Category Archives: Interviews

The Somerville’s Theatre’s 70mm Film Fest – A Brief Interview with Projectionist David Kornfeld

Photo: CinemaNitrate
Photo: CinemaNitrate

Silverado is going to play over at the Somerville Theatre on September 21st at 7:30 PM, and won’t be projected digitally, the way most theaters do things. It won’t be projected from a 35mm print either; which, from a cinephiles’ perspective, is a more preferred way. It will projected from a 70mm print with 6-track Dolby Stereo sound, the best possible way a film can be experienced – that’s what the Somerville’s committed to.

Their 70mm and Widescreen Festival begins tonight with Lawrence of Arabia at 8 PM and runs through September 25th.

I spoke with projectionist David Kornfeld about putting the event together.

CINEMA NITRATE: You’ve been wanting to do this festival for a long time, and it was a matter of finally getting all of the equipment together, and you were very particular about it. How long did it take you to get all of this stuff?

KORNFELD: It’s been in the making for 12 years. I think with getting all the sound system elements, that took me something like 6 to 8 years.

CN: The Somerville showed some 70mm titles last year, like The Wild Bunch and 2001. Were these a sort of test-run for the festival?

KORNFELD: Yes, the system went active last year and we ran a bunch of 70mm movies over the course of the year. I wanted to be sure that if there were any glitches or bugs in the system, we could take care of them before the festival. I’m cautious. I don’t want to have this big festival, and all of a sudden in the middle of it discover this gigantic glitch. It would be embarrassing.

CN: You ran The Untouchables in 70mm earlier this year, and I must say, the sound was impressive.

KORNFELD: Well, in my opinion we have the best sound system in New England – the right speakers, the right amps, the right processors. We did everything right here.

Photo: CinemaNitrate
Photo: CinemaNitrate

CN: Looking at the list of films, there are some real gems, particularly in my opinion Sleeping Beauty and Mad World. Which films are the one’s that you think people really need to see?

KORNFELD: I wouldn’t miss Lawrence of Arabia, and I wouldn’t miss Lord Jim, because Lord Jim never screens. It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World was of course filmed in Ultra Panavision and needs to be seen this way. And Sleeping Beauty is the only existing 70mm print.

CN: Wasn’t Sleeping Beauty the first widescreen animated feature film?

KORNFELD: No, that would be Lady and the Tramp. Sleeping Beauty was the first of the animated feature to be shot in Technirama, which is anamorphic VistaVision.

CN: Being one of the few films shot in Ultra Panavision, Mad World has a certain preeminence in the history of this format.

KORNFELD: It was designed to be seen on the big screen, as were all of the things we’re running. These films were made it without even the thought of ever being seen on a home system or something like an iPhone. They were made to be seen big. And with an audience. You don’t even get a fraction of the picture information on something like an iPhone or any home media. The resolution, the detail and the color spectrum are reduced or missing. Comparatively it’s embarrassing.

CN: Have most of these films not been seen in this format in Boston since their original release?

KORNFELD: Lawrence of Arabia has, and Sleeping Beauty has. The last time Sleeping Beauty ran around here was in the 1980s.

Photo: CinemaNitrate
A gorgeous 70mm print of ‘West Side Story’ will screen twice: Saturday, September 17th at 8 PM and Thursday, September 22nd at 8 PM. Photo: CinemaNitrate

CN: How long do you think the area is gone without 70mm capability?

KORNFELD: It’s been some time; most of the theaters that could run the format have long since closed. Right now, the Somerville is the only venue in the area that can run the format without needing any equipment or modifications. We have the only permanent installation.

CN: Considering the really great turn-outs the Somerville had for The Wild Bunch and 2001, are you confident the festival will attract similar attendance?

KORNFELD: I don’t know how well we’re going to do with this. I hope it does well. If it does well then we get to do another one next year. This was a long time coming, and it’s very expensive, and we’re hoping that the audience does show up!

CN: Is al it worth the work?

KORNFELD: Well, yeah, it’s a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it because it’s the best way to see a movie.

CN: It is. I think Boston moviegoers are pretty fortunate to have the opportunity see films presented this way. Unfortunately there aren’t many theaters around anymore that can offer this sort of viewing experience.

KORNFELD: There aren’t many people left around who actually understand and really know how to run this format. The experts in projecting this format have mostly retired or passed away. It’s a perishable skill. Next year, theaters are going to run straight into this problem when Dunkirk is released; the film that Christopher Nolan shot in 70mm. But everything will be fine here, so watch that here.

The Making of ‘Pieces of Talent’ – An Interview With Filmmaker Joe Stauffer

joe stauffer

Independent Filmmaking takes passion, hard work, and inspiration. I recently sat down with Joe Stauffer, the director/writer/editor of the horror film Pieces of Talent. He gave me an inside look into what it takes to make a good film independently. Stauffer kept the whole process local in Wilmington, NC and continues to support independent filmmaking.

[divider]

ERIC BENNER: Was Pieces of Talent something you’ve wanted to make for a while or was it one of those ideas that just pop in your head out of nowhere?

JOE STAUFFER: Well, the film was spawned from a short film we did a few years ago. The character had been around for a while so we decided to take that short film and make a feature out of it.

BENNER: How long ago did you start writing this film?

STAUFFER: David Long wrote the original script in 2008 and for some reason I didn’t read it for forever and then in 2010 we decided to tear it apart, put it back together and really go into production with it.

BENNER: One key element behind everyone’s work is inspiration. Where did you gather your inspiration from for your own work?

STAUFFER: Our inspiration is just making art and making films. We love to create things. There are a lot of parts of the story that are obviously pulled from real life experience. People say, “Write what you know,” so that’s what we did, and we tapped into that and then we explored a dark side of that. So the inspiration came from everyone and all around us and doing what we like to do. The filmmaking process is our inspiration and part of the story at the same time.

BENNER: Was there any specific point in your past when you decided you wanted to go into filmmaking?

STAUFFER: I played in bands from my early teens to my early twenties. I got tired of doing the band thing so I decided to start doing music videos as a way to be involved in the music community without dealing with the headaches of being in a band. So I started doing live videos and stuff, and then got more into narrative based videos. From there short film, and then got hired to do more long form stuff. In my early twenties is really when I had a realization of how much I really loved filmmaking. I’d always messed around with it previously, but in my early twenties I realized “This is for me”. And that is when I started pursuing it, you could say.

BENNER: Speaking of music videos, there is a David Long music video in the special features. Was that something you planned all along or was it something that just spurred out of the moment during production and then you decided you wanted to shoot a music video for that character?

STAUFFER: No, actually that song was just sent to us by Klassified. He is the guy that beats up David in the movie. All the rap that you hear in the film is his work. So he contributed to the soundtrack and acted in it. He just sent that over to us one day. He just did it for the hell of it. We had no idea and we got that in our email and we were like, “We have to shoot a music video for this. It would be so fun,” so we did. Me and David drove up to New York and picked up Kristi and then drove her back here and shot it. We got a couple of the cast members together and made it happen. It was fun.

BENNER: In all independent filmmaking one of the main obstacles is finding funding. How did you go about getting funding for this film?

STAUFFER: Several old, magic couches.

joe stauffer 2

BENNER: Was the whole film shot locally in Wilmington, NC?

STAUFFER: About sixty percent of the film was shot in Wilmington, NC and all of the farm stuff was shot near Godwin, NC which is a little bit north of Fayetteville. We were the last movie to shoot in Whitey’s before they tore it down.

BENNER: Was there a lot of local people working on the film or did you have outside help?

STAUFFER: Our film was crewed 100% locally. The cast was 100% local. All of the music was 100% independent. Every aspect of this film is independent right down to the distribution model we are going with. We want to keep it personal and have a real connection with our audience.

