Tag Archives: Directing

Official Secrets director Gavin Hood talks workflow on this real-life thriller

By Iain Blair

South African writer/director Gavin Hood burst onto the international scene when he wrote and directed 2005’s Academy Award-winning Tsotsi. The film, which was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Gavin Hood

Hood followed up that success with the harrowing political drama Rendition (Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), the sci-fi offering Ender’s Game (with Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley) and the thriller Eye in the Sky (Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman).

For his new film, Official Secrets, Hood returns to the murky world of government secrets and political double-dealing with a true but largely forgotten story that could have prevented the disaster that was the Iraq invasion and war. It tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information. In 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun defies her government and leaks the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that ignited an international firestorm, exposed a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

I recently spoke with Hood about making the film — which co-stars Ralph Fiennes as Gun’s lawyer and Matt Smith as journalist Martin Bright, who helped break the story — and his workflow.

To be honest, I’d never heard of Katharine Gun and her amazing story. Had you?
No, I knew nothing about it either. My producer Ged Doherty, who did Eye in the Sky with me, told me about this incredible true story and suggested I Google Katharine. Two hours later, having done a deep dive into this truly fascinating story, I realized it was this way of getting into the Iraq War and all that convoluted history through a very personal story.

What attracted you to this project?
That personal angle. Here’s a person who’s not a big political figure, but just someone going about her job. She comes across something that just smells rotten and decides she must say so. I thought, this could be any of us, in any organization, and who would be brave enough to become a whistleblower and risk losing our job in order to reveal the truth? She also risked losing her freedom as well, so whatever you think politically, she was very brave in following her conscience. I was intrigued right away by this character but not sure I actually wanted to do it.

I flew to London to meet Katharine. I sat down with her for five days, and each day we’d just talk and work for four or five hours. I’d take all these notes and over those five days, I think I won her trust. The main thing was, I just let her tell me about the events and what really happened without trying to make it into something more “Hollywood” or more exciting in terms of a movie. After that, I felt, “OK, we can do this.”

Lack of government transparency seems more timely than ever.
Absolutely, and that’s why this story is so important.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A political thriller that’s also an understated personal drama. But making these kinds of films is far more difficult than making non-controversial entertainment fare, and it’s always so difficult getting financing.

Do you feel more responsibility when it’s based on real events and characters?
I do, and though I’ve made these kind of films before, this was the first time for me that all the main people were still alive, so it brings with it certain restrictions. You don’t want to fall short and have them scoff at your efforts, and you can’t take liberties with the narrative and the facts. Then this had the challenge of being a true story that doesn’t follow the conventional Hollywood “hero whistleblower” tale. It didn’t change the world. She’s just an ordinary person who did something extraordinary, and it’s about common decency and dignity.

What did Keira bring to the lead role, as well as Ralph Fiennes as her lawyer and Matt Smith as journalist Martin Bright?
They were all so committed and did a lot of research into their characters. Keira told me it was great to play a strong woman without having to wear a corset, and she really inhabits the role and makes you feel what it was like to be in Katharine’s shoes. She shows so much with just her eyes, so we used a lot of close-up work with a 75mm lens. Ralph shot all his scenes in just six days because of our tight 34-day schedule.

Your DP was Florian Hoffmeister, and you shot with the new Sony 6K Venice camera. Can you talk about how you collaborated on the look and how that affected the DI?
Yes, we were actually the first feature film to use it, so we did a lot of tests. It has an incredible dynamic range, not only moving from highlights to shadow but it’s got this great nuanced control of color. I’ve always loved shooting on film, but this camera’s so amazing that I’m now totally comfortable going all digital. In terms of post and the DI, we were really able to play with the footage.

When I shoot, I never want to push the look too much in-camera, as then you’re really limited in your choices in the DI. So my goal in shooting is always to get as much really detailed raw footage as I can, so I can then manipulate it in the DI. I don’t like to shoot with lots of filters and toys on the lens.

Where did you post?
At Technicolor in London and LA, and we did all the sound at Tribeca West in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love writing, I love shooting, but post is where you actually make the film.

Talk about editing with your go-to editor Megan Gill who’s cut almost every film since 2005’s Tsotsi. How did that work?
She visits the set once or twice, but she doesn’t like to see how the sausage is made. She was on location and just to look at the dailies and do her assembly, and I’d drop by and we’d discuss it. Then she started cutting in London and then we finished in LA.

What were the big editing challenges?
It was basically a meticulous search for the most nuanced performances and trusting that we could then let them play out. There’s a scene where Katharine’s visited at home by a detective who tells her she can’t talk to a lawyer or anyone without clearing it with the authorities first. Instead of cutting back and forth between them as you’d usually do, we kept it on Keira and you see her slow burn, and it was far more effective that way. So, often it’s more important where you don’t cut rather than where you do.

VFX play a role. How many were there and what did they entail?
Technicolor VFX did them all, and they were mostly comps for scenes shot in places like rooftops in Manchester and Liverpool, which doubled for London. So it was live shots augmented with matte paintings and VFX for the London skyline. And we had a lot of television comps, but not nearly as many VFX as I had on my last film, Eye in the Sky.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music, as again, you recruited composers Paul Hepker and Mark Kilian, who have scored a number of your films, including Tsotsi and Rendition.
We go way back, and they’re both amazing South African composers who have such a range — from classical to jazz and world music. That range works so well with my films, which are often multicultural. So in this film we have Britain, but it’s also about Iraq. And Katharine’s husband is Kurdish-Turkish, so we had to build a soundtrack that vibrates with the sound and emotional resonance of all these different places and cultures.

They crafted a great score that did exactly that. We did most of the sound work at Technicolor. Then sound editor Craig Mann, who won the Oscar for Whiplash and who did Eye in the Sky, did all the mixing at Tribeca West… most of it in a very small room. And he worked closely with Paul and Mark and is so good at building atmosphere and tension.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
Also at Tribeca West, and it’s extremely important to me, as I have a background in photography. Florian and I worked very closely with colorist Doug Delaney, and it’s a period piece so we wanted a dusty, slightly period feel without pushing it too far.

What’s next?
I’m developing several projects, so whatever 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.

Fred Raskin talks editing and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

By Amy Leland

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is marketed in a style similar to its predecessors — “the ninth film from Quentin Tarantino.” It is also the third film with Fred Raskin, ACE, as Tarantino’s editor. Having previously edited Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, as well as working as assistant editor on the Kill Bill films, Raskin has had the opportunity to collaborate with a filmmaker who has always made it clear how much he values collaboration.

On top of this remarkable director/editor relationship, Raskin has also lent his editing hand to a slew of other incredibly popular films, including three entries in the Fast & Furious saga and both Guardians of the Galaxy films. I had the chance to talk with him about his start, his transition to editor and his work on Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. A tribute to Hollywood’s golden age, the film stars Brad Pitt as the stunt double for a faded actor, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as they try to find work in a changing industry.

Fred Raskin

How did you get your start as an editor?
I went to film school at NYU to become a director, but I had this realization about midway through that that I might not get a directing gig immediately upon graduation, so perhaps I should focus on a craft. Editing was always my favorite part of the process, and I think that of all the crafts, it’s the closest to directing. You’re crafting performances, you’re figuring out how you’re going to tell the story visually… and you can do all of this from the comfort of an air-conditioned room.

I told all of my friends in school, if you need an editor for your projects, please consider me. While continuing to make my own stuff, I also cut my friends’ projects. Maybe a month after I graduated, a friend of mine got a job as an assistant location manager on a low-budget movie shooting in New York. He said, “Hey, they need an apprentice editor on this movie. There’s no pay, but it’s probably good experience. Are you interested?” I said, “Sure.” The editor and I got along really well. He asked me if I was going to move out to LA, because that’s really where the work is. He then said, “When you get out to LA, one of my closest friends in the world is Rob Reiner’s editor, Bob Leighton. I’ll introduce the two of you.”

So that’s what I did, and this kind of ties into Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, because when I made the move to LA, I called Bob Leighton, who invited me to lunch with his two assistants, Alan Bell and Danny Miller. We met at Musso & Frank. So the first meeting that I had was at this classic, old Hollywood restaurant. Cut to 23 years later, and I’m on the set of a movie that’s shooting at Musso & Frank. It’s a scene between Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio, arguably the two greatest actors of their generations, and I’m editing it. I thought back to that meeting, and actually got kind of emotional.

So Bob’s assistants introduced me to people. That led to an internship, which led to a paying apprentice gig, which led to me getting into the union. I then spent nine years as an assistant editor before working my way up to editor.

When you were starting out, were there any particular filmmakers or editors who influenced the types of stories you wanted to tell?
Growing up, I was a big genre guy. I read Fangoria magazine and gravitated to horror, action and sci-fi. Those were the kinds of movies I made when I was in film school. So when I got out to LA, Bob Leighton got a pretty good sense as to what my tastes were, and he gave me the numbers of a couple of friends of his, Mark Goldblatt and Mark Helfrich, who are huge action/sci-fi editors. I spoke with them, and that was just a real thrill because I was so familiar with their work. Now we are all colleagues, and I pinch myself regularly.

 You have edited many action and VFX films. Has that presented particular challenges to your way of working as an editor?
The challenges, honestly, are more ones of time management because when you’re on a big visual effects movie, at a certain point in the schedule you’re spending two to four hours a day watching visual effects. Then you have to make adjustments to the edit to accommodate for how things look when the finished visual effects come in. It’s extremely time-consuming, and when you’re not only dealing with visual effects, but also making changes to the movie, you have to figure out a way to find time for all of this.

Every project has its own specific set of challenges. Yes, the big Marvel movies have a ton of visual effects, and you want to make sure that they look good. The upside is that Marvel has a lot of money, so when you want to experiment with a new visual effect or something, they’re usually able to support your ideas. You can come up with a concept while you’re sitting behind the Avid and actually get to see it become a reality. It’s very exciting.

Let’s talk about the world of Tarantino. A big part of his legacy was his longtime collaboration with editor Sally Menke, who tragically passed away. How were you then brought in? I’m assuming it has something to do with your assistant editor credit on Kill Bill?
Yes. I assisted Sally for seven years. There were a couple of movies that we worked on together, and then she brought me in for the Kill Bill movies. And that’s when I met Quentin. She taught me how an editing room is supposed to work. When she finished a scene, she would bring me and the other assistants into the room and get our thoughts. It was a welcoming, family-like environment, which I think Quentin really leaned into as well.

While he’s shooting, Quentin doesn’t come into the editing room. He comes in during post, but during production, he’s really focused on shooting the movie. On Kill Bill, I didn’t meet him until a few weeks after the shoot ended. He started coming in, and whenever he and Sally worked on a scene together, they would bring us in and get our thoughts. I learned pretty quickly that the more feedback you’re able to give, the more appreciated it will be. Quentin has said that at least part of the reason why he went with me on Django Unchained was because I was so open with my comments. Also, as the whole world knows, Quentin is a huge movie lover. We frequently would find ourselves talking about movies. He’d be walking through the hall, and we’d just strike up a conversation, and so I think he saw in me a kindred spirit. He really kept me in the family after Kill Bill.

I got my first big editing break right after Kill Bill ended. I cut a movie called Annapolis, which Justin Lin directed. I was no longer on Quentin’s crew, but we still crossed paths a lot. Over the years we’d just bump into each other at the New Beverly Cinema, the revival house that he now owns. We’d talk about whatever we’d seen lately. So he always kept me in mind. When he and Sally finished the rough cuts on Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds, he invited me to come to their small friends-and-family screenings, which was a tremendous honor.

On Django, you were working with a director who had the same collaborator in Sally Menke for such a long time. What was it like in those early days working on Django?
It was without question the most daunting experience that I have gone through in Hollywood. We’re talking about an incredibly talented editor, Sally, whose shoes I had to attempt to fill, and a filmmaker for whom I had the utmost respect.

Some of the western town stuff was shot at movie ranches just outside of LA, and we would do dailies screenings in a trailer there. I made sure that I sat near him with a list of screening notes. I really just took note of where he laughed. That was the most important thing. Whatever he laughed at, it meant that this was something that he liked. There was a PA on set when they went to New Orleans. I stayed in LA, but I asked her to write down where he laughs.

I’m a fan of his. When I went to see Reservoir Dogs, I remember walking out of the theater and thinking, “Well, that’s like the most exciting filmmaker that I’ve seen in quite some time.” Now I’m getting the chance to work with him. And I’ll say because of my fandom, I have a pretty good sense as to his style and his sense of humor. I think that that all helped me when I was in the process of putting the scenes together on Django. I was very confident in my work when I started showing him stuff on that movie.

Now, seven years later, you are on your third film with him. Have you found a different kind of rhythm working with him than you had on that first film?
I would say that a couple of little things have changed. I personally have gained some confidence in how I approach stuff with him. If there was something that I wasn’t sure was working, or that maybe I felt was extraneous, in Django, I might have had some hesitation about expressing it because I wouldn’t want to offend him. But now both of us are coming from the perspective of just wanting to make the best movie that we possibly can. I’m definitely more open than I might have been back then.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood has an interesting blend of styles and genres. The thing that stands out is that it is a period piece. Beyond that, you have the movies and TV shows within the movie that give you additional styles. And there is a “horror movie” scene.
Right, the Spahn Ranch sequence.

 That was so creepy! I really had that feeling the whole time of, “They can’t possibly kill off Brad Pitt’s character this early, can they?
That’s the idea. That’s what you’re supposed to be feeling.

When you are working with all of those overlapping styles, do you have to approach the work a different way?
The style of the films within the film was influenced by the movies of the era to some degree. There wasn’t anything stylistically that had us trying to make the movie itself feel like a movie from 1969. For example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, is playing the heavy on a western TV show called Lancer in the movie. Quentin referred to the Lancer stuff as, “Lancer is my third western, after Django and The Hateful Eight.” He didn’t direct that show as though it was a TV western from the late ’60s. He directed it like it was a Quentin Tarantino western from 2019. Quentin’s style is really all his own.

There are no rules when you’re working on a Quentin Tarantino movie because he knows everything that’s come before, and he is all about pushing the boundaries of what you can do — which is both tremendously exciting and a little scary, like is this going to work for everyone? The idea that we have a narrator who appears once in the first 10 minutes of the movie and then doesn’t appear again until the last 40 minutes, is that something that’s going to throw people off? His feeling is like, yeah, there are going to be some people out there who are going to feel that it’s weird, but they’re also going to understand it. That’s the most important thing. He’s a firm believer in doing whatever we need to do to tell the story as clearly and as concisely as possible. That voiceover narration serves that purpose. Weird or not.

You said before that he doesn’t come into the edit during production. What is your work process during production? Are you beginning the rough cut? And if so, are you sending him things, or are you really not collaborating with him on that process at all until post begins?
This movie was shot in LA, so for the first half of the shoot, we would do regular dailies screenings. I’d sit next to him and write down whatever he laughed at. That process that began on Django has continued. Then I’ll take those notes. Then I assemble the material as we’re shooting, but I don’t show him any of it. I’m not sending him cuts. He doesn’t want to see cuts. I don’t think he wants the distractions of needing to focus on editing.

On this movie, there were only two occasions when he did come into the editing room during production. The movie takes place over the course of three days, and at the end of the second day, the characters are watching Rick on the TV show The F.B.I., which was a real show and that episode was called “All the Streets Are Silent.” The character of Michael Murtaugh was played in the original episode by a young Burt Reynolds. They found a location that matched pretty perfectly and reshot only the shots that had Burt Reynolds in them. They reshot with Leonardo DiCaprio, as Rick Dalton, playing that character. He had to come into the editing room to see how it played and how it matched, and it matched remarkably well. I think that people watching the movie probably assume that Quentin shot the whole thing, or that we used some CG technology to get Leo into the shots. But no, they just figured out exactly the shots that they needed to shoot, and that was all the new material. The rest was from the original episode.

 The other time he came into the edit during production was the sequence in which Bruce Lee and Cliff have their fight. The whole dialogue scene that opens that sequence, it all plays out in one long take. So he was very excited to see how that shot played out. But one of the things that we had spoken about over the course of working together is when you do a long take, the most important thing is what that cut is going to be at the end of the long take. How can we make that cut the most impactful? In this case, the cut is to Cliff throwing Bruce Lee into the car. He wanted to watch the whole scene play out, and then see how that cut worked. When I showed it to him, I had my finger on the stop button so that after that cut, I would stop it so he wouldn’t see anything more and wouldn’t get tempted to get sucked into maybe giving notes. I reached to stop, but he was like, “No, no, no let it play out.” He watched the fight scene, and he was like, “That’s fantastic.” He was very happy.

Once you were in post, what were some of the particular challenges of this film?
One of the really important things is how integral sound was to the process of making this movie. First there were the movies and shows within the movie. When we’re watching the scenes from Bounty Law, the ‘50s Western that Rick starred in, it wasn’t just about the 4×3, black and white photography, but also how we treated the sound. Our sound editorial team and our sound mixing team did an amazing job of getting that stuff to sound like a 16-millimeter print. Like, they put just the right amount of warble into the dialogue, and it makes it feel very authentic. Also, all the Bounty Law stuff is mono, not this wide stereo thing that would not be appropriate for the material from that era.

And I mentioned the Spahn Ranch sequence, when for 20 minutes the movie turns into an all-out horror movie. One of Quentin’s rules for me when I’m putting my assembly together is that he generally does not want me cutting with music. He frequently has specific ideas in his head about what the music is going to be, and he doesn’t want to see something that’s not the way he imagined it. That’s going to take him out of it, and he won’t be able to enjoy the sequence.

When I was putting the Spahn Ranch sequence together, I knew that I had to make it suspenseful without having music to help me. So, I turned to our sound editors, Wylie Stateman and Leo Marcil, and said, “I want this to sound like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, like I want to have low tones and creaking wood and metal wronks. Let’s just feel the sense of dread through this sequence.” They really came through.

And what ended up happening is, I don’t know if Quentin’s intention originally was to play it without music, but ultimately all the music in the scene comes from what Dakota Fanning’s character, Squeaky, is watching on the TV. Everything else is just sound effects, which were then mixed into the movie so beautifully by Mike and Chris Minkler. There’s just a terrific sense of dread to that sequence, and I credit the sound effects as much as I do the photography.

This film was cut on Avid. Have you always cut on Avid? Do you ever cut on anything else?
When I was in film school, I cut on film. If fact, I took the very first Avid class that NYU offered. That was my junior year, which was long before there were such things as film options or anything. It was really just kind of the basics, a basic Avid Media Composer.

I’ve worked on Final Cut Pro a few times. That’s really the only other nonlinear digital editing system that I’ve used. I’ve never actually used Premiere.

At this point my whole sound effects and music library is Avid-based, and I’m just used to using the Avid. I have a keyboard where all of my keys are mapped, and I find, at this point, that it’s very intuitive for me. I like working with it.

This movie was shot on film, and we printed dailies from the negative. But the negative was also scanned in at 4K, and then those 4K scans were down-converted to DNx115, which is an HD resolution on the Avid. So we were editing in HD, and we could do screenings from that material when we needed to. But we would also do screenings on film.

Wow, so even with your rough cuts, you were turning them around to film cuts again?
Yeah. Once production ended, and Quentin came into the editing room, when we refined a scene to his liking, I would immediately turn that over to my Avid assistant, Chris Tonick. He would generate lists from that cut and would turn it over to our film assistants, Bill Fletcher and Andrew Blustain. They would conform the film print to match the edit that we had in the Avid so that we were capable of screening the movie on film whenever we wanted to. There was always going to be a one- or two-day lag time, depending on when we finished cutting on the Avid. But we were able to get it up there pretty quickly.

Sometimes if you have something like opticals or titles, you wouldn’t be able to generate those for film quickly enough. So if we wanted to screen something immediately, we would have to do it digitally. But as long as we had a couple of days, we would be able to put it up on film, and we did end up doing one of our test screenings on 35 millimeter, which was really great. It added one more layer of authenticity to the movie, getting to see it projected on film.

For a project of this scope, how many assistants do you work with, and how do you like to work with those assistants?
Our team consists of post production supervisor Tina Anderson, who really oversees everything. She runs the editing room. She figures out what we’re going to need. She’s got this long list of items that she goes down every day, and makes sure that we are prepared for whatever is going to come our way. She’s really remarkable.

My first assistant Chris Tonick is the Avid assistant. He cut a handful of scenes during production, and I would occasionally ask him to do some sound work. But primarily during production, he was getting the dailies prepped — getting them into the Avid for me and laying out my bins the way I like them.

In post, we added an Avid second named Brit DeLillo, who would help Chris when we needed to do turnovers for sound or visual effects, music, all of those people.

Then we had our film crew, Bill Fletcher and Andrew Blustain. They were syncing dailies during production, and then they were conforming the film print during post.

Last, but certainly not least, we had Alana Feldman, our post PA, who made sure we had everything we needed.

And honestly, for everybody on the crew, their most important role beyond the work that they were hired to do, was to be an audience member for us whenever we finished a scene. That tradition I experienced as an assistant working under Sally is the tradition that we’ve continued. Whenever we finish a sequence, we bring the whole crew up and show them the scene. We want people to react. We want to hear how they’re responding. We want to know what’s working and what isn’t working. Being good audience members is actually a key part of the job.

L-R: Quentin Tarantino, post supervisor Tina Anderson, first assistant editor (Film) Bill Fletcher, Fred Raskin, 2nd assistant editor (Film) Andrew Blustain, 2nd assistant editor (Avid) Brit DeLillo, post assistant Alana Feldman, producer Shannon McIntosh, 1st assistant editor (Avid) Chris Tonick, assistant to producer Ryan Jaeger and producer David Heyman

When you’re looking for somebody to join your team as an assistant, what are you looking for?
There are a few things. One obvious thing, right off the bat, is someone who is personable. Is this someone I’m going to want to have lunch with every day for months on end? Generally, especially working on a Quentin Tarantino movie, somebody with a good knowledge of film history who has a love of movies is going to be appreciated in that environment.

The other thing that I would say honestly  — and this might sound funny — is having the ability to see the future. And I don’t mean that I need psychic film assistants. I mean they need to be able to figure out what we’re going to need later on down the line and be prepared for it.

If I turn over a sequence, they should be looking at it and realizing, oh, there are some visual effects in here that we’re going to have to address, so we have to alert the visual effects companies about this stuff, or at least ask me if it’s something that I want.

If there were somebody who thought to themselves, “I want a career like Fred Raskin’s. I want to edit these kinds of cool films,” what advice would you give them as they’re starting out?
I have three standard pieces of advice that I give to everyone. My experience, I think, is fairly unique. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get to work with some of my favorite filmmakers. The way my story unfolded … not everybody is going to have the opportunities I’ve had.

But my standard pieces of advice are, number one — and I mentioned this earlier — be personable. You’re working with people you’re going to share space with for many months on end. You want to be the kind of person with whom they’re going to want to spend time. You want to be able to get along with everyone around you. And you know, sometimes you’ve got some big personalities to deal with, so you have to be the type who can navigate that.

Then I would say, watch everything you possibly can. Quentin is obviously an extreme example, but most filmmakers got into this business because they love movies. And so the more you know about movies, and the more you’re able to talk about movies, the more those filmmakers are going to respect you and want to work with you. This kind of goes hand in hand with being personable.

The other piece of advice — and I know this sounds like a no-brainer — if you’re going for an interview with a filmmaker, make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with that person’s work. Be able to talk with them about their movies. They’re going to appreciate that you took the time to explore their work. Everybody wants to talk about the work they’ve done, so if you’re able to engage them on that level, I think it’s going to reflect well on you.

Absolutely. That’s great advice.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Danielle Katvan joins 1stAveMachine’s directorial roster

Film and commercial director Danielle Katvan has joined the roster at Brooklyn-based production company 1stAveMachine. Her work includes the Clio-winning spot for Vogue and Free People, as well as commercials for The Venetian Resort Las Vegas and Service Now’s The Future of Work. Her short film, The Foster Portfolio, premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

Katvan grew up in her parents photography studio in New York City, so she was exposed to the art of storytelling from a young age. She began by taking 35mm photographs, developing the film in their home’s darkroom. This fascination evolved into an interest in moving images, and she bought her first video camera at age 12.

Katvan’s style includes adding offbeat humor into highly stylized, cinematic worlds. “It’s like our world, but with the volume turned up a bit,” she explains. “The beauty of filmmaking is that you can escape to another place but still feel emotionally connected to what you’re watching – and good performances are such a huge part of making that connection.”

“We have been big fans of Danielle’s work for some time. Her eye for authentic performances and beautiful cinematography, set against thoughtful art direction, have made for some incredibly compelling films,” says Sam Penfield, a partner at 1stAveMachine.

Yesterday director Danny Boyle

By Iain Blair

Yesterday, everyone knew The Beatles. Today, only a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town remembers their songs. That’s the brilliant-yet-simple setup for Yesterday, the new rock ’n’ roll comedy from Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill).

Danny Boyle on set with lead actor Himesh Patel

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel of BBC’s EastEnders) is the struggling singer-songwriter whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend/manager, Ellie (Lily James, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). But after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that only he remembers The Beatles and their music, and his career goes supercharged when he ditches his own mediocre songs and instead starts performing hit after hit by the Fab Four — as if he’d written them.

Yesterday co-stars Ed Sheeran and James Corden (playing themselves) and Emmy Award-winner Kate McKinnon as Jack’s Hollywood agent. Along with new versions of The Beatles’ most beloved hits, Yesterday features a seasoned group of collaborators, including DP Christopher Ross (Terminal, the upcoming Cats), editor Jon Harris (Kingsman: The Secret Service, 127 Hours), music producer Adem Ilhan (The Ones Below, In the Loop) and composer Daniel Pemberton (Steve Jobs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).

I recently spoke with Boyle, whose eclectic credits include Shallow Grave, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary, Trance, Steve Jobs, Sunshine and 127 Hours, about making the film and the workflow.

What was your first reaction when you read this script?
I was a big fan of Richard’s work, and we’d worked together on the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, when we did this Chariots of Fire spoof with Rowan Atkinson, and I casually said to him, “If you’ve ever got anything for me, send it over.” And he said, “Funnily enough, I do have a script that might suit you,” and he sent it over, and I was just overwhelmed when I read it. He’d managed to take these two fairly ordinary people and their love story, and then intertwine it, like a double helix, with this love letter to The Beatles, which is the whole texture and feeling of this film.

It comes across as this very uplifting and quite emotional film.
I’m glad you said that, as I thought this whole simple idea — and it’s not sci-fi, but it’s not really explained — of this global amnesia about The Beatles and all their songs was just so glorious and wonderful, and just like listening to one of their songs. It really moved me, and especially the scene at the end. That affected me in a very personal way.  It’s about the wonder of cinema and its relationship to time, and film is the only art form that really looks at time in such detail because film is time. And that relates directly to editing, where you’re basically compressing time, stretching it, speeding it up, freezing it — and even stopping it. No other art form can do that.

The other amazing aspect of film is that going to the movies is also an expression of time. The audience says, “I’m yours for the next two hours,” and in return you give them time that’s manipulated and squeezed and stretched, and even stopped. That’s pretty amazing, I think. That’s what I tried to do with this film, do something that brings back The Beatles and all that sense of pure joy in their music, and how it changed people’s lives forever.

Is it true that Jack is partly based on Ed Sheeran’s own life story?
It is, absolutely, and he’s good friends with Richard Curtis. Ed played all the little pubs and small festivals where we shot, and very unsuccessfully when he started out. Then he was propelled into superstardom, and that also appeared to happen overnight. Where did all his great songs come from? Then, like in the film, Ed actually returned to his childhood sweetheart and they ended up getting married, and you go, “Wow! OK. That’s amazing.” So all that gave us the exo-skeleton of the film, and Ed’s also done some acting — he was in Game of Thrones and Bridget Jones’ Baby, and then he also wrote the song at the end, so it was really perfect he was also in it.

What did Himesh bring to the role of Jack?
The only trepidation I had was when I began auditioning people for the part, as it was basically, “Come in and sing a couple of Beatles songs.” And some were probably better technically than Himesh, but I soon realized it was going to be far harder than I thought to get the right guy. We had great actors who weren’t great singers, and vice versa, and we didn’t want just a karaoke version of 17 songs.

And making it more complicated was that, unlike in the film, we all do remember The Beatles. But then Himesh walked in, played “Yesterday” and “Back in the USSR,” and even though I was oversaturated by The Beatles music at this point, they just grabbed me. He made them his own, as if they were his songs. He was also very modest with it as well, in his demeanor and approach. He doesn’t rethink the wheel. He says, “This is the song you’ve missed, and I’m bringing it back to you.” And that’s the quality he brings to his performance. There’s a genuine simplicity, but he’s also very funny and subtle. He doesn’t try and hijack The Beatles and lay on extra notes that you don’t need. He’s a very gentle guy, and he lets you see the song for what it is, the beauty of them.

Obviously, the music and sound were crucial in this, and usually films have the actors lipsync, but Himesh sang live?
Totally. He played and sang live — no dubs or pre-records. Early on I sat down with Simon Hayes, who won the Oscar for mixing Les Mis, and told him that’s what I wanted. It’s very difficult to do live recording well, but once Simon heard Himesh sing, he got it.

The songs in this help tell the story, and they’re as important as all the dialogue, so every time you hear Himesh play and sing it live. Then for all the big concerts, like at Wembley, we added extra musicians, which we over-dubbed. So even if there were mistakes or problems with Himesh’s performances, we kept it, as you’ve got to believe it’s him and his songs. It had to be honest and true.

We screened the premiere in Dolby Vision Atmos in London, and it’s got such a fantastic range. The sound is so crisp and clean — and not just the effects, but all the dialogue, which is a big tribute to Simon. It’ll be so sad if we lose cinema to streaming on TV and watching films on tiny phones because we’ve now achieved a truly remarkable technical standard in sound.

Where did you do all the post?
We edited at a few places. We were based at Pinewood to start with, as I was involved with the Bond film, and then we moved to some offices in central London. Finally, we ended up at Working Title, where they have a great editing setup in the basement. Then as usual we did all the sound mixing at Pinewood with Glenn Freemantle and his team from Sound 24. They’ve done a lot of my films.

We did all the visual effects with my usual guy, VFX supervisor Adam Gascoyne over at Union Visual Effects in London. He’s done all my films for a very long time now, and they did a lot of stuff with crowd and audience work for the big shows. Plus, a lot of invisible stuff like extensions, corrections, cleanup and so on.

You also reteamed with editor Jon Harris, whose work on 127 Hours earned him an Oscar nom. What were the big editing challenges?
We had quite a few. There was this wonderful scene of Jack going on the James Corden show and playing “Something,” the George Harrison song, and we ultimately had to cut the whole thing. On its own, it was this perfect scene, but in the context of the film it came too late, and it was also too reminiscent of “Yesterday” and “The Long and Winding Road.”

The film just didn’t need it, and it was quite a long sequence, and it was really sad to cut it, but it just flowed better without it. Originally, we started the film with a much longer sequence showing Jack being unsuccessful, and once we tested that, it was immediately obvious that the audience understood it all very quickly. We just didn’t need all that, so we had to cut a lot of that. It’s always about finding the right rhythm and pace for the story you’re telling.

L-R: Iain Blair and Danny Boyle

Where was the DI done?
At Goldcrest with colorist Adam Glasman, who has worked a lot with DP Chris Ross. It was a very joyous film to make and I wanted it to look joyful too, with a summer spirit, but also with a hint of melancholy. I think Himesh has that too, and it doesn’t affect the joy, but it’s a sub-note. It’s like the English countryside, where we tried to capture all its beauty but also that feeling it’s about to rain all the time. It’s that special bittersweet feeling.

