Interview with Stuntwoman Luci Romberg (Ghostbusters, Divergent, Spy)

What fun it was to sit down with stunt performer Luci Romberg, who has recently been working as Melissa McCarthy’s stunt double (Ghostbusters, The Boss, Spy, Identity Thief).  She has also performed stunts on over 60 films in the last 10+ years, including Transformers, The Conjuring, Divergent, Zombieland, and Earth to Echo.

luciromberg_and_mccarthy_2.jpgInterview with Luci Romberg:

Matthew Toffolo: You have been Melissa McCarthy’s stunt double on more than a few films, including the upcoming “Ghostbusters” film. What does that job entail? Does she appreciate you taking the “bumps” on her films?

Luci Romberg: Melissa is a dream come true!! She is kind, thoughtful, caring, hilarious and so supportive! I love her!! She is an amazing athlete and does a ton of her own stunts! The only ones she doesn’t do are the ones the studio won’t let her. I am truly fortunate to be her double. Aside from loving her as a person, because of her, I have had the opportunity to do some of the coolest stunts of my career and I am forever grateful! From getting hit by a car, to falling down stairs, to hanging from a helicopter, to being thrown against a wall by a bed, etc. I feel like someone needs to pinch me so I know that this is really real 🙂

Watch Video of Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone talking stunts.

PHOTO: Luci “hangs” in the air as Melissa McCarthy looks above: 

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MT: You have been a stunt performer on over 60 productions in the last 12+ years. Do you have a favorite experience?

LR: What film/TV show are you most proud of? Hmmmm that’s a good question. Each project is different and unique! I would have to say Ghostbusters is definitely up there. To be a part of such an iconic film is truly special and I am so grateful to have been a part of it!! I wish I could tell you more about it because it was truly the experience of a lifetime!!

MT: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

LR: I have been so fortunate in my career so far (knock on wood). The only real injury was from the second car hit I did on Identity Thief. After the first one I felt pretty darn good but I had to do it again and I unfortunately hit my forehead on the pavement on my way down. I had to get some stitches in my forehead so I feel lucky that’s all I suffered.

MT: Is being a Stunt Coordinator something you aspire to do someday? Are there any female Stunt Coordinators currently in the industry today?

LR: Only recently have I been even considering stunt coordinating. I don’t feel ready yet but it has been on my mind. I’m a member of the Stunt Women’s Association and we have several amazing female coordinators in our group! It’s so cool to be surrounded by a group of women who are getting out there, changing the game, and proving we can coordinate too! They really inspire me!!

MT: Has there been a stunt that you love to perform that you haven’t performed yet?

LR: To be lame and honest, not really. I got to do quite a bit of fighting on Spy. I love fights and hope I get to do more!! As a smaller woman it’s tough to get fight jobs but the few I’ve had the opportunity to do, I have really enjoyed!

MT: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved?

LR: I was a national champion gymnast and all-league soccer player in college. I grew up playing every sport I could get my hands on. As a stunt performer it is important to be a well rounded/good athlete! My collegiate gymnastics teammate, Natascha Hopkins, who is a couple years older than me was doing stunts and acting in LA. She came back to visit the gymnastics team my senior year and she basically convinced me to move to LA to pursue stunts. I took her advice and I’m so glad I did! Meeting Tempest Freerunning was a huge milestone as well! Freerunning has helped me in so many aspects of stunts. I love stunts but freerunning is my true passion!!

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MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

LR: I think it will continue to grow as it has. CGI is being used more and more. I see a need for it but I really hope we don’t continue to use it so much that there is a big disconnect. For me personally, it takes me out of the film when there is too much CGI.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

LR: Probably the car hit I did on Identity Thief. I literally stood there as a car drove at me at 20 mph. Car hits are very risky and unpredictable. There are so many variables to deal with. I called my family before that stunt and told them I love them just in case anything happened.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

LR: I have been very fortunate and have had several amazing mentors. My mentors have changed over the years. What is so great about the stunt community is the willingness of people to help teach, guide, train you, etc. It is a very hard business to break into but I love the fact that most stunt people genuinely want to help the new people learn the tricks of the trade so they can be successful and make their dreams come true.

MT: What movie, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

LR: I would have to say either the Sound of Music, Nadia, Tommy Boy, or Princess Bride. I like that question a lot 🙂

PHOTO: Luci flies in the air over wrestler/actor Dave Batista:

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Luci Romberg- Stuntwoman
http://www.tempestfreerunning.com/
http://www.luciromberg.com/
http://www.stuntwomen.com/home.htm
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Emmy Winning Make-Up Artist Paul Engelen (Game of Thrones)

Paul Engelen is is 2 time Emmy winner, and 2 time Oscar nominated Makeup artist. He has worked on some of the greatest/most successful films and TV shows in the last 40 years, including: Game of Thrones (2 Emmy wins), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Oscar nomination), The Legend of Tarzan (Oscar nomination), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (dir. George Lucas), Gladiator (dir. Ridley Scott), Munich (dir. Steven Spielberg), Batman (dir. Tim Burton) and Reds (dir. Warren Beatty).

