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

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.

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.

Chinatown Comes to Blu-ray

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

Chinatown arrives on Blu-ray April 3 from Paramount Home Media. It’s part of the studio’s centennial celebration. The modern hard boiled masterpiece from ’74, directed by Roman Polanski and written by Oscar-winner Robert Towne, sports a new high-def transfer, and offers packaging that features the original theatrical poster and collectible booklet.

Paramount sent me the following additional info:

-  Scanned from the original negative

-  To significantly improve the image, several short sections where the original negative was missing were replaced with digitally combined separation master scans: This gave a previously soft, compromised image quality a sharper more integrated look, especially in the “orange grove” scene.

-  Final color correction overseen by Towne, who has worked closely with Paramount over the years on this film and knows the creative intent of director and cinematographer well.

-  The 5.1 audio remix was done from an original mono multi-track recording. Audio expert Bruce Botnick oversaw the work and had a close working relationship with composer Jerry Goldsmith.

“When I first saw the movie, years and years ago, just before it was released, all I could think of was everything that was missing from the movie,” Towne told me two years ago. “And with the passage of time, those memories of what’s missing have faded and I can see the movie as a moviegoer — and it seems to me to hold together very well.” Towne terms Chinatown “the futility of good intentions.”

The disc includes more than 2 ½ hours of bonus material:

Commentary with Robert Towne and David Fincher— Towne and Fincher offer unique insights into this classic film.  No matter how many times you’ve watched Chinatown, this commentary will open your eyes to a whole new experience.

Water and Power (HD)— In this three-part documentary, Robert Towne visits sites along the original Los Angeles Aqueduct for the first time.  He is informed of the social and environmental impacts and given insight into the major issues around the creation and ongoing operation of the aqueduct.

o   The Aqueduct (HD)— The City of Los Angeles completed the 233-mile gravity-fed aqueduct from the Owens Valley in 1913, under the leadership of a self-taught engineer named William Mulholland. L.A. Department of Water and Power representatives along with Catherine Mulholland, granddaughter of the engineer, discuss the development of the aqueduct and its contribution to the growth of the nation’s second-largest city.

o   The Aftermath (HD)— For decades a large rural community was desiccated under the management of water rights by the City of Los Angeles over a vast area of the Owens Valley. Legal victories beginning in the 1970s lead to successful reductions in environmental damages and the restoration of some natural habitats.  Historians, local ranchers and activists discuss the up-to-date impacts of the aqueduct and struggle to maintain a stable environment and community.

o   The River & Beyond (HD)— Prior to the building of the first aqueduct a century ago Los Angeles relied solely on its own local water supply: the Los Angeles River and its aquifer. Today the river as a water resource is largely forgotten. Currently there are plans to re-develop the river to reduce L.A.’s dependence on imported water, reducing the environmental impact on distant communities, while creating parks and open spaces for the city.

Chinatown: An AppreciationChinatown has been hailed as a perfect film.
Robert Towne’s cynical labyrinth of secrets and sin, Roman Polanski at the top of his form, Jack Nicholson in all his glory, Faye Dunaway at her sexiest and most mysterious, John Huston as one of the creepiest and most unrepentant villains of all time, the great cinematography, the wonderful score, the bandage on the nose…

In this featurette, prominent filmmakers express their personal admiration for the film:

o   Steven Soderbergh – Director – Traffic

o   James Newton Howard – Composer – The Dark Knight

o   Kimberly Peirce – Writer/Director – Boys Don’t Cry

o   Roger Deakins – Cinematographer – No Country For Old Men

o   Chinatown: The Beginning and the End

  • Chinatown: Filming
  • Chinatown: The Legacy
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD)

Michael Giacchino Performs at Bad Robot

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

Last night film composer Michael Giacchino gave an intimate concert on the roof of J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot studio. The performance was in honor of Super 8, and the illustrious crowd included Brad Bird, Jon Favreau, Dennis Muren, and Karl Urban. Giacchino led off with the tender theme from the Steven Spielberg tribute, saying he was glad to have the opportunity to be “10 again.” With his small orchestra, Giacchino also performed suites from Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Star Trek, and Lost.

Afterward, I remarked how wonderfully romantic and melancholy his music is, and Giaccino said that’s what he lives for. My late father used to call it “smaltzy,” and Giacchino responded, “Smaltzy is good.”

Meanwhile, Abrams begins shooting his Star Trek sequel next week and showed some of us around his geeky-looking studio. He lamented the closing of Kerner Optical (the former ILM practical effects division). “It’s over, it’s all CG now and I have to live with it.”

I also had a chance to congratulate Bird on the enormous success of Ghost Protocol, which surpassed his own expectations. He was glad people enjoyed the old-style action that wasn’t too intense.

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.

Daldry & Crew Discuss Extremely Loud

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Events, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | 2 Comments

Director Stephen Daldry discussed the delicate balancing act last night at the Landmark between “what to show and what not to show” in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Joined onstage by production designer K.K. Barrett, composer Alexandre Desplat, and VFX supervisor Kevin Mack, Daldry explained that the film works as a catharsis for dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.This was as true for the cast and filmmakers as it is for the viewers.

The director told moderator Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood that the key decision was casting newcomer Thomas Horn. Producer Scott Rudin discovered the prodigy on teen Jeopardy! (Rudin is a former winner) and he was invited to audition rather late in the casting process. Daldry worked out an analytical methodology with Horn that worked out well, and the director believes he’s delivered one of the best child performances in movie history.

Barrett added that Horn was able to tap into his emotional life for the role and, as production designer, it was his job to convey the character’s point of view. Barrett went on a “lost and found” expedition throughout New York City in search of distinctive ways of portraying the various locations. He found it helped being a New York outsider.

