MovieMaker Magazine The Art & Business of Making Movies 2038-01-13T20:00:20Z https://www.moviemaker.com/feed/atom/ WordPress MM Writers <![CDATA[Sundance Film Festival: Seven Breakthrough Moviemakers at Park City in 2018]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53566 2018-02-24T06:36:25Z 2018-02-24T05:07:47Z Much has been written about the smaller nature of this year’s Sundance 2018 Film Festival. While some applauded this return-to-roots of championing “emerging” voices, others lamented the lack of first looks at sure-fire Oscar contenders like 2017’s Call Me By Your Name. Regardless of how “low-key” or not this year’s iteration truly was, this is still […]

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Much has been written about the smaller nature of this year’s Sundance 2018 Film Festival. While some applauded this return-to-roots of championing “emerging” voices, others lamented the lack of first looks at sure-fire Oscar contenders like 2017’s Call Me By Your Name.

Regardless of how “low-key” or not this year’s iteration truly was, this is still Sundance after all—full of networking that somehow feels less like traditional hotel lobby mixer-fare, and more like just drinking with people you like, alongside late night Lyft rides back to one’s condo mere hours before that morning screening you ambitiously promised you would make. Sundance is an elevated experience, and Trevor Groth and his programming team have always reflected this sentiment by presenting moments for festival-goers to discover new talent as a collective alongside thousands of other film-lovers.

Here’s a sampler of some breakthrough talent that caught team MovieMaker‘s attention at Sundance 2018. Though this list is not definitive by any stretch—we’re excited to learn about others’ discoveries at the fest in the coming months—, it’ll help you expand your sense of “who’s who” as we move into a year of surprise hits and fresh faces.

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Ryan Williams <![CDATA[Inside The Shimmer: Oscar-Winning VFX Supervisor Andrew Whitehurst Takes Us Behind Annihilation‘s Stunning VFX]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53705 2018-02-24T00:18:34Z 2018-02-24T00:18:34Z Many filmmakers have attempted to translate the unknowable horrors of the Lovecraftian mythology to a visual medium. With Annihilation, Alex Garland brings his genre-tested hand to a loose adaptation of a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. A big part of the success of Garland’s film hinges on the design of the visual […]

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Many filmmakers have attempted to translate the unknowable horrors of the Lovecraftian mythology to a visual medium. With Annihilation, Alex Garland brings his genre-tested hand to a loose adaptation of a novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.

A big part of the success of Garland’s film hinges on the design of the visual effects and the methods by which these effects are able to communicate the terror of a world we cannot understand and the indescribable wonder of this same world. At the center is “The Shimmer,” the mysterious, closed-off zone that lies at the forefront of the government’s attention. As an alien force spreads across a mass of land, the effect of The Shimmer on this land is a visual effects artist’s dream.

Annihilation‘s special effects are dense and ever-changing, much like the contained world inside The Shimmer. Under visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst, everything that surrounds the film’s five explorers comes to life with a mix of vibrant practical effects, real sets, and CGI. MovieMaker spoke to the Oscar-winner about making this ambitious sci-fi spectacle—one which serves as a showcase for creative and stunningly realized VFX.

Ryan Williams, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): How do you handle the balance between practical effects and digital effects that we see in the film?

Andrew Whitehurst (AW): The goal is to always do something practically if it can be done that way. This isn’t always the case, however. Every production needs to look at resources, time and cost, and—based on these—make a call whether to go practical or digital. Many of the visual effects in Annihilation are actually a combination of practical work and CGI. The alligator entering and bursting out of the water is digital, but Hayley Williams’ special effects crew built practical versions of the alligator shape that they could drag into the water, or put on a launching mechanism to make it burst out, and so even though the finished creature is all digital, the alligator’s interaction with the water is practical.

MM: How did you go about crafting the unique (and often terrifying) creature designs that we see in the film?

AW: Each creature went through its own design process. Sometimes, like in the case of the bear, we worked with Alex to come up with designs that would then be passed on to Tristan Versluis’ creature crew. The crew would then construct practical creations that we would use on set, even if they would ultimately come to be replaced with digital creatures in the finished film. We always tried to have a representation of the creatures on set so the actors had something to work off. This also allowed cinematographer Rob Hardy to frame his shots knowing where the creature would be. The alligator was the opposite process, with Tristan’s team designing and building a full scale model which we scanned and used as the basis for our digital version. We would continue to work on the designs throughout post-production as we adjusted each creature to make its level of beauty, horror, or mutation appropriate for the section of the film that it appears in. It was a very fluid design process.

Natalie Portman observes one of Annihilation‘s many creatures. Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

MM: What were the challenges in jumping from your Oscar-winning work on Garland’s Ex Machina to your work with Garland here?

AW: Annihilation is a very different film from Ex Machina. Ex Machina has a main character crafted through digital effects in Ava. Once we knew what she would look like, it was a matter of maintaining that look throughout the rest of the film. Ex Machina is also set in the real world so we could rely more heavily on practical locations and sets. In Annihilation so much of what you see on screen had to be designed either by art department or our visual effects team. Because of this, the workload in Annihilation was much, much heavier than it was on Ex Machina. In some ways, this was more rewarding, as we all felt that we really got to contribute a lot to the project.

The other way that Annihilation differed is that, because it is the story of a journey, every scene has new and different elements that all had to be designed, and then reworked so that they complemented the mood of the scenes as they played out.

MM: How did you work on the building of the sets?

The sets were designed and built by art department. In some instances, like the Southern Reach facility, we (in visual effects) would extend the practical sets built by art department, but it was always a collaboration. We were able to help with the design of the chamber under the lighthouse by using CGI to make a model of a mathematical shape for the room for the art department to use. So, although we sometimes collaborated where we could help, ultimately the beautiful sets are the work of Mark Digby’s art department.

MM: Were the majority of the visual effects planned out and crafted beforehand?

AW: We planned as much as we could ahead of time so that we could make sure to shoot the material that we needed to make it work. Inevitably, on a film with as many changing elements as Annihilation, we ended up revisiting our designs in post-production and changing them where necessary. It’s good to plan where you can, but you have to be open to the idea of change when it serves the story.

MM: The third act of Annihilation is full of visceral and visually imaginative surprises. How much of what we see was on the page; how much came from yourself and the creative team working together, and how much came from you alone?

AW: Everything you see on screen is a result of collaboration between Alex, the visual effects department, Director of Photography Rob Hardy, art department, and the cast. The whole process was one of evolution where one idea would inspire something else and so on. Sometimes those ideas would reveal themselves as a dead end. Sometimes an actor’s performance would change how we thought about part of a sequence and that would force us to re-evaluate our approach. We were always open to the idea of changing things to better serve the narrative. Ultimately, the narrative is our master.

A gruesome surprise for the explorers of Annihilation.

MM: Without going into spoilers, the last act delves into quite a bit of psychedelia. What were some of the influences that you turned to in crafting the visual effects?

AW: Our influences on the film were drawn from numerous sources far and wide. We looked at a lot of electron microscope imagery of cells, mathematical forms, lichens, mineral growths, molds, and deep space images. Surrounding yourself with such references is quite trippy in itself, and we could use that wealth of material as a creative springboard to explore visual ideas through concept paintings, story boards, and animation tests. It was an imaginatively fertile time. We had so much freedom to explore strange trains of artistic thought and see where they led us.

MM: How did your previous work—serving as 3D supervisor, CG supervisor and digital artist—prepare you for what the role of a visual effects supervisor entails?

