Maria Fernanda M.'s Posts (36)

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As Hollywood makes slow but steady progress on its reopening, California Film commissioner Colleen Bell is expressing guarded optimism about production resuming — but without any exact date yet.

“I think it would be imprudent to say that we know when things will get back to normal, but I can say with confidence that there’s good reason to be optimistic,” Bell said.

All series shooting in California were shut down in March due to the pandemic, including HBO’s Bill Hader comedy “Barry,” ABC’s “The Goldbergs” and “Schooled” and America Ferrera’s NBC comedy “Superstore.”

In mid-June, Hollywood’s major unions released extensive back-to-work guidelines for resuming production amid the pandemic, with a heavy emphasis on testing as they unveiled a 36-page report, titled “The Safe Way Forward.” Around the same time, the state of California gave its blessing for film and TV production to resume, subject to approval from county public health authorities.

A handful of projects have been shooting since then, including pandemic drama “Songbird,” starring K.J. Apa and Sofia Carson with Michael Bay producing; and ESX Entertainment’s upcoming film, “A California Christmas.”

“A lot of very good work has been done by the industry and our public health officials to develop the most comprehensive safety protocols around, and that advance effort is starting to pay off as more productions are able to start,” Bell said this week.

The commission has also been ramping up its activities, announcing on Aug. 3 that California’s production tax credit program had attracted HBO’s “In Treatment” and TBS’ “Miracle Workers.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom named Bell as California Film Commissioner last year as a successor to Amy Lemisch. She is part of the governor’s senior staff in the Office of Business and Economic Development, also known as GO-Biz, and has been in been in regular contact with networks, studios, producers and unions.

When do you think production will resume in California?

The question is straightforward, but providing a meaningful answer is more complex. I think this is the reality for any major production locale — whether in the U.S. or abroad.

California is home to so much of the industry, so it’s no surprise that many projects have continued to move forward here with robust pre- and post-production activity. We are fortunate that so much of this work can be done remotely with plenty of social distancing. We are also starting to see physical production ramp up, albeit cautiously, led by smaller-scale film projects, TV series such as talk shows, game shows and dramatic serials (a.k.a. soap operas). The focus remains appropriately on safety and protecting cast and crew members. A lot of very good work has been done by the industry and our public health officials to develop the most comprehensive safety protocols around, and that advance effort is starting to pay off as more productions are able to start.

I think what is most encouraging is the industry’s eagerness to get back to work in California. We launched the latest edition of our Film and Television Tax Credit Program — called Program 3.0 — on July 1, and the response has been exceptionally strong. We have already announced that two existing TV series are relocating here from New York and the Czech Republic, and we’ll soon announce the list of projects for our next round of feature film tax credits. We are also seeing requests for on-location permits start to pick up through our office and regional film offices across the state.

Despite this momentum, several parts of California are currently deemed COVID-19 hotspots, and that affects all local industries including film and TV production. The good news is that the benchmark infection statistics are beginning to improve.

The bottom line on all this is that the industry wants to work here in California for many reasons, and we can now also factor in the current travel restrictions. I think it would be imprudent to say that we know when things will get back to normal, but I can say with confidence that there’s good reason to be optimistic.

What have you been hearing from stakeholders?

Restarting production amid COVID-19 is a slow and very deliberate process.  Developing infrastructure to meet the new health and safety protocols takes time and adds stress to production budgets. Full resumption of production activity also hinges on various labor agreements. The good news is that we are seeing lots of progress, with reports about how efficiency is improving quickly as more productions get underway and learn to adapt.

Are the stakeholders satisfied with how the process, such as the white paper, have gone so far?

Everyone is committed to getting back to work in a way that protects health and safety; that’s the primary focus.  The white paper was a truly collaborative effort by many leaders in the industry. They were determined to work together and find solutions to the extraordinary challenges presented by the pandemic. It has been clear from the start that all the stakeholders — including studios, guilds and unions — want to work together. The challenges are unprecedented, but there’s a cooperative spirit and determination to get things done.

Do you have the sense that stakeholders are taking the health dangers seriously enough?

Absolutely. It’s clear that the industry has really stepped up to meet this moment. So many different groups are working together within the industry and with government at all levels to bring people back to work as soon and as safely as possible.

Article written by Dave McNary for Variety.

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“’You are one of the few designers that can open a movie,’” costumer Mona May recalls Happy Madison co-founder Jack Giarraputo once telling her. Perhaps no appraisal can sum up the fashion-design-trained May’s auteur-like contribution to cinema as succinctly. 

Her bold colors, unapologetically soft silhouettes and feathery boas — signature touches that at once highlight comedy, beauty and authenticity — helped define a genre of film. From “Never Been Kissed” to “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” “Enchanted” (for which she was nominated for a Costume Designers Guild Award) to “The House Bunny” to Amy Heckerling’s seminal Jane Austen spinoff “Clueless” (now celebrating its 25th anniversary), young women in search of their identity are the backbone of a number of May-costumed movies. The designer says those films feature stories of women “learning something very feminine about feeling good in [their] skin,” adding, “This is my life message: being free, in love, happy and yourself.”

Many of these films show off May’s facility for giving characters extensive fashion makeovers, even under difficult circumstances. In fact, she enjoys the sense of accomplishment. “It’s challenging to deal with insecurities, budgets and time constraints,” she says. “But creating a transformation is telling the story of a woman’s arc. I am a sucker for it when a woman becomes themselves.”

May bemoans that Hollywood has been shying away from women-centric stories. “People want them, but [studios focus on] global tentpoles,” she says, supporting a return to female-driven comedies. “I’ve done movies [recently], like ‘Banana Split,’ about two girlfriends. I’ve started to prep ‘Mixtape,’ which is a wonderful [’90s-set] story about a girl who finds a cassette tape of her [deceased] parents. I have to go a little bit to a different world to find these stories. They are few and far between.”

May is quick to credit her collaborators, notably Drew Barrymore in the climactic “Meant for Each Other”-themed prom in “Never Been Kissed,” which features characters styled as Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Orlando, Barbie dolls and Tom Cruise’s Joel from “Risky Business.” May brought all the cosplay ideas to the table. Most memorable to her was Barrymore’s final transformational dress — a sweet pink chiffon number with a low neckline, cut on the bias. “Soft, beautiful and [with] all the layers she always had,” May recalls of the actor. “There she was, almost naked, completely open.”

From Barrymore’s thrift store-inspired, ’50s-esque granny dresses in “The Wedding Singer” to a showstopping power suit worn by Elaine Hendrix’s cool fashion editor in “Romy and Michele,” timeless looks have also been a throughline in May’s career. “A couple of decades later, I still have new fans,” she says, “young [people] inspired by [work] that transcended generations.” 

To May, color means emotion. “I paint with color,” she says. “[Alicia Silverstone’s] yellow suit in ‘Clueless’ is like sunshine!” Another favorite: pink, as demonstrated by Lisa Kudrow’s reunion minidress in “Romy and Michele” and the above-mentioned frock from “Never Been Kissed.” She calls the color “beautiful, sophisticated and underused” and offers it perhaps the ultimate testimonial. 

“A funny thing my friends say is that I’ll have a pink boa on my grave,” she says. “I don’t mind that.” 

Article written by Tomris Laffly for Variety.

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As a theater chain whose business model relies on serving food and drinks during movies, the Studio Movie Grill might be facing even more challenges than the rest of the exhibition industry.

But Dallas-based Studio Movie Grill is still offering snacks and meals in both the theater auditoriums and lounge areas at the chain’s nine locations that are currently open. With the “grill” concept at the forefront of their brand, the chain is taking precautions to make sure customers can continue to drink and dine, and finding new revenue streams with private theater rentals.

Studio Movie Grill began reopening locations in Georgia, Florida and Texas in late June at 50% capacity — all states that saw surges in coronavirus cases over the summer. Staff are required to undergo a health check prior to starting their shift and wear face masks and other protective gear.

“Bar stools are completely removed for now, in the area directly at the bar to ensure social distancing,” explained marketing chief Tonya Mangels. “We have very large spacious lounges with significant booth seating and bar seating. The lounge booth areas are socially distanced with every other booth ‘closed’ right now with health and safety signage indicating as such.”

Moviegoers can still order an Alright, Alright, Alright Old Fashioned featuring Matthew McConaughey’s Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon — but they’re asked to wear masks when they’re not sipping cocktails or munching on snacks in the theater, and also wear them in restrooms and lobbies.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in its fifth month, the North American moviegoing business as a whole is operating at less than 20% capacity.

The three biggest chains — AMC, Regal and Cinemark with nearly 1,500 locations — have announced they will reopen during mid to late August. Theaters in Los Angeles, New York and many other locations have not yet been given an approved reopening date by their health departments.

Smaller chains are facing numerous challenges, from the recent Universal VOD announcement to customers reluctant to return to movie theaters while COVID-19 numbers are still high, though starting to decline in some areas.

Seven of Studio Movie Grill’s shuttered locations are in California, where Governor Gavin Newsom hasn’t said anything about lifting the ban on movie theaters opening.

Founder and CEO Brian Schultz told Variety that patrons in the Golden State are well aware of the risks: “Our California guests remain the most vocal about the safety of returning to Studio Movie with our protocols,” he added.

But Schultz is optimistic that business is rebounding, and he said sales are increasing 3% to 5% each week. The chain has seen solid returns from its offer to rent out auditoriums — which can accommodate several dozen patrons at once — for $200.

“Just like our guests, we have been excited to return to the movies safely,” he added. “Our option to rent out private auditoriums has given our guests the chance to return to movies on the big screen in a way that is comfortable to them.”

Schultz said the private bookings have been “wildly successful.”

Several Studio Movie Grill filmgoers told Variety the staff was attentive in following safety protocols. Olivia Zehmer, of Georgia-based fire safety equipment concern Twelve and Associates, said she was pleased about how a recent company outing had turned out with close to 40 employees and family members attending.

“I’m the company’s organizer of these event and we usually would go to a Braves game or a bowling alley, but that wasn’t going to be feasible,” she said. “We chose ‘Ready Player One’ as something that families could watch. People are itching to come out and for a lot of us, it was the first time we had been to an event since the pandemic started.”

Cody and Teresa Dolan said that they decided to hold a birthday party for their 12-year-old daughter at the the Houston Studio Movie Grill and screen “Spider Man: Far From Home.”

“We have to be super-careful because our daughter’s health and the staff was very conscious of following the health protocols with masks, gloves and social distancing,” he said. “Everyone had a grand time. The kids were so grateful to see their friends, and the adults were happy to get out of the house.”

The Dolans were so pleased that they organized a second outing for their daughter, four of her friends and four teachers.

Mangels said Dave Franco’s horror movie “Rental” was the top performer last week. The IFC release is also available on-demand.

“The new content from smaller distributors continues to get audiences in at pre-pandemic levels and clearly indicated demand is there when we have new content,” she added. “This week we look forward to the opening of ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’ starring Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson, and ‘Black Water Abyss.'”

Currently, Studio Movie Grill has six theaters open in Texas and it’s looking to reopen soon at outlets in Arlington and Plano along with a site in Duluth, Ga.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst with Comscore, says the chain’s focus on providing a premium experience helps distinguish it from other theaters.

“Studio Movie Grill is nimble, innovative and passionate about movies and the moviegoing experience and during COVID-19, these are particularly relevant attributes,” he said.

Dergarabedian says he thinks the future of moviegoing in theaters that create a curated environment with a “high-end feel,” and in a time when more and more titles are premiering at home, that’s the kind of experience Studio Movie Grill is hoping will continue to draw moviegoers.

Article written by Dave McNary for Variety.

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Veteran stylist Zerina Akers talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the biggest project of her career, how many outfits the music superstar wore in the Disney+ film and what's up next for her.

Zerina Akers is surrounded by flowers. 

It's Monday morning, and the world had the weekend to digest the Disney+ debut of Beyoncé's Black Is King, the visual album that serves as the companion piece to her music release, The Lion King: The Gift. While a weekend is plenty of time for peers, fans and fashion houses to send colorful arrangements Akers' way, it's far from enough time to dissect the cultural references, hidden meanings and fashion pairings of her work as the film's costume designer in a project hailed as "visually stimulating," "impeccably styled" and "dazzling, but also carefully calculated" by Vogue, The New Yorker and The New York Times

"The weekend has been overwhelming," Akers explains to The Hollywood Reporter by telephone. "I'm so humbled by everything, that it was well-received, that people got it, and we were able to provide a much-needed escape and reality check with everything that's going on. It was this burst of joy that we all needed as one collective of people, of humanity."

Akers is quick to give credit to Beyoncé and her collective of collaborators — including creative director Kwasi Fordjour, tailor Timothy White and their team of stylists and assistants — as she explains the massive feat of pulling off the year-long project. It gave her the opportunity to outfit Beyoncé in a parade of looks from couture houses to upstart designers while also dressing family members (Jay-Z, Tina Knowles Lawson, Blue Ivy and twins Rumi and Sir), supermodels (Naomi Campbell and Adut Akech), Oscar winners (Lupita Nyong'o) and African superstars (Yemi Alade, Shatta Wale, Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, Busiswa, Mr. Eazi).

Akers opens up to THR about her biggest challenges, favorite ensembles and all of the cultural references — from money and status to marriage and family — that are woven throughout Beyoncé's latest artistic offering. 

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Let’s start at the beginning with the first vision of Beyoncé on the beach in the Wendy Nichol dress. On Instagram, you wrote that it’s the perfect way to start with the right amount of nothing…yet everything. Why that dress?

Wendy Nichol designed the beach dress on "Drunk in Love," this very sheer, languid, slip dress. This started out as the nude version of that same dress. I wanted her to feel kind of stripped down, where everything was sort of falling apart, sort of falling away, where it meant nothing, where it almost wasn't about the clothes. Wendy was able to do it in a way where it still very much felt like a couture trend. We added silks, organzas and charmeuse strips on top of it, and built on top of that as a base. For that look and that designer to end up back on the beach in a very different way on this album now — two albums past the Beyoncé album — I thought was really quite powerful. She's a mother of three now, and it’s a full-circle moment with that designer. It’s really beautiful.

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From there, the film explodes with fashion with dozens of looks. I know this is might be a silly question, but what was the most challenging sequence to create?

I'm trying to comb back through all of the looks in my head. The largest singular project I've ever done was "Mood." So to digest all of those looks...we had 70 people on set. It wasn't dressing a mob of 70 people and they're in that one look; it's then we have the club scene, and then we have the tea party and the dinner table. That was a huge undertaking like creating a chess board. That, in and of itself, that entire song, that entire video, was, I'd say, the most challenging.

I also wanted to create leopard and animal-print ensembles that spoke to the real woman while trying to strip away some of that fear of wearing animal print. A lot of people shy away from it. [We also] utilized historical references, playing with opulence, and pulling some of these tribal references, the use of cowrie shells and things like that. Going back to when cowrie shells were treated as currency in Africa and bringing that into this opulent space by wearing it on a hat, on a headpiece, on a belt so that it’s present and represented. It was just a phenomenal, phenomenal video to work on.

I had to pause several times, in "Mood" and also "Brown Skin Girl," to see how many people you designed for in various sequences. You mentioned 70 on set for "Mood." Do you have numbers for the entire project?

I tried to count. I tried to count even on Beyoncé, and I stopped somewhere at 63 but I feel like it's more like 65. Then we're never going to talk about the ones that didn't make it in the film, then we're at like 70. That's just on her alone. Again, in that project, it was one thing to have 70 people; another thing is to have to funnel them and dress them, let's say, in five different, large scenes, from the synchronized swimming, to the club, to the chess scene. So, I don't have a [total] count.

I wanted to go back to the animal print because it figures prominently. You said people shy away from it and it also can overpower an individual. Here it's done differently. Can you talk about the symbolism of that, and why you relied so much on animal print?

I wanted to take these stereotypes that are often portrayed with black people, whether it be of African descent or in the diaspora, of how we represent luxury and how we project luxury and opulence. They maybe call people ignorant for wanting to wear a gold chain or wanting to kind of overdo it. Wealth looks very different in black and white, and it really ties back to the decadence in many African cultures. Let's say, from Nigeria, in weddings everything is custom made in the same fabric for entire bridal party, or the entire bridal party and their family. Then they change looks halfway through the reception. At the end, there's a celebration where all of the guests throw or pin money onto the bride and groom as an offering to them. They come with purses full of money and they just throw it at them. It’s a stunning ceremony from top to bottom. We pulled from references like that.

Coming from one end of the diaspora, where we're sort of judged in a way for kind of wearing gold chains and rappers, but it's all sort of one thing. It's all a cellular memory. Using Duckie Confetti and those money-print pajamas, and then she puts in the diamond teeth — it's playing in that space. Tying it back with the stereotype, when you want to wear something tribal or feel ethnic, it’s an animal print, you know?

Right.

So we took that, elevated it and made it decadent. I don't know if I've ever seen mixed animal prints done in such a way on any runway in a way that's wearable. It’s usually more scaled back, as in one piece, and not mixed. I've been trying to look back to see if I overlooked something because I don't think I’ve seen it. To take that and turn it on its head, and then utilizing [Poppy Lissman black bar sunglasses] to create this sense of anonymity. You have this black bar across her face. I remember [Jean-Michel Basquiat] saying that when he would cross-out words, that's when you wanted to read them. Taking away the eyes in that shot, you are allowed to see yourself. She becomes anyone, she becomes everyone. To me, that was one of the stronger and more fun looks to work on.

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You tell a story by placing luxury houses like Valentino, Burberry, Balmain, Alexander McQueen alongside rising-star designers, many of whom you've worked with in the past, whether it was Formation or just other looks, like d.bleu.dazzled—

Jerome LaMaar has done dresses for us.

Yeah. Can you explain the importance to you and to Beyoncé of using lesser-known Black designers in this film and what you hope people take from that?

Beyoncé does not care who the jacket is by. If it's a beautiful jacket, it's a beautiful jacket. She's not, "Oh, I'm going to take the Chanel one over the Jerome LaMaar one." It's which one looks better. "Oh, this I love. This is bringing something that represents who I am and who I want to be." With some of the larger houses, I love that I was able to support those that supported us. I mean, Olivier [Rousteing] has come through for Beyoncé in more ways than one. Riccardo Tisci at Burberry, I wanted to support his tenure there because he has been there for her for more than 10 years — for many years — with past stylists. He's always come through. I liked having this space and platform to say, "Thank you," and still pull them in in these larger visual pieces. The Burberry cowhide look on the horse, when that circulates, she’s also wearing [Ariana Boussard earrings and bangles]. From the Valentino look, she’s also wearing A-Morir sunglasses by Kerin Rose Gold. Mixing the high and low so when those looks circulate, it makes such a profound difference in the careers of these designers and these businesses. That’s the power. It's kind of like Robin Hood in a way, a fashion Robin Hood.

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Speaking of Tongoro with Sarah Diouf, Beyoncé was the first to wear her brand when she wore it on a boat. It was casual. She posted a picture. Then she wore her again on a trip to South Africa. Even at that point, I think she was still the only one to wear her brand. Since then, Sarah has gone from employing seven people to employing 50. The reach of families that that then helped and feed, just by her diversifying who she's wearing. It promotes and inspires people to also diverse their spending and shopping and open their eyes a bit. It creates a domino effect that is much needed in the world. We get used to shopping on Amazon or other very easy ways, but there's so much out there. There's so much amazing talent.

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Black Is King is also such a moment for bling, body paint, head pieces and accessories. As a costume designer, it must have been fun to play in that world and add all of these extra elements to take everything over the top. Do you have a favorite moment?

For one, [Francesca Tolot] on the black and teal body paint really, I think, became a star of the show. But Neal [Farinah] and Nakia [Rachon Collins] killed the hair. Those head pieces were to die for and provided the much-needed exclamation point to a lot of these looks. I’d say one of the favorite headpieces was the headpiece with the horns for the cowhide look that [echoes] the Egyptian goddess, Hathor, and pulls in references to tribes in the Congo. It just really blew me away. They really became the stars of the show as well in "Brown Skin Girl" with all the beads. That look was definitely [one of] my favorites.

What was it like to be on the set of the "Brown Skin Girl" shoot? It’s such a family affair with Kelly Rowland, Tina Knowles-Lawson, Blue Ivy and then with Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Adut Akech, etc.

