Interview with Music Editor/Composer John M. Davis (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

The music editor is a type of sound editor in film responsible for compiling, editing, and syncing music during the production of a soundtrack. Among the music editor’s roles is creating a “temp track”, which is a “mock-up” of the film’s soundtrack using pre-existing elements to use for editing, audience previews, and other purposes while the film’s commissioned score is being composed.

John M. Davis is one of the most talented people I have had the pleasure to interview. Just go to this website http://www.johnmdavis.com and explore his world of music.

Matthew Toffolo: I love the photo of you on your website. It describes who you are in one picture. Composing attire. The dog you obviously love. Cup of coffee. Piano. A rocking chair for thinking. Art Work. And a relaxed but determined look on your face. As they say, a picture says a 1000 words, or in your case a 1,000,000 words! 

John M. Davis: I’m glad you like it.  I don’t photograph particularly well, so I find all the accoutrements more interesting than me.  I do like that piano; it’s a 1954 Steinway we inherited from my wife’s grandfather.  The dog is a whole Russian novel in himself.

Matthew: From an outside perspective, it seems like you’ve mastered the balance of working on your pet projects while being a successful Music Editor for Hollywood productions. How does one do it? 

John: I wish I knew.  I like the camaraderie and diversity of different projects.  I would like more jobs as a composer, but composers don’t have a union while music editors do, with pension and health insurance.  If I only composed for the small films and documentaries that I do then I couldn’t support a family.  I love playing live music for silent films, but only a handful of humans on the planet can make a living doing that.  When I retire from music editing I’m planning on composing large scale works for orchestra.  Whether anybody wants me to do that is an open question.

Matthew: Do you have a musical mentor? 

John: Not really.  Music is something I’ve always done.  I was arranging for bands and choirs from junior high on.  I went to NYU film school with the intention of becoming a director or screenwriter, but over time I discovered that my musical abilities were more unique and more marketable.

Matthew: Out of all your personal projects, what are you most proud of? And what would you love to share to our audience? 

John: Next Saturday I’m performing a live score with a quartet to the 1929 Dziga Vertov documentary “The Man With a Movie Camera” at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. I’m very proud of my performances at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.  Early filmmakers saw cinema as the synthesis and apotheosis of all the arts, and live silent film music is the purest manifestation of music to picture.  Everything else we do — recording, editing, mixing under dialogue — is all a diminution of that ideal.

Matthew: Out of all your Music Editor work, what film was your best working experience? 

John: Working on a musical is the best.  “Black Nativity” was a film that almost no one saw, but I was on the set every day during the shoot, and I was involved in the entire post-production.  Nothing is better than having Jennifer Hudson in a church singing her heart out, capturing her live performance and using that in the final mix.  There were a lot of technical challenges involving playback, using earwigs (tiny radio controlled ear pieces), microphones hidden in her hair.  Then there was the tap dancing, the modern dance, choirs, the works! “The Producers” was also fun, especially when we could use the singing recorded on set and not the pre-records.

Matthew: What is the difference, if any, between working on a narrative film compared to working on a documentary? 

John: Some documentaries are very narrative, so you might score a montage the same way in either format.  A very dry talking heads type of documentary usually doesn’t support much music.  Some of the greatest scores of all time were written for documentaries.

Matthew: How do you choose your jobs? From working on short films to doing (more) paid work? It is all about the story? 

John: The more important consideration is the people you’re working with.  That said, in my experience the jobs choose you.  My phone rings just enough to keep me working throughout the year.  If I hit a dry spell it doesn’t last too long.  A few years ago when “Flight of the Conchords” was shooting in New York I thought “this is the perfect project for me!”  Unfortunately I had no idea how to get hired on it.<

Matthew: Ideally, where would you like your career to go in the next 5 years? More passion projects? More sound designing? Working on bigger productions? 

John: I would like to have composing be a more regular part of my work.  Right now it seems like it’s about 15% to 20% instead of 50%.  However, part of that is preconceptions.  If people see you as a music editor then they don’t think of you as a composer.

Matthew: What are the key qualities to be a great music editor? 

John: Surprisingly it’s not musicianship.  Being a musician is a help, but some of the more mad-scientist musicians I know would be terrible music editors.  The main requirement is being organized.  You have to keep track of the music, know which version is where, know how to fill out a cue sheet.  If you’re a musician who keeps their hard drive very tidy and doesn’t have a lot of files on your desktop, then you could be a music editor.  It goes without saying that you have to be able to cut on the beat, and you have to know something about musical structure.  You also have to get along with the director and the composer.