AW: It’s incredibly helpful for an effects supervisor to understand as much of the nuts and bolts of making visual effects as possible. It also helps you make better decisions on set and helps working with the artists in the visual effects facilities, because you know what is difficult or time consuming and what is more straight forward. I’ve done many jobs at Double Negative over the years and each gives me a different insight into the whole process which I hope makes me a better artist. It is also very helpful to know how other departments, like camera, costume, or make-up work too, as you are able to have more meaningful conversations with them about the most practical way to tackle all the creative challenges on a film.

MM: Having worked on numerous big budget films before, was there anything that surprised you while working on Annihilation?

AW: I was surprised every day on Annihilation. Whether it was a beautiful concept painting, walking onto a set for the first time or seeing the visual effects artists’ work in our dailies review sessions, there was always something to take the breath away. Annihilation is such a visually rich film that everyone was able to contribute something beautiful, and I was lucky enough to get to see it all as it happened. MM

Annihilation opened in theaters on February 23rd, 2018, and opens on Netflix on March 12, 2018. Photographs courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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NewFilmmakers LA <![CDATA[NewFilmmakers LA: Sarah Weaver, Doug Purdy, Julia Quiceno, Siddharth Ahluwalia, and More]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53750 2018-02-23T23:12:16Z 2018-02-23T23:08:59Z This new installment of our series of NewFilmmakers LA interviews features conversations with moviemakers included above, as well as Leah Dubac, Edgar Baghdasaryan, and many more. NewFilmmakers LA (NFMLA) is a non-profit organization designed to showcase the innovative works by emerging filmmakers from around the world, providing the Los Angeles community of entertainment professionals and film goers […]

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This new installment of our series of NewFilmmakers LA interviews features conversations with moviemakers included above, as well as Leah Dubac, Edgar Baghdasaryan, and many more.

NewFilmmakers LA (NFMLA) is a non-profit organization designed to showcase the innovative works by emerging filmmakers from around the world, providing the Los Angeles community of entertainment professionals and film goers with a constant surge of monthly screening events. NFMLA provides a forum where filmmakers can be recognized for their contributions, have open audience discussions about their projects and connect with industry professionals for insight on distribution, production, acquisition, and representation.

Check out their wide-ranging conversations in the videos below. Jump the break for more featured new filmmakers.

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Alex Ross Perry <![CDATA[New Film, New Challenge: How Alex Ross Perry Built Intricate Sets, Embraced Collaboration to Make Golden Exits]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53701 2018-02-24T02:25:43Z 2018-02-23T00:58:00Z Each film is about its own challenges. This doesn’t mean logistical hurdles but, rather, the challenge of never repeating yourself, of always staying fresh. Starting with the writing, I look for as many opportunities to try something new, step outside my comfort zone, and pivot away from my previous film in ways that I feel […]

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Each film is about its own challenges.

This doesn’t mean logistical hurdles but, rather, the challenge of never repeating yourself, of always staying fresh. Starting with the writing, I look for as many opportunities to try something new, step outside my comfort zone, and pivot away from my previous film in ways that I feel both excited by and afraid of. I am lucky enough to have a consistent crew of collaborators who feel the same way.

During my first conversation with Chloe Sevigny for Golden Exits, she said she had previously been hesitant about working with me because my films seems to include ad libbing and improv, which she is terrified of. I decided then and there not to rely on this in Golden Exits. This set me off on writing in a very different style—slower, calmer, more measured form of dialogue, stripped of the snappy comedy I fell back on with my earlier films. The question then became how to approach shooting this style of writing and acting in a complimentary style without being obvious. Talking about our work, my five-time cinematographer Sean Price Williams and I often bemoan the boxes people feel that we end up in. He has said many times that he doesn’t only want to be known as “the 16mm guy” or “the handheld guy,” even though his work in those two areas is peerless in the modern independent film landscape. I commiserate with this and want to challenge him as much as myself. When people respond to the slow, deliberately blocked, three-minute long two shots in Golden Exits by saying “I didn’t know Sean had this in him,” I am always eager to say, “I did.”

I wouldn’t ask anybody to meet a challenge that I am not enthused by or would attempt to do myself. I wouldn’t hand over a script very similar to the last movie and demand that the department heads find new ways to execute my dearth of originality. Golden Exits is my third collaboration with composer Keegan DeWitt, costume designer Amanda Ford, editor Robert Greene, sound designer Ryan Price and hair/makeup designer Amy Forsythe. Each of them are on my mind while writing, all while I attempt to find new territory to mine. If, for this film, the idea is to return to Brooklyn but not replicate any ideas from Listen Up Philip then the note to Keegan on the score has to be “no brass.” The Listen Up Philip score is a very traditional jazz piece and, in accordance with this, is very brass heavy. I also had the idea that, in unison with the narrative idea of conversations largely playing out in half-truths and unspoken feelings, the music must do the emotional expressing that the characters are suppressing. Those were the two ideas I presented to Keegan, along with the observation that most independent film scores seem to make use of the same instruments. You never hear anything big, lush, or melodramatic. Since the syntax and content of the film is none of those things, I thought it might be interesting to lay down a score that wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1950s melodrama over tiny, intimate conversations.

Lily Rabe and Analeigh Tipton as sisters in Golden Exits. Photograph courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

In New York, to qualify for the city’s tax credit filming incentive, you must rent and shoot at least one day on a qualifying sound stage. This is one of many boxes you have to check if you want to receive around 20 percent of your spending back. Usually, most movies will build a bathroom or closet and shoot half a day for a four-line scene in order to satisfy this. I wondered why nobody took this as an invitation to go as far as possible—to build entire sets. Much like the idea of a lush score, this points me toward working against one of my favorite observations: You never see that. You never see low-budget movies building precise, intricate sets for specifically creative purposes that have nothing to do with tax credits. I asked Scott Kuzio, production designer of Listen Up Philip who co-designed Golden Exits alongside art director Fletcher Chancey, if this would be possible. Along with prop master Stephen Phelps (another Philip veteran) they created a basement office set so densely precise yet flexible to our filming needs that a seasoned Hollywood producer whose last film cost over $100 million was shocked when I told him we built it from scratch. It was deeply satisfying and made me want to play more with set design and construction, so much so that the next film we are making will rely almost entirely on it.

That is always the way the pendulum swings. By the time one project is over, the ideas in it have either entirely satisfied me or have simply whet my appetite enough for me to seek out ways to do them again, on a grander scale and with more experience. The elements of each film that I find most exciting and rewatchable during the edit are the contributions of a crew who I respect deeply and whose work matures and develops exponentially faster than my own. Each member of the crew will go off and make five more films after we wrap while I just finish this one. To me, this is the key to learning from the experience of working with others. Sean is always discovering new technology in lighting and bringing it to our music videos as a sort of trial run. Robert makes his own movies and understands things about rhythm and pacing that a director making one movie every other year cannot possibly grasp. Amy does hair and make-up on Stranger Things. Keegan composes entire runs of television shows like HBO’s Divorce. All of these people collect experiences that I am bottomlessly eager to absorb from them when we are lucky enough to reunite for another collaboration. MM

Golden Exits opened in theaters and on VOD/Digital HD February 8, 2018, courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Sony Pictures. The Metrograph just completed a six-day retrospective of films by Alex Ross Perry.

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Peter Weed <![CDATA[The End of Box Office Tyranny: Disappointing Opening Numbers No Longer Spell Doom for Long-Range Success]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53579 2018-02-23T00:43:20Z 2018-02-23T00:28:34Z Thanks to the impact of rising international box office numbers, the importance of opening weekend in the U.S. as a predictor of a film’s economic success is waning. In fact, international revenue can turn a domestic disappointment into a hit—and even lead to franchise-building sequels. This game-changing international revenue growth is having an impact on […]

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Thanks to the impact of rising international box office numbers, the importance of opening weekend in the U.S. as a predictor of a film’s economic success is waning.

