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

Mission: Impossible — Fallout writer/director Christopher McQuarrie

By Iain Blair

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

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

Mission: Impossible - Fallout Director Christopher McQuarrie

Christopher McQuarrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission: Impossible Fallout

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

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

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

What’s next?
A very long nap.


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

Il Postino director Michael Radford on his latest film, The Music of Silence

By Iain Blair

British director and writer Michael Radford is probably best known for Il Postino, a huge international hit that earned five Oscar noms, two BAFTA awards (for Best Director and Best Foreign Film) and a raft of other honors.

Radford, who began as a director of documentaries, has returned to Italy with his newest film, The Music of Silence. Loosely based on Andrea Bocelli’s 1999 memoir of the same title, it tells the story of a blind boy who against all odds becomes one of the most successful entertainers and opera singers in the world. It stars Game of Thrones actor Toby Sebastian as the singer’s alter ego, Amos Bardi.

We spoke with Radford, whose credits include 1984, White Mischief, Dancing at the Blue Iguana and The Merchant of Venice, about making the film, his love of post, and his upcoming projects.

What do you look for in a project, and what was the appeal of making this film?
I always look for a good story and something different. When I was offered this, I came in and rewrote it with Anna Pavignano, who worked with me on the screenplay for Il Postino. I didn’t want to just make the usual biopic, and I actually turned it down several times before they finally persuaded me to do it.

Just as well. It was a huge hit in Italy.
I know, and I’m thrilled.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I wanted to make a fully Italian film that didn’t betray the culture. I certainly didn’t want to do a hagiography of Andrea Bocelli, so I set out to make a very simple Italian movie, all in Italian. That was my goal, but the producers wanted me to shoot it in English, but using Italian actors. I kind of liked the idea, although it was a bit of a compromise. I loved working with the actors, and at least they appeared to be real Italians, not actors pretending to be Italians.

You got a fantastic cast, including Antonio Banderas and Game of Thrones star Toby Sebastian, who actually looks like a young Andrea Bocelli.
You’re right, he does, and that helps a lot — especially when the real person’s still very much alive. Luckily, everyone in Italy loved him in the role. He was really great. Such a good young actor, and he was my rock.

You shot it all in Italy. How was the shoot?
It was tough, as we had a tight budget and schedule, just over five weeks — much smaller than a similar film in the US or the UK, and everyone works far shorter hours than in England or the States. So I had a lot of battles over the budget, and we ended up having to cut quite a few scenes from the script. On top of that, we shot it mainly in the wintertime, which was hard for everyone despite how it looks on screen. But you can do so much in post now with digital effects that you’d never guess.

I hear you’re fluent in Italian. That must be a huge help when you have to yell at the crew?
Yes, although that can be counter-productive. Everyone in Italy yells at each other all the time. The crews are great there, really hard-working and professional, and I can discuss stuff in fairly colloquial terms, which helps. It’s always a great pleasure working there, as I’m well-known there and people give me great seats in restaurants (laughs).

Do you like the post process?
I do, very much. When I was starting out, I’d turn up for every single minute of it — I’d never leave the editing room or sound mix. That comes from being in film school, where you want to do it all. But now I tend to stand back far more. I’ll talk to the editor for a week or so, then leave him alone, then come back and see what he’s done. It’s a much more relaxed process — and also a much more useful one, as that way you can take a step back and have a clear vision of what you’ve done and what you want to achieve.

Where did you post?
All in Rome.

Talk about working with editor Roberto Missiroli.
He came to visit the set now and then, but he wasn’t cutting on the set. He began cutting while we were shooting and did a very rough first cut and assembly, so when I walked into the editing room we could start right away. He was fantastic to work with. A real discovery, and he had great ideas, which is what you want in an editor.

What were the main editing challenges?
We had to recuperate the scenes that we’d lost because we didn’t have time to shoot them in the end. So we almost had to try and reconstruct the film as we were going along, and then we had to keep that sense of drama and momentum.

How involved was Andrea Bocelli, given that he’s blind?
Because of his condition, it was a limited contribution. He had to try and understand what we were doing, even though he couldn’t see it — and amazingly he could. But he kept out of the picture for the most part, as did the family, until the time came to show them a rough cut. Then the family was always in the background — not in the editing room, but around — and you’d go, “Did this happen like it’s portrayed in the scene?” They’d say, “No, it wasn’t like that at all!” And you’d have to say, “Well, this is a movie, not a documentary,” and have to explain it to them. So there was a bit of a tussle, but then they understood what we were trying to do, and they were very supportive.

Obviously, sound was crucial for this. Can you talk about the importance of sound and music to you as a filmmaker?
They’re incredibly important to me, especially on a film where the sound was always going to be a challenge because of all the different voices. We did all the sounds effects at New Digital Film Sound in Rome. Music is always so important to me, because of what you can convey emotionally with it in a scene, and of course there’s a lot of music already recorded that I wanted to use, and not just of Andrea.

It also helped that the editor was really fantastic with music. We spent a lot of time trying to find the right composer, and I talked to a lot of well-known musicians in Italy who didn’t quite fit the bill. We started off using a lot of temp pieces, and then I found this amazing composer, Gabriele Roberto, who lives in Japan and scores Japanese films, and he was perfect.

You must have used some VFX?
We did, especially for the big concert scene that has over 100,000 people in the audience and a huge orchestra. That was actually shot in a small blue box on a stage at Cinecitta in Rome, and I loved the way that turned out. Then when we shot all the scenes at the seaside, it was a dead calm day, so in post they created this really rough water that no one could go into, and that was quite hard to do. Then we used a lot of VFX to enhance scenes and for cleanup and so on.

How important is the DI to you?
Very important, and I’m always very involved. I love working with light, and if I can get the look naturally, I’ll do it.  I also love the way you can do so much in the DI and really fine-tune the look.

Did the film turn out the way you first envisioned it?
No, not at all. I had a much grander vision for it, but then it got smaller and smaller (laughs). I think I’d have gone for something less sentimental, but there’s a lot about it I really like.

What’s next?
I’m developing a couple of really interesting projects. One is an American movie about the treasure hunter Mel Fisher, who found a galleon full of gold from the 1600s. It’s a great story. The Italians have asked me to do a film about the famous car manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini, with Antonio Banderas playing him and Alec Baldwin as Ferrari.


