he’s not a hero. He’s simply a protagonist, and he doesn’t become a transgender woman. He stays what he is inside his head, a macho and heterosexual male. Genital surgery and feminization aren’t the same thing as being transgender. Frank didn’t want the surgery.

But the film and story are obviously and intentionally lurid.
Yes, which is why I used the comic book panels every so often as devices to let the audience know it’s not your everyday reality in the storytelling. I wanted that freedom you have with the comic book or the graphic novel.

Where did you shoot and how tough was it?
We shot it on location in Vancouver, in just over 20 days, which is the shortest shoot I’ve ever had for a movie. Of course, that presents problems, and every director always needs more time and money. We just didn’t have it, so we were very inventive.

Where did you post?
We cut in LA, but did the rest of it — sound, color correction, VFX — all in Vancouver.

Do you like post, and why?
I’ve always loved post. After the madness of shooting, it gets you back to a civilized life. Some directors make their movies in prep, some during the shoot, and others during post. It’s probably a bit of all three for me, but with the emphasis on post. I follow the lead of greats like Sam Peckinpah and Kurosawa, and Sam always said, “Directing is 75 percent casting.” I think he’s right. You get that right and the shoot’s relatively straightforward and you just let the actors do their work.

There’s definitely a big misunderstanding about what a director does — that he’s basically an acting coach on the set. But that’s often the least of his skills. It’s finding the right tone and all the stuff you add in post that’s so important to the job.

Tell us about editing it with Phil Norden, who worked with you on Broken Trail.
He was up in Vancouver with us but rarely came to the set. That way he stuck close to me and cut almost as fast as I shot. As this was so low budget, there wasn’t much room for error. We had to get it right the first time (laughs). Happily, I love the editing part.

Talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker.
They’re both so important, and without either any footage, however wonderful, just looks flat. We did all the sound work at Sharpe and some ADR at Wildfire in LA.

What about the VFX?
Stargate did the VFX, and we had some greenscreen work, especially in the assassination scene, and some clean-up.

Where was the DI done?
At Encore Vancouver, with colorist Claudio Sepulveda (working on Blackmagic Resolve). He really captured a great look.

What’s next?
I’m co-writing a script, I co-wrote another graphic novel, a sci-fi story, and I hope to direct something this summer. So I’m very busy.


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: Their Finest director Lone Scherfig

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Lone Scherfig is that rarest of creatives — a respected and prolific female director whose films have been both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. Even more amazingly, the Danish-born Scherfig has managed to do that after making the tricky transition from her native tongue to English.

Her 2009 coming-of-age drama An Education won the Audience Award at Sundance and was nominated for three Oscars and eight BAFTAs. Scherfig has since directed another three English-language films: One Day (2011), The Riot Club (2014) and her latest film, Their Finest, which recently screened at the London Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.

Lone Scherfig

Based on Lissa Evans’ novel, “Their Finest Hour and a Half,” Their Finest is a romantic comedy set in wartime London in 1940, when the British ministry turns to propaganda films to boost morale at home. Realizing their films could use “a woman’s touch,” the ministry hires Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) as a scriptwriter in charge of writing the female dialogue. Although her artist husband looks down on her job, Catrin’s natural flair quickly gets her noticed by cynical, witty lead scriptwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin). Catrin and Buckley set out to make an epic feature film based on the Dunkirk rescue starring the gloriously vain, former matinee idol Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). As bombs are dropping all around them, Catrin, Buckley and their colorful cast and crew work furiously to make a film that will warm the hearts of the nation.

I talked with Scherfig, whose credits also include a range of TV series, such as Taxa (1997), Quiet Waters (1999), Better Times (2004) and, most recently, The Astronaut Wives Club (2015), about making the film, her love of post, and her advice to women wanting to become directors in what is still essentially an all-boys club.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to do a film where all the different layers and all the details and complexities are there, but they’re not obvious. It’s about a time when films were never more important. They really made a difference, and people making them felt a big responsibility. It’s also about how their finest hour really brought out the best in people during wartime. So finding the right tone was very important. It was a matter of life and death, but you also have humor side by side with the horror and tragedy of war, and I love that mixture and I almost always use humor as a way of getting into serious themes and vice versa.