In fact, international revenue can turn a domestic disappointment into a hit—and even lead to franchise-building sequels. This game-changing international revenue growth is having an impact on when and where films open and is even dictating content decisions.

The Rise of the Foreign Box Office

How important is international box office to Hollywood studios? In 2016 international box office accounted for 62 percent of box office revenue for the big six Hollywood studios. That’s up from 42.9 percent in 2001, according to data from Stephen Follows, a film industry data researcher.

The international ratios (particularly for action films) can be stunning. With 2017 films such as The Fate of the Furious earning more than 81 percent of its box office from international markets, and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage racking up 87 percent of its box office internationally, it’s no wonder that moviemakers are giving more weight to markets beyond North America.

For XXX, international success followed a softer-than-desired US opening weekend ($20 million on a production budget of $85 million according to Box Office Mojo), a trend that’s growing for movies in the action genre.

“Things have changed over the years,” says Vince Tontino, CEO of Revolution Studios, which co-produced XXX. “Now that you’re likely to have a large international number, the domestic opening weekend is really only an emotional thing. It’s not necessarily an indicator of the profitability of a picture. It’s an emotional loss if (the film doesn’t do well domestically), but your movie can over-perform in international markets and really save your picture from a big loss. Whereas the opening weekend was once a harbinger of what was to come, now’s it’s really just an emotional thing. Obviously it helps when it does better, but when it doesn’t do well it doesn’t mean your movie has failed commercially.”

This isn’t to say that producers still aren’t losing sleep thinking about opening weekends. Opening weekend still matters. It is more a matter of how much opening weekends matter in the context of the global picture.

“I wouldn’t say that opening weekend is no longer important,” says Daniel Loria, vice president of content strategy and editorial director for Boxoffice Media. “I would say that it’s complemented by an international strategy that can be market or region specific that can help push a film to its maximum potential. The metrics of success have changed. Opening weekend box office is still extremely important, but it’s not the full picture.”

Just how big is that big picture? In 2017, The Fate of the Furious earned more than $1 billion internationally (compared to $225 million in the U.S.), according to Box Office Mojo.

“Before the international markets came in, you could imagine the Fast and Furious franchise ending up in the bin of death at a Walgreen’s somewhere,” says Loria. “It really was with the support of the international market where it became synonymous with Universal. It’s now one of their biggest properties.”

Loria notes that international impact has less of an influence on films designed to appeal more to the domestic market—for example talky comedies or prestige films that may not translate well. Typically, action, animated and broader comedies do better in international markets because their less-nuanced themes are more universal. Think Transformers, not Lady Bird.

Fate of the Furious raked in more than $530 million globally opening weekend, crushing previous box office records. Photograph Courtesy of Universal Studios.

The Elephant in the Room

Driving this international trend is China’s burgeoning box office. In 2016 China’s box office revenue was $6.6 billion, followed by Japan at $2 billion, and India at $1.9 billion, according to the MPAA. In comparison the U.S./Canada box office was $11.4 billion.

To get a sense of the growth of the Chinese market, consider that the total cinema attendance in China increased from .2 billion in 2009 to 1.4 billion in 2016, according to Oxford Economics, National Bureau of Statistics of China. China’s box office take in 2009 was $910 million, while there are predictions for 2017 of north of $8 billion.

“The growth in international box office is coming principally from China, and in the next couple of years the box office in China will surpass North America,” says David U. Lee, founder and CEO of Leeding Media, an international film and television company.

“A lot of films that aren’t opening well in the U.S. are counting on China to make up for the shortfall,” says Lee.

U.S. moviemakers are taking notice.

Going forward “you may see studios releasing in the Chinese market first because it may do well there and help the domestic performance here because people may see a film’s success in China and think the film is worth seeing here and that’ll give the film more of a chance,” says Tontino.

The 007 Effect

Recognizing the importance of the global market, filmmakers are building movies for the world stage, following what Loria calls the “James Bond model.”

“You have international locales, a diverse soundtrack, a diverse cast,” says Loria. It’s a way to include “a lot of mini narratives on a marketing level where international markets can hook into.”

XXX is a poster child for the James Bond model, with a diverse cast in key roles—Donnie Yen (China) and Deepika Padukone (India); exotic locales—Vin Diesel skiing down a verdant mountain in the rain forest; and even a cameo by international soccer player Neymar. Quite simply, the movie was designed from the ground up to play well internationally.

Tontino does note that it’s not a simple matter of just plugging international actors into a U.S. film to achieve international success.

He says, “XXX has elements that other parts of the world will (see and) say, ‘Wait a minute, this movie’s made for me, and I want to go see it.’ The international market likes when a movie is made in their country, with stars from their country, not just sticking a star in the movie and filming in the U.S. It works best when the international stars are an organic part of the movie and not just replacing U.S. actors.”

Even the Star Wars franchise is adapting.

“Look at Star Wars. None of the first six films were released theatrically in China,” says Lee. “So when The Force Awakens was released here, even though it’s the largest movie franchise ever, it didn’t overtake The Fast and the Furious or Transformer films in China. For Rogue One, two Chinese actors were cast in prominent roles. That’s not a mistake.”

Rogue One intentionally hired one of the most diverse casts in sci-fi history. Photograph Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd and Disney.

The Opening Dating Game

Globalization is changing more than just content. It’s changing strategic decisions for when and how films open. In fact, international concerns may dictate that a major Hollywood film may open internationally before opening in the U.S.

Loria explains that distributors are looking at the global picture when planning release dates. He says distributors are asking, “Where can they grow a title? What are the international corridors?”

He points to Pixar’s Coco as a film that was strategically opened internationally before coming to the U.S.

Coco was the highest-grossing movie ever in Mexico before it was even released in the U.S.,” Loria says. “They used the corridor of the Day of the Dead in Mexico, a big market for Pixar and for this film in particular. They released it in Mexico, and it became a big hit there. Then they put it in on the shelf and released it in the U.S. for the Thanksgiving holiday. There’s no longer a rule now to open in the U.S. in order to establish your global rep. It makes all the sense in the world to open Coco in Mexico on Day of the Dead weekend.”

Looking Ahead

The international market is likely to continue to be the driving force behind some of Hollywood’s biggest hits.

“More movies will be made in the XXX model, with international casts and locations,” says Tontino. “XXX was an interesting movie because it was designed for the international market because we knew that’s where most of our business would be. This type of movie, the action genre, we knew would play well internationally. What you’ve seen the last several years is that movies like that will do double internationally what they do in the U.S. The international market place is such an important part of the revenue of a film of that type.”

As evidence of the importance of the international market, XXX’s success in China may be leading to a sequel co-produced by a Chinese company.

“The Chinese market is the one that wants the sequel,” he says. “The market has changed so much. You have to make movies for a worldwide market.”

The bottom line is that globalization is paying dividends for U.S. filmmakers and shaping how films are made and distributed. MM

Featured Image Photograph Courtesy of Pixar.

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Rebekah Fortune <![CDATA[From Stage to Screen: How Rebekah Fortune Made the Transition From Theater to Film with Just Charlie]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53335 2018-02-23T23:08:45Z 2018-02-22T22:43:36Z Just Charlie began its life as a stage play. Inspired by a daytime television program, screenwriter Peter Machen and I were fascinated by the idea that someone could be born and feel completely disassociated from what they saw in the mirror and how those around them identified themselves. This issue became the inspiration for the […]

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Just Charlie began its life as a stage play.

Inspired by a daytime television program, screenwriter Peter Machen and I were fascinated by the idea that someone could be born and feel completely disassociated from what they saw in the mirror and how those around them identified themselves. This issue became the inspiration for the very first play that we created, Killing Larry, which told the story of a transgender woman from birth to the night before gender reassignment surgery. When I came to make my first feature some 20 years later the subject of identity was still one that I felt strongly about. It seemed logical to update and revisit our old material.

