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.


Seibel Talks Midnight in Paris

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Production Design, Trailers | Leave a comment

For my Immersed in Movies TOH column at Indiewire, production designer Anne Seibel discussed going back to the golden eras for the City of Lights in Woody Allen’s Oscar-contending Midnight in Paris. The biggest challenge: recreating the legendary Moulin Rouge using a modern concert hall.

Experimenting with the VFX Bakeoff

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The AMPAS experimented with 10 VFX bakeoff entries on Thursday night, which was met with mixed results. While it made better sense to expand the field from seven to 10, trimming the demos from 15 minutes to 10 was a hard adjustment for some. In addition, for the first time, there was a mix-up when the wrong file was used for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 demo reel. Fortunately, the error was eventually rectified and the complete reel was screened at the end.

As always, it’s a lot more effective when the VFX is tied to a central character that’s animated and offers an emotional hook. And that’s usually what wins the Oscar. Thus, Weta’s senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri gave an informative and succinct explanation of the extraordinary CG Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the front runner: the new active LEDs for on set motion capture; a new model for the eyes; new fur system; and a new facial muscle system to handle all the dynamic simulations on top of the animation.

However, ILM’s presentation for Transformers: Dark of the Moon was also impressive, as VFX production supervisor Scott Farrar regaled the committee with facts and figures pertaining to the improved animation and the relentless demolition and the challenges of making it all work while shooting in 3-D.

Arguably, the best demo reel was for Real Steel, which involved a breakthrough virtual production system by Digital Domain and Giant Studios. VFX production supervisor Erik Nash explained how the system was instrumental in enabling the production to shoot the movie in 71 days with no second unit. Shooting with the Simulcam on set with MoCap actors resulted in a more visceral viewing experience when replaced with the animation for the boxing bots.

We’ll find out the five nominees on Tuesday, but I’m still going with Apes, Transformers, Potter, Captain America, and Hugo.

Ferreras Talks Wrinkles

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Events, Movies, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

Another Oscar-contending indie, Arrugas (Wrinkles), based on Paco Roca’s comic, concerns two friends in a retirement home where one tries to keep the other out of the dreaded Alzheimer’s ward. Director Ignacio Ferreras discussed his 2D-animated Spanish feature via email.

This seems like the perfect follow-up to your short, How to Cope with Death. How did you come to make it?

This project chose me rather than me choosing it. The producer Manuel Cristobal found the graphic-novel, found me, and brought the two of us together — ironically, I don’t think Manuel had How to Cope with Death in mind when he thought of me for this project, but other work which is not really connected to the theme of aging. I don’t know, maybe I’m just destined to make films about this subject.

Working on Wrinkles, I was trying to make a film I would like to watch as an audience; I don’t think you can make a film any other way. I also think that all good films deal with a universal theme — that is precisely what makes them good films, that they take a story, perhaps a very local story, and turn it into something with universal appeal. It’s the great power of cinematographic language: it cuts across cultures.

Describe the collaboration process with Paco Roca in terms of working out the story beats and the design.

Paco Roca did all the character designs and I, together with animation supervisor Baltasar Pedrosa, simply went over them to make sure they were as animation friendly as possible. In all aspects of design we were always trying to stay close to the graphic-novel and to Paco’s style.

The structure of the film and the development of the sequences is something I did together with my wife Rosanna Cecchini from our home in Scotland in relative isolation. We divided the film in three acts and we would try to more or less work the animatic for one whole act before showing it to other people. Paco would then see one complete act of the animatic and would tell me what he thought, suggest changes, pass me additional material for the dialogs, etc.

What was it like animating your first feature? What was hardest? What was most enjoyable? What was it like assembling and working with your voice cast?

I already had some experience working in feature films both as an animator and as a storyboard artist so I had some idea of what I could expect as a director… a lot of stress. The production of Wrinkles had the additional difficulty of being split in different locations, with me working mostly from Scotland, so efficient communication was a big challenge. On the other hand, that also had its advantages: it made our working hours more flexible and it allowed us to work with people who could not have possibly relocated to a single location to work on the film. It also allowed the director to have his nervous breakdowns in the privacy of his own home rather than in the studio — I’m sure that was better for the morale of the team.