I assume Paul and Ringo gave you their blessing on this project?
Yeah, you have to get their agreement as they monitor the use of the songs, and Working Title made a great deal with them. It was very expensive, but it gave us the freedom to be able to change the songs in the edit at the last minute if need be, which we did a few times. We got beautiful letters back, very touching, and Paul was very funny as he gave us permission to use “Yesterday,” which we also used as the film title. He told us that his original lyric title was “Scrambled Eggs,” and if the film turned out to be a mess, we could just call it Scrambled Eggs instead.


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: M&C Saatchi LA’s Dan Roman on Time Scouts campaign

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another place and time? To walk the Roman ruins before they were, well, ruined? If so, you might want to join the Time Scouts.

What is Time Scouts? Well, according to the website, it is a “multiverse-spanning organization dedicated to the growth of its members through the travel of space and time. It seeks to document the past, cultivate the present and build a better future through the empowerment of Scouts young and old.” In essence, it’s the name of a program created by 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students and teachers across Los Angeles through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school programs and more. The Time Scouts program helps people explore their imaginations. Being a Time Scout comes with very real perks, like an actual handbook, membership cards and badges (a la Boy Scouts, but with an absurdist time travel twist).

Dan Roman

Inspired by 826LA’s Time Travel Mart storefronts — actual stores that lead to the organization’s drop-in education centers — the campaign is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi LA’s associate creative director, Stephen Reidmiller, and a team of the agency’s content creators, producers, writers and artists. Previously, M&C Saatchi LA collaborated with 826LA and its students on a series of Time Travel Mart product posters. This time, the agency is back to highlight the wide-reaching, future-changing effect of 826LA with a fundraising campaign that includes a promo video directed and edited by Dan Roman. The agency also created the website, handbook, all of the swag — print promotion images, and give aways like the badges — and the video.

We talked with M&C Saatchi LA director/editor Dan Roman about that video, which is a centerpiece of the project that explains what Time Scouts may or may not make possible, and how anyone can join the organization via Kickstarter

We assume this isn’t your typical M&C Saatchi LA project Can you give us a little background on the film and the campaign as a whole?
M&C Saatchi LA has been working with 826LA for a number of years now in different capacities, but this was the first time we really got to blow out a whole campaign for them. Our creative director for this project, Stephen Reidmiller, came up with the idea for Time Scouts as a way to engage students at 826LA and give them a fun way to create and expand their imagination. He and his lovely wife Beth wrote and illustrated the book, then asked if I would be interested in directing the video. The agency built out an entire website for Time Scouts as well. Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation) makes the perfect Time Scouts host.

How did his participation come about, and what was it like to direct him in this piece?
Marc was incredible to work with on the piece. He’s actually been involved with 826LA for a long time as well and I believe was one of the co-hosts of their early vaudeville shows, starring as Mr. Barnacle. So when we were thinking of who would fit the Time Scouts aura the best, he immediately sprang to mind.

Marc graciously signed on, and once we were able to tailor aspects of the script around his voice and mannerisms, he really bought in. He even brought his own space blazer the day of the shoot. It’s always really fun to work with people who are invested because they end up adding a lot of personal touches, like the dab at the end…all him. It makes it that much more fun.

In the end, we got in a really great groove with Marc and he had the whole set laughing. We took it pretty easy and tried our best to keep it fun, and he was a joy to direct in the piece. He brought a little extra to every line, even cracking himself up from time to time. Can’t think of a better time traveler.

Who wrote the script? Was any of it improvised? What was the biggest creative challenge?
Our illustrious creative director Stephen Reidmiller not only wrote the entire Time Scouts Handbook, but the script for this video as well. He’s a wonderful creative and I can’t say enough about his vision to bring this whole thing together. Marc is, of course, an amazing improviser, and I think we put his talents to good use. My favorite moment from set is when we were trying to figure out what city would sound the silliest if it were a fictitious location.

Originally we had the Time Scouts from New Jersey, but we thought we could beat it. We tried everything from Philadelphia (too many syllables) to the Inland Empire (too local). Marc came up with “Even in made-up places, like Orlando.” And the way he sounded out each syllable was too perfect. Had to go with that.

As far as creative challenges went, we tried to keep things relatively small given the nature of our day. However, we spent nearly two hours art directing the shelves behind Marc, and it’s safe to say that every piece of Time Travel Mart merch is intentionally placed. The Roman helmet gave us the hardest time though. We must have placed that unsuccessfully in about eight different spots. We all feel pretty good about where it ended up.

What tools were used on this project?
My favorite question! I almost wish this was a bit more exciting, but we had to keep it pretty down and dirty, so we shot this on my Sony FS7 with Zeiss CP.2s and a bit of glimmer glass. It’s lit very simply with daylight and bounce/fill, a bit of kick from quasar tubes, and more than a healthy amount of haze. We cut in Adobe Premiere and colored in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

The video was shot with a Sony FS7.

Increasingly, agencies have in-house content creators. Describe what you do for and with M&C Saatchi LA.
At M&C Saatchi LA, I’m the lead director and DP. Our director of content Tara Poynter and I have been working our way through building out a production arm for the agency. We work largely like any production company would work: concepting, prepping and leading shoots, end-to-end editorial and finishing.

However, we also have a full-service agency at our back with access to great creative and strategic minds. The hope is to build an arm of this company that can mold quickly to clients’ needs and scale creative, production and editorial without any lapse in quality.

We obviously play in a giant sandbox here in LA, and we want to make sure that what we put out is up to snuff with the rest of our industry, especially if it’s got talent like Marc Evan Jackson in it. Overall, It’s just been fun trying to forge some new ground in the agency world.

What’s your background, and how did you become a director/editor/content creator?
I came up in production in Boston. About 10 years ago, I left film school to work as an editor for an animation company, eventually finding my way into indie films, music videos and documentaries. I freelanced my way into more commercial productions and ended up working as a senior producer and editor at Weber Shandwick.

There, I really got the space to hone what I do as a director and DP, working on longer-form branded content, commercials and documentaries while getting the chance to help build a successful production department from the ground floor. About a year ago, I decided that I was ready for the jump to LA and packed up the camera, the car, and our ridiculously fat cat and headed out this way. It’s been a fun ride so far.

Director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull signs with 1stAvenueMachine, Gotham Group

London-based director Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull is now being repped by 1stAveMachine and The Gotham Group. Dulull recently directed the pilot for Disney’s action comedy miniseries Fast Layne, was also credited as creative consultant on the entire series and directed three additional episodes when he wowed Disney Channel executives with his vision for the eight-part series. See our interview with him here.

Dulull is known for his breakout sci-fi indie feature film The Beyond, which was released by Gravitas Ventures, and premiered at #2 on the iTunes charts before trending on Netflix. His second feature film 2036: Origin Unknown, which starred Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) earned a theatrical release in the US.

Dulull began his career as a VFX artist on films such as The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2, as well as shows like America: The Story of the US.

Dulull is also repped by APA and Darren Trattner at Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein, and is the co-founder of production company Haz Film.

Behind the Title: Partizan director Jonathan Klein

Name: Jonathan Klein

Company: Partizan

Can you describe your company?
Partizan is a production company with a collective of content creators. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I like awesome alliteration apparently.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title of director?
People think of directing as barking orders at people, bending people to your will, to your vision. That’s not how I operate. What I try to do is maybe counterintuitive, but it’s about finding ways to maximize everyone’s potential, eliminating barriers for them and doing things to earn their trust and respect. For me, it’s probably more akin to Greenleaf’s concept of servant leadership.

Steve Sabol tribute

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Working with skilled, motivated people to transfer the sight and sound from the mind into reality. Well, that and craft services, assuming they have beef jerky (teriyaki flavor, preferably).

What’s your least favorite?
How fast time seems to elapse when you’re shooting — it’s like the clock moves at 20 times normal speed. I have to stop and count to 10 a few times during the day while looking at a watch just to make sure the space-time continuum hasn’t been irrevocably altered. Wouldn’t that suck if I accidentally accelerated time for everyone just because I was having fun?

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
Trying to get this job! Hey, I get to do what I love. Or maybe volunteering at a local animal shelter?! Wait, does that sound too Miss America?

Why did you choose this profession? 
It’s probably corny, but Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Actually, that’s not corny at all. You can’t beat that, right?

My father was a photographer. My brother and I made little movies with him as kids, and he’d even let us get behind and operate the cameras. That showed me that you could take people with you on emotional journeys anywhere your imagination could go.

What was it about directing that attracted you?
I always really liked the chair. Even though I rarely (if ever) sit on shoot day. You have to admit those director’s chairs with their canvas slip-on backs and elegant fold-up engineering are cool.

Ok! Well, what is it about directing that continues to keep you interested?
It’s always new. Every day, there are new techniques and shots to try, new crew to meet and learn from, new toys and new ways of playing with them.

How do you pick the people you work with on a particular project?
I was never the smartest one at the dinner table, but that’s been by choice — I want to be surrounded by brilliant people who inspire with their ideas. The notion of sharing a meal with someone is actually a great filter for choosing collaborators: Is this a person whose input I value and who will have lasting appeal through our time together? Of course, they are certainly entitled to ask themselves the same questions about me!

How do you work with your DP?
Before we shoot, we talk. Usually, we talk on the phone, but I prefer that it’s in-person or on video chat. We exchange ideas and references. I tend not to refer to other movies (or music videos or commercials) because I don’t want things to be too prescriptive or derivative. I ask them if there’s anything they want to try.

On each project, I try to do one or two things that I haven’t done before. On-set, my domain is the frame; their domain is how we achieve it, so I don’t demand they use a 21mm lens or anything. Instead, I explain how I think the particular shot should feel. If it feels off, I’ll suggest that maybe we should be a little looser, and it’s up to them if that means they want to back up or if they want to swap to a wider lens. Yet, I’m also open to them challenging me… about the shot, not in Scrabble. DPs are scandalously good at Scrabble.

Do you get involved with the post at all?
Yes. To paraphrase the famous quote, “Every time you make a movie, you actually make three movies: the one you see in your head when you read the script, the one you shoot and the one you edit. The only one other people ever judge you on is the last one,” so, naturally, I want to be involved in the edit.

Hyundai

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I shot some killer driving footage for Hyundai’s new Palisade on the Pacific Coast Highway. I did a crazy ode to the sports fan for William Hill with Anomaly. Travis Kelce told me that he couldn’t believe how well we’d recreated Arrowhead Stadium in LA when I shot him for McDonald’s with We Are Unlimited.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I directed the NFL’s tribute video to Steve Sabol, the trailblazing leader of NFL Films and one of my heroes. It was a oner, a single take that watched Steve’s actual film camera roll its final frames before a lone star in the night sky brightened. I believe Steve would have liked it.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Contact lenses, matches and lighters. My distance vision is weak, and I’m not great with flint.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I listen to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. I also have a limited edition Big Box of 96 Crayola crayons and some good coloring books. I find coloring to be surprisingly soul-soothing (couldn’t resist one last alliteration).

Duo teams up to shoot, post Upside Down music video

The Gracie and Rachel music video Upside Down, a collaboration between the grand prize-winners of Silver Sound Showdown, was written, directed and edited by Ace Salisbury and Adam Khan. Showdown is one-part music video film festival, one-part battle of the bands. In a rare occurrence, Salisbury and Khan, both directors in competition, tied for grand prize with their music videos (RhodoraStairwell My Love). Showdown is held annually at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley and venue in Brooklyn, New York.

Ace Salisbury

We reached out to the directors and the band to find out more about this Silver Sound-produced four-minute offering about a girl slowly unraveling emotionally, which was shot with a Red camera.

What did you actually win? What resources were available to you?
Salisbury: Winning the grand prize got me teamed up with the winning band Gracie and Rachel, and with Adam, to make a music video, with Silver Sound stepping in to offer their team to help shoot and edit, and giving time at their partner’s studio space at Parlay Studios in New Jersey.

Khan: Silver Sound offered a DP, editor and colorist, but Ace and I decided to do of all that ourselves. Parlay Studios graced us with three days in one of their spaces, as well as access to any equipment available. I was a kid in a candy store.

What was it like collaborating with a co-director and a band you had never met before?
Salisbury: Working with a co-director can be great — you can balance the workload, benefit from your differing skillsets and shake up your usual comfort zone for how you go about making work.

It’s important to stop being precious about your vision for the project, and be game to compromise on every idea you bring, but you learn a lot. Having never met Adam before made the whole experience more exciting. I had no ability to predict what he would bring to the project in terms of personality and work style from looking at his reel.

Adam Khan

Making a video with a production company is like having a well-connected producer on your project; once you get them onboard with your idea, all of the resources at their disposal come out of the woodwork, and things like studio space and high-power DPs come into the mix if you want them.

Pitching a music video to a band you’ve never met is interesting. You look at their music, aesthetics and previous music videos and try to predict what direction they’ll want to move in. You want to make them something they’ll embrace and want to promote the hell out of, not sweep under the rug. With Gracie and Rachel, they have such an established aesthetic, the key was figuring out how to take what they had and make it look polished.

Khan: At first I was wary of co-directing, I was concerned our ideas/egos would clash. But after meeting with Ace all worry vanished. Sure both of us had to compromise but there was never any friction; ideas and concepts flowed. Working with a new band requires looking back at their previous work and getting a feel for the aesthetic.

Gracie and Rachel: Collaborating with people you haven’t yet worked with is always a unique experience. You really get to hone your skills when it comes to thinking on your feet and practicing the art of give-and-take. Compromise is important, and so is staying true to your artistic values. If you can learn from others how to expand on what you already know, you’re gaining something powerful.

What is Upside Down about?
Salisbury: Upside Down is a video about emotional unraveling. Gracie portrays a girl whose world literally turns upside down as her mental state deteriorates. She is attached via a long rope to her shadow self, portrayed by Rachel, who takes control of her, pulling her across the floor and suspending her in the air. I co-authored the concept, co-directed and co-edited the video with Adam.

The original concept involved the fabrication of a complicated camera rig that would rotate both the actor and camera together. Imagine a giant rotisserie with the actor strapped in on one side and the camera on another, all rotating together. Just three days before our shoot date, the machine fabricator let us know that there were safety and liability issues which meant they couldn’t give us a finished rig. Adam and I scrambled to put together a modified concept using rope rigging in place of this ill-fated machine.

Khan: Upside Down is abstract; it was our job to make it tangible.

Gracie, you actually performed in upside down. What was that like, and what did you learn from that experience?
Yes, I really was suspended upside down! I trained for that for only about an hour or two prior to the actual shoot with some really lovely aerialist professionals. It was surprising to learn what your body feels like after doing dozens of takes upside down!

Can you talk about the digital glitches in the video?
Salisbury: On set, one of the monitors was seriously glitching out. I took a video of the glitched monitor with my phone and showed it to Adam, saying, “This is what our video needs to look like!”

We tried to match the footage of the glitching monitor on set, manipulating our footage in After Effects. We developed a scrambling technique for randomly generating white blocks on screen. As much as we liked those effects, the original phone video of the glitched monitor ended up making it into the final video.

People might be surprised by how much animation goes into a live-action project that they would never notice. For a project like Upside Down, a lot of invisible animation goes into it, like matting the edges of the spotlight’s spill on the stage floor. Not all animation jobs look like Steamboat Willie.

This video had a few invisible animated elements, like removing stunt wire, removing a spot on the stage, and cleaning up the black portions of the frame.

What did you shoot on?
Khan: This video was shot with a Red Epic Dragon rocking the Fujinon 19-90.

What tools were used for post?
Salisbury: The software used on this video was Adobe Premiere and After Effects—Premiere for the basic assembly of the footage, and After Effects for the heavy graphical lifting and color correct. Everything looks better coming out of After Effects.

Are there tools that you wish you had access to?
Salisbury: Personally, I was pretty happy with the tools we had access to. For this concept, we had everything we needed, tool-wise.

Khan: Faster computers.

How much of what you do is music video work? Do you work differently depending on the genre?
Khan: My focus is music videos, though you can find me working on all types of projects. From the production standpoint, things are the same. The real difference comes from what can be done in front of the camera. In a music video, one does not need to follow the rules. In fact, it is encouraged to break the rules.

Salisbury: I get hired to direct music videos every so often. The budget tends to be what dictates the experience, whether it’s going to be a video of a band rocking out shot on a DSLR or a high-intensity animated spectacle. Music videos can be a chance to establish wild aesthetics without the burden of having to justify them in your film’s world. You can go nuts. It’s a music video!

Where do you find inspiration?
Khan: Inspiration comes from past filmmakers and artists alike. I also pay close attention to my peers, there is some incredible stuff coming out. For this project, we pulled from Gracie and Rachel’s previous songs and visuals.

Salisbury: I find that I’m usually most influenced by old video games, but that wasn’t going to be a good fit for this band. My initial intention was to combine Gracie and Rachel’s aesthetic with a Quay Brothers aesthetic, but things shifted a bit by the end of the project.

Big Block adds live-action director Rylee Jean Ebsen

LA’s Big Block, part design studio, part production studio and part post house, has added live-action commercial director Rylee Jean Ebsen. As an early Snapchat employee and its most recent director of creative media, Ebsen brings experience producing alternative content to Big Block, including AR, VR, AI, 360-video, vertical video and live-streaming across social and broadcast.

Ebsen ran Snapchat’s in-house creative agency for seven years, hiring and leading a team of 15 while reporting directly to CEO Evan Spiegel. Ebsen debuted Snap’s first vertical original content series on the Discover Platform, co-directed Snap’s very first broadcast TV spot and earned an official patent for her work creating Snapchat’s AR Geofilters. Ebsen was the lead creative artist behind the debuts of the Jeff Koons augmented reality project, Snappables, World Lenses, Custom Stories and Spectacles.

Rylee Ebsen on set.

“What drew me to Big Block is that they weren’t just another production company making commercials, they’re a go-to partner for brands and agencies to turn to for innovative ideas, unique activations and incredible artistic interpretations,” she says.

Big Block’s involvement with “Free the Bid” was another draw for Ebsen, as she’s an active member and passionate about encouraging other female creatives. She’s also an executive member of Women in Film and has spoken at USC’s “Own It” women’s leadership summit and “It’s Our Turn,” Brentwood School’s Young Women’s Conference.

At only 28 years old, she has already spent over 1,200 hours directing on set with equipment ranging from vertical rigs to high-end Alexa cameras. Ebsen has storytelling in her blood, growing up as the granddaughter of actor Buddy Ebsen and advertising creative director Stan Freberg, and later graduating from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Beautiful Boy director Felix Van Groeningen

By Iain Blair

Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen — director of Amazon’s Beautiful Boy — may not be a household name in America, yet, but among cineastes he’s already a force to be reckoned with. His last film, Belgica, premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where he won the Directing Award (Dramatic World Cinema). His The Broken Circle Breakdown earned a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and a César for Best Foreign Film.

L-R: Felix van Groeningen and Timothée Chalamet on set.

For his first English language film, Van Groeningen jumped right into the deep end when he took on Beautiful Boy, a harrowing family drama about drug addiction. Based on two memoirs — one from journalist David Sheff (Steve Carell) and one from his son, Nic (Timothée Chalamet) — it unsparingly chronicles the repeated relapses and the harsh reality that addiction is a disease that does not discriminate and can hit any family at any time.

To tell the story, Van Groeningen reunited with his longtime collaborators, cinematographer Ruben Impens and editor Nico Leunen. It marks their fifth film with the director.

I spoke with Van Groeningen about making the film and his process.

Why did you choose this for your first English language film?
It just sort of happened. I’d been thinking about making an English language film for quite a while but took my time in choosing the right project. After The Broken Circle Breakdown got an Oscar nomination, I got a lot of offers but never found the right one. I read some scripts that were very good, but I always asked myself, ‘Am I the best director for this?’ And I never felt I was, until  Beautiful Boy.

I read both books and immediately fell in love with the family. I could really relate to the father figure and to Nic, and all their struggles. It was also a big plus that Plan B — Brad Pitt’s company with producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who did Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave — would be producing it. So it all came together.

So it all resonated with you?
It had a lot of elements and themes that really interest me, such as the passage of time, family dynamics and loss, as well as the illusion that we can control things. I’d explored these in my previous films, and I’d also dealt with addiction and substance abuse. Plus, the whole father-son element was also something I could really relate to — I lost my father when I was in my ‘20s, and in a way he still lives on in me through my movies.

So even though my family was very different, I knew this was the perfect project for me to spend several years on, which is what it took, since this was an epic journey. It’s a father trying to understand his son, and I knew right away it would be a big challenge. I also knew it would take a lot of work to combine the two books into one story and one film. I learned just how easy it is to relapse and about the whole cycle of shame that pulls you down.

Do you feel there’s far more responsibility as a filmmaker when a film is based on real people and real events?
I do, and I don’t. I really love the Sheffs, and that first love is genuine and everything comes from that. I met them very early on and really liked them, and they got involved and it happened very organically. They were both very open and honest and let me into their lives. We became friends, they met with the actors and really trusted me. But I had to make this film my own. This is my sixth film, and I’ve learned that at some point you always have to betray the original story and material in order to get a grip on it. You can’t be afraid of that.

Obviously, casting the right lead actors was crucial. What did Timothee and Steve bring to the roles?
Steve has this great Everyman relatability and sincerity, and while people tend to see him mainly as a comedic actor, he has this huge range. This role needed all that — from rage to despair to laughter. And Timothee is so charming and open, and you needed that so you could follow him on this very dark journey. He was always true to the character.

Where did you shoot?
We did some of the exteriors in the real locations in Northern California, along with bits in LA. We shot around Marin County and San Francisco, and at the real beach where David and Nic surfed, as well in and around Inverness, where they lived. And then we used sets for the interiors and shot them on stages in Hollywood. I don’t usually like to shoot on stages, but it worked out really well as we designed the rooms so we could take them apart and then put them back together in different ways.

Where did you post?
All in LA at The Post Group Production Suites. We did all the editing there. Nico was busy on another project when we began, so we started with another editor on location but not on set. It makes me feel a little insecure to look at what I’ve done, as I don’t do reshoots, and I like to go with my gut.  Nico came on board a bit later.

Do you like the post process?
I love post, but it’s also really the hardest part of any project since it’s where it all comes together. There’s always a phase where you’re really happy and super-excited about it, and then there’s always a phase where you panic and start re-thinking things and feeling that nothing is working. You have to let go. For years you’ve dreamed about what the movie could be, and now you have to realize, “This is it.” That’s scary.

As they say, you make a movie three times, and I really embrace post and all that goes with it, but sometimes you just can’t let go and you’re just too close to the movie. This is when you have to step back and leave for a week or two, then come back.

What were the big editing challenges?
You have to find the right balance between the two stories and points of view, and that was the big one — and in the script too. How long do you spend with each character separately? How much time together? It was tricky, finding the right rhythm and the balance.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
They’re both vital. Nico lays stuff out and helps me shape ideas, and then we finish it all together with the sound editor and sound designer Elmo Weber, and the mixers. Elmo and the sound effects editor Marc Glassman recorded a lot of material at all the locations — things like insects and birds and the wind in the trees and the sound of waves, so it was very naturalistic and very detailed.

We actually had a whole score for the film, but the songs were always so important to the story and a key part of the movie, as David and Nic loved music, but the score just wasn’t working. So Nico suggested having no score and using songs instead, and that worked far better. So we ended up using a mix of weird electronic music, sort of half-way between sound design and music. The songs were great, like the scene where Steve is singing to Nic and it breaks away into John Lennon singing. We also used tracks by Nirvana, Neil Young and Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós.

Felix van Groeningen and Steve Carell on set.

Were there any VFX?
Not many. Shade VFX did them, and it was mainly clean up. I really don’t know much about VFX since I’m far more interested in actors.

Where did you do the DI?
At Efilm with colorist Tim Stipan, who’s fantastic. I love the DI. I was there with Tim and our DP Ruben. It’s so fascinating to see your film get to the next level, and being able to refine the look.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s been a long journey and I still need time to digest it.

What’s next?
I’ve got several projects I’m developing but I’ll take my time. I just became a father and I like to focus on one thing at a time.


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.

BlacKkKlansman director Spike Lee

By Iain Blair

Spike Lee has been on a roll recently. Last time we sat down for a talk, he’d just finished Chi-Raq, an impassioned rap reworking of Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata,” which was set against a backdrop of Chicago gang violence. Since then, he’s directed various TV, documentary and video projects. And now his latest film BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for a host of Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing,  Best Original Score and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver).

Set in the early 1970s, the unlikely-but-true story details the exploits of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. The film also stars Topher Grace as David Duke.

Behind the scenes, Lee reteamed with co-writer Kevin Willmott, longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown and composer Terence Blanchard, along with up-and-coming DP Chayse Irvin. I spoke with the always-entertaining Lee, who first burst onto the scene back in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It, about making the film, his workflow and the Oscars.

Is it true Jordan Peele turned you onto this story?
Yeah, he called me out of the blue and gave me possibly the greatest six-word pitch in film history — “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan.” I couldn’t resist it, not with that pitch.

Didn’t you think, “Wait, this is all too unbelievable, too Hollywood?”
Well, my first question was, “Is this actually true? Or is it a Dave Chappelle skit?” Jordan assured me it’s a true story and that Ron wrote a book about it. He sent me a script, and that’s where we began, but Kevin Willmott and I then totally rewrote it so we could include all the stuff like Charlottesville at the end.

Iain Blair and Spike Lee

Did you immediately decide to juxtapose the story’s period racial hatred with all the ripped-from-the-headlines news footage?
Pretty much, as the Charlottesville rally happened August 11, 2017 and we didn’t start shooting this until mid-September, so we could include all that. And then there was the terrible synagogue massacre, and all the pipe bombs. Hate crimes are really skyrocketing under this president.

Fair to say, it’s not just a film about America, though, but about what’s happening everywhere — the rise of neo-Nazism, racism, xenophobia and so on in Europe and other places?
I’m so glad you said that, as I’ve had to correct several people who want to just focus on America, as if this is just happening here. No, no, no! Look at the recent presidential elections in Brazil. This guy — oh my God! This is a global phenomenon, and the common denominator is fear. You fire up your base with fear tactics, and pinpoint your enemy — the bogeyman, the scapegoat — and today that is immigrants.

What were the main challenges in pulling it all together?
Any time you do a film, it’s so hard and challenging. I’ve been doing this for decades now, and it ain’t getting any easier. You have to tell the story the best way you can, given the time and money you have, and it has to be a team effort. I had a great team with me, and any time you do a period piece you have added challenges to get it looking right.

You assembled a great cast. What did John David Washington and Adam Driver bring to the main roles?
They brought the weight, the hammer! They had to do their thing and bring their characters head-to-head, so it’s like a great heavyweight fight, with neither one backing down. It’s like Inside Man with Denzel and Clive Owen.

It’s the first time you’ve worked with the Canadian DP Chayse Irvin, who mainly shot shorts before this. Can you talk about how you collaborated with him?
He’s young and innovative, and he shot a lot of Beyonce’s Lemonade long-form video. What we wanted to do was shoot on film, not digital. I talked about all the ‘70s films I grew up with, like French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon. So that was the look I was after. It had to match the period, but not be too nostalgic. While we wanted to make a period film, I also wanted it to feel and look contemporary, and really connect that era with the world we live in now. He really nailed it. Then my great editor, Barry Alexander Brown, came up with all the split-screen stuff, which is also very ‘70s and really captured that era.

How tough was the shoot?
Every shoot’s tough. It’s part of the job. But I love shooting, and we used a mix of practical locations and sets in Brooklyn and other places that doubled for Colorado Springs.

Where did you post?
Same as always, in Brooklyn, at my 40 Acres and a Mule office.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, because post is when you finally sit down and actually make your film. It’s a lot more relaxing than the shoot — and a lot of it is just me and the editor and the Avid. You’re shaping and molding it and finding your way, cutting and adding stuff, flopping scenes, and it never really follows the shooting script. It becomes its own thing in post.

Talk about editing with Barry Alexander Brown, the Brit who’s cut so many of your films. What were the big editing challenges?
The big one was finding the right balance between the humor and the very serious subject matter. They’re two very different tones, and then the humor comes from the premise, which is absurd in itself. It’s organic to the characters and the situations.

Talk about the importance of sound and music, and Terence Blanchard’s spare score that blends funk with classical.
He’s done a lot of my films, and has never been nominated for an Oscar — and he should have been. He’s a truly great composer, trumpeter and bandleader, and a big part of what I do in post. I try to give him some pointers that aren’t restrictive, and then let him do his thing. I always put as much as emphasis on sound and music as I do on the acting, editing and cinematography. It’s hugely important, and once we have the score, we have a film.

I had a great sound team. Phil Stockton, who began with me back on School Daze, was the sound designer. David Boulton, Mike Russo and Howard London did the ADR mix, and my longtime mixer Tommy Fleischman was on it. We did it all at C5 in New York. We spent a long time on the mix, building it all up.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with colorist Tom Poole, who’s so good. It’s very important but I’m in and out, as I know Tom and the DP are going to get the look I want.

Spike Lee on set.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
Here’s the thing. You try to do the best you can, and I can’t predict what the reaction will be. I made the film I wanted to make, and then I put it out in the world. It’s all about timing. This was made at the right time and was made with a lot of urgency. It’s a crazy world and it’s getting crazier by the minute.

How important are industry awards and nomination to you? 
They’re very important in that they bring more attention, more awareness to a film like this. One of the blessings from the strong critical response to this has been a resurgence in looking at my earlier films again, some of which may have been overlooked, like Bamboozled and Summer of Sam.

Do you see progress in Hollywood in terms of diversity and inclusion?
There’s been movement, maybe not as fast as I’d like, but it’s slowly happening, so that’s good.

What’s next?
We just finished the second season of She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix, and I have some movie things cooking. I’m pretty 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.

Asahi beer spot gets the VFX treatment

A collaboration between The Monkeys Melbourne, In The Thicket and Alt, a newly released Asahi campaign takes viewers on a journey through landscapes built around surreal Japanese iconography. Watch Asahi Super Dry — Enter Asahi here.

From script to shoot — a huge operation that took place at Sydney’s Fox Studios — director Marco Prestini and his executive producer Genevieve Triquet (from production house In The Thicket) brought on the VFX team at Alt to help realize the creative vision.

The VFX team at Alt (which has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles) worked with Prestini to help design and build the complex “one shot” look, with everything from robotic geishas to a gigantic CG squid in the mix, alongside a seamless blend of CG set extensions and beautifully shot live-action plates.

“VFX supervisor Dave Edwards and the team at Alt, together with my EP Genevieve, have been there since the very beginning, and their creative input and expertise were key in every step of the way,” explains Prestini. “Everything we did on set was the results of weeks of endless back and forth on technical previz, a process that required pretty much everyone’s input on a daily basis and that was incredibly inspiring for me to be part of.”

Dave Edwards, VFX supervisor at Alt, shares: “Production designer Michael Iacono designed sets in 3D, with five huge sets built for the shoot. The team then worked out camera speeds for timings based on these five sets and seven plates. DP Stefan Duscio would suggest rigs and mounts, which our team was able to then test it in previs to see if it would work with the set. During previs, we worked out that we couldn’t get the resolution and the required frame rate to shoot the high frame rate samurais, so we had to use Alexa LF. Of course, that also helped Marco, who wanted minimal lens distortion as it allowed a wide field of view without the distortion of normal anamorphic lenses.”