Many have stated that his makeup design for Nicole Kidman on “The Hours” is the key reason for her Oscar Win for Best Actress (see pic below). The same can be said for his work on RenĂ©e Zellweger for her Oscar Win on “Cold Mountain”. How those films received zero Oscar nominations for Makeup is still a mystery.

It was an honor to chat with Paul Engelen and talk about his art:

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked on over 80 Productions as a Makeup Artist in the last 45 years. Do you have a favorite experience?

Paul Engelen: Every new project presents challenges, experiences and memories. I would say I have been extremely lucky to have had a very wide variety and range of projects to work on. I suppose if pressed, I would mention working on ‘Empire of the Sun” and ‘Star Wars, The Phantom Menace’ to be particular highlights, but I would also name “Pink Floyd, The Wall’ to be a fascinating experience. My present project for NBC, directed by Tarsem Singh; ‘The Emerald City’ is proving just as interesting though!

PHOTO: Paul with Director George Lucas on ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’:

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MT: Is there a type of story/film that you would love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet? Or have you covered all of your bases?

PE: I think I have covered most bases! Contemporary stories to science fiction, several medieval themes which I must admit, is probably my favourite genre. I’d love to do a ‘western’, directed by someone like Tarantino!

MT: You’ve won 2 Emmys (for Game of Thrones) and have been nominated for 2 Oscars. Does winning or losing mean a lot to you? Or it is really just about the film?

PE: It’s great being nominated, but winning is a blast!! It means your peers think your work is worthy.

MT: What is the main job being the Makeup Department Head on a production?

PE: Well, I would say, it’s about all the aspects of the running a department. Putting a crew together that would be the best for the production. The conversations and collaboration with director, production and costume designers are all paramount in going into production.

PHOTO: Paul with Director/Actor Clint Eastwood on ‘White Hunter, Black Heart’: 

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MT: What has been your most difficult job and/or production to date?

PE: Movies generally have a specific format regarding the production structure, which is the area I come from, so it was quite a shock when ‘Game of Thrones” came my way, and I had to put my mind to working on 10 scripts, with two, sometimes three separate units shooting in different countries at the same time! Very testing. Since then, I am being offered more of this type of production, which, although very challenging, I do find stimulating.

MT: You’ve worked on many fantasy and action movies/TV shows. Is there a reason why you seem to love working in these genres?

PE: Again, I have been very lucky in the type of productions that has been offered to me. I am comfortable with the larger type of production with big name directors, irrespective of genres. Often the actors can be a contributing influence on the reason for working on a particular project.

MT: How has the makeup department changed from 35 years ago to today?

PE: I don’t think things have changed much over the years. It has always been ‘challenging’ to put creative people together for months on end, and hope that the peace can be maintained!! I like to think people who work with me look forward to getting together on shows!

PHOTO: Paul with actor Val Kilmer on ‘The Saint’:

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MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

PE: I still absolutely adore watching Gregory Peck in ‘Moby Dick’, which, incidentaly had Charlie Parker as the Makeup Designer, who was one of the finest artists in our profession. Such a wonderful film.

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work makeup in the film industry?

PE: It’s a tough business to be in, but incredibly rewarding when you see your work up there on display. – and to be honest, there is a certain amount of luck involved with getting work in the first place, but perseverance and striving to be the best is essential.

PHOTO: Paul with actor Mel Gibson on “Mutiny on the Bounty’.:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

PHOTO: Nicole Kidman transforms via makeup in “The Hours”:

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Interview with Cinematographer Adam Kimmel (Capote, Lars and the Real Girl)

It was a great honor to sit down with the very talented DP Adam Kimmel. His career has spanned almost 30 years, starting out as a teenager being an apprentice for Cinematographer Michael Chapman.

His Cinematographer credits include: “The Ref”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Almost Heroes”, “Jesus’ Son”, “Capote”, “Lars and the Real Girl”, & “Never Let Me Go”.

Website: AdamKimmel-Cinematographer.com

adam_pic.jpgInterview with Adam Kimmel:

Matthew Toffolo: One of your first jobs was as a Camera Apprentice on the film “RAGING BULL”. How was were your experiences working on the iconic film? Were you like a sponge at the time, taking in everything around you?

