Interview with Editor Greg D’Auria (Star Trek Beyond, Fast & Furious 6)

Greg D’Auria is very modest as you’ll see when you read this interview. He’s a wealth of knowledge and an amazing storyteller – as he seems to be the last to know this! He has worked in the editorial department on over 30 productions in the last 20 years. His list of credits include: Star Trek Beyond (2016), Eloise (2016), Fast & Furious 6 (2013), Django Unchained (2012), & Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). It was an honor to interview him:

Matthew Toffolo: You’ve worked as an Assistant Editor on many big Hollywood productions. What is the role of Assistant/Associate Editor? What is the biggest thing you’ve learned doing this task to help you grow as an editor?

Greg D’Auria: I think the main role of an Assistant is to be a traffic cop for the flow of information into and out of the cutting room. I won’t bore you with the details, but there is a massive amount of logistical and technical skill required to keep track of the hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions) of feet of film shot. Every single frame has to be accounted for. That’s the responsibility of the Assistant. But I’ve only just scratched the surface, because they also have to keep track of all the things that are happening in the editing room from the start of editing all the way through the final delivery of timelines to the D.I. house. Along the way to completion, a lot of departments and vendors constantly need things from editorial and it’s the Assistant’s responsibility to handle those requests. These things can and do vary depending on the size of the project. I’ve also been lucky that some editors would let me handle creative tasks like cutting temp music and sound effects for select scenes. Some were generous enough to let me take a whack at cutting a scene or two. Probably the biggest thing I took from being an Assistant is to embrace flexibility. Obviously no editor is the same and no show is the same. So you take those things into account with each project that you work on. That’s a valuable mindset to have when you dive into the unruly beast that is storytelling.

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

GD: I’ve taken something away from every show and every editor I’ve worked with. Sometimes it was outright theft.

MT: What is the art to being a great ACTION FILM editor? How is working on this type of film different than a conventional drama film?

GD: Oh, man, I’m not someone who can answer that question. There are so many great editors with a much longer resume who are more qualified to discuss the art of cutting action. But I will tell you a little about my approach because that’ll answer your second question. We’re telling stories. Every scene is a piece of that tapestry. Every shot is like a thread in that tapestry. How do those individual threads work best to tell the story of that scene? What are the objectives of that scene? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I hope to take an audience on a ride when I cut action. I think the best way to do that is by keeping track of the characters in the midst of whatever action is going on. What are they doing in the scene? How are they reacting? If you connect the audience to the characters, it becomes an immersive experience. I think every film, doesn’t matter what genre, succeeds when it gets to that level. So, outside of the faster tempo of an action beat, I don’t see much difference between action and drama.

PHOTO: Action in “Star Trek Beyond”:

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MT: How was the STAR TREK BEYOND experience? There are 3 other editors credited in the main editor credit. How did 4 people collaborate on the film?

GD: The collaboration starts with Justin. He has a clear vision, but he’s never satisfied, he’s always looking to push and explore and refine. There were lots of screenings of the film with the 5 of us. They’re thorough and the floor is always open for us to comment. Armed with new feedback we’d split up, work on our sections with Justin and then do it all over again. I read a review of BEYOND that complimented the seamless editing. The critic was a little surprised this was so given that there were 4 editors. He wouldn’t have been if he saw how expertly Justin works.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

GD: One of the first job interviews my agent sent me on took place at the director’s house. A cool place in the Silverlake area of LA, I remember guitars and photos and paintings were strewn about. It made for a relaxed vibe. The interview was more conversation than formal interview. His cat slinked around us for the first hour, then she made herself at home on my lap for the last half hour. When the interview wrapped up, the director noticed her and said she usually doesn’t take to strangers. The comfort and trust that cat had in me? Hopefully, every director I work with would feel the same. I just don’t want ’em on my lap. But seriously, I think that trust is key. Picture lock is the end of the road. Once the film is released the director has to feel that we’ve explored every avenue, chased every idea and that the finished product is the best it could be.

MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

GD: I love Slap Shot. It’s funny, ballsy and full of social insight. Can’t think of many comedies that are set against the backdrop of a blue collar world on the verge of financial collapse. I’d be damn proud to have my name attached to something like that.