One complex scene involves a character battling a gigantic underwater squid, which was done via a process known as “dry for wet” — a film technique in which smoke, colored filters and/or lighting effects are used to simulate a character being underwater while filming on a dry stage. The team at Alt did a rough animation of the squid to help drive the actions of the talent and the stunt team on the day, before spending the final weeks perfecting the look of the photoreal monster.

In terms of tools, for concept design/matte painting Alt used Adobe Photoshop while previs/modeling/texturing/animation was done in Autodesk Maya. All of the effects/lighting/look development was via Side Effects Houdini; the compositing pipeline was built around Foundry Nuke; final online was completed in Autodesk Flame; and for graphics, they used Adobe After Effects.
The final edit was done by The Butchery.

Here is the VFX breakdown:

Enter Asahi – VFX Breakdown from altvfx on Vimeo.

Inside the mind and workflow of a 14-year-old filmmaker

By Brady Betzel

From editing to directing, I have always loved how mentoring and teaching is a tradition that lives on in this industry. When I was an assistant editor, my hope was that the editors would let me watch them work, or give me a chance to edit. And a lot of the time I got that opportunity.

Years ago I worked with an editor named Robb McPeters, who edited The Real Housewives of New York City. I helped cut a few scenes, and Robb was kind enough to give me constructive feedback. This was the first time I edited a scene that ran on TV. I was very excited, and very appreciative of his feedback. Taking the time to show younger assistant editors who have their eye on advancement makes you feel good — something I’ve learned firsthand.

As I’ve become a “professional” editor I have been lucky enough to mentor assistant editors, machine room operators, production assistants and anyone else that was interested in learning post. I have found mentoring to be very satisfying, but also integral to the way post functions. Passing on our knowledge helps the community move forward.

Even with a couple of little scenes to cut for Robb, the direction I received helped make me the kind of editor I am today. Throughout the years I was lucky enough to encounter more editors like Robb and took all of the advice I could.

Last year, I heard that Robb’s son, Griffin, had made his first film at 13 years old, Calling The Shots. Then a few months ago I read an article about Griffin making a second film, at 14 years old, The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher. Griffin turns 15 in February and hopes to make a film a year until he turns 18.

It makes sense that someone who has been such a good mentor has produced a son with such a passion for filmmaking. I can see the connection between fatherhood and mentorship, especially between an editor and an assistant. And seeing Robb foster his son’s love for filmmaking, I realized I wanted to be able to do that with my sons. That’s when I decided to reach out to find out more.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is really a story of adventure, friendship and finding love. After learning that his best friend Jim (Sam Grossinger) has attempted suicide, Tom (Adam Simpson) enlists the help of the neighborhood kingpin, Granddaddy’ (Blake Borders). Their plan is to sneak Jim out of the hospital for one last adventure before his disconnected parents move him off to Memphis. On the way they encounter a washed up ‘90s boy-band star and try to win the hearts of their dream girls.

Tom realizes that this adventure will not fix his friend, but their last night together does evolve into the most defining experience of their lives.

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THIS FILM?
The Adventure of T.P. Man and Flusher is a feature film that I wrote while in 8th grade. I saved every penny I could earn and then begged my parents to let me use money from my college savings. They knew how important this film was to me so they agreed. This is my second feature and I wanted to do everything better, starting with the script to casting. I was able to cast professional actors and some of my schoolmates.

I shot in 4K UHD using my Sony A7riii. I then brought the footage into the iMac and transcoded into CineForm 720p files. This allowed me to natively edit them on the family iMac in Adobe Premiere. We have a cabin in Humboldt County, which is where I assemble my rough cuts.

I spent hours and hours this summer in my grandfather’s workshop editing the footage. Day after day my mom and sister would go swimming at the river, pick berries, all the lazy summer day stuff and I would walk down to the shop to cut, so that I could finish a version of my scene.

Once I finished my director’s cut, I would show the assembly to my parents, and they would start giving me ideas on what was working and what wasn’t. I am currently polishing the movie, adding visual effects (in After Effects), sound design, and doing a color grade in Adobe SpeedGrade. I’ll also add the final 5.1 surround sound mix in Adobe Audition to deliver for distribution.

WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR THE FILM?
In 8th grade, a classmate attempted suicide and it affected me very deeply. I wondered if other kids were having this type of depression. After doing some research I realized that many kids suffer from deep depression. In fact, in 2016, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 13.15. That amazed and saddened me. I felt that I had to do something about it. I took my ideas and headed to our cabin in the woods to write the script over my winter break.

I was so obsessed with this story that I wrote a 120-page script.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT PRODUCING?
It was a lot of scheduling, scheduling and scheduling. Locking locations, permits, insurance, and did I mention scheduling?

I think there was some begging in there too. “Please let us use. Please can we…” My school SCVi was extremely helpful with getting me insurance. It was heartwarming to see how many people wanted to help. Even support from companies, including Wooden Nickel who donated an entire lighting package.

WHAT ABOUT AS A DIRECTOR?
As the director I really wanted to push the fantastical and sometimes dark and lonely world these characters were living in. Of course, because I wrote the script I already had an idea of what I wanted to capture in the scene, but I put it to paper with shotlist’s and overhead camera placements. That way I had a visual reference to show of how I wanted to film from day one to the end.

Rehearsals with the actors were key with such a tight shooting schedule. Right from the start the cast responded to me as their director, which surprised me because I had just turned 14. Every question came to me for approval to represent my vision.

My dad was on set as my cinematographer, supporting me every step of the way. We have a great way of communicating. Most of the time we were on the same page, but if we were not, he deferred to me. I took my hits when I was wrong and then learned from them.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT MAKING THIS FILM?
This was a true, small-budget, independent film that I made at 14 years old. Our production office was my mom and dad and myself. Three people usually don’t make films. Even though I am young, my parents trusted the weight of the film to me. It is my film. This means I did a little of everything all of the time, from pulling costumes to stocking the make-up kit to building my own 4K editing system.

We had no grips, no electric, no PAs. If we needed water or craft service, it was me, my dad and my mom. If a scene needed to be lit, my dad and I lit everything ourselves, we were the last ones loading costumes, extension cords and equipment. In post was all the same ordeal.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART?
I really love everything about filmmaking. I love crafting a story, having to plan and think of how to capture a scene. How show something that isn’t necessarily in front of your eyes. I love talking out my ideas. My mom teases me that I even sleep moviemaking because she saw me in the hall going to the bathroom the other night and I mumbled, “Slow pan on Griffin going to bathroom.”

But post is really where the movie comes together. I like seeing what works for a scene. Which reaction is better? What music or sound effects help tell the story? Music design is also very personal to me. I listen to songs for hours to find the perfect one for a scene.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Having to cut some really great scenes that I know an actor is looking forward to seeing in that first screening. It is a really hard decision to remove good work. I even cut my grandmother from my first film. Now that’s hard!

WHAT CAMERAS AND PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT DO YOU USE?
For recording I use the Sony A7rIII with various lenses recording to a Ninja Flame at 10-bit 4K. For sound I use a Røde NG2 boom and three lav mics. For lighting we used a few Aputure LED lights and a Mole Richardson 2k Baby Junior.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I am not much of a night person. I get really tired around 9:30pm. In fact, I still have a bedtime of 10:00pm. I would say my best work is done at the time I have after school until my bedtime. I edit every chance I get. I do have to break for dinner and might watch one half of a episode of The Office. Other than that I am in the bay from 3:30-10:00pm every day.

CAN YOU THINK OF ANOTHER JOB YOU MIGHT WANT SOMEDAY?
No, not really. I enjoy taking people on emotional rides, creating a presentation that evokes personal feelings and using visuals to takes my audience somewhere else. With all that said, if I couldn’t do this I would probably build professional haunted houses. Is that a real job?

IT’S STILL VERY EARLY, BUT HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
My parents have this video of me reaching for the camera on the way to my first day of pre-school saying, “I want the camera, I want to shoot.”

When I was younger, silent films mesmerized me. I grew up wanting to be Buster Keaton. The defining moment was seeing Jaws. I watched it at five and then realized what being a filmmaker was, making a mosaic of images (as mentioned by Hitchcock on editing). I began trying to create. At 11 and 12 I made shorts, at 13 I made my first full-length feature film. The stress and hard work did not even faze me; I was excited by it.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST FILM?
Calling the Shots, which is now available on Amazon Prime, was an experiment to see if I could make a full-length film. A test flight, if you will. With T.P. Man I really got to step behind the camera and an entirely different side of directing I didn’t get to experience with my first film since I was the lead actor in that.

I also love the fact that all the music and sound design and graphics were done with my hands and alone, most the time, in my editing suite. My dad designed it for me. I have two editing systems that I bounce back and forth between. I can set the lighting in the room, watch on a big 4K monitor and mix in 5.1 surround. Some kids have tree forts. I have my editing bay.

FINALLY, DO YOU GET STRESSED OUT FROM THE PROCESS?
I don’t allow myself to stress out about any of these things. The way I look at it is that I have a very fun and hard job. I try to keep things in perspective — there are no lives in danger here. I do my best work when I am relaxed. But, if there is a time, I walk away, take a bike ride or watch a movie. Watching others work inspires me to make my movies better.

Most importantly, I brainstorm about my next project. This helps me keep a perspective that this project will soon be over and I should enjoy it while I can and make it the best I possibly can.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Director Lee J. Ford joins Interrogate

Director Lee J. Ford has joined LA/NY/Sydney-based production house Interrogate. A British native, Ford worked as a creative in the advertising industry for years before pivoting to directing. Ford’s agency experience allows him to “understand the politics and daily struggles the creatives are facing throughout the process and will continue to face” long after he’s done directing the piece.

Ford’s interest in film started early. He grew up next to a video store and would stay up late re-watching The Hills Have Eyes, The Exorcist, Exterminator and other banned-in-the-UK movies until he failed his classes. This led him to drop out and go to art school to study graphic design. Studying at The University of Brighton and the Central Saint Martins school of art helped inform Ford’s preferred minimalist aesthetic, and gave him his first hands-on experience with art direction.

After graduation, Ford worked his way through the advertising industry as a creative, with stints at various ad agencies, including 180 Amsterdam, Ogilvy London, TBWA London and Saatchi & Saatchi London, to name a few. While he ended up as a creative director, Ford never forgot his dream of directing, so when the opportunity to direct Top Gear came his way while working at an agency in Amsterdam, Ford jumped at the chance.

His work includes a New African Icons for SportsPesa, a spot for Audi, and a short film for fashion designer Roland Mouret based on Mouret’s childhood memories of watching his father, who was a butcher.

Ford, who was previously repped by Prettybird in the US and UK, knew Interrogate was the right home for him when he met executive producers and partners George Meeker and Jeff Miller. Their first project together was a spot for Blizzard Games’ Diablo III out of Omelet LA.

Steve McQueen on directing Widows

By Iain Blair

British director/writer/producer Steve McQueen burst onto the international scene in 2013 when his harrowing 12 Years a Slave dominated awards season, winning as Academy Award, Golden Globe, BAFTA and a host of others. His directing was also recognized with many nominations and awards.

Now McQueen, who also helmed the 2011 feature Shame (Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan) is back with the film Widows.

A taut thriller, 20th Century Fox’s Widows is set in contemporary Chicago in a time of political and societal turmoil. When four armed robbers are killed in a botched heist, their widows — with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities — take fate into their own hands to forge a future on their own terms.

With a screenplay by Gillian Flynn and McQueen himself — and based on the old UK television miniseries of the same name — the film stars, among others, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

The production team includes Academy Award-nominated editor Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave), Academy Award-winning production designer Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and director of photography Sean Bobbit (12 Years a Slave).

I spoke with McQueen, whose credits also include 2008’s Hunger, about making the film and his love of post.

This isn’t just a simple heist movie, is it?
No, it isn’t. I wanted to make an all-encompassing movie, an epic in a way, about how we live our daily lives and how they’re affected by politics, race, gender, religion and corruption, and do it through this story. I remember watching the TV series as a kid and how it affected me — how strong all these women were — and I decided to change the location from London to Chicago, which is really an under-used city in movies, and make it a more contemporary view of all these issues.

You assembled a great cast, led by Oscar-winner Viola Davis. What did she bring to the table?
So much weight and gravitas. She’s like an iceberg. There’s so much hidden depth in everything she does, and there’s this well of meaning and emotion she brings to the role, and then everyone has to step up to that.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
The big one was logistics and dealing with all the Chicago locations. We had over 60 locations, all over the city, and 81 speaking parts. So there was a lot of planning, and if one thing got stuck it threw off the whole schedule. It would have been almost impossible to reschedule some of the scenes.

How tough was the shoot?
Pretty tough. They’re always grueling, and when you’re writing a script you don’t always think about how many night shoots you’re going to face, and you forget about this big machine you have to bring with you to all the locations. Trying to make any quick change or adjustment is like trying to turn the Titanic. It takes a while.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
From day one. You have to when you have a big production with a set release date, so we began cutting and assembling while I shot.

Where did you post?
In Amsterdam, where I live, and then we finished it off in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. It’s my favorite part as you have civilized hours — 9 till 5 or whatever —and you’re in total control. You’re not having to deal with 40 or 50 people. It’s just you and the editor in a dark room, actually making the film.

Joe Walker has cut all of your films, including Hunger and Shame, as well Blade Runner 2049, Arrival and Sicario. Can you talk about working with him?
He wasn’t on set, and we had someone else assembling stuff as Joe was still finishing up Blade Runner. He came in when I got back to Amsterdam. Joe and I go way back to 2007, when we did Hunger, and we always work very closely together. I sit right next to him, and I’m there for every single cut, dissolve, whatever. I’m very present. I’m not one of those directors who comes in, gives some notes and then disappears. I don’t know how you do that. I love editing and finding the pace and rhythm. What makes Joes such a great editor is that he started off in music, so he has a great sense of how to work with sound.

What were the big editing challenges?
There are all these intertwined stories and characters, so it’s about finding the right balance and tone and rhythm. The whole opening sequence is all about pulling the audience in and then grabbing them with a caress and then a slap — and another caress and slap — as we set up the story and the main characters. Then there are so many parts to the story that it’s like this big Swiss watch: all these moving parts and different functions. But you always go back to the widows. A script isn’t a film, it’s a guide, so you’re feeling your way in the edit, and seeing what works and what doesn’t. The whole thing has to be cohesive, one thing. That’s your goal.

What about the visual effects?
They were all done by One Of Us and Outpost VFX (both in the UK), but the VFX were all about enhancing stuff, not dazzling the audience. The aim was always for realism, not fantasy.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
They’re huge for me, and it’s interesting as a lot of the movie has no sound or music. At the beginning, there’s just this one chord on a violin when we get to the title card, and that’s it. There’s no sound for 2/3 of the movie, and then we only have some ambient music and Procul Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” and a Van Morrison song. That’s why all the sound design is so important. When the women lose their husbands, I didn’t want it to be hammy and tug at your heartstrings. I wanted you to feel that pain and that grief and that journey. When they start to act and take control of their lives, that’s when the music and sound kick in, almost like this muscular drive. Our supervising sound editor James Harrison did a great job with all that. We did all the mixing in Atmos at De Lane Lea in London.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
We did it at Company 3 London with colorist Tom Poole, and it’s very important. We shot on film, and our DP Sean and I spent a lot of time just talking about the palette and the look. When you’re shooting in over 60 locations, it’s not so much about putting your own stamp and look on them, but about embracing what they offer you visually and then tweaking it.

For the warehouse scenes, there was a certain mood and it had crappy tungsten lighting, so we changed it a bit to feel more tactile, and it was the same with most of the locations. We’d play with the palette and the visual mood, which the DI allows you to do so well.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
(Laughs) I always hope it turns out better than I hoped or imagined, as your imagination can only take you so far. What’s great is when you go beyond that and come up with something cooler than you could have imagined. That’s what I always want.

What’s next?
I’ve got a few things cooking on the stove, and I should finish writing something in the next few months and then start it next year.

All Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/Merrick Morton


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.

Tamara Jenkins talks writing, directing the Netflix film Private Life

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Tamara Jenkins has never been shy about mining her personal life for laughs and tears — or taking her time with a project. Her debut feature film, 1998’s semi-autobiographical dark comedy Slums of Beverly Hills, which she wrote and directed, was partly based on her own childhood growing up poor in the mega-wealthy city. The cult hit went on to score two Independent Spirit Awards nominations. Nearly a decade later, she premiered The Savages at Sundance. The comedy, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as neurotic siblings dealing with their dementia-afflicted father, went on to receive two Oscar noms — a Best Actress nod for Linney and a Best Original Screenplay nod for Jenkins.

Tamara Jenkins

Now, another decade later, Jenkins and her husband’s own real-life struggle to have a child has provided fertile material for her new film, Private Life, which stars Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as a middle-aged married couple who have been repeatedly trying to get pregnant, undergoing multiple fertility treatments while also exploring adoption and other options. Just as the possibilities of conception seem to get further away with each passing attempt, an unexpected Hail Mary arrives in the form of a recent college dropout who might just prove to be the last, unconventional piece of their fertility puzzle.

I talked recently with Jenkins about making the film and her advice for aspiring women directors.

So just how autobiographical is this new film?
Quite a bit. The experience of dealing with infertility and IVF is something me and my husband went through for years. I’d discuss it all with a friend who kept telling me, “You should write all this stuff down because it’s so hilarious and so heartbreaking. You should make a movie about this.” But I didn’t quite see it that way at the time (laughs). So the emotional core of the story is true, and I felt like quite an expert on the subject and it informed it all, but then the demands of fiction take over and invention comes in and stuff is made up. So it’s a combination of both fact and fiction.

It’s been over a decade since Savages, partly because of your battle to get pregnant. I assume this can’t have been easy to get greenlit?
No kidding! Infertility is a tough sell. I actually had notes for this back in ’08, right on the heels of The Savages, and I remember going back to them years later and wondering why I hadn’t carried on writing it. Then I remembered, “Oh yeah, I had a baby in 2009!” I’d forgotten that little detail. And then deals fell through until Netflix got involved, so it was a long process.

It’s about infertility, but it’s also really about a marriage, right?
Exactly. I always thought of it as a portrait of a marriage, but one that takes place in the land of IVF and doctors. I had this guiding principle: that it’s like a road movie, and these two characters are in a car and they’re off to infertility land. The key thing was, ‘How do they handle it and endure it, and how does it affect the marriage?’ I was also interested in writing about middle-aged marriage, and how they’re almost having a mutual mid-life crisis together — when you find yourself hitting your head up against what your expectations were for your life and dreams, and what the reality actually is. I think everyone can relate to that.

You assembled a great cast that’s so believable. No one’s super-rich or super-beautiful. What did Paul and Kathryn bring to the roles?
I wanted to make a film about a real couple, not a movie couple, set in a New York that also feels real and not like a movie version of it. They’re so great and grounded in the roles, and have such great chemistry. What’s funny is that you assume actors like Paul and Kathryn know each other having been in the business for a long time, but they’d never even met before. So I ended up organizing a dinner for them at Paul’s house, and I cooked, and they did the dishes together and then we had a read-through. Then a couple of months later we had a few days rehearsal when they both got back to town from other projects.

How long was the shoot?
Just 30 days, which wasn’t long enough. We shot in a real apartment and had to work very fast, but it was pretty smooth.

Where did you do the post?
At Sim Post New York, which used to be Post Factory.

Do you like post?
I absolutely love it. I feel like you always learn so much about filmmaking in post. It’s probably the best way to teach people about what a movie really is, and how it comes together and gets cut and made. For me, post is very exciting but also terrifying. Every movie has this plasticity and you’re trying to find your way. Do you have all the pieces you need? Are they the right stuff for it? But then I love when you start to drop music in and work on all the sound design, and things start to emerge. It’s truly amazing how it takes on a life of its own, like some science experiment.

You worked with The Savages editor Brian Kates. What did he bring to the project, and was he on set?
He visited once, just to check it out, but he then began to do his assembly while I shot. He’s a great collaborator. There was one scene we shot in the apartment that I was a bit worried about, so he cut that early on and then showed me so I could get a sense of how it was working, in case I needed to go back to it. That was very helpful.

What were the main editing challenges?
Tone and pacing are always crucial, but I felt like the tone was pretty well established with the writing and the performances. I suppose the big challenge was finding the right takes, the best performances, but there were tonal things. Maybe it was a bit too broad here, it needed to be a bit more subtle there, that sort of thing.

Can you talk about the VFX in this film?
We had a bit of seasonal stuff, adding snow where there wasn’t enough, doing signage, cleanup, and we used a few fluid morphs, which Brian is really good at on the Avid, and I loved those.

What about the DI?
We also did that at Sim, with colorist Alex Bickel, who is this brilliant artist. I love the DI process, and I think he gave it this beautiful look. We were actually the first people to use their brand new DI stage, so that was a thrill.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women directors. Are things improving?
I think the idealism for the improvement is there, but it just takes so long for that to translate into real action and bear fruit. There’s a lot of talk and thinking, but it hasn’t hit the ground yet. It’s still tough for women.

Tamara Jenkins on set.

What’s your advice to a woman who wants to direct?
The best thing I can say is you should probably write and learn to make your own material, so you actually have something to bring to the table. You also have to stick to your guns. I remember years ago going to a writing workshop when I was working on Slums of Beverly Hills, and this big Hollywood screenwriter said, “You can’t open a movie with five pages on a girl getting fitted for a bra!” And I felt like an idiot. It took a while for me to reclaim my sense of self. So if someone tells you something like that, just don’t listen to them.

We’re already heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar. How important are awards to you and your films?
They’re so important for smaller films like mine because they bring attention they probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

What’s next?
I have an idea I’m developing. I just hope people don’t have to wait another decade for it to arrive (laughs).


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 Little Stranger director Lenny Abrahamson

By Iain Blair

Lenny Abrahamson, the Irish director who helmed the cult indies Frank, Garage, What Richard Did and Adam & Paul, burst onto the international scene in 2015 with the harrowing drama Room. The claustrophobic tale — of a woman and her young son kept prisoner in a 10×10-foot garden shed — picked up four Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director, and won the Best Actress Oscar and BAFTA for lead Brie Larson.

Now Abrahamson is back with a new film, Focus Features’ The Little Stranger, which swaps the tight confines of The Room for the sprawling, light and airy expanses of a huge English country home.

But don’t be fooled by appearances. Abrahamson begins to twist the screws from the very start of the story, which is part ghost story, part murder mystery. The film follows Dr. Faraday (Domnhall Gleeson), the son of a housemaid, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1948, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries, but it is now in decline. Its inhabitants — mother, son and daughter — are haunted by something more ominous than dying. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how disturbingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own. It also stars Ruth Wilson (Showtime’s The Affair).

I spoke with Abrahamson about making the film.

Last time we talked, you had been offered a lot of high-profile projects after the huge success of Room. Instead you made this smaller film, which you had been developing. What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of this new film?
I did this for the same reason I did all my other films — I felt compelled to do it, and I connected to it. I’d been thinking about it for the past 10 years. I’m not really strategic about my career. I did consider other projects, but this just felt ready to go, and I was worried that if I didn’t do it just then, I’d never get to do it. So the timing was right.

This is based on Sarah Waters’ novel “The Little Stranger,” and translating any novel to cinema is always tricky, especially this book with all its flashbacks. How difficult was it?
It was very tough, because in a novel you’ve got space to work and digress and build up atmosphere and shift focus. But films are so demanding in terms of unfolding narrative, and it was hard maintaining forward motion while keeping it subtle and ambiguous and dealing with multiple timelines. I also focused on doing it elegantly, not mechanically. It took all the combined efforts of everyone involved — editing, production design, music and sound — to deal with those challenges and also keep it true to the novel.

It’s quite a mixture of genres, tones and themes. Was that your intent?
Finding the right balance and the right tone is always crucial, and in this case we had to find that sense of disquiet and uneasiness, which permeates everything. We also had to keep that sense of ambiguity about everything that happens. I wanted a sort of mash-up of genres — drama, psychological thriller, ghost story, period romance and gothic chiller — and to keep the audience off balance all the time.

Obviously, casting the right actors was crucial. Is it true you originally cast Domnhall Gleeson as another character, not Faraday?
Yes, I’d worked with him on Frank, and he’s got such a range and is so clever. I’d actually started talking to him about this three, four years ago, and I sent him the script with another character in mind for him, but he said he so loved Faraday that he wanted to play him instead. It just made sense, so I cast around him.

It’s beautifully shot by Ole Bratt Birkeland, the DP who also just shot the Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renee Zellweger for director Rupert Goold. What was your approach?
We didn’t have any hard and fast rules. I always think that’s a mistake. So we watched a lot of films and talked a lot, and tried to go against the usual assumptions about making a film like this. We avoided the obvious dark look, and in some of the more sinister scenes the lighting is very even and bright, which I think makes it creepier. It’s a bright interior, maybe not what you expect for violence.

He did a great job, very subtle work, and he created great atmosphere without using any of the obvious lighting tropes. We tested a lot, which was very useful, and Ole didn’t use any direct light. All the light is bounced and soft, which was a very smart decision by him. We shot in a real 18th Century country house near London, and then used another in better repair for all the exterior flashbacks.

Where did you post?
I’m based in Dublin, so I always do all the post there, and we have great facilities and great people. We posted and did most of the cutting at Screen Scene in Dublin, where I’ve posted my last four films. We had a big room with a big screen and projector, which was great, and they also did all the VFX.

Ed Bruce was the VFX supervisor and is very experienced. They do such subtle work. For instance, the house didn’t have the beautiful skylight you see quite a lot, so they added all that, and there are a lot of invisible things they did that you’d never notice. They do shows like Game of Thrones, so they’re very experienced and very good at what they do, and it’s a close collaborative relationship.

Do you like the post process?
I love post after the stress of the shoot and the instant decisions and deadlines you have to deal with on the set. It’s such a big contrast, and it’s where you can take your time to actually make the film.

I love sitting there with the editor and slowly building the movie. And unlike the shoot, where the meter’s ticking away, it’s relaxing and also the cheapest part of the whole filmmaking process. It’s where all the magic happens and you begin to discover what the film is.

The film was cut by your go-to editor Nathan Nugent. Can you tell us about that relationship and how it worked?
He was on the set and also shot 2nd unit for me, so he was very involved during the shoot. He began cutting in Soho during the shoot, and then did most of the editing back in Dublin after we got back.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film.
It’s so important and we began all the sound design and sound work at the same time we began the offline editing, instead of the usual waiting until picture’s locked. I always insist on doing it this way now as there are so many advantages. As you work, you can really see the effect of sound, and that helps with the picture cut.

Our sound editors Steve Fanagan and Niall Brady were also on set and recorded tons of material. Then Steve designed for seven months while we cut, assembling this very rich soundscape. The sound was done at Screen Scene and partly at Ardmore, with some ADR at Goldcrest in London. The music mix was by Peter Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley, ex-Abbey Road, now with their own studio called Sweet Thunder. They did incredibly delicate and beautiful work.

How important was the DI on this?
It’s so important, and we did all the grading and picture finishing at Outer Limits in Dublin, with my regular colorist, Gary Curran, who started early on developing looks. We also did an HDR grade, which I hadn’t really delved into before, and it was very beautiful.

What’s next? A big Hollywood movie?
(Laughs) I do get offered projects, but it would have to be something original that really excites me. Next, I’ll probably shoot this boxing film called A Man’s World, based on the true story of Emile Griffith. It’s a fascinating life, and I’ll shoot it in the US next year… hopefully.

We’re heading into the awards season. You’ve been nominated for an Oscar for Room, which won a ton of awards. How important are awards to you and your films?
Very important. They bring a lot of attention to smaller films like mine, and this one is very unusual. It looks like it falls into a genre, but it doesn’t really, so awards and recognition really help.


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.

Behind the Title: WIG director/DP Daniel Hall

NAME: Daniel Hall

COMPANY: LA-based Where It’s Greater (@whereitsgreater)

Dan on set for Flyknit Hyperdunk project.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Where It’s Greater is a nimble creative studio. We sit somewhere between the traditional production company and age-old advertising agency, meaning we are a small team of creatives who are able to work with brands and other agencies alike. It doesn’t matter where they are in the spectrum of their campaign; we help bring their projects to life from concept to camera to final delivery. We like getting our hands dirty. We have a physical studio space with various production capabilities and in-house equipment that affords us some unique opportunities from both and efficiency and creative standpoint.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Along with being the founder, I am director and lead cinematographer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
That entails pretty much everything and then some. Where It’s Greater is my baby, so everything from physically lighting and capturing the photos on shoots to making sure we’re headed in the right direction as a company to securing new clients and jobs on a consistent basis. I take out the trash sometimes, too.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think what may surprise people the most is that we work mostly client-direct. A lot of agencies or cinematographers have agents or reps that go out and get them work, but I’ve been fortunate enough to personally establish long-lasting, fruitful relationships with clients like Nike and Beats By Dre and MeUndies.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
By far, my favorite part is creating beautiful advertising work for great brands. It’s really special when you get to connect with clients who not only share the same values as you, but also align and speak the same language in terms of taste and preferences. Those projects always come out memorable.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
All the other mundane tasks I take on during a day-to-day basis solely so that I can create some truly great work every now and then. But it’s apart of the process; you can’t have one without the other.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Anytime a client calls me with an exciting new opportunity (smiles).

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I could see myself doing a few different things, but they are all in the creative/production field. So I would most likely be doing what I’m doing, but just not for myself.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always remember having a creative eye from a young age. I get that naturally from my dad who was a camera operator, but it wasn’t until my cousin put a camera in my hand around 18 or 19 that I really fell in love with photography. But even then I didn’t exactly know what to do with it. I just followed the flow of life. I took advantage of the opportunities in front of me and worked my ass off to maximize them and, in turn, set myself for the next opportunity.

After 10 years, I have a 4,000-square-foot studio space in Los Angeles with a bunch of toys and equipment that I love to use on projects with some of the top brands in the world. I’m very grateful and fortunate in that way. I’m excited to look up again in the next 10 years.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We most recently worked with Beats By Dre on their global ‘Made Defiant’ campaign. We were commissioned to direct and produce a series of product films and still-life imagery to showcase their product line of headphones and earbuds in new colors that resemble their original headphone in order to pay homage and celebrate the brand’s 10-year anniversary. We took advantage of this opportunity to use our six-axis robotic arm, which we own and operate in-house. The arm gave us the ability to capture a series of beauty shots in motion that wouldn’t be possible with any other tech on the market. I think that is what made this job special.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really loved what we did last summer for Nike Basketball and Dick’s Sporting Goods. We directed and produced a 30-second live-action spot centered around one of the most popular basketball shoes of the summer, the Flyknit Hyperdunk. Again, we were able to produce this completely in-house, building out a stylize basketball court in our studio space and harnessing our six-axis robot yet again to make a simple yet compelling advert for the sportswear giant.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Chemex — I’m by no means a coffee snob, but I definitely have to have a cup to start my day. There is something therapeutic about it.

Color meter — I can live without my light meter. I rarely, if ever, shoot film for commercial jobs, at least at this phase in my career, but I love my Sekonic C-700R color meter. It allows me to balance all my images and films to taste.

Hyperice foam roller — In the last year I’ve been a lot more active and more into health and fitness. It’s really changed my life in a lot of ways for the better. This vibrating foam roller is a major key to keeping my muscles loose and stretched so I can recover a lot faster.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Of course. I got my start growing up in Atlanta directing music videos for some pretty noteworthy artists, so there is frequently some form of southern hip-hop playing throughout the studio. From the iconic duo of Outkast to the newer generation of artists like Future and 2 Chainz, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with, I always have something playing in the background.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I do some of the typical things on a regular basis: exercise, massage therapy, vacation time. Nothing special really as of yet, but if I crack the code and find a new technique I’ll be sure to share!