Adam Kimmel: I was 18 when I trained on Raging Bull and it was my second film in that capacity so my experience and perspective were still pretty limited. So yes, of course I knew the work of both Martin Scorsese and Robert Deniro at that point, but also of Cinematographer Michael Chapman who had shot the first film I trained on, The Wanderers. One of my strongest memories of that experience and learning process came from watching Michael Chapman collaborating with Scorsese after watching him for 4 months with Phillip Kaufman on The Wanderers. I was amazed that the same man was doing the same work and yet it seemed so different, and I had this moment of insight Into what it takes to be a Cinematographer – I saw that you need to be as adaptive and versatile as you are creative and technical, and that each collaboration will be different and draw on different strengths and experiences.

There was also a real coin drop moment for me when many months after the film finished shooting, I saw it in the theater and was just completely crushed by the power of that experience. I had been there for every day of it, watching every moment as it was crafted and yet seeing the finished film I felt completely unprepared. The power that film making can have and the complexity and vision it takes to put all those pieces together in a way that can cause people to feel so much, became even more exciting and mysterious to me.

MT: Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, what film are you most proud of?

AK: Well I guess it’s like your own children, you can’t pick favorites, but when I consider the films I’ve shot, Capote, Jesus’ Son and Never Let Me Go are the projects that I’m most likely to recommend to someone that wants to see my work.

MT: Generally, how do you get hired to work on a film. You seem to always choose films about the human condition. Is this done on purpose, or is this also something that producers and directors know you’re very good at?

AK: Thanks for noticing and I’d love to think I’m known for that. but the truth is that past choices do lead people to think of you for certain projects.

Of the scripts I’m sent, I think that first I respond to stories that I understand in an emotional way. I’ve read scripts that I admire and know will be good films but feel I may not be the best choice for, and for me, beyond that it’s always about the director and their vision of the script. When those things add up, it’s an obvious choice.

MT: The film CAPOTE (2005) is a wonderful film. What were your initial conversations with director Bennett Miller on the overall cinematic design of the film? There were not many camera movements in the film. And very intense/sad shadows throughout.

AK: Well, the process of spending time with a director and a story allows you to find the language that’s right for them. Bennett and I talked about the honesty and integrity of the image, about not getting in the way of the story or letting any of the choices draw attention to themselves, but I think we arrived at the style of the film with equal parts creativity and practicality.

It needed to be an efficient shoot that allowed as much time and concentration with the actors as possible and for me the way to accomplish that was to plan as carefully as possible where we wanted to watch that story unfold from, and then trust those choices and not steal from ourselves by betting against them.

PHOTO: Cinematography in CAPOTE. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman would go onto win the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Truman Capote:

capote

MT: From CAPOTE, you moved onto DPing LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (2007). A completely different tone and feel, but similar themes. How was working on that film with director Craig Gillespie?

AK: Well Craig and I had been working together in commercials for a long time at that point and I loved the idea of making a film together, but I also saw the opportunity in telling that story with that cast. There was a purity and complexity in the script that I was really drawn to and since I knew I would never get to shoot a Hal Ashby film, I figured why not…?

PHOTO: Ryan Gosling in LARS AND THE REAL GIRL. Perhaps the most underrated film in the last 10 years. A film that will make you laugh and cry multiple times:  

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MT: You’ve worked on more than a few short films. What keeps enticing you to work on shorts? Do you like/love the medium?

AK: I think a good short film can be really powerful, I really haven’t done that many but I probably choose them the same way I do a full length film, but I do like having all the same elements concentrated into much less screen time. It’s a different challenge but it allows a lot of the same processes to take place. I shoot commercials for the same reason, it’s a different way to exercise creativity.

MT: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

AK: I never know what’s going to spark my interest so I really don’t have a checklist, I just want to be involved with projects that allow a clear point of view to tell the story and add something to the experience of life.

MT: What does a DP look for in its director?

AK: I think Curiosity is a great quality, as is having trust in the people they hire, the ability to share their questions and ideas,
and a sense of humor helps.

MT: What does a director look for in its DP?

AK: I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that, but I think a lot of the same things as the previous answer.

MT: Where do you see the future of camera/lighting technology in film?

AK: There are so many new toys coming out all the time now it can be daunting, but I like to approach the choices I make from a place of having a vision for where we’re headed and never allowing the equipment or technique to lead that. I always welcome lighter, smaller and more versatile tools and the freedom they afford us as filmakers, but in a way it puts even more importance on knowing where you want to go before you start making those choices.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

AK: I have to say I rarely watch films that I’ve shot, I bet most Cinematographers would say the same thing, by the time I finish a film I feel I know it really well, and then it becomes about other peoples experiences of it.

But other peoples films I can watch over and over, and I do.
Being There, The Thin Red Line, Beiutiful, The Godfather films, Children of Men, Midnight Cowboy, Straight time, The Conversation, The Great Beauty, The Master, The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange, Sophie’s Choice, The Deer Hunter. Days of Heaven, Before Night Falls, Fat City, Wings of Desire…

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer David Buckley (The Good Wife, The Town)

What a joy it was to chat with the extremely talented composer David Buckley. You can hear his music every Sunday on the hit TV series “The Good Wife”. He was also the composer on the upcoming film “The Nice Guys”, directed by Shane Black.

