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.

Below the Line

Bardem Emerges as Blond Bond Baddie

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

The Daily Mail caught the first glimpse of Javier Bardem as the latest Bond baddie, Silva, on the set of Skyfall in London’s Whitehall district, dressed inconspicuously as a blond police officer (recalling Red Grant and Max Zorin). In a continuation of a sequence shot last month, Daniel Craig’s James Bond runs through the vicinity with an ear piece after an underground explosion. Is Silva a master of disguise? The IMAX’d 23rd Bond film opens Nov. 9 in North America after an Oct. 26 bow in the UK.

The 5D | FLUX Schedule

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

Immersive design consortium 5D | Institute will kick off their world-building design discussion series in Los Angeles on March 13-15 with 5D | FLUX presented in association with Autodesk and USC School of Cinematic Arts. 5D | FLUX will consist of three, 120-minute interactive sessions spanning three evenings aimed at encouraging in-depth conversations about world-building across disciplines. Each session will be held 7-10 pm at the Ray Stark Family Theater at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Sessions are $25 each or $60 for a three-day pass.

World-building refers to the iterative design process that creates and actualizes the story space across media, be that game, film, animation, theater or architecture. This process of developing a dimensional, fictional world created for that story to take place occurs before a specific narrative is locked down. Tuesdayʼs “Inception” session will cover imaging and developing of worlds; Wednesdayʼs “Prototyping” session will discuss testing the story space and visualizing the world; and Thursdayʼs “Manufacturing and Finishing” session will center on building and experiencing the world.

The collaboration with USC School of Cinematic Arts has been a vital component in bringing 5D | Flux to life as the school has been a steadfast supporter of the 5D | Institute. As an education facility, the schoolʼs importance to the film, television, and interactive community is undeniable, making it the perfect partner to host the design forum. The detailed schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, March 13: Inception: Imagining and Developing the World
“World-building for independent cinema: ʻUpside Downʼ”
Presentation By: Alex McDowell, 5D Creative Director, Designer (Man of Steel, Fight Club, Minority Report)
Opening Remarks: Tom Wujec, Design Software Innovator, Autodesk Fellow
Moderator: Peggy Weil, Adjunct Professor USC and Digital Media Designer
Panelists: Rick Carter, Production Designer (War Horse, Avatar, Jurassic Park)
Angus Wall, Editor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network)
Tom Wujec, Design Software Innovator, Autodesk Fellow
Michael Wilkinson, Costume Designer (Man of Steel, 300, Watchman)

Wednesday, March 14: Prototyping: Testing the Story Space and Visualizing the World
“Building Worlds in Animation: How To Train Your Dragon”
Presentation By: Pierre Olivier Vincent, Production Designer (How to Train Your Dragon, Flushed Away)
Patrick Hanenberger, Production Designer (Rise of the Guardians)
Moderator: Henry Jenkins, Media Scholar/USC Provost Professor
Panelists: Jerrica Cleland, Cinematographer/Animator (Arthur Christmas, Finding Nemo, Toy Story)
Jim Bissell, Production Designer (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 300, E.T.)
Alex McDowell, 5D Creative Director, Designer (Man of Steel, Fight Club, Minority Report)
Tom Meyer, Production Designer (Real Steel)

Thursday, March 15: Manufacturing and Finishing: Building and Experience the World
“Design for Virtual Production: ʻReal Steelʼ”
Presentation By: Andrew Jones, Art Director (Oz: The Great and Powerful, Avatar, Alice in Wonderland)
Jeff Wisniewski, Art Director (Tintin, Real Steel)
Opening Remarks: David Morin, Autodesk
Moderator: Mike Fink, VFX Supervisor (Avatar, TRON: Legacy, Blade Runner), USC SCA Faculty
Panelists: François Audouy, 5D Founding Committee, Production Designer
Ron Frankel, Previs Innovator (Fight Club, Minority Report)
Habib Zargapour, Creative Director (Microsoft Games Studios), VFX Supervisor (Twister,
A Perfect Storm, Star Wars: Episode I)
Chris Defaria, Producer, Warner Bros (300, Watchman, Harry Potter)

For more information about 5D | FLUX, please visit:

Immersed in Blu-ray with Hitchcock and Preminger

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Cinematography, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech | Leave a comment

Now that the Oscar season’s over, I’ve had a chance to catch up on some recent Blu-rays. What’s caught my eye? Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief (Paramount Home Ent.) and Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (Criterion).