Roundtable: Director Autumn McAlpin and her Miss Arizona post team

By Randi Altman

The independent feature film Miss Arizona is a sort of fish out of water tale that focuses on Rose Raynes, former beauty queen and current bored wife and mother who accepts an invitation to teach a life skills class at a women’s shelter. As you might imagine, the four women who she meets there don’t feel they have much in common. While Rose is “teaching,” the women are told that one of their abusers is on his way to the shelter. The women escape and set out on an all-night adventure through LA and, ultimately, to a club where the women enter Rose into a drag queen beauty pageant — and, of course, along the way they form a bond that changes them all.

L-R: Camera operator Eitan Almagor, DP Jordan McKittrick and Autumn McAlpin.

Autumn McAlpin wrote and directed the film, which has been making its way through the film festival circuit. She hired a crew made up of 70 percent women to help tell this tale of female empowerment. We reached out to her, her colorist Mars Williamson and her visual effects/finishing artist John Davidson to find out more.

Why did you choose the Alexa Mini? And why did you shoot mostly handheld?
Autumn McAlpin: The Alexa Mini was the first choice of our DP Jordan McKittrick, with whom I frequently collaborate. We were lucky enough to be able to score two Alexa Mini cameras on this shoot, which really helped us achieve the coverage needed for an ensemble piece in which five-plus key actors were in almost every shot. We love the image quality and dynamic range of the Alexas, and the compact and lightweight nature of the Mini helped us achieve an aggressive shooting schedule in just 14 days.

We felt handheld would achieve the intimate yet at times erratic look we were going for following an ensemble of five women from very different backgrounds who were learning to get along while trying to survive. We wanted the audience to feel as if they were going on the journey along with the women, and thus felt handheld would be a wise approach to accomplish this goal.

How early did post — edit, color — get involved?
McAlpin: We met with our editor Carmen Morrow before the shoot, and she and her assistant editor Dustin Fleischmann were integral in delivering a completed rough cut just five weeks after we wrapped. We needed to make key festival deadlines. Each day Dustin would drive footage from set over to Carmen’s bay, where she could assemble while we were shooting so we could make sure we weren’t missing anything crucial. This was amazing, as we’d often be able to see a rough assembly of a scene we had shot in the morning by the end of day. They cut on Avid Media Composer.

My DP Jordan and I agreed on the overall look of the film and how we wanted the color to feel rich and saturated. We were really excited about what we saw in our colorist’s reel. We didn’t meet our colorist Mars Williamson until after we had wrapped production. Mars had moved from LA to Melbourne, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to work in close quarters, but we were confident we’d be able to accomplish the desired workflow in the time needed. Mars was extremely flexible to work with.

Can you talk more about the look of the film.
McAlpin: Due to the nature of our film, we sought to create a rich, saturated look color wise. Our film follows a former pageant queen on an all-night adventure through LA with four unlikely friends she meets at a women’s shelter. In a way, we tried to channel an Oz-like world as our ensemble embarks into the unknown. We deliberately used color to represent the various realities the women inhabit. In the film’s open, our production design (by Gabriel Gonzales) and wardrobe (by Cat Velosa) helped achieve a stark, cold world — filled with blues and whites — to represent our protagonist Rose’s loneliness.

As Rose moves into the shelter, we went with warmer tones and a more eclectic production design. A good portion of Act II takes place in a drag club, which we asked Gabe to design to be rich and vibrant, using reds and purples. Toward the end of the film as Rose finds resolution, we went with more naturalistic lighting, primarily outdoor shots and golden hues. Before production, Jordan and I pulled stills from films such as Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Black Swan and Short Term 12, which provided strong templates for the looks we were trying to achieve.

Is there a particular scene or look that stands out for you?
McAlpin: There is a scene when our lead Rose (Johanna Braddy) performs a ventriloquist act onstage with a puppet and they sing Shania Twain’s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman.”  Both Rose and the puppet wore matching cowgirl wardrobe and braids, and this scene was lit to be particularly vibrant with hot pinks and purples. I remember watching the monitors on set and feeling like we had really nailed the rich, saturated look we were going for in this offbeat pageant world we had created.

L-R: Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Shoniqua Shandai, producer De Cooper, Johanna Brady, Autumn McAlpin, Otmara Marrero and Robyn Lively.

Can you talk about the workflow from set to post?
McAlpin: As a low-budget indie, many of our team work from home offices, which made collaboration friendly and flexible. For the four months following production, I floated between the workspaces of our talented and efficient editor Carmen Morrow, brilliant composer Nami Melumad, dedicated sound designer Yu-Ting Su, VFX and online extraordinaire John Davidson, and we used Frame.io to work with our amazing colorist Mars Williamson. Everyone worked so hard to help achieve our vision in our timeframe. Using Frame.io and Box helped immensely with file delivery, and I remember many careful drives around LA, toting our two RAID drives between departments. Postmates food delivery service helped us power through! Everyone worked hard together to deliver the final product, and for that I’m so grateful.

Can you talk about the type of film you were trying to make, and did it turn out as you hoped?
McAlpin: I volunteered in a women’s shelter for several years teaching a life skills class, and this was an experience that introduced me to strong, vibrant women whose stories I longed to tell. I wrote this script very quickly, in just three weeks, though really, the story seemed to write itself. It was the fall of 2016, at a time where I was agitated by the way women were being portrayed in the media. This was shortly before the #metoo movement, and during the election and women’s march. The time felt right to tell a story about women and other marginalized groups coming together to help each other find their voices and a safe community in a rapidly divisive world.

I’m not going to lie, with our budget, all facets of production and post were quite challenging, but I was so overwhelmed by the fastidious efforts of everyone on our team to create something powerful. I feel we were all aligned in vision, which kept everyone fueled to create a finished product I am very proud of. The crowning moment of the experience was after our world premiere at Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Fest, when a few women from the audience approached and confided that they, too, had lived in shelters and felt our film spoke to the truths they had experienced. This certainly made the whole process worthwhile.

Autumn, you wrote as well as directed. Did the story change or evolve once you started shooting or did you stick to the original script?
McAlpin: As a director who is very open to improv and creative play on set, I was quite surprised by how little we deviated from the script. Conceptually, we stuck to the story as written. We did have a few actors who definitely punched up scenes by making certain lines more their own (and much more humorous, i.e. the drag queens). And there were moments when location challenges forced last-minute rewrites, but hey, I guess that’s one advantage to having the writer in the director’s chair! This story seemed to flow from the moment it first arrived in my head, telling me what it wanted to be, so we kind of just trusted that, and I think we achieved our narrative goals.

You used a 70 percent female crew. Can you talk about why that was important to you?
McAlpin: For this film, our producer DeAnna Cooper and I wanted to flip the traditional gender ratios found on sets, as ours was indeed a story rooted in female empowerment. We wanted our set to feel like a compatible, safe environment for characters seeking safety and trusted female friendships. So many of the cast and crew who joined our team expressed delight in joining a largely female team, and I think/hope we created a safe space for all to create!

Also, as women, we tend to get each other — and there were times when those on our production team (all mothers) were able to support each other’s familial needs when emergencies at home arose. We also want to give a shout-out to the numerous woman-supporting men we had on our team, who were equally wonderful to work with!

What was everyone’s favorite scene and why?
McAlpin: There’s a moment when Rose has a candid conversation with a drag queen performer named Luscious (played by Johnathan Wallace) in a green room during which each opens up about who they are and how they got there. Ours is a fish out of water story as Rose tries to achieve her goal in a world quite new to her, but in this scene, two very different people bond in a sincere and heartfelt way. The performances in this scene were just dynamite, thanks to the talents of Johanna and Johnathan. We are frequently told this scene really affects viewers and changes perspectives.

I also have a personal favorite moment toward the end of the film in which a circle of women from very different backgrounds come together to help out a character named Leslie, played by the dynamic Robyn Lively, who is searching for her kids. One of the women helping Leslie says, “I’m a mama, too,” and I love the strength felt in this group hug moment as the village comes together to defend each other.

If you all had to do it again, what would you do differently?
McAlpin: This was one fast-moving train, and I know, as is the case in every film, there are little shots or scenes we’d all love to tweak just a little if given the chance to start over from scratch. But at this point, we are focusing on the positives and what lies in store for Miss Arizona. Since our Bentonville premiere and LA premiere at Dances With Films, we have been thrilled to receive numerous distribution offers, and it’s looking like a fall worldwide release may be in store. We look forward to connecting with audiences everywhere as we share the message of this film.

Mars Williamson

Mars, can you talk about your process and how you worked with the team? 
Williamson: Autumn put us in touch, and John and I touched based a little bit before I was going to start color. We all had a pretty good idea of where we were taking it from the offline and discussed little tweaks here and there, so it was fairly straightforward. There were a couple of things like changing a wall color and the last scene needing more sunset than was shot. Autumn and John are super easy and great to work with. We found out pretty early that we’d be able to collaborate pretty easily since John has DaVinci Resolve on his end in the states as well.  I moved to Melbourne permanently right before I really got into the grade.

Unbeknownst to me, Melbourne was/is in the process of upgrading their Internet, which is currently painfully slow. We did a couple of reviews via Frame.io and eventually moved to me just emailing John my project. He could relink to the media on his end and all of my color grading would come across for sessions in LA with Autumn. It was the best solution to contend with the snail pace uploads of large files. From there it was just going through it reel by reel and getting notes from the stateside team. I couldn’t have worked on this with a better group of people.

What types of projects do you work on most often?
Williamson: My bread and butter has always been TV commercials, but I’ve worked hard to make sure I work on all sort of formats across different genres. I like to make sure I’ve got a wide range of stuff under my belt. The pool is smaller here in Australia than it is in LA (where I moved from) so TV commercials are still the bill payers, but I’m also still dipping into the indie scene here and trying to diversify what I work on. Still working on a lot of indie projects and music videos from the states as well so thank you stateside clients! Thankfully the difference in time hasn’t hindered most of them (smiles). It has led to an all-nighter here and there for me, but I’m happy to lose sleep for the right projects.

How did you work with the DP and director on the look of the film? What look did you want and how did you work to achieve that look or looks?
John Davidson: Magic Feather is a production company and creative agency that I started back in 2004. We provide theatrical marketing and creative services for a wide variety of productions. From the 3D atomic transitions in Big Bang Theory to the recent Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom week-long event on Discovery, we have a pretty great body of work. I came onboard Miss Arizona very much by accident. Last year, after working with Weta in New Zealand, we moved to Laguna Niguel and connected with Autumn and her husband Michael via some mutual friends. I was intrigued that they had just finished shooting this movie on their own and offered to replace a few license plates and a billboard. Somehow I turned that into coordinating the post-Avid workflow across the planet and creating 100-plus visual effects shots. It was a fantastic opportunity to use every tool in our arsenal to help a film with a nice message and a family we have come to adore.

John Davidson

Working with Jordan and Autumn for VFX and final mastering was educational for all of us, but definitely so with me. As I mentioned to Jordan after the showing in Hollywood, if I did my job right you would never know. There were quite a few late nights, but I think that they are both very happy with the results.

John, I understand there were some challenges in the edit? Relinking the camera source footage? Can you talk about that and how you worked around it?
Davidson: The original Avid cut was edited off of the dailies at 1080p with embedded audio. The masters were 3.2k Arri Alexa Mini Log with no sync sound. There were timecode issues the first few days on set and because Mars was using DaVinci Resolve to color, we knew we had to get the footage from Avid to Resolve somehow. Once we got the footage into DaVinci via AAF, I realized it was going to be a challenge relinking sources from the dailies. Resolve was quite the utility knife, and after a bit of tweaking we were able to get the silent master video clips linked up. Because 12TB drives are expensive, we thought it best to trim media to 48-frame handles and ship a smaller drive to Australia for Mars to work with. With Mars’s direction we were able to get that handled and shipped.

While Mars was coloring in Australia, I went back into the sources and began the process of relinking the original separate audio to the video sources because I needed to be able to adjust/re-edit a few scenes that had technical issues we couldn’t fix with VFX. Resolve was fantastic here again. Any clip that couldn’t be automatically linked via timecode was connected with clap marks using the waveform. For safety, I batch-exported all of the footage out with embedded audio and then relinked the film to that. This was important for archival purposes as well as any potential fixes we might have to do before the film delivered.

At this point Mars was sharing her cuts on Frame.io with Jordan and Autumn. I felt like a little green shift was being introduced over H.264 so we would occasionally meet here to review a relinked XML that Mars would send for a full quality inspection. For VFX we used Adobe After Effects and worked in flat color. We then would upload shots to box.com for Mars to incorporate into her edit. There were also two re-cut scenes that were done this way as well which was a challenge because any changes had to be shared with the audio teams who were actively scoring and mixing.

Once Mars was done we put the final movie together here, and I spent about two weeks working on it. At this point I took the film from Resolve to FCP X. Because we were mastering at 1080p, we had the full 3.2K frame for flexibility. Using a 1080p timeline in FCP X, the first order of business was making final on-site color adjustments with Autumn.

Can you talk about the visual effects provided?
Davidson: For VFX, we focused on things like the license plates and billboards, but also took a bit of initiative and reviewed the whole movie for areas we could help. Like everyone else, I loved the look of the stage and club scenes, but wanted to add just a little flare to the backlights so the LED grids would be less visible. This was done in Final Cut Pro X using the MotionVFX plugin mFlare2. It made very quick work of using its internal Mocha engine to track the light sources and obscure them as needed when a light went behind a person’s head, for example. It would have been agony tracking so many lights in all those shots using anything else. We had struggled for a while getting replacement license plates to track using After Effects and Mocha. However, the six shots that gave us the most headaches were done as a test in FCP X in less than a day using CoreMelt’s TrackX. We also used Final Cut Pro X’s stabilization to smooth out any jagged camera shakes as well as added some shake using FCP X’s handheld effect on a few shots that needed it for consistency.

Another area we had to get creative with was with night driving shots that were just too bright even after color. By layering a few different Rampant Design overlays set to multiply, we were able to simulate lights in motion around the car at night with areas randomly increasing and decreasing in brightness. That had a big impact on smoothing out those scenes, and I think everyone was pretty happy with the result. For fun, Autumn also let me add in a few mostly digital shots, like the private jet. This was done in After Effects using Trapcode Particular for the contrails, and a combination of Maxon Cinema 4D and Element 3D for the jet.

Resolve’s face refinement and eye brightening were used in many scenes to give a little extra eye light. We also used Resolve for sky replacement on the final shot of the film. Resolve’s tracker is also pretty incredible, and was used to hide little things that needed to be masked or de-emphasized.

What about finishing?
Davidson: We finalized everything in FCP X and exported a full, clean ProRes cut of the film. We then re-imported that and added grain, unsharp masks and a light vignette for a touch of cinematic texture. The credits were an evolving process, so we created an Apple Numbers document that was shared with my internal Magic Feather team, as well as Autumn and the producers. As the final document was adjusted and tweaked we would edit an Affinity Photo file that my editor AJ Paschall and I shared. We would then export a huge PNG file of the credits into FCP X and set position keyframes to animate the scroll. Any time a change was made we would just relink to the new PNG export and FCP X would automatically update the credits. Luckily, that was easy because we did that probably 50 times.

Lastly, our final delivery to the DCP company was a HEVC 10-bit 2K encode. I am a huge fan of HEVC. It’s a fantastic codec, but it does have a few caveats in that it takes forever to encode. Using Apple Compressor and a 10-core iMac Pro, it took approximately 13 hours. That said, it was worth it because the colors were accurately represented and gave us a file that 5.52GB versus 18GB or 20GB. That’s a hefty savings on size while also being an improvement in quality over H.264.

Photo Credit: Rich Marchewka

 

Director Sasha Levinson talks about her Las Vegas tourism spots

After seeing some of her previous work, Humble director Sasha Levinson was approached by agency R&R Partners and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority with a vision of creating four short films of personal transformation, each set across one weekend in Las Vegas, where the city was the catalyst in each narrative. The spots play more like a film trailer than a commercial.

Initial scripts were already written, when Levinson won project. “Right out of the gate I started to develop ideas about how I would bring these stories to life in a way that created a human mystique around Las Vegas while showcasing how the city could have an authentically positive impact on each character’s life,” she says.

We reached out to Levinson to find out more about her process and the project.

Who did you work with the most from the agency?
R&R Partners’ Arnie DiGeorge (ECD), Scott Murray (CD) and Gerri Angelo (Producer) were the primary people I interacted with. Once I was officially on board, the collaboration stretched into a place I hadn’t seen in my commercial work thus far. The team stressed their desire to have a filmmaker that could truly bring the films to life, and I think I did just that. They trusted my process whole-heartedly.

Now and Then

Can you walk us through the production process?
While working on readying the scripts for production, I flew out to Las Vegas and spent several days location scouting in and around the city. It was very inspiring to start to feel the environment and begin to envision exactly how our scenes might play out.

We scouted many incredible spaces, both interior and exterior. My process was to put myself into the mindset of each of the characters and decide where they would want to spend their weekend.

The next step was casting, which was done in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. We all took a collective breath when we found our actors because they became the characters that had only been living on the page for quite a while.

It took a dedicated team and the full support of Humble, our production company, to pull this off. Line producer Trevor Allen, AD Scott Murray, AD Todd Martin, costume designer Karmen Dann and location scout/manager Kim Houser-Amaral were a huge help during this two-week shoot.

Two weeks?
Yes, we shot for eight days over the course of two weeks, filming mostly at night in restaurants, nightclubs and suites both on and off The Strip. For interiors alone we shot at over nine different hotel properties, and then filmed various exteriors, driving shots and desert scenes.

Can you talk about each of the four spots?
For the Now and Then spot we used a handheld and Steadicam to stay intimate with the characters. The film lives in a dreamy, indie space, making the audience feel like they are inside the story, and as if the flashbacks are their own memories.

Party of One

The Anniversary was the flirtiest, most luxurious of the films. We were initially planning to film in a different bar, but I changed the schedule when I saw the personality of the final location. It was perfect.

To me, Party of One was a quirky romantic comedy, but the real romance is with herself. This film had a cleaner look with colors that really popped, a playful wardrobe and fun music. The Meetup has the most obvious references to the iconic Oceans and Bond films, and I wanted to do this genre justice.

Victor, the actor in The Meetup has a comedy background, so he was able to give us something different and great each take. We used cleaner lenses and slower-paced, more precise movements using a dolly.

What did you shoot on, and why did you (and assuming the DP) feel this was the best camera?
We shot on the Alexa Mini for its stunning Alexa image and the smaller body. The choice was due to all of the handheld and Steadicam we knew we would be working with. I really love the Alexa and of course we played with a lot of filtration and elements in front of the lens.

Where did you find the inspiration for this campaign?
I was really inspired by the film Paris, je t’aime, which became a reference we really stayed true to with this campaign. We kept saying, “If these four films feel like a love letter to Las Vegas, then we’ve done our job.”

After we finished casting in LA, I spent a weekend in Vegas visiting Valley of Fire State Park, seeing Elton John in concert, riding on the High Roller, eating at some amazing restaurants and overall experiencing the city in a new and inspiring way. I’ve always loved the desert, so there is a built-in romance for me about Vegas being a desert oasis that you just feel, looking out the windows wherever you are. I wanted to capture that essence in this campaign.

Sasha on set

What was the biggest obstacle in directing these four spots?
Las Vegas is all about tourism, so we had to keep the visitor experience in mind when planning our schedules and shooting. It was a constantly changing puzzle of a schedule, but each location had a filming liaison that worked with us. They helped us film across iconic Las Vegas locations like the High Roller at the LinQ Hotel & Casino and the Bellagio Fountains, where we even had an engineer help us control the fountains, starting them at just the right moment in the shot.

Where was this project edited, and how did you work with the editors?
I worked extremely closely with the editors Erin Nordstrom and Nick Pezillo at Spot Welders in Venice, California. They cut on Adobe Premiere, and during the edit process we cut in side-by-side rooms. As we were cutting the first cuts I would hop between rooms as the edits were evolving.

Music was a huge point of discussion. Josh Baron was our music supervisor, and Human created some original pieces. Early in the edit process there was a lot of conversation about tone and feel of the soundtracks. Getting the music to encourage the cinematic feeling was very important to all of us.

Can you talk about what you wanted from the color grade?
Las Vegas has so much light and spectacle, and most of the films took place at night, so I wanted to capture that essence and make sure we didn’t go too far. The idea was that the character of Las Vegas should be cohesive across all four films, but each of the storylines should feel visually dedicated to their respective characters.

Dave Hussey at Company 3 too the reigns on color and hit the perfect balance between fantasy and reality.

We’ve heard a lot about making the ad and production industries more inclusive. How do you see the industry changing? Do you think organizations like Free the Bid are doing their jobs to help female directors get the work they deserve?
I think that filmmaking and content creation is about telling stories that accurately reflect reality, but this isn’t possible without diverse creators showcasing their own unique realities. I’ve spent a lot of time on scouts and shoots where I am the only woman, but this is changing, and there are more and more times where the van is all women, and it’s amazing!

However, just when I think diversity is becoming the norm, I’ll be on set with a crew member or client who says they’ve never worked with a female director. Free the Bid has been an incredible initiative and because it’s so action oriented, you can feel the rumblings of change in realtime. That’s exciting.

Do you have any tips for aspiring female directors?
Being a filmmaker in film or advertising is an incredible career path. My best advice is to develop your authentic voice and find projects that resonate with it. Don’t get lost in what you think you should be doing, and don’t just follow the trends. Be authentic in your work and speak from the heart. And when it comes to starting a reel, donate your time. Find brands or projects that cover the costs and give them your creative skills in exchange for footage to build a reel.

There has been a trend around branded content and spots, that look and like films, like this campaign. Do you think this trend will continue?
I think this trend will continue and extend deeper into newer mediums like immersive storytelling and interactivity. Brands are constantly searching for ways to connect with consumers, and I believe the art of storytelling is an age-old unifier and connector. So it makes sense. Personally, I love the three-act structure and any opportunity to work with this, whether it be 90 seconds or 90 minutes, inspires me.

Are you working on any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m currently taking my recent film Welcome to Grandville through the festival circuit. It made its premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival, Perspectives Exhibition, and more recently in New York City at the Soho International Film Festival.

I’ve also just completed a commercial project for Whirlpool, Google and Amazon’s Alexa. Currently, I’m writing a film called the The Discomfort of Skin, about the human discomfort with nudity and sexuality.

Eli Rotholz joins Alkemy X as VP of biz dev

Creative content company Alkemy X has added Eli Rotholz as VP of business development,. He will be based in the company’s New York headquarters.

Rotholz brings more than 12 years of sales/business development, strategy and production experience, having begun his career as an independent sales rep for Ziegler/Jakubowicz and Moustache NYC. From there, he worked in his first in-house position at Click3X, where he built and managed a diverse roster of directorial talent, as well as the company’s first integrated production offering focusing on live-action, VFX/design/animation and editorial.

Rotholz then founded Honor Society Films. He later joined Hone Production, a brand-direct-focused production company and consultancy, as director of business development/content EP.

“Very few companies in the industry can boast the strong directorial roster and VFX capabilities as Alkemy X,” says Rotholz. “In addition to the amazing entertainment work that Alkemy does, there’s definitely a trend in high-end ‘package’ productions where one company can do both live-action shoots with their directors, as well as editorial and VFX.”

Director Natalia Leite joins Humble’s roster

Bi-coastal production studio Humble has signed director Natalia Leite to its roster. Humble is Leite’s commercial representation, but she brings her rich experience as a writer and director for features, indie films and Vice documentaries.

Her MFA, a psychological thriller about rape crimes at a university, premiered at SXSW 2017 and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. She also worked on Every Woman, a Vice documentary about traditionally female-held jobs that are often looked down upon. It garnered over 12 million views.

Leite believes in weaving social commentary into her work, especially when it comes to female empowerment.

Her first work with Humble included two docu-style brand films for Vans Off the Wall brand titled Girls Skate India, and Vision Walk, which featured young women building a community and encouraging others to seek and live their passions. Girls Skate India was shortlisted for the 2018 AICP Awards and the AICP Next Awards.

Leite also teamed up with agency Sid Lee to direct a new campaign for The North Face, Move Mountains, that highlights the inspiring stories of female creators, athletes, educators and innovators who are moving mountains in their fields.

“For me, joining Humble was a perfect marriage,” says Leite. “Humble is a collaborative and supportive team that has embraced my passion and personal directing style. There, I will be able to continue telling stories about causes I care about, while branching out more into branded content work.”

Most recently, Leite wrote and directed a short film for a Condé Nast series on LGBT perspectives, which premiered during Pride Week in New York in June. Leite’s project, Kiki and the Mxfits, follows one trans girl whose high school popularity skyrockets when she rebels and uses the girl’s bathroom.

Prolific writer/director Paul Schrader on his latest, First Reformed

By Iain Blair

With his latest film in theaters now, a look back at director and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s movie credits shows just what a force he has been over the years in Hollywood — and especially in the ambitious, serious and hugely influential cinema of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

He wrote Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture. He reteamed with Robert De Niro and Scorsese on 1980’s boxing saga Raging Bull. That same year saw the release of American Gigolo, starring Richard Gere as a high-priced male escort, which he wrote and directed.

Paul Schrader with writer Iain Blair.

Schrader has also written and/or directed The Last Temptation of Christ (reteaming again with Scorsese), The Mosquito Coast, Cat People, The Comfort of Strangers, Affliction, Bringing Out The Dead (yet another Scorsese collaboration) and Dog Eat Dog.

In his new film, First Reformed (his 21st feature and 12th as writer/director), Schrader examines a crisis of faith centered around a former military chaplain devastated by the death of his son in the Iraq War. Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary, middle-aged parish pastor at a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York about to celebrate its 250th anniversary.

Once a stop on the Underground Railroad, the church is now a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, eclipsed by its nearby parent church, Abundant Life, with its state-of-the-art facilities and 5,000-strong flock. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, a radical environmentalist, the clergyman finds himself plunged into his own tormented past, and equally despairing future, until he finds redemption in an act of violence.

I talked recently with Schrader about making the film and his workflow.

Why did you want to make this type of film?
When I first began my career as a critic in the early ‘70s, I wrote a book, “Transcendental Style in Film,” about spirituality. It looked at various theological concepts in the work of such auteurs as Robert Bresson, who was a big influence on this film, Yasujiro Ozu and Carl Theodor Dreyer. While I liked those films, I never thought I’d make one myself. It just wasn’t me. I was too intoxicated with action and violence, empathy and emotion back then, and these are not really parts of the spiritual tool kit.

When people tried to make connections with my films and the book, which is now coming out in a new updated edition by University of California Press, I’d just say, “No, that’s not me at all.” But then three years ago I started thinking, maybe it’s time for me to do one of these films.

What did Ethan and Amanda bring to their roles?
I cast Ethan for several reasons. He’s the right age, for one thing, and he also looks the part — and by that I mean that his face and the way he carries himself were right for the character. Toller has a sickness of the soul, what Kierkegaard called sickness unto death, or “angst” in German and despair in English.

He tries to deal with his struggle with faith in various ways: by following all the rituals of the church, writing in his journal every day and drinking. But when he tries to counsel Amanda’s husband, who doesn’t feel there’s any future or any reason to keep going, he catches his virus in a way. This manifests itself in despair about the future of human life on the planet. So I told Ethan, “This is a role to lean back from. As the audience moves in, you have to recede. Don’t come to the viewer. Keep leaning back.” And he understood that completely. He’s very smart. He’s a writer, director, playwright and musician and instinctively knew what to do.

With Amanda, we got very lucky because she’s not only a great actor, but she was pregnant in real life, and that’s actually quite hard to fake on film. So often, women who play pregnant women have the stomach, but the face isn’t any different, and of course that changes too. She was on hiatus, because of her pregnancy, but we managed to make the schedule work for her.

You shot on location. How tough was it?
It was fast — just three weeks — and no big problems. With all the new technology, shoots are so much faster, and actors like it much better. In the old days, you’d spend hours lighting and blocking, and they’d spend most of the day in their trailers. Now, there’s hardly any waiting around in between scenes and setups, and it’s better for everyone.

Where did you post?
At The Post Factory (now Sim Post) in New York.

Do you like post?
I love it. It’s very collegial and relaxing after the shoot. I love editing, even when things go wrong. About five years ago I made this film Dying of the Light, a psychological thriller with Nic Cage. It was a bit of a debacle, and the film was taken away from me. While I was doing the next film, Dog Eat Dog, I realized what I should have done with editing Dying. So I said to Ben Rodriguez, the editor on Dog, who was trained by the great Hank Corwin, ‘I don’t need you on First Reformed, since it’s a very sedate film, but we should be able to re-cut Dying while we’re also working on this.

I had permission to do this, and if you Google “Schrader Rotterdam Dark,” you’ll see a lecture I gave earlier this year detailing how and why I decided to do the re-cut, which is now titled Dark. So we were editing both the glacially paced First Reformed and the completely over-the-top Dying at the same time, and it was a lot of fun.

What were the main editing challenges on this?
Keeping the right tone and pace, and I actually thought it was going to be slower than it is, as I’d decided to make slower films. So when I first showed it, I warned people that it was slow, but then people disagreed with me. The thing with slow cinema is that you have to modulate when you withhold from an audience, and if you withhold all the time, it becomes sort of monotonous. So you have to withhold a little, and the pacing becomes critical. In the end, there was very little left on the cutting room floor. We shot very close to the bone and hardly wasted anything.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there are some impressive VFX sequences — notably where the two leads begin to levitate and then fly off through all these fantastic environments. Do you enjoy working on VFX like that?
No, I don’t. They were all done by Cloak & Dagger VFX and Atomic Art. Cloak & Dagger’s Brian Houlihan was the VFX supervisor. They did wonderful work and I’m very happy with the results. The great thing about VFX today is you can do all the cleanup so easily, and you don’t do signage anymore. You do it all in post. But I don’t enjoy the long process involved and all the waiting.

You’ve always had great music in your films, like David Bowie in Cat People and Blondie in American Gigolo. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in this and to you as a filmmaker.
It’s so important… if you get it right. But when you start to work on the quiet side, on the contemplative side, music becomes very tricky, as it’s the easiest way to dictate emotion and feelings — happy, sad, frightened, angry — to the audience. You’ll get them coming towards you by telling them how to feel all the time. But you should let them wonder how they should feel.

So a lot of films in this style don’t use music, or very little. They only use sound effects. That’s what I started doing on this, for about two-thirds of the film. But then I started working with Lustmord, a composer who works in ambient sound and who’s basically a sound designer, and now I think the two disciplines — composer and sound designer — have combined.

What about the DI?
We did it at Company 3 in New York with colorist Tim Masick (who used Blackmagic Resolve), and I love the process. It’s fun and not at all stressful compared with the shoot, and I’m pretty involved with it. We chose not to go with the usual film look on this one. It’s so easy now to apply an algorithm in the DI and make your movie look like it has film grain. But the DP, Alexander Dynan, and I both felt it didn’t need that, and I love the cool, austere look we ended up with. (Check out our interview with Tim Masick here.)