BENNER: I noticed in the film that the character David Long’s real name is David Long. Was there any reasoning behind keeping his name the same in the film?

STAUFFER: His character is very much based in reality. David is one of the sweetest, psychotic folks I have ever met.

BENNER: One of my favorite moments in the film was the shotgun death. How did you go about creating the effects in that scene?

STAUFFER: Our special effects artist Tony Rosen made the prosthetic head and filled it with blood and everything and we did the original take with a six shooter using real bullets. It didn’t work like we wanted. One of our crew members had a shotgun in his truck so we used that. So that effect that you see is about as real as you can get without actually killing someone. We kept the set extremely safe the entire time. We actually had zero accidents on the production which is very fortunate considering the farm we shot on was a death trap!

BENNER: When the blood splashed on the camera lens was that planned or did that just happen?

STAUFFER: That was not planned, I still find blood on my equipment to this day.

BENNER: Independent Horror films seem to be booming these days. It is rare to find a gem such as Pieces of Talent. About how many people did it take to create this film?

STAUFFER: It’s a tough question. With all of the main people, the main cast, the background actors, and the crew it’s a lot. If you just count the main cast and the crew maybe twenty or thirty. My mom catered it haha! I personally directed, edited, sound designed, and shot it… so that reduced the crew a little bit. The onset experience took a wonderful group of folks to make happen.

BENNER: It seems you wear many hats when you are doing your work. Do you do all of these jobs for all of your work? Do you like to do everything and be directing, be writing, be the editor? Is that something that you choose to do or you do out of necessity?

STAUFFER: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that naturally it’s a quality control thing. It’s about trust. If I can find someone to do the job sufficient I will have someone else do that job, but if not I’ve got to do it myself and maintain the standard of quality that satisfies me. Because we want to stay true to our vision, to our idea of what it could be and should be. If details aren’t paid attention to you lose that.

BENNER: The ending of the film was very surprising to me. Without revealing too much, was that the first ending you came up with or were there multiple ideas you had in mind?

STAUFFER: Yeah, when we originally wrote it that was then ending we had. We definitely left some off, there’s an extra scene on the DVD that shows a little bit. There are some hidden selections. There is about 15 minutes we didn’t put into the film. But the ending that you see was originally written that way. We just decided to end it ambiguously. I don’t know if that’s saying too much. We wanted to keep it open ended.

BENNER: Speaking of all the hidden features, was that something you planned for the DVD?

STAUFFER: Absolutely, we wanted to keep the DVD as organic as the film. So I personally authored the DVD. I did all the artwork, made all the motion menus and everything. We wanted to hide little nuggets of joy in there.

BENNER: Do you think you will stay in the horror/suspense genre or do you see yourself branching out into other genres as well?

STAUFFER: I’m not a big horror junkie. I enjoy the genre, but I’m also big into comedy. We like to have fun. Even in the film there are a lot of comedic moments. There’s a balance there. We have a couple more projects planned that are horror, but after that we’d like to do some comedy.

BENNER: Something I’m sure people are interested in is what’s next for you. Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

STAUFFER: Yeah, we have a film called “The Azalea Haunting” (https://www.facebook.com/azaleahaunting) that we are currently in pre-production with and another film called “Sleepy Creek” (https://www.facebook.com/sleepycreekresearch). They’re both horror and we plan on getting them done in the next year, both of them. We will be independently releasing them as well.

BENNER: Are you going to shoot those locally in Wilmington as well?

STAUFFER: We are. We’re going to try to keep everything as local as possible.

BENNER: Where can someone pick up a copy of Pieces of Talent?

STAUFFER: The film is now available in many forms on our official website. We have a two-disc special edition DVD that is available on our website (http://piecesoftalent.com). We also have full length, collector VHS with the entire film, and “Watch Me” VHS tapes that contain a death scene from the film and an art film I did a few years ago. We also have an “instant ticket” available to stream from the website for $5.99. We are independently releasing this film and really appreciate the support.

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The DVD is available here: http://piecesoftalent.com. Enter “horror” and save two bucks!

To see a review written about Pieces of Talent click here.

The Making of ‘Oculus’ – An Interview with Filmmakers Mike Flanagan and Jason Blum, Part 2

© 2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s part two of the Los Angeles press conference interview with Oculus director (and editor) Mike Flanagan, and producer Jason Blume. (If you’ve yet to read Part 1, click here.)

Oculus is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, so do check it out.

[divider]

JOURNALIST: Mike, being both the director and the editor, what do you feel you were able to bring to the process, particularly with Oculus’ multiple, interweaving character timelines?

FLANAGAN: And then the other lesson from the short [film] that I think was the most important was we had wanted it to play like an old camping story. One of the things about having a sterile, brightly lit environment without any decorations or anything else was that it forced us to focus on the words, and the stories of the mirror that Tim, in the short, was telling. The beauty about a campfire is you’ve just got the fire. Everything else melts away into nothing, so you focus. You sit and you create the story in your own head.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The history of the mirror section in the short film made it to the feature almost untouched. And that was something that, you know, when you look at it, and script is 13 pages of exposition, and people are saying, “I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think this is going to hold the attention of viewers if they’re just sitting there telling stories.” We could point out that short [film] and say, “It [worked] in the short.”

It took a lot of really intense coverage and editing in order to keep the pace up, to keep it interesting. And it takes an actor who can really deliver that kind of intensity again and again and again, to sell it. That was was a really important thing to have, because when the feature was getting out there, that scene was one of the more controversial, and one of the ones that people would say, “Well, that’s going to get cut way back. People aren’t going to sit through that. People are going to want to.” And so it was really rewarding as we put it together that when we test [screened] the film, it showed up consistently in the top three favorite scenes of the movie. If we hadn’t had the dry run with the short [film] to kind of convince ourselves and other people,that an audience could hang on that kind of storytelling for an extended period of time, I don’t think we could’ve ever made an argument to [include] it in the feature.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian stars in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: The construct [of the narrative], the blending of the generations, make that so compelling and suspenseful. But having said that, considering fans of the horror genre – which is one of the few where audiences and the diehard fans are not afraid to express their distaste or point out plot holes; and I could picture people trying to say, “This didn’t work. That didn’t work”, but – did you intensely go over the script even more so knowing that fans of the genre would pick it apart?

FLANAGAN: Oh yeah! You know you’re talking to some of the most enthusiastic fans out there, and you’re right. As one of them it’s like … we analyze and dissect and take it so seriously.

You know, fans are so eager to protect the genre from itself in a lot of ways that it’s like there’s going to be this intense additional scrutiny because you’re putting something out there into a marketplace that’s got this fan-base that’s so rabid. And as one of those fans, that makes me really happy. As a writer, that was really tough. On every draft [of the screenplay] I was asking myself, “What are the questions that are going to be asked? Where is somebody going to throw up their hands? And more importantly, where in the movie can we give voice to those fans? Where in the movie can the person who sits in the theater and crosses their arms say, “Why don’t you break [the mirror].” You know? Where is the character in the movie that says the same thing, so the [audience member] can say, “Oh! My perspective is being represented actually by a character in the film.” And then … is our answer going to be good enough?

So all of that was really difficult, because we didn’t want to ever have it be our fault that we would leave a hole in the script, you know? It was like going back in and making sure that the characters in the movie would react and act the way an intelligent viewer would. That was very important.

It’s tough because, you know, luckily we lived with this thing for so long – after the short [film] it was like seven years before we got into the preproduction on the feature – that there was plenty of time to ask all these questions and to try to answer and anticipate them. That’s one of the things where that kind of long gulf between the short film and the feature help a lot, because there was just tons of time to just think about it.

