Interviews with nominees from the 2017 Academy Awards

The nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were announced today and I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few of those honored this year. Here are the links:

Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer (for Creative Screenwriting)
La La Land cinematographer Linus Sandgren (for Filmmaker Magazine)
Lion cinematographer Greig Fraser (for Filmmaker Magazine)
Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton (for Filmmaker Magazine)

Interview: Gotham cinematographer Crescenzo Notarile

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Check out this interview I did for Filmmaker Magazine with Emmy-nominated Gotham cinematographer Crescenzo Notarile ahead of tonight’s Season 3 premiere on Fox. Notarile talks about Gotham’s signature style, the challenges of hiding lights from the show’s wide-angle lenses, and what he learned from working on Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.

Here’s Notarile on Once Upon a Time in America cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli.

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An interview with Swiss Army Man cinematographer Larkin Seiple

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Here’s a link to an interview I did with Swiss Army Man cinematographer Larkin Seiple for Filmmaker Magazine. And here’s a quick sample of Larkin talking about working with the various animal critters in the film:

Filmmaker: Do you have any horror stories about the bear or the raccoons?

Seiple: The raccoons were good. I believe their names were Boris and Natasha. Raccoons can really only either grab something or run away and each of the raccoons had a specific move that it could do. So they weren’t too bad, we just had to do a lot of takes and they were constantly trying to escape, which made the owners nervous because we were in a giant forest.

The bear was challenging to shoot in that we didn’t have a lot of time with it. We had to set up an electric fence around the bear wherever we were shooting just in case something went wrong, which is nerve-wracking to shoot any sequence where you’re surrounded by an electric fence for your protection. The owners also seemed a little intimidated by the bear. (laughs) They looked very nervous when he wasn’t in the cage. Its main lure was ice cream sandwiches. They would throw five or ten of them back into his cage whenever they finished a take. He loved them. The bear’s name was Tag and he was very sweet but you could hear him rolling around in the cage and you thought, “My god, how much does he weigh?” The suspension on the truck was just shaking.

Interview: Forsaken director Jon Cassar

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The reformed gunfighter unable to escape his past. The greedy land baron. The gentleman hired gun with his own code of ethics. In the 1950s, these were among the most familiar tropes of the Western genre, repeated ad infinitum in an era when oaters dominated prime time television and filmmakers such as John Ford, Budd Boetticher, Delmer Daves, and Anthony Mann cranked out horse operas at the pace of one per year.

Those days are long gone, distant enough that the archetypes in a nostalgic Western such as Forsaken feel as welcomingly familiar as slipping on an old pair of boots. In Forsaken – now out on VOD and in select theaters – Kiefer Sutherland is the reluctant gunfighter, Brian Cox the greedy land baron, and Michael Wincott the genteel mercenary. Eager to leave behind his violent past and reconcile with his preacher father (Donald Sutherland), Kiefer’s John Henry Clayton heads home to Wyoming only to find the town’s farmers being forced off their land. Anyone who knows their Randolph Scotts from their Ben Johnsons can guess that Sutherland’s six-shooters won’t stay holstered for long.

Forsaken marks the feature film directorial debut of Jon Cassar following a 30-year career in television, highlighted by his Emmy-winning work as director and producer on Fox’s 24. Cassar spoke to Deep Fried Movies about making that leap. Continue Reading ›

Five Frames: Bone Tomahawk cinematographer Benji Bakshi

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The Film: Bone Tomahawk
The Cinematographer: Benji Bakshi
The Tools: Shot on Red Epic Dragon
The Plot: In this western, four disparate men (sheriff Kurt Russell and deputy Richard Jenkins, accompanied by Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox) embark on a rescue mission to retrieve Wilson’s wife from a tribe of cannibalistic cave dwellers.
Further Reading: Check out my interview with Bone Tomahawk director S. Craig Zahler for Filmmaker Magazine.

How was your experience with the Red Epic Dragon?
Benji Bakshi: The Dragon was a serious improvement from previous models. Color was much more accurate and the latitude has improved, which was essential for our day exteriors. As always I tend to underexpose with Red, which gives more room in the highlights. The Dragon was improved in the shadows as well versus previous models, but in testing I saw noise at the toe. Knowing we intended to ride the edge of darkness, I set up a LUT to crush the shadows, which forced me to put light there. On set sometimes people would mention it was very dark, but I knew when the LUT was removed it would reveal lots of detail in the shadows, which proved to be the case. Normally I lift the shadows by using atmosphere (haze) but since our sets weren’t airtight the haze would have drifted in shot so in general I didn’t use it. So the LUT took the place of physical atmosphere to put light into the shadows. Continue Reading ›

Five Frames with The Final Girls cinematographer Elie Smolkin

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The Film: The Final Girls
The Cinematographer: Elie Smolkin
The Tools: Shot on the Red Epic with short Angenieux zooms and Cooke S4 lenses
The Plot: On the one-year anniversary of her Scream Queen mother’s death, a young woman (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends are transported into her mom’s most famous movie – a campy camp slasher à la The Burning.

The deconstruction of the 1980s slasher film began before the corpse of the short-lived subgenre was even cold. Student Bodies (1981) started digging the grave. Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012) disinterred the body and scattered the pieces.

So why tune in for another poke at the carcass of the stalk-and-slash flick? Because The Final Girls is more than just another mocking of the slasher film’s “sin equals death” conservatism.

It’s a PG-13 comedy that captures the spirit of the “dead teenager” movie without the gruesomeness. It’s a visually inventive delight that, rather than emulating the look of Friday the 13th, presents its alternative reality as a Technicolor world awash in purples and hyper-saturated greens. And, most importantly, it has a heart at its center thanks to an emotional turn from Farmiga as the grieving daughter.

The Final Girls cinematographer, Elie Smolkin, broke down a few shots from the film for us.

Check out other interviews in the Five Frames series here. Continue Reading ›

Interview: Ashby director Tony McNamara

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An excerpt from an interview I did with Ashby writer/director Tony McNamara for Filmmaker Magazine. The film stars Nat Wolff as a suburban Virginia high schooler taken under the wing of ex-CIA assassin Mickey Rourke. Check out the entire interview over at Filmmaker.

“…On the day we shot the boxing scene (where Mickey teaches Nat to take a punch), Mickey was very concerned about getting hit because, weirdly enough, he hates fight scenes in movies. Because, from his point of view, there’s always a bad stunt coordinator and you end up getting hit. I think he’s been accidentally punched in the face, a few times so he was very adamant and he brought down his own guy from New York. He kept saying to me, “If that kid hits me in the face, I’m going to hit you in the face.” (laughs) But then once we started, because he’s a boxer, his boxer’s instincts kicked in. Even when I’d say cut, he’d keep throwing jabs and Nat was like, “We’ve stopped! We’ve stopped!” – Tony McNamara