Oh, I mean, a dream! I got to dress Naomi Campbell! It was almost like inviting people to your home. When you invite people to your home, you bring out the good china. You're going to serve them in your Hermes tea cups. You're going to go all out. That's how it felt to have the guests on the set and to actually be able to dress them. Naomi Campbell in the Schiaparelli was just to die for. I love Daniel Roseberry's collection, and was so blown away by the exaggerated silhouettes that he's creating. To place that look there and on her was breathtaking. The McQueen and the Jil Sander on Adut [created] a mother-daughter vibe that is so beautiful.

We shot Lupita in New York separately. To work with such an actress was a little bit intimidating, I must say. She's a very strong woman. Her presence is monumental. She's very confident and sure of herself. I was proud to be able to find things that she liked that contributed and tied everything together. My favorite on her was that rosette Rodarte when she's in the mirror. It's just really beautiful with white on white rosettes.

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There’s a duality of light and dark in several scenes, and others where the contrast is pops of color that are monochromatic. What were the conversations you had about black and white?

Talking about the chess scene, in developing the “dark side,” for me, it represented the indigenous spirituality. When you look at the bishop, I wanted it to feel like almost a voodoo priest, because there's this concept or notion that it's evil, and that's not the case. I wanted to show the essence of that in the chess piece. I hope that throughout the film, people can take and start doing research on indigenous spirituality, and that we all don't have to necessarily practice one thing. There is a lot of power, and that it's a bloodline thing.

Going to the monochromatic looks ... I love color. It just brightens the day. I'm not an all-black girl. I'm more of a pop of color. If it's a gray day, you're going to find me in a yellow suit. I love to play with color. Spiritually as well, there's a lot of power to pull from it when you can play there. In a lot of the monochromatic dressing, it reminds me of grandmothers. Your grandmother going to church and taking time to put together a look, find lilac shoes to match her lilac dress and then putting on a lilac hat with a bag and gloves.

Also, for example, in Nigeria, monochromatic dressing from head-to-toe represents opulence and decadence in many ways. Wearing your Sunday's best, that’s when you could get out of your uniform and put on your best. And a lot of people in the South, their mothers and grandmothers wore uniforms as they worked so that would be their day to get out of that. I liked playing in this space of this kind of all-in-one, sort of kind of very custom, very — you have to kind of hand-pick it, you had to get it made, or you had to get it dyed — and taking the spirit of that into these looks.

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I'm going to apologize in advance for asking this because I know this was a year-plus of your life and many sleepless nights so it isn’t fair to pick one but do you have a favorite fashion moment in Black Is King?

Right? [Laughs] Thank you for your consideration. Can I give you three favorite moments?

I'll take them all.

I love the tea party scene. I wish I could have just lived in that world a little longer. This very girly meeting, very feminine and dainty gathering of women, I think is something that we all dream of. We'd love to have a nice chat with our girlfriends and then catch up and just debrief. It's soft, but it feels tough. It's floral from head-to-toe, but there's a woman in a do-rag, and then it's still in support of the matriarch. That was a really fun one to style.

Another one I love is Timothy White, who's been Beyoncé's lead tailor for 20 years. He's kind of her Bob Mackie. He's an unsung hero on our team, and many people don't really know who he is. He made the exaggerated black gown in "Brown Skin Girl." Alongside the Valentino look, it has really become an iconic Bey image that represents the film and what it is. That's one of my favorite looks. He really went all out. He did the teal fringe look in "Water," and the red fringe look in "My Power," and so many other things. He's a godsend.

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You posted that the yellow Adama Paris look is "very dear" to you. Why is that?

The color yellow speaks to very powerful spiritual entities and across platforms. So, whether you're speaking to an Oshun in the Yoruba culture or you're speaking to St. Anne, it pays homage to ancestral spirits — whether that be in Africa, Brazil or through Cuba — those that have uplifted us in an unseen way. It’s very special.

Speaking of special, you also got your designs in there with the tweed bathrobe and the head wrap. Tell me the story behind that?

I wanted a lot of Chanel in "Mood." We were supposed to shoot it in September or August but we didn't shoot it until the end of September. So, I had to give back all of the samples because we had them for too long. Chanel didn't make a tweed bathrobe, and I had this idea of this tweed bathrobe. I wanted her by the pool in this bathrobe with the towel, but I wanted it to feel like this opulent tweed to tie back to this particular community. That's where that was born. I just designed it. It had a bit of a train. I wanted the towel to feel like a beach towel and a head wrap and an African head wrap. That’s where that came from.

There's another thing we worked on. Natalia Fedner made a really flat, gold headpiece, similar to the one that Nija wears in the yellow in "My Power." On Beyoncé, she wears it in "Already." She's sitting on the ring and there's a gold medal. That one, we took and put sort of all of these different earrings, these gold earrings, which for a lot of young black girls are their first piece of jewelry; these tiny, gold earrings that are a symbol and connection. Often it can be the only family heirlooms that people have, their grandmother's gold rings. I wear mine all the time. My grandmother, she's still alive, thank God, and we switch rings. She gives me rings and buys me gold earrings, and that's a special connection for us. It's a pillar. To utilize these, from simple gold to bamboo earrings, all on this headpiece, where she's crowned in this nostalgia in a way was quite fun. I ended up turning that headpiece upside down in a way.

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Beyoncé wrote on Instagram that the film now serves a greater purpose, arriving at this time, and the hope is to present elements of black history and African tradition, which I think, in large part, is accomplished by your collaborations. What is your hope for how fashion or the world responds to this moment?

I think Beyoncé is leading the charge in creating real change through this film. Just with the combo of the independent and couture designers, it really creates a space and a platform for access. That is phenomenal.

For myself, I started the Instagram page, Black Owned Everything. In less than two months, it's grown from three followers to almost 140,000. It shows that people are ready. There's a hunger. Beyoncé amplified that with "Black Parade" and created a directory so you can go to Beyoncé.comand find all of these brands. Real change is happening. We’re able to contribute to a real shift, and it's growing.

We have more work to do, but in terms of the film, the film just gives you a nice visual escape into that world, and also provides the platform. The work is day to day. We're off to a really good start in creating some real change and giving visibility to black designers, black companies, black-owned businesses, black creators, and then we can expand that into other cultures as well.

What's the next step for Black Owned Everything?

I actually haven't shared with anyone. I am creating a marketplace platform, an e-commerce space, to invite a nice, well-curated selection of these designers to sell their clothes in one place that will make it easier for consumers while also giving people access to a larger market. The people that are in my community, at my arms' reach, they get funneled there. People that are engaging in the platform now, they get visibility from a lot of high-end brands and fashion people. And the space will feature black creators; health, wellness and yoga instructors; things like that. Give me a few weeks and we'll be launching soon.

My last question: What's next? Are you taking a vacation?

Oh, I wish. No, no, no. Chloe and Halle have way too much coming up. And I have to prepare Beyonce's fall wardrobe. I don't think I'll get a vacation just yet, but I hope to design more. I hope to get my hands dirty a bit more in the design world, and create things of my own. It's fun.

Article written by Chris Gardner for The Hollywood Reporter. 

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What makes the ultimate film soundtrack?

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The snaking rhythm and ripple of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966); the pastoral atmospheres of Days of Heaven (1978); the icy tension of The Thing (1982); the elegiac beauty of Once Upon a Time in America (1984); the swelling heartstrings of Cinema Paradiso (1988)… the prolific film scores of Italian maestro Ennio Morricone not only elevate classic scenes onscreen; they seem to live with us beyond them, in surround sound. The news of Morricone’s death this week, aged 91, bears a particular emotional weight, so vast was his repertoire (around 500 scores), and so intimate its connection with countless listeners. In the 2019 book Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words, he said that “Most of the time, people experience the music in a film as a subconscious suggestion… In other words, music manages to show what is not visible, to work against the dialogue or, even more, tell a story that the images do not reveal”. What makes a truly great film soundtrack might be a perennial question – but Morricone left us with timeless responses, across a multitude of genres.

British composer, dramatist and broadcaster Neil Brand has explored the technique and power of film soundtracks throughout much of his work, including the acclaimed BBC series Sound Of Cinema: The Music That Made the Movies. It’s a theme that stems from Brand’s own childhood passion for movies: “I’d go to the cinema and see this massive technicolour thing with extraordinary music pouring out… When I got home, if the music was still ticking over in my mind, I’d sit at the piano and I’d be desperate to pick it out, find out how the chords worked,” he recalls. Great film music somehow retains its magic, even when its familiar melodies are laid bare.

“I do think we are all musical receptors, at a very deep level,” says Brand. “We have that in our ancient DNA, and because film music is working at a deeper level than language and intellectual thought, maybe it’s hitting us all at that level. In a funny way, talking about that means that you recognise it, but it doesn’t change its power.”

There is a universal relatability to a brilliant film score, even in fragments. Morricone is credited for (re)defining the sound of the Western (although his music obviously went much further than that); meanwhile, US composer John Williams summons otherworldly adventures, across the Star Wars and Superman sagas, ET and more. When Brand reminisces about leaving a busy cinema screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), I instantly think of Williams’s five-note UFO synth motif: “Every single one of us in the crowd looked up at the sky when we walked out,” said Brand. “Suddenly, we were in a world where that was possible. I wanted the real world to be like film… and music is the thing that will allow you to do that.”

Our modern viewing habits (home streaming; mobile downloads) can’t quite replicate the immersive, communal quality of the classic cinema experience; classic film music also invariably gives rise to copycat scores, as Brand notes, laughing: “There was a time where it felt like every superhero movie started with a dark, brooding pan across a city, and a low note that just stayed there for ever.” Still, he adds, wildcard creativity has proved a potent highlight, across generations of film scores. “It was Morricone’s maverick-ness that made him stand out,” argues Brand. “There was no chance that any of the other golden age film composers would ever use a whistle, a handslap and a whipcrack in their music – and here it was, in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: part of an incredibly bananas take of what constituted a film score. Now if you go to the cinema and hear something really surprising, it’s such a breath of fresh air.

“I think Morricone is a really interesting mix [for] a popular populist composer. His first stuff in the early ‘60s was pop, very melodic, but with these bizarre but brilliant sounds in there. One of the things that informs that is the intellectually rigorous crowd that he hung out with, Il Gruppo: this group of Italian composers making avant-garde improvised jazz, using odd textures.”

Morricone is a prime example of how great film music can be sophisticated yet unpredictably playful. His varied themes feature countless irrepressible melodies, whether it’s the intensely poignant Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), the whimsical Fun is Beautiful (for Carlo Verdone’s 1980 comedy), or the unapologetically romantic 1971 piece Chi Mai (which later became a hit single in its own right). He never lost that pop sensibility, continuing to work throughout his career with chart artists from Mina and Zucchero to the Pet Shop Boys.

Morricone’s film scores also bring a profound resonance, along with catchy hooks. In a 2008 interview recorded for BBC Radio 4, he told Christopher Frayling: “What I look for as a composer for cinema is the underlying story in a film; the story that cannot be told through images or through dialogue.” According to Brand, “Films like Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America may have had a pragmatic, hard-nosed approach both to the characterisation and the plot, but Morricone’s music gave this incredible emotional depth. In A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Clint Eastwood only has about 25 lines, but the music that plays as he heads off towards his next gunfight puts him in the pantheon of great heroes of all time. You care about him; the music suggests that something has happened in his past that has scarred him so much, he has to go on this solo quest to bring justice to lawless places. Whereas in the plot, he’s doing it for money!”

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Some of the greatest film music has also been fuelled by a rapport between the composer and the filmmaker. Classic creative partnerships have included the likes of Bernard Hermann and Alfred Hitchcock (from Psycho, Vertigo and North By Northwest to the shrill electronic effect in The Birds); Nino Rota and Italian heavyweights Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti (Rota also wrote the legendary score for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather); and Hindi film music icon RD Burman with director/producer/writer Nasir Hussain (not least on 1973’s influential Yaadon Ki Baaraat). A more recent collaboration that has stood out has been French electronic artist Para One’s gorgeous scores for Celine Sciamma (for her contemporary youth dramas and the 2019 period feature Portrait of a Lady on Fire).

Morricone famously worked closely with the likes of Sergio Leone (who would often shoot or extend scenes, based on Morricone’s music) and Giuseppe Tornatore; his connection with Quentin Tarantino (on the Oscar-winning soundtrack for 2015’s The Hateful Eight) may have been more fractious, but Tarantino was undeniably a Morricone fanboy (citing him as his favourite-ever composer), and Morricone himself continued to blend his distinctive style with different approaches (“I tried to convey a sense of irony,” Morricone told The Independent newspaper in 2016, about composing for The Hateful Eight. “I wanted to stress once more the fact that for me, this is not a Western movie.”).

If you really want to ‘get’ what Hans Zimmer does, go see Kung Fu Panda – Neil Brand

In her 2004 book Music In Film: Soundtracks And Synergy, cultural academic Pauline Reay explores how music has historically been used to promote film (all the way back to Camille Saint-Saëns’s original score for the 1908 French film L’Assassinat du duc de Guise, released separately as sheet music). Nowadays, we have access to a richer array of film soundtracks than ever, from digital libraries to lush vinyl reissues of classic scores (spanning Blaxploitation, anime, horror and beyond) – and as Brand points out, film music fans are multi-generational and increasingly savvy. He argues that contemporary family movies frequently feature the most exciting and adventurous scores. “If you really want to ‘get’ what Hans Zimmer does, go see Kung Fu Panda or Rango,” he argues. “There’s also John Powell’s magnificent scores for the How To Train Your Dragon films, and Randy Newman’s work on the Toy Story soundtracks; there is so much genuine delight and joy in the genre, and a massive surge of generosity that just reignited my love for it all.”

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Great film music can reinvent icons (take Icelandic musician/composer Hildur Guðnadóttir’s extraordinary Oscar-winning score for Joker, 2019) and subvert genres (Nicholas Britell’s poignant and potent “chopped and screwed” symphonies for Moonlight, 2016), yet it can also ‘belong’ to us through an emotional core. As kids, we often make our first musical discoveries through film (and Brand argues emphatically that this should be nurtured at school); we then carry these soundtracks through our lives. Morricone has been with me everywhere; as a child, thanks to my Dad’s obsession with Western films – and as an incredibly lucky adult, taking my Dad to see Morricone (then a sprightly octogenarian) conducting his own scores at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Morricone has been played at hard rock gigs I’ve seen (Metallica use The Ecstasy Of Gold as their intro music), and even at raves – around 6am one Sunday morning, when his theme to The Mission cascaded across a sweaty dancefloor like a mass epiphany. I’m not sure what Il Maestro himself would have made of that last scene, but he proved that the greatest film music is unconventional – and it really hits you where you least expect it.

Article written by Arwa Haider for BBC.

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To launch BBC Culture’s new series on cult films, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh explores how to separate guilty pleasures from genuine underground hits.
 

What crazy alchemy can transform the worst movie of all time into a golden work of staggering genius? When it’s dubbed a cult classic, of course! Welcome to the cinematic universe of the second coming, where Return Of The Killer Tomatoes! is as venerated as Citizen Kane and the offbeat, experimental, queer, schlocky, flawed and downright weird is worshipped.

Yet smelling out a genuine classic from just another ‘bad’ or misjudged movie (hallo Cats! Though give that time…) is trickier than you might think, even for the experts, as we found when we set out to compile a new cult canon. “Every time you think about ‘cult’ and what it means, there’s always an exception to the rule,” admits Michael Blyth, who programmes the annual Cult strand for the BFI’s London Film Festival alongside their LGBTQ+ festival BFI Flare. For him, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) gives the cult classic blueprint. “When it was released, it wasn’t a critical or commercial success and yet it found an audience who so fell in love with it, they got together to have this celebratory union, where they could dress up and quote along with and create a whole subculture out of this film that would otherwise have been lost or forgotten.”

I was one such celebrant. Aged 15, I popped my Rocky Horror Picture Show live audience participation cherry at a midnight screening in London. Here I channelled my inner Transylvanian transsexual, dressed in fishnets, a borrowed tailcoat and armed with a water pistol (to simulate rain at a key moment), and chanted along to the pre-ordained responses I’d devotedly learnt from a bootleg cassette tape. It was one of the most joyful movie-going experiences of my life. Yet as the years have gone by and Rocky Horror has been absorbed into the mainstream, you wonder if even this ultimate ‘cult’ movie can honestly still be classified as one.

‘Cult’ should exist in the original ways we understood it – a celebration of lowbrow culture, based around ideas of camp and irony, transgression and subversion – Michael Blyth

“We have to be careful not to overuse the word ‘cult’ so it loses all meaning,” agrees Blyth. “Some people talk of Star Wars being a ‘cult’ film because it has such a developed fandom and subculture but I think ‘cult’ should fundamentally exist in the original ways we understood it – a celebration of lowbrow culture, based around ideas of camp and irony, transgression and subversion.” And while the Star Wars universe might hold many wonders, there’s a notable lack of zombie cheerleaders or obese transvestites eating real dog poo on the Death Star (unless I missed that in the Blu-Ray extras).

Passionate following

So where does the ‘original’ meaning lie? US film writer Danny Peary supposedly first gave the term currency with his 1980 book Cult Movies. In it, Peary picks out 100 films from Andy Warhol’s Bad to The Wizard Of Oz which “have elicited a fiery passion in moviegoers that exists long after their initial releases”. This alternative film canon contained such world offerings as El Topo, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s hallucinogenic head-trip of an ‘Acid Western’, and naughty French softcore classic Emmanuelle. Even so, the term ‘cult movie’ was pretty much an “American thing” according to programmer-turned-film historian Jane Giles, author of Scala Cinema 1978-1993.

Giles joined The Scala as a programmer in 1988. Modelled on the midnight movie theatres of New York and LA and the queer theatres of San Francisco, The Scala was the legendary London repertory cinema which ‘Pope of Trash’ auteur John Waters once described as “a country club for criminals and lunatics and people that were high… which is a good way to see movies”. Pretty much every film The Scala screened, including one of Giles’s personal faves, a hardcore 1975 horror/comedy called Thundercrack! (still banned in the UK), could arguably be called a ‘cult’ classic, yet they generally weren’t back then. According to Giles: “Even when Withnail and I came out, which was the very definition of something that became a cult movie, it wasn’t called that.”

For Giles and her fellow acolytes, the definition of a true cult movie was one that had to be discovered and that would appeal to the Scala’s criss-crossing rainbow tribes of gay people, punks, rockabillies and goths. She considers that a big part of what made Withnail And I a cult was that it had a botched theatrical release, meaning, despite a handful of glowing critical reviews, hardly anyone could get to see the film – this being a pre-video era. “It used to be one of the benchmarks – that if something was difficult to track down it was a cult movie by definition,” says Giles. She references Ali Catterall’s book about British cult movies, Your Face Here, in which he argues that it wasn’t until the 90s and early noughties that marketeers decided ‘cult’ was a cool word and started slapping it on any and everything that wasn’t completely mainstream – to the point it became meaningless.

Changing meaning

So in 2020, an era when Netflix hands you ‘cult classics’ on an algorithmed platter, are the glory days of cult movies over? “I think that definition has really changed,” says Giles. 

“For me, cult movies are the ones that are kind of out-of-the-box,” declares rising Iranian director Babak Anvari. “You can’t fit them anywhere.” Furthermore, any definition is location dependent. He points out that growing up in Iran, pretty much every Western movie would be considered ‘cult’, because most of them were banned. “We had these video dealers that would come to your door with a briefcase full of tapes – it was kind of like buying an illegal substance! So pretty much every film that I watched in the 80s and 90s had that cultish feel, even mainstream films, like Titanic.” It’s interesting to think that somewhere in an Iranian basement there might have been a 90s underground Titanic club night full of drag queen Kate Winslets.

To make a cult film on purpose? I don’t think that’s possible – Babak Anvari

Anvari’s own feature debut, Under The Shadow (2016), a psychological horror set in 1980s Iran, has a cult feel, even if it’s arguably too critically garlanded to be a true ‘cult’ phenomenon. Mark Kermode recently cited it as one of his top 10 films of the last decade. As a filmmaker, did or would Anvari set out to make a cult movie? “If my films were considered ‘cult’, that would be a badge of honour!” he declares. “As a film student, those were the films that really excited me. But to make a cult film on purpose? I don’t think that’s possible.”

He’s right. Studios might try to market films as ‘cult’, but you can’t manufacture one. Because, unlike genre, a cult classic isn’t defined by the content of the work, but by its audience (be it only a devoted cult of three). In drawing up our own criteria, we have taken all this conflicting advice into account. Our series will include those films that were box office or critical failures, which went on to have another life beyond their individual release.