To learn more about David, you can go to his website: http://davidbuckleymusic.net/

davidbuckley_good_wifeMatthew Toffolo: The action/comedy “Grimsby” is out in theaters. What can we expect to see? How was your working experience composing music on that film?

David Buckley: Well, the truth is now out! It’s a total flop. Shame really, as a lot of people spent a lot of time working on the film. Maybe the problem was that too much time was spent on it and it started to lose focus. I’ve always been a fan of Sacha’s work. I can see it’s harder for him to make movies like Borat and Ali G because everyone knows who he is now. Grimsby was a brave attempt at coming with a new character, but clearly the cinema-going world did not love him. The experience on this one was a bit unusual as it was a co-score with Sacha’s brother, Erran. He was based in London a lot of the time and I am in LA. It was also tricky as there were a lot of re-shoots for the film – new material was coming right up until the end. But we divided the work up and got on with it!

MT: Generally, how does one compose the music for a feature film? Do you receive the rough cut, and some guide music tracks for influence/inspiration? When do you generally begin working on the film?

DB: Yes. One is sent a rough cut, and this often includes temp tracks. Sometime after getting it, one hopes to sit down with the director and producer and discuss their musical needs. Sometimes the temp is spoken about as a reference point. Hopefully the conversation does not dwell too long on it, however! It varies, but on the whole I’d say I’ve had an average of about 2 months to write and record most of the scores I have composed.

PHOTO: David Buckley in his studio:

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MT: What type of working relationship do you like to have with your director?

DB: A good one! With the demands of modern film-making, it’s not always easy to physically sit in the room with a director as he/she will have many things to deal with other than music. When there is a moment, I think it’s important to try and absorb as much information one can from the director or any other film maker. Not just specific things but bigger picture issues too. Learning what they know and what they have experienced (be it on the movie, or life in general), will presumably help deliver a score that is to their liking.

MT: You created the theme music for “The Good Wife”. A song that keeps on giving! Do you remember how you got inspired to create the music for the extremely successful TV series?

DB: Well, these days, I write a different opening title each week. There is not a lot of score in the show, so we thought to keep it interesting and relevant to each episode I would crescendo into the main title from the preceding scene. These have been some of the most enjoyable cues I have worked on for the show.

MT: You’ve composed a lot of music for action films? How is this genre different in terms of themes and tones than working on a straight up drama?

DB: I find one of the problems with action scoring is making sure the music is more than just functional. It often has some very specific jobs to do – keeping up energy, maintaining tension, heightening certain moments, etc, and this can either be done in a very plain fashion, or with some interest. The problem is that paranoid/fear-mongering film makers are not always going to allow for the interesting approach and will settle for the safe.

MT: You’ve also worked on a few video games. How has been your experiences working with this format?

DB: Fun. A lot of work but an interesting to genre to try my hand in!

MT: From a technology standpoint, where do you see the future of composing in the movies?

DB: Not really sure about this. Clearly technology has helped composers be able to realize their musical ideas and editors cut their movies a million times until the director (or a test audience!) is happy with it. I suppose for music, samples will get better and better and more realistic. I would wager that no technology will ever be able to beat human performance. I certainly hope not.

MT: How did you first begin? Was composing in the movies something you’ve also aspired to do?

DB: For a long time, yes. When I was a boy, I sung on a soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Chris, and a flame was ignited. I went through a couple of decades of classical training before moving to London and starting to compose for jingles and crappy tv. I was learning as I was going though, and building up my studio and knowledge-base. I got the opportunity to come over to LA just after I turned 30, and jumped at the opportunity.

MT: Out of all the TV shows, films, and video games you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite experience? What do you think is your best work?

DB: I really enjoyed scoring The Forbidden Kingdom. It was the first score I composed. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was lucky enough to have a big orchestra and solists at my disposal, and quite a fun movie to be inspired by. Just about every project since has provided me with some form of musical pleasure.

MT: Do you have a composer mentor?

DB: Richard Harvey was my initial mentor. He was the person who encouraged me to come to LA, and he set up a meeting with Harry Gregson-Williams. I had actually known Harry since I was 10 – we both came from the world of cathedral music. At the time we met in LA Harry was fantastically busy and he extended an invitation for me to come out and help him for a bit. From there he helped me find my own career and let me do my own thing. We remain good friends today (I’m supposed to meet him for a drink tonight!). So I can safely say I would not be doing what I am doing today with Richard and Harry. I have also been very fortunate to work alongside some other distinguished composers including Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, John Ottman, and Harry’s brother, Rupert.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

DB: The Day After Tomorrow. Not my favorite film by a long way, but whenever I see it on the tv I get sucked in. A guilty pleasure for sure!