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

John: I’ll say “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  That’s the only film poster I have in my studio.  John Williams has said that it is his favorite score, and I can see why.  The music is the means of communication between worlds.  It goes from drama to action to the most modernist and atonal to romantic, and the story is more ambitious and multi-continent expansive than almost any film before or since.

Matthew: What is your favorite era in music history? 

John: Despite my love of silent film, the best music was written later, in the 40’s to the 70’s — the Golden and Silver ages:  Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Mancini, Williams, Goldsmith, Morricone.  The fact that two of them are nominated this year for an Oscar is amazing.

Matthew: Do you see your job as a Music Editor changing because of technology in the future? 

John: Well, Pro Tools 12.5 will make my life easier, if it works as advertised, because I’ll be able to update a co-worker with the push of a button.  The new Melodyne 4 has a tempo detection function that I plan to put through its paces.  I’m always extremely up-to-date, and I’ll upgrade the very day something is released.

On the other hand, technology can make music too rigid, which works for a very few films.  I look forward to the day when technology makes it easy to capture the inspiration that happens in a spontaneous silent film performance.  It should be as fast to write notes in a notation program as it is on a piece of manuscript paper.  We’re getting there.  Technology should become more intuitive and bend the learning curve back to the humanistic.  It should capture lightening in a bottle, not turn out glass bricks.  Music is emotion.
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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 Oscar Nominated Production Designer Michael Corenblith (Apollo 13, The Blind Side)

A production designer is the person responsible for the overall look of a film. They ave a key creative role in the creation of motion pictures and television.

What an honor it was to talk with the amazing Production Designer Michael Corenblith. His resume is filled with some of the best movies in the last 20 years, including: Saving Mr. Banks, The Campaign, Game Change, Dinner for Schmucks, The Blind Side, Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13.

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked as a Production Designer in 35 productions over the last 30 years. Are there one or two films that you’re most proud of?

Michael Corenblith: There are countless ways to measure my affection for all of these projects.  There have been so many valuable collaborators and shared experiences that each film has its own special place.  “Apollo 13” will always remain one of the most exciting, and I’m so pleased to see it aging so gracefully.  Other times the work that we do on a film can have a benefit of bringing a good cause to the public’s attention, as we were able to do with “Dolphin Tale” and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium,and now with “The Finest Hours,” and the Coast Guard boat maintained by the Orleans Historic Society.  After the release of “Saving Mr. Banks,” Disney fans enjoyed seeing Walt’s Office circa 1961, that The Disney Archives, after 50 years, have restored Walt’s office suite in the Animation Building to a remarkable effect.  So sometimes the thing you can be proudest of is accidentally doing some actual good in the world.

Photo: Re-creating the 1970 Space Station in Apollo 13 (1996). Actor Ed Harris:

Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks
Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks

Matthew: What is a director looking for in a Production Designer?

Michael: Initially, a director is seeking a Partner who shares his passion for the project, and regards it from a perspective that adds visual continuities that help tell the story as a whole.  Good Directors are always seeking the better answer, and asking the better questions, and it’s during this interaction that the film begins to take shape.  Later on, a Director is looking for supportive team play from the Art Department, and good communication with the Costume Designer, Cinematographer,and their teams, ensuring that the shooting days are about performances rather than these Crafts.

Matthew: What is a Production Designer looking for in a director?

Michael: The Directors who I’m attracted to are gifted storytellers, with strong character and dialog skills.  Because of their storytelling orientation, they are enthusiastic about making the visuals work in a more orchestral way.  I’m looking for someone who is full of ideas, and then figuring out how to create an overall scheme that incorporates these individual ideas into a cohesive whole.

Matthew: When working on comedies, are your tones and styles different in comparison to working on dramas?

Michael: My philosophy is that comedies are best visually supported when the environs and decors create a plausible canvas for the comedic events to occur. In formulating a visual scheme for a film, it’s more important that the story’s entire arc be considered, and the audience be more involved with the comedic predicaments of our protagonists.  Sometimes, the screenplay will call for the Scenery to become part of the Physical Comedy, which seems to support this theory by not “telegraphing” the gag or stunt.  Other screenplays will call for the protagonist to interact with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment, and in this case I remain true to the overall arc, but increase the vividness of these new decors.