Yeah, it’s one of those things where knowing that fan-base and being an enthusiastic member of it, you know, certainly helps because you want them to come out and feel like their intelligence has been respected by the story and that they’re not going to sit there and have to suspend common sense. Suspending disbelief in a movie one thing, and we all do it. And every genré requires. But suspending common sense is a different thing, and I don’t think people enjoy that. I don’t think people respond to movies where characters are behaving in a way that an audience member never would. So I think that’s something to be very aware of, but it certainly isn’t always easy.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Garrett Ryan (left) and Annalise Basso (right) star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: Jason, you have a lot of experience [producding and marketing films] in the genré. How do you deal with addressing the concerns of the fans?

BLUM: I think it’s very important. I mean, in terms of logistics stuff, we do exactly what you described on all our movies. We screen them.  We screen them a lot of times for fans.

I think one thing that’s fun about the horror community, because we are in a lot of ways, kind of outcasts in Hollywood, where horror is kind of looked down upon – so what it does is it keeps the people who love horror and make horror [films] … it keeps us all together.  So when we make our movies … actually, every movie we do, we have a bunch of directors who come and watch and talk to each other. So I think it feels much more like a family. It’s exactly like what Mike’s talking about. It’s like protecting the genré and making sure the movies make sense and that people are reacting to scary things in the way that they think they should be.

The Making of ‘Oculus’ – An Interview with Filmmakers Mike Flanagan and Jason Blum, Part 1

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Garrett Ryan (left) and Annalise Basso (right) star in Relativity Media´s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

If you didn’t get the chance to see Oculus when it was in theaters a couple of months ago, now’s your chance. The film hit Blu-ray and DVD this week and it’s certainly worth picking up. The darn thing is simply creepy.

What we have for you today is part one of an interview with director and editor Mike Flanagan and producer Jason Blum. The interview was conducted in Los Angeles a few weeks prior to Oculus‘ theatrical release.

We hope you enjoy it! Check back soon for part two!

[divider]

JOURNALIST: Jason, I have to ask, working with a director who’s also being the film’s editor must have helped incredibly with the construction of this dual timeline that intercuts, because that’s key to the ingeniousness of the story.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
©20th Century Fox/2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JASON BLUM: Well, actually I think you’ve got to answer that question by starting with how he writes. Because one of the interesting things about working with Mike – you have to forgive me for talking about you as if you’re not in the room – is when we developed the script, when it was in the early drafts, it was a bit hard to tell, and we ended up doing something very simple which was [we put] all the past time-line was in italics and all the present time-line wasn’t.  So on the paper, on the page you could ultimately see the difference.

But at the time [Mike] was writing, and he and his writing partner Jeff Howard were planning the editorial transitions, what was interesting about that was … pretty much everything you see – all the key transitions that blur the lines of reality in the second and third acts – were all planned in advance.

The other thing about working with an editor as a director, which honestly I hadn’t done before, is it’s an independent film, it’s a small budget, and you never have enough time or enough money. But what was really fun on set was Mike was able to come up with a lot of creative solutions that happened as a practical matter.

You know, 12 hours into your 12-hour day, you can’t afford more than an hour of overtime, you have more shots left, and you can’t find it … so, you know, when Mike and I would huddle about that, it was always like, “Okay, I can cut this, and I’m going to cut that so the coverage will work. I’m going cut from here and here but then I don’t need this and I can transition this to here.” He knew exactly what he was doing and we were able to make choices as a result that allowed us to make the movie look a lot bigger than it was. It’s just about committing creatively to that path on the day.

JOURNALIST: Mike, did you want to talk about that story structure?

FLANAGAN: Yes, I braided the timeline structure. It was something that existed in the very first outline for the feature treatment and that we always knew was going to be really, really difficult to pull off.

I’d been working as an editor [in Los Angeles] at that point for a little more than a decade, and so kind of going into it was like you never know with a movie if it’s going to be your last, especially if it’s your first. So, kind of coming at it like, well, if everything goes away and this doesn’t work out, how can I make the coolest movie that I’d want to watch if this ends up being like, my only shot? So for me it was like, how can I set this up in a way that’ll be kind of my own Everest of editing.

And you know, we really kind of lean on all of that sensibility from the script point of view so the idea was always there that we can take these two stories and parallel them in a way that the transitions are getting tighter and tighter and tighter and we’re bouncing back more frequently. Hopefully to the point that the two stories bleed together in a way that we can’t tell the difference any longer, and the characters can’t tell the difference any longer.

Because when you’re dealing with a monster that’s an inanimate object, the only way you can kind of sustain tension over a long period of time – which is a big concern coming off the short, because I felt like we had kind of pushed the limit at that point where it was interesting for a half hour, and how are we going to triple that – was to create a sense of distortion and disorientation that would be similar for the viewer as it was for [characters] in the room. That could only work, I thought, by making the narrative as disorienting as possible; which of course means you’re creating a nightmare from a continuity perspective, making it much more difficult for actors to maintain continuity within the performances. But because that was clearly going to be the challenge of it, that was something we leaned into. It was like, okay we’re going to go with the most difficult road and just really hope that comes together.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Star Karen Gillian and Director Mike Flanagan set up a scene in Relativity Media´s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: Jason, I remember asking you about Oculus back in October. You seemed particularly excited about it. Of the many projects you had in development, this one … I could see your eyes kind of light up.  What was it about the short [film] and the story? Is there anything inherent in that short or that story that grabbed you and spoke to you?

JASON BLUM: Well, I actually got involved with the movie after these guys had made it; kind of like we did on Paranormal Activity. It screened in Toronto and I loved it and the distribution was kind of a question as to how was going to happen. So if there was a way to try and lend our name and marketing and a lot of the stuff we did on Paranormal Activity to this movie, I was psyched to do it and help out. So we got involved at that point.

And the reason my eyes lit up when we talked about it in October is because of exactly what we’re talking about. I think that this story, I mean, the studio would never make this movie, it would never get made on a traditional $30 million studio-type format. Like a studio-produced horror movie as opposed to a studio-distributed movie, so I love that. I thought that was really original and that’s why my eyes lit up.

JOURNALIST: Mike, how many mirrors did you look at before finding the one. It’s the same one in the short, right?

FLANAGAN: Close, it’s very close. Looking for the mirrors for the short film was challenging mostly because we couldn’t afford any, and so it was like trying to find something that would have character and be Gothic but also beautiful, because I didn’t want it to be like, Who the hell would hang this up in their house? That was really tricky.

So, we found this mirror. It’s plastic.  It was a bathroom mirror, I think, from the Howard Eliot collection. And got in touch, and we were able to get the mirror in. And when it came time for the filming, it was like, Okay, we want to design our own thing, taking some DNA from that original mirror but kind of trying to come up with something that was going to be even more impactful, more organic and kind of have more living qualities to it.

There’s something really awesome that [the production] did with the mirror. When you get really close to it, the frame itself is comprised of these writhing humanoid forms, that are all interlocked and you can’t really see it from a few feet away, you have to get right up against it to really pick up that detail, which I loved about that. We had crew walking right up and leaning in their face right up against it and so they could see it. It was like only as you really examined it did more elements become obvious. I thought that was so cool for the movie. It’s hard to show it. There’s only one shot I think in the film where Karen reaches up and touches it in the auction basement, where you can see that design work.

I liked having the idea that this was an organic creature that was digesting souls of the people it would come in contact with. We had an idea early on to that we could say that the frame had actually been growing subtly over the years, and it kind of kept feeding. By kind of looking at it as a living thing, it’s really important to the design. So I think the one they come up with is a really interesting riff on some of the elements that the actual mirror sort of had, which is actually the mirror that’s still hanging in my son’s room [he laughs]. It was Russell Barnes and an artist in Alabama named Bruce Larson who kind of came together and created that frame for it. I really love that frame. And I really want one of those for son’s room as well.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The mirror. The monster. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: How did the experience of directing the short prepare you for directing the feature? How did you prepare?

