Tag Archives: Tom Hanks

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood director Marielle Heller

By Iain Blair

If you are of a certain age, the red cardigan, the cozy living room and the comfy sneakers can only mean one thing — Mister Rogers! Sony Pictures’ new film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is a story of kindness triumphing over cynicism. It stars Tom Hanks and is based on the real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod.

Marielle Heller

In the film, jaded writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), whose character is loosely based on Junod, is assigned a profile of Rogers. Over the course of his assignment, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness and decency from America’s most beloved neighbor.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is helmed by Marielle Heller, who most recently directed the film Can You Ever Forgive Me? and whose feature directorial debut was 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Heller has also directed episodes of Amazon’s Transparent and Hulu’s Casual.

Behind the scenes, Heller collaborated with DP Jody Lee Lipes, production designer Jade Healy, editor Anne McCabe, ACE, and composer Nate Heller.

I recently spoke with Heller about making the film, which is generating a lot of Oscar buzz, and her workflow.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
I didn’t want to make a traditional biopic, and part of what I loved about the script was it had this larger framing device — that it’s a big episode of Mister Rogers for adults. That was very clever, but it’s also trying to show who he was deep down and what it was like to be around him, rather than just rattling off facts and checking boxes. I wanted to show Fred in action and his philosophy. He believed in authenticity and truth and listening and forgiveness, and we wanted to embody all that in the filmmaking.

It couldn’t be more timely.
Exactly, and it’s weird since it’s taken eight years to get it made.

Is it true Tom Hanks had turned this down several times before, but you got him in a headlock and persuaded him to do it?
(Laughs) The headlock part is definitely true. He had turned it down several times, but there was no director attached. He’s the type of actor who can’t imagine what a project will be until he knows who’s helming it and what their vision is.

We first met at his grandkid’s birthday party. We became friends, and when I came on board as director, the producers told me, “Tom Hanks was always our dream for playing Mister Rogers, but he’s not interested.” I said, “Well, I could just call him and send him the script,” and then I told Tom I wasn’t interested in doing an imitation or a sketch version, and that I wanted to get to his essence right and the tone right. It would be a tightrope to walk, but if we could pull it off, I felt it would be very moving. A week later he was like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” And everyone was like, “How did you get him to finally agree?” I think they were amazed.

What did he bring to the role?
Maybe people think he just breezed into this — he’s a nice guy, Fred’s a nice guy, so it’s easy. But the truth is, Tom’s an incredibly technically gifted actor and one of the hardest-working ones I’ve ever worked with. He does a huge amount of research, and he came in completely prepared, and he loves to be directed, loves to collaborate and loves to do another take if you need it. He just loves the work.

Any surprises working with him?
I just heard that he’s actually related to Fred, and that’s another weird thing. But he truly had to transform for the role because he’s not like Fred. He had to slow everything down to a much slower pace than is normal for him and find Fred’s deliberate way of listening and his stillness and so on. It was pretty amazing considering how much coffee Tom drinks every day.

What did Matthew Rhys bring to his role?
It’s easy to forget that he’s actually the protagonist and the proxy for all the cynicism and neuroticism that many of us feel and carry around. This is what makes it so hard to buy into a Mister Rogers world and philosophy. But Matthew’s an incredibly complex, emotional person, and you always know how much he’s thinking. He’s always three steps ahead of you, he’s very smart, and he’s not afraid of his own anger and exploring it on screen. I put him through the ringer, as he had to go through this major emotional journey as Lloyd.

How important was the miniature model, which is a key part of the film?
It was a huge undertaking, but also the most fun we had on the movie. I grew up building miniatures and little cities out of clay, so figuring it all out — What’s the bigger concept behind it? How do we make it integrate seamlessly into the story? — fascinated me. We spent months figuring out all the logistics of moving between Fred’s set and home life in Pittsburgh and Lloyd’s gritty, New York environment.

While we shot in Pittsburgh, we had a team of people spend 12 weeks building the detailed models that included the Pittsburgh and Manhattan skylines, the New Jersey suburbs, and Fred’s miniature model neighborhood. I’d visit them once a week to check on progress. Our rule of thumb was we couldn’t do anything that Fred and his team couldn’t do on the “Neighborhood,” and we expanded a bit beyond Fred’s miniatures, but not outside of the realm of possibility. We had very specific shots and scenes all planned out, and we got to film with the miniatures for a whole week, which was a delight. They really help bridge the gap between the two worlds — Mister Rogers’ and Lloyd’s worlds.

I heard you shot with the same cameras the original show used. Can you talk about how you collaborated with DP Jody Lee Lipes, to get the right look?
We tracked down original Ikegami HK-323 cameras, which were used to film the show, and shipped them in from England and brought them to the set in Pittsburgh. That was huge in shooting the show and making it even more authentic. We tried doing it digitally, but it didn’t feel right, and it was Jody who insisted we get the original cameras — and he was so right.

Where did you post?
We did it in New York — the editing at Light Iron, the sound at Harbor and the color at Deluxe.