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

GD: The first two Godfathers, Chinatown, Joe Dirt. Alright, just kidding about that last one.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

GD: This is a do as I say not do as I did not response. Be open, be curious, if you can, travel. Read. Listen to music, immerse yourself in the arts. Embrace technology. Get your foot in the door by pursuing internships. If you’re a technological wiz, highly literate and an interesting person, you will find a place in editorial.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

GD: Palisades, New York, a suburb 20 minutes northwest of Manhattan. Growing up I aspired to play pro basketball, my body had other ideas. I’ve always loved movies, but who gets to do that for a living? The summer before I was going to start law school, three friends, Keith, Gregg and Peter, moved out to Hollywood. I didn’t join them. During that summer I gradually realized I had no f-cking aspirations to pursue law as a career. So, a year later I followed them out to LA. I’ve never regretted that choice.

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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.

 

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Interview with director Tim Butcher (CLEAN BREAK)

CLEAN BREAK, directed by Tim Butcher was the winner of Best Overall Performances at the July 2016 Comedy Short Film Festival. It was an honor to sit down with him to chat about his film and filmmaking career.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Tim Butcher: I wanted to make a film that was a step up from my others – that had slightly higher production standards and told a bit of a story, rather than just outlining a sketch. Ive always wanted to do something about a break up.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

TB: I’d say about 4 months.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

TB: Hateful breakup (is breakup one word?)

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

TB: I’d say producing, directing and acting simultaneously. Its a bit too much to do – I’ve dialled back the number of roles I’m involved with for subsequent projects.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

TB: It’s always challenging hearing audience feedback, but I’m probably less neurotic about this these days than I have been in the past. I appreciated the kind words and found the process useful.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

TB: I think it started with a broad brief – ‘something about a breakup’ and went from there.

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

TB: Either In Bruges or Back to the Future.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

TB: I’ve just finished filming my next short – a 20 minute comedy about two friends who go to live in a forest despite having no survival skills.

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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 Editor Tia Nolan (How to be Single, Friends with Benefits)

Chatting with Tia Nolan about the craft of editing was a pure joy. Her recent credits include: How to be Single (2016), Angie Tribeca season 2 (2016), Annie (2014), Friends with Benefits (2011), The Woman (2008), and Bewitched (2005). She is a wealth of knowledge in the art of making a great comedy – as you’ll learn in his interview. Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What is the role of a TV episode editor? How is this different is comparison to working on a feature film?

Tia Nolan: The role of a TV episode editor is to assemble and fine tune the footage provided to its final broadcast ready product. I have only worked in scripted half hour comedy television. I have found that the craft is similar to feature film editing in performance and timing. The real difference lies in the schedule and who gets final cut. In television, there are usually two or three editors on the show. This means that every two or three weeks, you get a new episode to cut, even if you haven’t finished the previous episode. The schedule is very fast paced. You only spend 2 days with a director and there are usually different directors for each episode. Your real cutting room relationships are with the producers of the show. You can find yourself doing notes on multiple episodes in the same day with the producers.

In features, I am involved in every aspect of the process from dailies to final mix and color timing. In television, the AP runs the mix and color timing for each episode because the editors are needed to continue editing the episodes. In features, I get to spend more time with the director and producers finding the characters, the story and the comedy. There isn’t that luxury of time in television. That said, the shows are shorter so you don’t need as much time to massage the material. But you also have to cut each episode to a specific time, which can be maddening if you have to kill off great material to get to that time. I actually enjoy being able to go between both mediums. It keeps me on my toes.

PHOTO: Rashida Jones stars in “Angie Tribeca” TV show:

ANGIE TRIBECA

MT: What film that you’ve worked on has been your most valuable experience?

TN: That’s a hard question to answer. As an overall answer, I’d say any film I worked on with Richard Marks, my mentor, because he really taught me how to look at a film and make it great. If I were to pick one film that was the most valuable, I’d say FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS.

I had only been cutting on my own for a short while when I got this job. The nature of comedy was changing and what I had learned from my years of working with Richard Marks, James L. Brooks and Nora Ephron was not what the world was craving anymore. When I started working with Will Gluck, he really pushed me to change the pace of my cutting. He wanted his actors to deliver lines fast and punchy like the old screwball comedies, but he wanted them to feel like real people as well.

Though he cowrites all of his films, he loves to go off book and throw ad libs to his actors. He rarely calls cut. FWB was the first digital film I had worked on. I found myself with 30 min. long takes.

But I watched every frame. And in doing so, I was able to listen to his direction to the actors and understand what he was going for. Will Gluck also insists on seeing a rough cut with sound design and music.

When I was coming up the ranks, the rule was to never show a rough cut with music because it changes how you view the cut. Suddenly, I was doing the opposite of what I had been taught. Now I need to perfect all of my sound and music before I can really tell if a scene is working. Working on FWB really launched me forward in my career.