PHOTO: David Buckley working on a film:

davidbuckley_studio

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Production Designer Beth Mickle (Drive, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot)

I was fortunate to get an interview with the very talented and very busy Production Designer Beth Mickle. She is currently in the middle of production on the highly anticipated film “Collateral Beauty”. We talked about that film and much more in our chat together:

Matthew Toffolo: You have been the Production Designer on over 30 films in the last 15 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Beth Mickle: I’m incredibly proud of so many films that I’ve been involved with—fortunate to have had so many great opportunities! One that I’m especially proud of is “Lost River”, Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut. It was such a special project from the very beginning—Ryan wrote such a beautiful script with so much imagination, so many fantastical backdrops to play with. It was a smaller movie, and we all lived and worked together in downtown Detroit, collaborated closely to really shape that film as a team. I remember many adventurous weekends with Ryan and our cinematographer Benoit Debis, exploring the many awesome hidden areas of that great city. With limited resources, everyone jumped and got their hands dirty, and we built so many elements out of cardboard, tape, late-night pizza, and music…so proud of how every one of those sets came together, and the tone we found in that film. It’s one of my favorite films of all time!!!

PHOTO: Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes & Christina Hendricks on set in “Lost River”:

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The other film I’m wildly proud of is “Only God Forgives”, which Nic Refn directed and Ryan starred in. This was another lower-budget film, this one in Bangkok, where we all lived and worked together very closely once again. Exploring every neighborhood in Bangkok was a complete joy for a gal who loves to travel as much as I do, and Nic gave me so much creative freedom with that film. My fiance Russell Barnes (an incredibly talented Production Designer) joined me on the project as the art director, and we had the most memorable 7 months together in Thailand. the lower-budget nature of the production meant that we did a lot of the heavy lifting along with our amazing Thai crew—building, painting, and decorating sets with our own hands. And the markets were phenomenal!! We ran around to tons of different vintage markets and flea markets every week, loading the trucks with so many beautiful and unique pieces. Bringing together these rich, vividly stylized sets in this unbelievable country where we were living was such an unforgettable time in our lives.

PHOTO: Set Design on “Only God Forgives”

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MT: You started your career working on lower budget/Indy films as a Production Designer. Would you suggest other people who are striving to become Production Designers in this industry take this route? What are the pros/cons of taking this route in comparison to starting on the low rung and working on Union productions?

BM: I would absolutely recommend this route for aspiring production designers. The lower budget world is where you learn to be resourceful, where you can somewhat safely make mistakes which can be recovered, where you learn the complete fundamentals of how a film is made. I try to approach every production—large or small–with a calm nature, and I think that comes from being in the trenches for so many years and learning how to adapt to in all situations. The biggest con to this route is that formal “union” filmmaking can be a bit jarring when you do finally make the leap to the larger arena—but once you learn those nuances, the process really smooths out. That is definitely one pro if you do start in the larger union world—you learn those protocols right away, so you enter the film world knowing how union positions are categorized and how the different departmental responsibilities are broken down.

In terms of career growth—I also think designers can make that mental shift of thinking on a smaller scale early in their careers on smaller films, to thinking on a larger scale as projects grow in size. But I think it’s much more difficult for designers to start with thinking on a larger scale, then downsizing their approach and expectations on a smaller project. And as we’ve seen so much lately—some of the highest quality films being made right now are the smaller, independent projects (“Ex Machina”, “12 Years a Slave” to name a few), and if a designer catapults you to doing an $80 million film as his or her first film, downshifting to this smaller budget range can prove to be a difficult maneuver.

MT: What is the biggest difference when working on an Independent film in comparison to a Hollywood Union Production?

BM: Union rules and guidelines!!! On an independent film, everyone is moving and touching and painting everything…on a union film, none of that flies. this took me forever to learn!!!! I’m always eager to grab the other side of a couch, to rehang picture frames on my own, always telling the set dressers “this is how i keep my muscles!!”…some laugh and some are not amused at all:)…At first I resisted the union delineations, preferring the all-hands-on-deck team approach, but after doing over 20 union films, and seeing that crews are treated so fairly and safety is so championed, I do see the benefits of having a regulated system. Film productions are such incredible, finely-tuned organisms that function so efficiently….though I’d still paint walls if they’d ask me!..:)

MT: Some will argue that DRIVE is one of the best films in the last 10 years. Do you remember the initial conversations with the director and your team about the overall look, feel, and tone of the film?

BM: “Drive” is a film is very near and dear to me. It made my career the incredible adventure that it is right now. I remember my initial meetings with Nic Refn well. I think he’s one of the most brilliant directors working today, and seeing how he approaches filmmaking is nothing less than inspiring. He’s constantly striving to shoot scenes in ways they’ve never been shot before, to make every frame as great as it can be. And his mandate is always “more is more.” So for a designer, taking this approach is a dream…every set can be as elevated and amplified as you want it to be. Every color can be as rich as possible, the idea of “extreme” is always embraced. so making “Drive”—as well as Nic’s following movie “Only God Forgives”—were a career highlight for me.