It’s interesting how that aspect of post has really changed. When I first began, you’d shoot for 10, 12 weeks and do just three or four days of color. Now, you shoot for three weeks and do color for three weeks, and that change has helped lower costs all around.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did, and I’m very happy with it. In many ways it’s a kind of high-wire act, making this kind of film, as there’s very little room for failure when you deal with spiritual matters and such serious subjects.


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 Duffer Brothers: Showrunners on Netflix’s Stranger Things

By Iain Blair

Kids in jeopardy! The Demogorgon! The Hawkins Lab! The Upside Down! Thrills and chills! Since they first pitched their idea for Stranger Things, a love letter to 1980’s genre films set in 1983 Indiana, twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer have quickly established themselves as masters of suspense in the science-fiction and horror genres.

The series was picked up by Netflix, premiered in the summer of 2016, and went on to become a global phenomenon, with the brothers at the helm as writers, directors and executive producers.

The Duffer Brothers

The atmospheric drama, about a group of nerdy misfits and strange events in an outwardly average small town, nailed its early ’80s vibe and overt homages to that decade’s master pop storytellers: Steven Spielberg and Stephen King. It quickly made stars out of its young ensemble cast — Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink and Finn Wolfhard.

It also quickly attracted a huge, dedicated fan base, critical plaudits and has won a ton of awards, including Emmys, a SAG Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series and two Critics Choice Awards for Best Drama Series and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. The show has also been nominated for a number of Golden Globes.

I recently talked with the Duffers, who are already hard at work on the highly anticipated third season (which will premiere on Netflix in 2019) about making the ambitious hit series, their love of post and editing, and VFX.

How’s the new season going?
Matt Duffer: We’re two weeks into shooting, and it’s going great. We’re very excited about it as there are some new tones and it’s good to be back on the ground with everyone. We know all the actors better and better, the kids are getting older and are becoming these amazing performers — and they were great before. So we’re having a lot of fun.

Are you shooting in Atlanta again?
Ross Duffer: We are, and we love it there. It’s really our home base now, and we love all these pockets of neighborhoods that have not changed at all since the ‘80s, and there is an incredible variety of locations. We’re also spreading out a lot more this season and not spending so much time on stages. We have more locations to play with.

Will all the episodes be released together next year, like last time? That would make binge-watchers very happy.
Matt: Yes, but we like to think of it more as like a big movie release. To release one episode per week feels so antiquated now.

The show has a very cinematic look and feel, so how do you balance that with the demands of TV?
Ross: It’s interesting, because we started out wanting to make movies and we love genre, but with a horror film they want big scares every few minutes. That leaves less room for character development. But with TV, it’s always more about character, as you just can’t sustain hours and hours of a show if you don’t care about the people. So ‘Stranger Things’ was a world where we could tell a genre story, complete with the monster, but also explore character in far more depth than we could in a movie.

Matt: Movies and TV are almost opposites in that way. In movies, it’s all plot and no character, and in TV it’s about character and you have to fight for plot. We wanted this to have pace and feel more like a movie, but still have all the character arcs. So it’s a constant balancing act, and we always try and favor character.

Where do you post the show?
Matt: All in Hollywood, and the editors start working while we’re shooting. After we shoot in Atlanta, we come back to our offices and do all the post and VFX work right there. We do all the sound mix and all the color timing at Technicolor down the road. We love post. You never have enough time on the set, and there’s all this pressure if you want to redo a shot or scene, but in post if a scene isn’t working we can take time to figure it out.

Tell us about the editing. I assume you’re very involved?
Ross: Very. We have two editors this season. We brought back one of our original editors, Dean Zimmerman, from season one. We are also using Nat Fuller, who was on season two. He was Dean’s assistant originally and then moved up, so they’ve been with us since the start. Editing’s our favorite part of the whole process, and we’re right there with them because we love editing. We’re very hands on and don’t just give notes and walk away. We’re there the whole time.

Aren’t you self-taught in terms of editing?
Matt: (Laughs) I suppose. We were taught the fundamentals of Avid at film school, but you’re right. We basically taught ourselves to edit as kids, and we started off just editing in-camera, stopping and starting, and playing the music from a tape recorder. They weren’t very good, but we got better.

When iMovie came out we learned how to put scenes together, so in college the transition to Avid wasn’t that hard. We fell in love with editing and just how much you can elevate your material in post. It’s magical what you can do with the pace, performances, music and sound design, and then you add all the visual effects and see it all come together in post. We love seeing the power of post as you work to make your story better and better.

How early on do you integrate post and VFX with the production?
Ross: On day one now. The biggest change from season one to two was that we integrated post far earlier in the second season — even in the writing stage. We had concept artists and the VFX guys with us the whole time on set, and they were all super-involved. So now it all kind of happens together.

All the VFX are a much bigger deal. For last season we had a lot more VFX than the first year — about 1,400 shots, which is a huge amount, like a big movie. The first season it wasn’t a big deal. It was a very old-school approach, with mainly practical effects, and then in the middle we realized we were being a bit naïve, so we brought in Paul Graff as our VFX supervisor on season two, and he’s very experienced. He’s worked on big movies like The Wolf of Wall Street as well as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, and he’s doing this season too. He’s in Atlanta with us on the shoot.

We have two main VFX houses on the show — Atomic Fiction and Rodeo — they’re both incredible, and I think all the VFX are really cinematic now.

But isn’t it a big challenge in terms of a TV show’s schedule?
Ross: You’re right, and it’s always a big time crunch. Last year we had to meet that Halloween worldwide release date and we were cutting it so close trying to finish all the shots in time.

Matt: Everyone expects movie-quality VFX — just in a quarter of the time, or less. So it’s all accelerated.

The show has a very distinct, eerie, synth-heavy score by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, the Grammy nominated duo. How important is the music and sound, which won several Emmys last year?
Ross: It’s huge. We use it so much for transitions, and we have great sound designers — including Brad North and Craig Henighan — and great mixers, and we pay a lot of attention to all of it. I think TV has always put less emphasis on great sound compared to film, and again, you’re always up against the scheduling, so it’s always this balancing act.

You can’t mix it for a movie theater as very few people have that set up at home, so you have to design it for most people who’re watching on iPhones, iPads and so on, and optimize it for that, so we mostly mix in stereo. We want the big movie sound, but it’s a compromise.

The DI must be vital?
Matt: Yes, and we work very closely with colorist Skip Kimball (who recently joined Efilm), who’s been with us since the start. He was very influential in terms of how the show ended up looking. We’d discussed the kind of aesthetic we wanted, and things we wanted to reference and then he played around with the look and palette. We’ve developed a look we’re all really happy with. We have three different LUTs on set designed by Skip and the DP Tim Ives will choose the best one for each location.

Everyone’s calling this the golden age of TV. Do you like being showrunners?
Ross: We do, and I feel we’re very lucky to have the chance to do this show — it feels like a big family. Yes, we originally wanted to be movie directors, but we didn’t come into this industry at the right time, and Netflix has been so great and given us so much creative freedom. I think we’ll do a few more seasons of this, and then maybe wrap it up. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.


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.

Director Kay Cannon on her raunchy comedy Blockers

By Iain Blair

At a time when women are increasingly breaking down barriers in Hollywood, writer/director Kay Cannon is helping lead the charge. The director of Universal’s new film, Blockers, got her start at such comedic training grounds as The Second City, The iO West Theater and The ComedySportz Theatre.

Kay Cannon

While writing and performing around Chicago, she met Tina Fey, a fellow Second City alumna. When Fey began 30 Rock, Cannon joined the creative team and worked her way up from staff writer to supervising producer on the show. She’s a three-time Primetime Emmy-nominated writer, twice for Outstanding Comedy Series and once for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. She has also won three Writers Guild of America Awards, as well as a Peabody, all for her work on 30 Rock.

Cannon, who also served as a co-executive producer on New Girl, a consulting producer on Cristela and co-produced the hit feature Baby Mama, received rave reviews for her debut screenplay for the film Pitch Perfect, and she wrote and co-produced the hit sequels. She served as the executive producer, creator and showrunner of the Netflix series Girlboss, based on Sophia Amoruso’s best-selling autobiography, which starred Britt Robertson.

Now, with the new release Blockers, Cannon — one of only a handful of women ever to direct an R-rated comedy for a big studio — has stepped behind the camera and made an assured and polished directorial debut with this coming-of-age sex comedy that takes one of the most relatable rites of passage and upends a long-held double standard. When three parents discover their daughters’ pact to lose their virginity at prom, they launch a covert one-night operation to stop the teens from sealing the deal.

The film stars Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40), John Cena (Trainwreck, Sisters) and Ike Barinholtz (Neighbors, Suicide Squad). It is produced by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen and James Weaver, under their Point Grey Pictures banner (Neighbors, This is the End), alongside Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold & Kumar) and Chris Fenton (47 Ronin).

Cannon leds an accomplished behind-the-scenes team, including director of photography Russ Alsobrook (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), production designer Brandon Tonner-Connolly (The Big Sick) and editor Stacey Schroeder (The Disaster Artist).

I recently talked to Cannon about making the bawdy film, which generated huge buzz at SXSW, and her advice for other aspiring women directors.

This is like a long-overdue female take on such raunchy-but-sweet male comedies as American Pie and Superbad. Was that the appeal of this story for you?
When I read the script, I really connected on two levels. I was a teenager who lost her virginity, and I’m also the mother of a daughter, and while she was only two at the time, it made me think about her and what might happen to her in the future. And that’s scary, and I saw how parents can lose their minds.

How did you first envision the film?
I grew up in a small town in the Chicago area and I was inspired by John Hughes and all his great teen comedies. I could really relate to them, and I felt he was speaking to me, that he really got that world and the way it looked. I wanted to do that too, and show how people really live, and I wanted it to feel real and grounded — but then I was also going to go to a very crazy place and got very silly. (Laughs) That was very important to me, because I wanted to make people laugh really hard, but also feel emotion.

Did you always want to direct?
It wasn’t always my dream. That’s shifted over the years. I started off wanting to be an actor on a sitcom, then writing one and then wanting to have my own show, which happened with Girlboss, so that was my focus for the past few years. To be honest, I’d kind of do movies when TV didn’t work out for me. A pilot didn’t happen, so I wrote Pitch Perfect, and then did Pitch 2 when another pilot didn’t go.

How did you prepare for directing your first film?
Being the showrunner on Girlboss was great training because I could shadow all the directors and watch them work, and I felt definitely ready to direct a film.

What was the biggest surprise of directing for the first time?
I pretty much knew what to expect — and that there will always be surprises on the day and stuff you could never have anticipated. You just have to work through it and keep going.

How tough was the shoot?
It was hard. We shot in Atlanta for nine weeks, and the last five were nights, and that’s very tough. I had a very long script to squeeze into the shoot. But Russ, my DP, was a huge help. We’d worked together before on New Girl, and he’s so experienced; he really guided me through it all.

Where did you do the post?
All in LA. We started at Sunset Gower, and then we took a break and did some reshoots in January, and then finished at Pivotal Post in Burbank.

Do you like post?
When I was at Girlboss I’d never experienced post before, so I was really afraid and uncomfortable with the whole process. It was so new and a bit daunting to me, especially as a writer. I loved writing and shooting, but it took me a while to get comfortable with post. But once I did, I loved it, and now it’s my favorite thing. I’d spend the night there if I could! As they say, it’s where you actually make the film and where the real magic happens.

Kay Cannon on set directing Leslie Mann and John Cena.

Your editor was Stacey Schroeder (pilot for The Last Man on Earth, for which she got an editing Emmy nom). How did that relationship work?
We’d worked together before on Girlboss, and we have a great partnership. She’s like my right-hand, and we’re automatically on the same page. We very rarely disagree, and what’s so great is that she’s extremely opinionated and has no poker face. I’m the same way. So it’s very refreshing to sit there and discuss material and any problems without taking anything personally. I really appreciate her honesty.

What were the biggest editing challenges?
Trying to balance the raucous comedy stuff with the serious emotions underneath, and dealing with some of the big set pieces. The whole puking scene was difficult as we shot three times the material you see, and there was a whole drug thing, and it was very long and it just wasn’t working. We previewed it a couple of times and it was seen as a poor man’s Bridesmaids. (Laughs) And then I saw Baby Driver and it hit us — what if we put the whole scene to music? And that was so much fun and it suddenly all worked.

Resistance VFX did the visual effects shots, and there seemed to be quite a few, considering it’s a comedy. What was involved?
You’re right. Usually comedies don’t have that many and we had a significant amount, including the puke scenes, and then all the computer stuff and the emojis. And then they did such a great job with all Amy Mann’s tears at the end. I really loved working with VFX, and the fact that they can create all this magic in post. I’d be constantly amazed. “Can you do that?” They’d sigh and go, “Yes Kay, we can do that, no problem.” It was a real education for me.

Where did you do the DI?
At Technicolor, and I was pretty involved along with Ross. I loved that whole process too. Again, it’s the magic of post. (Maxine Gervais was the supervising senior colorist. She used a FilmLight Baselight 5.)

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
Absolutely.

Do you want to direct again?
Definitely, if I get another chance.

What’s next?
I’m writing a movie for Sony — another comedy — and I’ve got a bunch of projects percolating.

What advice would you give to any woman wanting to direct?
Do the work, and don’t quit when it gets hard. I think a lot of women quit before the magic happens, and there were times when I wanted to quit, but you can’t. You have to keep going.

Kay Cannon Photo Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert (c) 2018 Universal. 


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.

Director Olivier Gondry returns to Partizan

Director Olivier Gondry has once again joined the roster at production house Partizan. Gondry, known for his commercial and music video work, made his first major mark with his commercials for HP, featuring his brother Michel and Vera Wang. Since then, this Paris-based director has gone on to collaborate with brands such as Audi, YouTube, Fiat, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nissan, Canon, Gillette, True Religion, Etsy and Trip Advisor.

Originally known as a visual effects artist, it was at Partizan where Gondry first established himself as a director. The renewed connection is a happy homecoming for Gondry and Partizan, which maintains offices in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, São Paulo and in the Middle East.

Olivier’s endeavors in the music world include work with such artists as Daft Punk, OK Go and The Vines. Most recently, Olivier created a slightly disturbing and compelling visual exultation of facial flux and melding bodies for Joywave’s Doubt.

“Partizan has been part of my life since forever,” says Gondry. “First as a brother watching Michel climbing the steps. I can still remember him telling me, ‘I met this producer [Georges Bermann].’ I was proud and curious already! It was here that I first transitioned from special effects to directing. I’m so happy to return to Partizan, to be back home and back with my brother.”

Gondry is also currently in development on a long-form narrative project.

End of the Line director Jessica Sanders

By Randi Altman

After watching the End of the Line, I found myself thinking about the short film’s content… a lot. Based on a short story by Aimee Bender, director Jessica Sanders’ version starts off with a man walking into a pet store, looking into what the audience assumes is a birdcage and walking out not with a bird but a little man in a cage.

We see how Big Man (Stranger Things’ Brett Gelman) tries to take care of Little Man (Big Bang Theory‘s Simon Helberg) and then we see his frustration when the clearly well-read and intelligent Little Man tells the story of how he was taken from his family and put in a cage. Big Man’s behavior becomes increasingly disturbing, leading him to torture Little Man.

We reached out to director Sanders — who has an Oscar nomination thanks to her short documentary, Sing! — to talk about making the film, which is part of Refinery29 and TNT’s Shatterbox Anthology, a short film series dedicated to supporting the voices of female filmmakers.

Let’s start with cameras. What did you shoot on, and how involved in that process are you?
We shot on the Alexa Mini with Panavision primo lenses. I like to go over lenses/looks with my DP, but defer to what the DP wants to shoot on. For this project, I worked with ultra-talented DP Brett Pawlak.

How long was the shoot, and how much pre-production did you do? I’m assuming a good amount considering the VFX shots?
The film, although short (14 minutes), was essentially a feature in terms of preparation and the production scope/crew size, shooting for six days. We had about two months of intense prep leading up to the shoot, from scouting and art department. For example, we built a 30-foot penis and 30-foot cage. The VFX approach was an intensive collaboration between VFX supervisor Eva Flodstrom, my DP Brett, production designer Justin Trask, producer Louise Shore and myself.

We had 67 VFX shots, so I storyboarded the film early on and then photoboarded each shot when we had our locations. We had a specific VFX/production approach to execute each shot from a mix of practicals (building the giant cage), to strictly greenscreen (i.e., when the little man is on a calculator). It was a highly involved and collaborative process.

Was your VFX supervisor on set?
Yes. Eva was highly involved from the beginning for all of prep, and on set she was instrumental. We worked closely with a DIT video assist so we could do a rough VFX comp of each shot while we were shooting. After production, it took about four months to finish post and visual effects.

I wanted to work with Eva, as she’s a pro, having worked on Star Wars and Star Trek (also, there are very few female VFX supervisors). Our approach/philosophy to VFX was similar — inspired by Michel Gondry’s and Spike Jonze’s work in which the VFX feels human, warm and practical, integral to the story and characters, never distracting.

Can you talk about the challenges of directing a project with VFX?
I had never done a VFX-heavy film before, and creatively, as a director, I wanted to challenge myself. I had a blast and want to do more films with VFX after this experience. Because I surrounded myself with top artists who had VFX experience, it was a totally enjoyable experience. We had a lot of fun making this film!

This was likely a hard story to tell. As the viewer you think it’s going to be a sweet story about a guy and his bird, but then…
I read Aimee Bender’s short story End of the Line in her book Willful Creatures in 2005 and have been passionate about it since then. The story takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. It’s funny, dark, explores themes of loneliness, desire and abuse of power, in a short amount of time. There are a lot of tonal shifts, and I worked closely with screenwriter Joanne Giger to achieve this balance.

How did you as a director set out to balance the humor, the sadness, the kinda disturbing stuff, etc.?
I played the film visually and tonally very grounded (i.e. the rules of this world is that there is a big person and tiny person world that live side by side) and from that I could push the humor and darkness. In the performances, I wanted there to be an emotional truth to what the characters are experiencing that feels human and real, despite the fantastical setting. So I played with a lot of the mix of feelings within this very grounded surreal world.

The color is sort of muted in an old-timey kind of way. Can you talk about what you wanted from the color and mood?
I’m very sensitive to color and attention to detail. We wanted the film to feel timeless, although it is contemporary. Costume designer Shirley Kurata is amazing with color blocking and visual storytelling with color. Because Big Man’s world is more depressed and lonely, his tones are gray, the house is dark wood. As Big Man gains power, he wears more color. My DP has a very naturalistic approach with his lighting, so I wanted everything to feel very natural.

When we colored the film later in post, the approach was to do very little to the film, as it was captured in-camera. Production designer Justin Trask is a genius — from how he designed and built the giant penis (to feel less naturalistic) to the details of Little Man’s cage (his furniture, the giant bread crumb on a coin). We had a lot of fun exploring all the miniature props and details in this film.

How did you work with your editors? What did they cut on?
Because of the VFX, we edited on Adobe Premiere. I worked with editor Stephen Berger, who helped shape the film and did an amazing job doing the rough VFX comps in the edit. He is great with music and brought musical inspirations, which led to composer Pedro Bromfman’s entire saxophone score. Pedro is a big composer from Brazil and did my last documentary March of the Living. Editor Claudia Castello is incredible with performance, building the emotional arc of each character. She edited Fruitvale Station, Creed and was an editor on Black Panther. It was a great collaborative experience.

You had a lot of women on the crew. It seems like you went out of your way to find female talent. Why is this so important to you and the industry in general?
As a woman and a woman of Asian descent (I’m half Chinese), it’s important to me to be surrounded by a diverse group of collaborators and to hire with as much gender equality as possible. I love working with talented women and supporting women. The world is a diverse place. It’s important to me to have different perspectives reflected in filmmaking and representation. There is a huge inequality of the hiring practices in Hollywood (4% of Hollywood feature films were directed by women last year), so it’s critical to hire talented, qualified women.

Do you think things are getting better for females in the industry, especially in the more technical jobs?
I’ve always hired female cinematographers, editors and worked with Eva Flodstrom for VFX. With my friend/colleague Rachel Morrison, who is the first female cinematographer nominated for an Oscar, I hope things are changing for women with more visibility and dialogue. Change can only happen by actually hiring talented women (like director Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) who works with female cinematographers and editors).

You’ve directed both narrative and documentary projects. Do you have a preference, or do you enjoy switching back and forth?
This film marks a new creative chapter and narrative direction in my work. I love my background in documentaries, but I am fully focused on narrative filmmaking at the moment.

How was Sundance for you and the film?
Sundance was an incredible experience and platform for the film. We were IndieWire’s Top 10 Must See Films. My creative team came out, including actors Simon Helberg and Vivian Bang. It was a blast!

Oscar-winner Jordan Peele on directing Get Out

By Iain Blair

Get Out, the feature film debut of comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele, is chock full of shocks and surprises. This multi-layered horror film also shocked a lot of people in the industry when it went on to gross over a quarter of a billion dollars — on a $4.5 million budget — making it one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history. But those shocks are nothing compared to the ones Peele and his movie generated when it scooped up four major Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (in a very strong Best Director year, Peele beat out the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Martin McDonagh). He won for Best Original Screenplay.

The writer/director honed his cinematic skills on the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele, which quickly became a television and Internet sensation, earning 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and over 900 million online hits. For his first film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, he assembled a stellar group of collaborators, including director of photography Toby Oliver (Insidious: Chapter 4), production designer Rusty Smith (Meet the Fockers), editor Gregory Plotkin (the Paranormal Activity series), costume designer Nadine Haders (Into the Badlands) and composer Michael Abels.

With the huge critical and commercial success of Get Out, Peele has now joined the big leagues. I recently caught up with Peele who talked about the Oscars, making the film, and his love of post.

This is your directorial movie debut, and it’s not only Oscar-nominated for Best Picture but also for Best Director. Are you still pinching yourself?
Oh yeah, 100 percent! It’s not something I feel I’ll ever get used to. It’s way beyond any expectations I had.

You were also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay, making you only the third person ever — after Warren Beatty and James L. Books — to score that and Best Director, Best Picture nods for your debut film. You realize it’s all downhill from here?
(Laughs) Yeah, I might as well quit making movies now while I’m still ahead, because I’m in big trouble. And that’s pretty ironic as the best award and reward for making my first movie is the fact that I get to make another.

You’re only the fifth African-American filmmaker to earn a Best Director nom and none have won. Is change coming fast enough?
I think change should have come a long time ago, but at least now we see some real progress, with such directors as Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Gary Gray, Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees. It’s this new class of amazing black directors, and people have worked very hard to get to this point, and it’s thanks to all the work of previous filmmakers. What’s blossoming in the industry now is very beautiful, so I’m very hopeful for the future.

When it comes to the Oscars, horror and comedy are two genres that don’t seem to get much respect. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because they’re genres that are typically focused on getting a monetary return, so they get put in that box and are seen as lightweight and movies that are not art — even though there are many examples of elevated horror and elevated comedy that are extremely artistic films. So there’s that stigma. And if people don’t like horror, they just don’t like it, so it’s not a genre that you can expect everyone to want to see, unlike comedy. Everyone pretty much loves comedy, but when people tell me they don’t like horror, I tell them to seek it out, that it won’t scare them that much, and that it might surprise them.

Did you write this thinking, “I want to direct it too?”No, I never planned to direct it, but then about half-way through writing it I realized I was the only person who could actually direct it. I feel that being both the writer and director is easier than not doing both, because they’re done at separate times, so you don’t have to overlap, and then later if you want to change something on set, you know that you’re not missing or mistaking what the writer intended.

What sort of film did you set out to make, because it’s not just a straightforward horror film, is it?
No. I wanted to make a film I’d never seen before. It’s been called many things, and I myself have called it both a horror film and a social thriller. I was aiming at the genre somewhere between Rosemary’s Baby and Scream, so it’s about a lot of things — the way America deals with race and the idea that racism itself is a monster, and that we can’t neglect abuses and just stand by while atrocities happen. So I tried to incorporate a lot of layers and make something people would want to see more than once.

How did you prepare for directing your first film? It’s got to be pretty daunting.
It’s actually terrifying since you don’t know what you don’t know. I talked to everyone I could — Edgar Wright, Ben Affleck, Leigh Whannell, Peter Atencio who did our show and Keanu, and any other director I could — to try and prepare as much as possible.

How was the shoot?
We shot in Mobile, Alabama, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything. It was so hard and so intense. I was very prepared, but then you also have to be open to adapting and making changes, and too much preparation can work against you if you’re not careful.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely loved it, and one big reason is because after so long just imagining what the film might look like, all of a sudden you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, and you’re finally making the film. Post teaches you so much about what the film is meant to be and what it wants to be.

Where did you edit and post this?
At Blumhouse in LA.

Tell us about working with editor Gregory Plotkin, who cut most of the Paranormal Activity franchise for Paramount and Blumhouse Productions.
He’s a very accomplished editor and a real horror fan like me, so we bonded immediately over that. He could break down the script and all my influences from Hitchcock and Kubrick to Spielberg and Jonathan Demme. He did his pass and then I came in and did my director’s pass, and then we went over it all with a fine-tooth comb, tightening scenes up and so on and focusing on pace and timing, which are crucial in horror and comedy.

Is it true you shot multiple endings for the film? How did you decide on the right one?
We actually shot two, and the first one was not a happy one. When we edited it all together we realized it wasn’t working for an audience. They thought it was a downer, and then I realized it needed a hero and a happy ending instead, so that after going through all the stress, the audience could come out happy. So we asked for more money and went off and did a reshoot of the ending, which added another layer and worked far better.

Sound and music are so important in horror. Can you talk about that?
I look at it as at least half the movie since you can scare audiences so much with just clever sound design. I paid a lot of attention to it during the writing process, and then once we got into post it all became a very meticulous process. We were careful not to overdo all the sound design. We did it all at Wildfire, and they are such pros and were up for trying anything. They really understood my vision.

Can you talk about the VFX?
Ingenuity Studios did them and the big one was creating “The Sunken Place,” and it was tricky to do it as we didn’t have a bearing on this world apart from what I’d originally imagined. There was no up or down. Should the camera be fixed or floating? In the end, we shot Daniel Kaluuya against a black background on cables, and then Gregory played around in the Avid a lot, resizing the image. Then we added some CG stuff to give it that sort of underwater feel. We had a bunch of other shots, like the car hitting the deer and the father being impaled on the deer horns, which was all CGI.

Who was the colorist, and where did you do the DI?
It was all at Blumhouse, with Aidan Stanford, and I was pretty involved. It was tricky, and you can quickly go overboard with color, but the DP, Toby, did such a great job on the shoot that we mainly just tried to match his original color and not push it too far.

I assume you can’t wait to direct again?
Oh yeah! There’s nothing more fun. It’s the biggest artistic collaboration I can imagine, with all these moving parts, and I loved every minute of it.

What’s next?
I’m working on another screenplay, which I’ll direct for Universal. I just love Hitchcockian thrillers, so I’m staying in the same genre and zone.


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.

Comedy director Aaron Beckum joins Strike Anywhere

Strike Anywhere, a production company with offices in LA and San Francisco, has grown its roster with the addition of comedy director Aaron Beckum to its talented roster.

Originally from Kansas City, Beckum grew up mostly in Europe before coming to LA by way of Vancouver. He has a background in editing, producing, writing and directing, having studied film at the Vancouver Film School, where his debut short won an Achievement in Direction Award from the Directors Guild of Canada.

After moving to LA, Beckum spent time at The Directors Bureau working as a creative director in Roman Coppola’s special projects division. He would go on to form close working relationships with directors like Mike Mills after working on his feature Beginners, and Miranda July after serving as an associate producer on her film The Future. During this time, Beckum gained experience on short films, music videos and commercials, working with clients like Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Redbubble and Sony Music.

His shorts and music videos have screened at festivals worldwide, including the Vancouver International Film Fest, Raindance, London Sci-Fi, Fantasia and Woodstock. He is currently developing a feature film Microchip Blues with the support of the Sundance Institute Feature Film Program.

Beckum’s work combines “Scandinavian deadpan humor with a love of 1970s slapstick comedy.” Visually, it is often characterized by lo-fi practical effects and selective color palettes. Beckum often asks himself, “If I were to pull a still at any moment in the piece, would that frame stand alone as a good photograph?” This mindset ensures his work is graphic and iconic, and balanced within the frame.

With a tendency towards working with non-actors and employing in-camera techniques, Beckum is able to create authentic worlds in a few short moments. “I have a thing for practical effects, single takes and match cuts,” he says. “I just love to create organically, as much on set as possible.”

His signature style is on display in his Redbubble spot The Last Pickle. The ad follows a sad worker in a beige office attempting to hold onto the last pickle from a pickle jar, and inevitably falling out of the high-rise window. Beckum says, “It’s a great example of what I like to do because it combines a sort of drab setup but ends with an over-the-top goofy ending. Also, I think anything with a falling dummy is just great.”

The A-List: Roman J. Israel, Esq. director Dan Gilroy

By Iain Blair

Writing and movies have always been in director/writer Dan Gilroy’s DNA. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Frank Gilroy, he has two brothers who’re also in the business — director/writer Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, the Bourne franchise) and editor John Gilroy.

After making a name for himself as a successful screenwriter on such projects as The Bourne Legacy, Real Steel and Two for the Money, he made his feature directorial debut with Nightcrawler in 2014. He also wrote the film, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Nightcrawler earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington on set.

His film, Roman J. Israel, Esq., which earned its star Denzel Washington an Academy Award nomination and recognition from the Golden Globe and SAG, is another intense character study. Set in the underbelly of the overburdened Los Angeles criminal court system, it stars Denzel Washington as a driven, idealistic defense attorney whose life is upended after his boss and mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. When Roman is recruited to join a law firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students — the ambitious George Pierce (Colin Farrell) — and begins a friendship with a young champion of equal rights (Carmen Ejogo), a series of events ensues that put the activism that has defined Roman’s career to the test.

Collaborating with Gilroy behind the scenes was director of photography Robert Elswit, editor John Gilroy, production designer Kevin Kavanaugh and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.

I recently talked with Gilroy about making the film and collaborating with Washington.

Is it true you wrote the film on spec specifically for Denzel?
I did. After Nightcrawler I took myself off the market for a year, researched this and wrote it on spec. I could only ever see Denzel playing Israel.

Would you have still done it without him?
No, I would have just put it away. He was crucial to the film. You have to take a pill with every movie and buy into the premise, and on this you had to believe that for 40 years he’s toiled away in the shadows and never compromised his beliefs. And Denzel utterly transformed himself physically for the role, but he’s also a man of faith who believes in something bigger than himself.

What did he bring to the role?
Apart from being this incredibly gifted actor, he brought a deep conviction to the part.

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
My biggest struggle is with my conscience. Am I doing enough? And this was a chance to examine activism, which can take a big emotional toll, but then you also know that you’re helping make the world a better place. That’s one of the key themes of the film — the importance of belief. It’s an homage to activism and to anyone who dedicates some of their time to a cause other than themselves. That sort of belief can be both a blessing and a burden, as it can get you up in the morning to fight for something, but it can also sap you.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
We wanted that great film look, even though it’s very expensive to shoot that way now. Denzel and I actually shared the added cost.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
You’re right, it does, as you have to find a lab that can still handle film as everyone’s so used to digital now, and you have a slight delay in dailies — 24 hours. But apart from that, there’s not much interruption to the flow. One big thing it does is cut way down on the footage you have to deal with in editing and post. When you shoot digitally, you don’t think twice about doing 10 or 15 takes in a row. You don’t do that with film. You’re far more careful and specific about what you shoot.

Dan Gilroy opted to shoot on 35mm.