Photo: Justin Timberlake & Mila Kunis star in “Friends with Benefits”:

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MT: What is the art to being a great COMEDY editor? How is working on this type of film different than a conventional drama film?

TN: Comedy editing is all about the pacing. That sounds like a dumb thing to say because all editing is about the pacing, but there is a rhythm to comedy that is very delicate. Make the space between lines too long and you’ve created drama. Make the space too short and you’ve blown the joke. But make the space really long when a ridiculous thing has just been said or done can bring on a huge wave of laughter. But there is no true rule. You just have to feel the material. I believe I have the most success when I’m able to make the characters likable and accessible, not broad caricatures. Then the audience is more open to laughing at them and with them. And watching the film with an audience informs you better than anything of if the comedy is playing.

MT: You’ve edited two feature films in 2016 – HOW TO BE SINGLE & MIDNIGHT SUN. Two very different films. What pulled you into working on those two productions?

TN: I was very interested in working on HOW TO BE SINGLE. It was written by Dana Fox, who was the creator of BEN AND KATE, the first television show I worked on. I instantly responded to the script because it was comedy with heart and (spoiler alert) the girl doesn’t end up with the guy at the end. I had never worked with New Line before but knew that they were one of the main studios making really great comedies. Then, I met Christian Ditter, who is amazing and enthusiastic, and I was sold. Toward the end of HOW TO BE SINGLE, John Rickard, one of the film’s producers, approached me about MIDNIGHT SUN. John had been making this indie film while we were in post on HOW TO BE SINGLE. He had hit a place in the process where he wanted a new set of eyes on the film. There was something with the characters and performance that wasn’t hitting. I was happy to help John out and really happy to dive into a different genre of film.

MIDNIGHT SUN is a drama but it has comedic moments that help us get into the characters. What was important to me when I came onto the film was to make the characters real and likable early on so that when tragedy strikes, you feel so much more for them. My happiest moment on that film was making my teenage daughter cry like a baby at a screening.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director? What is a director looking for in their editor?

TN: I think the answer is probably different for each editor and each director, but I look for a collaborator who is a solid story teller. I like to be able to voice my opinions and discuss the film with the director.

These healthy debates are what ultimately makes the best finished product. I have been lucky to work with a group of directors who fit this category. Each one of them was looking for a collaborator and teammate. They enjoyed the debates and letting me bring ideas to the table. It made the process fun.

PHOTO: Will Ferrell & Nicole Kidman in “Bewitched”:

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MT: Is there a type of film that you would love to edit that you haven’t edited yet?

TN: I love all films so I’m just happy to be cutting. I am really excited about my next project. It is a horror comedy but really playing up the horror. I’ve never cut horror and will probably have to sleep with the lights on for months but I can’t wait!

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

TN: I have an arsenal of movies that I watch over and over again, so its impossible to say what movie I’ve seen most times in my life. One film that I’ve watched hundreds of times is a film called TWO FOR THE ROAD. It was directed by Stanley Donen and it stars Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney as a couple going through many stages of marriage. The film travels back and forth through time to explain their complex relationship, not through flashbacks but through very creative editing. My parents loved it and we used to watch it over and over again when I was a kid.

When I got to USC Film School, it was used in my Cinema 101 class as a tool to teach editing. I had seen the film countless times already, but suddenly I was seeing it in a new light.

MT: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry as an editor?

TN: There are so many opportunities these days for people to learn how to edit. Both my kids use Final Cut Pro at home to edit movies of their friends. But I don’t think that just knowing how to use the programs is enough. I highly encourage anyone who wants to get into editing to move their way through a cutting room, meaning start as a PA and move up. And soak up as much as you can. Editing is as much a relationship with directors and producers as it is with the material.

The more you watch editors manipulate a film or tv show, the more you will feel the rhythms.

MT: Where did you grow up? Was working in the Film Industry something you always wanted to do?

TN: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My father was a big movie buff so movie watching was our biggest hobby in my family. We also made movies as a family. My dad was in advertising so he’d take us on commercial shoots and then to a screening room to watch Rushes at the end of the day. He worked with John Hughes and Alan Daviau when they were in advertising, so I grew up around great talents. I took my first editing class in High School and loved it. I’ve known ever since that time that I wanted to be a Film Editor. And here I am.