There’s been a flurry of Hitchcock activity on Blu-ray lately with more to come from Universal and Warner. Criterion released The Lady Vanishes, which epitomizes his British period of wit and suspense; Fox/MGM then followed suit with prime Selznick: Rebecca, Notorious, and Spellbound, which showcase his early American period, which is deeper and richer but not without its wit. To Catch a Thief serves as a leisurely respite — Hitch literally on vacation on the French Riviera with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly — before embarking on his most inspired work. It looks ravishing on Blu-ray in VistaVision — the colors pop in hyper real fashion. No wonder cinematographer Robert Burks won an Oscar. No matter that it’s lightweight: it fittingly evokes the mood and setting like a souffle. Archivist Robert Harris explains the particulars about the wonders of Kodak’s 5248 stock and why the movie looks so fine.

Meanwhile, Anatomy of a Murder is one of my favorite films and arguably the best courtroom drama ever made. Preminger was the master at constructing ambiguous behavior within institutional settings that could crumble at any moment, and here he subversively took on the judicial system. Nobody is what he seems. Every viewing deepens my understanding and appreciation and the Blu-ray is a technical marvel to behold, from the mutilated graphic design motif of Saul Bass’ opening credits (very similar to his work on Psycho around the same time) to the velvety shades of gray in Sam Leavitt’s black and white cinematography to Boris Leven’s lived in quality to the sleepy town of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Duke Ellington’s jazz score (Thanks to Sony’s Grover Crisp for overseeing such a great restoration/remastering with a new fine grain struck from the original camera negative).

Anatomy marked a turning point for Jimmy Stewart after Vertigo in which he no longer played romantic leads. He comfortably slid into senior character types, but still utilized his folksy charm to great effect and never more sly than here. Stewart plays as a former prosecutor-turned defense attorney in a murder case involving flirty Lee Remick and her volatile husband, Ben Gazzara, who passed away two weeks before the release of the Blu-ray. Naturally, I paid particular attention to Gazzara, whose army lieutenant is on trial for murdering a local tavern owner after he supposedly raped Remick. Gazzara’s Manion is a study in pretension and manipulation. You underestimate him at your own peril. But then the same holds true for Stewart’s jazz-loving backwoods lawyer. You marvel at every character turn, including Arthur O’Connell’s once glorious attorney turned drunken disgrace, Eve Arden’s wisecracking bookkeeper, George C. Scott’s slick Lansing prosecutor, and Joseph N. Welch’s plain spoken judge. Welch is the wild card: the famed Boston attorney from the Army/McCarthy hearings, who grounds the film in pragmatism.

Special Godfather 40th Anniversary Screening

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

Paramount Pictures is presenting a special 40th anniversary screening of The Godfather today on 55 Cinemark XD auditoriums across the country.  The film was meticulously restored using 5.1 digital surround sound and re-mastered using state-of-the-art technology, then transferred to files making it available to be seen on Cinemark XD screens.

“There is no greater iconic film than The Godfather, states James Meredith, VP of marketing and communication at Cinemark. “It has set the standard for story-telling, launched a generation of great actors, and provided movie-goers an unparalleled experience. Cinemark is excited to give fans of this movie the opportunity to now see it like never before in our extremely popular XD auditoriums, which offer a complete entertainment environment featuring enormous wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor screens, plush seating, and custom JBL sound systems with higher end components and 7.1 capable digital surround sound.”

The Coppola Restoration of The Godfather 40th Anniversary Edition as a project began in 2006 between Paramount Pictures and the director. Archivist Robert Harris joined the project, followed by the original cinematographer of the film Gordon Willis, to complete the team who worked arduously on the film for over a year going through the original prints, re-release prints, and negatives, shot by shot, foot by foot, frame by frame and even sprocket hole by sprocket hole.