FLANAGAN: The short was a fantastic exercise because we didn’t have any resources. And in order to create tension and kind of satisfy the genre elements that we wanted to hit, without any of the tools you’d expect to have, was a great exercise for us. With the short we didn’t have money for lights, so we just had to wash the whole thing with white colors. The short [film] was low light and high contrast and things like that. It’s a bright white room. I mean, there’s kind of no shadow to hide in. If we can make that scary, then we can get away with almost anything.

So the other things that it was really useful for was we learned really fast that you can only put a camera in a room with a mirror in only one of three places before you’d see it reflected back at you. Shooting a small space with a large reflective surface is actually a terrible idea. So it was really good to kind of work all that out early when we got into dealing with the feature. The questions came up very quickly, How are we going to make this visually interesting if we have to shoot with a reflective surface? How are you going to not see the crew? How are you going to make it aesthetically pleasing with variations in shots? How are you going to get to move the camera through the space without giving everything away? Things like this we learned from doing the short, which was not only dealing with the reflective surface of the mirror but with these live monitors that were hooked-up to the cameras – the crew would get caught in that too. So it was like we already had to learn the hard lessons of that.

The beauty of the feature was with the one room we built on the stage … we could have wild walls. We could give ourselves just a couple of feet of extra room so that we could keep the camera moving and have a wide variety in our coverage without bumping into problems with the glass, so that was a big lesson that carried over.

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Click here for Part 2.

The Making of ‘And So It Goes’ – An Interview with Director Rob Reiner, Part 2

Director Rob Reiner.
Director Rob Reiner.

Rob Reiner’s new film, And So It Goes, is now playing at Boston-area theaters.

For Part 1 of our interview with Mr. Reiner, please click here.

[divider]

STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: Is there anything in the film that perhaps you could say, “This is you”? Like perhaps elements of Michael Douglas’s character? Is there something of you there?

REINER: Well, there’s something of me in all of the things I do, in that these are things I think about. I mean the whole idea for this film was based on the experience I had when I made The Bucket List. When we did it we had the press check it and everybody asked what’s on your bucket list? And whenever they asked Jack Nicholson he said, “One more great romance.” So I thought that’s a great idea for a movie – two people who were basically finding each other later in life. So that became the basis of this film. Then we hired Mark Anders to come in and write it. When I turned 60 all these things that you kind of think about intellectually “you” start internalizing, which is that your life isn’t going to be forever and that it is precious and that you have to make the most of every little moment. And when I turned 60 that started hitting me, you know I was like very … I realized I was like a very very young old person. You know what I mean, so I started thinking about that stuff and that’s what gave birth to this. You don’t know how long you’re going to live and you want to be able to embrace life as best you can, as long as you can.

MICHEL: You mentioned that the germ of the idea came while doing The Bucket List. Did you ever consider using Jack for this film?

REINER: Well Jack had quit acting.

MICHEL: Right.

REINER: He quit acting. He said he doesn’t want to act anymore. I mean, obviously if he wanted to be in the movie I would’ve. (he laughs)

MICHEL: I mean, but did you try?

REINER: Well no. I mean, with Jack it’s like, he makes up his mind. You go where he goes, you know?

MICHEL: Do you really think he’s done?

REINER: I hope not, boy. I really hope. I mean the guy is one of the greats.

MICHEL: And Gene Hackman.

REINER: And Gene Hackman. He said that’s it for me. But Jack is one of the great film actors of all time. I hope he wants to do more.

Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in AND SO IT GOES.
Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in AND SO IT GOES.

HEAD: How did Diane Keaton get involved? The way that Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton relate to each other in the film is very comfortable, we worried about this chemistry.

REINER: It’s amazing.

REINER: Sure you are because they’ve never worked together and that’s unusual because you’ve got these two Academy award-winning iconic actors and they always wanted to work together and they haven’t. They have very different styles. Michael is very, you know, he’s got his craft. He’s learned his craft from doing The Streets of San Francisco all the way through and he’s like out there on the set, he’s a guy that knows the drill. He knows how to help you make today. Diane is a completely distinctive actress and she’s actually more like the way I am. She actually said before we started shooting, that she doesn’t act. She said, “I don’t act. I just am what I am and I just do it,” and I said that’s great, whatever it is, it’s great what you do. She takes the dialogue and she makes it her own and then that’s what she does. This is the way I worked in my life from being an improvisational actor and she’s very much that way. So it was great for me to work with her and Michael. It’s such a solid rock that you know, it’s like he’s is the rock in the water and things are falling around him, and he can plow through and it doesn’t matter. You can throw anything at him and he’ll be fine.

HEAD: Can I ask you a fun question? As a kid did you get to visit some of the sets that he (Carl Reiner) worked on like It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World or in his other things?

REINER: Yeah, as a kid, when I was 14, 15, 16 years-old, and I was in school when summer came around, they were shooting The Dick Van Dyke Show. I went every single day, all day, for my entire summer vacation. I spent it with them watching my dad work with the actors and the writers and seeing how the directors stage the actors and how to use the cameras and so forth. I was totally taking all that in, you know, when I was young. So I thought I saw a lot.

HEAD: Nothing scarring?

REINER: No, no. [He laughs] The only thing that was scarring was … I’m not telling tales out of school, because Mary Tyler Moore has this in her book. And that is, I did grab her by the ass when I was 14 years-old. I didn’t know what came over me, but I remember she was so pretty and she wore these Capri pants. She was 24 you know, and she was wearing these Capri pants, tight and everything, and I don’t know what possessed me, but I grabbed her and she told my dad on me. Then my dad called me in the office and said, “Let me ask you something.” He said, “Did you grab Mary Tyler Moore’s ass?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, with a big smile on his face, “Don’t ever do that again!” You know, and then she did talk about it. She said it on The David Letterman Show, so I’m not making that up.

Diane Keaton, Michael Douglas and Rob Reiner on the set of AND SO IT GOES.
Diane Keaton, Michael Douglas and Rob Reiner on the set of AND SO IT GOES.

HEAD: So it was flattering. She was flattered?

REINER: I don’t think she was flattered, but I don’t think she was flattered at the time, although this is a great thing. Years later they do reunion show of The Dick Van Dyke Show and my dad was producing and I’ve already become a star from All In The Family. I was visiting the set and Dick was in a tuxedo and Mary was in an evening gown and they were coming back from some formal thing. And they’re standing on the set and they just finished talking so I told the camera guy to just keep rolling. So I walk out onto the thing and I’m standing there and I said, “Mary, I’ve just got to tell you, I want to apologize. You know it’s old after all these years. I never said I’m sorry for what I did when I was 14, but I couldn’t help myself. I was young and you were so beautiful. And I said, not that you’re not beautiful now … I mean, if you were in … I’m in. I would, and she bends over and I grabbed her by the ass, and she goes, “Oh Rob!” like this. Which was what she did on The Dick Van Dyke Show. So I thought it was a great payoff. It was a payoff from something like 30 years later.

JOURNALIST: Have you ever thought about directing yourself in a starring role?

REINER: Not the starring role, I’ve been in Spinal Tap, and this thing, and I was in The Story of Us. I’ve done little bits of things but I don’t like it because it gets confusing I guess. I don’t like it, I mean I like acting in other people’s movies. That’s fun.

MICHEL: Did you improvise much when you were doing Wolf of Wall Street?