Do you like the post process?
I do, as it feels like writing. There’s always a bit of a comedown from production for me, which is so fast-paced. You really slow down for post; it feels a bit like screeching to a halt for me, but the plus is you get back to the deep critical thinking needed to rewrite in the edit, and to retell the story with the sound and the DI and so on.

I feel very strongly that the last 10% of post is the most important part of the whole process. It’s so tempting to just give up near the end. You’re tired, you’ve lost all objectivity, but it’s critical you keep going.

Talk about editing with Anne McCabe. What were the big editing challenges?
She wasn’t on the set. We sent dailies to her in New York, and she began assembling while we shot. We have a very close working relationship, so she’d be on the phone immediately if there were any concerns. I think finding the right tone was the biggest challenge, and making it emotionally truthful so that you can engage with it. How are you getting information and when? It’s also playing with audiences’ expectations. You have to get used to seeing Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers, so we decided it had to start really boldly and drop you in the deep end — here you go, get used to it! Editing is everything.

There are quite a few VFX. How did that work?
Obviously, there’s the really big VFX sequence when Lloyd goes into his “fever dreams” and imagines himself shrunk down on the set of the neighborhood and inside the castle. We planned that right from the start and did greenscreen — my first time ever — which I loved. And even the practical miniature sets all needed VFX to integrate them into the story. We also had seasonal stuff, period-correct stuff, cleanup and so on. Phosphene in New York did all the VFX.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
My composer’s also my brother, and he starts very early on so the music’s always an integral part of post and not just something added at the end. He’s writing while we shoot, and we also had a lot of live music we had to pre-record so we could film it on the day. There’s a lot of singing too, and I wanted it to sound live and not overly produced. So when Tom’s singing live, I wanted to keep that human quality, with all the little mouth sounds and any mistakes. I left all that in purposely. We never used a temp score since I don’t like editing to temp music, and we worked closely with the sound guys at Harbor in integrating all of the music, the singing, the whole sound design.

How important is the DI to you?
Hugely important and we finessed a lot with colorist Sam Daley. When you’re doing a period piece, color is so crucial – that it feels authentic to that world. Jody and Sam have worked together for a long time and they worked very hard on the LUT before we began, and every department was aware of the color palette and how we wanted it to look and feel.

What’s next?
I just started a new company called Defiant By Nature, where I’ll be developing and producing TV projects by other people. As for movies, I’m taking a little break.


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.

Deluxe NY adds color to Mister Rogers biopic

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood stars Tom Hanks as children’s television icon Fred Rogers in a story about kindness triumphing over cynicism. Inspired by the article “Can You Say…Hero?” by journalist Tom Junod, the film is directed by Marielle Heller. The cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes worked on the color finishing with Deluxe New York’s Sam Daley.

Together Heller and Lipes worked to replicate the feature’s late 1990’s film aesthetic through in-camera techniques. After testing various film and digital camera options, production opted to shoot a majority of the footage with ARRI Alexa cameras in Super 16 mode. To more accurately represent the look of the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Lipes’ team scoured the globe for working versions of the same Ikegami video cameras that were used to tape the show. In a similar quest for authenticity, Daley got a touch up on the look of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood by watching old episodes, even visiting a Pittsburgh museum that housed the show’s original set. He also researched film styles typical of the time period to help inform the overall look of the feature.

“Incorporating Ikegami video footage into the pipeline was the most challenging aspect of the color on this film, and we did considerable testing to make sure that the quality of the video recordings would hold up in a theatrical environment,” Daley explained. “Jody and I have been working together for more than 10 years; we’re aesthetically in-sync and we both like to take what some might consider risks visually, and this film is no different.”

Through the color finish process, Daley helped unify and polish the final footage, which included PAL and NTSC video in addition to the Alexa-acquired digital material. He paid careful attention to integrate the different video standards and frame rates while also shaping two distinct looks to reflect the narrative. For contrast between the optimistic Rogers and his colorful world, Daley incorporated a cool moody feel around the pessimistic Junod, named “Lloyd Vogel” in the film and played by Matthew Rhys.

The A-List: Director Tom Tykwer on ‘A Hologram for the King’

By Iain Blair

Tom Tykwer, the multi-faceted German director/writer/composer/producer, first burst onto the international scene with his 1998 thriller Run Lola Run. Since then he’s directed such diverse films as Heaven, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, The Princess and the Warrior, Cloud Atlas (with the Wachowskis) and The International. His latest is A Hologram for the King from Roadside Attractions.

Based on Dave Eggers’ novel, A Hologram for the King is set in recession-ravaged 2010. It stars Tom Hanks as Alan Clay, an American businessman who, broke, depressed and freshly divorced, arrives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to close what he hopes will be the deal of a lifetime: selling a state-of-the-art holographic teleconferencing system to the Saudi government.

But, of course, nothing goes as planned. Adrift and alone in an unfamiliar land, Alan befriends a taxi driver who chauffeurs him through the desert to the “King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade,” a surreal ghost town of vacant skyscrapers and half-completed construction projects. Baffled by the bureaucratic reception he gets at the so-called “Welcome Center,” Alan struggles to figure out why his small IT support team is being forced to spend its days in a sweltering tent as it preps for the big presentation. Worse, because of the Saudi way of doing business, he’s unclear if the king will ever show up for the long-scheduled meeting.