PHOTO: Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan in “Drive”:

drive.jpg

MT: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is out in theaters. What can people expect to see? How were your experiences working on that film? A lot of exterior scenes.

BM: “WTF” was another fascinating project to do. All but 4 minutes of the film takes place in Afghanistan, and we shot the entire film in New Mexico!!! It was by far the most challenging film I’ve ever done, but I was lucky enough to be working alongside the best art department I’ve ever had. We built 2 Kabul city street sets—both nearly a football field in size, and both almost built from scratch. Building so much scenery was such a great challenge on a relatively small studio film—we reused so many facades, repurposed so much architecture, repainted so many pieces….at first it seemed nearly impossible to pull off the tall order, but once we started improvising and playing around, the possibilities really became endless. Anthony Syracuse was our construction coordinator on that film, and I’m certain that he’s one of the best construction coordinators this industry has ever seen.

Lisa Sessions was our wonderful Decorator, and she really brought so much character and authenticity to every one of those sets. She balanced on the perfect line between decoration that felt unconventional, unexpected, and with a hint of kitsch, but all the while still being remarkably authentic. Her tastes and instincts as a Decorator are just spectacular. I was so lucky to have her talents on that project!!

And the film is just fantastic! the directors John and Glenn found such a rare tone in this film, balancing between drama and dry humor so well. It’s so immersive, and the many layers of the story are so well done.

PHOTO: Tina Fey and Billy Bob Thornton in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

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MT: You are currently working on the feature film “Collateral Beauty”, starring Kate Winslet, Will Smith, Helen Mirren and Edward Norton. Quite the cast! How are you doing right now working on the film? Everything going on schedule?

BM: “Collateral Beauty” has been perhaps the smoothest, loveliest production I’ve ever been on. Our director David Frankel is one of the kindest, most sincere directors out there, and he’s made the experience a true joy for everyone involved in the show. He’s also a complete collaborator, and brings everyone into the process in such a generous way—so all ideas are considered, all suggestions are welcomed, and everyone comes away feeling valued. The storyline has a magical element to it, and we’ve leaned into that with the design and have some very beautiful backdrops for this story. it’s going so well so far, and I think it’s going to be a truly special film.

MT: What is a director looking for in a production designer?

BM: A director looks for a creative collaborator in a production designer—someone who can translate their words and thoughts into a 3-d space to create backdrops for the story he or she is trying to tell. The best production designers are those who go far beyond what’s on the script page and really try to create a full world for the film…shape the overall tone, create authentic and rich spaces for the characters, consider locations/sets that aren’t scripted but could help make the film best that it can be.

MT: What is a production designer looking for in a director?

BM: Likewise, a production designer looks for a creative collaborator in a director as well!…Someone who can offer a framework of what they want their film to feel like, to look like, and articulate those thoughts to the designer—and then let the designer take those ideas and run with them, and offer redirection or fine-tuning if needed. My best filmmaking experiences have been with directors who have a solid sense of what they imagine for their film, and who invite me to be a part of the creative process and give creative freedom to see where the sets go. I’ve been so lucky with the wonderfully talented directors I’ve come across over the years, have had so many inspiring and enjoyable experiences.

MT: How early do you come into pre-production before shooting starts? When do your hire and bring on the rest of your key team members?

BM: A production designer is one of the first people to hit the ground running in a film production. After the screenwriting phase and some key casting is done, I usually get involved when a film is starting to decide where the film will be shot (what state, what city, sometimes deciding which country.) I’ll look at location photos and do some preliminary scouting, usually about 12 weeks before a film shoot begins. Then my key team members (set decorator and art director) begin about 2-4 weeks after I’ve started, and so on. If the film is a small one, prep can be condensed to 6-8 weeks—just as on larger high-concept films, prep can last for 6 months or more.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

BM: “The Never Ending Story” has always been a favorite. and now “Mad Max: Fury Road” is becoming an all-time favorite as well. I’ve already seen it 4 times and can’t get enough!! Other favorites are “Night of The Hunter”, “Far From Heaven”, and Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina”

MT: Do you have a production designer mentor?

BM: I learned so much from George Allison, who was my mentor through my early twenties when I assisted him at ABC Television. Some of the production designer careers I most admire the most are those of Sarah Greenwood and Jack Fisk…such astounding work!!!

MT: What type of film would you love to work on that you haven’t worked on yet?