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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 Cinematographer Michael Simmonds (Nerve, Vice Principals)

Michael Simmonds is a wealth of knowledge when he chats about his love of cinematography. He is a man who is constantly looking into the future and only looking back when inspiration is needed. He is a rare talent who is able to move seamlessly from documentary to TV to feature films.  It was an honor to chat with him.

Matthew Toffolo: What are the biggest things you learn when you work on documentaries that help you when making live action feature films and TV shows?

Michael Simmonds: There are many ways to approach shooting a Verite documentary. Sometimes you need a complete and editable scene every ten minutes. Meaning, you are constantly getting CU’s, inserts and establishing shots over and over again, regardless of what is happening. Or you can approach a doc like you would going fishing–you stay back with the camera and drift around until something interesting happens and let that lead the way for the camera.

Shooting a documentary makes you figure out coverage really quickly. All storytelling needs to have shot size variation to show the audience what is “important”. Verite documentary is basically filming a live event. The people move around and interact with other people and space and you have to make visual sense out of it for the audience. In narrative you can use this technique by blocking a scene as an “event” and keeping the blocking of the actors “loose”. This works well in chaos scene with lots of people. The actors perform the “event” and the camera films the scene like a doc, meaning there is no formal shot list or “plan”.

PHOTO: Michael DP’d the landmark film “Project Nim”:

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

MS: I only focus and think about whatever I am currently prepping or shooting. I try my hardest and show up to set with all the energy and focus I can muster each and everyday. As for the final product, I often joke that I would enjoy filmmaking just as much even if the camera was never recording. The finished film is of little interest to me aside from a sense of curiosity…

As for “what of my work can I watch and enjoy”; that would be “Plastic Bag”. It’s a short film about the life of a plastic bag. It’s a lot of fun to watch and I have fond memories of making it. The filming of it involved lots of throwing bags into the air and shooting leaf blowers at them, it was ridiculous so we laughed a lot.

MT: You DP’d the entire 2nd season of Vice Principals. I heard that most scenes were improved by the actors. How is that experience working on a set where you don’t know what’s going to happen take after take?

MS: I don’t think most of the scene were improvised. It wasn’t like a Judd Apatow film where you can feel the dueling two camera set up and the actors riff off each other. VP had very tight scripts and David Gordon Green would create film level blocking. The actors definitely added to the dialgue, but not any more or less than other projects I have been involved with. On a comedy, even if the actors improvise, its in regards to dialogue and not their actual movement, so it does not effect me. I alwas operate with headphones on so I can hear the actors perfectly and I can anticipate their movement.

Photo: Danny McBride vs Walton Goggins in “Vice Principals”:

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MT: Do you have a Director of Photography mentor?

MS: I would have and currently would want a DP mentor but unfortunately I never had one. Amir Naderi was a director I worked with early on who taught me about composition and framing. He has a very sharp eye and was always pushing for a perfect take. Ramin Bahrani and I would discuss story structure endlessly and I still read Alexander Mackendrick’s “on filmmaking” every year. Understanding story is the foundation to understanding how to film a scene.

I learn more and more about lighting on every job. In my opinion lights are the hardest medium to work with. They are like painting with water color paint. You never really know what they will do. There are so many variables that will effect the way they function in the photography.

MT: What do you look for in your director?

MS: I want a good collaborator in a director, someone who is not afraid of communication. Good ideas come from lots of ideas. Although a director needs a “vision” they also need to explore all possibilities in a scene. They must be a leader and exciting, but egoless. Their decision process should not be based on fear, which is rare. Most people make decisions based on fear, which makes for a weak film. Bold choices make good films.

MT: What do you think a director looks for in their cinematographer?

MS: Fuck if I know…!

It’s a myth that directors alone choose a D.P. or make any big hiring decision alone. A director might push for someone they have worked with or they could advocate for someone they want to work with but all decisions usually have to go through a producer, financier or studio. Usually a director would be given a list of people to choose from… Of course on more “auteur” films this is not the case.

How do you get on that list that gets handed to the director is a whole other question…

MT: Ideally, how much preparation do you like to do before you begin principle photography? Do you like working with storyboards?

MS: Prep depends on the scope of a film. Nerve needed lots of prep due to the logistics of the stunt sequences. You need a storyboard since so much of that work is a “cheat” and takes place in a “fictional” space. By fictional space I mean that the space as presented on the screen does not exist in the real world. For instance a snorkel lens shot that feels “inside” Dave Franco’s helmet does not need to be filmed on park ave south. A storyboard also lets you understand what shots need the actual actors opposed to the stunt people.

A good stunt sequence is a lots of micro stories that fold into each other and those have to be mapped out.