Back in Jeddah, the stressed-out salesman winds up in the hospital, where he is treated by a beautiful and empathetic Muslim doctor (Sarita Choudhury). As Alan gets to know his new Saudi friends better, cultural barriers break down and he begins to contemplate the possibility of a fresh start in a land where tradition and modernity meet in perplexing ways.

I recently caught up with Tykwer to talk about his process on the film.

What do you look for in a project and what was the appeal of making this?
I always look for something different — something that fits my sensibilities. I never want to repeat myself, and that can happen so easily if you’re not careful. I think this was a surprise for me too. I love Dave Eggers’ writing.  I actually tried to turn an earlier book of his into a TV show but it didn’t happen.  When I read this book I immediately felt I knew how to shoot it, so we met and I told him my ideas. I felt that as bleak and dark as the book is, there’s a lightness and sense of hope and a lot of comedy in the attempts of the characters to bridge two very different cultures. And despite all the cultural and political and religious barriers, there is communication. We can reach out to others.

How did you deal with all the restrictions of shooting in Saudi Arabia?
We shot some stuff there, but we couldn’t take the actors there; we ended up shooting most of it in Morocco. The biggest challenge for me was recreating the abstract “King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade,” this sort of ghost town in the middle of nowhere in Saudi Arabian desert. I went there and to Jeddah and took photos of all the locations, and then we recreated some of it in the Western Sahara, the most southern part of Morocco, where there’s absolutely nothing —no film infrastructure at all. Plenty of films have been shot in Morocco near the cities in the north, but not down there, so we had to ship in everything — the crew, all the equipment and so on. We didn’t have a huge budget, so it was very challenging. We all stayed together in a little hotel, which had power just two hours a day. It was like camping.

Do you like the post process?
I love it, and if you feel confident about the material it’s heaven, since there’s none of the pressure of the shoot, the money worries and so on. But I do feel post isn’t as relaxed as it used to be. In the old days you could spend a year on post and no one would complain, but now everyone wants you to hurry up. I look at post and the editing as very similar to writing. You constantly reshape and re-phrase as you do post.

Where did you post?
I always do post in Berlin, and we also shot some of the interiors on stages there.

The film was edited by Alex Berner, whose credits include Jupiter Ascending, and who worked with you on Cloud Atlas. Tell us about that relationship and how it worked.
He wasn’t on the set, although he did visit us a couple of times. We sent him dailies and he would start cutting and assembling and send me stuff to look at. But I’m so busy on a shoot that I barely have time to look at anything, so I rely on him. I shoot a lot — it was anamorphic 35mm, for probably the last time — and he’ll get four to five hours of material and then start boiling it down to three or four minutes.

After the shoot, we spent about three months going though all the material, and then I took a two-month break to work on Sense8, this sci-fi show for Netflix, and that break was a real gift. You step back and see it more objectively. So then we cut for another two or three months and had a two-hour cut. This felt a little slow, so we trimmed it down to under 100 minutes and did some test screenings, which I actually like. It shows you very quickly where the film drags and the bits that only interest you, not the audience.

Obviously, there are a lot of VFX. How many?
Quite a few hundred shots, done by Rise VFX and Arri, who worked together. The big thing was creating the ghost city. The tent was real, and so were various bits of road we put in. But there were no buildings at all, so we took this very modern office building in Rabat and scanned it in. Then we used this big empty construction site we found in Casablanca and scanned that in too. I like working with VFX, and I like it when the VFX and art department collaborate closely. It should always be one vision.

Can you talk about the importance of music and sound in the film?
It’s so important to me, especially as I compose with Johnny Klimek prior to shooting. It’s very different from the usual way of doing it as we compose most, if not all, the music before the shoot, and the editor has all that to use as he cuts. We never have to use temp music. As usual, we composed the music at home, and then recorded it in Leipzig, and we did the final sound mix at Arri in Berlin.

What’s next?
I’m doing this big TV series called Babylon Berlin — it’s 16 episodes, all set in the 1920s, which is the equivalent of eight films in terms of running time. I love the details of post, and there’s going to be a lot as there’s nothing left in Berlin from that period now. I want a street movie look, so it’ll be hard to do, but it’s an exciting challenge.

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: Editor Chris Peterson takes on ‘The Sixties’ for CNN

By Randi Altman

What do you think of when someone mentions the 1960s? Hippies protesting the Vietnam War? Woodstock? Putting a man on the moon? There is so much to reflect on when thinking of this pivotal time in history, and CNN agrees.

At the end of May, the news network launched a 10-part original series called The Sixties. It airs on Thursday nights. The series takes a closer look at the moments in a decade that brought the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X, the Vietnam War, the British Invasion and so much more.

The Sixties has some big-named Emmy Award-winning producers behind it: Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman (HBO’s John Adams and The Pacific) of Playtone, and Mark Continue reading