“The Person You Put Up There Ain’t the Person That Comes Back”: Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer on Pet Sematary

The filmmaking tandem of Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (the team behind Starry Eyes) talk about their new version of Pet Sematary in my latest piece for Filmmaker Magazine.

Here’s Kölsch on how the filmmakers began working together decades ago as teenagers on Long Island:

Kölsch: We’re from the same area and knew people in common, so we’d see each other at parties or on the basketball court. As far as working together, we were both already writing on our own [before we became friends]. I had just written a script for a screenwriting class when I ran into Dennis at a mutual friend’s house. Our friend was like “Dennis, you write scripts? Kevin wrote a script too.” I lived around the corner, so we walked over to my house and I showed Dennis some stuff. From there we started showing each other our work and giving each other feedback.

We decided that while our other friends were getting together and drinking on Friday nights, we’d try to be productive. So we’d get together, bring our word processors, get some beers and play some music to make it fun. We’d work on pages of our scripts and at the end of the night we’d show each other and give feedback. That turned into helping each other—like if one of us got stuck on a scene, he’d turn to the other and say “I’ve got a problem.” So slowly we started contributing to each other’s scripts and eventually it was like “Why aren’t we just writing these together?”

And here’s Widmyer on the decision for “Jud” actor John Lithgow to not attempt the Maine accent used by Fred Gwynne in the original film:

Widmyer: That was an ongoing back-and-forth with John. At first he was up for it, but then he read the book and saw that our interpretation in the script was different. In the book King leans more into the folksiness of Jud and the locality of him. He’s like the quintessential Maine character. But [the accent] is kind of a no-win situation. If you nail it, you’re going to sound like Fred Gwynne, and if you don’t nail it, then you don’t sound like Fred Gwynne, who did a pretty good job with it.

John actually knew Fred. They’d been in a play together and he’d always joke that Fred was the only actor that was ever taller than him, because Fred was 6’5″ and John is 6’4″. He has a lot of respect for Fred Gwynne and so he purposefully didn’t watch the first film. We talked about it a lot and John tried the accent in the read-through and we all thought it was great, but in the end we left the decision up to John. He decided to go his own way and we were actually really happy that he did.

“The Weather Doesn’t Care What Your Budget Is”: Colorist Doug Delaney on Captain Marvel

Check out my interview with Captain Marvel colorist Doug Delaney for Filmmaker Magazine. Here’s an excerpt of Delaney talking about the abundance of deliverables required for a tentpole Marvel Cinematic Universe release.

Filmmaker: How different are all those deliverables from version to version?

Delaney: Because the suit color and the amount of detail in the glow and all these things are so important, that has to be maintained throughout all the different deliverables and across all the different light levels and color spaces and Nit values. So when you move into EDR or HDR, while you want to leverage the ability [of that technology], the big challenge is making all these versions feel the same. You don’t want to say, “Now we’re in HDR, let’s make everything bright and super crazy.” You want it to feel like the same movie [regardless of the viewing platform].

With a movie of this scale, you’re finishing the film literally weeks before it’s released. That release is international and standard projection, plus Dolby Vision projection, plus stereo 3D in various forms, plus IMAX. It’s a huge amount of work. The compression of time on these kinds of films is quite intense and it really is impossible to do without collaborative workflows. I had a second colorist helping me and two additional people helping on rotoscopingand tracking and doing the 3D stereo grade. Some of those people were also helping with the IMAX version plus additional help on the home video version, because they’re releasing online very close to the [theatrical] release date of the film.

And here’s Delaney on how he got his start in the industry as a “scanning and recording” technician in the late 1990s:

Filmmaker: Looking over your credits, you started in the late 1990s as a “scanning and recording” technician. What was that job?