And what’s cheering, particularly given this is written during the time of lockdown, is that cult life is a gloriously communal one. As Blyth concludes: “Cult cinema has such a way of bringing people together.” One of his fondest memories as a programmer was a sell-out screening of Troma’s 1984 B-movie The Toxic Avenger. “There was such a shared electricity of enjoyment. People who’d been watching this at home alone, feeling like they were the only one who could truly love The Toxic Avenger, but no – here they are in a room full of people who also share this weird perverse love for a movie that’s widely regarded as trash. I love that there’s something oddly empowering about that.” Long live cult cinema!

Article written by Larushka Ivan-Zadeh for BBC.

 

 

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"An overly aggressive shortened theatrical window could have an adverse impact on the mid-to-tail end of a film's life," Mark Zoradi told analysts.

Cinema giant Cinemark is not game for the reduced 17-day theatrical window that fellow exhibitor AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures recently struck an agreement for, CEO Mark Zoradi said Tuesday. 

"We believe an exclusive theatrical window is critically important," he said. "While we have publicly stated we're willing to have conversations with our studio partners to evolve with them, we are mindful that an overly aggressive shortened theatrical window could have an adverse impact on the mid-to tail-end of a film's life," Zoradi told analysts on Tuesday about the window-crashing deal after the company released its second-quarter earnings.

The Cinemark boss said he would negotiate with the major studios about shortening the theatrical window. "We will be very careful and methodical about how we approach any change to the theatrical windows. We continue to carefully analyze and research this matter. And we will endeavor to ensure any modifications are in the best interests of the overall industry, our company and our shareholders."

At the same time, Zoradi would not be drawn on how many days would not constitute an "overly aggressive shortened" theatrical window that he warned against, adding he would leave that discussion to direct talks with studios.

Zoradi added the major studios weren't suddenly ramping up negotiations to collapse the theatrical window. "I wouldn't say there's been any aggressive new discussions that we're in the middle of. I would characterize it as ongoing," he told analysts.

But he again gave little away on the nature of the talks. "We are open and active with discussions, but relative to negotiations, I would stop there," Zoradi said.

The historic Universal-AMC agreement will allow the studio's movies to be made available on premium video-on-demand after just 17 days of play in cinemas, including three weekends. That shatters the traditional theatrical window of nearly three months before studios can make movies available in the home.

It initially covers AMC's U.S. locations, but the two partners will also discuss a potential international rollout. AMC, the world's largest theater chain, will share in the revenue from PVOD, but the two sides haven't disclosed financial details.

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell last week called the AMC partnership "groundbreaking," reiterating PVOD was a "complement rather than a replacement for a robust theatrical release." He commended AMC and CEO Adam Aron for their vision that "together we can build a new, more attractive business model for us both." Shell also signaled that Universal was hoping to reach similar deals with other exhibitors.  

Wall Street has been debating the impact of the AMC-Universal agreement on studios and cinema chains. MofffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson called the development "a groundbreaking moment for the film industry." But he also said: "We worry that the near-term impact on attendance can be more substantial, and consumers in the long run will continue to opt to watch more non-blockbuster films in their homes going forward. Of course, the lower box office attendance will also negatively impact high-margin per cap spending on food and beverages."

Article written by Etan Vlessing and Georg Szalai for The Hollywood Reporter.

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To say that documentarian Tiller Russell has a knack for discovering unconventional characters is an understatement. From NYPD cops running a cocaine ring (2015’s The Seven Five), to a Russian mobster, a Cuban spy and a Miami playboy conspiring to sell a Soviet sub to the Cali cartel (2018’s Operation Odessa), the filmmaker has more than earned his gonzo doc bona fides. And the weird winning streak continues with the director’s four-part docuseries The Last Narc, premiering on Amazon Prime Video today.

The story catalyzing Russell’s latest is one familiar to any viewer of the first season of Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico — the 1985 kidnapping and murder of DEA Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. It was a case that ultimately fell to special agent Hector Berrellez, the heroic protagonist of The Last Narc, to investigate. What Berrellez uncovered, and relays with startling frankness to the camera, is a strange saga involving intricate layers of government coverup on both sides of the border, suggesting that the crime was never really meant to be solved (and leaving Camarena’s grieving widow, also prominently featured in the series, without closure to this very day). In fact, the special agent’s whole premise is so farfetched as to be easily dismissed as a crackpot conspiracy theory — if it weren’t for several other corroborating interviews Russell conducts, including with the informants who eventually came clean to Berrellez. Specifically, these are the three former, and still intimidating, Jalisco State policemen who served as bodyguards for the Guadalajara Cartel drug lords Rafael Caro Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo (El Chapo’s onetime bosses).

So to learn more about bringing Narcos fiction back to fact while simultaneously crafting a narrative out of the real-life hunt for Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht (Russell’s thriller Silk Road, which was set to debut at Tribeca, will be released later this year), Filmmaker reached out to the intrepid director a few days before The Last Narc episode one hit the small screen.

Filmmaker: So how did this project come together? I read that you’ve been wanting to tackle this story for the past 14 years now.

Russell: I’ve been fascinated by this story for more than a decade. I had a hunch that if done correctly, it could be both the intimate story of a murder, as well as a sprawling epic about the drug war.

So I carefully nursed the sources, built the relationships and bided my time until I had the right canvas on which to tell it. Then I dug in my with my filmmaking team and together we blasted out of the cannon. It’s been a long, surreal voyage into some dark and dangerous places — and this is what we came back with. I hope that we have done the story justice. It means a tremendous amount to all of us.

Filmmaker: How did you meet all these incredible insiders in the first place and get them to trust you enough to go on camera with their stories? It seems these are not the types of folks who would generally trust anyone.

Russell: A mentor and friend of mine, the journalist Charles Bowden, introduced me to Hector 14 years ago. He told me, “This man is at the center of the biggest story in the history of the War on Drugs – and nobody knows the truth about it.” Chuck died before he could finish reporting the story. Basically, I picked up the baton he left behind and ran with it. The series is a tribute to him.

Filmmaker: Interviewing drug lord bodyguards about a notorious murder of a DEA agent — one that may have involved a coverup by several governments — strikes me as a tricky undertaking, to say the least. That said, you’ve delved into dangerous subjects before with your prior docs. So what lessons in safety did you take away from having directed Operation Odessa and The Seven Five? Were precautions any different this time?

Russell: Documentaries need stars just like feature films do. And the act of telling the story is a performance by the subjects. So a long gestation period was critical to building the bonds of trust necessary to explore the deepest and darkest corners of these people’s souls.

I knew that in Hector we had our central character. But when we started rolling the cameras on Jorge Godoy, he pushed away the table, clambered to his feet, and drew his pistol. And I thought, “Holy shit. This is going to be a wild one.” That turned out to be a profound understatement.

I’m magnetized by crime stories because they are as close as we get to war in civilian society. The stakes are literally life and death. And this one was both a crime story and a war story. So I approached it very carefully and very reverently.

My policy with both cops and criminals is that I’m a storyteller. I say to each of them, “Your tool is a gun, mine is a camera. I’m not in your world, I’m a chronicler of it. I will treat your stories with reverence and follow them wherever they lead. And I will never bullshit you.” Then I just hope and trust that that respect will see me through to the other side.

Filmmaker: You don’t really feature anyone who might dispute the accounts of any of your main characters. So did you reach out to folks who may have disagreed with Berrellez’s conclusions? Did you speak with insiders who declined to go on camera?

Russell: Our sources lived this. They witnessed and participated in every event they recount. So these are firsthand, first-person stories. And these people have been vetted by the DEA, the US Attorney’s Office, and the American judicial system.

The people who our witnesses implicate were contacted directly and told in detail about the allegations. They chose not to participate in the film, which is acknowledged in the ending. Everyone has a right to tell their story – or take it to the grave with them. And I respect that.


ilmmaker: Your narrative feature Silk Road is also coming out this year. How did you balance the two projects? Were you working on both simultaneously?

Russell: Juggling The Last Narc and Silk Road simultaneously (as well as a Netflix series you’ll hear more about later) was the most intense experience of my professional life. There were days when it felt like too much to carry. But I knew that it was perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell two iconic stories about the drug war — bookends in a sense. And there are clear harmonic resonances between the two projects. In fact, I put Jason Clarke (the star of Silk Road) and Hector together because I had a hunch they would learn something from each other. Imagine that lunch!

And thanks to a superhuman wife, great producers, and a brilliant band of talented collaborators, I survived the undertaking and am on the other side of it. Most of all, I’m just excited to share these stories with the world.

Article written by Lauren Wissot for Filmmaker Magazine.

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Launching a career with a strong short is a hallmark of the independent film scene. The best shorts of the year commonly attract attention from festival programmers, managers, producers, agents. And in addition to generating recognition and industry interest, many shorts do more — they establish not only a voice but also subject matter their makers go on to explore with even more depth, nuance and subtlety in future works.

Currently in release from IFC Midnight and attracting much-deserved attention is Natalie Erika James’s Relic, which artfully lodges an exploration of dementia and elder care within a genuinely scary haunted-house horror story. Starring Emily Mortimer as the daughter trying to aid her widowed mother (Robyn Nevin), who is succumbing to the fog of Alzheimers’s while living alone in her secluded house, the feature is an outgrowth of a short, Creswick, in which the bare bones of the story — a daughter, a mentally failing parent, a house, and some supernatural presence — are first presented.

 

Another psychologically charged and highly recommended short viewable online is Meredith Alloway’s Deep Tissue, currently premiering as part of The Future of Film is Female. Alloway, who is a frequent contributor to Filmmaker, stars as a woman for whom a professionally-administered mid-afternoon body massage becomes, for the viewer, a shockingly visceral experience. Yet in a gory work that flirts with body horror, there’s real tenderness and empathy here. Deep Tissue shares with Relic an unexpected, beautifully-executed final turn that emotionally recasts all that we’ve seen before. 

For Filmmaker, James and Alloway did a virtual sit down talking about their paths so far as women working in horror and genre-adjacent areas. In the conversation below, they discuss formative influences, the path towards directing, identifying collaborators and, of course, the next-step possibilities of the short film.

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James: It was such an interesting time [watching your film] — it was kind of sinister but had this erotic edge. But then at the end it was almost like this playful, light romance. I really dug it.

Alloway: Thank you! I know you’ve talked about influences growing up, watching Asian cinema and horror. What was the first hardcore genre film you remember watching as a kid?

James:  I watched The Shining pretty young — it’s a pretty common answer. My brother, who is four years older than me, was really into Stanley Kubrick. I was scarred very young by that bathtub scene. The other film that I saw with friends when I was 11 was The Others. It was the first time we went to a cinema without parental supervision. It scared the shit out of me, but was so fun [to watch] with friends and have that communal experience. I think that really stuck with me. What about you?

Alloway: The first time I remember seeing a horror film in the theater with my friends was Swimfan when I was in eighth grade.

James: Wow. Like a slasher film.

Alloway: Yes. And I think, you know, when you’re in seventh or eighth grade you’re just starting to like people and understand what trust means. And that film is a Fatal Attraction type of story. I remember seeing that and then the conversations everyone was having after — it gave such a platform for us to talk about those kinds of things.

But going back, The Lost Boys. I literally wear a side-dangling earring because Keifer Sutherland has this earring that he wears. My dad loved horror films. He was the guy that would get every horror film at Blockbuster. He didn’t care how crappy or “B movie” it was. But, like, Rosemary’s Baby — movies that I think I was probably too young to see — I think shaped me on a subconscious level.

James: Horror is so broad there are so many subsets. Where would you say your main interests lie? You know, some people are really into witches or vampires….

Alloway: That’s a good question. I think I’m interested in characters, and I let the character dictate what the genre is, in a way. Deep Tissue is very much inspired by an actual massage that I got in my house.

James: Oh yeah? Was it similarly kind of sinister? Was there a bit of a threat?

Alloway: No, not at all!  I think the visuals of the film came from the fact that it was the first time I had a masseuse in my house — a very sweet man. But again, stranger, man in your apartment. It was my roommate’s birthday, so she had flowers everywhere, and I put on classical music, and I was like, this is so bizarre, you know?  I wrote the first draft of the short right after. 

James: So it almost sounds like there were your preconceived notions about what [the massage] should be, but also the male presence, being alone and the kind of the inherent weirdness of that when [the man] is a stranger. It sounds like [the experience] was a bit heightened and felt almost like a set up of a date, weirdly. And that plays into the short, yeah?

Alloway: Absolutely. As you have been saying about Relic, the short explores topics that we’re afraid to confront. We can do that within the horror genre. I don’t want to say we’re “normalizing things,” but we’re making them available to explore in a way that maybe is a little bit less daunting than if it’s within a straight drama.

James: Yes, I think [horror] also externalizes or physicalizes those things. That feeling that you had is on screen [in your short], and it’s translated not as cannibalism but as a really sensual erotic act. So I think that’s the wonderful thing about it. It’s so visual and so cinematic.

Alloway: Thank you! I’m really curious about how you developed your vision for Relic and then how you found the right producing partners and got it made. What was the journey of moving from your short, Creswick, into your feature?  I’m in that position right now where I have producers and I’m working on my feature script, so I’m very curious about that transition. 

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James: My Australian producers approached me after seeing my graduate film back in 2011. They had just done Justin Kurzel’s The Snowtown Murders, so, you know, to me, they were the ultimate producers. I was so stoked to have even gotten a meeting with them, and they were like, ‘Oh, do you have any feature ideas?’ And I had nothing because I just come out of film school. You’re just burnt out after film school anyways. But I wrote a treatment in two weeks that was crap, and they very wisely passed on it. And then we kept in touch on email, but we didn’t really meet up for another four years. So [a meeting] that was seemingly a failure paid off in the long run.

When I started writing Relic, they were really interested and came on board. They already had a bit of history of working with international partners, which meant that they were already actively looking to people that they previously worked with. But for me the turning point was getting US representation. That came about directly through making the short film and traveling with festivals and meeting people and getting write ups. 

Alloway: There’s this similar narrative I was told before graduating theater school — you graduate and need plays ready to go. And if your short is playing a big festival, you need your features lined up. But sometimes that doesn’t allow you to focus on what’s right in front of you.

James: Yeah, it’s a lot to expect of yourself. I think it’s a lot to expect of graduates to have everything sorted. You need life experience to have things to write about. So for me, I took a year off after graduating, and then I did go back to university, but it was just paying for deadlines essentially. I thought I’d make this film in Beijing, and I didn’t feel like I’d do it if no one was pushing me to. But that’s so interesting that you did playwriting. How did you transition into filmmaking?

Alloway: I made my first film, The Doll, when I was 10, and I played a Barbie doll that came back to life to seek revenge on the world who didn’t buy her. (And by the world, I mean my friend Mallory.) So I’ve been making movies for a long time, but I really got into theater in high school. I went to SMU in Texas. SMU was like the only acting program I found where I could do an emphasis in playwriting and directing. I was a film minor at first, but yeah, theater is so all consuming and the film minor felt almost like film studies. I knew I couldn’t do both. I think studying theater just gave me appreciation for dialogue and a love for Shakespeare and language. Directing actors, too.

I moved to LA after school and started writing for this site, the Script Lab. I was learning about screenwriting by writing reviews and doing interviews and pieces on screenwriting, and then I fell into going to film festivals. I fell in love with interviewing people. I always knew I wanted to make films, but I spent a lot of time figuring out what I had to say, what story I wanted to tell.

James: I think that’s so crucial. There are so many scripts that you read and get to the end of and go, “It’s well written and an entertaining ride, but what does it ultimately amount to?” Filmmaking is two years minimum of your life, and unless you really believe in what [a film] has to say, it’s a really hefty price to pay. I love the craft, but not enough to put that much of myself into a project unless I really believe in it. Everything I’m writing about is just essentially stuff that matters to me — the big philosophical questions that you have about your life or the world as it is.

Alloway: You have mentioned that your grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and that [you were also inspired by] this house that she had. What was that real-life experience that then informed both the short Creswick and Relic?

James: It’s a few things. Part of it is the mass of guilt — processing your guilt and your grief surrounding the subject. A lot of the time people with Alzheimer’s can feel like they’re living in two timelines. And if you think about what ghosts  are, or the supernatural, [they are] things from a different time in the present. And so that felt like a parallel that really fit; [with Alzheimer’s], people talk to people who aren’t there, or are from another time, or they regress to childhood. [Those were] some of the experiences I had with my grandma — her being convinced that there was someone in the closet. You know that that’s not real, but it’s still a very sinister, uncanny, supernatural feeling. Those were the things that tied the idea of exploring Alzheimer’s through the haunted house together.

Alloway: I haven’t had someone in my family go through that. But I’ve definitely dealt with someone close who I’ve tried to understand the way that they’re viewing the world — why they do what they do and say what they say. I can totally see how that links to a years-long artistic exploration.

James: Yes, that’s right. There’s something really exciting about starting a project and not necessarily knowing the answer. It feels almost like there’s like a risk there or something. You know the parameters of what you want to explore, but it always changes as you’re writing.

Alloway: With Deep Tissue, my producers, Joshua Wilmott and Rachel Walker, were really good at seeing the questions I was asking that I didn’t know I was asking and pushing me to explore those further. Deep Tissue started because I had an idea to explore toxic relationships and codependency through the lens of what these characters do in the short, without giving any spoilers. Maybe two years before I wrote this short, I had developed a feature set in Texas about a couple like this. But it just never quite clicked for me because I just felt Texas wasn’t quite the landscape for it. And then when I got the massage and ended up writing the short, there were already deep-rooted questions I had that this one massage incident triggered. Rachel was always like, “You’re exploring body image stuff here, and let’s lean into it.” And so then throughout every draft and in the edit and the whole project, we really tried to raise questions as opposed to answer them.

James: There are so many different ways that ideas come to you. Sometimes they are more cerebral and other times you just write on intuition. And you don’t really understand what it means in an analytical sense until you make or write the thing. I think you’ve got to be open to both sides, because if you’re too cerebral about projects, I think they can feel a bit stilted or lacking spontaneity or life. So I think a marriage of the two is good. In terms of your feature, does that mean you’re expanding Deep Tissue or is this a completely different project?

Alloway: This is a different project. I won’t say too much about it but I’m very excited! It’s a New York City story. With Deep Tissuepeople said, “Just make it a feature.” But what these people in the short are doing to each other is very complex, and I found you can’t tie it up in a movie. I think their desire, or fetish, is a compulsion that I don’t think can be properly explored unless you take it slow and focus on the romance. So I have a pilot, and I’m developing it as a series.

James: It’s wise to know the difference because not every idea is a feature, right? It’s good to know what format your story is suited for. You see online so many short films that have been optioned that are just a visual hook or a motif. There’s so much you have to build around that idea to create a feature film. Definitely for Relic, we had the first draft before we shot Creswick. I think it would have been quite hard to go the other way around.

Alloway: Writing a feature is such a different journey than writing short. Do you have a writing partner? How much of Relic changed in the production phase? 

James: Yeah, I have a writing partner, his name’s Christian White, and we met at the Palm Springs Film Festival. We work really closely together, although we don’t write in the same room, so we’ll just basically spend a bunch of days plotting, outlining — basically chatting through everything — and then we’ll go off and we’ll either split it in half or one of us will do the first pass. We’ll just go back and forth and obviously come back together to problem-solve creative solutions for obstacles, that kind of thing. From the conception of the idea to shooting the film was about four years, so it was a fair chunk of time. It wasn’t nonstop work, but we did about four rounds of development. The government gives you money to do a draft essentially.

Alloway: That must be nice!

James:  Yeah, I mean, it’s not like a shit ton of money, but it’s still very generous. You’ve got to jump through hoops to apply and all that, but it’s good. 

In production, it didn’t really change. There was one scene that got rewritten after I had some discussions with the actors — that was a really tricky scene as well to shoot. It was very emotional.

Alloway: Which scene was it?

James: It’s the scene where Edna is in the forest burying the photos. It’s essentially her last lucid moment before things kind of hit the fan. So yeah, it was amazing to collaborate with Emily [Mortimer] and Robyn [Nevin] and go, “Okay, let’s reshape this.” Over the four years that we were writing the script, I think all the superficial stuff changed a lot. If you read the first draft of the script, it was more of a brother/sister story. There were still three generations, but there were two protagonists. We shifted to focus on the women because those relationships just felt richer and more interesting. But it was essentially still talking about the same thing, and still had that balance of horror and beauty and still with a really emotional note at the end. I guess it changed over time in external ways, but the core of it has remained the same. Do you find that as well with your work? That it can change quite drastically?