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: Prism director Alex Vivian

NAME: Alex Vivian

COMPANY: Prism

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I’ve been with Prism, a Brooklyn-based live-action experiential company, since EPs Tom Rossano and Elliot Blanchard launched it in early 2017. They really push everyone at Prism to manifest their ideas in interesting ways and to pool our talents together to tell stories for our clients.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Bringing ideas to life in a little rectangular frame.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The staggering amount of work required for something that looks so simple and blasé on screen.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with amazing people, and the fact that I get to do what I love and actually call it a job.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The creative struggles and emotional lows that can come with putting everything on the line.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I love architecture and design so maybe something in that realm.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I don’t really know anything else, I’ve been shooting and editing since I was 12. So I’ve just built and built on this inner drive to keep making film projects. I’d be lost without it.

WHAT WAS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT ATTRACTED YOU?
I love creating worlds and the language of the moving camera. There’s no greater feeling than nailing a great shot or take. On set, there’s a little dance/leg kick that I do behind the camera when we’ve got something I’m stoked on.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT DIRECTING THAT CONTINUES TO KEEP YOU INTERESTED?
I’m creatively happy with everything I’ve done, but I’m also never satisfied to end there. I have so many ideas and projects I’d love to make… and I’m really interested in building on my own style and evolving and progressing as a director.

HOW DO YOU PICK THE PEOPLE YOU WORK WITH ON A PARTICULAR PROJECT?
I love bringing back the people who have helped me through the hard times of low budgets and lack of resources. It’s those times that bring out the best in people and I’ve been fortunate to forge friendships through it all.

How to Ride Bitches: This comedy short is an example of Alex’s work.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’ve just collaborated with a long-time friend for his first EP and music video release. I’ve also created a short film for a startup tequila brand — their first piece of content. Really excited to put those out soon, and a couple more that are in the works.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
My film school graduation film. It’s a story about how the relationships of a group of friends change when they are drafted for the Vietnam War. It was a 25-minute epic, set in the ‘70s and shot on 16mm reversal film. I spent six months writing it after interviewing countless veterans, and each scene was a slice of someone’s life. I went through so much just to even get that made that I can only look back with pride.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Laptop, iPhone, surf cams.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Get out in the ocean and surf. Nature is the key to happiness.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool director Paul McGuigan

By Iain Blair

BAFTA- and Emmy-nominated director and producer Paul McGuigan has made quite a name for himself in film and TV thanks to his gift for handling gritty crime procedurals and atmospheric dramas.

This Scot started out as a still photographer before working his way into the documentary world, helming non-fiction assignments for Channel 4 and the BBC. He made his fiction debut with the short The Granton Star Cause, an adaptation of one of Irvine Welsh’s short stories. The film inspired him to direct two additional self-contained episodes, also adapted from the work of Welsh, stitched together as a well-received omnibus called The Acid House.

Paul McGuigan and Iain Blair

That laid the groundwork for his move into features on a full-time basis, starting with the inventive crime sagas Gangster No. 1 and Lucky Number Slevin. He followed these with the medieval film The Reckoning, the romantic mystery Wicker Park and Victor Frankenstein, starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe.

Now McGuigan, whose credits include the TV series Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch) is back with his latest movie, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which earned three BAFTA noms. Based on Peter Turner’s memoir of the same name, the film follows the playful but passionate relationship between Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and the eccentric Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) in 1978 Liverpool. What starts as a vibrant affair between a legendary femme fatale and her young lover quickly grows into a deeper relationship, with Peter being the person Gloria turns to for comfort. Their passion and lust for life is tested to the limits by events beyond their control.

I recently talked to McGuigan about making the film.

What was the appeal of this story for you?
Both the book and the script it’s based on were just so interesting, with this whole idea of memory being so fluid. I felt there was a real cinematic world to explore, what with Gloria Grahame being this former big star who won the Oscar for The Bad and The Beautiful, and I liked the idea of this Hollywood icon ending up in this small house in Liverpool. Then you had this very intense love story — and Annette was already attached — and [James Bond producer] Barbara Broccoli had wanted to make it for years and was so passionate about it. I knew I was in good company.

It’s not your usual biopic.
No, I wasn’t interested in that anyway, and this was a very specific part of her life. I wanted to make a very intimate, emotional film, but nothing that was sentimental. Annette said to me when we first met, “This can’t be a film about an old lady dying in a room,” and that really stuck with me, and that’s what we desperately avoided — the violins and all that stuff — because Gloria would have hated that bullshit. She was a tough woman. She had a very interesting life and career, and I think she was way ahead of her time.

What did Annette bring to the role?
It’s hard to define, as she’s so brilliant. She brought a student’s perspective to the character. When we first met, she had a book full of notes, and so many questions about Gloria — things that weren’t even in the script. She just wanted to find out who the real woman was behind the myth and image — all the day-to-day stuff between her and Peter. She did so much research, and then she just arrived on set completely prepared. She’s very method in a way. If she had to be in bed sick, she’d just lie in bed all day and not speak to anyone on the set, and I liked that. The crew would tip toe around her as if she really was sick.

What about Jamie Bell?
He’s amazing and such a smart guy. He’s the kind of actor you can put a camera on, and even though he’s not saying anything, he says everything about the scene with his eyes and expression. That’s what you need since the story’s told from her point of view, and he’s the audience’s connection to it, so you need someone who’s got that natural gift.

I heard it was a very fast shoot with some very inventive set changes. How tough was it?
It was just 40 days, and we shot in Liverpool a bit, mainly for exteriors. All the interiors and the locations in LA and New York were shot on set at Pinewood Studios. I deliberately set out to create a sense of heightened reality by using a lot of back projection in scenes like the beach in LA — the same technique they used in a lot of her noirs, and I didn’t want to do the usual flashbacks to her life or her movies. I wanted the actors to walk through the memories, from one scene to another, and one set to another. So we built sets side to side, and even had one with a bed that revolved 180 degrees, and the camera would just wander off them while they ran around the back to the other set and into another scene. It was a lot of fun to do.

Where did you do the post?
I’m based in Glasgow, and we did all the editing there in a rented office, and then all the rest — sound, VFX, DI — at Pinewood, where they have great post facilities

Do you like post?
I love it because you can just relax and create your film after all the stress of the shoot. I’ve done it for so long now and it’s the most creative part of the whole process for me. The only stress is if you’re doing TV in America as they kick you out after a few days, and I’m like “Whoa! That’s where my work is.” So I always try to stay longer. This was all about so much detail, and I’d sit there every day and not move.