You shot all on location downtown. How tough was that? 
Very tough. We had over 60 locations, and unlike Nightcrawler it was nearly all daytime, and the traffic is just brutal and makes it very hard just moving around. I always wanted to put the character in real-world situations, so sometimes we’d hide cameras down alleyways and behind cars and shoot stuff as if it was surveillance footage. Denzel would be walking around and people would bump into him and not give him a second glance — and those weren’t extras.

Where did you post?
On the Sony lot. We did all the sound at Formosa.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely love it. You have all the pieces in front of you, and they haven’t hardened yet. They’re malleable, and you can do anything you want and rewrite the whole movie in post if you want. You can pre-lap dialogue, you can intercut and do so many things that have a profound impact on the flow of the story. You can speed up stuff and slow it down by the way you cut and use transitions, and give scenes a whole new energy. Post is amazing.

You edited again with your brother John, who cut Nightcrawler. How did that work?
He read the script before we began shooting, and then he was on the set and then we worked side-by-side on the assembly. He’s like my right arm. (See our interview with John.)

What were the main challenges of editing this film?
The time! We were running long and had to keep cutting. We went to the Toronto Film Festival with it and screened it at 2 hours 14 minutes, but that was still too long, so we had to go back and cut another 13 minutes… that was very tough to do.

I heard Denzel was also involved in the edit.
It’s true, he was. Isn’t that crazy? Normally I couldn’t have even conceived of having an actor come into the cutting room and doing that, because most actors are just not objective. But Denzel is such an asset, and he truly is objective and has an incredible eye. Of course, he’s directed films himself, so it made perfect sense to keep collaborating in the edit.

How many visual effects shots were there and who did them?
Zero VFX did them, and there were quite a few. The biggest VFX shot — which originally was going to be done practically — was when we dropped down 400 feet at night into this alley. We planned to do it with a drone, so we sent it up with an Alexa on it, but it was wet and windy that night and it just didn’t work, so we had to redo it all in post. The apartment building they’re constructing next to Israel’s building was all a big VFX shot, and we had a lot of smaller shots and clean-up and so on.

It has a great soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
They’re so important to me, and they’re a huge percentage of the final film. Music can instantly transport you to other levels and places and change the whole emotional fabric of a scene. Denzel was very involved in that too. He has over 20,000 songs on his iPod and he came up with specific songs that would be the soundtrack to Roman’s life — songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s — and picked a lot of the cues. James Newton Howard, who did Nightcrawler, did the film score.

How about the DI?
We did it at Company 3 in LA with Stefan Sonnenfeld who has worked a lot with Tony. I’m very involved in about 85% of it, and then I leave the last 15% to the DP and my brother John. I love the DI as you can go in and highlight small details and play around with the look and color so much. It’s so creative.

Did it turn out the way you hoped?
It’s beyond what I imagined when I was writing it, and I think Denzel’s performance is truly amazing.

What’s next?
I’m in pre-production on a film for Netflix, a drama set in LA’s contemporary art world. It’s starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Renee Russo, and it’ll be out in October.


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.

Directing: My Top 10 career-ending mistakes

By Trevor McMahan

Okay, so this is probably a really bad idea… but I’m about to list the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made as a director. It’s ironic, because when I told my super-rep Susanne I was going to write a tips piece for postPerspective, she was all like, “Yeah, this will be a great opportunity for people to see what smart/insightful/great/awesome director you are!” So much for that plan.

The silver lining is that none of the following career-ending mistakes has actually ended my career, and even though it may sound like it here, I’m not ALWAYS making career-ending mistakes – just sometimes. And I’m lucky to be busy enough to provide myself ample opportunities to make them, which means I must be doing something right. Right?

Anyhow, here goes. I hope you enjoy these mistakes more than I did!

1. Thinking a mistake could be career ending
Boom. I could end the list here and I’d feel like it was worth it because this mistake is the greatest mistake of all. To be clear, there are, of course, massive mistakes one could make to actually bring your career to a halt, but most of us simply aren’t making those.

Once I freed myself of the fear of making mistakes, I was able to produce more creative work, to explore ideas and shots and scenes in more unexpected ways and generally push toward stronger storytelling. And when you inevitably do make a mistake, use that experience as a reminder that there’s always a better way to do something — it’s an incredible way to grow and learn and push forward. And if my words don’t ring true here, take it from the really cheesy motivational poster of mossy boulders dotting through a pond that declares, “Mistakes are the stepping stones to success.” Sage advice from the fantastic folks over at Successories.

2. Thinking one not-great project spells T-h-e  E-n-d
One “miss” used to feel like it was a death knell, so I avoided “missing” at all costs, and missed a handful of solid opportunities in the meantime. But I quickly realized just how much growth and learning can come from even the least expected places. I’ve swung to the opposite end of the spectrum – eager to shoot and learn and improve as much as I can. Some of the best work I’ve done has come as a result of those opportunities and relationships, and while not every project is going to be a grand slam, you’ve got to swing.

3. Aiming for perfection
There’s nothing worse than pressure associated with targeting perfection, and it has led to moments where a scene just doesn’t feel believable or a project falls flat and predictable. I’ve since learned to embrace the process of discovery and it has made for an incredibly expansive process. I even like to work with creatives and crew to embed a sense of imperfection and idiosyncrasy into our filmmaking — from little imperfect reflections of light and little flaws in the production design to wardrobe that feels unplanned and actors’ performances that feel unrehearsed. It’s when things start to feel like they’ve not been designed that I start to believe them.

4. Thinking an agency’s storyboards are what they want the commercial to look like
There are so many reasons agency boards look the way they do, but what they aren’t is a blueprint of the only predetermined way to tell a story or film sequence. But that didn’t stop me from leaning too heavily on them, and ending up in an excruciatingly awkward series of conversations about why I made those choices. Them wondering why I’d locked into their boarded angles, and me not really having a reason behind the choices. The aim, I’ve found, is to see the idea through the client-friendly illustrations — to “read between the boards” and gauge where a campaign wants to go. Once you have that core, translating it into shots becomes something you can stand behind.

5. Telling an agency what they want to hear
Tell the agency exactly what you think they want to hear to land a job? Wrong. Regurgitating an agency call in a treatment, or pitching them a film they’d already pitched me, just doesn’t win the job. I take great pride, now, in not going into a pitch aiming to win it, but aiming to make the film the best it can be (with the belief, of course, that they’ll agree). The most “creative” creatives I’ve met and worked with over the years have proved quite keen to be challenged and to be shown where and how the work can improve. It’s important to work with collaborators who are aiming for great, not just good enough. Architect Daniel Burnham said, “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” I couldn’t have said it better.

6. Pushing way too far
Yep, guilty of that, too. And believe me, it’s not pretty. If you do push to far, those treatments end up in the bottom drawer.

7. Not listening
With all that said… it can be tempting to go whole hog in a particular direction, and I have! But if that’s not the direction they’re headed, there’s only pain and anguish. So, really listening and hearing out an agency and client is invaluable to unearthing the reason they’re spending all this money, and how to best direct those resources.

8. Thinking I needed to do other people’s jobs
In my mind, there used to be an expectation that the director should know (and often do) all. But to be honest, I found that I’d get stretched thin dealing with budget issues, wrinkles in the calendar or the how the on-set effects team was working out a rig… and to a degree that the storytelling would suffer. I still am involved with all of those things (and always will be), but I do find relief realizing I’m working with an incredible crew of filmmakers and craftsmen, who kick ass at their jobs and whose art I respect. Simply letting them do their jobs, then, frees me up to do mine — part of which is to bug them about their work. So, I probably didn’t lay off long, but it’s a start. Baby steps.

9. Waiting around for boards
Waiting around for boards won’t help more boards to come in, and I’ve never felt so close to the guillotine than when I was just waiting. As soon as I stopped waiting and started producing — shorts, music videos, even video tests and experiments, all of a sudden I was busier than ever. Work certainly begets work, and the more you do the more will come.

10. Writing an article about all the worst mistakes I ever made
Then there was that one. Let’s hope it’s not the last.


Trevor McMahan is a director at Rocket Film. This commercial and film production house has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

A Conversation: Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy

By Amy Leland

There are moments as a filmmaker, and as someone who writes about filmmaking, when I get to have such special and unexpected experiences. One of the best recent ones was a chat I had with writer/director Greta Gerwig and editor Nick Houy about their collaboration on A24’s Lady Bird, which is actress Gerwig’s directorial debut and a semi-autobiographical version of her youth.

The critically beloved film — which was nominated for four Golden Globes — follows a high school senior from Sacramento, California, trying to navigate her last year at home, her tumultuous relationship with her mother, boys and her quest to get away from it all.

Lady Bird is such a personal and welcoming story. Ultimately, it was no surprise to find that Gerwig and Houy were so open and giving in their discussion of the work and their collaboration.

This was your first time directing. Were you driven because of this story or have you always wanted to direct?
Gerwig: I wanted to direct for a very long time, but I didn’t go to film school. My film school experience became what I did on set, both in front of and behind the camera as an actor, but also as a writer, co-writer and producer, and anything else anybody would let me do. I had been working in films for 10 years when we started Lady Bird. It felt like that was long enough for film school and time to go ahead and make a movie.

When I started writing Lady Bird, I didn’t necessarily know what it was going to be. The story started as  a sort of hunch, and then I wrote into that. Once I had a draft that I thought was a pretty good piece of writing, that’s when I knew it was now or never. I thought, well, “You’ve written something that you like and you’ve always wanted to do this.” But it wasn’t until after I had written it that I really embraced the idea that I was going to direct it. I kind of had to do it one step at a time.

When you had that realization, was it exciting or scary?
Gerwig: All of the above. It was exciting because it had been what I wanted to do. I had trepidation about it because I know it’s something that I cared about deeply, so I didn’t want to not be able to meet the challenge. But I was thrilled to work on it.

So you feel that your depth of experience as an actor and having played so many roles of different types prepared you to sit in the director’s chair?
Gerwig: Well, I love acting, and I love actors. One of the things that is so amazing about being an actor and working with different people is I get to see how so many different directors dealt with their actors and their crew, and their way of cinematic storytelling. That was invaluable. I was actually keeping a little notebook the whole time. You know, this person does this, and I like this, or I don’t think this worked so well, or I’d like to do it this way. It was sort of this accumulation of being able to be present while it was being done.

Later when I was writing with Noah Baumbach — who I had already collaborated with on two scripts that he directed — I was more present in the editing room for those movies and the post production because I had co-written them, and I’d produced them. That was also an opportunity because that’s a part of the process that the actor doesn’t tend to see. Watching that happen and being part of that process was incredibly informative. It’s something that’s hard to quantify because it’s kind of everything for me. What I did as an actor and how that fed into who I am as a writer and director.

How has that experience been, to step into the director’s role for the first time and have it be so successful?
Gerwig: Truly beyond my wildest dreams. We were working on this film up until just about two weeks before it premiered at Telluride. We weren’t changing the cut, but we were doing all the things that you do to finish a film. One of the things you train yourself to do as a director is you’re just constantly scanning for what’s wrong. That’s all you do. Through pre-production, production, and post, you’re always listening for what’s wrong in the mix, or looking for what could be tighter or better or clearer. I was still in that mind set, in a way, coming into this.

Nick Houy

Nick, how did you get involved in this project?
Houy: Jennifer Lame, who edited Manchester by the Sea, as well as every movie with Noah Baumbach since Frances Ha, is a really good friend of mine. She recommended me to Greta. It was one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever read. It was so tight and so wonderful, and I just fell in love with it. When we met and talked about it, I felt like we were kindred spirits in terms of the way it should be done. When we started doing script notes and talking about it more in depth, I think we saw a lot of things the same way. So it just felt really fun. It was like, “Oh this is the kind of movie I’ve been waiting to work on forever.” So, it was a no-brainer, you know.

Gerwig: The feeling was mutual. It was right away. It’s hard to talk about editing without actually just doing it, but there was a sense that we had the same language. That’s the essential ingredient.

Can you talk about what your process was like? Also, how your cinematographer Sam Levy played into that process as well.
Gerwig: For me, one of the first times that we were on the same page was when we were in the process of putting together the movie — how we were going to shoot it and how it was actually going to work. I remember there was a question about cutting some stuff, and it’s always a financial question, “Can we cut this scene? Is there a way we can make this movie without this scene?” So, I sent the notes over to Nick just to see what thought about them, and he was so detailed and so specific about what he thought and why.

There was a particular moment that had been suggested we could lose, and he said, “No, we need to keep it.” That’s what you want out of a collaborator — someone who’s bringing their own perspective to it, but who can also always remind you of what it is that your intention is. Because you have a lot of information coming at you from a lot of different places, and for Sam and Nick sometimes it was, “Hey, I know why you want this, here’s why.” And you’re like, “That’s right. That is why I want it.”

Houy: It was a pleasure. Even the script had editing built into it. It was really thoughtful about every shot having a reason and a purpose, and it was really well thought out. Even the transitions between scenes, which is unusual you know. It had a great rhythm to it right away.

For something that is so well planned out, where did you as an editor feel that your storytelling input came into that process?
Houy: With this movie, it was like just polishing a diamond. It was already so good. I just wanted to serve the story to the best of my abilities, and serve the performances, and the emotion of those performances, and the emotion of the story as best as possible. It was like honing it and honing it and figuring out exactly what the movie was supposed to be. Like creating a sculpture, and you just need to find the perfect David, or whatever, because it’s there. You just have to work at it. The pleasure is putting your microscope on it and making sure it’s the best it can be.

Gerwig: And also the openness to… for example, if I wanted to walk down some weird side path, he would say, “Let’s walk down the side path. Let’s see what’s there.” Also when he would say, “Just give me an hour. Let me see what I can do. This might be crazy, but let’s see.” Letting those things exist is a very important part of it. That’s the same way I try to relate to my actors, and to Sam, and to my production designers. It’s giving enough freedom to let everyone bring what they have to the table and not shutting down a conversation before it can wield something interesting.

How much time did you spend observing 
the process on set?
Houy: On some movies I’m on set a lot, but for Lady Bird, another editor was actually on during dailies, for various reasons. I came on after dailies, which is unusual, but it worked out. Plus, they were shooting in California and editorial was in New York, so it was a completely different situation. But what I love about being an editor is that you’re not embroiled in any of the drama that’s happening during the shoot. You’re not aware that that dolly shot took six hours to get. You’re not aware of all of the stuff that happens on a set. You talk to the script supervisor, you talk to the director, but my job is to have totally fresh eyes — totally non-judgmental eyes — on all the footage. Actually, I think going to set is kind of the antithesis of that. Of course, it’s fun to talk to everybody, but it’s good to be fresh.

Gerwig: Because I need to be so close to the experience of getting it, to have someone who’s just looking at it for what it is, is incredibly helpful. Sometimes there would be a take that on the day it was happening felt like “the take.” But actually in the footage it’s like, no, it was one before. And sometimes if you were there it’s harder to see. I think as the director it also takes a little bit of time to separate the footage from the experience of getting it. It is for me, and then eventually it does become its own thing.

Nick, can you talk a bit about your workflow and your process.
Houy: The whole thing is very straightforward. We were cutting on Avid Media Composer at DNx36. Nothing crazy. I have an amazing assistant editor named Nick Ramirez — people call us “the Nicks.” We were lucky we were cutting in the facility where we were coloring. We could always pop down when we were getting close to the end process and look at stuff high res, or try different color corrections.

Greta Gerwig with DP Sam Levy.

Obviously, that was a big deal, too, since color was such an important part of setting the tone. It had that sense of looking back on something nostalgically.
Houy: That was exactly what they were going for. Sam Levy is an amazing DP, and he and Greta talked a lot about different painters they were inspired by, and wanted to create a sort of color Xerox look to it. It’s got an early 2000’s feeling, and it’s nostalgic. It was fun to know that that was happening all the way through, and let that seep into the storytelling process, and be able to constantly check on it downstairs. That was cool.

How do you work with your assistant editor? Is he doing purely technical stuff, or some cutting?
Houy: It depends on the movie, because sometimes you’re in a tough spot, and sometimes you have tons of time. Sometimes you need a lot of help with certain things, and sometimes you don’t. It just depends. On this particular movie with Nick Ramirez, I would always ask his opinion on things because he’s really smart, and it’s always good to have another eye. He’s great at that.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to edit indie films like the kind you are doing?
Houy: I always encourage people to cut as much as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to learn. You have to put in your 10,000 hours, just like anything. And whether that’s through friends’ shorts, student movies or whatever, you’ve just got to cut, cut, cut as much as you can. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

When you’re apprenticing or assisting on a movie, you should be cutting scenes at night by yourself. I don’t care what anyone says. Get all the footage. Cut it. Compare how you cut it with the way the editor cuts it. Finally, work with editors who want to help you move up. I was lucky enough to have editors as mentors, people who wanted to cut scenes with me and talk it through.

Could you both describe the one moment during the process when you knew that this was the story you were trying to tell?
Gerwig: There was a moment really early. It was this first scene between Sister Sarah Joan and Lady Bird, when she’s sitting in her office, and there was something about the way he cut it. It felt like a musician who was playing the piece just right… that’s how I meant it to sound. Which is hard to even describe, but it felt a sort of recognition. That’s what I thought the music would sound like, but I’ve never heard it played before, and so now I’m hearing it for the first time.

Houy: That’s a really good example, the Lois Smith scene, because they were so good, and it was like we knew the rhythm. You could hear, maybe like songwriting, the melody in your head, but until it’s executed you’re never quite happy with it. When we cracked that rhythm it was very exciting. I felt that way about the end sequence, too. We found the emotional moment at the end I knew was there. It was one of those… well, you just had to crack it.

Gerwig: Yes. You just have moment after moment like that and it’s just such a nice thing that you sort of end up sharing a brain. At that point we were both seeing the same thing.

This sounds silly, but I had always written the Dave Matthews Band into the script but we didn’t know we were going to play it over prom. But then it was like, of course, that’s the song you’d play over prom. What else were we thinking?

Houy: We tried all of these other songs but realized, no, of course it’s Dave Matthews. Yeah.

Gerwig: Also the point where we cut off at the end… where she takes in a breath… as soon as that was in that place it never changed. We didn’t revisit it. It just hit us just right, and it was like, yeah, that’s what we wanted in that moment, and it works. It was that moment of mutual recognition.


Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, “Echoes”, is now available on Amazon Video. She also has a feature documentary in post, a feature screenplay in development, and a new doc in pre-production. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network and recently edited the feature “Sundown.” You can follow Amy on social media on Twitter at @amy-leland and Instagram at @la_directora.

Director and former agency EP Katya Bankowsky joins Strike Anywhere

Director Katya Bankowsky has been added to the roster at LA- and San Francisco-based production company Strike Anywhere. Bankowsky is a former agency executive producer and director. Working as an EP led to her directing campaigns in-house for ad agencies like Mcgarrybowen. Her signing is a strategic move for Strike Anywhere, as it continues to work in traditional and non-traditional media with a formal directorial roster.

Katya Bankowsky is a California native who became a New Yorker upon graduating from Yale. After college, she took a production job in advertising, where she learned the art of the 30-second movie. Bankowsky soon went freelance and began shooting her feature documentary Shadow Boxers, which follows the emergence of women in boxing and the rise of the first undefeated world champion Lucia Rijker. Bankowsky directed, edited and produced the film and also boxed in the first NYC Golden Gloves to allow female competitors. Shadow Boxers premiered at the Toronto and Berlin International Film Festivals, picking up awards across the festival circuit before obtaining worldwide distribution.

Bankowsky’s non-documentary work includes TV spots, branded entertainment and digital campaigns for clients including Reebok, NFL, WNBA, Verizon, the US Olympic Committee, Chase and Brazilian Brahma beer. She has worked with Maya Angelou, 50 Cent, Jay-Z and many top-tier athletes. Bankowsky recently directed a piece for The New York Times on French fashion icon Michele Lamy, which kicked off a web series she writes, directs and co-stars in alongside Lamy.

Bankowsky’s directorial style was evident in a campaign she directed for the NFL this past summer, a series called The Handoff, which is the league’s largest social media campaign to date.

A New Yorker through and through, Bankowsky will remain there, but travels back to LA often.

Craig Gillespie on directing I, Tonya

By Iain Blair

If you haven’t seen I, Tonya, the latest dark comedy from Aussie director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), get your skates on and rush over to the nearest cineplex for a real treat.

This festival fave, which is deservedly getting a lot of awards attention (it just earned three Golden Globe noms and a host of others), is based on the unbelievable but true events surrounding infamous American figure skater Tonya Harding and one of the most sensational scandals in sports history. Though Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition, her legacy was forever tarnished by her association with an infamous, ill-conceived and even more poorly executed attack on fellow Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Craig Gillespie on set with Margot Robbie.

Featuring an iconic turn by Margot Robbie as the fiery Harding, a mustachioed Sebastian Stan as her impetuous ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and a tour de force performance from Allison Janney as her acid-tongued mother, the film is a piercing portrayal of Harding’s life and career in all of its unchecked –– and checkered –– glory.

Gillespie, who worked as an award-winning commercial director for 15 years before making his feature debut with 2007’s Mr. Woodcock, and whose credits include Million Dollar Arm and Fright Night, once again uses his irreverent, offbeat comedy sense to dramatize a cautionary tale about talent, ambition, celebrity, class, bad perms and domestic abuse — all stuffed with larger-than-life characters and wacky, unreliable narrators.

I recently talked with Gillespie about making the film and the surrounding awards buzz.

What was the appeal of this story for you? It seems like the perfect fit for your sensibility.
You’re right. The script by Steven Rogers, who did Stepmom, was just amazing. It felt like the most “me” project since Lars. In some ways it’s even more me, with so much dark humor in the script. And when I heard Margot was attached, I was really intrigued as she has the range to do all the comedy and drama. It was bizarre to read the script, because it was so tight and read like it was already edited, with all the scenes lined up.

Did it change much?
The main change was giving myself freedom editorially. The script had a very unconventional approach, and originally there was a lot more of the talking heads. I sat down with my DP (Nicolas Karakatsanis) and figured out how we could take every opportunity to shoot those scenes without the talking heads, so we could use voiceover and music instead to give it more energy. I designed specific camera moves so we could carry voiceover or music going into those scenes, or possibly leaving them.

There’s a lot of comedy, but also some very serious stuff, like the domestic abuse and battery. That must have also been a bit of a tightrope to walk?
It was. In terms of dealing with the tone, it was one of the biggest challenges, and I didn’t want to judge the characters or just make fun of them, which would have been too easy. There’s comedy, but you also see that, with the domestic violence, Tonya’s kind of immune to it. She’s desensitized to it, and I felt that that also gave more insight into her character. I also shot those scenes both ways too, so I had a choice in the editing. And then it changes to Jeff’s point-of-view, and he breaks the fourth wall about half-way through the movie, so there was a lot to work with in the edit.

I would have never thought of Margot Robbie as Tonya. What did she bring to the role?
Everything. It’s such a tightrope to walk in terms of the tone, and she ages from 15 to 46, so there are all the different ages and scenes that are absurdly dark and funny, and scenes that are incredibly emotional. It was the whole kitchen sink, but I knew that Margot could navigate that tricky dance between the humor and the drama, and also keep it grounded and not wink at the audience, and she’s brilliant in the role.

How much skating did she do?
A lot. She trained so hard for five months, four days a week, and it was hard as she’d never figure skated before. In the end, she did a lot of the skating and then for the really difficult moves we used VFX to enhance them. I actually had no idea the huge amount of prep she did, studying every bit of footage out there to get her speech patterns and mannerisms, down to the different ages and the way she sounded at those different ages, and doing scenes with no make-up and bad hair and so on. There was nothing she wasn’t up for. We both met Tonya in person, so that helped too.

Allison Janney is equally phenomenal.
Steve actually wrote the role for her. She’s so ferocious and fearless when you consider some of her dialogue is so vile. There were days when she’d say, “Do I have to say the ‘c’ word again?” And I’d say, “Yeah, you do.” But she delivered it all in a way where you still like her.

I heard it was a very fast shoot. How tough was it?
Very. We did it in just 31 days, and the original script had 265 scenes, and we then added a few. It’s probably the fastest, most intense schedule I’ve ever had, but I was so lucky in that my cast was so well-prepared.

Do you like post?
I really love it. It’s the most fun part of the whole filmmaking process for me, and I love the first few weeks where you’re editing and finding the film and then the pace and tone and rhythm and so on. It’s the most creative part for me.

Where did you do the post?
We did it all at Harbor Post in New York.

The film was edited by your long-time editor Tatiana Riegel. What were the biggest editing challenges?
We cut for five or six months, and finding the right tone was key. But we’re so in tune that there are scenes I never touched after her first assembly. The scene between Tonya and her mother in the diner? I never changed anything, as she has such an instinctive balance of tone. We have an amazing shorthand now. I actually thought it might be a quite complicated edit, as the story jumps around so much, but we’d planned it all out so much that I did my first cut in under a month after we wrapped.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
We had about 120, mainly for the skating sequences, and Eight VFX did them all. I’ve used them a lot on my commercials, and they always have my back, and we had a very tight budget. We got lucky as our Steadicam operator could skate, but then we had to add in crowds to all the great shots, and we had about 60 stage replacements where we shot on bluescreen, so we ended up doubling the amount of VFX shots we needed.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
They’re crucial, and this is the first time I’ve posted a movie with a lot of stuff already in mind. I usually figure it out as I go in post. The closest things I could find in terms of structure were To Die For and Goodfellas, which goes through a lot of scenes very quickly — especially in the first half — with just voiceover and music. I designed a lot of shots around the music, such as “Devil Woman” and Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4,” and it was a really fun way to work. We mixed at Harbor.

The film has a great look. Talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Company 3 in New York with colorist Tom Poole. We shot on film, and Tom and the DP worked on it for a while and then I came in, and I love the look.

What’s next?
I’m looking for the right project. There’s nothing lined up.

Do you plan to keep shooting commercials?
Definitely. It’s a nice luxury to have because it’s something you can just jump into it for a short project. And you get to work with some of the greatest DPs in the whole business and try out different gear and experiment, and then bring that to the next movie. So I’ll keep doing both.


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.

Joe Wright on directing Darkest Hour

By Iain Blair

Maybe it’s something in the water, but Dunkirk and Winston Churchill seem to be popping up everywhere these days. While the British statesman and prime minister merely hovered unseen in the background of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk epic, he’s front-and-center in Joe Wright’s aptly titled Darkest Hour, which was nominated for Best Picture.

Starring Academy Award-nominee and BAFTA Award-winner Gary Oldman as Churchill, it tells the story of his first weeks in office during the fraught early days of World War II. A witty and brilliant statesman, Churchill is a stalwart member of Parliament, but at age 65 is an unlikely candidate for prime minister. However, the situation in Europe is desperate, with allied nations continuing to fall against Nazi troops and with the entire British army stranded in France at Dunkirk. (Oldman got an Oscar nod for Best Actor for his role as Churchill.)

Writer Iain Blair and director Joe Wright.

He’s appointed PM as the threat of invasion of the UK by Hitler’s forces looms, only to find his own party is plotting against him and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) skeptical that the new prime minister can rise to the challenge. He is confronted with the ultimate choice: negotiate a peace treaty with Nazi Germany and save the British people at a terrible cost, or fight on against incredible odds.

With the support of his wife of 31 years, Clemmie (Kristin Scott Thomas), Churchill looks to the British people to inspire him to stand firm and fight for his nation’s ideals, liberty and freedom. Putting his power with words to the ultimate test, and with the help of his tireless secretary (Lily James), Winston must write and deliver speeches that will rally a nation as he attempts to change the course of world history forever.

Working from a script by Anthony McCarten, Wright also assembled a stellar below-the-line team that included DP Bruno Delbonnel, editor Valerio Bonelli and composer Dario Marianelli.

Wright first grabbed Hollywood’s attention with his debut film, 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, which won a raft of awards and four Oscar nominations. He followed that up with the Oscar-winning war drama Atonement, and in 2012 reunited with his Atonement star Kiera Knightley to remake Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s classic tale of love and betrayal.

Now, the master of period pieces, whose credits include The Soloist, Pan and Hanna, is getting a lot of awards and Oscar buzz for Focus Features’ Darkest Hour, and Oldman looks like a lock for an Oscar nomination.

I met up with Wright to discuss making the film.

This is definitely not your usual biopic. It’s a real political thriller, but also a character study.
Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to make. I didn’t realize there were so many Churchill projects going on in both movies and TV, and I wasn’t interested in trying to cover his whole life. This is a very concentrated slice about a pivotal moment in his life — and in history.When I first read the script, it was such a page-turner, full of all this drama and emotion, highs and lows.

First off, he was this complete English eccentric who’d hold meetings while taking a bath, or in his bed, and he’d drink whisky and scotch at lunch and discuss matters of state in his nightshirt… that’s an appealing character. I think he was also a bit of a genius. I say “bit of,” because he also got a lot wrong in his life and career, such as Gallipoli. But when it really counted the most — the resistance to Hitler, tyranny, bigotry and Nazism — he got it exactly right.

Casting the right actor as Churchill was obviously crucial, but what made you choose Gary Oldman — who looks nothing like him?
I’ve always been a huge fan of his — he’s the man — but for this role I wanted an actor with the right level of intensity.  I saw Churchill as almost bi-polar, with all this energy both in thought and action that led him to brilliance, but that also sometimes led him to disastrous and reckless acts. Gary has that kind of energy, which is impossible to fake. You can do all the rest — prosthetics and make-up and body suits, but the essence is what’s most important.

What were the main challenges of the shoot?
It wasn’t a big shoot though it’s got a big scale and deals with epic themes. It wasn’t a micro-budget, but it was tight, so a main challenge was how to deliver a movie that feels truly epic with very limited resources. It’s a very dialogue-heavy film, and with a lot of scenes — including a 10-minute one with people sitting around a table talking — so we had to find a way to make all that very dramatic and as suspenseful as possible.

Fair to say your visual approach on this marries a lot of cutting-edge camera moves to a very classical style?
I think that’s right. I kind of like classicism, and I strive to achieve what might be called “modern classicism,” and I also use a lot of sweeping and unusual camera moves at the same time. Because so much is set in the underground bunkers, whenever we left I wanted to give it a lot more scope and scale, so we designed a lot of shots with that in mind. As I read the script, I envisaged it, and then I spent many, many hours lying on the sofa, listening to music and thinking about what I might do. That’s when I dreamed up those sequences. And we started with all the VFX and post from day one. It all happened together.

Do you like the post process?
Love it, and it’s probably my favorite part, though I like the whole filmmaking process. There are times when post can be very frustrating, but that’s also true of shooting.

Where did you do the post?
All in London. I cut it at my house, and it was set up in such a way that I could do most of the post there, which was great.  Craig Berkey, the supervising sound editor — did my first film and every one since — does most of his cutting and work at home in Canada, and then he came over, and we did all the mixing at Halo Post in London.

Then we did the DI at Technicolor in London, with colorist Peter Doyle, who has a very subtle hand and eye, and he does a lot of my stuff. I really enjoy that process so much as well. Back in the ‘90s in London, everyone was doing music videos, and we all used to spend long nights in telecine smearing stuff all over the film and trying to experiment with all sorts of looks. So it’s always been very important to me, and exciting, and I’m pretty involved.