Alloway: At least with my feature that I started writing last June, it’s about simplifying. The first draft was more like a Clean, Shaven or like Naked — a one-character downward spiral. And it’s still a downward-spiral film. But yeah, like how you narrowed the brother and sister into one protagonist, all of the flashy stuff has kind of fallen away and it’s just getting to what the spine of the story is.

I wanted to ask you for advice because I’ve never directed a feature. It feels like something you  almost have to train for. What are the things that for you were the biggest challenges? 

James: Good question. For me, the biggest challenge stepping up was that in shorts, I’m very used to planning everything to a tee. I’m sure you’re the same, you shot design or whatever it is. And in a feature, your experience might be different, but there are a lot of moving parts, and over a six-week period, things just inevitably shift or you run into really practical problems. You can’t shoot things a certain way, and so a lot more improvisation was required. That was something that was daunting. But I think something you learn to get used to as well, and it’s actually really exciting, is riding the chaos to a certain degree and trusting your instincts. Sometimes you fuck it up, but sometimes you find that your ideas on the spot are better than whatever you had in your head in the first place.

I didn’t necessarily have this problem, but I know talking to my producers, who’ve worked with a lot of first-timers, that sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself to have all the answers. Whereas you should really take into account that you’ve assembled this team and they’re there to help you. So if you make yourself an island, you’re going to have a bad time. But if you just are open and say, “Look, I’m not sure yet, what would you suggest,” that is probably a better way to go because, presumably your team has got great ideas too. I think the real skill of directing is curation, though. It’s knowing which ideas are going to derail your “vision,” and which ideas are going to help you with that. My impression of working in the States is that the director is God or something. Whereas in Australia, it’s a little bit more egalitarian. So don’t believe the hype, you’re human.

Alloway: I’m on the same page. People ask me all the time, “How are you in Deep Tissue? And you wrote it, you directed, you produced it?”

James: Yeah, I was going to ask! 

Alloway: I always say, “My team!” My DP, Justin Hamilton, and I went to high school together, and Josh and Rachel, too, we’ve all known each other for a long time. With Deep Tissue, I cast myself because I felt I was the best person for the job, I knew the character so well. About casting Peter Vack, he’s also a filmmaker and is incredible. I was setting myself up for collaboration. I really had to tell myself, “If anyone on the crew thinks that you’re not directing the movie because you’re also in it, who gives a fuck as long as the movie turns out well.” I [said to myself], “Don’t try to prove anything to anyone. Make this about collaboration, make it about the project.” But we basically had a system. Rachel studied acting at NYU. We speak the same sort of — I don’t know, like Stanislavsky or Meisner — acting language. We went through the script. I was like, “These are the acting beats that I want to hit. If this isn’t coming through, come talk to me.” Josh is also my editor and has been on set for my past few shorts. So he was there, watching to make sure we got enough tail on a shot, or letting me know if something we wanted to accomplish wasn’t reading. And then Justin, I just trusted him. I didn’t need to be obsessive about framing. Like you were saying, we were very specific about the shot list and how we wanted things to look and reference.

James: That’s so impressive. I cannot imagine directing and being in front of the camera. I feel like it’s just such a different headspace. You have to be so in the moment with acting, and directing is the big picture.

Alloway: I would warm up and prepare for a scene the same way I would if I wasn’t directing. Also, I’ve directed so much within a scene just from being in theater school that it felt really natural. I will say that for the actual massage scene, I had the monitor on the floor. We had one shot to get it right! We couldn’t screw it up. With Relic how did you approach actors? Did you have conversations ahead of time? Accommodate how they like to work and then bring in your own ways?

James: I think it’s mostly to do with really in-depth discussions, both about approaches to the work but also in some ways it’s like “trauma bonding” — you just talk about your life a lot and the things that you’ve gone through. It’s not dissimilar to co-writing. When I co-write with my writer, we’re just talking about our lives and finding the common ground. We’re looking at it from both of our perspectives. I think you just have to be really vulnerable with actors because they give you so much and for them to trust you, I feel like you have to really trust them in return. So we just talked a lot about obviously the characters, but also our own lives and how we’ve experienced grief ourselves and family dynamics.

We didn’t do too much rehearsal. Partly, just practically speaking, Emily’s flight was delayed for three days so we only had like two days before we shot. It was just a lot of Skype calls prior to that. She was doing a lot of voice training because she did the Aussie accent. Some actors really recoil from accents and it really disrupts the work, but for her, she saw it as a way to really get into the character. She was brilliant at that. And then I prefer to find it on the day rather than the risk of over rehearsing. But it’s good to break the ice and do a little bit, and we had a lot of stunt rehearsals as well. So that was a great way to get everyone working together. And they all got on really well.

Alloway: I definitely learned the over-rehearsing thing! But I think it also depends on the project.

James: Yeah. If you find something in your rehearsal that you think is like lightning in a bottle, it’s that feeling of trying to recapture it that makes you give bad direction essentially. So I think that’s part of the danger. I mean, it really depends on how the actors like to work. Sometimes you can improv stuff around the script, which has been helpful in the past. If it’s more about trying to just be comfortable in the character’s skin, then that can be useful sometimes. But it really depends on what actors like. Some people say, “No, I don’t want to improv or do exercises, I’m not at drama school!”

Alloway: Mark Rylance is one of my favorite actors. I was covering the press conference for Bridge of Spies, and someone asked about his process. And he leans into the mic and says something like, “I just say the words,” and that was it.

James: Yes! So great and it is so funny, like the differences. I  can’t remember who the director was, maybe David Fincher talking about Alien and the difference between two actors. One needed constant reassurance between takes. The other was just like, “Back off” and could turn on the tears just like that. Everyone’s different, I suppose.

Hey, talk to me about the style of your film. I noticed there’s a lot of slow zooms, the 4×3 ratio. It has a vintage ’70s feel to it. What’s the inspiration for the aesthetic?

Alloway: I think the visuals really were dictated by my experience getting the massage and the juxtaposition of the relaxation — the classical music, the sun shining, the flowers — with this strangeness. And I just love the texture of 1970s films. I was watching Rosemary’s Baby and The Changeling — 1968 and 1980, technically. But I think that the ’70s was a time when really cool filmmakers were making films that felt very character-driven. And what the stories were saying was very strange, like The Omen. When I go back and watch those films, I’m sort of jarred by how realistic but also strange they are, and I tried to honor that. Before I make a movie, I cut together like a ripomatic. I can have a lookbook, but sometimes there’s something tonally that I can’t communicate without cutting a mini version of the tone of the movie in a way.

James: That makes sense.

Alloway: So I basically, I had a lot of like 1960s, 1970s beauty tutorials that I found. They had this “uncanny valley” vibe to them.

James: I know what you mean. But it’s cool how you gave it kind of a modern twist. If you look at a film like The Love Witch, that almost perfectly mimics it, whereas yours has more of a modern immediacy to it.

Alloway: I wanted it to feel real. I didn’t want it to feel like these characters were doing this thing in a world that wasn’t our own world. It was very much like taking the uncanniness of a lot of these ’70s videos and vibes and then really bringing it to reality. Goodnight Mommy is a film that I really love, the camera movement. Relic and Creswick do this as well — they are very much about the tension at the beginning. Grounding the viewer, but using the slow zooms, the stillness. The 4×3 choice was because I was really influenced by Andrea Arnold, and she uses that in Fish Tank. And you really feel the claustrophobia of this girl’s experience with this man.

James: No, definitely. That’s really cool.

Alloway: Before you go, I want to talk about your dream projects. What are the stories you want to tell? Is it just horror? I think some people can assume that, if you’re currently making horror. 

James: I think again, it just comes down to what the film is exploring and the ideas behind it. I think genre is a wonderful, wonderful vehicle. It’s just my taste, I suppose. So I’m writing a folk horror, a demon horror, and another body horror. But I also am really interested in sci fi as well, particularly grounded sci fi. One day I’d love to do an epic. I think that would be pretty sick. Anything with a distinct world. I’m into basically anything that’s just not reality.

Alloway: I agree. I think I’m interested in something that’s slightly heightened, even if the heightened reality is within the character’s mind or POV.  I would love to do an epic, a war film!

And finally I have to say that what I really appreciate about Relic is this new perspective. You bring something fresh — we’ve never seen a haunted house story like it before. And I think it’s important to talk about being women in the film industry and acknowledging how that allows for supporting new perspectives. It’s not just about filling a quota. You know what I mean? 

James: Yeah. It makes total sense. Obviously the numbers are nowhere near parity, but there’s an influx of first-time directors who are women. We’re definitely going to get an awesome cohort of genre female directors. I don’t know how you feel, I consider myself a feminist, like every woman should! But it’s not like I set out to make necessarily a feminist film for the sake of it being a feminist film. The feminism is inherent in the filmmaking. Right? So you can call it a feminist film.

Alloway: Absolutely. Your perspective is inherently feminist, as long as you’re pro women!

James: Yeah, exactly! 

Article written by Scott Macaulay for Filmmaker Magazine.

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Jessica Swale’s World War II-era “Summerland,” debuting on demand via IFC on July 31, turns the English coastal countryside into a character in the tale of a reclusive writer played by Gemma Arterton — and the house in which much of the action takes place serves as a portal to those surroundings.  

Making her feature film debut, Swale, the Olivier-winning playwright who penned “Nell Gwynn,” enlisted set decorator Philippa Hart to create the ambience of the house. It’s there that Arterton’s Alice is writing a thesis about the mythology of the area, when a boy — an evacuee from London — is left in her care. Overcoming her initial misgivings, she establishes a friendship with the child that reawakens her emotionally and allows her to reconnect with the memories of a former love (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). 

The house that’s featured in the movie is film-friendly — its exteriors were used in the final scenes of 2007’s “Atonement.” Hart, who has worked on movies including “The Hours,” starring Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, loved that it had the seaside built right into its bones. Production designer Christina Moore, who collaborated with Hart on 1995’s “Sense & Sensibility,” shared her ideas for “Summerland” with the set decorator, referencing Charleston, the East Sussex farmhouse its occupants, painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, had turned into a virtual canvas and which was a meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group, a society of writers and artists that included Woolf.

“When Christina first rang me about the project, mentioning Charleston’s interiors and garden, I knew immediately the spirit of the look that she wanted to achieve — that Bloomsbury English bohemian aesthetic,” says Hart. 

In preparation for filming, Hart and the crew carefully emptied the house of its owners’ possessions and re-dressed it with an eye toward Alice’s hermit-like tendencies. For decor, she and the creative team sourced locally from the town of Lewes. “There are so many great artisans in that area,” says Hart, who runs an interior design company in London. She also relied on local upholsterers and furniture makers.

To demonstrate Alice’s deep connection with the countryside, the decorator borrowed freely from the environs; the home looks directly onto the English Channel and the Seven Sisters — a spectacular series of chalk cliffs on the South Downs. 

“Given the house’s location, we were able to dress it in objects directly from the surrounding landscape and seashore, such as driftwood, bird feathers, shells, pebbles, wildflowers and grasses,” says Hart. “A meandering river valley lay behind the house, and a beautiful open chalk grassland lay all around it.” 

There were also tide pools nearby teeming with life.

“We set up a microscope in [Alice’s] study for her research,” Hart says. “We also created a darkroom in her bathroom that enabled us to dress the interior with photographs of the specimens that she would have collected. In the film, Alice is writing an academic thesis on the analysis of folklore and the science behind the myths, so every surface would be layered with books, notes, photographs, maps and drawings.”

Ultimately, the house became a perfect jumping-off point to establish a solitary life that eventually connects with the wider world.

Article written by Valentina I. Valentini for Variety.

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So you’re an actor.

Maybe you’re famous, maybe you’re not. Maybe you work regularly enough to support yourself, maybe you don’t, at least not yet. Maybe you were in the middle of a job when COVID-19 sent everyone home, maybe you weren’t.

It doesn’t really matter. Because at this moment, this endless, unprecedented and anxiety-provoking moment, you and the vast majority of your peers — from the legends to the waiters — are all in the same boat: You’re a performer in a world that is suddenly very much not a stage, at least in the traditional sense.

Sheltering at home, writers can still write, painters can paint, musicians can play and dancers can dance. But acting is rarely a one-person deal; how do you stay in artistic shape without a cast, a director, an audience? In many ways, as it turns out, some playful, some practical, some traditional, all of them creative.

If you’re Dame Judi Dench, you vow to memorize the sonnets of Shakespeare and wind up learning TikTok dances with your grandson. If you’re Mandy Patinkin, you allow your son to post videos on social media (occasionally in service of serious fundraising) that capture your hilarious conversations with your wife. If you once starred in a hit television series, you take part in a Zoomified reunion. And there’s always Instagram — early in the shutdown, “Contagion” star Jennifer Ehle posted videos of her reading “Pride and Prejudice,” in which she also starred — or YouTube; John Krasinski launched “Some Good News” while Josh Gad revealed himself to be a very astute interviewer in “Reunited Apart with Josh Gad.”

Reggie Watts, who continues to work — albeit remotely — as bandleader and announcer for CBS’ “The Late, Late Show,” went one step further and debuted his own platform, WattsApp.

“I wanted to have my own multimedia channel, to post videos, do live streaming, geo-locational-based media,” Watts says. “I also have a store where I sell my old electronics on it, and that’s been doing really well.”

The videos include Watts’ unintentionally prescient series “Droneversations” — interviews that are captured via the ultimate social-distancing device, the drone. Past episodes, filmed before the shutdown, featured Fred Armisen and Jack White; the first installment filmed post-COVID will feature Thunder Cat.

Watts, who shared a particularly emotional episode with host James Corden during the early George Floyd protests, is not daunted by the prospect of the entertainment industry going more fully digital. “It’s all about vision,” he says. “I don’t really notice much of a difference, on camera, in my home by myself, not getting immediate feedback. I’m usually fine with that; I just try to entertain myself and that’s usually OK.”

For some performers, the work is more internal.

Uzo Aduba, a 2020 Emmy nominee for her portrayal of congresswoman and presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm in “Mrs. America,” says she’s been using the time to get back to basics, especially observation.

“Before ‘Orange [is the New Black’] I used to observe people,” she says. “I’d see quirky little things on the train, waiting tables, being in the park — and file it in my brain. That actually has been my greatest exercise — being able to socially distance in the park, mask on, and really sit and observe people. Like parents actually parenting, not what my idea of parenting might be. And not in a crazy stalker way,” she adds, laughing, “but to really take in what is a natural response, what is a consistent response. I’ve filed away quite a few things.”

Especially, she says, the physical details of collective anxiety. Living in New York, Aduba experienced a city besieged by COVID-19, and while she had her own reaction to walking past refrigerator trucks being used as makeshift morgues and hearing ambulance sirens blaring all day — “and when I say all day, I mean all day” — she eventually began watching what those feelings looked like on other people.

“The anxiety is real,” she says. “You can see it everywhere. At a grocery store, at a pharmacy, the number of times people look down at the sticker to make sure they’re six feet apart, the shock you feel when you see someone not wearing a mask. Little patterns of behavior.

“The practical of part of acting isn’t happening, but the foundational and analytical aspects are. When I think of parts I have loved, and I have put my greatest inspiration into, it’s been through the analysis of human behavior.”

She recently watched a woman reading alone in the park, “head down, but watching the world, surveilling who was around her. And a family with a little kid came near, looking for a place to sit. They weren’t even that close to her, but her behavior — like she was reading but her eyes were completely tracking where they were going as they came closer. Her body started to come erect — please don’t sit here — and when they passed, there was relief, in her neck and shoulders. I thought, ‘How often does she have that experience and what is like when she goes home?’

Aduba wonders if all of us aren’t, at a certain level, delivering a performance during this crisis. “There’s awareness of an invisible danger, so we’re always at a high alert. That is what being on the stage is like — a dual life. There’s Uzo and there’s the character I’m playing. I could catch a 108 mph fastball on stage, I’m so aware of everything that’s happening. That’s what it’s like now.”

While venues including the Pasadena Playhouse and the Williamstown Theater Festival are experimenting with recorded performances, some actors are staying in shape the old-fashioned way: through workshops and classes. Director Cameron Watson has been teaching acting classes in a small Hollywood theater for years; when COVID-19 made that impossible, he asked students if they would be interested in continuing online. The result was a resounding yes.

“I started talking to industry friends, casting directors, agents, faculties of theater schools,” he says. “They were all asking the same questions — how are we going to re-invent acting classes, how are we going to do scenes, how are we going to move forward?”

He decided that his first set of classes during the shutdown (which my daughter attended) would focus on self-taping. “That’s going to be the future for some time — how we audition, possibly how we will work.” He brought in guests, including Octavia Spencer and Allison Janney, and discovered that actors want to act and talk about the craft any way they can. “Every month I think people won’t want to come back; every month they want to come back, new people want to join, because there’s nothing else we can do.”

Michael O’Neill will likely be teaching classes, though for him the shutdown was compounded by the cancellation of “Council of Dads,” the NBC drama he had been starring in. “It was the most talented, gracious and least selfish cast I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “So I was mourning the loss of a character I wanted to play for 25 years, and it’s worth the grieving.”

He and his daughters built a garden at their Alabama home — “so we could watch something live and grow” — and he has been working on potential projects. A two-man play about brothers that a friend has written, another play called “Alabama Boys” that he’s been working on with another friend, Thom Gossom Jr., about their different experiences growing up in a segregated state. (O’Neill is white, Gossom Jr. is Black.) “We have a script, but we are revising it in light of current events,” O’Neill says, “because there’s a new consciousness that needs to be addressed.”

Like many of us, Gregory Zarian has been using newfound time to work on long-delayed projects. Only in his case, it isn’t cleaning out closets but shoring up his memory skills. “I’m terrible at memorizing,” he says, “which for an actor is not great.” Zarian, who lives in Los Angeles, has had roles in a wide variety of series,including “Westworld.” But after a recent audition for “NCIS” required that he learn his pages before the filming, Zarian hit the books — literally — to address the issue. “I’m just taking pages out of books and learning them. A casting director once told my brother that if you want to memorize something, you read it out loud 10 times, but I’ve learned that if you whisper it, it becomes more personal and stays with you.”

As a recent Daytime Emmy nominee, for his acting work in in the digital series “Venice: The Series,” Zarian was a judge in other categories and, he says, the lack of current work allowed him the time to really study the submissions “as a master class. Really watching to see if you can tell who is telling the truth and who isn’t.

“I really want to get back to work,” he says, “but I’m kind of loving having the time to work on the details.”

Gabriel Iglesias, a.k.a. Fluffy, is not. Loving it, that is. He really wants to get back to work. His tour has been postponed until September but, all things considered, who knows?

“I’m in enforced retirement,” he says. “I’m used to being in front of thousands of people and now … I’m not.”

From his L.A. home, he has been staying engaged on social media, doing Q-and-A’s with fans — the second season of “Mr. Iglesias,” in which he plays a high school teacher, dropped on Netflix last month — and posting videos on TikTok. “I used to be anti-video, but TikTok caught my attention.”

Meanwhile, he’s bummed about missing Comic-Con, happy about his new Funko line — “they are selling way better than I thought they would” — and trying to figure out what his show will be like post-COVID, in both content and form.

“I just tell things that are happening in my life, and if it gets a laugh, I keep it,” he says. But he doesn’t plan on belaboring the shutdown in his act. “I figure that when we come back to work, everything will be about distraction, so it won’t be a big part of my show.”

His worried about the “when” part, however. “People ask are you doing stand-up online? That’s not stand-up; you are removed from the audience. You need the intimacy. Even in a big arena, the people are there, right on top of you. That engagement needs to be there for the show to feel normal to me. Two people at one table, six feet apart from the next table; it’s not the same. And if they’re wearing masks? I can’t wear a mask for a show. I’m sarcastic in a drive-thru and they don’t get it because I’m wearing a mask.“

He is enjoying the chance to get a full night’s sleep. “For the longest time, I’ve been ‘get up early, get on the plane, get on the bus, do a the show, get in a car, get on another plane ... to get eight to 10 hours of sleep every day? I can’t remember the last time that was possible.”

Many people, actors and otherwise, have used the silver lining of down time as a shield against the multi-tentacled anxieties of the pandemic. Like Uzo Aduba, Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Leftovers”) believes that much of an actor’s work comes down to paying attention to what is happening when you’re not working. Especially now.

She had just finished shooting the upcoming Showtime series “The President is Missing” when production was halted, so she returned to New York, where for a few weeks she “lived on the joy of having finished something.” Then she and her family decamped to New Hampshire, a place she was quite familiar with in the summer, less so in late winter and early spring. “It’s so beautiful, I loved it. Then insecurity started to surface. I started to feel irrelevant. I wondered, ‘What is this about?’ And then I thought, ‘Oh, right; work.’”