There was also the issue that the original version of the film is in Galician, which I don’t speak, so I was working with a Castilian version which then had to be translated, although luckily the length of the phrases is roughly equivalent in both languages.

We had decided from the beginning that we would animate using a temp track and then record the final voices as a dub over the final image. This was necessary in order to fit a one-year long storyboarding process into a two-and-a-half year production; animation had to start on one act while I was still storyboarding and finalizing the dialogue for the following acts, and we did not want to split the voice recordings into three sessions separated by several months. We relied on the fact that in Spain there are actors with a lot of dubbing experience and when the time came they didn’t disappoint. Their work, which was done in very difficult circumstances as we were behind schedule and didn’t have final image for the entire film when they started recording, was extraordinary. All credit should go to the actors and to Charo Pena who directed the recording sessions, they practically didn’t need any input from me. I also had the help of Angel de la Cruz who is a Galician speaker, since the original version was done in Galician.

What pleases you most about the movie and the response toward it as an adult drama that just happens to be animated?

Well, you’ve just said it: it is an adult drama that just happens to be animated. That’s what pleases me the most, that people recognize it as such. So far people who have watched Wrinkles have responded very well to the fact that it is an animated drama. I think it shows that the two things, animation and drama, can go hand in hand and that animation need not be limited to certain stories or a particular narrative formula.

Editor Claire Simpson Talks ELIC

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Editing, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

One of the most intricately structured Oscar contenders, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, was totally dependent on cathartically conveying the aftermath of 9/11 — in particular, the sensitive portrayal of nine-year-old Oskar (played by newcomer Thomas Horn). I recently had an illuminating email exchange with editor Claire Simpson (Academy Award winner for Platoon) about the challenges of the film.

You previously worked with director Stephen Daldry on The Reader. What has your collaboration been like?

Stephen’s pioneering work has been primarily in theatre. He is very meticulous about text and performance. Since these are the areas that I am most comfortable, I find it really exciting and enjoyable to work with him. He uses a late Stanislavski technique when creating a scene with the actors, which revolves around action and intention. He likes to see a cut of a scene as soon as possible while he is shooting just in case he needs to modify or rethink the dynamics. It requires working very fast and understanding the nuances of the text. There is a constant dialog between us and because I had already worked with him on The Reader, we had developed a very honest and straight forward rapport

What were his priorities about what we should and shouldn’t see about 9/11 as well as Oskar’s tricky portaryal?

Oskar, our young protagonist, has a condition bordering on Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. His behavior is very particular: obsessive, compulsive; highly intelligent but without social skill, which sometimes make his interactions inappropriate. Before principal photography began, Stephen and his team researched the available studies on Asperger’s syndrome and were very well versed in the behavioral patterns and symptoms. Oskar is not an easily accessible child and his way of processing information is through rigorous analysis as opposed to empathetic evaluation. Paradoxically, his imagination is so fertile it generates paranoia and fear of everyday things. This is exacerbated by the loss of his Dad [Tom Hanks]. Given the nature of his father’s death in the WTC on 9/11, which is still so raw to us, one had to be very careful that there was authenticity to both character and events and that 9/11 should never be a background but a principal player. We were very sensitive to the feelings of the relatives of those who perished that day and we had many discussions with both support groups of the families and many of the families themselves, as to what they felt was appropriate and honest.

What was it like balancing the emotional needs with the reality of the events depicted? 