The film was edited by Nick Emerson, who cut Starred Up and Lady Macbeth. You hadn’t worked with him before, right?
Right, but I was big admirer of his work. After my usual editor, Charlie Phillips, passed away, it was great to get Nick. He was in Pinewood with us and would pop in now and again, mainly if we had a problem. I never look at an assembly, ever since I did my first movie — Gangster No. 1, and saw that one and thought seriously about killing myself, it was so bad! I actually thought it was the worst thing I’d ever seen. Luckily someone told me it would turn out fine, and now I just start with first frame, first scene, and look at material and start working on it.

What were the biggest editing challenges?
To keep it simple. The music was a big challenge as we didn’t want any sentimentality. I spent a lot of time working on the score with composer Josh Ralph. Even though I’m not a musician, I always think I am. I’ll sit at the piano and start hitting out stuff out of frustration, as it can be so abstract sometimes, trying to pin down what I want. Music’s so important, and I’ll share all that with actors, the editor, the sound guys, so it gradually evolves. When I started out, I used to think, “Fuck it, I don’t care about sound and music. Just stick stuff on everything and it’s fine.” But now I know better — that music and all the sound is half the movie. So when you’re in Liverpool we had the sound of children playing outside, or the sound of the sea, and in New York you have sirens, traffic and so on. I work very closely with the sound guys to get all the details right and keep it stripped down. I got very obsessed about it and Nick and I did quite a lot of that work in the edit before we even started with the sound team at Pinewood, where we also did the mix.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
Very few as we tried to do most of it in-camera. The Liverpool of today is very different, so we had to do a big VFX shot for the ferry sequence, and some cleanup.

The film has a great look. Can you talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Molinare in London with colorist Asa Shoul, who’s amazing. We shot digitally, on Alexas, and Asa and the DP worked together on it, and I was very involved — annoyingly so, as I began as a photographer and can’t help myself (laughs). Looking back, this post went very smoothly — just 12 weeks, and I’m very happy with the way the film turned out.


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.

Dee Rees talks about directing Netflix’s Mudbound

By Iain Blair

Change is good, and while there are only a handful of young, successful, black female directors shooting features these days, the tide is starting to turn. Case in point: Dee Rees, who is helping lead the charge with her powerful new feature Mudbound, which was nominated for two Golden Globes.

Set in the rural American South during World War II, it’s an epic story of two families pitted against one another by a ruthless social hierarchy, yet bound together by the shared farmland of the Mississippi Delta.

Writer Iain Blair and director Dee Rees.

On one side is the McAllan family, newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis and unprepared for the harsh demands of farming. Despite the grandiose dreams of Henry (Jason Clarke), his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture.

On the other side are Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan, Mary J. Blige), sharecroppers who have worked the land for generations and who also struggle bravely to build a small dream of their own despite the rigidly enforced social barriers they face.

The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), forge a fast but uneasy friendship that challenges the brutal realities of the Jim Crow South in which they live.

The film was co-written by Rees, who made her feature film debut with Pariah, which won a ton of awards. She went on to direct the Emmy-Award-winning HBO film Bessie.

I talked recently with Rees about making the film and the push for more diversity in the industry.

What was your vision for this film?
A good old-fashioned sprawling Hollywood epic that they don’t make anymore, with tons of characters and drama and emotion.

This is a period piece, but there are a lot of the issues you deal with — racism, class, women’s issues, civil rights issues. These are all particularly timely now.
Yes, and I think it’s become more timely because our consciousness has changed. I think it would have been timely five or 10 years ago, but audiences might not have recognized it as such, and attitudes have changed and are still changing about all these issues — and others. Look at all the sex scandal stuff coming to light in Hollywood and other places.

Is it true you absolutely wanted to shoot this in the South, but then found it wasn’t so easy in terms of finding the right locations?
Yes, I’m from the South — Nashville, Tennessee — and I hate seeing Southerners and the South not depicted correctly and accurately, and the locations were vital as they function like another character in the story. So we scouted all over the South — Mississippi, where it’s actually set, and Georgia and Louisiana — and we ended up shooting on a working sugar plantation near New Orleans. The landscape and farmland was perfect. It really gave you the sense of unrelenting nature, and the way the furrows went in the field was a big artistic choice… deciding how the lines were going to go.

It’s interesting that Louisiana has preserved a lot of their slave history. You can see the original sharecroppers’ cabins, and I think it’s right to preserve stuff like that so you can see it actually happened. In Mississippi, a lot of that’s gone. So we used real sharecroppers’ cabins, and convinced the owners to let us move these historical buildings deeper into the fields, as we wanted to have these 360-degree shots where you feel that the characters are all dwarfed by the landscape. All that has an accumulative effect in creating this world. We didn’t use any soundstages at all because I wanted it to look and feel authentic. You just can’t fake all the mud and dust and that landscape.

I imagine the shoot wasn’t easy?
It was pretty intense. We were supposed to have 28 days there, but we got rained out two days and had to make that up. Then we shot for two days in Budapest for the wartime scenes, including a big tank battle. We did that in the morning and then the liberation scenes the next day, and then later, during the edit, we shot the B52 plane scenes at a war museum on Long Island, and that was a big dance between special effects and VFX. So we ended up with 29 days for a big story that you’d normally need 60 days to do justice considering the sheer scope and scale involved.

You had a women DP (Rachel Morrison), who shot Fruitvale Station, and a woman editor (Mako Kamitsuna), who cut Pariah for you and who’s now cutting Johnny Depp’s LAbyrinth as well as a woman composer (Tamar-Kali). Was that deliberate?
Absolutely, but I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just tokenism. Too often hiring women can get conflated with tokenism, and they are women who are incredibly at what they do.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and it reminds me of writing, which is solitary, contemplative and internal. Production is a frenzied rush, external and exhausting, and then you get to post which is where you recoup in a way, and was just me and Mako making the film. We did most of the editing in an artist’s loft in upstate New York, which was really cheap to rent. I like being away from all the noise and bustle of New York and just isolating for a bit and really focusing. Then Tama, our composer, came in, and then our sound team, and we had the space and time to really build it all up and elevate the raw material.