Not a single member of the team behind Just Charlie has been to film school. We all began our careers as theater actors. I branched off and became a Theater Director, working closely with Peter Machen who had now started writing plays and Karen Newman who had left acting to become a Producer. Just Charlie was our first feature. This film became our film school. The things we learnt making Just Charlie could never have been acquired from a classroom or a book. I do strongly believe that the best way of learning is by doing.  That would be my main advice: go out and do it.  Of course, there is value to be had in taking courses but you also need to put things into practice. If you don’t, then you won’t start to get a sense of the type of director, writer or producer you are.

Making a low budget Independent film is always going to come with challenges, but you need to look at these challenges and turn them into opportunities. We often refer to the making of Just Charlie and the process we went through as the vertical learning curve. It was tough, it was blood sweat and tears, almost literally at times. It was also, magical, creative and life-changing. When I think about it, I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

Harry Gilby in Just Charlie. Photo Courtesy of Wolfe Pictures.

With an indie film, there is never going to be enough money. This can inspire you to make very creative and bold choices in order to tell your story. The opening of the film, for instance, should have included two full soccer teams. Unfortunately, no one turned up at 7 am on a cold November morning and we were forced to rethink. It was sunny and the light mixed with the frosty morning air was quite beautiful. Cinematographer Karl Clarke and myself quickly came up with a plan to create an almost dream-like quality for the scene using the flare from the sun and just focusing on Charlie and her joy at playing football. We managed to grab a few boys who were walking past to join in and we created the opening sequence. This turned out to be far more true to my vision than the original opening could have ever been.

As a Theater Director, I was constantly told “You direct theater like film.” I can only assume my use of underscoring and movement sequences (montages) to move the story along and attention to small details in design are what led to this observation. Now, when I direct film, I get told “You direct film like theater.” This is probably because I insist on making the complicity of the actors my primary focus, rather than using them as props (as I have often heard crews refer to them).

I give time to my actors, which is often more apparent in theater. I would have liked to have given my cast more time, and undertaken more work with them before we began the actual shoot but, on a production made for under $100,000, we just didn’t have the money to do this. I relied heavily on my actors preparing in advance and using the research tools we had provided for them. I ensured I saw my cast every morning before we started so that we could talk through the day and discuss what I was looking for. This also allowed me to answer any questions or concerns that they might have. My aim was to rehearse every scene with them before shooting but I soon realized that I needed to prioritize these rehearsals. We shot the film in a little over three weeks so time was of the essence. If a scene was simple I just had a quick discussion with the actors before the scene. The scenes that were more complex, either physically or emotionally, I spent as much time as was needed. This allowed everyone to feel confident, comfortable and in the right emotional place for us to continue with shooting.

It is important to really gain your cast’s trust, understanding their individual style of working. For instance, I could work with the trained adult actors using theater techniques to explore their texts. This proved a quick and efficient shorthand that we all understood. I would definitely recommend reading Stanislavsky, Max Stafford Clarke and other theater practitioners in order to develop this shorthand. With the younger actors, it needed to be more instinctive and based on a series of “What If’s” such as ‘what if your father rejected you.’ It was also vital that I facilitated a sense of family between the actors. Harry Gilby (Charlie) and Elinor Machen-Fortune (Eve) became very much like brother and sister.

Harry Gilby and Elinor Machen-Fortune in Just Charlie. Photo Courtesy of Wolfe Pictures.

Some scenes were shot using a theater workshop approach. The scene in which Charlie is caught dressing for the first time, for instance, I didn’t want to rehearse. It needed to feel fresh and truthful; however I was the guardian of a 14-year-old boy’s emotional well-being so needed to prepare him. For this scene I talked to Harry (Charlie) and Scott (Paul) independently about their motivations, needs, wants. Neither was aware, however, of what the other’s brief was. After doing some very basic blocking, we shot the scene twice. Harry was very emotional and I knew that this was that raw emotion that we needed on screen. I was not prepared, however, to put him through it time and time again.

The scene in the waiting room, although short, is one of my favorite moments in the film. Rather than rehearsing in the traditional sense, I allowed Patricia (Susan) and Harry to play out the rehearsal in front of the camera. I told them to just sit on the sofa and see what happened. We waited with camera rolling for a long time. The awkwardness and tension built naturally and I knew that, eventually, one of then would instinctively do something. Without looking, Harry placed his hand out for Patricia to hold. It is such a truthful and moving moment that I don’t think we would have achieved had it been blocked. Despite not being able to rehearse as much as in theatre, you do, as a director, get to hone the rhythm and tone of scenes whilst editing along with having the opportunity to pick individual performances that are most akin to what you are looking for. On stage, once an actor has done it, there is nothing you can do about it, other than give notes and hope they do what you wanted in the next performance.

Regardless of wanting to work with my actors in this way, I had a visual style that I wanted to realize and that needed to be done with my crew. Again, when you are working on a film with a budget this low, or any film for that matter, making everyone feel important and valued is vital. I am a very collaborative director and I think this does come from years of working in small-scale and fringe theatre, where everyone contributes what they can to help realize the production. I am fully aware and completely happy with the fact that I am an actor’s director and not a technical director. I don’t know what lenses but I do know what I ultimately want. I storyboarded with my editor and cinematographer and thoroughly communicated to them what I aimed to achieve before we started. Then they used their expertise to make it happen.

One of the big differences between directing the mediums of stage and screen is that on film, you are responsible for directing the audience’s attention. You decide how much of the world the audience will see, who they should empathize with, and from what perspective they view the story. You can do that to some extent on stage with lighting, blocking and stage pictures, but you can’t vary the distance between the viewer and the action. In the theater, your audience will all be looking from different angles and different distances, so you must make it feel like what they are witnessing is absolutely real. I suppose the advantage I have over more naturalistic theater-makers is that I worked in very physical, visual theatre. I never really tried to create a sense of this being a real world. I imagine the cinematic equivalent of this would be magical realism. I always felt that theater should be theatrical and film was the best place to present naturalism.

Harry Gilby in Just Charlie. Photo Courtesy of Wolfe Pictures.

Conversely, in film, everyone thinks (rightly or wrongly) that you have unlimited access to all the tools to let your imagination know no bounds. This may be true on some sets, but when working low budget you are just as restricted as in the theatre, in some cases more so, I love deep staging but its almost impossible to do in a tiny kitchen or garden shed. I wanted jib shots and steady cams but you work with what you’ve got. In better-funded films that are attractive to the large industry awards, it’s usually the complexity of the cinematography and the cleverness of shots that create a more cinematic feel. What working in theater has taught me is that, in a film like Just Charlie, character arcs and relationships are what’s important. It’s a simple but truthful style that makes its audiences mob you, in tears, thanking you for telling this story.

One thing that I did find difficult is the timeline. When you direct a film, you can’t get lost. You are responsible for knowing where this moment you are filming fits into the whole jigsaw puzzle so need to be fully prepared for each day. You can’t just see what happens quite like you can in theatre, you need to know everyone’s journeys and exactly where they are at all times. When you rehearse for the stage, the whole sequence of the story is clear to everyone all the time: actors, hair, makeup, costume. On a film, everyone has to really be on their toes and have planned everything out meticulously. I tried to shoot in chronological order where I could to make things easier. This was primarily for Harry, so that he could know where he was on his journey, but it was not always possible.

Ultimately, though, the biggest difference is that, when you direct a play, you are giving your best work to the cast and crew hoping that they will create magic out of it; when you direct a film, everyone working on it gives you their best work in the hope that you will create magic out of it.