After fretting a bit, she decided to “get comfortable with the silence, with doing nothing,” she says. Working on “The Leftovers,” she recalls, she learned that people’s ability to sit with grief is very limited. “Unless we can’t get out of bed, we tend to distract ourselves. If we sit now and examine our feelings, we will have learned so much.”

Speaking to theater students online, she reminded them that this is particularly true for actors.

“I told them, ‘You will have periods of uncertainty as an actor. When you are not working, you will need to remind yourself that ‘I am an actor.’ Weathering this virus and not being in contact is a great time to strengthen that skill,” she said. “Actors have to have a perspective of hope.”

Article written by Mary Mcnamara for LA Times.

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The young actor draws upon his personal experience with autism while playing one of the lead roles in a new digital television show. 

The new music-filled series “Little Voice,” which debuted on Apple TV+ earlier this month, is a comforting antidote to the hectic 24-hour news cycle set in a pre-COVID New York City. While the show may center around the gifted but self-doubting songstress Bess, one of the show’s real breakout stars is Kevin Valdez, who plays the lead character’s brother, Louie — an aspiring Broadway actor who lives in a group home for those on the autism spectrum. 

Besides “Little Voice” marking Valdez’s first role on television, playing the character of Louie is especially meaningful to the actor, who was also diagnosed with autism at the age of 22 months. His character is unflinchingly outspoken with an affinity for all things musical and Broadway, a passion shared by Valdez himself, who discovered his love for acting early.

At the young age of 14, Valdez got his first acting gig in Cornerstone Community Church’s theatre production of “Cinderella Kids,” going on to appear in shows like "Seussical Jr." and "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."

After catching the first few episodes of “Little Voice,” whose launch was perfectly timed with New York’s Disability Pride Month, we virtually sat down to chat with the budding actor to hear more about his role on the show, his thoughts on neuro-inclusivity and what has been inspiring him this year.

  1. Your love of acting started so early. What first attracted you to the performance arts, and what keeps you interested and engaged?

I had two friends from elementary school that had roles in a play at Cornerstone Community Church in Manteca [,Calif.], and that pretty much sparked my interest in becoming an actor. After that, I had a part in the next play the church had two years later. I like pretending to be a person that I’m not, so that makes it pretty interesting.

  1. Tell us a bit about your current role on “Little Voice,” and what it means to you personally to be able to play a character with autism. 

In “Little Voice,” Louie is Bess’ older brother that is on the autism spectrum and lives in a group home with a few roommates. He’s obsessed with Broadway and finds himself mesmerized by his interests. It really means a lot to me playing somebody with autism like myself because there are some instances where I sort of act like Louie in real life and I can relate a lot to what he has to go through. But we’re all different, and that includes people with autism and I hope that this realistic portrayal can help spread awareness.

3. Why do you think it is important that actors with disorders and disabilities, both developmental and physical, are given opportunities to play roles that mirror those disorders and disabilities (vs. able bodied actors playing those with physical disabilities, for example)?
Each person has their own special talent that is hidden within themselves. Once everybody figures that out, they start to play an important role in society. It’s also because I think they make potential performances more realistic to others.

  1. What is the most important cause to you right now that you believe more people should be informed on?

Those with disabilities are people too that can do normal chores like other people can and they should have their voices heard just like everybody else.

  1. Speaking of causes that are important to you, who do you think are the biggest Agent(s) of Change in your field and why?

Besides my parents, I think some of the biggest Agents of Change are among Temple Grandin, who helps educate others with her perspective of how people think with autism, Hester Wagner, the program director of Futures Explored, which specializes in giving out potential job opportunities to those with disabilities, for attracting me to this role, and Joey Travolta, the founder of Inclusion Films, for creating a company that calls out for the special talents of people with disabilities.

  1. What movie, book or song inspired you this year, and why?

There’s one film that has recently attracted me closer to film, and that’s Ford v Ferrari, since I’m a fan of auto racing, particularly NASCAR. I like the underdog story that was put into the film, and the main key there is that you should never give up and keep on pushing to something you’re passionate about.

  1. If you could wave your magic wand, what one thing would you change for 2020?

I think I speak for the world when I say that I want to change the state the current coronavirus pandemic has brought the world in right now. I hate the site of people getting sick, losing their jobs and sometimes succumbing to the disease, and I wish that life will get back to the way it was very soon.

Article written by Austa Somivichian-Clausen for The Hill.

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Writer-director Scott Wiper’s The Big Ugly is the best kind of genre film, a crime movie aware of the traditions in which it’s working but not beholden to them; combining elements of ’40s and ’50s crime fiction (Jim Thompson seems to be a particular touchstone) with the flavor of ’70s Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill filtered through the visual grammar of ’90s Tony Scott, The Big Ugly synthesizes its influences into a unique and compelling western noir. Its emotional power comes largely from Wiper’s richly textured script and the performances by his consistently riveting ensemble, which includes Vinnie Jones, Malcolm McDowell, Ron Perlman, Leven Rambin, Bruce McGill and Nicholas Braun as the players in an oil and money laundering scheme gone bad.

What takes the movie to a whole other level is the consistently innovative cinematography by Jeremy Osbern, who, like Wiper, incorporates a wide array of influences, then dazzles the viewer with inventive ways of reimagining them. Shooting with the new RED Gemini, Osbern creates images that have a classical solidity and resonance but a modern immediacy and impact; the result is one of the best American films I’ve seen so far in 2020. I spoke with Osbern about his work on The Big Ugly a week before its release; the movie’s set to open on Friday, July 24 in drive-ins and whatever indoor theaters are still operating, and on VOD on the 31st.      

Filmmaker: One of the things I liked about The Big Ugly is that it contains elements of classic Westerns and noir films, but combines the traditions it’s drawing from in a unique way. What were some of your influences or visual references?

Jeremy Osbern: When I first talked on the phone with writer/director Scott Wiper, he asked if I’d seen The Outlaw Josey Wales, as he saw that as a visual touchstone for this film. I had literally just rewatched it that week, as my wife and I had decided that we wanted to revisit early Clint Eastwood movies. Eastwood’s DP on that film, Bruce Surtees, has been a definite influence on me, so from that first conversation on, Scott and I really felt like we were on the same page. In a lot of movies from the ’60s and ’70s, darkness was embraced in a way it’s not today. Even in something like The Sound of Music, people remember Maria singing on a mountaintop in bright daylight, but a lot of that movie is almost pitch black. A lot of movies from that time were pushing the boundaries of darkness in really interesting ways. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, there are whole scenes in which you can’t see a character’s face. It’s really bold and ambitious filmmaking that serves a dark story, and that was the starting point we created for The Big Ugly. Scott wrote a really great script, and the majority of these characters are flawed and are in some very dark places thematically. We wanted the visuals to echo the story, so we put them in deep shadow. It’s a little bit Surtees, a little bit noir, and some late ’80s/early ’90s Tony Scott thrown in for good measure. Cinematographer Ward Russell (who shot The Last Boy Scout for Tony Scott) showed me a lot of kindness when I was starting out in my career, offering me tips and buying me lunch when he’d swing through my hometown (we both went to the University of Kansas), so part of these visuals are also an homage to him. One of my proudest moments was on the first day of production, DIT Matt Mulcahey brought images out to set on a laptop and said he wanted to double check that this was the look I was going for before he output dailies, “since right now it looks like an early ’90s Tony Scott film.” I gave him a high-five and we instantly became good friends.

Filmmaker: How did you get the job on The Big Ugly, and what were your initial conversations with the director like once you came on board?

Osbern: I got a call from the film’s producer, Karri O’Reilly. She asked if she could send me a script. I read it and was completely blown away by how good it was. When I read scripts, I usually think in terms of paintings more so than visual references from other movies, and on the second page, Scott had written something like “Soft light through tiny airplane windows. The noir silhouette of a beautiful woman rises from a leather chair.” Instantly, I thought of a painting I had seen by the Argentinian artist Fabian Perez. His paintings usually feature starkly lit people dressed well, but there’s always a sadness behind their expressions, like there’s something missing in their life. Those images seemed to resonate with me as I thought of this movie, so I created a look book almost entirely based on his paintings, and I think it was very much in line with the visuals Scott had been picturing. I flew out that weekend and my first day in Kentucky, Scott and I drove around all day, just the two of us, getting to know each other, looking at possible locations and talking through the feel of the movie. Over the next several weeks, we continued to talk through every scene, visiting locations. A lot of the time, we’d just pull chairs out of a trunk and sit by a waterway, or in the woods, and did a lot of our preproduction outdoors one on one surrounded by nature.

Filmmaker: What kind of camera did you shoot on, and how was it chosen?

Osbern: We were actually the first film to shoot using the RED Gemini camera. RED had developed a new Low Light mode for that camera that I knew would be instrumental in being able to pull off some of our big night exteriors. It was difficult tracking down the very first camera bodies in time, but we got them just before production started, and I couldn’t have been happier with the images.

Filmmaker: What were some of the challenges inherent in being the first to shoot with the Gemini, and what were the pleasures?

Osbern: With the Gemini, I almost had to retrain my brain at times to light for 3200 or 4000 ISO. I feel fortunate that I was in the last generation of cinematographers who learned the craft by shooting on film. My first three features I shot on 35mm. At that time, 500T was the fastest stock available, so lighting for a big night exterior, for example, you might throw 20Ks in condors to establish your base backlight, then throw in some parcans to accent from there. In the Low Light mode on the Gemini, it became apparent in pre-production that I could get away with throwing a bunch of small lights in a condor, sending it high in the air and just dialing in lots of pinpoints of light, rather than big washes, which was even more beneficial for the dark visuals we were going for.

Filmmaker: Elaborate on that a little more. I’m curious what your overall philosophy was when it came to the lighting on the picture.

Osbern: Overall, the key word on set was “darker.” Key grip Michael Stoecker was adding negative fill to every scene to block out ambient light, and it became a running joke for the gaffer, Michael Dickman, to ask me, “You want any fill light in this scene?” The answer to that was always no. A lot of the time, we would only use backlight, or just pound one light into the deep background and the actors would exist in the darkness closer to camera. For one daylight fight scene, we positioned the actors so that they would be backlit by the sun throughout the scene, then Stoecker and his team built me a 20’x20′ floppy, rigged off of a condor that we brought in over camera to block all camera side ambient light. The result is an outdoor daylight fight in which the camera side goes completely black, highlighting the tension of the scene.

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Another day, we shot inside a $50 million private jet. We rigged a 20′ black solid frame to a condor and moved it throughout the day to block the sunlight, then rigged 18K and 6K par HMIs outside the plane windows to provide stark beams of light. This was all opposite camera, and everything camera side was blacked out to make an extremely contrasty plane interior.

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Filmmaker: What kinds of lenses did you use, and how and why did you select them?

Osbern: This story harkens back to some of the character-driven action movies of the ’60s and ’70s that we don’t really see as much today. We wanted a hint of ’70s visuals to come through, and combined with my initial visual references being impressionistic-style paintings, I wanted to shoot this film on older ’70s Russian anamorphic lenses. I used a set of LOMO anamorphics—especially wide open, they really do have a beautiful, painterly quality to the images. Mechanically, they’re not as easy to work with as modern lenses, but 1st AC Rick Crumrine knocked it out of the park with being able to adapt quickly. He and the whole camera team made everything go really smoothly.

Filmmaker: You mentioned Kentucky earlier. Is that where you shot the movie?

Osbern: We shot on location in Kentucky. We used several small towns to double as the West Virginia oil lands in the story. The people of Kentucky were wonderful and welcoming, but our biggest challenge was that that summer randomly saw the most rain in the history of that area. Almost every day it seemed we had rain. One of our outdoor locations even flooded, and we had to wait for it to dry out before filming there. Eventually, we ran out of rainout locations and had to get really creative with the scheduling to make everything work, but thanks to producer Karri O’Reilly and 1st AD S.B. Weathersby, we were able to complete the film on time.

Everything in Kentucky that season was so incredibly green, especially with all the rain. Respecting the land is a theme that runs through the movie, and that part of Kentucky is beautiful and wild, and it really was a perfect match for the visuals of this film.

Filmmaker: Did you do anything significant in post to augment your work? Tell me a little about how you worked with the colorist—as well as the DIT on set.

Osbern: Matt Mulcahey was the DIT on the film, and he was the best I’ve ever worked with. When I’m working with RED cameras, I’m constantly dialing in look settings from scene to scene and even shot to shot to get it as close to the finished image as I can. Matt would then take that footage and finesse it to get it perfect before outputting the dailies. Our editor, Jordan Downey, was on location with us in Kentucky and started cutting as soon as we began shooting, so Matt made it a really streamlined workflow.

After the film was locked, we did the final color grade with Doug Delaney at Technicolor in Hollywood. Scott had worked with Doug previously and knew he wanted him to do this film. He had just come off of doing the color grade on Captain Marvel, so were happy that it worked out for him to work on our film. I spent a week at Technicolor with Doug and Scott, and we got through the whole film before I had to fly out to start shooting another project, so Scott oversaw the final pass with Doug. Doug is extremely talented, and he was a joy to work with, for sure.

Filmmaker: Another thing I really enjoyed in this film was the ensemble of great character actors. As a cinematographer, how do you see your role in terms of facilitating the actors’ best work?

Osbern: I would say Scott Wiper’s directing style is comparable to that of Robert Altman. I have several friends who worked with Altman, and like Altman, Scott enjoys the freedom to work with the actors in the actual space, to improvise, and create something organic while on set. Both of them like a moving camera that can change from shot to shot, and take to take. The actors would come to set, rehearse in the space, and once we knew the areas, I would light the location to fit the actors, and allowing for a little play shot to shot, take to take.

We had an all-star cast on this one. A Clockwork Orange was the film that made me want to become a filmmaker, so working with Malcolm McDowell was a dream come true, and he was a real champion of the bold look we were going for. I even tracked down a Kinoptik 9.8mm lens like Stanley Kubrick had used on A Clockwork Orange so I could film him with the same lens—it was the only spherical lens I used on the movie. He and I became friends; we would have breakfast together in the hotel lobby, and he even invited me to his 75th birthday party. Ron Perlman was the consummate professional, and is truly an actor’s actor. And Vinnie Jones is next level good in this film. He’s known for playing big, tough, impenetrable characters, but there’s a very warm, caring side to Vinnie. Scott and Vinnie have been friends for years, and Scott wrote this script specifically to showcase Vinnie’s wide range of talents. I think people are going to be really surprised by this film. Vinnie is an amazing leading man.

Article written by Jim Hemphill for Filmmaker Magazine.

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“It’s so great that you own a house,” biologist Jane (Jane Adams) says to sister Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) by phone early in Amy Seimetz’s trippy drama of psychological contagion, She Dies Tomorrow. “This is the best thing you could have done.” Amy has only just moved in, boxes are everywhere, but a new L.A. mortgage hasn’t quelled whatever demons have pushed her to a tremulous and despairing state—Jane can hear it in her voice. “I’ll come over,” Jane says. “Don’t do anything you might regret. Go for a walk. Or why don’t you try watching a movie?” “A movie’s 90 minutes,” Amy replies.

In the time it takes Jane to arrive, Amy drinks, plays Mozart’s Requiem again and again, changes into a fancy dress, smokes, enters into alcoholic relapse, sets a small fire and attacks her backyard with a leaf blower. When Jane finally shows up, Amy makes a stark declaration: “I’m going to die tomorrow.” (Oh, and Amy says that after she’s gone she would like her skin to be used to make a leather jacket.)

That line—“I am going to die tomorrow”—becomes a mantra spoken by different performers throughout Seimetz’s second feature as the story’s scope expands beyond Amy’s house across Los Angeles. (There are great turns here by not just Sheil and Adams but also, among others, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Tunde Adebimpe, Michelle Rodriguez and, as a grizzled leatherworker, filmmaker James Benning.) Variously a suicidal cry for help, a bleakly comic provocation and an expression of numbed acceptance, the phrase, passed from person to person, is also a marker of viral transmission. Punctuated by strobing disco lights and blasts of orchestral music, She Dies Tomorrowbroadens from an experimental character study of one on-the-edge woman into a haunting and consistently inventive kind of sociological horror film. And Amy’s dark words become—especially when heard through the filter of today, when fractious political speech enables an actual virus to march across the country—the incantation of a dying society.

Or, perhaps, within a film that Seimetz says is about anxiety, the repetition of “I’m going to die tomorrow” is just evidence of racing thoughts. “The word is now a virus,” wrote William Burroughs in The Ticket That Exploded. “The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.”

Seimetz began as an actress in the early aughts, appearing in numerous independent films before directing 2012’s Sun Don’t Shine, a sun-blasted noir that suggested a cross between Wandaand They Live by Night. Following that debut there was more acting—independents as well as studio films and television like Alien: Covenant and Stranger Things—and the STARZ series she created with Lodge Kerrigan, The Girlfriend Experience, for which Seimetz wrote and directed her own episodes across two seasons. Financed in part with fees she earned from performing in the 2019 Pet Sematary remake, She Dies Tomorrow marks a return to her independent roots as well as, with its expressive effects and genre-slipperiness, a bold new direction. Cinematographer Jay Keitel, who shot both Sun Don’t Shine and episodes of The Girlfriend Experience, experiments with filters and theatrical lighting, giving the film’s modish Angeleno homes an eerie luminosity. Tonal changes are sometimes abrupt—a hilariously painful birthday party scene, where the dialogue revolves around dolphin sex, sits just a few moments away from the bleakest breakup you’ll ever see onscreen. And, playing a character named Amy, Sheil is excellent as a woman attempting a new beginning while sifting through the emotional detritus of a past failed relationship—and doing so amidst, possibly, the end of world.

She Dies Tomorrow was set to premiere at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. That, of course, didn’t happen, but a NEON acquisition did, and the film is scheduled to be released in August 2020. I talked with Seimetz and Sheil about anxiety, real estate and the film’s unplanned resonances with the current times.

Filmmaker: I want to start with an observation of sorts, which is that She Dies Tomorrow is very much a film to just experience. It’s metaphorically and thematically rich, but it’s also kind of a trip, with its lighting effects and sound design and music. So, I thought I’d ask you, Amy, about how much of the film’s sensory intensity was baked into it from the beginning, and how much you added or discovered later in the filmmaking process.

Seimetz: I think it was a little of both, really. It’s an anxiety movie, like most of my stuff is. And because I’ve been writing for TV, I was interested in something that’s not so overt. I wanted to play around with a plotline that was, for lack of a better term, obvious but also obtuse, in a way. Because keeping it obtuse adds to the anxiety, you know? It’s a monster movie, but because you’re not revealing the monster you don’t really know what they’re running from. So, how do you visually and sonically convey that to the audience? 

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a short film. We shot the film in pieces, and because we had that luxury the shooting could inform the writing. I would shoot some, then I’d rewrite based on the strength of what we were shooting. Every time we’d shoot something, I’d be like, “Oh, we can get away with less explaining and more experience.” And the more we shot, the more I was able to lean into the visuals and sound design and performances, as opposed to overexplaining what [the characters] were feeling.

I’m so blessed to have access to actors who are so good—so giving and trusting. You know that saying, don’t work with your friends? I couldn’t disagree more. I only have the best sort of deep relationships to the films, especially on the independent level, because I’m able to explain and maybe overshare with [my friends] where exactly [the material] is coming from. And so for me, the personal becomes universal because I’m able to work with my friends.

Filmmaker: What was the first scene that you shot?

Seimetz: The very first thing that I shot is Kate inside of my house, her feeling the floors, feeling the walls and putting on the record. That’s my house, and her name is Amy.

Filmmaker: I was going to get to that.

Seimetz: There’s a lot of meta in the film. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes I realized subconsciously I was making these meta decisions. When I started shooting it, I was… I should say frustrated. As an actor, I get to practice my craft quite frequently. I like to go on to sets and then leave and not have it be my responsibility to figure out if the movie is finished. But as a writer—and I’m extremely lucky to be writing for television—and as a filmmaker, it takes so much time to put something together to shoot. So, while I was developing one of these TV shows, I really just wanted to start shooting something. I knew the general idea: my house, that was easy. And it’s Kate and Jay, who shot Sun Don’t Shine. We lived in Miami together and did my second season of Girlfriend Experience. So, it was just really easy to put it together, and I gave myself permission to lean into the moment, into the atmosphere. With TV, or any normal film production, you start production, and it’s a marathon. I just leaned into the “I don’t know quite yet” element and was very present with making each moment alluring in the beginning.