Photo: Dinner Scene in the comedy film Dinner for Schmucks (2010):

dinner_for_schmucks

Matthew: You have worked on a lot of movies that were based on true stories. In fact, you just completed one that is about Ray Kroc, the owner of McDonalds. Do you enjoy the research process of re-creating historical times? How far can you go to stretch the “truth” in design for the sake of the story and themes that are being presented in the film? I’m sure it’s a fine line. 

Michael: One of the great treats of being a production designer is the opportunity to explore such a variety of eras and remarkable true stories…..and meet people who brought great knowledge and insights either through their presence or their scholarship.  Films that stand out in this regard are “Apollo 13,” ”The Alamo,” “Saving Mr. Banks,” and recently, “The Finest Hours.”  Each of these films aimed not only toward archival re-creation, but also had to temper a finished look that communicated the film’s emotional truths.  Ray Kroc and the story of McDonald’s offered another wonderful opportunity to research something that is so fundamentally American, and then create a wonderful replica of the 1954 Golden Arches franchise.  But while being respectful of the archivists and historians, the fundamental idea is for the audience to experience the film’s real emotions and sense of place, even if it means measured and thoughtful deviation from some known historic truths.

Teaser Photo of “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton (left):

the_founder.jpg

Matthew: You also like to work on political movies. In fact, you went back to back with director Jay Roach on Game Change (2012) to The Campaign (2013). Are you a political person yourself? How was it to re-create that infamous 2008 campaign? 

Michael: Political films have always interested me, particularly Michel Ritchie’s “The Candidate,” which was really the first time that the confluence of Media and Celebrity and Politics came together in a modern way.  And in many ways, “Frost/Nixon” was an intensely political film that played out in a different arena.  “Game Change” and “The Campaign” were made more or less back to back, during the Republican primary season of 2011, so it was great to see the foibles in our screenplay occurring in real time on CNN.  McCain’s 2008 was an absolute blast to re-create, as it was so well branded, and so well documented.  The most interesting challenge was in re-creating the Vice Presidential debate with Joe Biden, which required great precision for the split screen between the archival footage and our new footage, but when we reached out for the drawings from the original debate, found them to be somewhat “classified,” and had to resort to a very deep bag of tricks to creating our matching set.

Matthew: I have a funny feeling that you and Jay will be back for Game Change 2 after this political season (and of course after the book is written). Are you looking forward to re-creating the campaign worlds of Hillary, Bernie, Donald, and Ted? 

Michael: I’ve been a big fan of “Presidential Politics as a Contact Sport,” and enjoyed Mark Halperin and John Heilmann’s telling of the 2102 campaign, “Double Down.”  So yes, absolutely, I’d love to see what the Game Change team would bring to telling the story of this Campaign.

Photo: Julianne Moore becomes Sarah Palin in Game Change (2012):

game_change

Matthew: 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?

Michael: Generally, in early pre-production, the location work has yet to begin in earnest, so my first priorities are getting the location scouting underway, and beginning to line up my team. I often have a couple of weeks to lay out a general scheme, and scout with the Director and Producers.  My department generally gets about the same number of pre-production weeks as the shooting schedule, so the Art Department Coordinator is the next hire, to set the table for the arrival of the Set Decorator and Art Director, followed by the Set Designers, and Graphic Designer.

Matthew: What percentage of the budget generally goes to the Art Department when working on a Hollywood film?

Michael: This is always going to be Situational in relationship to a lot of other moving parts within any individual project. The scripted locations also play a major role, as shooting in a high school or in a submarine mean very different budget allocations for the Art Department.

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

Michael: Without a doubt, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather,” with Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” and Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” coming in distant silver and bronze.  All wonderful, complex, human stories, each with its own beautiful visual signature…..each designed by one of the greats of my generation…Dean Tavoularis, Ken Adam, and Richard Sylbert. Each film left a very lasting impression on my cinematic development.

Matthew: Do you have a Production Designer mentor?

Michael: I am blessed in having two gurus.  When I first had the opportunity to hear Richard Sylbert speak of the Craft of Production Design, his concepts and theories immediately resonated, and I suddenly understood that designing films could be so much more than simply reflecting what was already on the page.  Years later, I came upon the work of USC Professor, Bruce Block, and his book “The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV, and New Media.”  After hearing Bruce speak, I felt that he had brought order to a multitude of concepts that I’d been employing, and through his teachings could now employ them in a coordinated way.