Cinemark plans to also show The Godfather Part II on XD screens on April 19. A full list of participating Cinemark XD locations, advance ticket purchases and show time information can be found at

5D, USC, Autodesk Present Worldbuilding Summit

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

FLUX: Digital Design and Worldbuilding for Narrative Media is a three-part exploration into design as the backbone of digital narrative media, addressing the changing role of the designer in storytelling through world building practices. Presented by The 5D | Institute, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and Autodesk, the Summit — curated by Alex McDowell (Creative Director, 5D | Institute) and Peggy Weil (USC SCA Interactive Media Division) — will be held March 13–15 at USC’s Ray Stark Family Theatre in Los Angeles, and will include panel discussions, audience participation, and networking receptions.

Worldbuilding is the new metaphor for the creation and actualizing of the story space in narrative media and will be the theme of the Summit. It addresses narrative design thinking, the immersive process and the experience of creating new worlds. It expresses the full arc of the role of design in storytelling.

The evenings will be divided into Inception (imagining and developing the world): “World Building for Independent Cinema: Upside Down” with McDowell and moderator Peggy Weil (digital media designer); Prototyping (testing the story space and visualizing the world): “Building Worlds in Animation: How to Train Your Dragon” with production designers Kathy Altieri and Patrick Henenberger and moderated by Oscar-winning VFX supervisor and USC SCA faculty member Mike Fink; and Manufacturing and Finishing (building and experiencing the world): “Design for Virtual Production: Real Steel” with art directors Andrew Jones and Jeff Wisniewski and moderated by media scholar and provost professor at USC, Henry Jenkins.

With this first in a series of Worldbuilding Summits, the 5D | Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts will use their unique access to frame an investigation into the language and practices of digital design methodologies, applying learning from thought leaders in core media industries to an interdisciplinary discussion space within and across media.

FLUX: Digital Design and Worldbuilding for Narrative Media
March 13–15th, 2012 | 7–10 pm

The Ray Stark Family Theatre (in the George Lucas Building)
USC School of Cinematic Arts, SCA 108
900 W. 34th Street
Los Angeles, CA

Backstage at the Oscars with Hugo and Rango

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Cinematography, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Here are some backstage comments gathered from Hugo’s cinematographer Bob Richardson and VFX supervisors Rob Legato and Ben Grossmann (pictured above with Alex Henning [l]) along with Rango director Gore Verbinski:

Can you talk about working in 3-D? This is not the first 3-D film to win, but it’s unusual to get recognized with 3-D.

Bob Richardson: You’re right. I think the odds of winning are extraordinarily small. I was the crystal ball didn’t work this way. I know it worked that way for Mark Wahlberg, but for me, I didn’t see it.

Where do we go now, dramatically, with 3-D now that you’ve paved the way?

BR: That’s a huge question, but I don’t think there’s any limits for it. 3-D is a very solid step. I believe it’s 15, 20 percent, give an arbitrary percentage. The advantage is a tool towards what filmmakers can use, if used, as just that, as a tool, not as a gimmick. There’s an end. I do believe it will alter that, but, technically, I don’t believe we can go into that here, ’cause I could go on for an hour…

This was a marriage of visual effects and 3-D. Talk about that marriage.

Rob Legato: What we are trying to do with the 3-D of the movie itself is to basically extend the art form of cinema by using the depth that you get and every shot was designed to take advantage of the depth that we would enhance the model of the story. So, every shot was literally made to be in 3-D and designed to give you some depth or emotional response from it.

Ben Grossmann: And there’s a lot of science behind it, but we try to take the science and distill it down to something that is so simple that it doesn’t interfere with your instinctive creativity, so you can hear Marty or Dante or Bob, and say what they feel the shot should emote.

What does this win mean about the state of visual effects and the appreciation of visual effects at least by the Academy?