Filmmaker: The idea that depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation could be contagious—did you have that concept at the beginning, or was it more of a portrait of the Amy character in your house?

Seimetz: It was more a portrait. I knew that she was certain that she was going to die tomorrow—what does that feel like? I didn’t want it to be a cancer movie or about battling a disease. Then, when I introduced Jane to the situation, it was really interesting. As soon as Jane came on the scene, I was like, now Jane has to have it. It just fell into place.

Filmmaker: Kate, what were your questions going into this project in terms of how you’d portray a character named Amy in a film directed by Amy and shot in her house?

Sheil: Amy and I have known each other and worked together for a long time, so I feel like there’s a great deal of shorthand between us. When the project started, I knew basically what Amy just said—that this woman knows that she’s going to die the following day. I had to make a decision at the top as to what that would look like for me personally, and there was personal work that I did to try and ground it for myself. But, I feel like you hit on something important, which is the experiential nature of the movie. That was my experience of shooting it, too. Amy was exploring her house with the camera, and she was directing me what to do, so those early shoots were very physical, in a way. You’re listening to the song and touching the wall and that’s a very tactile, simple thing to do. Then, Amy kept expanding the world, which was great. 

Filmmaker: For you, Amy, what was it that personally grounded the film and the Amy character?

Seimetz: [Before shooting] I had an incredible amount of anxiety. I was a first-time homeowner by myself in my house and trying to figure out, am I supposed to have more of a relationship with this house than I feel right now? So, I was actually doing the things that Kate was doing [in the film] and had this sudden [thought] when I was by myself: What if somebody was watching me right now? What if somebody just saw me laying on the floor, touching my floors? They would think I’ve lost it and that I’m suicidal and completely crazy. It made me laugh really hard—I have such a dark sense of humor—because [the behavior] is kind of crazy. But that’s how the style of the movie evolved. While shooting, we’re extremely internal and subjective, then we pop out for these little flutters of comedy. Kate and I talk about this all the time. Anything I find hilarious has a little drop of poison in it. I think Sun Don’t Shine is hysterical. And even parts of The Girlfriend Experience, which is, I think, a secret comedy.

Filmmaker: Was the process of buying your house an anxious one? 

Seimetz: No, it wasn’t, honestly. I didn’t even know if my credit was good enough because when I was younger, I maxed out my credit cards to make my movies and never paid it back, so my credit was terrible. My credit is good now, so I was like, let’s see if I can actually do this. I put a bid on a house and lost, and then—and I don’t know what that says about me—I got really competitive. The second bid I put in, I got it. I was in Montreal filming Pet Sematary when I closed, and I was like, “Oh my god, I have a house that I’m going back to.” I was essentially a vagabond for 10 years, living out of a suitcase, then subletting. So, I come back from Montreal and suddenly own a house. When you go into the arts, you kind of give up the idea of ever owning a house. It was like, what did I just do? And the first thought in my head was, “Well, now you have a free location.” And I just started making the movie.

Filmmaker: The record she puts on is Mozart’s Requiem, which is famous as a sort of death mass. But it’s also an unfinished work, filled in by others after Mozart’s death. Is there a significance to the music choice other than the fact that the work is associated with death?

Seimetz: Well, one, yes, it’s Requiem, and she’s very intentionally playing that to feel something about her death. She’s not sure how to connect to the idea of death, so she’s playing it over and over to find some semblance of what she’s supposed to be feeling. And in terms of it being unfinished, I mean, that’s part of what the movie’s about—you’re never really ready. I don’t know how many people are ever ready for death even though we’re all going to die. There’s no finality except for the actual moment that you die. You can’t solve death.

Filmmaker: Kate, what are the challenges of playing someone who has that inability to connect or access emotion? 

Sheil: The disconnect between wanting to feel the enormity of something and being unable to is something I can relate to pretty easily. As a person who suffers from anxiety, which many of us do, it sort of puts you at a remove from actually feeling the thing that you’re trying to feel. And death is one of those things we’ll be struggling with for our entire lives leading up to it. The enormity of it is impossible to process. The movie is also about the concept of believing people. That is something that I maybe didn’t even realize in the moment of shooting, but there is such an overarching theme of a person speaking their truth, or saying what is happening to them, and that person not being believed. Then, at the end of the day, it turns out that whatever that person’s experience was was the most truthful.

Filmmaker: The Amy character has flashback scenes to an earlier relationship with a man played by Kentucker Audley—your costar, Kate, from Amy’s Sun Don’t Shine. Were the two of you drawing from the relationship in that film in any way or starting from a clean slate? Is that another meta layer in the film?

Sheil: Definitely a clean slate in terms of how we approach the scenes, but I don’t think the slate could ever be entirely clean. Amy was doing something very intentional and smart by having Kentucker play the part because we do have history and a rapport and chemistry. I’ve known Kentucker for nearly as long as I’ve known Amy. I have no idea what anybody else’s experience of it will be, but when I watch the film it seems like we have some sort of relationship. It’s part of an actor’s job, but it can be difficult to fake intimacy. And he and I have actually some level of intimacy as friends. 

Filmmaker: Amy, can I ask you to unpack one thing: the leather jacket? The Amy character goes from web surfing for her cremation urn to wondering if her body can be turned into a leather jacket. 

Seimetz: As Kate knows, a lot of stuff like that starts out as a joke, and then I’m like, “Wait, that’s really great.” Unfortunately, because of loved ones who have passed away, I’ve had to think about those things. And, again, all of my humor has a drop of poison in it. When I had to go through some of these [situations], I would be laughing [while asking], “What urn do we choose? Does it even matter? Maybe we should build [the ashes] into a firework?” This is the gallows humor that happens when shit hits the fan, you know? And what’s the psychology of somebody who is [thinking], “I’m going to die tomorrow”? Seeing, unfortunately, people who were actually dying, their brains go to weird spaces. And so, I jokingly said out loud when Kate was feeling the floor, “What if you say you want to be made into a leather jacket because you realized that the wood on the floor used to be a tree and used to be alive?” I said it to have some levity in the moment, but once I said that, I knew on a writerly level that I had to pursue it. 

Filmmaker: I have to end on the obvious question: What’s it been like seeing your film go out into the world during this time of pandemic, when people have been isolating themselves? I watched the film initially when it would have come out, the time of SXSW. I watched it again before this interview and experienced it in such a different way, especially in thinking about the anxiety of personal encounters during this pandemic—this idea that maybe if someone isn’t wearing a mask something invisible is being passed to you.

Seimetz: Completely. Social anxiety is really heightened for people. I’ve been in quarantine for months, except for going to marches, then I was driving to Colorado. I had my masks and Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer, and I felt like a crazy person because I’d stop to go to the bathroom and I’d be one of the only ones in a mask. I thought, have I just been living in my L.A. metropolitan bubble? In the same way everyone was so shocked by the 2016 election, I thought, am I the crazy one? Am I not seeing what everyone else is seeing? But I kept my mask on.

[The film’s release] is completely surreal. We made it in a vacuum, and what was on my mind was, obviously, my own anxiety but also how contagious ideas can be politically. We didn’t have a proper premiere at a festival, so it’s been interesting having people watch it now, with what’s happening. It’s no longer obtuse—it’s suddenly very literal, which is very strange to me. It’s really interesting that it is about isolation and wanting to connect but not being able to in a lot of ways. You know, my relationship to movies always changes based off of what I’m going through. I rewatch a lot of my favorite films, like Barbara Loden’s Wanda, and [take] a different meaning from them. I don’t want to ignore how traumatic and tragic it is for the entire world, but as a filmmaker, it’s like, wow, I didn’t see the relationship of [this film] to the viewer coming at all, you know?

Article written by Scott Macaulay for Filmmaker Magazine.

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The Black Panther Party, with its firm commitment to nourishing and nurturing the children of Oakland’s barely served African-American community, was founded all the way back in 1966. So it’s a bit shocking that it took nearly half a century later for the Radical Monarchs to be born. Or maybe not. After all, historically, queer women of color — like the Monarchs’ tireless co-founders Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest — had never been given leading roles in the Black Panther show.


Fortunately, dedicated feminist and filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton and her all-female team (including EP Grace Lee) are now shining a documentary spotlight on Oakland’s newest (youngest) activist movement: an alternative to the Girl Scout Brownies for girls of color that can go from toasting marshmallows to marching for Black trans lives in a single bound. Or as 8-year-old member Amia puts it at the start of the film, “Something about social justice that is fun is that we get to kind of make history — or “herstory” as we like to say it. And we get to be one tiny little part of it. ‘Cause we all know that a lot of tiny little parts can equal one big part.” (That said, by the time of the troop’s trip to the state capitol to lobby lawmakers at the end, it’s pretty clear these girls’ ambitions are far from tiny. Amia for one takes a spin on the marble floor and sighs, “I was meant to be here.” Out of the mouths of radical babes indeed.)

Filmed over three years, including both before and after the 2016 presidential election, We Are The Radical Monarchs follows not just the third-through-fifth graders as they earn their badges (in such subjects as “radical beauty,” “radical bodies,” and “radical roots”), but also goes behind the scenes with the scrappy cofounders who put their day-job skills in community advocacy and organizing to work. In other words, Hollinquest and Martinez have found a way to harness willpower in lieu of financing to expand BIPOC girl power into a nationwide revolution.

Prior to the doc’s July 20th airing on POV, Filmmaker reached out to the Emmy Award-nominated director to learn more about the inspiring project, including shooting with underage characters and ensuring diversity behind the lens.

Filmmaker: So how did you first encounter the Radical Monarchs and decide to follow not just the troop but the tireless cofounders leading these fierce (and adorable) girls?

Knowlton: I first read an article (“Radical Brownies: is this the future of girl groups?”) about the Radical Monarchs and their cofounders in The Guardian in January of 2015. They had just formed in December of 2014 with a group of 12 girls. They received a slew of press after they were photographed marching in the Oakland Black Lives Matter march – wearing their Black Panther-inspired berets and carrying a banner that read “Radical Brownies” (the group’s original name). I read their mission and vision statements and felt incredibly inspired. I mean, how could I not be? Their mission statement says, “The Radical Monarchs create opportunities for young girls of color to form fierce sisterhood, celebrate their identities and contribute radically to their communities.” Their vision statement says, “The Radical Monarchs empower young girls of color so that they stay rooted in their collective power, brilliance, and leadership in order to make the world a more radical place.”

From the beginning I knew I wanted to follow Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest — the organization’s cofounders — to see how two women who started a group for 12 girls would respond to the pressures of being asked to create troops across the country. At the time, both worked 60-hour weeks as community organizers, plus were taking care of their own families. And when they received requests form over 200 cities across the US for troops, they were basically being asked to start a movement. The biggest change to my initial idea of “a year in the life” of starting a movement was that we followed them for three-and-a-half years.


Filmmaker: As a documentarian, is gaining access different when you’re dealing with underage protagonists? Did you meet with the parents and kids to discuss concerns and negotiate specific boundaries?

Knowlton: It really is all about respect and trust, right? I have worked with younger protagonists in a few films == The World According to Sesame Street, Somewhere Between, and Whale Rider (though not a doc) — so I came to this film with positive examples of working with youth in careful and respectful ways.

After going to Oakland to meet with Anayvette and Marilyn to get their approval to make the film, they had me send an introductory email to all of the families to pitch myself and the project. I explained to them that when I work with children I make clear to the kids that they have the power and agency to always tell me if they are uncomfortable with the camera being on. And also that they don’t have to answer any questions that they don’t feel comfortable answering. And I explained to the families that I’m the parent of a (POC) daughter their own daughters’ ages. As a filmmaker I make the wellbeing of the child a priority.

Then I went back up to Oakland to meet with the parents in person and to answer any questions == and they all gave permission! After filming a couple of Radical Monarchs meetings and interviewing all the girls and at least one of the parents, the trust we were all building with each other really took hold. We became part of the Radical Monarch family.

Filmmaker: I believe you work with an all-female crew, though I’m not sure how many on the team identify as BIPOC. As an intersectional feminist and filmmaker, how do you go about ensuring diversity behind the lens?

Knowlton: We worked with as many BIPOC womxn crew members as possible, whenever possible! I’m LA-based, and this was my first film in the Bay Area, so I relied on recommendations from friends and colleagues to meet a new crew base. I always asked about BIPOC womxn first. Brown Girls Doc Mafia was also an incredible organization/resource that I tapped into. After that it would be about people’s availability for our shoot days.


Filmmaker: What was the editing process like in terms of shaping a cohesive story? You’ve got the Monarchs and the cofounders, of course, but also threads such as the troop expansion (not to mention the backdrop of the 2016 election).

Knowlton: In addition to all of those storylines over three-and-a-half years, my collaborator (editor and producer) Katie Flint got pregnant and had a baby. And I had cancer treatments and surgeries. The editing process was complex to say the least (especially considering we thought we were only going to shoot for a year).

In terms of shaping the story with all that footage, what finally clicked was the idea of showing the many layers of growth of the cofounders and troop one from almost their beginning through the troop’s graduation. Then we grounded that arc with what we called the “external spine” of the story – i.e. what was going on in the country, using the news headlines to track the passage of time and what the Radical Monarchs were always up against. That “click” came after filming for two-plus years. 

Filmmaker: Now that the film will be airing nationwide, how are the Monarchs preparing for the media exposure? Do you worry at all that the conservative backlash — something the cofounders have dealt with since the troop’s inception — might intensify, especially now that we’re approaching yet another fraught election?

Knowlton: I’m going to let Anayvette answer this one. “Yes, anytime there is a bump in our media visibility the trolls come out of the woodwork! We’ll be closely monitoring all of our social media sites, but otherwise we’re just going to keep on pushing and focus on our work and movement. There is too much we want to do to get distracted with all the hater noise.”

Article written by Lauren Wissot for Filmmaker Magazine.

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Ever since she made her directorial debut in 2003 with Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke has been one of the American cinema’s great chroniclers of young people navigating the transition to adulthood. In films as diverse as Lords of Dogtown, Twilight, Red Riding Hood and The Nativity Story, Hardwicke has explored teenage crises and discoveries with serious intent and the sharp attention to visual detail that she developed as a production designer on movies like Three Kings and Vanilla Sky. Her work on those films and other often demonstrated a bold and original approach to color, and this is true of her latest directorial effort, Don’t Look Deeper, as well. A series for Quibi that follows that platform’s format of 7-10 minute episodes that can be watched either horizontally or vertically on one’s phone (the viewer can switch aspect ratios at will at any point in the narrative), Don’t Look Deeper is top-tier Hardwicke, a vivid and emotionally devastating coming of age story with sci-fi trappings in which every visual detail deepens and expands our understanding of the characters. Helena Howard is superb as a high school senior who realizes that everything she thought she knew about herself and her life is false, and Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer are equally strong in supporting roles as adults who are both the source of her anguish and the two people most determined to protect her.

 To delve too much into the plot would be to rob the viewer of Don’t Look Deeper’s pleasurable twists and turns, so I’ll just say that it’s worth watching for the usual reasons that apply to Hardwicke’s work, along with a few new ones. Her ability to thoughtfully convey the struggles of her teen characters and to elicit complex performances from young actors is on full display, but the philosophical questions raised by showrunners Jeff Lieber and Charlie McDonnell’s scripts allow Hardwicke to explore unexpected and provocative ideas—she’s always been interested in inquiries into identity and how it’s formed, but such questions reach a whole new level here. I spoke with Hardwicke by phone a few months before the series’ release and began by asking how she first came to be involved.     

Catherine Hardwicke: The two writers, Jeff Lieber and Charlie McDonnell, had been working on this idea for short form content and sent it to me—probably because it had a complex teenage girl going through a journey of self-discovery, which is the kind of thing I love. And I did immediately love the script; I was very intrigued and drawn into this emotional struggle the girl goes through. About a week after they sent it to me, Quibi announced that they were going to start making content using a short form model. It was great synchronicity: I had done another project with Jeffrey Katzenberg and had a good working relationship with him, so we went in and told him the concept and they were on board right away. I think we were one of the first dramatic shows to start shooting, and it was very exciting, because they were encouraging these interesting actors that we cast. It was really fun to be one of the first out the gate.

Filmmaker: Since you brought up the actors, I wanted to ask you about how you decided on Helena Howard, because I thought she was really fantastic. How did you come to cast her, as well as more established actors like Don Cheadle and Emily Mortimer? 

Hardwicke: Helena had that beautiful movie at Sundance last year, Madeline’s Madeline, where the director did something similar to what I did with Thirteen—found this incredible girl and built a story around her. I thought Helena was very moving in that film, and knew after having some conversations with her that she would be fantastic. With Don and Emily, we talked on the phone and on Skype and I would just ask them how they saw their characters. I’d share my images of how they could dress, and what the vibe would be, and what kind of backstory I thought of, then see if they liked that or wanted to add to it. What kind of professor would Don be? What kind of house would he have? You just make sure you’re all on the same page before everybody signs on. Then we had a couple of days of incredible rehearsals with Don, Emily, Helena, and other cast members, and that’s where Don was really a creative force. He has produced, written, directed and starred in so many things, and he has so many great ideas and feelings—not just about his character, but details he thought of for Emily and Helena too. It was a really fun, creative process, finding cool new things to incorporate into the script while also figuring out what everybody would wear and how it would inform the characters.

Filmmaker: Something that characterizes all of your movies is that the performances don’t feel like performances. They feel like behavior that you just caught on the fly. I’m curious how you achieve that. 

Hardwicke: What a wonderful compliment, thank you. I think part of it does start with those early conversations, when you develop and build the character through wardrobe, hairstyle, details like that. And then, in the rehearsals, there’s not a giant crew around, so the actors can feel free to express any problems they have, any areas that don’t feel right to them or dialogue that they feel is missing something. We have that private time to express all that, so everybody gets their fears and issues out. By the time we get to the set, we know we’re going to have more people standing around, but at least we’ve created this bond where we feel good and understand what we’re doing, even though on the set you can’t shoot it in order. You have to go to the house and shoot all the house scenes, and it might be just wildly out of order. Or you have to do the final scene the first day. I remember we had to do the sex scene with Emily and Don first. It’s a very emotional scene, where Don really opens up and is very vulnerable. But we had done those rehearsals. 

Of course, the more emotional the scene is, as a director I try to keep the set to a minimum amount of people. On some shows I’ve literally put up a sign: Respect for Actors. They need quiet, so don’t be talking about where you’re going to go to get a hamburger. Help them stay focused in their character. I think our crews get excited about that. They really do want to support the actors, because we all know that it doesn’t matter how cool the camera moving is, or how beautiful the set or the costumes are—if you don’t love the actors or don’t feel for them, then you don’t really care about the story.

Filmmaker: Absolutely. When you’re on the set and you’re shooting, what kind of give and take is there between the performers and the camera? Do you preplan your shots pretty specifically? Or are you more responding to what the actors are doing on the day? 

Hardwicke: It’s kind of a dance. I hate to keep coming back to in rehearsal, but that’s where I’m already thinking about the blocking that would work best cinematically. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to rehearse in the real locations; in Thirteen we did that. In this one, we didn’t get to do it as much, but I knew the space, I could lay it out and visualize it for them. I knew what would work well for the camera, so we would talk about that, even in rehearsal. If something felt jammed into a tiny little corner, or people’s faces were too close to each other or something was too static, we would talk about that in the rehearsal to figure out a way to open it up or make the scene more dynamic. So that on the day, yes, I did have shot lists and diagrams of all the shots planned out, but you still have to be flexible. Something might not work the way you thought it would work, but at least you have a plan that you can then deviate from if you want to.

Filmmaker: I really liked the look of the film, especially the way you used color, and I was wondering what kinds of conversations you had with your DP and production designer.

Hardwicke: We had a beautiful cinematographer, Patrick Murguia. He’s from Mexico City, where a lot of the best cinematographers in the world are from. I had already done two projects with him, Miss Bala and a TV show in Detroit, so our minds were already in sync when it came to the palette. We would have these beautiful photographs that were our guiding references and influences for each scene. The production designer, Adam Riemer, is also very good with color and very focused, as is the costume designer, Marie France. We were all in sync, and the photographs and everything else we looked at went up on the wall, so that you could walk into my office and see the whole look of the film right there. 