Matthew: Do you have any advice to kids currently in high school or in university who want to be a Production Designer? 

Michael: This is probably indicative of my generation being one of the last analog skill-based one, but in general my Old School Advice would be to develop some basic non-digital ways of conveying visual information.  Come to classroom with some ways to express your ideas that can be simple as chalk on a blackboard….and don’t require a laptop.

Photo: Re-creating Walt Disney’s office in Saving Mr. Banks (2013) starring Tom Hanks:

Film Review Saving Mr. Banks
This image released by Disney shows Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in a scene from “Saving Mr. Banks.” (AP Photo/Disney, François Duhamel) ORG XMIT: NYET626

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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 Storyboard Artist Stephen Forrest-Smith (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight)

A storyboard artist, or story artist, creates storyboards for film productions.

I had a blast sitting down with the very talented storyboard artist Stephen Forrest-Smith. Stephen has worked on some of the most popular films in the last 15 years, including “The Dark Knight,” the last three “Harry Potter” films, and last year’s “Star Wars” film.

His candor in the following interview is educational and very entertaining. Enjoy:

Matthew Toffolo: When coming aboard a project on a Hollywood film, how does the process generally work? Do you start with a preliminary chat with the director about themes etc..? How early do you arrive before production? When do you generally exit the job?

Stephen Forrest-Smith: There really is no normal to my job anymore. Every project seems to be different now and asks for a different approach. A film project could call on a storyboard artist at any stage from pre-pre production, ( when the film is trying to get funding) right the way through to post production for VFX, (after principal photography has been completed). The bulk of my work tends to be early in the pre-production taking the first pass at sequences to get the ball rolling on them. Usually I’d start with a chat with a Director, though it could be VFX supervisor or production designer and then work on from there. I used to expect to finish when filming starts but now I might stay almost to the end of shooting then be called back for reshoots and post production.

Matthew: How was your recent experience working on the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with director Bill Condon?

Stephen: Beauty and the Beast is shaping up to be a really beautiful and wonderful production of the fairytale. I didn’t work directly with Bill Condon but instead was briefed by Tobias A. Schliessler, the director of photography. This doesn’t happen very often but I like working with the DOP as I get to see more of the technical side to the filmmaking process. The film also has many amazing musical routines that were carefully choreographed which needed storyboards added to them. This was fun as I never work on a musical before. I think this is my favourite part of the job – getting to work with and learn from such a variety of very talented people across all the departments.

Matthew: World War Z is such a visual film. How many boards did you do for that film?

Stephen: World War Z was a very troubled production, which stumbled to the finish somehow! I think that film chewed up 5 storyboard artists over its run. I had two spells on that job. The first spell I worked on the escape from Malta sequence. I returned to work with the second unit director the battle for Moscow part which was cut from the movie.

Matthew: When you watch the final product, like Star Wars for examples, and you see your visual designs on screen in live-action, how does that feel? It must be a goose-bump experience.

Stephen: It’s always a strange feeling watching the films that I’ve worked on. Its quite a long time between finishing on them and seeing them in the cinema. I might have worked on two or three films in-between seeing the finished movie. This means I tend to sit there trying to remember what i drew for which part of the movie and if anything made it! Sometimes a sequence will run out just as it was storyboarded then you get a feeling of “deja vu”. Other times its nice to sit back and watch the response of the audience to see if a moment works or not.

Matthew: You’ve been credited as being a “Conceptual Artist” in films like Speilberg’s War Horse. What does that job detail?

Stephen: Conceptual Artist is a cover all title for film illustrators / 3d artists / designers who are involved in the initial visualising of the designs of the film. It can also include producing images on the sets as they are being designed to communicate them to the director and producer.

stephen_storyboards

Matthew: What’s your ideal working experience with a director?

Stephen: For me the most satisfying part of the job is seeing the boards being used on set and being shot from. Making movies rapidly becomes an insanely complicated endeavor and a good set of storyboards is the best way of communicating to all the crew what they are all trying to achieve. A director who’s invested in the boards and wants them to be used, and sent out to the crew is my ideal.

Matthew: You also worked on The Dark Knight, which ended up being an iconic film. Did you expect it to be so popular? What part of the film did you do boards for?