What were the main editing challenges?
The biggest one was figuring out when to move from one family story to the other. I was worried about staying with the McAllan’s too long, and then suddenly the Jacksons come out of nowhere, maybe too soon, and then having to explain some of the back story out of sequence. So do you break the chronology or trust that when you hand off to the Jacksons it’ll work for the audience? We kept starting with the burial, and then going into all the tensions between the families, with all the questions, like why do they hate each other so much?

In one version we went off with the Jacksons, but it didn’t quite work, and ultimately we started with Henry. He took us to the farm, which takes us to the war, and the war takes us to Ronsel and Jamie, and then it all flowed. But we had to make sure each family had its own trajectory, and one exercise we did was to edit just one family story as if it was its own film. Then we did the other family to see where it worked, where it didn’t, and where the natural intersections fell in their stories. That was so helpful.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music in Mudbound?
It’s so important to me, and I always want the score to work seamlessly with the sound design so it feels like it comes out of the sound design. Like with the editing, I feel the music shouldn’t be used as an emotional crutch, so once we had picture locked Tamar came in and then reacted to it with her score, and I didn’t have to say much to her.

She was inspired and wrote this beautiful orchestral score, which was perfect because I didn’t want to have the obvious 1940s thing with banjo, blues and harmonica. I wanted strings, and my sound team did a fantastic job. We did a Atmos mix at Harbor in New York, thanks to a Dolby grant, and it was so cool and exciting to do that.

This is obviously a performance-driven piece, but there must have been a fair amount of visual effects?
Mr. X Gotham did them all, and we had quite a lot for the plane scenes, including the B52 formation and the tank battle scenes. They also added some explosions, and there was cleanup work, but all the farm stuff — the mud and water — was all real and in-camera. We used a lot of special effects — squibs and gore packs — for the war scenes.

What about the DI?
We did it at Harbor Post in New York, and the colorist was Joe Gawler (who worked on Blackmagic Resolve). He did a really great job.

Did it all turn out the way you pictured?
It did and I’m really happy with it.

Mudbound is making a lot of Oscar and other awards noise right now — deservedly so. What does that mean to you?
It’s very exciting for all the crafts people involved. I feel we made a great film, but without a huge budget, so the more attention the better.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunity for women and minorities in Hollywood. Are things improving?
Very slowly, but a lot of the problem is the pipeline. We need more creatives able to get in the door. The Academy is just a receptacle at the end of the pipeline. We can change its make up, but the bigger thing is changing what’s getting made.


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.

Peter Doyle on coloring Churchill’s England for Darkest Hour

By Daniel Restuccio

Technicolor supervising digital colorist Peter Doyle is pretty close to being a legend in the movie industry. He’s color graded 12 of the 100 top box office movies, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, six Harry Potter films, Aleksander Sokurov’s Venice Golden Lion-winning Faust, Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and most recently the Golden Globe-nominated Darkest Hour.

Grading Focus Features’ Darkest Hour — which focuses on Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII — represents a reunion for Doyle. He previously worked with director Joe Wright (Pan) and director of photography Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis). (Darkest Hour picked up a variety of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography for Delbonnel.)

Peter Doyle

The vibe on Darkest Hour, according to Doyle, was very collaborative and inspiring. “Joe is an intensely visual director and has an extraordinary aesthetic… visually, he’s very considerate and very aware. It was just great to throw out ideas, share them and work to find what would be visually appropriate with Bruno in terms of his design of light, and what this world should look like.”

All the time, says Doyle, they worked to creatively honor Joe’s overall vision of where the film should be from both the narrative and the visual viewpoint.

The creative team, he continues, was focused on what they hoped to achieve in terms of “the emotional experience with the visuals,” what did they want this movie to look like and, technically, how could they get the feeling of that imagery onto the screen?

Research and Style Guide
They set about to build a philosophy of what the on-screen vision of the film would be. That turned into a “style guide” manifesto of actually how to get that on screen. They knew it was the 1940s during World War II, so logically they examined newsreels and the cameras and lenses that were used at the time. One of the things that came out of the discussions with Joe and Bruno was the choice of the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. “It’s quite an ensemble cast and the 2.35:1 would let you spread the cast across the screen, but wide 1.85:1 felt most appropriate for that.”

Doyle also did some research at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s very large photographic collection and dug into his own collection of photographic prints made with alternate color processes. Sepia and black and white got ruled out. They investigated the color films of the time and settled in on the color work of Edward Steichen.

Delbonnel chose Arri Alexa SXT cameras and Cooke S4s and Angenieux zoom lenses. They mastered in ArriRaw 3.2K. Technicolor has technology that allowed Doyle to build a “broad stroke” color-model-based emulation of what the color processes were like in the ’40s and apply that to the Alexa. “The idea,” explains Doyle, “was to take the image from the Alexa camera and mold it into an approximation of what the color film stocks would have looked like at the time. Then, having got into that world, tweak it slightly, because that’s quite a strong look,” and they still needed it to be “sensitive to the skin tones of the actors.”

Color Palette and Fabrics
There was an “overall arc” to this moment in history, says Doyle. The film’s setting was London during WWII, and outside it was hot and sunny. Inside, all lights were dimmed filaments, and that created a scenario where visually they would have extremely high-contrast images. All the colors were natural-based dyes, he explains, and the fabrics were various kind of wools and silks. “The walls and the actual environment that everyone would have been in would be a little run down. There would have been quite a patina and texture on the walls, so a lot of dirt and dust. These were kind of the key points that they gave me in order to work something out.”

Doyle’s A-ha Moment
“I took some hero shots of Kristin Scott Thomas (Clementine Churchill) and Gary Oldman (Winston Churchill), along with a few of the other actors, from Bruno’s rushes,” explains Doyle, adding that those shots became his reference.

From those images he devised different LUTs (Look Up Tables) that reflected different kinds of color manipulation processes of the time. It also meant that during principal photography they could keep referencing how the skin tones were working. There are a lot of close-ups and medium close-ups in Darkest Hour that gave easy access to the performance, but it also required them to be very aware of the impact of lighting on prosthetics and makeup.

Doyle photographed test charts on both 120mm reversal film of Ektachrome he had sitting in his freezer from the late ’70s and the Alexa. “The ‘a-ha moment’ was when we ran a test image through both. It was just staggering how different the imagery really looked. It gave us a good visual reference of the differences between film and digital, but more accurately the difference between reversal film and digital. It allowed us to zero in on the reactions of the two imaging methods and build the show LUTs and emulation of the Steichen look.”