The film was edited by Valerio Bonelli, who worked with you on Black Mirror, and whose credits include Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins for Stephen Frears. How did that relationship work?
Black Mirror was a good opportunity to try someone new. I loved working with him, and that rolled straight into this. He was on location with us up in Yorkshire at the house we used, and we set a cutting room up there. After shooting every day, I’d come back, we’d watch dailies and discuss the edit. The edit took about six months, and for the first time —  I’d committed to directing a play — I took a six-week hiatus and found it to be very helpful with the edit. I didn’t watch it once during that time, so it was abundantly clear where I was being indulgent when I came back to it with fresh eyes. I plan to take a break like that during editing from now on, it was so helpful.

What about visual effects shots in the film. How many are there?
We had about 60, and Framestore did them all. I really like working with VFX as they’re such a useful tool, a means to an end. But when they become the end, then you have a big problem.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound to you as a filmmaker?
For me it’s half of the experience. I sent the composer the script prior to shooting and we talked about my ideas. I wanted something quite minimalist, which was unusual for him as he’s more in the lush, romantic tradition. I also sent him a photo of Gary as Churchill walking, to show him the energy. He wrote a piece based on that photo, and did a fantastic score.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped it would?
You always have a picture of it in your head and it’s always different from the way you originally pictured it, but I’m very happy with it.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Kevin Tent, ACE, on directorial debut Crash Pad and editing Downsizing

By Randi Altman

To say that Kevin Tent, ACE, is a prolific editor is in no way hyperbole. He has cut some of the most celebrated films of the last few years as a frequent collaborator of director Alexander Payne. They worked together on seven films, including Paramount’s upcoming Downsizing, as well as About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants and Nebraska (for which Tent earned an Oscar nom). Other editing credits include Blow, Girl Interrupted and The Golden Compass.

Not long ago, Tent left his dark editing room to step behind the camera for his directorial debut — the indie comedy Crash Pad, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Thomas Hayden Church, Christina Applegate and Nina Dobrev. Not too shabby a cast. Oh, and it’s funny. Even when not laughing, I found myself smiling.

Kevin Tent (left) on set.

While Tent isn’t going to shut down his Avid Media Composer anytime soon, he did enjoy the challenge and experience of taking the helm of a film. Crash Pad had a run of about a half dozen film festivals, was in theaters for a limited release and is available for digital rental. It comes out on DVD December 5, just in time to be a stocking stuffer.

Ok, let’s dig in with Tent, first about Crash Pad and then about editing Alexander Payne’s latest, Downsizing, starring Matt Damon, Kristin Wiig and Christoph Waltz, among othersOh, and when you are done with this piece, check out our interview with Tent about cutting Nebraska.

Is directing something you always wanted to do, and how did you decide on this film to direct?
It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a few years, but I’ve been so busy editing that I put it on the back burner. Finally, I just decided if I was going to try to do it, I should do it sooner than later, because I’m not getting any younger (laughs). I looked around for a comedy script, and I found Jeremy Catalino’s Crash Pad, which was really funny and kind of a backwards-romantic comedy. It took us a few years, but we finally got it made.

Why that long?
I’d be editing a film and that would take nine months or so, and then I’d have a month off, and think, “Oh, now I’ll try to get this movie made,” but it doesn’t work that way. It takes a long, concerted effort. When Downsizing got pushed for a year to wait for Matt Damon’s availability I thought… this was my chance. I was fortunate enough to get Bill Horberg on as a producer, and once that happened he got the ball rolling.

You have a pretty fantastic cast, including Thomas Hayden Church, who was in Sideways, which you edited. How did all of that come about?
The first character we wanted to cast was Stensland, and we were so lucky because we really wanted Domhnall Gleeson. He hadn’t done very many comedies but I had seen him in About Time and thought he’d be great. Lucky for us he said yes. Once he joined us, then we had to get the character of Grady. Because I knew Thomas from Sideways, he did us a favor and joined the team. He and Domhnall got along great; their chemistry worked both on screen and off-screen.

Then fortunately the beautiful and talented Nina Dobrev, who was looking to do something comedic, joined us. The last person to join was Christina Applegate. We were incredibly lucky to get this great cast on a very small movie, and for a first-time director.

What did you shoot on?
We used an Arri Alexa with old Panavision anamorphic “B” and “D” series lenses. Seamus Tierney our DP was so excited about our camera package. He promised the film would look great and beautiful, and he was right. I think the Alexa worked really well with our 23-day schedule, and how fast we had to move.

As you were directing, were you able to take off your editor’s cap, or were you editing in your head during the shoot?
I did know I needed to get coverage, and I was always thinking, “If this scene is terrible or doesn’t work, I can cut out there, or come in here.” Editors are good at figuring a way out of something if you’re in a jam. There was comfort in knowing if this scene doesn’t work at all, we’ll figure out some way around it.

Franco Ponte was my editor, and he was editing scenes and the movie while we were shooting. He was phenomenal.

L-R: Kevin Tent and Crash Pad editor Franco Ponte.

Did you learn how to direct by editing?
It didn’t really work that way. Directing requires a bunch of different skill sets — I was amazed at how different and difficult it was, how much I didn’t know and how much I learned. If I ever get a chance to do it again, I think I would be much better at it.

The film set is all pretty hectic. A cutting room is nice and quiet. You’ve got your footage, and you watch a take a number of times and then make your decisions. On the set, there’s a sort of controlled mayhem. You do a take, and then 20 people turn around and ask, “Well, what do you think? Good?” And you’re like, “I have no idea. I’m not quite sure, let’s go again.” It’s all-pretty crazy.

It must have been a little intimidating for your editor, Franco Ponte. How did you choose him, and how did that relationship work?
He was my assistant editor more than 10 years ago on a film I did up in Canada, and he has since become an editor. He’s very smart, articulate and was always very supportive. We approached the film in a traditional way. He did an assembly and then we started recutting scenes and the whole movie. I did a little cutting on my own; we would trade scenes back and forth till we were both happy with them.

He did some of my favorite cuts in the movie — things that I would have never thought of. I was very lucky to have him.

How did you work together to enhance the comedy with the edit?
It was always my intent — and I told the actors, too — to think of it as a kind of 1940’s screwball comedy. Comedies back then were not only smart and well written but also seemed loose and free. Never taking themselves too seriously. We cut it that way, too. The pace is pretty quick. There’s not a lot of air between jokes; we didn’t wait for laughs. We just kept cutting to the next line or joke.

What about the DI? How involved were you in that part of the process?
I was involved. It was done up at Encore in Vancouver. Our colorist was Thor Roos who did a terrific job. Seamus got to chime in and make adjustments from down here in LA. He’s always so busy shooting, but we were able to get him for an afternoon.

What kind of directive did you give to Seamus, initially, and to those working on the DI in terms of the look?
We wanted it to look rich, colorful and poppy. That was something we had talked about in pre-production since a lot of it takes place in a dingy apartment. So whenever given the chance — when we were outside or in a club or someplace — we tried to give it some visual dynamics with color and that kind of thing. I think it looks pretty good, especially considering our short shooting schedule.

It almost felt like it was taking place in a different time.
I’ve heard that before. I actually think the reason for that, possibly, is because ofthe lenses we used. Those are old and very cool lenses, so maybe they added more to the quality of it feeling dated. That wasn’t our intent, but it didn’t seem to hurt!

What was your favorite part of directing?
Watching a scene with an audience and hearing them laugh. That’s when you know it all worked. It was also a lot of fun to be on the set with the actors and the crew. Thomas and Domhnall had the crew laughing all the time. It was really hard, but it was really great to work closely with these people who came in and kicked ass for a couple of weeks on this movie.

You have such a great relationship with Alexander Payne, did you ask him for any directing tips?
He’s the best. He was so supportive, and it wasn’t so much the technical stuff, like, “Don’t forget to do this or that.” He never really said too much about that, but he always wanted to see how the days were going. It was great to know that some of the things he goes through I was going through as well, and that I wasn’t alone. That was really comforting. He was always there for me, and, of course, he was there looking at cuts and stuff like that.

Will you try it again?
I would try it again if I could find the right project, because it is a huge commitment. It’s going to take a couple of years of your life, and you’ve got to make sure that’s something you really want to do. I’m starting to think about it now that Crash Pad is running its course and coming out.

CUTTING DOWNSIZING
Let’s switch gears and talk about editing Downsizing for Alexander Payne.

This is your seventh film with Alexander. How does that relationship work, and do you typically keep up with camera?
Yes, I was cutting as they were shooting. I also had an overlap while finishing Crash Pad, so Joe Bini helped with assembling some of the movie. But our typical process now is that when Alexander comes back from shooting we basically start from scratch on the movie. We watch dailies together and do a first-pass director’s cut. Then, we’ll go back and look at things from my first assembly and compare the cuts.

That’s basically how we have been working since the end of About Schmidt, where he didn’t really want to watch an editor’s assembly. He wanted to just start cutting.

What are the benefits of that? Just a clean slate kind of thing?
Yes, it’s a clean slate, and it’s also a long enough period of time where he has some perspective on the footage and he remembers what they shot on the set. He remembers what he liked then, but he likes to look at it all again fresh. Our first pass together is almost like an editor’s assembly, but it’s a really good one.

Also, we get right in that stage where we start dropping lines, we start talking about maybe we should move this here, or we should come into the scene at this point. We start talking about what we’ll do on future passes of the movie as well.

This process takes a little more time, but Alexander is established enough where he can get a few extra weeks on his director’s cut if he needs it. We take it from there, and then we get into the real nitty-gritty of editing. It’s slightly unorthodox compared to how other people cut, but that’s how we’ve been doing it for the last few years.

Well, it seems to have worked.
Yeah, I think our first cuts are pretty good. Even if the first cut’s not great, we already know what we’re going to do on subsequent passes.

I’m assuming you worked with Media Composer on this one as well?
We did. Don’t leave home without it is what I always say.

Do any scenes stand out as your favorite?
There is a big sequence where the downsizing happens, and that is one of my favorites. It’s choreographed beautifully. The acting is great. The photography is great. The production design is great. It cuts like butter. We originally cut it to Bolero, which was in the movie until the very end, and it worked great. The long, long build-up climaxed at the reveal of the downsized patients. Composer Rolfe Kent’s greatest challenge was to beat Bolero, and he did. He totally nailed it.

I also love the scene with Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. We called it “The Tiny House” scene while in the cutting room. Those two are terrific in it.

Anything else about Downsizing that you would like to add?
I think it’s a pretty wild and crazy movie, funny, unexpected and original. Alexander really pushed himself to make something different, unique and unusual. but, it still has the same themes and sentiment that a lot of his other movies have. I think it asks us – what are we doing here on this planet? What does it mean to be human? What is this human experience all about? And it does all this through humor and pathos. It really is an Alexander Payne movie in the end.

I hope that people see Downsizing and they like it. I hope that people see Crash Pad and they like it. I think … it’s all I could hope for.

The A-List: Victoria & Abdul director Stephen Frears

By Iain Blair

Much like the royal subjects of his new film Victoria & Abdul and his 2006 offering, The Queen (which won him his second Oscar nomination), British director Stephen Frears has long been considered a national treasure. Of course, the truth is that he’s an international treasure.

The director, now 76 years old, has had a long and prolific career that spans some five decades and that has embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules. He made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career.

Stephen Frears with writer Iain Blair.

In the mid-1980s, Frears turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, which starred Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career.

Since then, he’s made big Hollywood studio pictures, such as the Oscar-nominated Florence Foster Jenkins, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, as well as Mary Reilly and Hero. But he’s probably as well-known for smaller, grittier vehicles, such as the Oscar-nominated Philomena, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Cheri, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity, Prick Up Your Ears and Snapper, films that provided a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience.

His latest film, Victoria & Abdul, is a drama (spiced with a good dash of comedy) about the unlikely but real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Muslim Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

I recently spoke with Frears about making the film, which is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz, especially for Dench.

This seems to be a very timely film, with its race relations, and religious and class issues. Was that part of its appeal?
Absolutely. When I read it I immediately thought it was quite provocative and a very interesting story, and I always look for interesting stories, and the whole relationship was part of the fun. I thought it was a brilliant script, and it’s got so much going on – the personal story about them, all the politics and global stuff about the British Empire.

You’ve worked with Judi Dench before, but she had already portrayed Victoria in Mrs. Brown back in 1997. Did you have to twist her arm to revisit the character?
I said I’d only make this with her, as she’s a brilliant actress and she looks a bit like Victoria, but I think initially she passed. I’m actually not quite sure since I never had a conversation with her about it. What happened was, we organized a reading and she came to that and listened to it, and then she was on board.

What did she bring to the role?
Complete believability. You absolutely believe in her as Victoria. She can do all that, playing the most powerful woman in the world, and then she was also human, which is why she was so fond of Abdul. It’s the same as directing someone like Meryl Streep. She’s just so skillful and so intelligent, and their sense of their role and its direction is very, very strong, and they’re so skilled at telling the story.

This doesn’t look like your usual heavy, gloomy Victorian period piece. How did you approach this visually?
I have a wonderful production designer, Alan MacDonald, who has worked with me on many films, including Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Queen. And we shot this with DP Danny Cohen, who is so inventive. From the start we wanted it to feel period but do it in a more modern way in order to get away from that lugubrious feeling and the heavy Victoriana. When we got to Osborne House, which was her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, it’s anything but heavy and lugubrious. It’s this light and airy villa.

Fair to say the film starts dark and gets lighter in tone and color as it goes on — while the story starts lighter and more comical, and gets darker as it goes along?
Yes, because at the start she’s depressed, she’s dressed all in black, and then it’s like Cinderella, and she’s woken up… by Abdul’s kiss on her feet.

Did that really happen?
Yes, I think it did, and I think both servants kissed her feet — but it wasn’t under a table full of jellies (laughs).

You shot all over England, Scotland and India in many of the original locations. It must have been a challenge mixing all the locations with sets?
It was. The big coup was shooting in Osborne House, which no one has ever done before. That was a big thrill but also a relief. England is full of enormous country homes, so you just go down the list finding the best ones. I’ve done Balmoral twice now, so I know how you do it, and Windsor Castle, which is Gothic. But of course, they’re not decorated in the Victorian manner, so we had to dress all the rooms appropriately. Then you mix all the sets and locations, like putting a big puzzle together.

How was shooting in India?
We shot in Agra, by the Taj Mahal. The original statue of Victoria there was taken down after independence, but we were allowed to make a copy and put it back up.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was about five months, all in London, and we cut it at Goldcrest where I’ve done all the post work on my last few films. Philomena was not done there. It all depends on the budget.

Do you like the post process?
I love being on location and I enjoy shooting, but it’s always hard and full of problems. Post is so calm by comparison, and so different from all the money and time pressures and chaos of the shoot. It’s far more analytic and methodical, and it’s when you discover the good choices you made as well as your mistakes. It’s where you actually make your film with all the raw elements you’ve amassed along the way.

You worked with a new editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, who cut Les Mis and The Danish Girl for director Tom Hooper and Anna Karenina for director Joe Wright. How did that relationship work?
She wasn’t on set, but we talked every day about it, and she became the main conduit for it all, like all editors. She’s the person you’re talking to all the time, and we spent about three months editing. The main challenge was trying to find the right tone and the balance between all the comedy, jokes and the subtext — what was really going on. We went in knowing it would be very comedic at the start, and then it gets very serious and emotional by the end.

Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?
I always use the same team. Union VFX did them all, and Adam Gascoyne, who did Florence Foster Jenkins and Philomena with me, was the VFX supervisor. The big VFX shots were of all the ships crossing the ocean, and a brilliant one of Florence. And as it’s a period piece, there’s always a lot of adding stuff and clean up, and we probably had several hundred VFX shots or so in the end, but I never know just how many.

Iain Blair and Judi Dench

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both hugely important, even though I don’t really know much about music or sound mixing and just depend on my team, which includes supervising sound editor Becki Ponting. We mixed all the music by Thomas Newman at Abbey Road, and then we did the final mix at Twickenham Studios. The thing with composers like Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat who did The Queen and Florence is that they read me really well. When Alexandre was hired to score The Queen, they asked him to write a very romantic score, and he said, “No, no, I know Stephen’s films. They’re witty, so I’ll write you a witty score,” and it was perfect and won him an Oscar nomination. Same with this. Tom read it very, very well.

Did you do a DI?
Yes, at Goldcrest as usual, with Danny and colorist Adam Glasman. They’re very clever, and I’m not really involved. Danny does it. He gets me in and shows me stuff but I just don’t pretend to be technically clever enough about the DI as mine is a layman’s approach to it, so they do all the work and show me everything, and then I give any suggestions I might have. The trick with any of this is to surround yourself with the best technicians and the best actors, tell them what you want, and let them do their jobs.

Having made this film, what do you think about Victoria now?
I think she was far more humane than is usually shown. I never really studied her at school, but there was this enduring image of an old battleaxe, and I think she was far more complex than that image. She learned Urdu from Abdul. That tells you a lot.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Updating the long-running Ford F-150 campaign

Giving a decade-long very successful campaign a bit of a goose presents unique challenges, including maintaining tone and creative continuity while bringing a fresh perspective. To help with the launch of the new 2018 Ford F-150, Big Block director Paul Trillo brought all of his tools to the table, offering an innovative spin to the campaign.

Big Block worked closely with agency GTB, from development to previz, live-action, design, editorial, all the way through color and finish.

Trillo wanted to maintain the tone and voice of the original campaign while adding a distinct technical style and energy. Dynamic camera movement and quick editing helped bring new vitality to the “Built Ford Tough” concept.

Technically challenging camera moves help guide the audience through distinct moments. While previous spots relied largely on motion graphics, Trillo’s used custom camera rigs on real locations.

Typography remained a core of the spots, all underscored by an array of stop-motion, hyperlapse, dolly zooms, drone footage, camera flips, motion control and match frames.

We reached out to Big Block’s Paul and VFX supervisor John Cherniack to find out more…

How early did Big Block get involved in this F-150 campaign?
We worked with Detroit agency GTB starting in May 2017.

How much creative input did you have on the campaign? In terms of both original concept and execution?
Trillo: What was so original about this pitch was that they gave us a blank canvas and VO script to work with, and that’s it. I was building off a campaign that had been running for nearly 10 years and I knew what the creatives were looking for in terms of some sort of kinetic, constantly transitioning energy. However, it was essentially up to me to design each moment of the spot and how we get from A to B to C.

Typically, car commercials can be pretty prescriptive and sensitive to how the car is depicted. This campaign functions a lot differently than your typical car commercial. There was a laundry list of techniques, concepts, tricks and toys I’ve wanted to implement, so we seized the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at this. Then, by breaking down the script and pairing it with the different tricks I wanted to try out, I sort of formed the piece. It was through the development of the scripts, boards and animatics that certain ideas fell to the wayside and the best rose to the top.

Cherniack: Paul had some great ideas from the very beginning, and the whole team got to help contribute to the brainstorming. We took the best ideas and started to put them all together in a previz to see which ones would stitch together seamlessly.

Paul, Justin Trask (production designer) and I all spent a very long together going through each board and shot, determining which elements we could build, and what we would make in CG. As much as we wanted to build a giant gantry to raise the bar, some elements were cost-prohibitive. This is where we were able to get creative on what we would be able to achieve between practical and CG elements.

How much creative input did you have on set?
Trillo: The only creative decisions we were let to make on set were coming up with creative solutions for logistical challenges. We’d done all the pre-production work, mapping out the camera moves and transitions down to the frame, so the heavy lifting was finished. Of course, you always look to make it better on set and find the right energy in the moment, but that’s all icing.

Cherniack: By the time we started shooting, we had gone through a good amount of planning, and I had a good feeling about everything that Paul was trying to achieve. One area that we both worked together on set was to get the most creative shot, while also maintaining our plans for combining the shots in post.

What challenges did you face?
Trillo: I think I have a sort of addictive personality when it comes to logistical and creative challenges. Before this thing was fully locked in, before we had any storyboards or a single location, I knew what I had written out was going to be super challenging if not impossible. Especially because I wanted to shot as much as we could practically. However, what you write down on a piece of paper and what you animate in a 3D environment doesn’t always align with the physics of the real world. Each shot provided its own unique challenge, whether it’s an art department build or deciding which type of camera rig to use to move the camera in an unusual way. Fortunately, I had a top-notch crew both in camera (DP Dan Mindel) and production design (Justin Trask) that there were always a couple ways to solve each problem.

Cherniack: In order to have all of the measurements, HDRI, set surveys and reference photography, I had to always be on the move, while being close enough should any VFX questions come up. Doing this in 110+ degree heat, in the quarry, during three of the hottest days of the summer was quite a challenge. We also had very little control of lake currents, and had to modify the way we shot the boat scene in Brainiac on the fly. We had a great crew who was able to change directions quickly.

What was your favorite part of working on this campaign? What aspect are you most proud of?
Trillo: It was pretty spectacular to see each of these pieces evolve from chicken scratch into a fully-realized image. There was little creative compromise in that entire process. But I have to say I think I’m proudest of dropping 400lbs of french fries out of a shipping container.

Any major differences between automotive campaigns and ads for other industries?
The main difference is there aren’t any rules here. The only thing you need to keep in mind when doing this campaign is stay true to the F-150’s brand and ethos. As long as you remain true to the spirit, there are no other guidelines to follow in terms of how a car commercial needs to function. What appeals to me about this campaign is it combines a few of my interests of design, technical camera work and a dash of humor.

What tools did you use?
Cherniack: We used the software Maya, 3ds Max, Nuke, Flame, PFTrack for post-production.

Mother! director Darren Aronofsky

By Iain Blair

Writer/director/producer Darren Aronofsky made a big splash when his debut feature Pi won the prestigious Director’s Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival. He then quickly followed that up with 2000’s acclaimed drama Requiem for a Dream.

But his hot streak and momentum came to a screeching halt in 2002 when Brad Pitt dropped out of his expensive and ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain just weeks before shooting was due to start. Aronofsky scrambled to completely rewrite and retool The Fountain, this time starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz.

Since then, Aronofsky has regained his momentum and continued to make visually audacious films as 2008’s The Wrestler, 2010’s Black Swan (he got a directing Oscar nom, and star Natalie Portman took home the gold) and 2014’s Noah.

His latest film, Mother!, is another hard-to-categorize film — part horror story, part comedy, part fable, part psychological thriller — that stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a married couple whose relationship is severely tested when uninvited guests suddenly arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence and ultimately turning it into a literal war zone.

I recently talked to Aronofsky about making the film, and why he ditched the score.

This isn’t just a horror film. What sort of film did you set out to make?
After Black Swan I wanted to return to the horror genre, and I felt the home invasion genre hadn’t been used well in a while — and we can all relate to having house guests that overstay their welcome. So I felt that was a great starting point, and I also wanted to deal with larger issues — the planet we all live on, as guests in a sense. But I’m not really a genre filmmaker. For me, Pi was a thriller at its core, but I added lots of stuff and it became something else. I think I always do that. When I pitched Black Swan they felt it wasn’t enough of a ballet movie or horror film. It didn’t fit into any one genre. I just do what I think is cool and interesting, and then I start adding stuff.

How tough was it walking the tonal tightrope between the beginning comedy and the increasingly dark, serious nature of the film?
It was tricky, but I think I was just truthful to what I’d written, and the intent of the characters does not change. They’re all very bad guests, and the level of the badness is what shifts, and the pitch changes. It’s like speeding up an old vinyl record — it just gets crazier and crazier, and more and more intense.

What were the main technical challenges of making this?
Technically, it was one of the hardest things me and my team have ever tried to do, because the last 25 minutes — the fever dream — were so demanding to choreograph and to maintain that nightmare fever-pitch for that long and have it build and build needed every department to work together in perfect sync.

The house is like another character. How did you deal with that?
It was vital to me that the film felt realistic and grounded for the first half, at least. I don’t think we could have pulled that off just shooting it on a stage, and we couldn’t find a real house that worked, so we went to great expense and effort to actually build the house up in Montreal where we shot. We actually built the house twice — the first time with just the first floor out in this beautiful field, which allowed us to do all the daylight sequences in natural light, and we shot those all in order. Then we built the full three-story house in a soundstage in Montreal for all the interior and night sequences, and as the house is like another character that morphs and changes, it really had to be a real house with all the plumbing and wiring, so that when it starts coming apart, it feels very real.

Do you like the post process and where did you do all the post?
I love post, and we did it all in New York at Sixteen 19. This post was very difficult and it ended up being 53 weeks – by far the longest I’ve ever done.

You cut this film with editor Andrew Weisblum, who collaborated with you on Noah, The Wrestler and Black Swan, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. How did that relationship work?
Editing was very tricky, because I wanted to pull the audience into Jen’s experience and not give them a chance to breathe, so we shot the film exclusively from her point of view, with hardly any wide shots, which usually allow you to get out of any sticky situations. Basically, the film is either shot over her shoulder, on her face or at what she’s looking at. This gives you incredibly limited coverage to work with in the edit, and Andy was forced to work with that. He began in preproduction, and we did three months of rehearsal which DP Matty Libatique, who’s shot most of my films, shot as a test. We then cut it together so we were able to look at a 100-minute rough version and get a sense of the camera movements and placement and how it would all look and learn from it. That was very helpful.

One of the biggest shocks of the film is that there’s no music. Can you talk about that decision and the importance of the sound design in the film?
It was a shock to me too! I’d hired composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who’s done films like Arrival and The Theory of Everything, and he wrote a wonderful score, and we worked on it for five months, but it was really weird — every time we played it to picture, it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and we couldn’t figure out why. Then he said to me, “The score’s actually taking away from Jen’s performance, and pushing the film in another direction.” He was right. So we decided that the best score for the film was no score at all, which was pretty tough after all that work — and it scared the hell out of me, since I’ve always relied on music to be a major part of my films.

So I then turned to my longtime sound designer Craig Henighan and told him to just go for it, and that then became a huge part of the film. We actually kept some music cues all the way up to the mix stage, which we did at Warners, but ultimately realized we didn’t even need that because they suddenly stuck out.

Can you talk about the VFX, and working again with VFX supervisor Dan Schrecker.
Dan and I were roommates at college, and he’s done all my films. We had a huge number of shots — over 1,200, more than we had in Noah, although not so complex. We had a lot of different houses working on them, including ILM, Hybride, Raynault, and it was a mad rush at the end because the studio changed our release date, so we had to do two months of VFX work in just one month.

How important was the DI on this, and where did you do it?
At Company 3 with Tim Stipan who’s done all my films, and we worked very hard on the look to get this great, warm, lightly burnt butter look, so the DI was crucial.

Did it turn out the way you envisioned it?
It’s always a constant evolution, and the colors a film takes on constantly shift and change, depending on the cast and production design and so on, but I’m very happy with it.

All Photos: Niko Tavernise


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.

Agent of Sleep: The making of a spec commercial

By Jennifer Walden

Names like Jason Bourne and James Bond make one think “eternal sleep,” not just merely a “restful” one. That’s what makes director/producer/writer Stephen Vitale’s spec commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses so compelling. Like a mad scientist crossing a shark with a sheep, Vitale combines an energetic spy/action film aesthetic with the sleepy world of mattress advertising for Agent of Sleep.

Vitale originally pitched the idea to a different mattress brand. “That brand passed, and I decided they were silly to, so I made the spot that exists on spec and chose to use Tempur-Pedic as the featured brand instead. I hear Tempur-Pedic really enjoyed the spot.”

In Agent of Sleep, two assailants fight their way up a stairwell and into a sun-dappled apartment where their altercation eventually leads into a bedroom and onto a comfy (albeit naked) mattress. One assailant applies a choke hold to the other but his grip loosens as he falls fast asleep. The other assailant lies down beside the first and promptly falls asleep too.

LA-based Vitale drew inspiration from Bourne and Bond films. He referenced fight scenes from Haywire, John Wick and Mission Impossible too. “Mostly all of them have a version of the action sequence in Agent of Sleep — a visceral, intimate fight between spies/hired guns that ends with one of them getting choked out. It was about distilling this trope, dropping a viewer right into the middle of it to grab them and immediately establishing visuals that would tap into the familiarity they have with the setup.”

Once the spy/action foundation was in place, Vitale (who is pictured shooting in our main image) added tropes from mattress ads to his concept, like choosing a warmly lit, serene apartment and ending the spot with a couple lying comfortably on a bare mattress as a narrator shares product information. “The spies are bursting into what would be the typical setting for a mattress ad and they upend all of its elements. The visuals reflect that trajectory.”

To achieve the desired cinematic look, Vitale chose the Arri Alexa Mini with Cooke anamorphic lenses, and shot in a wide aspect ratio of 2:66 — wider than the normal cinemascope. “My cinematographer David Bolen and I felt like it gave the confined sets and the close-range fist fight a bigger scope and pushed the piece further away from the look of an ad.”

They shot in a practical location and dressed it to replicate the bedrooms shown in actual Tempur-Pedic product images. As for smashing through the bedroom wall, that wasn’t part of the plan but it did add to the believability of the fight. “That was an accidental alteration to the location,” jokes Vitale.

The handheld camera movement up front adds to the energy of the fight, and Vitale framed the shots to clearly show who is throwing the punch and how hard it landed. “I tried to design longer takes and find angles that created a dance between the camera and the amazing fight work from Yoshi Sudarso and Cory DeMeyers.”

In contrast, the spot ends with steady, smooth shots that exude a calm feeling. Vitale says, “We used a jib and sticks for the end shots because I wanted it to be as tranquil and still as possible to play up the joke.”

Production sound was captured with a Røde NTG-2 boom mic onto a Zoom H5 recorder. The vocalizations from the two spies on-set, i.e. their breaths and efforts, were all used in post. Vitale, who handled the sound design and final mix, says, “I would use alt audio takes and drop in grunts and impact reactions to shots that needed a boost. The main goal was that it felt kinetic throughout and that the fight sounded really visceral. A lot of punch sounds were layered with other sound effects to avoid them feeling canned, and I also did Foley for different moments in the spot to help fill it out and give it a more natural sound.”

The Post
Vitale also handled picture editing using Apple Final Cut Pro 7, which worked out perfectly for him. Editing the spot was pretty straightforward, since he had designed a solid plan for the shoot and didn’t need to cover extra shots and setups. “I usually only shoot what I know I will use,” he says. “The one shot I didn’t use was an insert of the glass the woman drops, shattering on the floor. So structurally, it was easy to find. The rest was about keeping cuts tight, making sure the longer takes didn’t drag and the quicker cuts were still clear and exciting to watch.”

Vitale worked with colorist Bryan Smaller, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. They agreed that fully committing to the action film aesthetic, by playing with contrast levels and grain to keep the image gritty and grounded was the best way of not letting the audience in on the joke until the end. “For the stairwell and hallway, we leaned into the green and orange hues of those respective locations. The apartment has a bit of a teal hue to it and has a much more organic feel, which again was to help transition the spies and the audience into the mattress ad world, so to speak,” explains Vitale.

The icing on the cake was composer Patrick Sullivan’s action film-style score. “He did a great job of bringing the audience into the action and creating tension and excitement. We’ve been friends since elementary school and played in a band together, so we can find what’s working and what’s not pretty quickly. He’s one of my most consistent collaborators, in various aspects of post production, and he always brings something special to the project.”


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer. Follow her at @audiojeney on Twitter.

Director Jon Barber joins Raucous Content

Hollywood-based production house Raucous Content has added trilingual director Jon Barber to its roster. Over the past decade, Barber has worked with agencies such as BBDO, Crispin Porter Bogusky, Leo Burnett, McCann Erikson, Mullen, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi, Sid Lee, Taxi and Y&R. He has directed spots for brands as varied as Burger King, BMW, Coke, Chobani, Doritos, FedEx, Mercedes, Timberland and McDonald’s, among others.