Stephen: I was very excited to work on The Dark Knight, Chris Nolan was my favourite director at the time. It was clear from reading the script that he had a great take on the Joker that Heath Ledger went onto realise. My friend Jim Cornish got me the job. Jim was booked to go onto Harry Potter and the Half blood Prince so he recommended me to come and finish off for him. He had done the bulk of the work when I started so I had amendments to make on his sequences. I then drew the Jokers attack on Bruce Wayne’s apartment and Batman and Two Face’s stand off at the end of the film. Yes I did expect it to be popular as Batman Begins and had been a big hit already.

Matthew: When is does the “I’m now allowed to talk about it” statue of limitations with Star Wars end? When are you allowed to talk about your experiences working on the film and put the storyboards that you worked on for the film in your portfolio?

Stephen: I think this is the most onerous part of the job now. We have to sign NDA’s for every project and they last forever. So I shouldn’t talk to you at all!

Matthew: Do you have a storyboard mentor?

Stephen: The person who not only gave me my break but was the best mentor ever was Stephen Sommers of “The Mummy” fame – His best advice was ‘ don’t give me hundreds of angles but show how few shots I need to shoot the sequence”. I’ve kept that as my philosophy since and i love the rigour of working in this way.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Stephen: The Directors I return to again and again are Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. So probably “North by Northwest”, “Seven Samurai” and “Fistfull of Dollars”. Not a moment is wasted in their movies – they are true cinema for me.

Matthew: Do you worked on over 30 productions in the last 17 years. Do you have a favorite working experience?

Stephen: I’m sure I’ve worked on more than that!!! My jobs can vary from a days world to years so I’ve done a lot now. “The Mummy” is still by far my favourite ever film experience as every moment was exciting and new. I’d also taken a big gamble changing my career from architecture to film and the Mummy was my first chance to make the gamble work out. I started with a two week trial then worked on for 9 months storyboarding the whole film on my own. I got to travel to Marakesh and the red sahara. Got to swim in a swimming pool with Kate Winslet and rode on camels in the Sahara. Not bad for a first job.

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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 Line Producer Alton Walpole (Crazy Heart, The Spirit, Baraka)

A unit production manager (UPM) is responsible for the administration of a feature film or TV production.

A line producer is a type of film producer that functions as the key manager during the daily operations of a feature film, television film or an episode of a TV show.

I was honored to sit down with a veteran in the industry who simply knows how to put all of the right pieces together to make a great film. He’s been credited on working as a Line Producer and/or Unit Production Manager on over 40 productions, which, anyone in the biz will tell you, are the toughest jobs in the Film/TV industry. The amazing part of that is that he sometimes does both jobs at once in a single production.

alton_walpole.jpgMatthew Toffolo: You’ve worked on over 50 productions in the last 35 years, do you have a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Alton Walpole: “Crazy Heart” (no extraneous talk about how “good” it was, just everyone doing their job the best they could) and “Rx” (extremely challenging budget).

Matthew: You started off in the lighting department and also dabbled in camera, editing and art direction. How did you move into the world of Production Management and Line Producing?

Alton: First jobs were Prop Maker (Carpenter), Prop Master and Grip. Did a lot of other jobs as years progressed. When I was asked to work on “Koyaanisqatsi” as an Asst Editor the first part of the task was coordination & management, so I got involved with “reshoots” and budgeting….this led to involvement in Line Producing (primarily budget estimates) and Production Management (implementing the plan, including hiring and organization).

Matthew: You’ve worked on many documentaries, including the magnificent “Baraka (1992).” Are docs something you have a strong passion for?

Alton: Yes, I still have a large curiosity and interest with “real life” events and the drama of “reality” that surrounds documentary film making.

Matthew: Tell us about the film industry scene in New Mexico? I hear the state is very close to your heart and that you’re the man to go to if you want to film there.

Alton: New Mexico had the first state managed film office in the US. Now all states have a film offices. The rebate program in New Mexico was also very “thought out” and organized. The legislation, although it has gone thru several minor revisions, was very thorough, equitable and constructed for the long run. It is a very fair program for both state residents, government and the financiers. I do all I can to support this.

Matthew: What is the difference between a Line Producer and Production Manager?

Alton: A Line Producer generates the budget estimate and production plan, A Unit Production Manager implements it. If you do both there is no one else to blame for any error.

Matthew: What are the key personality traits needed to be a good producer?

Alton: Understanding the large financial investment of a financier as well as the working conditions and fairness to each employee….so I would imagine the main trait is always trying to be fair to all parties involved.