One Word
When Doyle worked on Llewelyn Davis, Delbonnel and the Coen brothers defined the look of the film with one word: “sad.” For Darkest Hour, the one word used was “contrast,” but as a multi-level definition not just in the context of lights and darks in the image. “It just seemed to be echoed across all the various facets of this film,” says Doyle. “Certainly, Darkest Hour is a story of contrasting opinions. In terms of story and moments, there are soldiers at war in trenches, whilst there are politicians drinking champagne — certainly contrast there. Contrast in terms of the environment with the extreme intense hot summer outside and the darkness and general dullness on the inside.”

A good example, he says, is “the Parliament House speech that’s being delivered with amazing shafts of light that lit up the environment.”

The DP’s Signature
Doyle feels that digital cinematography tends to “remove the signature” of the director of photography, and that it’s his job to put it back. “In those halcyon days of film negative, there were quite a lot of processes that a DP would use in the lab that would become part of the image. A classic example, he says, is Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which was shot mostly during sunrise and sunset by Nestor Almendros, and “the extraordinary lightness of the image. Or Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, which was shot by John Alcott with scenes lit entirely by candles “that have a real softness.” The looks of those movies are a combination of the cinematographer’s lighting and work with the lab.

“A digital camera is an amazing recording device. It will faithfully reproduce what it records on set,” says Doyle. “What I’ve done with Bruno in the testing stage is bring back the various processes that you would possibly do in the lab, or at least the concept of what you would do in the laboratory. We’re really bending and twisting the image. Everyone sees the film the way that the DP intends, and then everyone’s relationship with that film is via this grade.”

This is why it’s so important to Doyle to have input from day one rushes through to the end. He’s making sure the DP’s “signature” is consistent to final grade. On Darkest Hour they tested, built and agreed on a look for the film for rushes. Colorist Mel Kangleon worked with Delbonnel on a daily basis to make sure all the exposures were correct from a technical viewpoint. Also, aesthetically to make sure the grade and look were not being lost.

“The grades that we were doing were what was intended by Bruno, and we made sure the actual imagery on the screen was how he wanted it to be,” explains Doyle. “We were making sure that the signature was being carried through.”

Darkest Hour and HDR
On Darkest Hour, Doyle built the DCI grade for the Xenon projector, 14 foot-lambert, as the master color corrected deliverable. “Then we took what was pretty much the LAD gray-card value of that DCI grade. So a very classic 18% gray that was translated across to the 48-, the 108-, the 1,000- and the 4,000-nit grade. We essentially parked the LAD gray (18% gray) at what we just felt was an appropriate brightness. There is not necessarily a lot of color science to that, other than saying, ‘this feels about right.’ That’s (also) very dependent on the ambient light levels.”

The DCI projector, notes Doyle, doesn’t really have “completely solid blacks; they’re just a little gray.” Doyle wished that the Xenon could’ve been brighter, but that is what the theatrical distribution chain is at the moment, he says.

When they did the HDR (High Dynamic Range) version, which Doyle has calls as a “new language” of color correction, they took the opportunity to add extra contrast and dial down the blacks to true black. “I was able to get some more detail in the lower shadows, but then have absolutely solid blacks —  likewise on the top end. We opened up the highlights to be even more visceral in their brightness. Joe Wright says he fell in love with the Dolby Vision.”

If you’re sitting in a Dolby Vision Cinema, says Doyle, you’re sitting in a black box. “Therefore, you don’t necessarily need to have the image as bright as a Rec 709 grade or LAD gray, which is typically for a lounge room where there are some lights on. There is a definite ratio between the presumed ambient light level of a room and where they park that LAD,” explains Doyle.

Knowing where they want the overall brightness of the film to be, they translate the tone curve to maintain exactly what they did in the DCI grade. Then perceptually it appears the same in the various mediums. Next they custom enhance each grade for the different display formats. “I don’t really necessarily call it a trim pass; it’s really adding a flare pass,” elaborates Doyle. “A DCI projector has quite a lot of flare, which means it’s quite organic and reactive to the image. If you project something on a laser, it doesn’t necessarily have anywhere near that amount of flair, and that can be a bit of a shock. Suddenly, your highlights are looking incredibly harsh. We went through and really just made sure that the smoothness of the image was maintained and emulated on the other various mediums.”

Doyle also notes that Darkest Hour benefited from the results of his efforts working with Technicolor color scientists Josh Pines and Chris Kutchka, working on new color modeling tools and being able “to build 3D LUTs that you can edit and that are cleaner. That can work in a little more containable way.”

Advice and Awards
In the bright new world of color correction, what questions would Doyle suggest asking directors? “What is their intent emotionally with the film? How do they want to reinforce that with color? Is it to be approached in a very literal way, or should we think about coming up with some kind of color arc that might be maybe counter intuitive? This will give you a feel for the world that the director has been thinking of, and then see if there’s a space to come at it from a slightly unexpected way.”

I asked Doyle if we have reached the point where awards committees should start thinking about an Academy Award category for color grading.

Knowing what an intensely collaborative process color grading is, Doyle responded that it would be quite challenging. “The pragmatist in me says it could be tricky to break it down in terms of the responsibilities. It depends on the relationship between the colorist, the DP and the director. It really does change with the personalities and the crew. That relationship could make the breakdown a little tricky just to work out whose idea was it to actually make it, for example, blue.”

Because this interview was conducted in December, I asked Doyle, what he would ask Santa to bring him for Christmas. His response? “I really think the new frontier is gamut mapping and gamut editing — that world of fitting one color space into another. I think being able to edit those color spaces with various color models that are visually more appropriate is pretty much the new frontier.”


Daniel Restuccio is a producer and teacher based in Southern California.

Richard Linklater on directing the film Last Flag Flying

By Iain Blair

Director Richard Linklater first made a name for himself back in 1991 with the acclaimed and influential independent release Slacker, an experimental narrative revolving around 24 hours in the lives of 100 characters. Since then he’s made the beloved Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise; Before Sunset, (he got an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay) and Boyhood (which received multiple BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards, and an Oscar for actress Patricia Arquette).