Delaney: That was my entrance into the field, which was before digital intermediates even existed. Back then, [for shots incorporating visual effects] you had to scan the camera original negative on a scanner and digitize it. The visual effect would be executed, then you’d have to record that digital file back onto a piece of negative film and process it at the lab. That’s how I started in color timing, because in those days the scanners, which were essentially like digital cameras jury rigged on an old optical printer, couldn’t capture the full dynamic range of film. So you had to do the exposure at the point of scan and try to accurately reproduce the director of photography’s intent, so that when it went to the visual effects artist it was already in a pretty good place. Then when you recorded that digital file back out you would compare your recorded out version against the original version and try to get them as close as possible to each other so the round trip was seamless and the audience hopefully couldn’t tell the difference.

I started doing that as a technician and then got into supervising that role. Around 2002 or 2003 I was supervising that process on the Matrix [sequels] and we decided that [instead of just scanning in the scenes needed for VFX], we’d beta test this whole digitaliIntermediate thing since there were entire sequences in those movies that were visual effects. That’s how I officially got into doing DIs.

Filmmaker: How much different was the DI process in those early days?

Delaney: It was very bulky and difficult. Now we’re doing it on our laptops. (laughs) Back in those days that was certainly not the case. It would take 15 seconds a frame to scan a 2K piece of negative. Imagine doing that for the whole movie. In those days, (recording back out to film) would take you 20-something hours per reel. A typical movie is maybe six or seven reels. If you got to the end and there was an issue, you had to start all over again. It was a painful process for sure. I’m grateful for the experience and discipline I learned from it, but I don’t miss it.

Interview: Russian Doll cinematographer Chris Teague

 

Chris Teague (Obvious Child, Landline) talks going back to Red for Russian Doll, futzing with split diopters, and the difficulty of balancing a personal life with a TV series schedule in my latest interview for Filmmaker Magazine.

Here’s an excerpt, with Teague discussing his use of Leica Summilux lenses.

Filmmaker: You owned a set of Cooke Speed Panchros for years, but for Russian Doll you went with Leica Summilux lenses.

Teague: Yeah, I shot almost everything on vintage lenses before Russian Doll. They didn’t feel appropriate for this except for the flashback sequences in episode seven, which we shot on Super Baltars. This felt like a modern, contemporary, hyper-real landscape and I loved the idea of having super fast lenses that I could shoot wide open all the time. The concept in my head, which is maybe too literal, was that Nadia was out of step with her world, and if we used fast lenses with very shallow depth of field she’d always feel like she was popping out of her background. I really fell in love with how those lenses look. The wide lenses [have minimal distortion], so we could do some things on super wide lenses. I shot a couple of scenes on a 16mm lens and I never would’ve done something like that before. I love a wide lens where you have that incredible open field of view, but you’re not so distracted by the way it’s warping the space. The Leicas are fantastic lenses. They’re also small and light, so we could keep the camera’s [footprint] smaller. That was a plus when shooting in tiny New York locations.

Cinematographer Sean Porter on shooting Green Book

Here’s my interview with Green Book director of photography Sean Porter (Green Room, 20th Century Women) from Filmmaker Magazine. This is actually my 100th interview piece for Filmmakerall of which you can find here.

As for the Porter piece, here’s a little preview with Sean talking about his shift from old Cooke lenses to newer Leica glass.

Interview: A Star Is Born cinematographer Matthew Libatique

My talk with A Star Is Born cinematographer Matthew Libatique is up over at Filmmaker Magazine. The film was shot on Arri Alexa Minis with Cooke/i SF Camtec Vintage Series and Kowa Cine Prominar anamorphic lenses. Here’s a preview, where Libatique discusses using the Kowas, what he loves about anamorphic, and why he stays loyal to the same rental house.