White Girl didn’t need any storyboards since the film didn’t require cheating any spaces or stunt sequences… the front door to the protagonists apartment was actually the real front door…
A film like white girl doesn’t even require a shot list. We would block out a scene and film it as a moving master and then do some pick up shots for specific moments.

Photo: David Franco and Emma Roberts in “Nerve”:

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

MS: Although there is a romance and nostalgia for film negative, digital imaging has really improved lighting for movies. We are much more comfortable with underexposing now than in the past. Of course Savidis, Khondji and Willis did great underexposing and making bold lighting choices, but now you see modestly budgeted TV shows that look bold and interesting.

Focus pullers often use large HD monitors to pull focus which has allowed for super shallow depth of field that didn’t exist when I started out.

I have no idea where imaging will be in 10 years but the technology has been a mixed blessing with lots of advantages.

Although there is a lot of new technology coming out for camera support, no one product has replaced an older one. The movi did not replace the steadicam and the steadicam did not replace the dolly… its just more tools to use.

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

MS: Probably something like RepoMan or something culty like the Warriors. Or maybe Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels since it was such a game changer in how movies looked. I am often going back to watch Danny Boyle’s work. I truly believe he is the best populist filmmaker working right now. He isn’t scared of technology and he is keeping up with how people currently read images…. Currently I’m not interested in filmmakers that are referencing the past.

But when I am in a hotel room I like to watch something like Runaway Train.

MT: Where did you grow up? Did you always want to be a cinematographer?

MS: I grew up in Scarsdale, NY. It’s a suburb 30 mins from the city.

Most filmmakers have a romantic story about a super 8 camera etc… My history wasn’t like that. My eyes have always been super sensitive to light. I get migraines in the sun and I was always particular about lighting in rooms, even at a young age. I was strict about when a household light would be turned on and which ones. I also liked to boss my friends around…. These qualities probably lead me to my profession.

Around the age of 18 I wanted to go into filmmaking. I started out at Hampshire college but there wasn’t enough of a focus on commercial filmmaking, so I transferred to a school of visual arts and started to focus on cinematography.

Before that I wanted to be in a rock band…. But I didn’t like staying up late and carrying equipment. Little did I know that cinematographers stay up all night and have a heavy camera on there shoulder all the time!

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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 towww.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Set Decorator Lori Mazuer (The Mindy Project, Popstar)

Lori Mazuer is a pure talent. She has worked in the Art Department on over 50 productions in the last 20 years, including her recent stint as the lead Set Decorator for the hit TV show “The Mindy Project”. She was also the Set Decorator for the 2016 hit movie “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”, starring Andy Samberg. Lori also has worked on many horror films, including Lords of Salem, Halloween I and II, and Insidious: Chapter 2 and 3. It was an honor interviewer her. Enjoy!

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Matthew Toffolo: How is “The Mindy Project” experience? What is your typical work week setting up an episode?

Lori Mazuer: The Mindy Project has been an incredible experience. We are headed into Season 5 soon which will be my 3rd season with the Mindy team. Our main goal is to make Mindy’s world come to life, every week with a very ambitious schedule. We shoot our half hour episode every 5 days. This means we are prepping, shooting and wrapping all at once. We often crossboard which means we shoot multiple episodes at once.

My typical work week involves Concept meetings with the creatives, midweek art dept. meetings, which involve detailed discussions with the producers and directors about how the sets should look. Weekly production and tech scouts. While all of this is happening I am shopping and dressing multiple sets at the same time. I have 2 amazing shoppers who help me find the best pieces for our sets and a team of set dressers who are constantly picking up furniture from vendors, dressing sets and returning furniture that has been shot.

We typically have anywhere from 4 to 10 swing sets.Depending on the length of the scene the built sets on stage are 2,3 or 4 wall sets. Once a week we usually dress the Universal back lot to look like a typical NY street. This could be one block, with multiple store fronts, or several blocks. Its a really challenging show but we all manage to rise to the occasion thanks to a great team. The entire crew is smart, kind and helpful. When you have these key qualities in any situation you can succeed in anything.

MT: What is the fundamental difference between working on a television production in comparison to a feature film? I’m assuming the hours are less hectic when working on a TV show?

LM: I think it comes down to the prep time and the amount of details you put into a set. I learned very fast that in TV.

Its head and shoulders. Layering the set with smaller personal items for the characters is my favorite thing to do but we often do not have the time to do this in TV . I have found in film that you are given more days to dress a set so there is time for everyone to see it, discuss it and make changes if needed. We are moving too fast in TV to do this.