He’s also directed such diverse films as the Western/gangster picture The Newton Boys, the animated feature Waking Life, the real-time drama Tape, the comedy School of Rock and Everybody Wants Some!!

L-R: Iain Blair and Richard Linklater

His new film is the timely Last Flag Flying, which deals with war, patriotism and friendship. Set in 2003, it tells the story of three soldiers — former Navy Corps medic Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) and former Marines Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) — who reunite 30 years after they served together in the Vietnam War to bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War. Doc decides to forgo a burial at Arlington Cemetery and, with the help of his old buddies, takes the casket on a bittersweet trip up the East Coast to his home in suburban New Hampshire. Along the way, Doc, Sal and Mueller reminisce and come to terms with shared memories of the war that continues to shape their lives.

Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with author Darryl Ponicsan, who wrote his novel Last Flag Flying as a sequel to his book The Last Detail, which was made into the acclaimed 1973 film starring Jack Nicholson.

I spoke with Linklater —whose other film credits include Suburbia, Bad News Bears (the 2005 version), A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation, Inning by Inning: A Portrait of a Coach, Me and Orson Welles, Bernie and Before Midnight — about making the film, which is getting awards buzz, and why his image as a loose, improv-heavy director is so inaccurate.

Is it fair to say this is not a war movie, but it’s about war?
Yes, I think that’s right. It’s my kind of war movie. It’s not a battlefield movie but about the effects of war — that sub-category about what happens when the war comes home and how the combat survivors deal with it.

My dad was in the navy in WW11 but he never talked about the war and his experiences.
Exactly. My dad was the same. Very stoic. They just held it all in. Now it’s even worse, I feel. The suicide rate among returning vets is so high today, and the big problem is the way the service breaks you down and trains you, but then they don’t really put you back together. When you’re done, the killing machine goes home, and you’re taught to be stoic and be a man, and you’re left with nothing. To me that’s so tragic. We should talk about it. And all these issues, along with all of the wars since Vietnam, are the subtext to this whole story. War is such a political minefield today.

Is it true you started to make a film of this a decade ago?
Yes, I tried to adapt the book, but I’m glad it didn’t happen back then. It wasn’t meant to be, and no one was really ready to deal with the war in Iraq. It takes a while to want to analyze a war and get a perspective. A little distance is very helpful.

You’ve got three great leads. What did they bring to it?
Everything — all of their intelligence, humor, experience and work ethic. They really dug in, and we spent a couple of weeks rehearsing and really talking about all the issues. Each character is very different, and the guys really found them and jumped in. The biggest contrast is probably between Sal and Doc. Sal is the life of the party type, clearly self-medicating, always talking, eating, drinking, while Doc’s very low-key and quiet. Then Mueller’s somewhere in the middle.

Technology has changed a lot since you started, with the whole digital revolution, but you still like to shoot on film? Was that the case with this one?
We shot Boyhood all on film, but we did this digitally. It was just more practical, and I think now you can get any look you want with digital. It’s pretty impossible to tell the difference between film and digital now. But I don’t think film’s dead, although economically it’s changed, obviously, but I don’t think it’s going away. I hope we always have it as a choice. Digital’s just one more tool.

Where did you do the post?
We posted in my offices in Austin, as usual, and we began cutting while I shot.

Do you like post?
I love post and all the stuff you can do to shape your film, but I actually feel the most creative in rehearsal and then shooting. That’s when I feel like I’m really making the film. I don’t feel like I’ve ever “found” the film in the edit and post, like some directors do. There’s a certain schematic at work that I’m trying to follow. I know certain kinds of films have to be deconstructed and then reconstructed in post, but mine aren’t like that. It sounds boring but I do all that in advance. I’m a big preparer.

So you’re not the big improv, loose guy people like to think you are?
(Laughs) No, no. I prepare everything. And with experience you just know what you’re going to shoot and actually use.

The film was edited by your longtime collaborator Sandra Adair. Tell us about that relationship and how it works.
She doesn’t need to be on set and we just send dailies and then we talk a bit. I don’t usually shoot more than necessary, as I tend to have pretty limited budgets and schedules. I usually have a fairly good cut done about a month into post. I used to cut my own stuff when I began, like all filmmakers, and then she cut Dazed and Confused for me 24 years ago and we’ve been a team ever since.

Linklater on set.

I think we share the same brain at this point, a certain shorthand; we have great chemistry, and she’s just really good. She can just look at the footage and know what I’m thinking. I don’t have to explain it. The big challenge on this was finding the right balance between all the heavy drama and then the moments of comedy, and keeping that tonal balance all the way down the line. So in the edit you go, “This is a bit dialogue-heavy, let’s cut to the joke,” and “this is redundant,” and so on. The re-writing never stops.

How many visual effects shots are there in the film?
A few hundred, all done by Savage VFX who’re in LA and (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania, where we shot — mainly greenscreen, train stuff, compositing, clean-up and so on. Hopefully, you don’t notice them at all.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
It’s always been huge to me, and a couple of the songs — “Not Dark Yet” by Bob Dylan, and “Wide River to Cross” by Levon Helm — are so important. Big choices, with the Levon Helm song at the graveside, and Dylan at the very end. Again, it’s a tonal thing. There aren’t that many songs, but they’re all crucial, like the Eminem song “Without Me” and its humor.

Graham Reynolds, who’s done the score for a lot of my films, composed a beautiful score and I probably used it in places I usually wouldn’t because I felt the story needed it emotionally, and I wanted to give more clues in that area, and carry things through more.

The film has a very bleak look. Talk about the DI and how that process helped?
We did it at Light Iron with colorist Corinne Bogdanowicz (using Quantel Rio), and that bleak, rainy look was baked into the whole thing and started at the conceptual level — “We’re never going to see sunlight.” We’re going to have a lot of rain, grungy locations and a sort of texture and tone that’s fundamental to telling this story. Corinne did a great job, especially in the scenes where nature didn’t give us what we wanted. (From Corinne: “The movie was shot beautifully by Shane Kelly, who conveyed in the DI that the visuals needed to emphasize cool and dark tones.  At the same time, we worked to maintain a naturalistic feel throughout.”)

What’s next?

I’m in the middle of post on my next film, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, a comedy-drama starring Cate Blanchett, out next year. And I have a big TV project that began as a film, a huge, sprawling historical thing. TV is now this really viable medium for filmmakers.