Despite the belief of many, however, I don’t think that there are that many fundamental differences between the crafts of directing film and theatre.

The key to both is communication.

The Director always has a vision regardless of the medium and it is our job to communicate that vision to everyone from the runner to the producer, from the writer to the actors. Then, everyone utilizes their expertise to bring that to life. MM

The post <b>From Stage to Screen</b>: How Rebekah Fortune Made the Transition From Theater to Film with <i>Just Charlie</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Kelly Leow http://moviemaker.com <![CDATA[Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival 2017: This Multicultural Delight’s Sixth Edition Kicked Into High Gear]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53549 2018-02-23T00:57:52Z 2018-02-16T22:20:22Z Taking off from Barcelona, my plane crested a sea of clouds, thick and white like tundra. Here and there, the Mediterranean sparkled below through patches in the expanse. The sun was so bright and close it tanned my face. Then the clouds thinned out, like ice floes, and great arcing rocks—the Balearic Islands—appeared, casting long […]

The post <b>Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival 2017:</b> This Multicultural Delight’s Sixth Edition Kicked Into High Gear appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Taking off from Barcelona, my plane crested a sea of clouds, thick and white like tundra. Here and there, the Mediterranean sparkled below through patches in the expanse. The sun was so bright and close it tanned my face. Then the clouds thinned out, like ice floes, and great arcing rocks—the Balearic Islands—appeared, casting long shadows over the water below. Then came mountains, a green valley, and a craggy crescent bay.

The “destination festival” cliché rings perpetually true—sometimes it feels like there’s hardly a tourist town in the world without an excuse for moviemakers to dock in its port. So it is with Palma de Mallorca, where Evolution Mallorca International Film Festival is proving par excellence for a class of new indie fests strewn with beaches and wine and a close-knit communality.

Director Paul Haggis with EMIFF organizer Sandra Seeling Lipski. Photograph by Andres Iglesias Rodriguez

EMIFF was founded six years ago by Sandra Seeling Lipski, an actress-filmmaker who, like so many of the island’s population, moved to the island from Germany and put down roots. Indeed more than half of the people I met during my stay were German; the result is a friendly, cosmopolitan group whose facility with language will probably put you to shame.

As a narrative features juror, I concentrated on that category, which ranged from international awards contenders (Norwegian thriller Thelma, Luxembourgian Isabelle Huppert-starrer Barrage, American indie darling The Big Sick) to slightly humbler local affairs. On opening night, writer-director Ari Gold’s The Song of Sway Lake—an intergenerational family drama with a haunting original song at its heart— enchanted the audience at the grand Teatre Principal.

Another highlight was Dark Blue Girl, German Mascha Schilinski’s film school project-turned-Berlinale premiere that benefitted off the expressive physicality of its leads, Karsten Antonio Mielke and Artemis Chalkidou, both of whom attended the screening. Outside of competition films, a full-house showing of 2005’s Crash saw its creator, Paul Haggis (recipient of the festival’s 2017 Evolution Vision Award), deliver an enthusiastic post-screening discussion, touching on the film’s contemporary relevance as well as the part-horrifying, part-hilarious story of a heart attack he suffered mid-production.

Press Conference with Majorcan filmmakers at this year’s EMIFF. Photograph courtesy of EMIFF Facebook

Six in festival years is barely puberty, and EMIFF showed a few of the growing pains typical of fests this age: some technical issues befell a shorts block, the schedule underwent some shuffling, and subtitles were occasionally wonky (that pesky multilingualism!) Those quibbles were dwarfed, though, by the evident drive and ambition of Seeling Lipski and her small team, whose energies remained remarkably unflagging through day after day of Q&A translations, networking sessions, press conferences, a newly added pitch forum, field trips, you name it.

I’ll end with more clichés about Spain, like EMIFF’s nonchalant, chill pace. The festival spreads its compact program over 10 days in October and November, giving plenty of time to take in Mallorca’s charms: tapas at Mercat de l’Olivar, the jewel-like water at Illetas beach, the radiant Palma Cathedral. Also, expect the nights to begin and end late. You’ll find, as I did, that no matter how firmly you plan on an early evening, the easy socializing over drinks and fried shrimp at Cineciutat (EMIFF’s de facto nexus, comprising both a multiplex and a food hall) will sway you into lingering … until it’s suddenly 3 a.m., and the hotel doorman is cracking an ironic “You again?” as he buzzes you in. MM

Kelly Leow is MovieMaker’s Deputy Editor Emeritus. EMIFF’s submission period for the 2018 festival is open with rolling deadlines through August.

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Carlos Aguilar <![CDATA[Feat Of Clay: Aardman Animation Legend Nick Park on Stop-Motion in the 21st Century, and Cavemen Soccer in Early Man]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53635 2018-02-23T00:27:30Z 2018-02-16T21:20:01Z Historical revisionism meets Aardman’s signature clay animation for a comedy about cavemen playing soccer in the beloved studio’s newest stop-motion adventure, Early Man. More than 10 years after winning his fourth Academy Award for the irresistible charmer, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, director Nick Park returns with a feature-length offer set in […]

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Historical revisionism meets Aardman’s signature clay animation for a comedy about cavemen playing soccer in the beloved studio’s newest stop-motion adventure, Early Man.

More than 10 years after winning his fourth Academy Award for the irresistible charmer, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, director Nick Park returns with a feature-length offer set in pre-historic times, somewhere where the Stone and Bronze Ages’ timelines collide. Infused into the mix, are well-trodden sports movie tropes filtered through the team’s British idiosyncrasy, more specifically the country’s passionate predilection for soccer, or better said, football.

Shaggy-haired Dug (Eddie Redmayne), the film’s leading cavemen, is a diligent and curious fellow who often guides his boneheaded friends away from trouble. His inseparable sidekick, Hognob (amusingly voiced by Nick Park himself) is a loyal boar-like pig, who might have more athletic skills than the others acknowledge. He is a reliable scene-stealer. Dug suspects that their ancestors discovered a game that involves kicking a spherical object around, but it’s only when a villain from Bronze Age City, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston with a devilish French accent) takes over the cavemen’s valley that he discovers what football is and the fervor it awakens. Beating the enemy’s professional team in order to recover their home will be an uphill match, even more so with a tribe of stubborn amateurs.

In scope, Early Man steadily challenges what Nick Park and the animators at Aardman had tackled before: a giant armored mammoth, a stadium with numerous extra figures for the crowd, and fast-paced sequences with several characters interacting at once. Their painstaking methods never disappoint visually, and continue to exalt the medium. Director Nick Park sat down with MovieMaker in Los Angeles to hammer out some thoughts on how stop-motion has changed his previous feature, how Brexit almost forced them to change a character’s voice, and the universality of sports.

Hognob and Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) in Early Man. Image courtesy of Aardman Animation and Lionsgate

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): It’s been over a decade since you directed your last feature, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. How do you think stop-motion has changed over these years in terms of the technology and techniques used?

Nick Park (NP): The biggest thing is that with Curse of the Were-Rabbit, we shot on film, on movie cameras. We had about 30 of these 35mm movie cameras, which were adapted for animation, and now we shoot everything digital on digital cameras. It’s essentially the same, the technique. It’s the same as when Ray Harryhausen did it. We have puppets in front of the camera, and we have to manipulate them frame-by-frame. Maybe we use technology to help speed up the process, and as a kind of safety net as well. For example, because we’re shooting digitally, it means you can easily put in backgrounds afterwards, you can shoot against green screen, and it’s a quicker process. If something goes wrong in the shot, like a tree falls over, or a branch moves on the tree, or a light pops or something, then you can fix it afterwards very easily. Also, in this movie there’s a lot of running around and jumping with the soccer, and a thing that speeds up animation, for example, is once upon a time the animator would have to hold the figure on a fishing line with wires, and try to make sure the wires didn’t reflect the light, and it took ages to position in mid-air, but now we just have a rig that holds up the character, and we paint the rig out afterwards. So in the dailies, you see the rig, but that gets painted out very quickly afterwards. It speeds up the animation.