It’s partly a love letter to wartime British cinema. Did it help to have an outsider’s POV?
I don’t know if it helped — but maybe because I don’t have the same nostalgia for the period as many people in England do, I could take a different approach. I do know that all the films of that era have aged really well and still stand up today, and I think that the realism of today’s films is rooted in those movies. The films were honest, always with a strong message, but also subtle in their dialogue and acting. And, of course, some of the best British directors, like David Lean and Carol Reed, started out then. So it was fascinating to me, and this film has a combination of real documentary, fiction from that era, mock-up documentary, real propaganda films and Technicolor within the film, so there are so many stylistic elements and linguistic elements to enjoy. The film had to look really good too.

You have an amazing cast. What did Gemma, Bill and Sam bring to their roles?
They were all so hard working and dedicated. Gemma and Sam were perfectly matched, I felt, and then Bill is this very unusual mix of being a very kind and modest person, but also a great comedian, which is quite rare, because comedy is hard. He’s very experienced and he has great taste and timing. Bill is totally different from Ambrose, the actor he plays, and the Uncle Frank Ambrose he plays in the film-within-the-film. He was a delight.

You shot this partly on location in Wales. How tough was it?
Not at all, and the landscapes are so amazing there. Of course, the sea and locations aren’t the same as the real Dunkirk, but we all felt it didn’t matter as it’s a recreation anyway for the film they’re making.

Where did you do your post, and do you like the post process?
I love post, the calm after the storm, and the whole process of actually making the film. We did the post in Soho in London, which is such a fantastic community. You can just run between editing suites and so on, whereas in Hollywood you have to drive so far between facilities. And as our film takes place in Soho, it was perfect.

Can you talk about working for the first time with editor Lucia Zucchetti, whose many credits include Stephen Frears’ The Queen. Was she on the set?
I don’t like to have any editor on the set. I was trained on film, I edited and was a script supervisor, and it’s far better for the editor to get the raw material without all the influences you get on a set.

Where did you edit? How did that work?
We had offices in Soho. We sent her dailies and I’d drop by as I was shooting, but as a director you can’t get too obsessed with what you’ve already shot. You have to live with it. But you have the security of the editor telling you if something’s wrong or that you need an extra shot and so on. That first assembly is the worst moment! All you see are the mistakes. Then it gradually gets better each day, and then at the end of the edit, it’s small fine-tunings and tiny changes, and then the torch passes to sound and other departments.

As it’s a period piece, you must have needed some VFX?
They were all done by Filmgate in Gothenberg, Sweden, and we did a lot of that work online. It’s the first time I’d worked with them, and they did a very good job. Obviously, the VFX all had to be invisible, and we had a lot of removal and clean up, adding backgrounds, buildings and so on.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s so important, especially in a film like this, with bombs going off and battle scenes and so on. I did a lot of radio drama when I was very young, so I always loved sound. I had the same sound crew — supervising sound editors Glenn Freemantle and Ben Barker at Sound 24 at Pinewood — who did my last four films. I’m really grateful that they fit me in between all the really huge productions they do there, and I love working with them. We recorded all the music in Berlin with composer Rachel Portman.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Pinewood with Adam Inglis, who’s excellent. He’s also very fast, so that gave us more time to experiment a bit with stuff and refine things. I think the Technicolor look of the film is wonderful. For instance, we had two sets of costumes, and for the girls in the pink dresses we were able to make them a much darker pink for one set through the DI in the film-within-a-film scenes.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. What’s your take on the situation? Is it improving or still the same?
We’ll see if all the debate changes things, but it’ll take time. Maybe it’ll be like smoking, where gradually people decided to change their behavior. But for me, it’s more about stories. There should be more stories about women.

What’s your advice to a young woman who wants to direct?
Find your own voice. What can you do that no one else can do? Keep your expenses down, and get as technically good as you can, learn film language and choose your battles!