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: Director Marc Webb on The Only Living Boy in New York

By Iain Blair

Marc Webb has directed movies both big and small. He made his feature film debut in 2009 with the low-budget indie rom-com (500) Days of Summer, which was nominated for two Golden Globes. He then went on to helm two recent The Amazing Spider-Man blockbusters, the fourth and fifth films in the multi-billion-dollar-grossing franchise.

Webb isn’t just about the big screen. He directed and executive produced the TV series Limitless for CBS, based on the film starring Bradley Cooper, and is currently an executive producer and director of the CW’s Golden Globe-winning series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Marc Webb

Now Webb, whose last film was the drama Gifted, released earlier this year, has again returned to his indie roots with the film The Only Living Boy in New York, starring Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Callum Turner and Kiersey Clemons.

Set in New York City, the sharp and witty coming-of-age story focuses on a privileged young man, Thomas Webb (Turner) — the son of a publisher and his artistic wife — who has just graduated from college. After moving from his parents’ Upper West Side apartment to the Lower East Side, he befriends his neighbor W.F. (Bridges), an alcoholic writer who dispenses worldly wisdom alongside healthy shots of whiskey.

Thomas’ world begins to shift when he discovers that his long-married father (Brosnan) is having an affair with a seductive younger woman (Beckinsale). Determined to break up the relationship, Thomas ends up sleeping with his father’s mistress, launching a chain of events that will change everything he thinks he knows about himself and his family.

Collaborating with Webb from behind the scenes was director of photography Stuart Dryburgh (Gifted, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Alice Through the Looking Glass) and editor Tim Streeto (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, Vinyl).

I recently talked with Webb about making the film, and if there is another superhero movie in his future.

What was the appeal of making another small film on the heels of Gifted?
They were both born out of a similar instinct, an impulse to simplify after doing two blockbusters. I had them lined up after Spider-Man and the timing worked out.

 

What sort of themes were you interested in exploring through this?
I think of it as a fable, with a very romantic image of New York as the backdrop, and on some levels it’s an examination of honesty or coming clean. I think people often cover a lot in trying to protect others, and that’s important in life where you have various degrees of truth-telling. But at some point you have to come clean, and that can be very hard. So it’s about that journey for Thomas, and regardless of the complex nature of his desires, he tries to be honest with himself and those close to him.

Can you talk about the look of New York in this film and working with your DP, who also shot your last film?
It was the same DP, but we had the opposite approach and philosophy on this. Gifted was very naturalistic with a diverse color palette and lots of hand-held stuff. On this we mostly kept the camera at eye level, as if it was a documentary, and it has more panache and “style” and more artifice. We restrained the color palette since New York has a lot of neutral tones and people wear a lot of black, and I wanted to create a sort tribute to the classic New York films I love. So we used a lot of blacks and grays, and almost no primary colors, to create an austere look. I wanted to push that but without becoming too stylized; that way when you do see a splash of red or some bright color, it has more impact and it becomes meaningful and significant. We also tried to do a lot of fun shots, like high angle stuff that gives you this objective POV of the city, making it a bit more dramatic.

Why did you shoot 35mm rather than digital?
I’ve always loved film and shooting in film, and it also suited this story as it’s a classic medium. And when you’re projecting digital, sometimes there’s an aliasing in the highlights that bothers me. It can be corrected, but aesthetically I just prefer film. And everyone respects film on set. The actors know you’re not just going to redo takes indefinitely. They feel a little pressure about the money.

Doesn’t that affect the post workflow nowadays?
Yes, it does, as most post people are now used to working in a purely digital format, but I think shooting analog still works better for a smaller film like this, and I’ve had pretty good experiences with film and the labs. There are more labs now than there were two years ago, and there are still a lot of films being shot on film. TV is almost completely digital now, with the odd exception of Breaking Bad. So the post workflow for film is still very accessible.

Where did you do the post?
We did the editing at Harbor Picture Company, and all the color correction at Company 3 with Stefan Sonnenfeld, who uses Blackmagic Resolve. C5’s Ron Bochar was the supervising sound editor and did a lot of it at Harbor. (For the mix at Harbor he employed D-Command using Avid Pro Tools as a mix engine.)

Do you like the post process?
I really love post… going through all the raw footage and then gradually molding it and shaping it. And because of my music video background I love working on all the sound and music in particular.  I started off as an editor, and my very first job in the business was re-cutting music videos for labels and doing documentaries and EPKs. Then I directed a bunch of music videos and shorts, so it’s a process that I’m very familiar with and understand the power of. I feel very much at home in an edit bay, and I edit the movie in my head as I shoot.

You edited with Tim Streeto. Tell us how it worked.
I loved his work on The Squid and the Whale, and I was anxious to work with him. We had a cool relationship. He wasn’t on the set, and he began assembling as I shot, as we had a fairly fast post schedule. I knew what I wanted, so it wasn’t particularly dramatic. We made some changes as we went, but it was pretty straightforward. We had our cut in 10 weeks, and the whole post was just three or four months.

What were the main challenges of editing this?
Tracking the internal life of the character and making sure the tone felt playful. We tried several different openings to the film before we settled on the voiceover that had this organic raison-d’etre, and that all evolved in the edit.

The Spider-Man films obviously had a huge number of very complex visual effects shots. Did you do many on this film?
Very few. Phosphene in New York did them. We had the opening titles and then we did some morphing of actors from time to time in order to speed things up. (Says Phosphene CEO/EP Vivian Connolly, “We designed an animated the graphic opening sequence of the film — using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects — which was narrated by Jeff Bridges. We commissioned original illustrations by Tim Hamilton, and animated them to help tell the visual story of the opening narration of the film.”)

It has a great jazzy soundtrack. Can you talk about the importance of music and sound?
The score had to mingle with all the familiar sounds of the concrete jungle, and we used a bit of reverb on some of the sounds to give it more of a mystical quality. I really love the score by Rob Simonsen, and my favorite bit is the wedding toast sequence. We’d temped in waltzes, but it never quite worked. Then Rob came up with this tango, and it all just clicked.

I also used some Dave Brubeck, some Charlie Mingus and some Moondog — he was this well-known blind New York street musician I’ve been listening to a lot lately — and together it all evoked the mood I wanted. Music is so deeply related to how I started off making movies, so music immediately helps me understand a scene and how to tell it the best way, and it’s a lot of fun for me.