MM: Do you feel that your style has remained the same from Creature Comforts and the original Wallace & Gromit shorts to Early Man, or has it changed in your opinion?

NP: I’ve tried to keep it that way. It’s been important for me to try and keep a voice and a style, and also maybe because that’s what I default to. I don’t seem to be able to move away from it. It’s basically eyes close together, and the wide mouths. I tried to vary it a little bit, and change it a little bit in this with the cavemen, giving them a slightly goofier look, with a mouth that’s not so much wider but goes up and down. It’s probably a small thing. I felt the subject of cavemen and cavewomen suited clay animation. I like the earthiness, and I wanted cavemen who are kind of scruffy, with long hair like ’70s rockers.

Tom Hiddleston (Lord Nooth) and writer-director Nick Park share a laugh during voicing sessions of Early Man. Photograph courtesy of Aardman Animation and Lionsgate

MM: You clearly take a lot of liberties with timelines and history for comedic purposes, but how much research was involved to presents certain elements accurately? Were there other sources of inspiration?

NP: I did do a lot of research. I learned a lot about the Stone Age and the Bronze Age, and it’s good to do all that, but yeah, some of the references are not necessarily historically or scientifically accurate. It’s more about a story, and a lot of the jokes are referring to other movies rather than history. For example, when the meteor comes and the ancestors discover football, or soccer. That was very much a reference to one of my biggest influences, Ray Harryhausen, and One Million Years B.C. I was a big dinosaur fan, and it was actually the film that made me pick up a home movie camera and start making movies as a teenager, so there’s a big nod to Ray Harryhausen and One Million Years B.C. with the dinosaurs. We called one of the dinosaurs Ray and one of them Harry as a tribute to Ray Harryhausen.

MM: What were some of your references in terms of sports films?

NP: Making a sports movies was kind of what appealed to me about the idea really. I’d never seen a prehistoric, underdog, sports movie before. I watched a whole stack of them, with the writer Mark Burton. We watched a whole stack of sports movies over the whole time really. They have always influenced me. DodgeBall is one of my favorites, as a comedy. Then there is Slapshot, Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, and a lot of other ice hockey movies and different sports like baseball. There’s a lot to look at in how these films are structured. There seems to be different genres within it as well. There are those that are about the team, and those that are about the coach. A lot of them are about the coach redeeming himself, like in The Mighty Ducks, or a player redeeming himself.

MM: One of the most memorable characters in Early Man is Hognob, Dug’s loyal pig. How did you end up doing the noises for Hognob or did you always know you wanted to “voice” him?

NP: That was not planned really. When we put the storyboard together, and we edit the whole thing with music, we do scratch voices ourselves as we test out the script. I was just doing Hognob all the time just for fun, and I was going to cast somebody, and a few colleagues said, “We love the way you do it,” so I ended up doing it. I was just doing a kind of Scooby-Doo voice really, with more of a pig sound.

Dug’s stone-age pet hog, Hognob, in Early Man

MM: Do you enjoy being involved in the selection of the voice cast and directing their performances?

NP: Absolutely, because I’m involved in some of the writing, I have it all in my head. That can be a hindrance, in the sense that the actor may bring something of themselves. Obviously you want them to bring something of themselves to the part, but if it’s not quite like the way you envisioned it, you can go, “Oh, maybe try it more like this.” You have to do that, but it was great to have such a fantastic voice cast for the film. It’s lovely to be able to go to such a top lineup of actors and comedians, and now that they know our work from years gone by, there’s a good chance they might say yes to doing it. I was so thrilled to have Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, and Tim Spall.

MM: Timothy Spall had voiced a character in one of your films before.

NP: Yeah, he was a rat in Chicken Run. I love his voice; he’s got a great voice. There was one funny incident with Tom Hiddleston. He’s such fun to work with. I saw him on a talk show in the U.K. called The Graham Norton Show, and he was doing impressions of Robert DeNiro, and I was looking for someone to be my Lord Noth, and I was like, “Hmmm, I wonder,” and he was really up for it, and did this kind of French accent.

MM: Was that his idea or did you envision that accent from the onset?

NP: It was mine and Mark’s idea really. It’s not a dark villain. We were thinking of more of a pompous buffoon of a villain, who was like a middle manager and a social climber who’s very avaricious and loves money. We were after a more comic version, and somehow a French accent suited that, nothing against French. We tried changing it at one point because of Brexit, because we didn’t want it to feel like we were making a nationalistic, anti-European film, so we tried it with an English accent, but it sounded too typical. There are so many English villains, and we felt it wasn’t funny enough. Even Studio Canal, who backed the film, preferred the French villain.

MM: At the times the film feels very much like a British film, through certain moments and jokes.

NP: Does it? Yeah, that’s interesting. How objective can we be about that? I think we just try to make films from the heart, and I felt that, being about football or soccer, there were some self-deprecating jokes in it about being British. The English feel that they invented the game, or the rules anyway, so there’s this old joke that we invented it but we can never win, so that’s kind of built into the script: The tribe that invented it sucks.

MM: Soccer is an incredibly popular sport around the world, particularly outside of the U.S., that seems to help the film’s universality.

NP: We’re kind of mindful of how it’s got to travel, but at the same time it’s about being true to ourselves. I grew up on American movies and American stories, and I guess we think that this is a way to tell our own story, but it’s got to be universal. I feel like if you do something that is from the heart, then it becomes universal, because people relate to it. There are lots of universal aspects to it. Everybody feels for the underdog, and their home being taken from them, the injustice; these are universal ideas, it’s just that the details maybe have a British flavor. We were always thinking that, in the U.K., the only time we’ve won the World Cup was in 1966 against Germany, so it’s this whole thing where we’re always hopeful, always optimistic, but will it ever happen?

MM: What’s your take on the state of stop-motion animation today? Do you feel it’s in a healthy place with other filmmakers and companies getting involved in stop-motion or is the advent of CGI a threat?

NP: I’m amazed. It’s funny how much interest there is in stop-motion. It’s incredible really. I think it’s maybe how a lot of people start, and now you can get an app for your iPhone or iPad and do stop=motion on the kitchen table. We get a lot of students who love stop-motion. It’s funny how, 20 or 30 years ago when CGI was really growing, we used to always think, “How long have we got left?” And it’s still very strong out there with Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Laika, Henry Selick, and all of these different stop-frame houses. There seems to be almost a renaissance of it, and I guess as long as we’re telling good stories that suits that medium, and strong characters, it will keep going. For us, now that there are so many other feature films out there, and there are some great ones out there, it means that we still stand out slightly because stop-motion different. We have a signature that’s recognized against all the other styles.

Lord Nooth (Hiddleston) soaks in a bath-time read as Hognob looks on in Early Man

MM: On a larger film like Early Man, with many characters and sets, do you still get to animate yourself, or do you have to relegate the actual animating to the team and oversee?

NP: On an animated feature I like to stay hands on if I can in different ways, but when you’re directing you have to stand back and preside over the whole thing, which is a great thing in and of itself, because you are making millions of decisions all day long about everything on the story, from the storyboards right through to the models. I like to be quite hands on with the design of the characters. I have ideas in my head about what the Bronze world looks like, so I do a sketch, hand it to the art department. Then I see the characters forming and I tweak them and change them. I have my two animation directors, Will and Merlin. We work together so that we’re all on the same page. I miss doing it myself a little bit, but you have to decide, whether you want to do a small film and do the animation, or a big film and stand back and let go of the animation.