Matthew: You work hard on a movie for months and you never know how it’s going to be perceived by the audience, or how much the studios are going to market/push it. Is there a film or two that you’ve worked on that you’re shocked wasn’t that successful? I’m thinking “The Spirit”. Such a unique film that seemed to have come a few years too early, before that type of style became a trend. If that film comes out in 2012, it’s a monster hit.

Alton: This is true. The idea is to make a film within the budget restrictions….there is never enough time or enough money…..and not sacrifice the story or content of the proposed production. There are many other factors that effect the final film….editing and of course promotion by the distributor…..trick is not to “over sell” or “under sell”.

Matthew: What’s the key difference when working on a major studio film like “The Book of Eli”, or “The Magnificent Seven”, in comparison to a smaller budget film like “Crazy Heart” or “Job”?

Alton: Main difference is that there are more people involved in the reports (studio executives, financiers, etc) … the process of actually making the film is the same for all budgets.

Matthew: What personality traits are you looking for when you hire your production team?

Alton: The job is hard enough work, so people that are efficient with the work is always first but a very close second trait is people that are “easy” to work with….kind & honest. So the work environment is not a burden and a place you like to go each day.

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

Alton: “Lonely Are The Brave” remains one of my favorite films. Have always been a film buff, member of many film clubs and watched lots of relatively obscure films in my youth……still like independent films that are personally made with lot’s of enthusiasm.

Matthew: Do you a have mentor?

Alton: My primary mentor was Sebastian Schroeder (from Switzerland). He was a guest architectural design professor I had in college at the University of New Mexico when I was a student studying architecture. My first involvement with film production was with him in the summer…a documentary on mobile home p arks..16mm….titled “When The Chips are Down”…..played a lot in Europe. Have stayed in contact with him, in fact he just visited me a month or so ago. I remember him always saying “do not drive a small nail with a large hammer”.

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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 Graphic Designer Tina Charad (Maleficent, Fifty Shades of Grey)

Graphic Designer creates the props and set-pieces for film productions and works directly with the Production Designer. Depending on the period and genre, these can be newspapers, love letters, shop signs, posters, cigarette boxes, logos. Basically, they create the original materials needed for a film that haven’t yet been invented.  

I was fortunate enough to interview the extremely talented Graphic Designer Tina Charad. In the last 10 years she has worked on over 30 productions including the films “Robin Hood”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “World War Z”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The Fifth Wave”, and “RocknRolla”.

Matthew Toffolo: Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Tina: Well, in terms of pure indulgence, of being spoilt and designing beauty day after day, it would be 47 Ronin. Perhaps Maleficent too – for the same reasons.

Tina created images in the film “47 Ronin”:
47_ronin_image

Matthew: How long do you generally work on a film? How early do you come on in pre-production? Do you stay until the end of filming?

Tina: It really does depend. On the whole, a large studio film in the UK could be 9/10 months work. The prep time is longer as is the shooting schedule. I have worked both in the UK, where I started and the US, where I now live. In the UK the Graphic Designer is really responsible for a large amount more work than the US. That may sound bizarre in terms of the work load varying but in the US there are a lot more print houses and production places that can facilitate some of the graphic design parts where as in the UK, the Graphic Designer creates all the Art department, set dec & prop pieces – no matter how big or small.

Matthew: What’s the difference when working on different genres? From a straight up drama like “Body of Lies”, to a pure fantasy like “Maleficent”?

Tina: Well there is a huge difference. With something like BOL, you’re not creating fantasy. Often you are recreating reality but in a different location. So you’re making mobile phone stores, embassy clinics, roads signage. They are a huge part of what makes the film real, but not wildly creative. You have to be on the nose accurate, especially when working in foreign languages and alphabet like that film. We shot in Morocco, but were predominantly set in Jordan. The Arabic is different in these two countries. I had to have a translator who knew the differences. I then had to set about researching contemporary Arabic branding and identities as you would in the US. I had to create large scale banks and corporations but in Arabic. I spent a lot of money purchasing good contemporary Arabic fonts.
With Maleficent, I was re-united with a favorite designer. He wanted me to create a large scale tapestry for Sleeping Beauty’s bedroom. Whilst there were suggestions of medieval tapestries etc thrown in, he was very clear that he wanted to design something original. Also he pointed out that we were not a historical film, but a fantasy and the tapestry should show that. I think the brief was “Grayson Perry Meets Flemish”. So I worked on a fantastical forest scape that was a day and night scene. It has a wealth of lovely references and feels both fresh and stylistically fitted the brief.