What’s next?
I’m currently in pre-production on my own script, Secrets from the Russian Tea Room, a contemporary drama with some comedy. I hope to start shooting in New York 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.

The A-List: The Founder director John Lee Hancock

By Iain Blair

Director, writer and producer John Lee Hancock has carved out a successful career with his ability to tell unlikely but true stories and bring them to life on screen. In 2013, he directed Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks, about the prickly relationship between Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers and the former’s quest to adapt Travers’ Mary Poppins into a film.

John Lee Hancock on set

In 2009 he made The Blind Side, based on another true story, which he both wrote and directed. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and garnered Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Oscar.

Now Hancock has tackled another true story, albeit one with a far darker protagonist. The Founder is about the birth of McDonald’s and its rise to an international multi-billion-dollar fast food brand. The film tells the true story of how Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a struggling salesman from Illinois, met Mac and Dick McDonald, who were running a burger operation in 1950s Southern California. Kroc was impressed by the brothers’ speedy system of making the food and saw franchise potential, and the film details how Kroc maneuvered himself into a position to be able to pull the company from the brothers and create a billion-dollar empire.

The film also stars Laura Dern as Ray Kroc’s first wife Ethel, John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald, Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, Linda Cardellini as Kroc’s second wife, Joan Smith, and B.J. Novak as Harry Sonneborn, the financial whiz whose franchising innovations led to Kroc being able to wrest control of McDonald’s from the founding brothers.

Based on an original screenplay by Robert Siegel (The Wrestler), the film’s behind-the-camera team includes longtime Hancock collaborators led by Oscar-nominated DP John Schwartzman (Jurassic World, Saving Mr. Banks), production designer Michael Corenblith (Saving Mr. Banks, The Blind Side) and editor Robert Frazen (Enough Said, Synecdoche, New York).

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

What do you look for in a project?
I like unusual stories, and this seemed unlikely to me when I first came across it, but Rob Siegel’s a very good writer. I was very intrigued by the character of Ray Kroc and the fact that I was pulling for him for the first half of the script. Then I began to feel confused by his behavior and then actively resenting some of his actions. That’s a tricky thing to pull off in a film, but I felt it was worthwhile doing.

His motivations and character are a lot darker than the protagonists in your last films. Was that the appeal?
Absolutely. It’s interesting because it’s the story of McDonald’s first, but it starts out with Kroc and it’s told largely from his end. It’s really the flip side of Banks, in that Travers starts out as someone you’re not sure you like, and is even kind of offensive, but then as you get to know her, you realize the source of her actions and why she is who she is. It’s bittersweet at the end, but it has closure. This ends without that sort of closure and is far more ambiguous. Some people will say Kroc did what he had to do, while others will say he’s a monster.

Either way, Kroc’s another juicy role for Keaton. What did he bring to the ethically challenged Kroc?
He was the first actor I thought of for the role because Michael’s a natural born salesman himself. When he’s excited about an idea, it’s electric and infectious. He has this boyish enthusiasm, and I felt that they both shared that. He’s also a Midwesterner and values hard work, and he’s so good at going to the dark places when needed. We talked a lot about the journey the character takes, in terms of everything from dialogue and behavior to the wardrobe. Michael got it all.

The shoot must have been challenging as you didn’t have a big budget, but it required a ton of locations.
Yes, we shot mainly in Atlanta, with a day in Albuquerque, and we had to build two different McDonald’s locations — the original octagonal one in San Bernardino, California, and a Golden Arches one, and they had to not just serve as different sets but as kitchens, as we were actually cooking in them. That was a lot to deal with for production designer Michael Corenblith, but he figured it all out.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and I’ve been blessed to work with really good editors and post crews on all my films.

Tell us about working with editor Robert Frazen.
We edited at Pivotal Post in Burbank. On every film I’m always asked, “Do you want your editor on set with you?” I always say no, because I value their opinion and objectivity, and I think sometimes you’re influenced if you’re on a location watching how the sausage is made. If it’s a really tough shot to get, there’s that sense of maybe I should keep it, even if it doesn’t work or push the story forward.