MM: Are there still stories at Aardman for more Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep movies?

NP: Definitely, the whole crew has just moved on to the next Shaun the Sheep movie. They’ve all started on it. Richard Starzark is directing. He directed the first one, and he really got the whole series together, so he’s directing this one. He’s written and directed it. That’s all underway right now, and I’ve got more Wallace and Gromit ideas, definitely. I’d love to come back to it. MM

Early Man opened in theaters February 16, 2018, courtesy of Lionsgate. All images courtesy of Aardman Animation and Lionsgate.

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Carlos Aguilar <![CDATA[Stay Sad: Babis Makridis on Writing Pity With Oscar-Nominated Efthymis Filippou, Why There’s No “Greek Wave”]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53497 2018-02-22T22:43:20Z 2018-02-16T18:45:02Z Drastic measures taken to attain a dangerous objective are a defining element in both of Babis Makridis’ feature-length auteur productions. For his 2012 debut L, the Greek director captured the transformation of an ordinary man who loses it all and joins a violent biker gang. Still preoccupied the frustrations of the middle-aged man, Pity, his follow-up, […]

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Drastic measures taken to attain a dangerous objective are a defining element in both of Babis Makridis’ feature-length auteur productions.

For his 2012 debut L, the Greek director captured the transformation of an ordinary man who loses it all and joins a violent biker gang. Still preoccupied the frustrations of the middle-aged man, Pity, his follow-up, introduces us to a lawyer who has grown accustomed to the pleasures of having those around him feel sorry for him. Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and more importantly, both politely deranged sagas were co-written with the extraordinary and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Efthymis Filippou, best known for his work with Yorgos Lanthimos.

Deliciously deadpan and outrageous in a tranquil manner, Pity relies on Yannis Drakopoulos’ restrained delivery as the flustered lead whose desperate attempts to cement his victimhood become consistently less rewarding. Banking on his wife’s delicate health condition to receive the attention he is addicted to, the lawyer constructs his identity around this situation and hopes that it worsens for his personal gain. But when this steady supply of sympathy is threatened, he loses touch with his own rationality and all bets are off. Getting his fix becomes the priority whether this means manufacturing tragedies or using other people’s misfortunes to elicit compassion.

Rather than projecting this narrative onto a gritty canvas where catastrophes could appear normal, Makridis astutely pointed in the opposite direction. The lawyer is financially stable, he has a great son, a loving pet, an enviable beachfront apartment, and yet, he is concentrated on his insatiable need for sadness. His grim exploits are uncomfortably hilarious and brutally confrontational; however, the director and his cast never break character. Reassuring winks that clarify the tone are not in abundance.

In addition to telling MovieMaker about his writing partnership with his illustrious co-writer, Makridis shares his take on the concept of a Greek Weird Wave—why he believes it has to do more with a group of friends helping each other make movies in a country lacking resources, than a calculated plan to tell similar stories.

Director Babis Makridis at Pity, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Photograph by Marie Ketring, courtesy of Sundance Institute

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): This is the second feature you’ve co-written with Efthymis Filippou, and he of course has worked with Yorgos Lanthimos plenty of times, tell me about working with him this time around. His stories are in a category of their own.

Babis Makridis (BM): It started years ago. Efthymis is my friend, and when I prepared my first movie, L, the idea came from a friend of mine, about a man who lives in a car, and we started writing drafts together. Suddenly I met Efthymis in a coffee shop, I don’t remember where, and I said, “Come and read this, and tell me what you think about the script.” After 10 days, he sent me a new treatment for the movie, it was fucking crazy and very nice, and I said, “Let’s start it again and write it together.” That was L, our first movie together.  We finished writing, and then I started shooting, and after we finished the movie we came to each other and said, “What are we going to do next?” We shared our thoughts about what we would like to do, what we would like to explore, and the idea of Pity came to the table, based on someone else’s personal experience. We tried to find what kind of pity we wanted to explore.

MM: What were the types of pity that you talked about and what makes them different?

BM: We felt there were two kinds of pity. One is that you give pity to others and you feel okay as a person. You do it for you, not for others. You see a sick person or a poor person on the street, and you give them some dollars, and you feel okay and say, “I’m a perfect guy.” The other one has to do with what you do to receive pity to feel okay, to be the center of attention. We thought this was the more interesting kind of pity that we wanted to explore, so we started on that. We finished the writing, and he had a first draft in two weeks. He is an idea machine. He’s stuck to the table and writes, writes, writes, automatically. Then we started to exchange ideas about the ending and the beginning, and a couple of scenes in between, and we started to imagine who that guy is and what actor could play the part. We looked into Greek actors, and we did some small casting as we were writing. We had some friends come over, and we said to them, “Come on, say some lines to see how it looks.”

MM: How long was this process of testing and rewriting?

BM: I think the whole process was about two years to have a draft that we liked. Then we started the pre-production, the locations, and everything else. New ideas came as we were searching for things, so we put them in the script. Then the casting started, and that gave us ideas too, so we started writing again. We did a lot of drafts until the final one. The final one was maybe done one month before shooting. This is the way we work. We don’t say, “Let’s work tomorrow or today.” We meet and we discuss. We have some drinks, and discuss ideas. I finish writing something, and I send it to Efthymis to change it, because if two guys write, they’re going to be doing it in a different way. It’s nothing very special that we do, as we write. We watch people a bit. Efthymis stands in a corner and watches people. He has a great bionic eye or ear. That’s the way we found ideas, and by watching ourselves too.

Pity is Makridis’s second feature film, following 2012’s L. He was previously credited as a collaborator on Yorgos Lanthimos’ Alps and Dogtooth

MM: The acting in Pity is so specifically deadpan and emotionally flat, which makes audiences uncomfortable, because they don’t know when to laugh or not. How do you direct performances to achieve this tone?

BM: I don’t do a lot of rehearsals, because if you do rehearsals, you’re going to lose what you just mentioned, because the actor makes it up in their mind, and then it’s very difficult to get off of that in the shooting. We get the actors, we do two or three readings of the script, and I say to them what I want, but not too many things. In this way, when we first gather the actors, I play them a song and say to them, “This is the mood of the movie.”  There are no true rehearsals. We get to the shooting, and all the other things are prepared, the camera angles and everything, we do a photo storyboard, and the actors get in the frame, I speak a little bit to them, to deliver the lines and not do a lot of expressions. I like the actors to be enigmatic—“What’s going on their mind?” No one knows. I play a little bit with the faces. I like the faces to express things. That’s why I chose Yannis, because he looks a little bit funny, he has big eyes, you don’t have do a lot of things for him to put a smile on your face. In the first meeting, I said to Yannis, “Watch some of Buster Keaton’s movies.” I gave him some DVDs of Aki Kaurismäki’s movies to watch as well. That’s all that we do.

MM: Another great aspect of the film is the way the production design and all the spaces the character inhabits enhance the notion of his love for pity. He lives by the beach where it’s always sunny. It’s a beautiful place that should make him happy but doesn’t.

BM: Yes, you get the idea. This was the idea, that the location and everything in his life must look beautiful and bright, with no hint of misery or sadness in the environment. It was the first idea that we had when we were writing, that it would be summer, everything must look bright, and the house must be middle class, he’s not a poor guy, everything’s good in his life. His son is a good son, and he’s a great piano player, so he doesn’t like that. In a way, he tries to destroy the beauty that he has in his environment. In Athens, there’s a big road over the sea that has lots of houses. We searched a lot to find the right spot, so when you see out of the windows, the sea is almost inside the room. We wanted the summer feeling. The film was shot in November, and thank God there was still sun and everything looked bright. One scene, we shot it when it was raining, and we had to shoot it again, because we didn’t want anything to look miserable, sad, or dark. The guy tried to destroy that. That was the meaning of what he’s doing. He’s doing things to destroy the beauty that he has in his environment.