The big challenge was that the show had to work in both vertical and horizontal formats, and Patrick and I had never done anything like that. We’re used to shooting horizontal. So we did a short film as a test, where we shot it horizontally, then we shot the same film vertically, so that we could learn these principles and the differences. You might be watching it in a landscape format, and you can really feel the environment and the influence of that environment on the characters. If you turn it at any moment into the vertical format, it’s more intimate, more of a closeup, where you’re almost FaceTiming with the character. In a way, you get to be your own editor as you’re watching it.

Patrick and I had to figure that all out: which lenses, what kinds of lighting work better in one format or another, or just don’t work at all when you change it. There was a lot of experimenting to learn about the format. Then there’s the structure, where people are watching segments under 10 minutes. I had never thought that way. I made shorts at school, but they were standalone films. I thought it was a great exercise, because as a filmmaker you’re always trying to find a way to tell this story efficiently. Maybe layer the frame so that you can convey a lot of information in a short amount of time without being repetitive. We’re always trying to make sure that we do not repeat the same beats, to advance character development, the plot, whatever. So this took it to the extreme, the question of how to streamline it and be respectful of the viewer’s time and attention. We always try that, but now we have to do it on steroids.

How can I compose a frame in a way where there’s foreground, middle ground, and background all giving you interesting information, while also allowing you to share the feelings of the character? It’s more compressed, more efficient. I love that challenge. I have a short attention span: I’m, like everybody else, super busy, and I like it when the filmmaker respects my time and does it in an engaging and efficient way. The editing process was like learning to play the trumpet or something, because working with the two aspect ratios really keeps your brain elastic. I felt like I learned two languages and an instrument because you had to be able to fluidly turn your phone horizontal to vertical. So that means the soundtrack has to be exactly the same, right? And the takes to the lip sync will work out, right? Or the sound effect of the knock on the door has to be the same. So you cannot change takes unless the sound is synchronistic, yet some things that worked beautifully in landscape do not work in vertical at all. 

Filmmaker: I would also think that on top of all there’s a delicate balance in terms of giving the audience information, because the script is very precise in terms of the way it keeps us in the dark about some things and reveals others. Was that all worked out fairly well ahead of time, or did you get into the editing room and find out that you had to play with it a little bit too?

Hardwicke: The script was very well structured, but when we got into the editing room no episode could be longer than 10 minutes, not even one second longer. That was the whole point. That was the format. And suddenly some episodes were longer. We had a big wall of cards in the editing room, and we did have to do some restructuring, which like you say, could not tip the scales. It couldn’t have any spoilers. It still had to be in that precise, beautiful order of reveals. It was very challenging. I had many days where I was just looking at all the cards on the wall, because then you can see the heart. When you put the cards on the wall for every scene, you can see the whole picture. And when you’re in AVID, you’re almost editing in a linear manner. So, I would go back and forth from the macro to the micro to try to figure out the mind bending exercises, how to accomplish the time limits and the intricacy of the story. I bought some brain pills, some brain vitamins while I was in there. I’m not kidding. Because my head was exploding.

Article written by Jim Hemphill for Filmmaker Magazine.

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The filmmaker discusses his creative partnership with wife Alison Brie, the “elevated and tasteful” romantic comedy they wrote together during lockdown and his self-deprecating response to Barry Jenkins' offer to be in 'If Beale Street Could Talk.'

 

Dave Franco's art imitated his own life as he channeled his increasing paranoia regarding home-sharing services and modern technology into his debut genre feature, The Rental. Led by Dan Stevens and Franco's wife, Alison Brie, the film chronicles a vacation getaway between two couples that quickly unravels because of their own secrets and a shadowy presence in the distance. The story allowed Franco to explore the potential danger of Airbnb-type services as well as technology's role in the process.

"My paranoia about the concept of home-sharing is what inspired the film in the first place," Franco tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But my paranoia has reached new peaks since filming this movie, where now when I stay in a rental home, I'm not thinking, 'Are there cameras here?' Instead, I'm thinking, 'I know there are cameras here. It's just about whether or not I'm going to find them.'"

Franco's fears extend well beyond Airbnbs and hotel rooms as he has the same anxieties at home.

"Yeah, I am personally very scared of technology, and I do think about how we are potentially being watched and listened to at all moments in the day," Franco admits. "And one way that has impacted my life is when I'm talking to my family or some of my closest friends. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'Should I say this? Or should I not knowing that there might be someone listening in on this call?'"

The 35-year-old actor-filmmaker also explains why he decided not to appear in his own film.

"So, the truth is I was not originally planning on directing this film. At that time, I was going to play Josh, and that role ultimately went to Jeremy Allen White," Franco explains. "As much as I wanted to cast Alison from the beginning, it would've been weird if we were both in it because she would've been playing my sister-in-law," he adds with a laugh. 

The Northern California native also reflects on the call he received from Barry Jenkins regarding a role in If Beale Street Could Talk.

"Barry Jenkins actually called me and offered me the role, and the first thing I said was, 'Are you sure?'" Franco recalls with a laugh. "When Barry Jenkins asks you to be in something, you do it. I would've been an extra in the film, walking in the deep background, if he wanted me to."

In a recent conversation with THR, Franco also discusses the unspoken shorthand he had with his partner, Brie, on the Rental set, the "elevated and tasteful" romantic comedy they wrote together during coronavirus lockdown and his hopes to continue The Rental’s story in a sequel.

Since making this film, have you been a little more paranoid than usual when staying at a hotel or rental property?

(Laughs.) Definitely. My paranoia about the concept of home-sharing is what inspired the film in the first place. But my paranoia has reached new peaks since filming this movie, where now when I stay in a rental home, I'm not thinking, "Are there cameras here?" Instead, I'm thinking, "I know there are cameras here. It's just about whether or not I'm going to find them."

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The Orwellian term "Big Brother" is closely associated with mass surveillance by the government, but what makes this movie so alarming is that modern technology can turn any ordinary citizen with a credit card into a Big Brother of sorts. Does today's technology also frighten you since cameras are just the tip of the iceberg?

Yeah, I am personally very scared of technology, and I do think about how we are potentially being watched and listened to at all moments in the day. And one way that has impacted my life is when I'm talking to my family or some of my closest friends. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "Should I say this? Or should I not knowing that there might be someone listening in on this call?" And I hate that I think about that stuff, but it does tie in to some of the reasons why I made this film.

I can't help but view entertainment through our present-day lens. And among the points that have had the most effect on me is that it's not enough to be not racist; it's important to be anti-racist. So, when Sheila Vand's character questions Toby Huss' character about racial profiling, the three other characters stood out to me because they were passive and silent during that argument. Are current events also reshaping the way you view not just your own movie but entertainment in general?

Yeah. Obviously, we made this film before any of the events that are currently happening right now. But that aspect of the film is based on friends of mine who have experienced racial profiling when trying to rent a home on one of these apps. It was important for me to include this in the film, and it was an honest way to create immediate tension between one of the renters, who is of Iranian descent, and the homeowner, who is white. And it's a moment in the film that makes everyone else in the scene uncomfortable, like you said, as they are all forced to deal with the fact that their friend, played by Sheila Vand, was likely a victim of racial profiling and this isn't something that they can just ignore anymore. So, it definitely does feel relevant to what we're seeing today.

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You and Alison have both created your own material lately. Did you see her writing Horse Girl first and get inspired by that? Or was it just the opposite?

(Laughs.) I promise I'm not trying to brag here, but I did start working on The Rental before she started writing Horse Girl. And I only say this because I know she has said in multiple interviews that watching Joe Swanberg and me write The Rental inspired her and gave her the confidence to start writing her own script. And I'm so happy that she did because I think she gives one of her best performances ever in Horse Girl, and I'm so impressed just by how her and the director, Jeff Baena, put that story together. It's not an easy one to tell and they executed it in such a way that it feels extremely unique and abstract, but at the same time, relatable and universal, and just very human.

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I believe you could've played Dan Stevens' or Jeremy Allen White's parts if you really wanted to, but did you avoid casting yourself so that the viewer wouldn't carry their real-world knowledge of you and Alison into the movie?

It's an interesting question. So, the truth is I was not originally planning on directing this film. At that time, I was going to play Josh, and that role ultimately went to Jeremy Allen White. As much as I wanted to cast Alison from the beginning, it would've been weird if we were both in it because she would've been playing my sister-in-law. (Laughs.) But as soon as I decided to not act in the film, she was obviously my first choice, and I'm so happy that it played out the way that it did for a few reasons. She's incredibly talented. She has this unique ability to balance heavy drama with moments of levity, sometimes within the space of a single scene. It was really impressive to watch her navigate seamlessly between conflicting emotions, and there aren't many actors out there who can do that. I guess I'm going on a tangent here about just how much I love my wife. (Laughs.) But it was just comforting to have her there with me because as you can imagine, as a first-time director, there were moments where I would get in my head and start to doubt myself in small ways, and she was always there to build me up and give me confidence and remind me that we were doing good work.

As someone who's addressed one of his friends as "Brosephine Lilly" for 16 years, I loved the bro wordplay moment quite a bit, especially since it sold me on Dan and Jeremy's characters being brothers. Was there a point where you and Joe Swanberg sat in a room and just riffed on all things bro?

(Laughs.) Absolutely. My closest friends in real life have commented on that scene, saying that it's a reflection of our lives more than anything else in the film. But yes, there were many bro puns being thrown around while Joe and I were holed up in his hotel room in L.A. 

I talked to Joe Gordon-Levitt recently, and I've been kicking myself ever since because I forgot to mention "Broseph Gordon-Levitt" to him.

(Laughs.) I think it'll be better as a surprise for him if he ever does watch this film.

When I first saw Joe Swanberg credited as co-writer, I did a double take since horror isn't his usual M.O., but then I remembered V/H/Sand his acting work with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. So how did you end up with him on board?

Yeah, so I acted in Joe's Netflix series called Easy, and we got along really well and realized we had similar sensibilities, including our love for horror films. But the main reason I wanted to pair up with Joe on this one is because his main strengths lie in character and relationship. And so, our goal was to create a tense relationship drama where the interpersonal issues between the characters were just as thrilling as the fact that there's a psycho killer lurking in the shadows. At its core, the film really is about these characters and their relationships, and then we sprinkled the horror elements on top to help accentuate the problems they're going through. But the disintegration of their relationships also coincides with the characters finding themselves in more physical danger, and I guess it's somewhat of a metaphor …

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I'm sure you had a shorthand with Alison that was unique from the other actors, but how specific could you get with her? Did you reference her previous work or remind her of a shared experience where you knew that she felt a certain way?

It was honestly much more simple than that. She would do a take, and then I would start walking toward her to give her a note. And before I said anything, she would look at me and say, "I know exactly what you're going to say. Just let me try one more." And then, she would do the next take and do exactly what I was thinking. I can't explain it, except for the fact that I guess that's the dynamic you have when you've been living with someone for eight years.

First-time filmmakers often test their films via friends and family as they shape the final cut. What feedback did you pick up from such screenings, and what did you ultimately apply, if anything?

The main takeaways from the test screenings were in regard to pacing, where there is an underlying tension from the opening shot of the film that slowly builds throughout. But the first half of the film is really about these characters and their relationships, and so we needed to find ways to keep the tension during that portion of the film, even when there was nothing overtly scary happening onscreen. And so, it was really about spacing out these voyeuristic shots that we have that almost remind the audience that we're in a thriller or a horror film. That's what we really took away from those screenings.

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I love the poster for this film, and despite a few exceptions here and there, I feel like artful movie posters are a thing of the past. Do you find movie posters to be lacking these days as well?

I don't know. I mean, we definitely put a lot of time and effort into our poster. And I'm really happy to hear you recognize that because we did try to make it feel a little more artful than a standard horror poster. It was difficult because we wanted to lean into certain horror elements, but at the same time, the movie is not your standard horror film. There are not jump scares every few minutes. It's more of a nuanced, atmospheric approach where the movie really takes its time to creep up on you. And so, we wanted to somehow reflect all of that in the poster, and I think we were able to achieve that by just creating more of an atmosphere and not leaning too heavily on the horror, but just enough so that you know that you're in for a creepy ride.

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Is it safe to say that you've caught the directing bug?

Absolutely. I would love to continue on this path and direct another horror film. I have a pretty strong idea for a sequel to this film, if I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to carry on the story. But also, Alison and I have written a romantic comedy during the quarantine. We love the genre, but we were kind of looking at the landscape of romantic comedies over the past decade or so and we feel like people are really yearning for one that feels a little more elevated and tasteful. And so, we started thinking about some of the classics like When Harry Met Sally …Sleepless in Seattle, My Best Friend's Wedding and Pretty Woman, which are all films that are extremely grounded. The acting is great, and they are all shot like dramas, so they look good. And so, we were just wondering why no one approaches the genre from that point of view anymore. So that's what we tried to do with this script, and that would be for me to direct and for Alison to act in.

I really appreciate when a known actor shows up for a scene or two and immediately makes their presence felt. And you certainly made an impression on me in If Beale Street Could Talk. What do you remember about that day or two of shooting, and was it a standard casting process?

Oh, thanks. It was not a standard casting process. Barry Jenkins actually called me and offered me the role, and the first thing I said was, "Are you sure?" (Laughs.) And we talked through it, and you know, when Barry Jenkins asks you to be in something, you do it. I would've been an extra in the film, walking in the deep background, if he wanted me to. But I remember the experience on set being very positive in the sense that he creates such a comfortable environment, and he really gives you the time to find the moment. He's so confident about what he's doing, and has such a strong vision and knows exactly how to talk to actors. I remember he would come up to me and sometimes just say one or two words, and I knew exactly what he wanted. And these simple poignant directions that he gave ultimately made the character much more complex and gave him a lot of weight.

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You were also part of a memorable opening sequence in Michael Bay's 6 Underground. Was that movie as bonkers to shoot as it was to watch?

It was crazier than you could ever imagine. Whatever you're thinking, multiply that by 50. (Laughs.) I'll leave it at that. If we ever get to meet face-to-face again, we can spend an entire dinner reflecting on that experience, and I have many, many entertaining stories for you.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. The Rental is now available at drive-ins, in select theaters and on demand.

Article written by Brian Davids for The Hollywood Reporter.

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The director of "The Messenger," and the producer of "Bad Education" and "The Tale," looks over a movie landscape changed by the pandemic — but one, he says, that was already undergoing a revolution.

Oren Moverman began his career as a screenwriter, contributing to such landmarks of independent film as “Jesus’ Son” and “I’m Not There.” In 2009, he made his directorial debut with “The Messenger,” an Iraq-war homefront drama that attracted major critical acclaim as well as two Oscar nominations (for best original screenplay and for Woody Harrelson as best supporting actor). Moverman’s other films as a director are “Rampart” (2011), “Time Out of Mind” (2014), and “The Dinner” (2017); he also cowrote the Brian Wilson biopic “Love & Mercy.” In addition, he works as a producer, and has been more and more active in that role in recent years (he’s a partner, with Julia Lebedev and Eddie Vaisman, in Sight Unseen Pictures), having shepherded such films as “Bad Education,” “The Tale,” “Wildlife,” “Monsters and Men,” and “Diane.” I spoke with him about where he thinks the movie world is heading.

Here we are in the middle of a totally fractured, changing movie landscape. When you look around you and look at the future, what do you see?

Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from these times, it’s that nobody knows anything, and everyone’s an expert. And I’m included. I see what’s happening now, the pandemic, as just the evolution moving faster than we thought it would. To me, it’s very clear that independent cinema, as we know it and as we love it, is over.

Over?

Over, I think. But qualified: as we know it. The idea of independent financing, putting together films that have no home, taking them to festivals, trying to sell them — they’re going to have to take on a very different model, if they get made. A lot of producers I talk to are looking to set up projects with the streamers, the studios, whoever’s going to be left standing. Whereas the sort of grungy putting together of ten dollars here, ten dollars there to make a film — it’s possible from a financial standpoint, it’s just a question of where it will ever be seen.

Do you see the change you’re talking about, then, as primarily an exhibition problem?

Yes. Without movie theaters in the foreseeable future, and with the way things were already going pre-Covid, we’re going to have to find a different model for showing independent films. For me, it’s very hard to see what that would be like unless Netflix or Amazon comes up with the idea of, say, having one lane for independent film. But I think that takes us into a conversation about cinema — if I can use that dirty word — and quality, and what kind of films won’t make it to the platforms.

You were already ahead of this curve in terms of what happened with “Bad Education,” which you produced. Last year, I wrote that the idea of a movie of that quality, pedigree, and acclaim going straight to HBO felt like a revolutionary change. Do you think that’s accurate?

Yeah, that’s what it felt like. I actually experienced that a couple of years before with “The Tale,” which is another movie I produced that also sold to HBO. The feeling was: You need a home — a home that supports these movies. And that’s not an easy thing anymore. With both these movies, HBO came and really talked a good game and delivered on it. The kind of support and infrastructure that they can provide a film that was made independently is almost shocking in its efficiency, and its potential.

“Bad Education” felt like the kind of movie that, potentially, could have made a splash in theaters. Did you have that thought? Did you think, “We’re going to be missing that?”

Yeah! It was one of those classic middle-of-the-night, people coming into the hotel room to talk about why they should be distributing the film situations. And I think one of the things we’re dealing with now is letting go of some of these expectations of theatrical distribution. I don’t mean to say that it should go away completely. It shouldn’t. There’s room for it and there’s a need for it. But I also feel like you have to question yourself: Why do you want theatrical? Is it about the nostalgic element of it, the romantic element of it, the sort of dreamy aspect of it — which I can say personally, that was my dream. My dream was to make films and have them in movie theaters, and that was kind of it, you know? But you also have to measure that against the reality of where things are going, and whether you’re resisting change because change is hard and change is uncomfortable and change demands a lot of self-reflection. Or are you going to start embracing change and seeing the opportunities that come with it, and seeing what is good about it?

Theater reopenings and big movie openings, like Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” have been delayed and delayed. When do you foresee theaters in the U.S. reopening, and what has to happen for that to happen?

It’s hard to tell, obviously, but I think there are two aspects of it. There’s the science, and there’s the psychology. When are people going to feel safe? And, of course, we know that plenty of people — too many — feel like it’s safe right now, but the reality is that the numbers are going up, and it’s a scary time on a lot of levels. I think when there’s a vaccine, and people are feeling like it’s working, then a lot of stuff will be tested. We’ll test the idea that now people are realizing they need community, they need interactions with people. And when people feel safe, we’ll see whether the theaters are still standing. Obviously, the big chains are dealing with something different than the small chains. The big films will ultimately be fine. But I don’t think it’s all going to be back for quite a few months.

What do you think is going to happen with awards season this year?

I think there is going to be one, because it’s hard to let that go. And it’s also such an integral part of the way the industry operates. You see all the efforts to have some form of a festival, even if it’s just announcing, “These are the movies that will not be shown at our festival!” It’s like the value system is changing, so now the value is like, “We got into Cannes!” No tuxedoes involved. You don’t really know what’s going to happen. You don’t really know that the orchestra playing with the silent movie is about to be canned and never to return to the movie theater. I think people will want to have awards, maybe with a big asterisk. But the industry needs it on some level.

Your silent-movie analogy is fascinating. Do you think that’s the kind of moment we’re at right now?

Yeah, I do. I think this is exactly that kind of moment. It’s like, sound is coming in, and these people are not going to be needed anymore, and these people are going to be making something new out of it, and all of a sudden you need all these people who know how to write dialogue to come in and make the movies talk. What I’m hoping for, as the immigrant that I am, is that good old American ingenuity sort of looks at something that’s gone and can never be repeated and all of a sudden pivots into something that’s new and supplies something else to be excited about.

Pretend that it’s five years from now. The pandemic is long over. What does the American film industry look like?

I would have to think, based on what is going on now, that it would be streamers, platforms and such, big movies in theater chains, and small movies in repertory theaters and art theaters like the Metrograph in New York. And by the way, all this stuff Godard said 30 years ago. He said that in the future movies will be in museums, that the kind of movies we love and grew up on and gravitate towards are just going to be more of a specialty item.

But five years from now, do you still see the existence of a big studio franchise culture like the kind we have now?

I think so, in some form or another, yeah. I think that that’s the theme park that doesn’t go away. That’s real business. That’s, like, a level of business that’s going to adjust itself for success. It may not be precisely Marvel, but it will be something of that nature.

Do you think there will be even less room in that model for what we used to call dramas for adults?

I do, yeah. I’m saying all that with a very silly optimistic part of me kind of screaming as I say this, but I actually think that the dramatic movie may be going the way of the novel. It’s human evolution. It’s where we’re going. It’s a very complicated marriage with technology, and it’s a marriage that’s not going to end in divorce, but it’s just not going to be the same.