So I prefer to just talk to them a lot during the shoot, send dailies and they’ll send me cut scenes back. I don’t get too detailed in my notes either. That way, after the shoot, I can come in and watch a complete version of the film with fresh eyes, and then we start the real work. We start working on the pacing and rhythms, the order of the scenes and so on. I’d always admired Rob’s work with Nicole Holofcener, the way he digs deeper into the footage and finds little key bits of behavior, or some mistake he uses in a different way. He brought all that and more to this.

This is obviously not a VFX-driven piece but it is a period piece. How big a role did VFX play in the film?
A big role. Our VFX were done by a company called Moving Target. There’s always a lot of clean-up and removal of modern stuff. We did some of it with flashback photography, creating old photos and that feel, and there was a lot of background replacement for all the myriad restaurants, as we only had the budget to build one Golden Arches and then had to change parking, foliage, foreground and background for every different city.

We had this leaning telephone pole out front that blocked a lot of our shots, but it was going to cost $30,000 to move it and rewire it underground. Other films probably wouldn’t have blinked, but I decided to erase it in post out of the other shots and embrace it for the first location. I liked the idea that it wasn’t the best piece of property anyway, and Kroc would have to live with it the same way we were.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so crucial to a film, and I really love all the minutia of it. I know some directors who are not so involved in all that, but I love all the detail work. I feel that when you’re there for all the little tweaks, when you play it all back in the final mix, your brain isn’t looking for all the tiny details — you can just focus on the overall effect. We mixed at King Soundworks in Van Nuys and did the final mix at Ross 424 Inc.

Where did you do the DI?
At Company 3, with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who does all Schwartzi’s films. I’m pretty involved and John and I discussed the look at length before the shoot. Then, as he was off shooting another movie, we talked more as I did a pass, and then he’d look at it. We wanted it to have a very sunny look to start off, and then get a little darker as it went.

What’s next?
I have three different projects ready to go, so whichever one comes together 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.

Quick Chat: Efilm’s new managing director Al Cleland

Al Cleland has been promoted to managing director of Deluxe’s Efilm, which is a digital color, finishing and location services company working on feature films, episodics and trailers. For the past eight years, Cleland has been VP of trailers at Efilm.

A 30-year veteran of the post business, Cleland started his career at Editel and joined CIS, which later became Efilm, as one of the company’s original employees. He served as senior V/GM at Technicolor Creative Services for 10 years, and at Postworks, Los Angeles, returning to Efilm as VP of trailers. We threw three questions at Cleland, let’s see what he had to say…


After working on trailers for the last eight years, you must be excited to be working in all aspects of what Efilm does.
Our trailer department started out dedicated to finishing one studio’s trailers and we’ve expanded into a dedicated hub for the marketing departments of all the studios. Our trailers department has had the advantage of connectivity and common practices with all of Deluxe’s facilities throughout the world. I’ve loved being part of that growth process and, in my new position, I’ll continue to oversee that vital part of the company.

What’s challenging about trailers that people even in the business might not think about?
The great team in that division have to pull together shots and visual effects while the film itself is being finished, which is a unique logistical challenge. And they’re doing all kinds of small changes and creating effects specific to the trailer and to the MPAA requirements for trailers. It’s a unique skill set.

What do you hope to accomplish for Efilm going forward?
Efilm is expanding in terms of the amount of work and the kind of work we’re doing, and I intend to push that expansion along at an even faster rate. We’ve always had an amazing team of colorists, producers and editors that are really the heart of Efilm. We have wonderful technical and support staff. And, of course, we have access to all of those elements at our partner companies and we continue to build on that.

It’s early to talk about specifics, but we all know the industry is changing rapidly. We’ve been among the very first to introduce new technologies and workflows and that’s something the team here is going to expand on.

Reid Burns named president of post at Cognition

Hollywood-based post studio Cognition has hired Reid Burns as president of post production. In his new role, Burns is tasked with building relationships with studios, independent producers and filmmakers. His initial focus will be on growing the company’s digital intermediate finishing and color grading business.