REINER: Yeah, I was completely … I mean they had a script and it was good, but then we went off and Marty (Scorsese) always let us just go in and it works. It works if you have people who can do it. I mean like when we did Spinal Tap, the whole thing is improvised, but you have actors who feel so comfortable in that. With Jonah Hill it’s easy – with someone like that – and Leo was great at it. But it doesn’t always work. Some actors don’t like doing that. If you don’t have actors who are like that, then it’s not good. But if you have actors who are willing to try it, then it’s great.

JOURNALIST: Which kind of actors do you prefer to work with?

REINER: Both. I’ve worked with the ones who were buttoned-down and I’ve worked with the ones who like to improvise, and it works. I mean with Morgan Freeman I couldn’t have had a better experience. He likes to do (improve). I mean he’ll do whatever you want to do. He’ll do what’s there so you know, whatever, either way.

HEAD: Why Bridgeport, Connecticut?

REINER: Tax breaks actually were all over Connecticut. We were in Greenwich, Bridgeport, Southport, Bristol.

MICHEL: You never really identify the location in the film.

REINER: But it was not supposed to be anything but Connecticut, and then Tex-Mex.

MICHEL: So it’s really tough to get your financing.

REINER: It’s really really hard.

HEAD: If you had your preference you really would stay with California?

REINER: Sure it’s my home, so I’m near family. Absolutely.

HEAD: I’m curious of some of the reactions you got from my girlfriend Sarah, she cried. Maybe it was Judy Collins?

REINER: It was a great story about that too, because we recorded Both Sides Now for the film and she sang and her voice is still incredible. She’s in her 70s and she had sung it so many times. It was a big big hit so she sings it at every concert … a thousand times … so she’s now found ways of making it more fun for herself. I said, “No Judy, I want it to sound like that iconic thing that we always heard” … So actually I’m sitting there singing it to her, and she said, “Yeah, okay, I’ll do it that way.” She could do whatever you want.

The Making of ‘Sound and Chaos’ – An Interview with Record Producer Martin Bisi, Part 1

Martin Bisi
Martin Bisi

Sound and Choas: The Story of BC Studio will screen tomorrow, Saturday, July 26th, at 2pm the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. The documentary tells the story of Brooklyn’s most influential, and unusual, recording studios – a place where artists such as Sonic Youth, The Swans and Afrika Bambaataa, led by producer and recording engineer Martin Bisi, came up with sounds that defined underground, alternative music from the early 80s onward.

I recently spoke with Mr. Bisi about his career and the creation of BC studios.

[divider]
SARAH PEARLSTEIN: One of the things I thought was interesting is that I thought you could make something at will, and that you were basically just a kid with tech stuff. To what do you attribute this kind of chutzpah?

MARTIN BISI: Well, it’s funny, as I’ve gotten older and I look at some of my craziness and naïveté of when I was very young, I kind to realized that, here and there, I Kinda didn’t have a clue. It was just by my really being eager. But I still have, or had I guess by instinct, some of the same attitudes and perspectives as I do now. It’s just more … I’m just a little more informed now.

Looking back at some of the stuff I did his teenager, it’s actually … some of my ideas kind of actually made sense. The whole thing about my feelings of just doing something by will really was … yeah, I did think like that. At the time I just thought I was being, I don’t know, maybe funny or something like that. I don’t know. It’s strange world. Maybe I just didn’t think it through. And that became just sort of a defense mechanism where I knew I wanted to do certain things and maybe the best approach was to just cop that attitude and roll with it. Because if I talked about it too much, maybe I wouldn’t go into certain sessions. But I did definitely in my mind grab onto basically this fiction that all I had to do is have the right attitude I can do it. And there were times when that definitely fell short. And I think that actually did fall short [working] with Brian Eno a little bit because that was kind of serious. That was like months of intense recording sessions, pretty much six days a week, and the whole thing with my going in an attitude was really more for like individual sessions.

PEARLSTEIN: Interesting. I wondered, you know, how much of the having the right attitude and just sort of going against the grain came from the environment you grew up in. How much of that was a rebellion against the bourgeois environment of the upper East side?

BISI: Yeah, I felt that.

PEARLSTEIN: Part of this is not just the environment, but that your mother was an upper Eastside pianist, and she taught you something about skill and the ability to be professional. but there’s also the side which could’ve been a rebellion against that.

BISI: The whole idea of just going in with attitude, just throwing that into it, just obviously in retrospect has a real sort of Zen kind of angle to it. At the time I wouldn’t of explained it that way. It was more about just rebelling against an orthodoxy; an orthodoxy in general about art. And also just sort of this very complex society that that thought I could go to’s school for 30 years to be considered educated. And I didn’t go to college. I rebelled against that. I kind of felt like just by hook or crook and by rebelliousness I would just by sheer attitude make it.

And it was this sort of academic side about making music was just unbearable to me. I mean, I can’t even go into it. I couldn’t really be schooled in music. I couldn’t take lessons. My mom had me studying piano and violin and reading music and I just couldn’t go there. I pretty much had to abandon all of that. So even with art, I took classes and I couldn’t draw. I could pretty much just do graffiti. Because of all that, I just fell into a place which was almost like a very aggressive attack on things. I think still to this point I rarely use the word ‘good’ when I think of records and recording, even in the studio. Sometimes people say, “We have to make it good.” And I just rolled my eyes a little bit because I don’t think it’s really about good. I’ve had times where it was really like … I’m going with an attitude and we’re going to get something that’s good. I wasn’t necessarily suggesting that that’s what would happen. I was just always going in [to a recording session] and that’s what would happen.

souccchas39
At the studio, Martin Bisi with thereminist Dorit Chrysler.

PEARLSTEIN: Prior to establishing BC Studio, did you have anything recordings you could show people?

BISI: That’s the thing that might not be 100% clear and the documentary. It was a handful of sessions. I’m actually talking about a very brief moment in time but important. Time in 1979 actually 1979 and 80. So I guess starting sometime in the fall of 79, in the fall of 80, there were a handful of sessions. While I was building the studio with Brian Eno’s money, that also wasn’t a matter of snapping my fingers. That also took a couple of months. So in the course of the year and a couple months as I was actually preparing the studio, there were a couple of sessions I think, maybe there were six or seven sessions, and those were the ones that I definitely felt that I can just go in there with just an attitude. I mean, I was not stressed out at all with Eno even on the first day of work. It wasn’t thinking, Will I be good? Will we get good results? I can get stressed out, but I actually had no stress about [recording with Brian Eno]. all which actually was remarkable in retrospect. I wish sometimes that I could kind of had that attitude now.

PEARLSTEIN: I interpret that as you’re living in the space you’re supposed to be. This is what you’re supposed to do. Like, if you’re really doing what you love to do, there’s no fear.

BISI: Yeah, that was a big part of it. It was like this is what was going on. Also it was just a lot of a big sense of righteousness, and I mean that in a positive sense. Everyone around me, we just really thought – and maybe it sounds terribly arrogant say now, but I really thought that what was happening in my immediate circle; I was working with the most amazing people – that what we were doing was extremely important. And also it was this youthful attitude. It wasn’t all about this impression that we like,
“Let’s fuck it up!” I had a very much sort of In The Now kind of attitude. I think that with more experience I might’ve had more doubts about where [the studio] was going and our being able to “take it all the way” … but I was pretty much in the time, pretty much in the moment. It’s this feeling of fate or something, like I came into this and here it is and it’s really great and essential. I’ve actually felt like, in a global since, this was the most important thing on the planet that was happening. And this is what it was like within my somewhat immediate circle of acquaintances. I know that sounds terrible terribly arrogant, but it was just my instinctive feeling about it. It actually encouraged me not to go to college because I was thinking, “Why would I bother with that because this was just better.”

soundchaos1
The early days of BC Studio.