RL: There’s a perfect blend and ours does not stick out but assists that and becomes part of the art form that the Academy sort of growing up with the visual effects world, and saying, we are now going to also appreciate the art of what you tried to achieve, what’s literally on screen.

Talk about the unorthodox approach of putting all the actors in one room.

Gore Verbinski: I don’t know any other way to direct actors. I want them to act and react. I suppose it I think it made it feel like it was occurring and we encouraged line overlaps and we encouraged people to be out of breath. So we really were kind of paranoid of the computer making things clinical, and it so lends itself to perfection. So suddenly you had the feeling I guess in the soundtrack that there was a tortoise talking to a lizard, because Johnny was talking to Ned Beatty and they were actually playing the scene together. So I think there’s there’s something in there. There’s some sort of DNA underneath it all. But ultimately it was just a fear of having somebody sit with a bit of text in front of a microphone. I mean, I haven’t done that since I was selling sugar water, Budweiser, you know, or whatever, doing commercials, but that’s so distant from getting a performance.

What is the take away now that you’re back to live action?

GV: They’re two completely different hats. I suppose underneath all of it it’s just finding a story you want to tell in the same way you would if you were sitting around a campfire or something. But completely different. I mean, there are no gifts in animation. We have to fabricate everything, including the anomalies, and yet now I’m two days into shooting a live-action picture. I actually go back tomorrow to shoot, and there’s chaos and you can’t orchestrate things exactly how you want them, but when events happen, they’re set in stone and you’re done. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just every aspect of it is so different.”

Exploring the Oscar Retro Vibe

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Books, Clips, Events, Movies, Oscar, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

On the eve of Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, I look at the interesting retro connections between many of the contenders in my TOH column at Indiewire. William Joyce (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore) rejoices at the hand-made greatness of Hugo and The Artist, while Grant Orchard (A Morning Stroll) ties in the lost art of urban myths.

Klyce Talks Dragon Tattoo Sound

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Clips, Editing, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

I spoke with Oscar-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for my TOH column at Indiewire. The underlying soundscape is a freezing, unsettling horror that perfectly complements the creepy, graphic imagery. The feeling of melting snow was prevalent everywhere and so your ear accepted it as being the same place because it’s freezing. But it’s the surreal sounds that were most intriguing, including the mugging of Salander in the subway, culminating with her beating up her assailant on the escalator. Fincher wanted the sound to carry the violence with a screeching terror.

Mendes Debuts Skyfall Videoblog

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Skyfall director Sam Mendes introduced the first of his videoblogs today on the website. Not much of a debriefing on the 23rd James Bond film and Daniel Craig’s third as 007, but then he’s just getting started in introducing his ties to Bond and providing behind-the-scenes tidbits.

“The roots of my doing this Bond movie start way before anybody approached me because, like everyone else, I have my own personal relationship with Bond which began when I was I suppose about nine or ten years old. I’ve always been a fan of the movies,” he says.

In fact, Mendes told me a decade ago that he was first approached to direct Die Another Day. He was very flattered but it just wasn’t the right Bond for him. Little did we realize that Craig would eventually become the sixth Bond and that he’d be engineering the film that will likely define his legacy, now that the rite of passage is over.

Naturally, Casino Royale pulled Mendes in: “Here was a real man in a real situation and it reminded me of when I was watching Sean Connery…I think it is still possible to make a big, entertaining, fabulous, glamorous movie and yet at the same time to say something about the world that we’re living in.”

And, ironically, Skyfall marks Mendes’ first English movie.

UPDATE: Skyfall will get an IMAX release for the first time day and date with the Nov. 9 bow.

The Descendants, The Artist, Rango Take Eddies

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

The Descendants, The Artist, and Rango took top editing honors at last night’s 62nd Annual ACE Eddie Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The Descendants, (edited by Kevin Tent, A.C.E.) and The Artist (edited by Anne-Sophie Bion & Michel Hazanavicius) won Best Edited Feature Film (Drama) and Best Edited Feature Film (Comedy or Musical), and Rango (edited by Craig Wood, A.C.E.) won Best Edited Animated Feature Film.