Tina created the Sleeping Beauty bedroom images in “Maleficent”
malficifent_bedroom

Matthew: What about your experiences working on “American Ultra” or “The Crazy Ones” TV show? Is a straight up comedy an entirely different experience? Is your creative process all about making people laugh?

Tina: Well to be fair, In American Ultra I was doing reshoots especially of all the insert work. The producers and director found that the stuff didn’t work once they had shot it. For many reasons it had to all be recreated so it wasn’t really humorous at that point. You are just trying to get all these pieces and stick them together. In fact I didn’t get the script for that so I had no idea it was a comedy. It all seemed like a typical spy caper to me at the time.

I did a little on The Crazy Ones as they wanted to elevate the look and feel of the show. I had also worked at Leo Burnett where the show was supposedly based on. Despite what the designer hoped for, there is still only so much you can do with a comedy show – the jokes have to be pretty brash and in your face. No room for subtlety. It’s not my best genre – TV comedy. I find myself always fighting for the more subtle joke, and losing…

Matthew: What is the most challenging aspect of being a graphic designer?

Tina: Going to have to be clearances & the legal side.

Matthew: I have to ask you about the “Fifty Shades of Grey”
experience?

Tina: One of the most anticipated films of 2015. Were your design themes all about power and sex?

I started with David Wasco before any other art department. Initially we worked on researching the sex furniture for the red room of pain. David knows that I can do illustrative work so I looked at initial pieces of what these key pieces of furniture would look like. I have worked for a lot of designers sourcing reference and style imagery so we looked at humanizing the story. The book is pretty 2 dimensional as are the characters, so between Sam the director and David, they wanted to add life into it. In terms of the graphics in that film, trying to design a logo that doesn’t look like a film graphic and that could carry through 3 films and maybe 5 years without looking dated or getting changed, was a challenge. But I did several passes at first and Sam knew straight away which to choose. That initial Grey Enterprises logo is what Universal based their entire marketing campaign on. The other key logo was SIP – Seattle Publishing which actually didn’t make it into the film but is a key part of book2. I bet they use a new logo but that would be a huge pity. I rather liked my SIP work!

Tina’s created logos for “Fifty Shades of Grey”:
fifty_shades_of_grey_image

Matthew: You worked as a Graphic Designer on the David Fincher directed music video “Justin Timberlake Ft. Jay-Z: Suit & Tie”. How long did you work on the video, what did you do, and how was working with so many iconic people?

Tina: Good Question! I watched the video again to remind myself. Well that and sifted through my back up folders. I remembered doing a lot of etched mirror and glass for that video and sets. I remember there was a nightclub that was branded (signage, props etc) and had an old rat pack feel. What one has to remember is what is in the final edit does not show what was made. We prepare for what is initially discussed but things can change on the shoot day, the director or cast and request changes and then a whole scene can be cut. David Fincher is very particular about everything so the designer had all sets covered from an art direction, graphics and prop side. Better safe than sorry.

Matthew: Do you have a Production Designer or Graphic Designer mentor?

Tina: No – not really;

I spent 10 years in the real world of branding & advertising before moving into film. I loved Fabien Baron -you might guess from the fifty shades ;). So I didn’t really need mentoring when it came to graphics in the film industry with a designer so to speak, as I already had the skills. I have a couple designers I would work for regardless of pay or the job (let’s hope they don’t read this) they are David Wasco & Gary Freeman. Love the projects David chooses, they are often smaller and more interesting pieces. He is a designer that graphics are hugely important too. Gary uses me more as a Graphic illustrator on large scale pieces. Installations that normally are dreams briefs.

Matthew: What movie, besides the ones you’ve work on, have you seen the most in your life?

Tina: Another great question. There isn’t 1 but 3.
Gladiator – no explanation needed
Team America – I will never stop laughing or being furious I didn’t work on it
Love Actually – it’s on every Christmas

Matthew: You’ve worked as a Production Designer on more than a few short films. Is that a position that you aspire to hold in the Hollywood feature film world? Is there a place where we can watch your short films?

Tina: I have done that. I’ve also worked quite extensively as a stylist and assistant set decorator which is something I did pursue for a while I never wanted to design. All my design jobs have honestly been decorating jobs. Then I moved to the US and had to choose between 44 or 800 and I decided to focus only on graphics. I have no idea if you can watch these shorts. I’ll have to investigate…..

Matthew: What Production Designer and/or Director would you love to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?