Whenever I write something about movie theaters vs. streaming, and I tend to be quite a cheerleader for the theater experience for reasons that I don’t think are simply nostalgia, I always get loads of comments saying, “Oh, get over it. Theaters are dying. I’d rather be at home.” Do you think that appetite to go out to a theater is actually waning?

People are always going to have this drive for gathering, for being with other people. But I think culturally a bunch of people going “Hey, let’s go to the movies” could be something that is a relic, a historical thing that you see on “Seinfeld” reruns. Oh, people used to go to the movies! Obviously, the industry is going to try to fight it, and I’m all for the fight.

How does the new deal between Universal and AMC, shortening the theatrical window to a potential three weeks, fit into that fight?

You can’t help but feel like that a deal like that is a practical business adjustment, purely a change acknowledging reality. But it also speaks to the uncertainty of who we are as viewers, as a society. You have a small window to go to the theaters. You may choose not to. There are so many reasons not to go to the theaters, so many fears of the world out there, so many inconveniences and challenges. It’s not a cheap offering, financially and otherwise. Now you get the reassurance that you won’t have to wait long before the film comes to you, safely, at home. You won’t be missing out for too long. So the three weekends the film will spend in the theaters will determine the desire for its consumption in a communal way.  Maybe that’s a new barometer moving forward: Is the film worthy of interaction with other human beings in public spaces in the short amount of time it only exists that way? It weirdly raises the bar. But will it raise the quality of the work and its attractiveness? Wouldn’t it be nice?

Everybody now seems to accept the conventional wisdom that if you’re going to a theater, it’s probably to see a big spectacle film. Yet the definition of movies for so long was that you went to theater to see a drama, and it was the theater experience that made it a spectacle. Why has that hunger gone away?

Because I think the streamers and the things that you can get at home changed everything. They didn’t just change that particular element of going to a theater. They changed the way stories are being told. They changed the way narrative is laid out. They changed the acting, editing, writing, directing, the whole approach. A lot of TV, for example, is driven by writers. That has a different effect on viewing habits. I think that the way narrative now is laid out for people, it’s much more challenging to sort of face the more idiosyncratic artistic expression of films driven by a director’s vision. I think the plot vision behind serial television is easier, frankly.

So you’re saying that long-form serial storytelling is changing the DNA of what we want?

Yes. I really believe that. And I see it. Just watching even some of my favorite actors and seeing how working in that system changes something about the way they work, changes the way they are as actors. It’s very interesting when you talk to someone about a TV series and they say, “Oh, you should really watch it — it’s very cinematic.” It means that it’s not just concerned with the words and the plot and the various spoon-feedings of narrative.

I think that’s a telling irony to all this. The television revolution we’re in the middle of is 20 years old. If you look at the great defining shows of that — “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad” — these are the shows we think of as being “like movies.”

Yeah. And we all know that “The Sopranos” could never exist right now. For a lot of reasons.

Like?

On a very simple level, the content of it, the misogyny, the racism, the stereotypes that people would object to. But also, it’s cinematic. It’s not only driven by: and then this happened and then this happened. It’s gunning for a bigger vision that you don’t see a lot of on television these days.

Is this a moment of creative destruction, like what the Buddhists talk about?

That’s a very good question. In a way, yes. In a sense, something has been built, and now it’s being wiped away. But I think the wiping away just reveals a new thing. And if we pay attention to the changes not in a hostile way, then it could be an exciting time.

The aftermath of the murder of George Floyd has provoked an incredible reckoning in America, and in the entertainment industry. Do you see this moment as having a lasting impact on movies?

Yes. Very much so. I think that’s one place where I’ve noticed that the change is real, and it doesn’t feel like it’s short-term. From what I’m seeing, there’s a real reckoning, there’s a real shifting of perspectives and of operational efforts.

And maybe that, and also the post-#MeToo universe, feeds into the other changes you’re talking about.

Absolutely. One of the things I like about what we do is that all these things sort of interact. Because there are all these new people coming in, all these new perspectives finally getting their full due. And out of that, new things will come.

Article written by Owen Gleiberman for Variety.

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The theatrical window has been shattered, and it’s a pretty good bet that it will never be patched back together. That means that the movie business will never look the same.

The Universal and AMC Theatres deal enabling the studio to release new movies on premium video on-demand within three weeks of their debut has upended the exhibition industry. That substantially shrinks the amount of time during which films can only show on the big screen in AMC’s venues. The arrival of this moment had been threatened for decades.

Before Universal and AMC’s alliance, movies typically had to wait 75 to 90 days before they appeared on home entertainment platforms. Now, Universal will have the option to put its movies on digital rental services after they have played in theaters for 17 days.

It’s also a stark reversal from earlier this year, when AMC’s CEO Adam Aron vowed his company would ban Universal’s movies after the studio said it would consider simultaneously releasing films in theaters and on digital rental services.

“This is a watershed moment for the entertainment industry,” says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst with LightShed Partners. “Universal isn’t trying to hurt movie theaters. They’re trying to do what consumers want — which is to watch movies wherever.”

After the initial shock of the announcement, Universal’s competitors were skeptical about the immediate impact of the deal, citing all kinds of caveats. One film executive speaking on the condition of anonymity rattled off a list of questions and observations: AMC is distressed and flirting with bankruptcy; studios have to share profits with the theater owners at the very start of a film’s financial life cycle; what happens when people aren’t locked in their homes anymore because of COVID-19?

It’s only a matter of time before other theater chains feel pressure to sign similar pacts and other studios insist AMC and fellow cinemas allow them to release their films in the home earlier. It’s the kind of precedent-shattering pact that only came about because coronavirus has brought the theater business to its knees, limiting its negotiating power.

But it’s also an agreement that will have wide-ranging ramifications for how studios make films, how customers watch them and how cinemas and movie companies earn money.

Here are six burning questions raised by the Universal and AMC pact.

Will rival studios follow suit?

Of course, but probably not Disney. Universal has been the most aggressive at trying to trim theatrical windows (Remember the “Tower Heist” experiment?) But nearly every other major studio, with the exception of “the house that Walt built,” has also wanted to be able to release their films on-demand earlier. It’s advantageous for them because movies generate most of their box office ticket sales within the first few weeks of release. When they have to wait three months to launch the same title on demand, it requires them to shell out more money to reignite marketing campaigns. Look for Warner Bros., Paramount, Sony and Lionsgate to commence their own negotiations with AMC. Whether they ultimately decide to take the plunge is a question for another day.

Do Regal and Cinemark join in?

They may not have a choice. In case you haven’t noticed, the theater business isn’t doing so hot right now. The exhibition industry hasn’t figured out a way to reopen on a national scale while coronavirus is raging in many parts of the U.S., leaving cinemas without any revenues for months. They need “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “F9” to pack their multiplexes even if it means accepting that the next “Purge” movie may debut in the home within a few weeks of it hitting the big screen. Movie theater owners also could use some fresh revenue streams. By giving Universal the green light, they will receive a cut of its premium video on-demand sales. In the short run, money talks. In the long run, taking the check from Universal could be disastrous. If moviegoers decide it’s a better deal to skip theaters and wait a few weeks to pay a steep rental fee, that could take a big bite out of box office revenues.

Do smaller theaters get screwed? 

Probably. The big chains will be able to use their size to ink better deals, but smaller, mom-and-pop businesses won’t have the same kind of bargaining power. They’ll have to accept a new normal for their industry — the perimeters of which will be determined by mega conglomerates and corporate giants that don’t care how much popcorn they need to sell to keep the marquee lights on. Many of these cinemas were teetering on the edge of financial ruin. If the theatrical window keeps cracking, or people decide it’s too great a risk to return to cinemas in a pandemic, it could mean they’ll be forced to roll credits.

What happens if AMC goes bankrupt? 

Unclear. The theater chain is heavily leveraged and has already warned investors that it could stop being able to operate if the pandemic stretches on too long. It did reach a deal with its creditors to wipe out some of its debt and to improve its liquidity, but coronavirus, at least in the U.S., is getting worse, not better. At some point, AMC’s debt could become too great a burden. If it goes under or gets sold to new owners, will the deal with Universal still stand? It might not matter. This new agreement and the ones that are likely to follow between other theater chains and studios has likely changed things forever.

What does this mean for Netflix?

Everything changes, or nothing does. The formal terms of the Uni-AMC deal limited this agreement strictly to PVOD — meaning streaming video providers are still shut out, even if its own originals are hopeful for physical screens. Still, Netflix can easily gloat about this long-awaited moment for their notorious establishment foe. The streaming giant has tried and failed to force theaters to show its films on their screens, even carving out exclusive windows for films such as “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story” that dwarf the 17-day window Universal now enjoys. In the past, AMC has refused to show Netflix releases, arguing that the films debut on the streaming platform too early. The Universal pact likely torpedoes those arguments. With many major studios shifting their releases into 2021 and beyond, Netflix could be invaluable to AMC if and when it is able to mount a national reopening. Its fall slate, which includes Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and David Fincher’s “Mank,” looks strong, and content-starved theaters could have no choice but to yield to its demands.

Will this mean studios can make movies that aren’t about superheroes? 

That’s the hope. Hollywood has made a point of backing comic book adaptations and franchise fare because it claims that the economics of the theatrical business are so brutal, they don’t reward creative risk-taking. The excuse from Hollywood, as of late, has always been that it’s too hard to build word-of-mouth for movies that are edgier or more challenging to market. Since it routinely costs tens of millions of dollars to advertise and distribute movies, it’s hard to make a profit on anything that doesn’t have a huge opening weekend. AMC and Universal’s deal would theoretically alleviate some of those pressures, enabling the studio to find alternate ways of earn money on a film that’s failing to catch fire at the box office. If better movies can come out of all of this tumult, that would be a win for studios, theaters, and audiences. That’s a Hollywood ending everyone could get behind.

Article written by Brent Lang, Rebecca Rubin, and Matt Donnely for Variety.

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Olivia de Havilland, a two-time Oscar winner and for decades the last surviving star of "Gone With the Wind," has died at the age of 104, her publicist Lisa Goldberg told CNN.

The actress died Sunday of natural causes at her residence in Paris, Goldberg said. She lived in Paris for more than six decades.
De Havilland emerged as a star during the classic movie era -- first as a romantic partner for Errol Flynn in swashbucklers such as "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and then as Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in "Gone With the Wind" (1939), considered the top moneymaking film of all time when adjusted for inflation.
 
By the late 1940s, she had become one of the screen's top actresses.
 
But her off-screen role in a lawsuit against her employer, Warner Bros., may have been her most notable achievement in Hollywood.
In 1943, de Havilland sued the studio after it attempted to extend her seven-year contract, which was expiring. Under the studio system, actors faced suspension without pay if they turned down roles, and the suspension time was added to their contracts.
 
De Havilland's eventual court victory helped shift the power from the big studios of that era to the mega-celebrities and powerful talent agencies of today.
"Hollywood actors will be forever in Olivia's debt," de Havilland's friend and frequent co-star Bette Davis wrote in her autobiography, "The Lonely Life."
De Havilland later recalled how rewarding the ruling was for her.
 
"I was very proud of that decision, for it corrected a serious abuse of the contract system --forced extension of a contract beyond its legal term. Among those who benefited by the decision were the actors who fought in World War II and who, throughout that conflict, were on suspension," the actress told the Screen Actors Guild in a 1994 interview.
 
In recent years, Jared Leto credited the so-called de Havilland Law for helping his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, in a contract dispute with its record label.
About three-quarters of a century after that landmark ruling, de Havilland lost a lawsuit she brought against the makers of the 2017 FX Networks miniseries, "Feud: Bette and Joan."
 
The US Supreme Court declined to review the case after the centenarian failed to convince a California appellate court that the filmmakers had depicted her in a false light and should have gotten her permission to be portrayed in the drama.
 
7146269879?profile=RESIZE_400xMore importantly for de Havilland, she gained freedom to pursue better roles in award-winning films such as "To Each His Own" (1946), "The Snake Pit" (1948) and "The Heiress" (1949).
 
Her first Oscar win -- for "To Each His Own" -- also brought into the spotlight an often strained relationship with her famous younger sister, Joan Fontaine. At the 1947 ceremony, Fontaine tried to congratulate her sibling backstage, but de Havilland brushed her aside, reportedly telling her press agent, "I don't know why she does that when she knows how I feel."
 
Fontaine, also an Oscar winner, died in December 2013, at age 96, fueling press speculation about whether the sisters had ended one of Hollywood's most famous family feuds before her death.
 
 
"I regret that I remember not one act of kindness from her all through my childhood," Fontaine said of her sister in her memoir, "No Bed of Roses."
De Havilland rarely made any public remarks about her sibling. Asked about their relations in a 2006 interview with David Thomson, she replied, "How shall I put it? Well, let's just say they stand still."
At the time of Fontaine's death, she issued a statement that she was "shocked and saddened" by the news.
 

Shakespeare, then swashbucklers

Olivia Mary de Havilland was born July 1, 1916, in Tokyo to British parents. Both Olivia and Joan were often ill as children, and their mother decided to return to England for treatment. A stopover in San Francisco led the trio to settle in Saratoga, California. Eventually the girls' parents divorced, and their mother remarried.
 
De Havilland caught the acting bug in a school production of "Alice in Wonderland." Her dedication to the craft led her to defy her stepfather's warning against appearing in plays and to leave home early before graduating from high school.
 
She got her first professional break as an understudy for Gloria Stuart (later the elderly Rose in "Titanic") in Max Reinhardt's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." After Stuart bowed out, de Havilland won the role of Hermia and made her stage debut in Shakespeare. The Hollywood Bowl appearance led to a contract with Warner Bros. and the 1935 film version of the play.
 
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But another 1935 movie made her a star, at age 19, ensuring her immortality as part of a great screen team. "Captain Blood" was the first of eight films pairing de Havilland with Errol Flynn.
 
De Havilland later said her swashbuckling co-star was her first love but that the timing was never right, especially for the wayward Flynn.
 
"I had a great crush on him," she told The New York Times in 1976. "Eventually, he got one on me. It was inevitable to fall in love with him. He was so naughty and so charming."
 
Flynn perhaps set the tone for their relationship by playing practical jokes on his co-star, even hiding a snake once in her panties before a costume change.
 
"It slowly penetrated my obtuse mind that such juvenile pranks weren't the way to any girl's heart. But it was too late. I couldn't soften her," Flynn admits in his autobiography, "My Wicked, Wicked Ways," noting he had fallen for de Havilland by their second film, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1936).
 
While the movies with Flynn were popular, the roles were rarely challenging. The actress began to feel trapped playing beautiful but demure heroines.
 

Memories of Melanie

When Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" became a huge bestseller in the late '30s, every actress seemed to be vying for the role of Scarlett O'Hara, the selfish, headstrong heroine. But not de Havilland. She had her eyes on Melanie, Scarlett's sweet and sympathetic sister-in-law.
 
"Scarlett didn't interest me at all. She was a career girl, after all, and I was a career girl," the actress told The New York Times in 2004. "Melanie was something else. She is a happy woman, she is a loving woman, and you cannot say Scarlett was loving."
 
The only obstacle for de Havilland was her contract with Warner Bros., which was reluctant to loan her to producer David O. Selznick for the film.
 
De Havilland, then in her early 20s, strategized about how to win the part, deciding to make her case before the boss' wife. Over tea, the actress pleaded with Ann Warner to intervene on her behalf. Jack L. Warner finally relented, and de Havilland headed to Selznick International to make what many in Hollywood thought was going to be a disaster.
 
But the star later told writer Gavin Lambert she always knew the movie would be "something special, something which would last forever."
Melanie was the first of de Havilland's roles to downplay her attractiveness. It also revealed her affinity for playing "good girls."
 
"I think they're more challenging," she explained to the Times in 2004. "Because the general concept is that if you're good, you aren't interesting. And that concept annoys me, frankly."
 
De Havilland earned the first of five Oscar nominations with a best supporting actress nod for "Gone With the Wind," but she lost to co-star Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African American to win an Academy Award.
 

A studio fight, then a career peak

 
Returning to Warner Bros. after "Gone With the Wind" was not easy. De Havilland discovered she would have a supporting role in a film with Flynn. Bette Davis was the leading lady in "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex," with de Havilland reduced to the queen's lady-in-waiting.
 
Good roles for actresses were hard to come by at the studio known for its tough, masculine image, and Davis ruled the roost as its lone major female star.
 
De Havilland began to defy Warner Bros., rejecting parts in films she didn't like and taking suspensions.
 
In one bright spot, she scored a best actress nomination for another loan-out deal, "Hold Back the Dawn" (1941), as a spinsterish schoolteacher who falls for European refugee Charles Boyer as he's struggling to enter the United States. She lost again, this time to her sister, Fontaine, who won for "Suspicion" (1941).
 
De Havilland was ready to move on when her contract expired. However, Warner Bros. had other ideas, tacking on 25 weeks from her suspensions to the contract.
 
She decided to take legal action, a risky move that would keep her off the screen for nearly three years. If she lost the lawsuit, her Hollywood career might be over.
 
"I really had no choice but to fight," the actress recalled to the Los Angeles Times in 2006.
 
The California Court of Appeal for the 2nd District upheld a lower court ruling in de Havilland's favor, finding that a personal service contract was limited to a calendar year of seven years.
 
Studio chief Warner admitted in his autobiography that de Havilland had "licked" him. He noted his onetime star "had a brain like a computer concealed behind those fawnlike brown eyes."
 
De Havilland now was able to plot her career. Within three years, she had won two Academy Awards.
 
She displayed a new versatility in "To Each His Own," moving in flashbacks from a young unwed mother who loses her son to a middle-aged businesswoman. "The Dark Mirror," also from 1946, showcased de Havilland in dual roles as identical twins -- one good and the other a disturbed killer.
 
But she really came into her own as an actress with the "The Snake Pit" and "The Heiress."
 
The former -- a look at a woman who spirals into mental illness -- appears dated today, but critics in 1948 praised the movie and actress for tackling such a serious subject.
 
De Havilland reached the peak of her career in William Wyler's "The Heiress" as Catherine Sloper, a plain, awkward girl courted by a fortune hunter for her inheritance. She becomes an embittered woman who turns the tables on a cold, unloving father (Ralph Richardson) and her suitor (Montgomery Clift).
 
This adaptation of a play based on Henry James' "Washington Square" won de Havilland her second Oscar for best actress.
 

Later years

 
De Havilland's screen career inevitably began to cool in the 1950s and '60s, although she still had memorable roles in "My Cousin Rachel" (1952) and "Light in the Piazza" (1962). She teamed up with Davis in "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964), a follow-up to "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962). In a surprise twist, de Havilland had the villainous role.
 
She also appeared on Broadway in "Romeo and Juliet," "Candida" and "A Gift of Time" with Henry Fonda. In the '70s and '80s, she took supporting roles in disaster movies such as "Airport '77" (1977) and "The Swarm" (1978) and on television in "Roots: The Next Generations," the 1979 sequel to the landmark miniseries. She received an Emmy nomination for best supporting actress in a miniseries or special for one of her final roles, "Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna" (1986).
 
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She retired from acting in the late '80s but continued to make public appearances and receive honors for her long career, including the National Medal of Arts in 2008 "for her lifetime achievements and contributions to American culture as an actress" and France's Legion of Honor in 2010.
 
In June 2017, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II made de Havilland a dame "for services to drama" -- two weeks' shy of her 101st birthday.
 
The star was known for dating many notable bachelors in her Hollywood heyday, including Howard Hughes, James Stewart and director John Huston. She was married, and divorced, twice -- first to writer Marcus Goodrich and then Paris Match editor Pierre Galante. Her son, Benjamin Goodrich, died in 1991 from complications of Hodgkin lymphoma. Daughter Gisèle Galante is a journalist.
 
News accounts often reported the actress was working on a long-awaited autobiography, but nothing appeared during her lifetime. She did write a 1962 memoir about her life in France called "Every Frenchman Has One."
 
De Havilland survived virtually all of her contemporaries from the movies' golden age -- even writing a tribute to the younger Mickey Rooney for Time when he passed away in April 2014. Ironically, the sickly Melanie died near the end of "Gone With the Wind," yet the actress who played her long outlived co-stars Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard and McDaniel.
 
Asked two decades ago to explain her longevity, this "Steel Magnolia" told a Screen Actors Guild interviewer, "I don't understand the question -- I'm only 78 years old!"
 
Article written by Lee Smith and Chuck Johnson for CNN
 
 
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