 

PEARLSTEIN: What was the whole scene in the 80s art world like, other than this this wonderful way of thinking of it as it’s found in the movie with John Lydon staring down Basquiat? What did all this represent?

BISI: I think with Michael Holman, the person in the film who’s talking about that, what he was talking about was there’s kind of this cliché New York – being that it’s extremely democratic; not so much that it’s about class but, the class is really rubbed elbows and occupied some of the same spaces. That’s been something that all my life I’ve thought of as being very New York, and the thought of some of this disappearing in the last few years. A lot of that has to do with public transportation. We used to have that with Michael Bloomberg, the mayor. We used to take subway to work at City Hall, a subway comes from the Bronx. So all those people from the Bronx right there going to the upper East side and a millionaire standing right there with everyone else.

It’s like that scene in Midnight Cowboy, the scene in which Dustin Hoffman is at very fancy fashion world kind of party, and he’s there stealing from the food table. There have been times where I thought, “Oh my God! I’m Dustin Hoffman! I’m stealing food from the table!” I mean I’ve kind of felt that way. And the reason it’s in the movie is because it’s something people were observing in New York. You know had parties where a graffiti artist from the South Bronx, or from the worst ghettos of the industrialized world at the time, were at the parties. They were opening up galleries. So there was a lot a very democratic, class neutral kind of stuff. It definitely defied a sort of exclusion.

PEARLSTEIN: Yeah, it’s like when everyone goes out there’s a kind of class neutrality, and when everyone goes home it may not be the same, or isn’t the same, but the fact that there is some of that at all, given the little world that we live in, is extraordinary.

BISI: Yeah, and I’m not sure that that’s unique to New York, but it sure was at the time. New York was at the forefront of that. New York was at the forefront of culture coming up, with Manhattan being just a small island and all these people rubbing shoulders; the fashion District right next to Times Square, which is very hard knocks and dangerous. So, all these things. You could say it was the danger of the time. It mixed people together. And that’s maybe how you get Basquiat, John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa in the same space.

The “Queen” of Horror – An Interview with Brinke Stevens

Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”

How true this is, especially in the film industry. Would the horror film even exist without a damsel in distress? Predators and their prey are a constant theme throughout horror novels and movies. Would King Kong have been so tragic without Fay Wray? Would Psycho have been so nerve-racking without Janet Leigh? Femme fatales are an essential part of the horror genre. As the home video market gained strength in the 1980s, small studios frantically produced scores of lower budget films, or B-Movies, to satisfy the ravenous fan base. The actresses who pioneered this new age of horror and comedy in the home video entertainment became known as “Scream Queens”. At the peak of the B-movie revolution, Director Donald Farmer interviewed many of the hottest scream queens in the industry for his documentary Invasion of The Scream Queens. Fans of Brinke Stevens and B-movie fanatics can now see these rarely seen interviews thanks to Wild Eye Releasing’s new 20th Anniversary DVD release of this sought-after documentary.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, eager young horror fans rented scores of direct-to-video movies and stayed up all night watching cable TV to catch the latest offerings by their favorite actresses and directors. With titles like Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Slumber Party Massacre and Teenage Exorcist, a cult movie craze had exploded. One of the most admired stars of the genre is Brinke Stevens, a petite, raven-haired beauty with an uncanny ability to portray predator, prey and girl next door with ease. Not limited to acting, Brinke has also worked behind the scenes as a producer and director, with several screenplays to her credit. She has even written and appeared in her own comic book series, “Brinke of Eternity” and “Brinke of Destruction”, as well as modeling for everything from magazines to trading cards to art prints. We asked Brinke about her start in the movie industry and find out what’s been keeping her busy lately. Join me on this Brinke of discovery

JOHN HUMPHREY: Considering you have a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from Scripps Institute and are a member of Mensa, my first question would have to be: Brinke, when did you begin your film career, and what was your motivation for working in the film industry?

BRINKE STEVENS: It was a total accident. I just wanted a quiet little lab in Hawaii where I could work with dolphins. In 1980, I married my childhood sweetheart [“Rocketeer” creator and artist] Dave Stevens and moved from San Diego to Los Angeles, California. While looking for a scientist job, I wandered past the open door of a casting office – and was immediately hired as an extra in All the Marbles. Soon, I was cast in my first major speaking role, Slumber Party Massacre (1981). I quickly landed many more film jobs, and magazines were suddenly calling me a “Scream Queen”. I always say, “My career chose me, I didn’t choose it.”

HUMPHREY: Why do you think the 1980s was such an important decade for independent horror films?

STEVENS: When the revolutionary home-video boom created a huge demand for new product, young filmmakers like Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau, Charles Band and Roger Corman set up their own independent studios to churn out dozens and dozens of films that went straight to video. I also think the 1980s were better known for horror comedies. Many of the films I did back then were rather innocent and fun-loving. Later, horror got much gorier and mean-spirited.

HUMPHREY: Did you take “Brinke” as your stage name after starting in the film industry, or was it a nickname prior to that?

STEVENS: My maiden name was Charlene Elisabeth Brinkman, and all my childhood friends called me “Brink”. When I married Dave Stevens in 1980, I adopted “Brinke Stevens” as my stage-name.

HUMPHREY: Of all of your films, what was your favorite movie and role, and why?

STEVENS: Haunting Fear (1990) was the biggest part I’d had so far. When director Fred Olen Ray sent me the script, I thought he had me in mind for the sexy secretary. But no! The lead, a woman whose cheating husband drives her crazy to collect her inheritance. A very complex role. On any given day, I had to ask myself, “How crazy am I today?” By the end, I played it totally insane. It was an amazing opportunity to stretch my range as an actress.

HUMPHREY: Where would you like to see the future of your career heading?

STEVENS: More of the same: acting, writing, directing, producing.

HUMPHREY: You said in an interview in Invasion of the Scream Queens that you hoped to one day “graduate” from B movies. Do you feel you achieved that goal?

STEVENS: Not at all! I was so typecast in B-movies that I was never able to break through that glass ceiling. However, there’s been a real advantage to being an indie horror star, i.e., a big fish in a small pond, like getting hired for my name-value without having to audition.

HUMPHREY: What is your definition of a “Scream Queen” and do you think there are current day “Scream Queens”?

STEVENS: By happy accident, I was in the right place at the right time. I was given that label in the late 1980s, after screaming (and usually dying) in so many horror films. It’s often said that me, Linnea Quigley, and Michelle Bauer were the three original Scream Queens. A decade later, I was also very impressed with Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis. I doubt it’s even possible to follow in our footsteps anymore, because the indie studio system no longer exists. It’s a catchy title, and I don’t mind being called that. At least it’s got the word “Queen” in it. Makes me feel like horror film royalty.

John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Humphrey and Brinke Stevens at Dragon-Con in Atlanta, Georgia.

HUMPHREY: Which of your films do your fans most often inquire about?

STEVENS: My favorite film Haunting Fear (1990) was never released on DVD (except bootlegged), so it’s the one movie that everyone wants to see.

HUMPHREY: What’s the one project you’ve always wanted to do but have yet to be able to?

STEVENS: A while back, I was cast in a vampire movie to be shot in the Philippines. I’d have big black wings, and flying wire-work would definitely be involved. I’ve never done that before, and it seems so very exciting! The film shoot hasn’t happened yet, due to financial setbacks… but I sure hope to play that winged Vampire Queen someday.

HUMPHREY: What do you feel has been your most important professional accomplishment?