BM: I would love to do a lavish 19th century or art deco period piece, as well as a wildly imaginative futuristic film. I love the opportunity to be completely absorbed in worlds we’re creating!!!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Adam Kirley (Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Grimsby)

Adam Kirley is one of the best stunt performers in the world today. He has performed in over 60 films in the last 16 years, including: Iron Man 3, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,  X-Men: First Class, Terminator Salvation, and Munich. He was Daniel Craig’s stunt double in the landmark James Bond movie “Casino Royale”. He is also a Screen Actors Guild and World Stunt Award winner.

Interview with Adam Kirley:

Matthew Toffolo: The action/comedy “Grimsby” is currently playing at a a theater near you. What can we expect to see? How was your working experience doing stunts on that film?

Adam Kirley: Grimsby is a mix of a Bond/Bourne action mixed in a Sacha Baron Cohen comedy film. It was a challenge to do believable gritty action without loosing the SBC comedy elements.

MT: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

AK: Unfortunately its the nature of our game. You can reduce the risk as much as possible but there will always be an element of risk that remains. I have had the usual cuts and bruises that most performers receive on a daily basis. My more serious injuries include: 6 knee surgeries, 1 shoulder reconstruction, and a broken back. These actually weren’t caused by a big accident just years of wear and tear.

MT: You’ve done stunts on over 60 films in the last 16 years alone. Do you have a favorite experience? What film are you most proud of?

AK: I think my proudest moment as a stunt performer would have to be working on Casino royale stunt doubling for James Bond. The Bond movies are such iconic action films with so much history its quite an honour to be a part of.

PHOTO: Adam jumps from crane to crane in the opening scene in Casino Royale:

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MT: What does a Stunt Coordinator do on set?

AK: On Set the stunt coordinator basically choreographs the stunt team to perform the scene. The job of the stunt coordinator starts well before the shoot day, we have to look at the script, and with the director design the action required. Then we assemble a team that is best suited to perform the action.

MT: Has there been a stunt that you love to perform that you haven’t performed yet?

AK: I have been very fortunate over my career to perform a wide range of stunts so really don’t have an outstanding stunt I wish I could do.

MT: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved?

AK: My beginnings were on a traveling stunt show. I performed the human torch & human cannon for 2 years then I did my training to join the British Stunt register which consisted in getting to a high level (Instructor) in 6 different disciplines. I did Swimming, Scuba diving, Judo, Fencing, Trampolining and Gymnastics and had to get my Actors Equity card also. This training is just to get you to a level of fitness and show you have the aptitude to learn new skills. The real training begins when you start working on set with the more experienced stunt performers and coordinators.

PHOTO: Adam jumps off a cliff with another performer and a car:

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MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

AK: Green-screen sets seem to be increasing on every production I work on. I think its mainly used to reduce costs on set builds and give the director the creative freedom to change things in post Production. It doesn’t really change our job a great deal it just makes it a little boring staring at green walls all day.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

AK: I think the most dangerous stunts I have ever performed would have to be the ones on Casino Royale. I was one of the doubles for Bond so was kept very busy. I was one of the guys that jump from crane to crane for the opening sequence and I also got to drive the Aston Martin DBS that climaxed with a crash at 85mph that ended up being a world record. (see slide show of this stunt below)

MT: Have you done a lot of stunt driving? What type of training does one have to do to become a stunt driver?

AK: When I was about 8 years old I wanted to be a racing driver and after doing a few years of karting, it became very expensive so unfortunately it wasn’t an option. Then when I was 17 I started out in stunts doing traveling shows for 2 years. It was an auto stunt show so was a great place to learn stunt driving. I then went away and practiced a lot and picked up small stunt driving jobs that built my reputation. Its quite a long process becoming a stunt driver.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

AK: My mentor was my Step-Father (Steve Griffin) who is a stunt coordinator and a 2nd unit director. He was very helpful showing me how the industry worked in my early days and still offers me great advice.

PHOTO Slide Show: Adam does a car stunt. (Don’t ever try this!)

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Set Decorator Ute Bergk (The Dark Knight, Enemy at the Gates)

Ute Bergk answered the set of questions I emailed her on the airplane on her way to Budapest, Hungary to complete the television mini-series “Emerald City”. Based on the “Wizard of Oz” universe, Ute promises that the series is “going to be something else” and that director Tarsem Singh is a delight. Two months in Hungary and they are wrapped.

She was happy to answer these questions on the plane and send them my way. In fact, I might have this interview posted before she lands.

ute_bergkMatthew Toffolo: You were the Set Decorator on the action/comedy “Grimsby”, which is currently at a cinema near you. How was your working experience on that film?

Ute Bergk: Yes ‘Grimsby’ came out a few weeks ago. I have been working with Sasha BC before- we build the stage for ‘FunkyZeit’ in Berlin for him /for the movie ‘Bruno’. It’s was just an introduction to the madness of a comedy. Sasha is very mesmerising – it’s more like a life event working with him , really. ‘Grimsby’ was scripted like a feature film, but that didn’t mean anything. The writers were on set all the time and creatively made changes continuously. Now- in hindsight- I can say, that one needs to have quite a team in the background to serve the needs. There is a lot of running around! My experience- interesting but very stressful and full on speed!

