Getting More Immersed with Indiewire


  The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor.  Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart


The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing. In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film


For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson). Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.

Production Design

The Artist Director Speaks

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Costume, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

At a recent junket for The Artist, I got the chance to ask director Michel Hanazavicius the following questions:

What was your approach to the acting?

The movie has been done in the ’20s so, of course, it’s the course of acting in the ’20s, not of the silent movie. So it’s not about acting silent; it’s just acting. And I think the silent part, to me, in the writing process, is how to create images that will tell the story. It’s the same confusion that people have about silent movies. They think that silent movies are old. But they are not old because they are silent; they are old because they were made in the ’20s.

How did you design and conceive a silent movie in black-and-white with today’s technology?

Well, the technology’s exactly the same as it was in ’20s: you have a camera, you have actors. You are not forced to use 3-D and to use digital. You can do what you want with technology. To me, it’s not a technical challenge, this movie. The technology and the technique are very simple, except maybe for the writing once again. It was very difficult and challenging for me because the most complicated thing is to make it simple for the audience. They want character and they want a story: they don’t want to see a performance; they don’t want to see how difficult it was or how clever it is. At least this film allows you to make a very specific story. You can go to some poetry that you usually don’t see in other movies. And I think it’s part of the promise of that movie because you say, ‘I won’t use dialogue.’ That means you use something else — you use images. I think unconsciously people want to have so many images that you don’t see in other movies. For example, when she goes in the dressing room and she puts her coat on the coat rack, usually you don’t that in a normal movie because it’s a little too much. But you can do that in a silent movie because it’s part of the promise. Or when a character is arguing with his own shadow. You don’t do that unless you’re a director like Fellini or Almodovar or Tati. What was difficult for me was to find the freedom. What is freeing during a silent movie and doing it?

Why use Bernard Herrmann’s love theme for Vertigo for the climax, which I understand was a temp track?

For people it’s a little bit shocking to have the music of another movie. When I saw Casino, Martin Scorsese used the music of Le Mepris from Jean Luc Godard and for a few seconds I questioned it. Finally, I accepted it. So we had two options: I asked the composer to compose on the same structure but with our own thing, and I did not have that feeling of something special from the last movement. And also this theme is so beautiful, so perfect, so sensual that, finally, I decided to keep it. And this movie is not just a tribute to silents: it’s wider than that. It’s a tribute to all the classical Hollywood movies. That track had legitimately to be here and anyway you can find Herrmann, the music is so beautiful.

Oscar Potential for Potter Finale

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Home Entertainment, Oscar, Production Design, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Just as the Oscar race starts heating up, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came out on Blu-ray last week (Warner Home Video), bolstered by a compelling FYC trailer (see below). As expected, the exciting and sublime finale looks and sounds spectacular in the home theater. Director David Yates wanted to end on a stirring operatic flourish in 3-D and he succeeded. The question now becomes: What are the Oscar chances for the most successful film franchise?

Well, as I’ve already commented for TOH, Part 2 is a definite contender for VFX (supervised overall by Tim Burke). It’s the culmination of superlative work that put the London industry in Soho on the global stage, and is worthy of the highest honor. From the first-time CG Hogwarts by Double Negative (demonstrated nicely in the Blu-ray’s “Blowing Up Hogwarts” in Maximum Movie Mode) to the thrilling Gringotts break in and escape on a sullen dragon (also Dneg), to the Room of Requirements escapade with fire creatures (MPC), to the Hogwarts battle (Dneg and MPC), to the ethereal encounter with Dumbledore (Framestore), and the final confrontation with Voldemort (MPC).

“Environments, especially, have been a breakthrough, says Burke.” It’s all HDRI, and that way of photographing textures has given us incredibly detailed shots and the ability to relight things. It’s all based on the proprietary tools to stitch this stuff together and make it work.”

The biggest achievement, in fact, was Hogwarts, which was computer-generated for the first time both for budgetary and artistic reasons. “Basically, we were able to design and execute shots right up to final delivery,” Burke adds. “It gave us a lot of flexibility. We were able to render things quickly without fussing around. It seems to me that we can turn around iterations so much quicker than ever before.”

Since the ongoing war takes place at Hogwarts throughout the second-half of Part 2, it was essential that the battleground display sufficient detail and dynamic compositions, particularly since the final film is the first in 3-D.

“David wanted to create these fantastic, big shots that link different parts of the action in different areas, going from outside the school to inside the school,” Burke continues. “And all of the development that we’ve done and the extra high-resolution that we’ve corrected for have allowed us to fly around [immersively] during critical moments of the battle, and has made the whole experience very visceral.”

Aside from VFX, though, there’s plenty of other below-the-line Oscar potential, including sound mixing and effects. But Stuart Craig’s production design has progressed brilliantly throughout the franchise. Indeed, the eccentric retro wizard world has been a continuing character: Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Gringotts. Plus the safe haven of the Weasley home, the Burrow, and, toward the end, the heavenly visit with Dumbledore at King’s Cross Station with white mist (also Framestore).