STEVENS: All of it, really – the sum of the parts. To some people, it may not seem like a proud accomplishment to become a B-movie star. But hey, I DID it… to the absolute BEST that I could… and a lot of people were entertained. I’ve acted in almost 200 films, sold a half-dozen scripts and published my own comic book, co-produced several documentaries (like Shock Cinema), and I just directed Personal Demons, a film I also wrote and starred in. For me, it’s been a very fulfilling life so far.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite book, and why?

STEVENS: I’ve had many favorite books over the years. One that’s remained on my shelf is “Bridge of Birds” by Barry Hughart. It’s a magical-realism novel of an ancient China that never was. He’s a wonderful writer, very evocative.

HUMPHREY: What is your favorite film, and why?

STEVENS: I enjoy many of the old classics like Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney, and Portrait of Jennie (1948) with Jennifer Jones. Those actresses were so luminously beautiful; they really stole the screen.

HUMPHREY: In your life, who has been the greatest positive influence on your career?

STEVENS: When I was a young girl, seeing Maleficent (in Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty) made me gasp, “I want to BE her!” Since then, I’ve channeled that evil queen in many of my films.

HUMPHREY: What is your next project?

STEVENS: Directing The Halloween Party in Orlando, Florida for producer Rick Danford.

HUMPHREY: Who is Brinke Stevens today?

STEVENS: Older, wiser, and happier in general because I don’t stress over the little things anymore.

Brinke’s official web site: http://www.brinke.com

 

 

The Making of ‘And So It Goes’ – An Interview with Director Rob Reiner, Part 1

Rob-Reiner-photo

We recently talked with director Rob Reiner at a roundtable interview in Boston, and of all the things he had to say, what struck me most was: “[studios] wouldn’t make any of the pictures I’ve made, and they don’t make any of the ones I’m about to, you know, making now.”

I thought Rob Reiner’s films were mostly a studio’s kinda thing, you know? I mean, the man directed Stand By Me, When Harry Met Sally and The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride for God sakes! You’d think studios would say “YES” to these things. I guess that even if you’ve made at least three great (and now classic) films, things just don’t get that much easier when it comes to selling the bosses on your next project.

And So It Goes … is Mr. Reiner’s latest film. Click here for the official site and to check out the trailer.

Participating in our roundtable discussion about the making of And So It Goes was fellow Boston Online Film Critics Association member and frequent podcast guest Brett Michel.

For the coolness of it, and because it’s featured in the movie and is an integral part of its tone, here’s Judy Collins and The Boston Pops performing “Both Sides Now.”

[divider]

STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: Can I ask you a question about … I’ll phrase it this way … maybe it’s about getting older. Does it get easier to direct?

ROB REINER: Yes. It does get easier in that you don’t spend your time doing things that are not essential. You learn what’s important, what’s not important, and you don’t spin your wheels in areas that are not important. So it does get easier from that standpoint. The hard part is that you’re older, so it’s physically taxing. But you learn where you need to spend your energy and not. I watched last night, I don’t know if you watch the NBA Finals, but you look at Tim Duncan. The guy is 38 years-old. I mean, that’s an old guy for a basketball player, and he played the whole season. But you watch the way he plays, and he can put in a lot of minutes, but he got the most out of the minute he played. So even if he’s only playing 20-minutes, he’s still scoring his 15 points because he knows what he needs to do, and so that’s the part that becomes a little easier.

HEAD: Would you say that it’s like you become better at delegating things? You know where you don’t need to waste your time?

REINER: Yes, you learn. You know, what I’ve always said is, when you’re making a movie, especially movies I make, that the studios would never make – I mean, they wouldn’t make any of the pictures I’ve made, and they don’t make any of the ones I’m about to, you know, making now – you have limited budgets, you have limited amounts of time, and so you learn that there are certain things that are not essential that you can lose. But you never cut into a vital organ though, never! Then you’ve destroyed your project. But you do learn how to delegate. There are certain things that are really important and there are certain things that are not as important, and you can let them go. But when you’re young, you’re just hopped-up by everything – every little thing. You know, I learned, and I learned as they went along.

There’s a great moment in … it’s a Truffaut film. It’s called Day for Night and it’s all about movie-making. And a guy comes up to [Truffaut] and says, “Do you want the red cup or the blue cup?” And you can agonize over that, you know? And then you [think] … You know something? In the scheme of this picture it’s not going to matter that much. Yeah, there’s probably a better choice. But if you agonize over that and spin your wheels over that you’re going to lose a bigger picture.

HEAD: Steven Soderbergh said that as he’s progressed in the business, the people he’s working with, the people he’s going to get permissions to [make a film] are now more like his fans and admirers as opposed to colleagues. Is this a similar experience for you now?

REINER: Well, yeah, because the people who are running either the movie companies or the TV … they’re younger, they’re all younger by virtue, by definition they have to be because you can’t run these companies without that energy, unless you’re my friend Alan Horn. He is the only guy I know that has the energy to be able to do it.

So yeah, there’s always people that will look at you like, “Oh, I grew up on your movies!” And basically what you want to say is, “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” I mean, you want them to just basically accept and know that you have experience, and certainly you know how to do the things you have experienced that you’re going to bring [your movie] in on time and on budget and it’s all going to work. But you know, judge this thing for what it is. I mean, what the script is. Is this something you’re interested in? You don’t want to be making a movie just because you’re a fan. You want to be making it because it’s something you feel that’s going to work for your company or your outlet. So you know, I think it’s a double-edge sword here.

Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton. ©Clarius Entertainment
Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton in AND SO IT GOES. ©Clarius Entertainment

HEAD: Has it made you feel less comfortable?

REINER: No, because you know it’s nice when people say, “I love your work” and “I grew up in your films” and others quoting your lines. I mean, that’s really nice. It makes you feel good, you know, that you’ve actually done things that touch people; that are substate with them or whatever. So that parts good.

BRETT MICHEL: You must have a pretty dedicated crew that you work with at this point though.

REINER: Well, I used to have the same crew all the time when I made pictures in Los Angeles, but I can’t make pictures in Los Angeles anymore because they’re too expensive to. You don’t get a tax break, so I’ve had to go where, you know, the tax breaks are. I made a picture Michigan, I made one New York, now I’ve made one in Connecticut.

Now, the last two pictures I did, I made with the same [director of photography]. I was lucky to get the same DP. And I love her, you know, so I’m hoping I can work with her, but…

MICHEL: Did you shoot with the Alexa [camera]?

REINER: Yeah, I love that. You know I love all the digital stuff. I’m not like old-school, we have to be … There’s no film anymore anyway. You know, Kodak’s out of business and all that stuff. I’m not one of those people that says, “It has to be on film.”

MICHEL: But do you miss film?

REINER: Do I miss film? You know, I don’t. To me, I’m a storyteller. I came at this as an actor and writer and a storyteller. To me it’s about telling a story. I’m not a cinematographer or a film guy. I didn’t go to film school where all of those things are important, you know. But I want to just tell a story, and whatever the tools are there, are to tell a story, that’s what I’ll use, you know?

And I love the Avid [editing system]. When I started working, I would work on a moviola, which is an upright thing, and then I went to the cam and then to the Avid. but I love the Avid because you can see right away if you’ve made a good decision. You can undo it and then redo it. You know, when you shoot it and [edit] it on the cutting bench you’ve got to take the real down you’ve got to redo it and it takes forever.

MICHEL: Well, [with digital photography] you’ll be able to get a lot more shots done during the day.

REINER: You can. I mean, it’s not that much quicker in terms of lighting. It’s not that much quicker.

MICHEL: But you don’t have to load [the camera with film].

REINER: No, you don’t have to load, you can run a take over and over. You don’t have to worry about the film running out and having to reload.

JOURNALIST: Kind of following up on that a little bit, I was really fascinated by the opening tracking shot of the film. Did you get a copter for that?