Continue Reading ›

Interview: First Man cinematographer Linus Sandgren

Here’s a link to my latest piece for Filmmaker Magazine – an interview with First Man cinematographer Linus Sandgren. The Neil Armstrong biopic was shot on a mixture of Super 16mm, 35mm and 70mm IMAX with many of the effects created practically in camera by placing spacecraft replicas on gimbals in an Atlanta soundstage decked out with giant LED screens. The climactic moon scenes were shot in an Atlanta quarry and lit entirely with one 200K bulb created specifically for the film. Production had only two of the prototype bulbs – one of which blew on its first day of use.

A snippet of the story is below. Also, check out my previous talk with Sandgren about his Oscar-winning work on La La Land.

Interview: Director Lowell Dean talks Another WolfCop

When it comes to pitching WolfCop flicks, writer/director Lowell Dean has a knack for dreaming up enticing amalgamations. He pegged the initial installment as Teen Wolf meets Bad Lieutenant. He’s labeled the follow-up Another WolfCop – now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD – as a cross between Gremlins, Slap Shot, Strange Brew, and Lethal Weapon. It’s an apt description of the lycanthropic sequel’s mixture of comedy, action, beer, gore, and hockey.

This time around the plot finds the titular hirsute law enforcement officer (again played by Leo Fafard) battling shape-shifting aliens whose scheme to take over the Canadian berg of Woodhaven involves impregnating its citizenry via a hearty new stout.

Continue onward as Dean talks Kevin Smith cameos, the importance of a kick ass poster in the age of streaming, and the challenges of capturing explosions, werewolf lovemaking, car chases, and alien baby berths in a 17-day shooting schedule.


 

When we talked about the original WolfCop back in early 2015, you had the sequel script ready to go and were hoping to get financing in time to shoot that summer. Did that ultimately happen or did production get pushed?

Lowell Dean: Oh, it got pushed! By almost two years. Development on the sequel was almost as much of a journey as production itself. The first film was very modest (a budget of about 1 million Canadian) and it was more a mystery film than an action film. Everyone involved agreed that the sequel needed to up the ante in terms of action and practical effects, which of course meant (we needed) more money. In the end, the producers pulled together just over 2 million but it took more time. Over that period the script underwent several revisions. We changed the villain. The setting changed from winter to summer and then back to winter. To be honest, there was a stretch of time when I thought the sequel just wasn’t going to happen. Continue Reading ›

Cinematographer Darran Tiernan talks Westworld Season 2

“I’ve been a cinematographer for 20 years, so I started on film and the majority of things I’ve shot have been on film, but when I got Westworld I hadn’t shot film for three years. I was actually terrified, to be honest. (laughs) I was quite nervous, but it ended up being absolutely wonderful to work on film again. I missed it. There is a reverence on set when the camera is spitting film through its gate. That’s the sound of money. Everybody is concentrated on what they’re doing. With digital, sometimes people don’t have the same self-control and they just keep shooting.” – Cinematographer Darran Tiernan

Check out my interview for Filmmaker Magazine with Darran Tiernan, who lensed five of the ten episodes of Westworld’s second season. Shot on 35mm with Arri Zeiss Master Primes and 75mm-400mm Fujinon Premier zooms.

Another sample….

Filmmaker: At this point I’m only through episode 3, which ends in a large scale battle between Delos security forces and a band of hosts holed up at Fort Forlorn Hope. How difficult is that scale to achieve on a TV schedule?

Tiernan: That battle sequence was shot over three days. Most of the real big battle scenes were shot on one massive day where we had seven cameras. We shot one direction in the morning, we shot another direction mid-day and then another direction in the evening. The next day we blew up the field in front of the fort. We had to plan it like a proper battle, deciding where every camera was going to go for each sequence. It was quite a phenomenal thing to be involved in, with so many departments all in sync in order to pull it off in the time that we had.

I also remember it being incredibly hot. Evan Rachel Wood [who plays Dolores] discovered that the electricians had a heat gun, which is this device that you can point at something and it will tell you the temperature rising off it. At one point she came up to me and said, “It’s 115 degrees on the ground.” All those poor Confederados in their wool period suits. (laughs)