Finally, Alan Rickman’s mournful performance as Snape is a revelation along with Daniel Radcliffe’s ascension into manhood. Aren’t they Oscar worthy? And while Best Picture seems a long shot, we’ll have to wait and see how the nominations turn out.

Bond 23 is Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, James Bond, Movies, Production Design, VFX | Leave a comment

Better get used to the title Skyfall for the 23rd Bond film (Nov. 9, 2012). Like Quantum of Solace, it apparently refers to Bond’s troubled state of mind. “It has emotional context which will be revealed in the film,” promises producer Barbara Broccoli.

But there was precious little revealed at today’s London press conference, amid speculation about the return of Blofeld and the possibility of M’s shocking demise. Fittingly, today also coincides with Sean Connery’s announcement as Bond 50 years ago.

Yes, Javier Bardem plays the super baddie, no doubt a new breed of grounded Bond villain; Berenice Marlohe plays the seductive and enigmatic Bond girl, Severin; but Naomie Harries plays a field agent named Eve, not Moneypenny; and Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have not yet been confirmed as friend or foe (although it has been suggested that Finney plays M’s boss).

Speaking of M, according to the official announcement, Skyfall is about how “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.  As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

Meanwhile, director Sam Mendes (who was first approached for Die Another Day, but it understandably wasn’t the right fit) suggested that Skyfall will offer a return to classic Bond action and is first and foremost an audience film and not a high-brow experience, as 007 travels to Istanbul, Shanghai, and Scotland (his ancestral home). How ironic that both Mendes and Craig first got hooked on Bond through Live and Let Die, and that their association on Road to Perdition has serendipitously taken them down this road to Bond’s maturity.

Make no mistake: Skyfall is our first glimpse of Craig’s fully-formed Bond and will likely define his legacy as 007. Speaking of Craig, he came to the press conference with very short hair and some stubble on his face. All he had to say was this was going to be “Bond with a capital B.”

The crew includes director of photography Roger Deakins (Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, who will be using the Alexa); production designer Dennis Gassner (Quantum of Solace, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead); editor Stuart Baird (Casino Royale); costume designer Jany Temime (Harry Potter); second unit director Alexander Witt; stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell; SFX supervisor Chris Corbould; and VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

A New War Horse Trailer Gallops on Display

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech | Leave a comment

As with The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28) emphasizes more action. A galloping horse named Joey leaps across the exploding battlefield at night during World War I, underscored by John Williams’ majestic score. Flashback to Albert taming, training, and riding Joey in the warmth, beauty, and comfort of rural England. But all that is shattered when Joey is taken from Albert, and we follow the horse on its epic journey that reaches No Man’s Land.

As production designer Rick Carter asserts, this is part of his post 9/11 “nature of conscience” exploration amid the “Goya-esque disasters of war.” The same goes for Spielberg as well.

ADG Wants to Organize Previs Artists

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Production Design, Tech, VES, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Visual effects artists aren’t the only ones being courted by guilds and unions: The Art Directors Guild, Local 800 of the IATSE (ADG), wants to organize previs artists, and has launched an informational site called Artists for Direct Action.

“It’s a natural fit for previs talents to be represented by the Art Directors Guild,” said president Tom Walsh in a prepared statement.  “Our new site will let them know what they can do to claim for themselves the rights all other ADG members currently enjoy.”

ADG claims a long history of visualization synergy with previs artists through its existing crafts professionals: production designers and art directors; scenic and graphic artists; set designers and model makers, illustrators, storyboard, and matte artists.

ADG organizer Peter Koczera noted the guild’s new website will be regularly updated and that he personally is available 24/7 to guide previs artists through the procedures they may follow to assert their rights as artists in the workplace.

It just so happens that I have a prominent association with both the ADG and The Previsualization Society. In fact, I moderated a day-long previs session at the ADG back in January 2008 that directly led to the formation of the Society (see above photo). So I understand the craft of previs and its importance to the industry, and the tug-of-war that exists in a competitive but mutually respective turf war. Moreover, I also understand and appreciate the artistic importance of the crafts associated with the ADG, and how they are leading the way in a whole new digital paradigm.

Thus, in trying to be balanced, I reached out to the Society and got the following response:

“The Previsualization Society, a non-profit trade organization, was formed for a singular purpose — educating professionals who consume and practice previs in order to maximize the effectiveness of the process. A previs department collaborates with a wide range of disciplines and departments from one end of production to the other. Everyone involved needs to be working together toward a common purpose, and the Society has been tasked to focus on fostering the necessary understanding. The ADG was the original anchor and host of the ASC-ADG-VES Joint Technology Subcommittee on Previsualization. The first announcement of The Previs Societies existence was made at ADG headquarters. The Previs Society will continue to pursue our mission of education regardless of what actions the ADG takes in pursuit of its goals.

“The Society was formed to be a collaborative voice for the previs discipline. ADG seems to want to draw the Society into the debate over whether unionization  is right for employees and employers involved in previs. The Society is not the forum for this debate and should not be drawn into it.

I will definitely be exploring this further.