The biggest challenge was how much of the actual news footage from 9/11, if any, to include in the film and whether or not to use the image of “the falling man.” The content of the answer machine messages was also a matter of concern. Some viewers and critics have found the use of these images prurient.  We had early private screenings for some families who had a child or parent killed in WTC and for some support groups of these families. All without exception had insisted that we not shy away from using these images. One sibling told of hearing a prayer group in the background of his brother;s final message. A mother spoke of the generosity and thoughtfulness for his friends and family that her son had shown at the hour of his death. Others spoke of the fear and panic. One gentleman, whose son had died, heartbreakingly described the effects on his grandson. Many of the children of the victims obsess about whether there parent was “a jumper”; they examine photographs downloaded from the internet.. And those who had no recovered body to bury, which is the vast majority, are left to imagine the unimaginable. In the child, Oskar, we tried to express the pain of that catastrophic loss, in particular. Grief is universal. if we can understand the legacy of pain from this kind of catastrophic event then perhaps we will be less willing to allow it to be repeated anywhere.

Talk about balancing the fictional aspects of the story with the real events.

Obviously, the idea that a child would find a lock for a key in a metropolitan area as big as New York is pretty farfetched and so the impulse is to make the search as interesting as possible without portraying New York as a city populated by ridiculously colorful eccentrics and therefore removing any sense of reality from the boys journey. So there is a delicate balancing act between “magical realism” and the emotional force of the narrative that the real events evoke. The events are told through the perspective of an emotionally challenged child who has lost his father, mentor, and guide through life in a catastrophic event. Oskar’s mother struggles through her own grief to take care of him but the relationship does not have the same symbiotic dynamic as father and son.

There is a scene where Oskar has locked his mother out of the bathroom. She knocks on the door begging to be let in. Oskar asks her why she wants to come in and she answers from behind the glass, “To tell you that I love you.” There is a companion scene to this where Oskar, after leaving the apartment, whispers, “I love you,” on the other side of the door where his mom is standing.  She has broken down in tears but he cannot hear her and is left to speculate on what her reaction might be. So you have two scenes about two people who are so emotionally broken that they are incapable of reaching each other. This culminates in a heartbreaking fight between them where Oskar, expressing his anger at the incoherent tragedy, declares, “I wish it were you, I wish it were you in the building instead of him,” and she responds, “So do I!” Sandra Bullock is masterful in these scenes. In a very restrained performance, she bravely portrays a mother who seems cold and remote, but it pays off in the end because it enables her to have an incredibly powerful scene of reconciliation at the end of the film.

What was the post process like?

We entered production with a very long script. To try and consolidate the story into a reasonable length and maintain the integrity of the script was very challenging. Fortunately, I had worked with Stephen before and we work very quickly turning over ideas and the performances were all really tight. Thomas Horn was extraordinary. He could sustain his performance through a five minute take and I never had to stitch together a scene. His focus and intensity were ever present. We use montage as a short cut in telling the story of the journey and meeting “The Blacks.” There are also a lot of flashbacks because the story revolves around memory and how we restructure events in our brain.

It came down to the wire right before the Christmas release.

Sandra Bullock’s scenes were the first to be shot because of her availability. There is a scene where she is looking through Oskar’s expedition diary, which has photographs of the people Oskar meets on his quest. But those scenes had not been shot yet. Indeed, many of the people whom Oskar was to encounter had not even been cast at that point. The book was compiled at the end of production and we shot inserts of Oskar making the book and inserts of it’s content when Thomas Horn came to New York to record his ADR

What are your favorite moments?

Working with Max Von Sydow was one of the best moments of my career. He was so generous in his performance and had such great comic timing. He played The Renter with such delicacy. First of all he doesn’t speak and so all the communication is by written notes and gestures. There is some editorial ellipsis necessary when writing the notes to reduce screen time and he had “Yes” tattooed on his left hand and “No” tattooed on his right hand which provided a kind of semaphore.

Trailering Finding Nemo 3-D

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

With Beauty and the Beast 3-D in theaters this weekend, Disney took the opportunity to tease Pixar’s Finding Nemo 3-D, which arrives Sept. 14. Of course, we can only imagine how immersive Andrew Stanton’s Oscar-winning underwater adventure will be in stereo.