Launched last fall, Cognition is nearing completion of a multi-million-dollar expansion of its creative campus in Hollywood that will include the addition of two 4K digital cinema finishing theaters, a scalable visual effects pipeline, creative office space and an emerging technologies research facility.

Burns began his career as a color timer and has nearly 100 films to his credit. He later managed laboratory operations at Deluxe. That was followed by tenures as director of global sales and technology at Consolidated Film Industries, SVP at Fotokem and COO at Reliance MediaWorks. His work at Reliance included oversight of 3D work for such titles as Avatar, Prometheus and Men in Black 3. He also founded the VFX and title post house The Image Resolution and served as CEO of the VFX/DI and boutique post house Ollin Studio in Mexico City. He joined Mexico City’s Labodigital in 2012 as SVP. Burns is an associate member of the American Cinematographers Society.

Commenting on Cognition’s adoption of SGO’s Mistika platform, he says, “We are ready for EDR (Extended Dynamic Range), planning ahead for HDR and using the ACES workflow on our current feature. We are also thrilled with Mistika’s robust stereo tools and look forward to projects that are a good fit in that arena.”

Among Burns’ first tasks will be to add to the facility’s DI staff. New hires are expected to include a senior DI producer, DI colorist and a business development specialist.

Duck Grossberg joins Local Hero as CTO, will grow dailies, VR biz

Santa Monica-based Local Hero, a boutique post facility working on feature and independent films has hired Duck Grossberg as chief technology officer.

Grossberg, who was most recently at Modern Videofilm, will drive the overall technology vision for Local Hero, as well as expand the dailies part of the studio’s end-to-end workflow services. In addition, Grossberg’s significant virtual reality production and DI experience will also help fuel Local Hero’s rapidly growing VR business.

Grossberg has held a variety of technical roles over the past 15 years, working with facilities such as the The Creative Cartel, Deluxe Labs, The Post Group, Modern, Cameron/Pace, Tyler Perry Studios and 20th Century Fox.

As a DIT, digital lab supervisor and colorist (dailies and on-set), Grossberg’s credits include Real Steel, Life of P, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as TV shows such as Dig, Tyrant and Sleepy Hollow.

“Local Hero experienced exponential growth in our core dailies, DI, VFX and finishing business in 2015,” says Leandro Marini, founder/president of Local Hero. “We also saw rapid growth in our VR dailies and finishing business, delivering nearly 20 projects for clients such as Fox, Jaunt Studios and the NFL. The addition of Duck is a crucial component to our expansion at Local Hero. The combination of his technical prowess, creative skills and client experience make him uniquely positioned to help drive our aggressive growth.”

The A-List: ‘Carol’ director Todd Haynes

By Iain Blair

With his affection for period pieces and classic melodrama, along with his interest in gay sexuality, writer/director Todd Haynes — who was Oscar-nominated for his Far From Heaven ’50s drama — was probably the perfect choice to tackle the lesbian romance at the heart of his new film, Carol.

Adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel, “The Price of Salt,” Carol tells the story of two women from very different backgrounds — Therese, a store clerk (Rooney Mara) and Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring woman trapped in a loveless, convenient marriage — who meet and then find themselves in an unexpected love affair in 1950s New York.

The film is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz for its actors and for Haynes, whose credits also include the acclaimed Bob Dylan picture I’m Not There, as well as Velvet Goldmine, Safe and the miniseries Mildred Pierce.

Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes

I spoke with Haynes about making the film, from production through post, and the Oscars.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making Carol?
It was all about the genre of the love story, which I felt I’d never tackled before. I saw it as this great opportunity to get into how love stories are these unique experiences — how much of it is about point of view and which party you’re with.

The film was shot by your regular DP Ed Lachman on Super 16mm. What look were you going for?
I looked at a lot of ’50s films, but they didn’t really give me a strong stylistic way into the material. They all felt a bit mannered and stylized for what this was about. So it was really the historical research we did that was so illuminating. The New York images we studied from the early ‘50s really told a different story from the high-gloss Eisenhower-era look, one about the country emerging from the war years and being in transition.