Barber fell in love with filmmaking as an Army brat based in Germany, where he spent much of his young adult life. Barber went on to study at the University of Vermont and the University of Salzburg in Austria before ending up in Los Angeles to gain production experience and kick-start his directing career.

In 2006, Barber relocated to Montreal and worked extensively throughout Canada, Europe and the US on everything from commercials to short films and music videos. Joining Raucous means Barber will call Los Angeles home.

Only a year old, Raucous Content has continued to grow its pool content creators. The Raucous directorial roster includes Ben Callner, Keith Ehrlich, Luis Gerard, Adam Gunser, Chris Hooper, Paul Iannachino, Vance Malone, Rob McElhenney, Matt Rainwaters, Daniel Strange and Matt Shakman, who recently helmed two episodes of Game of Thrones, including the bombastic Loot Train fight at the end of the episode “Spoils of War.”

Veteran director Michael Apted on his latest film, Unlocked

By Iain Blair

Acclaimed British director Michael Apted is that rarity in today’s cinema — an extraordinarily versatile filmmaker who is comfortable in any genre and equally at home making big-budget tent poles or micro-budget documentaries.

His movies range from Oscar- and Golden Globe-winning dramas (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist) to films dealing with medical ethics (Extreme Measures), corporate whistleblowers (Class Action) and matters of faith (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). He has also directed political thrillers (Gorky Park), spy thrillers (Enigma), comedies (Continental Divide), music documentaries (Sting’s Bring on the Night) and a blockbuster Bond movie (The World Is Not Enough).

(L-R) Writer Iain Blair and Michael Apted.

Apted even made a feature film and a documentary about the same event (Thunderheart and Incident at Oglala). He has also directed many TV projects, including Ray Donovan, Rome and Masters of Sex. That is one diverse resume.

In fact, the only constant in an eclectic career that stretches back to the 1960s is the “Up Series,” which he first worked on as a researcher back in 1964, and which he returns to every seven years like clockwork (56 Up came out in 2012).

His latest film, Unlocked, is a pulpy, fast-moving spy thriller which, like many of Apted’s films, stars a woman in the lead role — Noomi Rapace plays a CIA agent undercover in London and on a mission to save the city from biological terrorism. She’s joined by an all-star cast, including Michael Douglas as her handler, Orlando Bloom as her unlikely helper, John Malkovich as the CIA spy chief at Langley and Toni Collette as his MI5 counterpart.

I recently met with Apted to talk about his process on this film along with his long career and what’s next for him.

You’ve made a lot of thrillers. What’s the secret to a good one?
On a trivial level, you always need a good pace. Then you look for lots of twists and turns and a script that isn’t quite what it appears to be. This allows you to keep the audience unsettled and never comfortable. The element of surprise is key.

You’ve made a lot of films with women in the leads. What did Noomi bring to the role?
She was already on board before me, so the idea was to have a woman organically at the heart of it; we met and I thought she was perfect for this. I’ve made a lot of dramas with women, as I find their lives are fundamentally more dramatic than most men’s. They have to make major life choices — having kids, marriage, jobs and so on — and men don’t have the same pressures, at least not in thrillers.

Look at a remarkable woman like Gorillas’ Dian Fossey, who pretty much sacrificed her personal life and any chance of romance and children to do what she did. I find those situations very dramatic, while men tend to follow a more routine life. There’s always far more emotion with the women playing the lead in dramas and thrillers. While women can seem more vulnerable, they often overcome that and so there’s more at stake. That’s another key element to a good thriller or drama.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Pretty early, though this only has about 200 VFX shots, compared to the Bond film, where the VFX are the main piece of the pie, and Narnia that had close to 1,400 VFX shots. My early films, like Coal Miner’s Daughter, had no VFX at all, but now almost every movie has some.

Is it true you shot most of it in Prague? How did you make that work?
Yes, we could only shoot six days in London due to the budget, so the rest was Prague. The key to doing it was the Czech production designer, a very clever guy who told me, “When you choose your key locations in London, don’t use the familiar classic sights as I won’t be able to match them. But if you go more modern, I can probably match it far better.” So that’s what I did. I avoided all the well-known locations, and it worked out great.

Do you like the post process?
I do, a lot. It allows you to fix things. It’s the last draft of a film, and as long as you know what you’re doing while you shoot and what scenes you may be vulnerable in — so you have the necessary coverage — you can then play around with it in post. The more films you do, the more experience you have about what scenes are truly important and which ones are not as you shoot. You have to give each one a value, and the crucial ones are where you want to spend the most time and money, so you can then shape them in the edit.

Where did you post?
I worked with editor Andrew MacRitchie. We cut as we shot and then did the first cut and most of the post in London, including all the VFX at Lipsync. But we had a problem with the ending. From the very start of the edit we knew we’d have to reshoot the end, but we ran into more budget problems.

Ultimately, we reshot the end in Munich and did the final post at Arri Post there for about three weeks. It was a bit hair-raising since we had to ship all the final post elements we’d already done in London, like the music and mix, but they did a great job. Arri also did any needed adjustments to the VFX because of the changes. The big VFX sequence was the big football game at the end, which we shot in Prague, and then made it more like Wembley stadium in London.

Talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker.
It’s beyond important — it’s crucial. The composer, Stephen Barton, was very savvy about combining a real orchestra with computers and synths, so we could keep chopping and changing it and do rough scores as we felt our way through it all. All the sound design was done in London with some extra work at Arri Sound in Munich.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did most of it at Lipsync in London, and then went to Arri Post to re-grade and finish it off after the reshoot. The DI was key in getting the film’s overall look, a palette of cool grays and blues.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did. It’s got some nice twists and great characters, and once we figured out the right end, it came together really well I feel.

Michael Apted on set with Noomi Rapace.

What’s next?
I’m working on a film that we’re casting now. It’s a very emotional story about a father and son, set in Naples, about the son finding his long-lost father. I’ll be doing 63 Up at the end of next year, which will come out in spring 2019.

Do you think of yourself ultimately as a documentary filmmaker?
Yes, I think that’s true because I approach material and all my films in a documentary way. I remember when we did Coal Miner’s Daughter, I insisted on shooting it in the real locations with the local people in it. There’s only three professional actors in the whole film, so that was my documentary voice speaking.


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.

Brigsby Bear director Dave McCary

By Iain Blair

When Emmy-nominated writer and director Dave McCary, co-founder of the LA-based sketch comedy group Good Neighbor and in his fourth season at Saturday Night Live, decided to make his feature film debut, he picked the whimsical, heartfelt and charming comedy Brigsby Bear as the ideal project. It’s easy to see why. It has an imaginative, eccentric premise that ultimately pays off big time emotionally.

The story starts with a young man named James (SNL’s Kyle Mooney, who also co-wrote the script) who lives in an isolated desert bunker with his parents Ted and April (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams), who, we learn, kidnapped him when he was a baby. To keep James engaged, and to ensure he learns important life lessons, fake dad Ted creates a fake TV show just for James, called The Adventures of Brigsby Bear, which stars Ted in a fake bear suit.

Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary

Superfan James is obsessed with the clever if quaintly goofy kids’ show. After all, the bright, sensitive young adult still living at home has grown up with this fantasy series, and the program has grown with him as well — getting more complex over the years. But to say James’ intensely protective parents have kept their son a bit sheltered is a huge understatement, and reality inevitably invades their sanctuary.

One dramatic night, James’ insular world is upended when the police arrive and haul James and his “parents” off into the real one. After arresting Ted and April, a cop (Greg Kinnear) reunites James with his biological parents, and his new world and reality demands a major adjustment — especially when he realizes that his hero Brigsby Bear is pure fiction.

I recently talked to McCary, who began his career making shorts and then directing some 75 “digital shorts” over the last four years at SNL (along with countless YouTube clips with Mooney and the rest of the Good Neighbor sketch group), about making the film and his love of post.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
The most honest version of this very unique story. I wanted it to be emotional and sincere, and we knew that with a story like this, there’d be big comedic moments, but we never wanted to lean too much on them. We wanted audiences to stay with the earnestness of James and the film. So, more of a dramatic film than anything we’ve ever done.

Is it true you dropped out of film school and are largely self-taught?
I didn’t enjoy it very much and I did drop out; I had no interest in learning about all the minutia of every department. In terms of being self-taught, I guess I always felt it was more important to just do it while learning as you went, and making videos and shorts was kind of like my film school. So I learned a lot that way and by putting stuff on the Internet and having to deal with your vulnerability and people commenting on your stuff. And at SNL I’ve had a lot of experience with the shorts. So unlike a lot of first-time directors, I’ve been doing about three films’ worth of shorts.

Plus you have a bunch of very experienced directors and producers who worked on this.
Exactly, we had Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the Lego Movie guys who also did the 21 Jump Street and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs franchises, as well as the Lonely Island guys — Andy Samberg and the others — who did stuff like Dick in a Box at SNL, and they all mentored us through the whole process. They loved our vision and voice, and we always felt protected.

You have an amazing cast, including Claire Danes and Mark Hamill. Were you shocked they all came on board?
Not shocked, but very happy such big names wanted to be a part of it. I knew the script was so special, just on the page, because of the great writing, and I felt people would respond — and they did. Pretty much everyone we approached was very positive. Then doing SNL and dealing with big name guests helps you deal with it too. No one is coddled or put on a pedestal. It was fun and everyone stayed loose and knew exactly what our approach was.

You shot this on location in Salt Lake City. How tough was it?
It was just 23 days, so that was tough, and we were on a very tight budget. But we had five weeks of preproduction, and we were pretty organized.

Where did you post, and do you like the post process?
We did it all in New York at Light Iron since I was juggling SNL at the same time. I love post, going through all the material and shaping it, and I love working on all the sound and music in particular.

Can you talk about working for the first time with editor Jacob Craycroft, who’s cut over 20 films including Robert Altman’s swan song, A Prairie Home Companion. Was he on the set?
No, the turnaround was so crazy he began cutting scenes before we finished the shoot, so we sent him stuff and then we sat down together once I got back to New York for about four months. The big challenge was making sure we had the right tone throughout — which was crucial — and picking our spots for the comedy.

The goal was to keep the audience invested in James’ emotional journey, and every time you get too silly it takes away from the realism and the emotional aspects. It all had to be believable. I think the broad comedy version of this film just felt tired — the old fish-out-of-water comedy, so reliant on all the jokes. But I wanted this to be more a story about friendship, closure, nostalgia and falling in love with filmmaking.

Although it’s obviously not an effects-driven film, you must have needed some VFX?
Yes, and they were mostly done by my friend Andrew Sherman, a very accomplished VFX dude, and he tackled most of it. Then we had some help on a few meticulous shots — like the TV screens and so on — by Visual Creatures in LA.

How important is sound and music to you?
It’s one of my favorite parts of post, especially music, and going back and forth with composer David Wingo who’s so brilliant and who really got the tone perfectly. I didn’t want it to sound too whimsical. It’s a quirky film that needed the dramatic moments to be serviced with a sophisticated score, and he wrote this beautiful theme and constantly surprised us with beautiful pieces. I also love working on sound. I could mix forever. I always think there can be improvements, so you have to pick your priorities. Again, the goal was always realism. What sounds correct? So we did the least amount of manipulation.

How important was the DI to you?
To be honest, I just trusted DP Christian Sprenger and the team at Light Iron and colorist Ian Vertovec. They all did a great job with the look. I was very happy. Nothing ever turns out the exact way you originally picture it, and the film gradually evolved, but it ended up the way I hoped for the most part.

What’s next?
I’m reading scripts and trying to find that next special project. I’m also currently working on an untitled TV show that we hope to sell. I definitely want to direct more movies. After 10 years of directing shorts, I’m kind of sick of them.


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.

Director Elle Ginter joins Sanctuary Content

Culver City-based production company Sanctuary Content has grown its roster with the addition of director Elle Ginter, who was recently selected as one of 13 directors worldwide for the DGA and AICP’s Commercial Directors Diversity Showcase.

Ginter’s first project with Sanctuary, a Father’s Day spot for Buffalo Wild Wings out of TBWA/Chiat/Day/LA, showcases her skill for capturing honest, intimate moments in its sweet simplicity as a young girl bonds with her father while watching sports. She also wrote and directed the short Why We Wake, in which she explores depression in an honest and artful way.

Ginter found her way to directing in an interesting way. After getting her degree in journalism, she moved to Boston where she began working on a whale-watching boat. A chance meeting with a casting director led to work as a PA on local feature sets. She quickly worked her way into the camera department, eventually becoming a 1st AC before finally landing back in New York City as a writer and art director on commercial shoots.

Sanctuary Content was launched by EP/founder Preston Lee a year and a half ago — they are made up of a lean and diverse roster of directors who create content across all mediums, including advertising, film, music videos and television.

After meeting Ginter, he knew she would be a nice addition to the team, “I’ve been watching Elle’s work for some time. She’s passionate, excited, hungry, and incredibly creative — and, at 29-years old, she’s just getting started.”

Ginter says she knew a traditional, larger production company wouldn’t be the right fit for her: “My career has been fairly untraditional at this point. When I talked to Preston I realized he’s a really out-of-the-box person and inspires that kind of thinking in everyone around him. Every time I talk to him I leave feeling energized.”

1stAveMachine makes coffee for Nespresso

People take their coffee very seriously. They want it brewed and served in a certain way, and any aberration could ruin the entire experience. With this in mind, 1stAveMachine and director Roman Rütten showcased the intricate brewing process of the Nespresso VertuoPlus (for agency 360i) in a mysterious way that actually shows little of the machine itself.

“You’re taken on this really interesting journey, and in the end this complex structure collapses into the actual machine, which makes it feel quite slick and sophisticated,” says Rütten. “We’re making the complex, hidden art of coffee-making from the inside look simple.”

1stAveMachine got involved in the project early on. “We really collaborated with the agency to come up with a concept that deconstructs the Nespresso machine and shows coffee brewing in an artistic way,” explains Rütten. “We wanted to inspire and surprise people with visuals that are usually hidden inside a coffee machine.”

Highlighting the inner workings of Nespresso’s VertuoPlus required a bit of creativity since all parties agreed to shoot everything in-camera. “We had to basically create a rig to show something in a way it has never been seen before while working with the real coffee on a macro level in high-speed,” he explains. “It’s just a really fragile process of fine-tuning adjustments, which just adds a lot of variables to the shoot as we’re dealing with real physics. So, you need the patience to keep pushing for the perfect shot. It can come quick or take a little bit longer, but in the end, every shot looked really pretty and very classy when we walked away from it.”

Why not go the visual effects route?  “An in-camera approach may add complexity but also creates a warm and tactile feel,” explains Rütten. “There is something really intimate about working with the product on a macro level like this, which you might not get when strictly using post. A practical approach is more difficult to achieve and replicate which shows a certain level of expertise and craft. This works really well with the Nespresso brand and their level of craft that goes into the development of their products.

The spot was was developed over a period of weeks and shot in two days with a Phantom and Bolt rig. “These were really challenging and long days since we were dealing with real physics at a macro level and just a slight adjustment gives a complete different result,” reports Rütten.

According to the director, embracing the spontaneity and unpredictability of any shoot can lead to such an ultimately rewarding result. “With an interesting creative concept, some unconventional framing and the natural epic-ness of high-speed photography, you get some really stunning results that are quite mesmerizing,” he says. “Every time it’s slightly new and we always learn a lot about how certain rigs perform and physics react. You try to set up the stage with some interesting variables and embrace happy accidents. When no take looks the same, it’s a blessing and curse at the same time. But with the right patience and talented crew, we can push the boundaries, come in with some fresh ideas and try to have a little fun.”

The spot was edited in Adobe Premiere and color graded in Blackmagic Resolve.

Behind the Title: Sibling Rivalry director Gerald Ding

NAME: Gerald Ding

COMPANY: Sibling Rivalry

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Sibling Rivalry is a creative studio that combines immersive storytelling with a distinct design sensibility. It was founded by Joe Wright, Mikon van Gastel and Maggie Meade in 2011.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Directing a commercial, short film or music video is similar to being a chef at a restaurant. You handpick a team of individuals based on their specific talents to execute the vision you have in mind. It’s up to the director to bring out the best performance from each person working on the film for it to become what you imagined.

House of Marley

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think the misconception about directing is that you’ve got to be difficult to work with if you want to be respected in this industry. I don’t believe that. I think how you present yourself and treat others is just basic common sense and respect. You can find your way of communicating what’s important to you while staying focused on the bigger picture.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
When there’s a genuine mutual respect and trust between the artists you’re collaborating with; it really elevates the project and raises my expectations because it evolves into something greater than what I first imagined it as.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My least favorite part of the job is not working!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The time that I can get a coffee in my hand.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d like to think I’d still be making something that I could show or share with my friends.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I think the excitement of watching films as a kid never left me. I still remember each film and how it affected me, and I loved talking about them after and retelling the stories I had seen. I got into directing so I could tell my own stories, but now the process of making a film is more exciting to me than watching one.

I got into directing through animation because I saw Akira as a kid and wanted to be an animator. As a character animator you’re stoked on just owning a sequence or portion of the film, but eventually I just wanted to work on the whole story and got into directing.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
HPE Tech Actually, G-Dragon x Airbnb Superstar Superhost, Google Android Handshake and House of Marley The Get Together.

Tech Actually

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m currently working on a short documentary about this female fighter; we just filmed a portion of it in Belarus. It’s nowhere close to being finished right now but there’s a lot of great talent involved and it’s a story I’m really excited about.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My 35mm film camera Fuji Klasse S film camera (RIP, I’m sorry I broke you), my future Contax T3 35mm point-and-shoot and my Miele washing machine (it’s a life goal after years of renting apartments in New York).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram

CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Filming on set I don’t listen to music unless it’s a part of the scene. I always have hip-hop and RnB in my head but when I’m writing treatments or scripts I usually listen to Frank Ocean or some sad girl pop. I don’t know why, but it works.

THIS IS A HIGH-STRESS JOB WITH DEADLINES AND CLIENT EXPECTATIONS. WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I just try to do my best each time and show up prepared because it’s a privilege for me to be here and I embrace all of it, good and bad. I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu jitsu for quite some time so hard sparring with your friends is a great way to get rid of stress (as well as your ego).

The A-List: Director Ron Howard discusses National Geo’s Genius

By Iain Blair

Ron Howard has done it all in Hollywood. The former child star of The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days not only successfully made the tricky transition to adult actor (at 22 he starred opposite John Wayne in The Shootist and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), but went on to establish himself as an Oscar-winning director and producer (A Beautiful Mind). He is also one of Hollywood’s most beloved and commercially successful and versatile helmers.

Since making his directorial debut in 1977 with Grand Theft Auto (when he was still on Happy Days), he’s made an eclectic group of films about boxers (Cinderella Man), astronauts (Apollo 13), mermaids (Splash), symbologists (The Da Vinci Code franchise), politicians (Frost/Nixon) firefighters (Backdraft), mathematicians (A Beautiful Mind), Formula One racing (Rush), whalers (In the Heart of the Sea) and the Fab Four (his first documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week).

Born in Oklahoma with showbiz in his DNA — his parents were both actors — Howard “always wanted to direct” and notes that “producing gives you control.” In 1986, he co-founded Imagine Entertainment with Brian Grazer, a powerhouse in film and TV (Empire, Arrested Development) production. His latest project is the new Genius series for National Geographic.

The 10-part global event series — the network’s first scripted series — is based on Walter Isaacson’s book “Einstein: His Life and Universe” and tracks Albert Einstein’s rise from humble origins as an imaginative and rebellious thinker through his struggles to be recognized by the establishment, to his global celebrity status as the man who unlocked the mysteries of the cosmos with his theory of relativity.

But if you’re expecting a dry, intellectual by-the-numbers look at his life and career, you’re in for a big surprise.

With an impressive cast that includes Geoffrey Rush as the celebrated scientist in his later years, Johnny Flynn as Einstein in the years before he rose to international acclaim and Emily Watson as his second wife — and first cousin — Elsa Einstein, the show is full of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

We’re mostly joking, but the series does balance the hard-to-grasp scientific theories with an entertaining exploration of a man with an often very messy private life as it follows Einstein’s alternately exhilarating emotions and heartlessness in dealing with his closest personal relationships, including his children, his two wives and the various women with whom he cheats on them.

Besides all the personal drama, there’s plenty of global drama as Genius is set against an era of international conflict over the course of two world wars. Faced with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, surveillance by spies and the potential for atomic annihilation, Einstein struggles as a husband and a father, not to mention as a man of principle, even as his own life is put in danger.

I talked recently with Ron Howard about directing the first episode and his love of production and post.

What was the appeal of doing this and making your scripted television directorial debut with the first episode?
I’ve become a big fan of all the great TV shows people are doing now, where you let a story unfold in a novelistic way, and I was envious of a lot of my peers getting into doing TV — and this was a great project that just really suits the TV format. Over the years, I had read various screenplays about Einstein but they just never worked as a movie, so when National Geographic wanted to reach out to their audience in a more ambitious way, suddenly there was this perfect platform to do this life justice and have the length it needed. It’s an ideal fit, and it was perfect to do it with National Geographic.

Given that you had considered making a film about him, how familiar were you with Einstein and his life? How do you find the drama in an academic’s life?
I thought I had some insight, but I was blown away by the book and Noah Pink’s screenplay, and everyone on the team brought their own research to the process, and it became more and more fascinating. There was this constant pressure on Einstein that I felt we could work with through the whole series, and that I never realized was there. And with that pressure, there’s drama. We came very close to not benefiting from his genius because of all the forces against him – sometimes from external forces, like governments and academic institutions, but often from his own foibles and flaws. He was even on a hit list. So I was really fascinated by his whole story.

What most surprised you about Einstein once you began delving deeper into his private life?
That he was such a Lothario! He had quite a complicated love life, but it was also that he had such a dogged commitment to his principles and logic and point-of-view. I was doing post on the Beatles documentary as we prepped, and it was the same thing with those young men. They often didn’t listen to outside influences and people telling them it couldn’t be done. They absolutely committed to their musical vision and principles with all their drive and focus, and it worked — and collectively I think you could say the band was genius.

Einstein also trusted his convictions, whether it was physics or math, and if the conventional answers didn’t satisfy his sense of logic, he’d just dig deeper. The same thing can be said for his personal life and relationships, and trying to find a balance between his career and life’s work, and family and friends. Look at his falling in love with his fellow physics student Mileva Maric, which causes all sorts of problems, especially when she unexpectedly gets pregnant. No one else thought she was particularly attractive, she was a bit of an outcast as the only female physics student, and yet his logic called him to her. The same thing with politics. He went his own way in everything. He was a true renaissance man, eternally curious about everything.

In terms of dealing with very complex ideas that aren’t necessarily very cinematic, it must have helped that you’d made A Beautiful Mind?
Yes, we saw a lot of similarities between the two. It really helped that both men were essentially visualists — Einstein even more so than John Nash. That gave us a big advantage and gave me the chance to show audiences some of his famous thought experiments in cinematic ways, and he described them very vividly and they’re a fantastic jumping-off point — it was his visualizations that helped him wrap his head around the physics. He began with something he could grasp physically and then went back to prove it with the math. Those principles gave him the amazing insights about the nature of the universe, and time and space, that we’ve all benefitted from.

I assume you began integrating post and all the VFX very early on?
Right away, in preproduction meetings in Prague, in the Czech Republic, where Einstein lived and taught early in his career. We had our whole team there on location, including our VFX supervisor Eric Durst and his team, DP Mathias Herndl, our production designers and art directors and so on. With all the VFX, we stayed pretty close to how Einstein described his thought experiments. The one that starts off this first episode is very vivid, whereas the first one he has as a 17-year-old boy is done in a more chalk-board kind of way, where he faints and can barely hang on mentally to the image. All the dailies and visual effects were done by UPP.

Where did you do the post?
We did all the editing and sound back in LA.

Do you like the post process?
I love it. I love the edit and slowly pulling it all together after the stress of the shoot.

It was edited by James Wilcox, who’s done CSI: Miami and Hawaii Five-O, along with Debby Germino and J. Kathleen Gibson. How early was James involved and was he on set?
Dan and Mike weren’t available. It’s the first time I’d worked with James and he’s very creative and did a great job. He wasn’t on the set, but we were constantly in communication and we’d send him material back to LA and then when I got back, we sat down together.

The show constantly cuts back and forth in time.
Yes, I was fascinated by all those transitions and I worked very closely with my team to make sure we had all that down, and that it all flowed smoothly in the edit. For instance, Johnny Flynn plays violin and he trained classically, so he actually plays in all those scenes. But Geoffrey doesn’t play violin, but he practiced for several months, and we had a teacher on set too. Geoffrey was so dedicated to creating this character.They both looked at tons of footage of Einstein as an older man, so Johnny could develop aspects of Einstein’s manner and behavior as the younger one, which Geoffrey could work with later, so we had a real continuity to the character. That’s a big reason why I wanted to be so hands-on with the first episode, as we were defining so many key aspects of the man and the aesthetics and the way we’d be telling the whole story.

Can you talk about working on the sound and music?
It’s always huge to me and adds so much to every scene. Lorne Balfe wrote a fantastic score and we had a great sound team: production sound mixer Peter Forejt, supervising sound editor Daniel Pagan, music editor Del Spiva and re-recording mixers Mark Hensley and Bob Bronow. For post production audio we used Smart Post Sound.

The DI must have been important?
It was very important since we were trying to do stuff with the concept of time in very subtle ways using the camera work, the palette and the lighting style. This all changed subtly depending on whether it was an Einstein memory, or a flashback to his younger, brasher self, or looking ahead to the iconic older man where it was all a little more formal. So we went for different looks to match the different energies and, of course, the editing style had to embody all of that as well. The colorist was Pankaj Bajpai, and he did a great job.

What’s next?
I plan to do more TV. Remember, I came out of TV and it’s so exciting now. I’m also developing several movie projects, including Seveneves, a sci-fi film, and Under the Banner of Heaven which is based on the Jon Krakauer bestseller. So whatever 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.

Saturday Night Fever director John Badham looks back 40 years

By Iain Blair

English-born director/producer John Badham had never even been to Brooklyn, and admits that he “also didn’t know much about disco and dancing” when he took on the job of directing Saturday Night Fever. But that didn’t stop him from capturing the colorful street life of the gritty borough and making one of the most beloved, joyful and seminal films of the late ‘70s.

John Badham on the set of Saturday Night Fever.

With John Travolta’s electrifying Oscar-nominated performance (which launched his movie career), the Bee Gees’ earworm soundtrack (including mega-hits “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “How Deep Is Your Love”), and, of course, the unforgettable dancing (and that white suit), Saturday Night Fever perfectly captured the angst, hopes and disco-mania of a simpler time and had an indelible impact on popular culture.

Forty years later, the film about a Brooklyn kid with no prospects who lives for Saturday night continues to resonate, and Badham worked with Paramount in 2016 to restore the film in 4K using the original negative and update the surround sound mix to further enhance the soundtrack. During this process he also added scenes to the theatrical R-rated version that round out character and plot, making it the definitive representation of his original vision.
The result is the 40th anniversary brand-new Director’s Cut of Saturday Night Fever, which arrived on Blu-ray and DVD on May 2 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. The Blu-ray is presented in 1080p high definition with 5.1 Dolby TrueHD.

Over a career that has now spanned five decades, Badham has directed over 60 projects, including the films WarGames, Short Circuit, Bird on a Wire and Stakeout, and popular TV shows as Supernatural and Psych. He’s also written books on his craft, including “John Badham on Directing,” and heads Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts directing program.

I talked recently with Badham about Saturday Night Fever, his long career and his love of production and post.

How do you look back on Saturday Night Fever?
If you’d told me 40 years ago we’d be talking about it today I’d have never believed you. We made what we felt was a good movie — but it was a small movie, just $2.5 million, and to be frank, it was intended as a place-holder for John Travolta while he was waiting to shoot Grease. That was how the studio viewed it, but I was thrilled as I had an amazing script, the best I’d seen in years, and it really spoke to me. It was so powerful, and coupled with the Bee Gees’ music, I felt it was irresistible. But a lot of people were worried that the movie wouldn’t last, that it would be here and gone. Instead it turned into this huge hit.

How do you explain its lasting appeal?
Some people like to say it’s the dancing and music, and I know that’s part of it, but I really believe it’s mainly the strength of the characters and how we see ourselves in them, wishing for more exciting, better lives, and the chance to escape the dreary world we’re in. Audiences all over the world seemed to feel the same way.

It made Travolta a star. What did he bring to the role?
Talk about perfect casting. He had this tremendous life force and energy and appeal that he brought to it, along with an innocence and darkness to his character. Tony Manero is this funny, cute kid, but there’s also this really dark side to him. There’s a lot of anger and resentment, and he’s mean to the women and his parents. He’s trying to be one of the cool guys on the street, the gang leader, and he has this wild, wacky sense of humor, but he’s also very nervous around girls who give him a hard time. We see ourselves in that confused mix of behavior.

What were the biggest challenges of restoring it and redoing the mix?
Restoring any film is a huge job, and we had to go through every single frame of 10,000 feet of film times 24 frames. Every frame has to be looked at and examined and fixed for any scratches, damage and flaws, as well as things that weren’t quite right in the first place because we shot this so fast and on such a low budget. Now it looks better than our original release print, and it certainly sounds a lot better. Thank God we were able to fix the Dolby mix, because the original was Dolby 1.0 stereo for 35mm and it was still really buggy back then. So our new 5.1 Dolby mix is out of the surround speakers. Back in ’77, 95% of our prints were mono because we had so much trouble with it, and we just had 25 stereo prints. So this is like a whole new film.

You basically redid post on the film. Do you like post, and why?
Post is my favorite part of the whole process because you have control of almost all the elements — and where you don’t, you can repair it in post. It’s where you’re molding the material into the image you have in your mind, and it’s wonderful to be able to have that ability.

What are the biggest changes in post you’ve seen since you started?
It’s miraculous what we can do now thanks to the digital revolution, especially in editing, sound and VFX, compared with what you used to be able to do. When I began on mixing stages, you had to mix 10 minutes of material at a time, one pass straight through, and if you made a mistake you had to start all over again. Now it’s all digital and sound possibilities are endless. Tools like Avid have freed up and sped up editing, and systems like Dolby Atmos jack up the level of excitement in a theater. I’m a big fan of digital.

You began your career in TV, and currently you are mainly working in TV. How has the TV landscape changed?
It’s unrecognizable, and it’s blossomed beyond belief — both creatively and in business terms. It’s gone from the three main networks and PBS to hundreds and hundreds of channels and platforms like Netflix, Amazon, HBO and so on. That means both the quantity and quality have really gone up. I’m watching the new Fargo, and thinking, “What a great show — as good as any movie.” And TV is doing stuff now that no one dares do in movies anymore, because it’s so willing to take risks, and the writing is so strong.

You’re also still teaching. What advice would you give to a young person wanting to become a director?
I’d say, thank God we can make films even with our iPhones. Ten years ago you wouldn’t even think of it. That’s what you have to do — get out and make a film that you can then show and discuss with people. Sitting about and reading and thinking about it won’t get you anywhere. You have to get out and actually do it.

What’s next?
I’m just about to start shooting the third season of the ABC sci-fi murder mystery Stitchers, which I love doing. I’m also doing a lot of Supernatural, which is now in its 13th season, and I really enjoy that too. I’d love to do more movies, but getting financing is so hard now, and TV keeps me 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: 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.