Trueba Talks Chico & Rita

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Music, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

I spoke with co-director Fernando Trueba at AWN about his Oscar-contending Chico & Rita. Set in Havana and New York during the end of the 1940s, Chico & Rita tells the story of love and heartbreak between a pianist and a singer.The GKIDS release is a joint production between Spain’s companies Fernando Trueba PC and Estudio Mariscal, and Britain’s Magic Light Pictures, led by Michael Rose, formerly with Aardman. The soundtrack by legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés takes us back to the origins of Latin jazz when Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker started fusing Cuban music into their compositions.

Korzeniowski Talks W.E.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Music, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

Golden Globe nominee Abel Korzeniowski tells me about scoring W.E. and working with Madonna in my TOH column at Indiewire. With its haunting melodies, we get the back-and-forth between illusion and reality that underlies Wally’s misconception that King Edward VIII’s (James D’Arcy) abdication of the British throne for the woman he loved, chic American divorcée Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), was the perfect love story of the 20th century. In fact, it was a constant struggle.

You can listen to the score on TWC’s awards site.

New Rio Making Of Clip

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Oscar nomination ballots are due today and Blue Sky’s Rio is aiming for an animated feature nod. Fox has provided me with an informative making of clip, which shows off a flying scene and and putting the birds together. We go behind-the-scenes in a progression from story reel to layout to animation to lighting.

It was a personal project for Carlos Saldanha, the Rio native and Blue Sky Studios vet, director of the first two Ice Age sequels. Saldanha was passionate about accurately capturing the look and feel and rhythm of the beat of the Latin American paradise that is so dear to his heart.

Yet it took a long time to gestate. Saldanha first started thinking about Rio 10 years ago, but had to abandon the idea of a hero penguin after that trend came and went, switching to the brightly colored blue macaw appropriately named Blu (Eisenberg). Then, once he had his story in place about Blu’s fear of flying (“Adapt or Die”), Saldanha and his Blue Sky colleagues had to figure out the complications of feathers and cloth and animating humans on a large scale, and, most crucially, how to render Rio just right.

Bond 50 Blu-ray Set Announced

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Trailers | Leave a comment

What a week for Bond: First Thomas Newman was officially announced as the composer of Skyfall (Nov. 9) — no surprise considering his association with director Sam Mendes (American Beauty). Now word comes out of CES that all 22 current Bond films (Dr. No through Quantum of Solace) will be released on Blu-ray this fall from MGM Home Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in in a special Bond 50 anniversary box set. This includes nine previously unreleased films (You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, GoldenEye, and Tomorrow Never Dies).

Bond directors John Glen (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Licence To Kill), Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, Casino Royale) and Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) with special guests Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Caterina Murino (Casino Royale) made the Blu-ray announcement today during a Directors’ panel discussion in the Panasonic Booth at the annual Consumer Electronics Show.

More than 130 hours of bonus features are promised, including some new and exclusive content.

“With all 22 feature films available on Blu-ray in one collection for the first time this is a great way for fans to catch up on 007’s epic journey before Skyfall hits theaters next Fall,” said Michael Brown, SVP, MGM Home Entertainment. “Now viewers can enjoy the intense action of the innovative franchise in the most immersive home experience possible.”

“We have a whole program of exciting activities planned for our 50th anniversary year, beginning with today’s announcement, by Fox, of the release of all 22 films on Blu-ray for the very first time,’’ added Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, with Eon Prods. “We are also delighted that Fox has unveiled a specially designed anniversary poster which we hope the fans will love as much as we do. Our website, will be regularly updated with all the latest anniversary news and events.”

Tellefsen Pitches Moneyball

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Editing, Home Entertainment, Music, Oscar, Trailers | Leave a comment

In my latest Immersed in Movies column for TOH at Indiewire, I speak with Moneyball editor Christopher Tellefsen about internal rhythms and getting under the skin of Brad Pitt’s Oscar-contending Billy Beane.Tellefsen works well with director Bennett Miller, who has a fondness for quests, and this is even more ambitious than Capote. Moneyball comes out this week on Blu-ray/DVD from Sony Pictures Home Ent.