MT: Is there a difference when doing set decoration on a comedy film in comparison to a straight up action or drama film?

Ute: Yes- I guess there is. Every comedy I have worked on is always reassuring the moment (of laughter) and rightfully so. But on film all has to be managed the same way like a drama / action pic. The Set Dec. Challenge with Sasha was to decorate cool as always but at the same time having in mind, that certain furniture or dressing actually have a ‘role’ too. A sofa needs to be big enough to walk on or a curtain strong enough to swing from..

PHOTO: Sasha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong in GRIMSBY:

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MT: How was the Batman Begins and The Dark Knight experience? You helped create a more grounded and unique comic book world that set the tone for this genre. When working on #2 specifically, did you know that you were going to be a part of such an iconic film?

Ute: Well, well – I am very thankful to have had the opportunity!

When we first arrived at the ‘stage’ where we build ‘Gotham City’ on “Batman Begins”, it took 15 minutes for the door to slide open. I was aware that this is going to be …big. But the process is the same ..you take your piece of chalk and start outlying the sets onto the stage floor. ..Here is we’re the monorail will cross, here it’s ‘leg’ , a little further down ( a few mins walk..) the entrance to the opera.. We walked a lot!

On #2 we mainly did all stunts and action sequences there – the ‘stage’ was big enough to allow that. Not to forget the iMax cameras zooming by on wires every now and than.

PHOTO: Gotham City in BATMAN BEGINS:

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MT: “Enemy of the Gates” is such an underrated film as the production design felt so real, almost like we were in 1940s WWII Russia fighting off the Nazis. What are your memories working on that film? Was the entire Art Department shocked that you didn’t receive an Oscar nomination?

Ute: I am really glad you are asking me this! It’s a long way down on memory lane but this was the greatest experience so far. I was very early into my career and it just happened that I was asked to join the team. We shot it in Berlin and the former East Germany. The set was enormous! Well… I thought so being a youngster. But truly it was. It was the biggest movie in Germany at the time. The logistics required to make it happen were just ..thrilling ..I would say now. The whole art department worked together and I can not recall any ‘counterproductive activities’ amongst us. I developed a close bond to the Russian community and still maintain friendships from those days. The Designer Wolf Kroeger came up with these amazing designs all drawn on paper – sometime a drawing would be up to 4/5 meters long ..on a paper roll. We had to create Stalingrad , destroyed by the war and did a lot of research on bricks and rubble. Wolf insisted to have bricks from a special factory in Russia and so we had lorryloads after lorryloads coming in. Container full of rubble! I earned my nickname ‘rubble-queen’ there- and if I may go to question 10 from here- if you find it thrilling to find yourself in freezing conditions somewhere far from home trying to explain to a Russian speaking lorry-driver on overtime to dump his bricks carefully – I guess you would make a reasonable good member of the art department!

PHOTO: The grand set design in ENEMY AT THE GATES:
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MT: Describe the working relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?

Ute: The Designer works very close with the Director. The Decorator works very close with the Designer, but the roles are quite different, I’d say. The Designer has a passion to create using his vision. The Decorator depends more on actual facts than fiction. Is a decor ..available. Do we need to make? Fabricate? What are the practical lighting requirements ? In what I am doing now this has become quite a concept..as ‘Emerald City’ is lit by the ‘Two Moons..’ But generally the Decorator has to be quite ‘realistic’ at some point and the Designer occasionally has to compromise , which they normally don’t like doing.

MT: How soon before production begins does the Set Decorator begin working? What is your initial task?

Ute: At least 3 months prior to the shoot and not long after the Designer is on board.

Initial task? Doing the job with full passion and ability.

MT: What does the Art Department look for in their Production Designer?

Ute: Not always does the Art Department choose with whom to work. An Art Department sometimes can consist of a lot of people and I cannot answer on behalf of all those involved. For me the person I work closely with has to be artistic, visionary, funny, entertaining, always switched on and human. At the end of the day it’s just a movie.

MT: What does the Production Designer look for when working with their Set Decorator?

Ute: You have to ask a Production Designer this .

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

Ute: Movie seen the most- u mean more than once? Probably “Mulholland Drive” cause I tried to figure out the architecture (there is none..!)

After having worked on “13 hours” – I thought the movie “Timbuktu” is just wonderful, but I have only seen it once- the soundtrack in on my Spotify playlist!

MT: Do you have any advice for high school and university students who want to work in the Art Department in the film industry?

Ute: If you enjoy all things weird and wonderful you have found your space. But only experience can tell if you succeed. It’s competitive and not easy to break into – if there is no other place in the world for you than go for it. Just like the Giant in ‘BigFish’ – see if you like it.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.