REINER: It’s a drone. That’s the only way to do a shot like that, because with a helicopter … first of all, you can’t get close enough on the streets, and the blades and rotors would make everything flop in the wind. You couldn’t get that close. And a crane would never follow that. So it’s a little drone. You know, you’ve seen them. It’s done remotely and they mount a camera on it

MICHEL: How big is the camera for that? That wouldn’t have been the Alexa.

REINER: No, it’s a small camera. It’s a very small camera that you can load on there. And you know, we did [the shot] a number of times. You pick the location where you want, where you’re going to go from here to there, and it’s a design thing. You have to really design it. And the shot that we used, the one that’s in the film … the drone crashed. We took every frame of it until it flew down and hit the ground.

MICHEL: You didn’t have to [edit] anything together?

REINER: No, because it’s only one shot. There’s no cuts. There’s no cutaway.

[divider]

And So It Goes opens nationwide July 18th.

The Making of ‘The Signal’ – An Interview with Director William Eubank, Part 1

Will Eubank, co-writer/director of THE SIGNAL. ©Focus Features
Will Eubank, co-writer/director of THE SIGNAL. ©Focus Features

Fellow journalist, and Boston Online Film Critic Association member, Brett Michel and I recently spoke with William Eubank, writer and director of The Signal.

Click here for Part 1 of our interview.

The Signal opens today in limited release.

The Making of Locke – An Interview with Writer/Director Steven Knight, Part 2

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Tom Hardy in Locke. ©A24 Films

Don’t let that the fact that the movie Locke takes place entirely in the front seat of a car detour you from seeing it at your local theater. You must see it on the big screen. It’s a beautiful piece of work. I could go on about Haris Zambarloukos’ cinematography, but it’s Tom Hardy’s performance that’s worth the price of admission.

As I noted in my introduction to Part 1, on this ninety-minute drive to London, Ivan Locke’s life gets complicated.

In part two of my interview with writer/director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things), we talk about the unique process of filming the entire movie twice every night for more than a week.

[divider]

STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: It’s interesting that the issues that come about in the movie, the problems that arise, aren’t huge matters. I mean, they’re important personal matters, but not something one might read about in the papers or see on the news.

STEVEN KNIGHT:Yes, that was important. There are of course repercussions, but it’s one of those things where the whole point in doing the film is to have something that isn’t going to make the local papers. It’s not a murderer or a kidnapping that happens within the family. But with the people involved it’s the end of the world, and it’s to be treated really important like that.

HEAD: Locke, he’s unwavering in his pursuit of doing the right thing. Or simply staying firm with the decision he’s made [to drive to London and be present for the birth of his child – a child born to a woman with whom Locke had a brief affair. All of which he must now reveal to his family during his drive.] In a way, it’s like ethical quest.

KNIGHT: It is. For him, being there when the baby is born is … it’s about his ethics, but it’s also to prove to himself. You see, his worst fear is that his dad was like this. That his dad wouldn’t make this ethical decision. [His dad] spent his whole life not being there. This is … somehow it’s predestined, and you can’t get away from your destiny. That’s how it’s always going to be. So this journey is Lock saying to himself, “No! I’m in charge It’s not fate, and it’s not my genes. It’s … I’m going to control this. I’m going to make it right. I’m going to do the right thing.”

HEAD: Was there any film or films that you drew upon for inspiration for Locke?

KNIGHT: I try where possible not to refer to other films because I think a lot of that goes on – which is understandable, because it’s a business and people need to have some sort of assurance that they’re going to get the money back when they invested the film.

HEAD: Investors will always refer to precedents.

KNIGHT: Yes. They’ll look at precedents and say, “Well, that was good. That made money. Let’s make one like that.” And I think that’s a completely understandable business model. But for me, I think it’s more interesting if you can do something that’s based on the way people talk. And this [the dialogue in Locke] is not how people typically talk in films. It’s how people talk in reality. So, it’s a bit messy and disjointed. There’s interruptions, and people repeat themselves all the time. Because that’s how people talk. Some other people I’ve spoken with referenced other films, but I’ve never personally seen those films. Perhaps if I had, then, well … I’d have probably said to myself that I can’t do this. So it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t see those films [he laughs].

HEAD: What was your inspiration here. I mean, what made you want to commit so much of your life to doing writing and directing this movie?

KNIGHT: Well … It was …. It was just finding out if … Let me put it this way … In making the film before this one, that’s where I sort of learned the ropes of directing a film. I just thought … there’s so much convention involved. There’s so many rules, you know? Things you can do and things you can’t do. Yet the basic job is just to get the people into a room, turn off the lights and have them engage with the screen for ninety minutes in whichever way you can. But are there other ways of doing that? And since the prior film, what I’d become very interested in was getting the performance on the screen … getting the dialogue dead right. There had to find this controlled yet natural way of doing it.

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Tom Hardy in Locke. ©A24 Films

HEAD: The character Locke is so reasonable and likable that he seems like he’s going to make everything right for everybody. And Tom Hardy’s performance, he seems so comfortable in this. I’ve filmed with crews in cars and it’s no country outing. And it can be uncomfortable for the performers, too. The camera is very invasive. For the amount of time [Tom Hardy] had to do this, filming extensive takes, how did you go about maintaining all of this, the tone … or is it just Tom’s talent?

KNIGHT: It’s Tom. I mean, he’s brilliant at becoming people. It’s what he does, and he does it wholly and completely. So, the way he became Locke was … He’d time and again say to himself that he’s not a bad guy. He’s not a monster. He’s just a very normal person. But becoming that normal person is also a feat and a task.

In fact, not just Tom, but I think all of the actors enjoyed the fact that once they set off, they were in character, and they stayed that way all the way through. They very much liked that they could calibrate their own performance from beginning to end, because …. the movie is effectively one take all the way through.

HEAD: One take being the entire length of the movie?

KNIGHT: Yes. Each night we we’d do two takes of the film. We shot the whole thing from beginning to end, take a break, shoot again from beginning to end. And the next night, shoot it again from beginning to end. So we had sixteen films at the end of it which had been shot in sequence

HEAD: Doing this, how were you able to capture the spontaneity of Locke’s cell phone calls?
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KNIGHT: The phone calls are actually calls coming in from the actors. They were in a hotel room, a conference room, with a phone line to the car.

HEAD: With multiple cameras, moving cars, ninety-minute takes and actors calling in … How did you figure out that you had to film the movie this way?

KNIGHT: Well, it came down to … no other way would have been possible in order to get what was needed. And with the digital cameras … it’s the memory card that was the thing. That’s the thing you have actually to stop for. So every twenty-seven minutes we’d pull over, change the memory card, change the lens, change the angles of the three cameras … all of this while Tom remained in character … and then set off. So, it just seemed to me the logical way, and probably the only way to do it. Also, filming it this way was important because we didn’t have a continuity issue with the background. In a single phone call we could cut between any different night. And with the background being just lights and cars in traffic things like that, it worked.

HEAD: I love the sound mix for the film. It’s almost a character itself because of the subtleties of these phone conversations … these volumes and sounds. How did you go about achieving this?

KNIGHT: I’m very committed to the sound mix. I started life in radio. And I really do believe that the sound can paint pictures. And so, the noise of the motorways are real. We had a rattle in the car … and so normal thing would be to pull over and spend a couple of hours minding that rattle. But cars rattle, and it sort of added to the ambiance away … the reality of it.

And with the cell phone calls … there’s something about phone calls, when someone’s making a call … their voice can say one thing and their face can say the opposite. And what that starts to deliver is …. you’re getting the voice … you’re hearing the person who presents himself to the world. But what you’re looking at is Locke. He’s definitely the really the real thing. You see him react, and it’s the soul.