Tina: That would be KK Barrett for Production Design and Tim Burton.

Matthew: You’re working on the new Bourne Identity sequel. Can you give us a sneak peek to what to expect?

Tina: No! Haha

For more information on Tina, please go to her website: http://www.tinacharad.com/
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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.

Interview with Art Director Jeremy Woolsey (Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa)

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Art Director/Production Designer Jeremy Woolsey to chat about the world of film-making. Jeremy has worked in the Art Department on over 40 Hollywood productions including Vacation, Ouija, The Haunting in Connecticut 2, Pitch Perfect, Million Dollar Arm, Dirty Grandpa, and Bastard.

Matthew Toffolo: Film fans always get Production Design and Art Director mixed up, thinking they are the same position? Can you tell people what the difference is?

Jeremy Woolsey: The Production Designer is the head of the department and lays out the visual look of the film (along with the DP and Director). The Art Director runs the department and makes sure that vision is executed on time and on budget. Scheduling, budgeting and planning are all key components of the Art Director’s job.

Matthew: You’ve worked in the Art Department in over 40 productions in the last 10 years. Is there one or two films that you’re most proud of?

Jeremy: I am proud to be a part of the runaway hit “Pitch Perfect” .. That film has touched a great deal of people. And I think our work on “Million Dollar Arm” was rewarding.

Matthew: Who is your Art Director/Production Designer mentor?

Jeremy: Barry Robison …. I have worked with him seven times and he has helped me get to a different level of filmmaking.

Matthew: Is there is a Production Designer working today that you haven’t yet met that you’ve a big fan of?

Jeremy: Jack Fisk …. Legendary figure and craftsman. We have a really good mutual friend, so maybe one day.

Matthew: 5) As of this interview, the film “Dirty Grandpa” is premiering, a film you were the Art Director on. How was working on that production with the legendary Robert DeNiro?

Jeremy: I normally don’t get too excited about seeing an actor on set, but the first day he stepped on set it was pretty cool. Was in the presence of a living master even if the subject matter was a raunchy departure.

Matthew: How did you get started in the studio film Art Director world?

Jeremy: Was it something you always wanted to do, or did the job find you? I started in the music production business in the 90’s then transitioned into entertainment production in New York in the summer of 2001.

Matthew: If there is a case of getting type-Art Direction casted!, you might be with the comedy/road trip movie. Bastards. Dirty Grandpa. Vacation. Is there is distinct different when working on these films in comparison to a non-road trip movie?

Jeremy: Not really … maybe more exteriors. And larger signage.

Matthew: How about working on a film like “Million Dollar Arm”, where the majority of the film was set in India. Does an art director move with the main crew when there is a major location change?

Jeremy: In that case, I was handling the Atlanta portion and Mark Robins out of New Zealand handled India.

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

Jeremy: I just started a period show set in the 60’s. Great story and great group of people, so it is a welcome departure.

Matthew: What film, besides ones that you have worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Jeremy: Goodfellas

Matthew: How often to you re-watch the past films you’ve worked on? If you’re flipping through the channels late one night on a random Tuesday for example, and “Pitch Perfect” is on, do you watch?

Jeremy: Most of them aren’t the kind you would watch more than once, but if Pitch Perfect is on the screen I will give it a watch.

Matthew: In a typical studio film, how many crew members are on the Production Design team?

On the budget sizes I work on (20m to 45M) … We will generally have 10-12 in the office.

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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.

Upcoming Short Film “Artemis & the Astronaut”

Director A. Lauren Lee is back directing the short film ARTEMIS & THE ASTRONAUT. Her film “the good boy” played at the FEEDBACK Film Festival this summer to rave reviews. It looks like this film has the potential to be even better.

Go to the film’s website for more information and how you can be involved:

http://www.artemisthefilm.com

The film stars Lynn Cohen. Most people would remember her from her recurring character in “Sex in the City”.

The Cinematography on board, Diego Jiménez, is a true talent. All you need to see is “the good boy” and the feature film “Magallanes” to understand why everyone wants to work with him.

I asked A. Lauren Lee what motivated her to make this film. Her response:

My friend John was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He’d lived in our building for about 40 years. He knew everyone and knew all the best gossip about them. In the last few weeks of his life, he became this scared, confused, little boy crying in his bed all the time. I kept wishing I could have the old John back. I think I wrote Artemis & the Astronaut just so I could give Artemis back her Henri.

Make sure to check out the website: http://www.artemisthefilm.com