Spielberg’s War Horse Poster Unveiled

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Oscar, Production Design, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

EW got the first look yesterday at the poster for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse (Dec. 28). Anthony Breznican notes how similar it is to the cover of the young adult book by Michael Morpurgo. The World War I drama concerns British farm boy Albert (Jeremy Irvine) being separated by his horse, Joey, when it’s sold to help on the front lines. Albert is called to the front line himself and goes on an odyssey to reunite with his pal.

Production Designer Rick Carter revealed to me via email that War Horse represents the latest film he’s worked on post 9/11 about “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war.” War of the Worlds, Munich, Avatar, and the upcoming Lincoln are the others. Since Spielberg directs four of the five, it’s apparent that he’s on a similar nature of conscience journey.

The new War Horse trailer will be unveiled next week with the release of Real Steel.

A Dreamy Drive

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Drive (opening today) is like being in a dream. Director Nicolas Winding Refn seems to be channeling Michael Mann from the ’80s with Tangerine Dream. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the 21st century at all. Everything is faded, dingy, grimy, low-tech, thanks to Beth Mickle’s production design and Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography. It’s set in LA (downtown, Echo Park, the Valley), and the vibe is neo, neo noir.

Ryan Gosling plays the stuntman/part-time getaway guy (who gets in way over his head) as the iconic loner in his ’73 Chevy Malibu: Steve McQueen-like, only without the movie star charm and charisma. But he’s effective: a quiet, anonymous drifter forced out of the shadows when he befriends Carey Mulligan (a latter day Tuesday Weld) and her son. Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman play terrific baddies; and Bryan Cranston makes a crusty foil to Gosling as his unlucky pal.

However, the opening downtown getaway, which sets up Gosling and the milieu so brilliantly, (edited by Mat Newman), is never matched in terms of excitement and fascination. And the bone crunching, bloody violence is so over-the-top that it wakes you up from the spell. But then that’s probably the intention (VFX is by Ring of Fire and Wildfire). It’s a real treat.

Trailering Twilight Breaking Dawn — Part 1

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The second trailer went online yesterday for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. And it doesn’t disappoint in teasing the tense wedding, bed-breaking sex, and horrifying pregnancy that will unleash the powerful offspring, which poses a threat to both the vampire and werewolf clans. It’s the ultimate in post-modern kitsch, with sex, birth, and death, which is probably what attracted Bill Condon in the first place. Imagine Gods and Monsters meets Chicago.

Meanwhile, Tippett is back doing CG wolves, and there is other VFX from Method, Modus, Lola, Hydraulx, Wildfire, Spin, Image Engine, Mr. X. And there’s stylishly spooky below-the-line work from production designer Richard Sherman (Gods and Monsters), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), costume designer by Michael Wilkinson (Watchmen), and editor Virginia Katz (Dreamgirls).

What’s to become of Edward and Bella? Opens Nov. 18.

Catching Contagion

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Cinematography, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Soderberg’s Contagion gets under your skin immediately, which is exactly its purpose. Using the Red camera, the director achieves a gritty look to this cautionary tale about mass hysteria stemming from a mysterious pandemic that baffles the scientific community and sweeps the globe like the Black Plague. At the same time, flashbacks of Hong Kong and other locales have a naturalistic beauty, heightened in IMAX, that allow us to appreciate life and the world around us.

It’s a gripping procedural with scattered emotional beats from a fine ensemble cast (Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, and Elliott Gould), and the perfect film to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What have we learned besides blogging at its worst is “graffiti with punctuation”?

Soderbergh’s cinematography stands out along with Howard Cummings’ production design, Stephen Mirrione’s editing, and VFX by onset supervisor Tom Smith of Method Studios (the creepy CG bat is particularly effective).

Rick Carter’s 9/11 ‘Aftermath’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter has put together a very personal photo-exhibit called “Aftermath” of paintings he made following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“As it probably is for you, it’s still hard for me to emotionally process,” Carter explained by email. “Part of it for me personally, however, has been the movies I’ve production designed since then exploring the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war: War of the Worlds, Munich, Avatar, War Horse, and the upcoming Lincoln.

“In the last few months I’ve begun to look back over my first artistic responses to 9/11, which are represented by these paintings I wanted you to share with you. It’s all just part of my artistic journey over this last decade.”

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, it’s very fitting, indeed, to reflect on Carter’s artistic journey, delving into “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war,” as he suggests. In War of the Worlds, the opening Martian attack was designed and shot as a gritty metaphor for the destruction of the World Trade Center, right down to the fallen embers. Munich took it a step further in its terrifying depiction of the ’72 Olympics massacre of the Israeli athletes and the Black September reprisal. Avatar then became an epiphany of sorts for Carter. “I always saw the movie as The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now,” he told me. “It’s like this EKG kind of brain wave going from Kansas into Oz and into this mystical, bioluminescent dream state, the phantasmagoric, which is what [Cameron] called it in the script.”
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see how Carter extends the nature of conscience further in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming War Horse (Dec. 28) and Lincoln, amid the horrors of World War I and the Civil War. In fact, it’s no coincidence that Spielberg is the catalyst behind four of these five films with Carter. He’s become the prime force in exploring the post 9/11 ethos in American movies.