How about the DI? What look did you go for?
It was all about getting a very cool look and palette. We’d sometimes dial up a bit of red in a background, but we steered away from primary colors and kept it a bit darker than most of my films. Most of the feel comes from the costumes and sets and locations, and Stefan did a great job, and he’s so fast.

What’s next? Another huge superhero film?
I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I’ve really enjoyed these last two films. I had a ball hanging out with the actors. Smaller movies are not such a huge risk, and you have more fun and can be more experimental.

I just did a TV pilot, Extinct, for CBS, which was a real fun murder mystery, and I’ll probably do more TV next.


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.

Big Block adds comedy director Richard Farmer

Who doesn’t like to laugh? No one. Well hardly no one. So when a director is able to evoke that sort of response from an audience, it’s amazing. That was the thinking behind Big Block’s addition of comedy director Richard Farmer.

This Oklahoma native began his career as an agency producer in Los Angeles after spending time post-college living in London, Seattle and Prague, working on indie films and videos. After a few years, he went on to produce for Mindfield, a production, editorial, and animation company for commercial television and music videos.

Since stepping behind the lens, Farmer has directed a prolific amount of commercials, each featuring his absurdist humor. Whether it’s carnivorous bunnies for Wendy’s, a magically appearing Fancy Bear for Free Credit Score or creating ’90s R&B songs about iconic memes for LG V20 phones, Farmer knows just how to create a memorable and compelling spot.

The recent LG spots are an example of Farmer’s style. Shot exclusively on the LG V20 phone, Farmer took well-known memes, from Double Rainbow to Damn Daniel and “remastered” them in high quality, showcasing a mash-up of his skills across the realms of narrative, music and VFX. Farmer has already hit the ground running at Big Block, having just booked a job for Simon Malls.

We asked Farmer what he likes about working with editors on his projects: “I love it when the editor really embraces that they are a partner in the process and know they have the freedom to take risks. Editors that are brave enough to push the creative and what was shot to new areas. Freak me out. Open it up and move the boundary. Show me new possibilities. I’m always blown away when that magic happens.”

 

Behind the Title: Director/Designer Ash Thorp

NAME: Ash Thorp (@ashthorp)

COMPANY: ALT Creative, Inc.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ALT Creative is co-owned by my wife Monica and myself. She helps coordinate and handle the company operations, while I manage the creative needs of clients. We work with a select list of outside contractors as needed, mainly depending on the size and scale of the project.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I fulfill many roles, but if I had to summarize I would say I most commonly am hired for the role of director or designer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Directing is about facilitating the team to achieve the best outcome on a given project. My ability to communicate with and engage my team toward a visionary goal is my top priority as a director. As a designer, I look at my role as an individual problem solver. My goal is to find the root of what is needed or requested and solve it using design as a mental process of solution.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I believe that directing is more about communication and not how well you can design, so many would be surprised by the amount of time and energy needed outside of “creative” tasks, such as emails, critiques, listening, observation and deep analysis.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
As a director, I love the freedom to expose the ideas in my mind to others and work closely with them to bring them to life. It’s immensely liberating and rewarding.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Redundancy often eats up my ambitions. Instructing my vision repeatedly to numerous teammates and partners can be taxing on my subconscious at times.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The late evening because that is often when I have my mind to myself and am free of outside world distractions and noise.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Nothing. I strongly believe that this is what I was put on earth to do. This is the path I have been designed and focused on since I was a child.

SO YOU KNEW EARLY ON THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I grew up with a very artistic family; my mother’s side of the family displays creative traits in one media or another. They were and still are all very deeply committed to supporting me in my creative endeavors. Based on my upbringing, it was a natural progression to also be a creative person.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
As for client projects that are publicly released, I most recently worked on the Assassin’s Creed feature film and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare video game.

For my own projects, I designed and co-directed a concept short for Lost Boy with Anthony Scott Burns. In addition, I released two personal projects: None is a short expression film devised to capture a tone and mood of finding oneself in a city of darkness, and Epoch
is an 11-minute space odyssey that merges my deep love of space and design.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
With Epoch being the most recently released project, I have received so many kind and congratulatory correspondences from viewers about how much they love the film. I am very proud of all the hard work and internal thought, development and personal growth it took to build this project with Chris Bjerre. I believe Epoch shows who I truly am, and I consider it one of the best projects of my personal career to date.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON FOR EPOCH?
We used a pretty wide spectrum of tools. Our general production tool kit was comprised of Adobe Photoshop for images and stills, texture building and 2D image editing; Adobe Bridge for reviewing frames and keeping a clear vision of the project; Adobe Premiere for editing everything from the beginning animatic to the final film; and, of course, our main staple in 3D was Maxon Cinema 4D, which we used to construct all of the final scenes and render everything using Octane Renderer.

We used Cinema 4D for everything — from building shots for the rough animatic to compiling entire scenes and shots for final render. We used it to animate the planets, moons, orbits, lights and the Vessel. It really is a rock-solid piece of software that I couldn’t imagine trying to build a film like Epoch without it. It allowed us to capture the animations, look, lighting and shots seamlessly from the project’s inception.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THIS WORK?
I am personally inspired by so many things. Epoch was a personal tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Carl Sagan, my love of space and space travel, classical sci-fi art and literature, and my personal love of graphic design all combined into one. We put tremendous effort into Epoch to pay proper homage to these things, yet also invite a new audience to experience something uniquely new. We hope you all enjoyed it!

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Internet, computers and physical traveling devices (like cars, planes).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I try and limit my time spent on social media, but I have two Facebooks, Instagram, Twitter and a Behance account.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I frequently listen to music while I work as it helps me fall deep into my mentally focused work state of mind. The type of music varies as some genres work better than others because they trigger different emotions for different tasks. When I am in deep thought, I listen to composers that have no lyrics in their work that may pull away my mind’s focus. When I am doing ordinary tasks or busy work, I listen to anything from heavy metal to drum and bass. The scale of music really varies for me as it’s also often based on my current mood. Music is a big part of my workday and my life.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I actually let the stress in and let it shape my decision making. I feel if I run away from it or unwind my mind, it takes double the effort to go back in to work. I embrace it as being a part of the high consumption industry in which I have chosen to work. It’s not always ideal and is often very demanding, but I often let it be the spark of the fire of my work.