You could still feel that insecurity and shifting power dynamics of global politics, and the city looked dirty and tired. So the color palette of the photos was very beautiful and subdued, and the temperatures were hard to determine, almost a mixture really. Those all went into our look, along with shooting it all in Cincinnati because New York has changed so much since the 1950s.

Do you like the post process?
I love it because after the crazy, frantic Herculean task of production where you constantly feel the ticking clock, you’re back in a dark room, which is where I start as a writer. The shoot was quite stressful as we had a very tight schedule of just 35 days and a low budget for a period piece like this. But then in post, you’re down to the lowest overhead and the fewest number of people, so it feels very intimate, which I love.

Where did you post?
We did it all at Goldcrest Post in New York — the cutting, the sound, the VFX and the DI. They were partners in the film, so they were invested in the project and us being happy there. And we were. I ended up getting an apartment literally five doors down the street so I could be close to the editing room all the time. Post took about seven months, and I didn’t think we’d finish in time, but it went very smoothly.

The film was edited by Affonso Gonçaves (Winter’s Bone, Beasts of the Southern Wild), who you worked with on Mildred Pierce. Tell us about that relationship.
He’s just a great partner and very sensitive, smart and knowledgeable. He was so attentive to temp tracks and finding really useful music to cut to. Music was always going to be a key element in Carol, and he has a great ear for that. I’m very hands-on in the edit, and I can’t really look at cuts I haven’t started making myself. Affonso did do a cut while I shot, but I only looked at it after we had tried my cut first — to see how they had failed (laughs). When I began my career, I cut on film and I loved to edit myself, and Mildred was really the first project I never laid hands on. The Avid is amazing, but cutting on film was an amazing education for me, and I’d never trade it in.

Period films always have a lot of visual effects. Talk about them and working with VFX supervisor Chris Haney.
Yes, there was a lot of removal of contemporary elements, stuff you often don’t even see until you’re in post, plus cosmetic work. We also had about six key shots that needed extensive VFX. We did as much as possible in-camera and practically, but there were plenty of spots where the deep space down a street was filled in to give us New York — in particular the scene where Carol sees Therese crossing the street near the end. That was extremely complicated, like the others, as they were usually moving shots filtered through windows, rain, dust, distortion and so on. So the CGI elements had to fit exactly inROONEY MARA stars in CAROL.to the vernacular itself, with the grain element and level of distress.

You didn’t make it easy for yourself.
No, but Chris did a magnificent job and was so attentive to the film’s tone. Also, Goldcrest, The Mill and Lola did various shots. I actually love working with VFX, as you can add so much with even a handful of frames, and Chris’ work was like a series of paintings.

The score by Carter Burwell is quite haunting. How important is the score and sound in your films?
They’re both so important, it’s hard to overstate. This is the third collaboration with Carter; he was involved before I even began casting, so he’s a key component.  My sound designer, Leslie Shatz, who I met through Gus van Sant, has done something like 200 films now and is so experienced. I’ve worked with him since we did Far From Heaven.

The film has a very realistic look with quite a muted palette. Was that all done in post in the DI, or was it a combination of post and in-camera?
We did a lot of work in the DI with Goldcrest colorist John Dowdell (working on the Quantel Pablo Rio), who is another real artist, to get that very specific, slightly spoiled palette. It’s a very different look from Far From Heaven.

Todd Haynes directing Rooney Mara.

What’s next?
I’m hoping to do Wonderstruck next, based on Brian Selznick’s graphic novel, so another period film but one carried by younger characters, which’ll be new for me.

Your HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce won five Emmys and a Golden Globe. Will you be doing more TV?
Yes, I’m developing a dramatic project with HBO, The Source, about a ‘70s cult in LA.

We’re heading into awards season. You’ve been nominated before for an Oscar. How important are they to you?
They’re in some ways inseparable from the marketing of a film, and for me any opportunity to get people in to see the film on a big screen is important.

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