MM: Why do you think anyone would enjoy self-victimization? Psychologically, what did you find compelling about a character like this, which is clearly at the extreme end of the spectrum, but to an extent is also strangely relatable.

BM: I think all of us have these kinds of feelings deep in our souls. We like to be a little bit sad, so that people pay attention to us. I know a lot of people who do that. I did it when I was a young man. I acted like I was sad so that the girls would come and say, “What’s going on?” It’s a funny thing, but yes, I did that. I have a friend who, when I gave him the story, said to me, “Babis, I’ll tell you something, when I was in London as a student, I would say to girls that I had cancer, so I could fuck them.” That is extreme, but you see it a lot. Children do it a lot. They always complain about things so that they get attention. The elderly do it a lot, and maybe you do it, without knowing. When this feeling is extreme, it has to do with childhood, things that happened when you’re young. I’ll give you an example about that. Imagine that you’re born, and when you’re one month old, your father or your mother dies. If you grow up with this tragic thing in your life, everyone that’s around you, an uncle, the neighbor, your friends, they’re going to treat you in a special way. They’re going to give you nice shoes and you are going to get all the toys you want. They’re going to take you to the nicest schools. They’re going to give you sweets, small things just to make you feel okay.

When he isn’t helming feature films, Makridis directs music videos and commercials, including recently a national project for Mastercard

MM: Because they feel guilty?

BM: Yeah, maybe they feel guilty, or they do it for themselves, to feel okay, but they don’t want to see you sad, and maybe in this way you become addicted to that. You grow up, and you’re addicted to that, and you can’t live without that. You didn’t know your dad, you don’t know him at all, you don’t know what the guy was like, you didn’t manage to have a connection, but because everyone treated you like that, it becomes your DNA. Suddenly, as you grow up, you do it without knowing, because you can’t live without that, you can’t go on in life without that, because you’re used to it. It’s like a drug.

MM: How does this relate to how you perceive The Lawyer, the protagonist in the film?

BM: For our hero, maybe after his wife’s accident, the past came back to him, and something happened when he was a young boy. We don’t see a mother in the movie. Maybe something happened and suddenly he remembered it again after that, and he started doing all the fucking things that he does to get attention. I think all of us have this, all of us. The other strange thing is that there are people, and I do it too, who put on a sad song, some dark music, and dance to the sadness. It’s crazy, but you like it, you love the darkness, the sweet melancholy that some things give you. I still like dancing to sad music. You go to clubs and there are people dressed in black like the dark wave that happened in the ’80s. They all feel miserable and it’s very dark. There is something very strange about human nature that we like darkness. We are born in this way. In a way, the movie explores a little bit about that. For the ending, when the dog comes up, I think it’s an experiment. I saw it now at the screenings, when the dog appears, the people yell in relief, and I think, everyone wants happiness in their life. But for the hero, it’s a threat that the dog comes back. In a way, it’s an optimistic movie. Life’s good, happiness is good, and there’s no way to avoid it. Whatever you do, something good is going to come. I think it’s an experiment for the viewers. If the viewers don’t like that the dog appears, it would be very strange.

MM: For over a decade now, critics and journalist have been pushing forward the idea that there is a “Greek Weird Wave”. There are undeniable similarities between some recent Greek films, and sometimes the same actors appear in multiple projects, or, like in your case, two directors share the same co-writer. Considering all of these factors, do you think there is a wave or would you call it that?

BM: To tell you the truth, I don’t know what’s happening. There are lots of films being made in Greece, with different styles and different subjects. We are all friends, and Athens is a small city. Argyris is a great friend of mine, Yorgos is a great friend of mine, he baptized my son, and Efthymis is of course a friend of mine. Makis is my best friend. We see each other every day. He was also in my first movie L.

When he was going to make Suntan, Argyris called me and said, “Is Makis a good actor?” I said, “Yes. He’s a great actor, take him.” We all exchange ideas and thoughts, and we help each other. In the editing room, we call each other and we watch the films that everyone makes, and discuss what is going wrong and what we don’t understand. If this thing is a wave, then yes, we have a wave, but I don’t think we have a wave.

We have people that do different kinds of movies. I don’t think Suntan had anything to do with my film. It’s a different kind of film, and I like it. Athina’s films have nothing to do with my films. But when you have the same co-writer, you’re going to find similarities, like with my films and Yorgos’. There’s no way to avoid that. In this film, with Efthymis, we tried to do something a little bit new. We tried to make it something a little different. I think we made it in a new way, and I don’t know if people get it, but I get it, and maybe the next film is going to be something completely different, who knows? We never know what’s going to happen, but I don’t think there is a wave.

Sure, there’s this thing about helping each other going on. We’re friends. We discuss the projects with each other, we exchange scripts and we discuss them. I think that gives Greek movies now a push. It’s the helping thing that happened. We don’t have the money to do it. I didn’t have the money to do this movie. I put money in myself and I didn’t get paid when I was shooting the movie. This helping each other thing is maybe based on our love for cinema, which helps us a lot. I don’t know if there’s a wave. Yes, there’s a huge thing going-on right now, but I hope it’s not just a fad. Maybe we’ll continue, and if it’s a fad, it’s going to stop in some years, but I think we’ll continue. MM

Pity premiered in the World Dramatic Competition at Sundance 2018, and is currently seeking U.S. distribution. Featured image photograph by Marie Ketring, all other images courtesy of Sundance Institute. 

The post <b>Stay Sad:</b> Babis Makridis on Writing <i>Pity</i> With Oscar-Nominated Efthymis Filippou, Why There’s No “Greek Wave” appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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MM Staff <![CDATA[VEGAS Pro 15: Providing Filmmakers a Unique and Fully Customizable Workflow]]> https://www.moviemaker.com/?p=53628 2018-02-19T16:40:45Z 2018-02-16T18:37:12Z The latest version of VEGAS Pro 15 once again establishes the software as a leading video and audio editor for professional filmmakers with new innovative features, both inside and out. The fresh user interface accommodates maximum productivity by allowing users to customize it to their own specific workflow. Along with the new modern design, the […]

The post <b>VEGAS Pro 15:</b> Providing Filmmakers a Unique and Fully Customizable Workflow appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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The latest version of VEGAS Pro 15 once again establishes the software as a leading video and audio editor for professional filmmakers with new innovative features, both inside and out.

The fresh user interface accommodates maximum productivity by allowing users to customize it to their own specific workflow. Along with the new modern design, the accompanying professional plug-ins, cutting-edge hardware acceleration, and important productivity tools and features, help users work faster and more efficiently than ever before – fully tailored to their own unique style and project requirements.

“Since we resurrected VEGAS Pro over a year ago, we’ve received a ton of valuable feedback, and VEGAS Pro 15 comes as a direct result of that feedback,” says Gary Rebholz, VEGAS Product Owner. “Everything we’ve done—from the very visible innovative approach to user interface design, to invisible deep-code optimizations to software and hardware acceleration, and all of the new features in between come straight from our users. This new version proves that VEGAS Pro is here to stay and sets the tone for an exciting future for the VEGAS line. We are very proud to present VEGAS Pro 15.”

Not only is the software fully customizable but it’s also fully flexible enabling every type of user access this high-end video and audio editor. VEGAS Pro 15 is available at low monthly subscription rates starting at only $16.67(US)/month or full versions are available from $399 (US).

Discover true creative freedom with VEGAS Pro: Your partner for professional video & audio production. MM

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