Desplat, who came in at the last minute to compose a whole new score in only three weeks, said he wept when viewing the rough cut before beginning work. The use of piano was instrumental in conveying the haunting tone and Desplat said he was fortunate to hire pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (who is performing the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 with the LA Phil through January 8 at Walt Disney Concert Hall).

Mack said he was charged with recreating the attacks on the World Trade Center in the background with matte paintings and the New York skyline before and after 9/11, which has obviously changed. They also played with camera perspective shifts. But Mack’s proudest shot is the devastating image of the falling man that opens the film and recurs as a metaphoric thread.


Rick Carter Talks War Horse

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

Over the holidays, I spoke with production designer Rick Carter about War Horse as part of a personal journey he’s been on making a series of war-themed films (mostly with Steven Spielberg) since 9/11. He calls it “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war.” The interview appeared in my TOH column at Indiewire.

Immigrant Song Video Propels Dragon Tattoo

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

David Fincher directs this video of the howling, sadistic, cyberpunk, oil-drenched cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Karen O, which is used in the opening credits of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Featured on the three-disc soundtrack by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, it’s wild, creepy, and sadistic: it’s like Maurice Binder on acid and brings back memories of Se7en.

Richardson Talks More Hugo

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

Cinematographer Bob Richardson went back to square one in shooting Hugo in 3-D. As he simultaneously studied the films of Méliès and the photographic works from that period, he began evaluating the Alexa.

“I did not attempt to measure digital capture against film capture,” he explains. “I went into this experience as producing a digital 3-D product against a fair amount voices asking for a different approach. Meaning that most prefer to use digital capture to emulate film. After speaking with Marty, we both agreed that first and foremost we were creating a 3-D experience and that would require digital cameras. Thus, whatever color space the Alexa’s provided was to be the one we worked within and to place the 2-D film presentation in a secondary position.

“Immediately I learned that one should not take one’s previous ‘film” experience and lay that flatly atop 3-D digital capture without questioning previous patterns of behavior. I realized very early on that I needed to be schooled by a master: Vince Pace was my first teacher; Rob Legato was my constant teacher and companion; and then practice brought a comfort zone.”

The next step was to determine how to take the data and manipulate it. An onsite lab and theater facility was built at Shepperton in London and Greg Fisher was hired to color correct the dailies. “Vince had his team stereo correct our dailies and Marty wanted us to develop a lut for autochrome [a red-orange, green, and blue-violet system, which the Lumière Brothers experimented with in the early 20th century in conjunction with 3-D] for the flashback sequences, which was developed by Rob Legato and Greg Fisher.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to duplicate the exact look but in the process of attempting to create an autochrome feel we came up with what is now the primary base of the film, and the [predominant] blue hue is a direct result of that lut. I found that the blue in the autochrome lut needed a base blue on set. I talked with my gaffer and we set the overhead lights that were currently tungsten with full blue gel. That was often used in combination with white light on the floor to light the actors. The autochrome picked up on the blue and shifted it toward what you see in the film. The sense of depth was enhanced by a combination of cool and warm. We tested shooting sequences with one tone and the result was not as strong a sense of depth as when we mixed cool and warm. Within the film we used that piece of knowledge to our advantage. Certain sequences went completely blue or white with no mixture. That can be seen in the second sequence between Hugo and Méliès at the toy store. A cooler base with little mix of white or warm was used.”

Aside from conveying a hyper reality with tremendous layers of depth and particulate matter that leaps off the screen, Hugo’s 3-D also brings us closer to the characters and actually influences the direction of the performances. “I agree with you completely here — the 3-D gives a sense of intimacy that is not as evident in 2-D,” Richardson suggests. “I must admit that it is somewhat of a mystery to me, why, with some, it works better than with others. I felt that Christopher Lee [as the compassionate bookstore owner] took to 3-D in a phenomenal way. His medium shots and close-ups bear his soul to the audience. The same can be said for the Ben Kingsley close-ups as Méliès in and around the toy store. When an actor is in the zone, the 3-D enhances that performance.”

Tate Taylor Talks The Help

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

With The Help coming out this week on Blu-ray/DVD (Walt Disney Home Ent.) and looking ravishing in HD, which should bolster its Oscar chances, it’s the perfect opportunity to post my interview with director Tate Taylor. I enjoyed speaking with the native Mississippian last summer about his film, and telling him the warm regard I still have for the state (I attended Ocean Springs High on the Gulf Coast in the early ’70s).

What was it like going back home and transporting yourself?

It was pretty great and it gave me a lot of comfort to be back on my soil telling a story about Mississippi. It just didn’t feel right doing it anywhere else but there. It would’ve been cheating, almost.

What do you hope young people will get out of the film?

I hope young people can see not so long ago how different things were. I think it’s important that they see where we’ve come from. That’s happened with the novel. A lot of young people picked it up and weren’t expecting to love it so much and couldn’t believe this really happened. That’s such a great discovery. I really hope people can take away from it that you don’t have to be a huge civil rights leader or a politician or a hugely regarded socialite to have a voice.

What was the hardest part about directing?

Directing was just the usual — being a perfectionist. We shot 59 days and I was rewriting every night. It’s war — waiting for that leave, which doesn’t happen till it’s over. Time and tiredness was the biggest challenge, cause you have to stay focused and on your game.

What extras are on the Blu-ray?

There’s a conversation with the real women and the second generation. I just wanted to get some of them to talk about their experiences. And then to see their children because some people think that’s all you could do in Mississippi. And at one time it was. There were these women that worked so hard for $10 an hour. The reason they were doing it was to give their children a better life. And so we talked to the daughters and sons who were doctors and lawyers. It was pretty moving: they thanked their mothers for what they did. It’s not a documentary, but will show the real people behind these characters.