I think the hours you work really depends on the TV show. I’ve worked on a few TV shows where we only have one or 2 small swing sets. So there is plenty of time to layer and even adjust if you want too. By comparison the Mindy Project has several more per week.

MT: You’ve worked on many horror feature films. What do you like about the genre?

LM: I fell into working on horror movies by chance. Its kind of funny because I am actually a huge scaredy cat! I am always the one with their hands over their eyes and screaming. I don’t see very many horror movies..they stress me out.

From a creative perspective I do enjoy working on them because of the often unrealistic charm they have. Some of my favorite sets were on the Lords of Salem. The Production Designer, Jen Spence and I have done a few horror movies together and we work very well together. We created a surreal apartment for Sheri Moon Zombies apt which was meant to give the audience the idea that she could actually be losing her mind. We found some images we liked and printed them 10′ x 10′ . Then stretched them on huge canvases.The end result was pretty fantastic. It added to the make believe, surreal world that Rob strived for. We also painted eerie trees on her living room walls. The entire apartment was done in grey, black and white with touches of red. This was something that evolved once Jen, Rob and I delved further into her character. You often don’t have the time for this creative process in great detail in TV. Its something I really love doing in features.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from the film “Lords of Salem”:

MT: Describe the working and collaboration relationship between the Production Designer and Set Decorator?

LM: The set decorator helps to fulfill the designers vision both creatively and logistically. We will meet and discuss how we see the character and the environment that the scene takes place in. He or she will give me a few visual references which can be anything from furniture pictures or wallpaper samples that might set the tone or mood for the set. I like to show the designer a few pictures before we begin locking everything in to make sure that we are on the same page and then I just run with it. Its a great feeling to create something with someone else. If a piece of art or furniture inspires me I love telling the story or reasoning to the designer or director on why I think it is right for them. Its an incredible creative process. Sometimes one piece of furniture that we both love can turn into a big back story just between the 2 of us,

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

LM: I usually start about the same time the production designer does whether doing a film, TV or commercial.

My first task is to break down the script and note any hard to find items. If I am doing a period piece I will immediately start researching that era and start sourcing the right pieces.

I start with broad strokes, the main pieces in the room and build around that. However, I have been known to be inspired by the smallest thing .I once decorated a set because I was inspired by a blanket I found in a thrift store. It was the perfect color and had beautiful stitching. Sometimes something will catch my eye and that item to me can tell a whole story for the character.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a Set Decorator?

LM: Observe how everyone lives. You never know what kind of apartment or house you will need to create. In a sense you have to be able to empathasize with every kind of character there is in the world..from a serial killer to a nun, to a single mom living off of welfare checks.

Organization and communication are very important. You need to be able to be clear in your instructions and what you want to achieve to your crew .I think the tiny details you put in are what make the actors feel that the set you created for them is right for their character. It can inspire them and if that happens you have done your job.

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

LM: I’m a girl from Pittsburgh who grew up one mile from a multi plex and 2 miles from the art house cinema. My taste in film is very eclectic. My inspirations run the gamut.

Female Troubles / John Waters
Dreams/Akira Kurasawa
Barton Fink /Cohen Brothers

I am, a huge fan of Dante Ferretti. I have watched the Adventures of Baron Munchausen too many times to count because I love the production design in that movie

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

LM: Work hard. Draw as much as you can, it often helps in communicating your vision. Its important to understand design in film and to know your designers as they are often brought up as reference.

Pay attention to how people live. Not just in what type of furniture they would have but other contents, personal items, photographs, artwork that can tell a story. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You will be working with very creative people and new ideas are often found to be refreshing.

Watch movies and observe how they are designed. There’s a lot to be learned from other Production designers, Art Directors and Set Decorators.

PHOTOS of the Set Decoration from “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping:


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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 Stunt Performer Hannah D. Scott

hannah_d_scott.jpgI really enjoyed chatting with Stunt Performer/Actor Hannah D. Scott about her profession. She was very open about everything and you can feel her passion for the industry and what she does in her answers. Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience?

Hannah D. Scott: I think that part of the answer lies in not actually working, but watching people work. The set is such a massive machine and being able to take a step back to listen and learn is priceless. I was once asked, a long time ago, to step in as kind of intern of sorts. Understanding the camera, understanding how the director communicates with actors in order to get the right result, what cues to give to help them understand and so on was incredibly valuable. I could see how different lenses worked, how framing could make or break a shot, how timing is essential as are reactions. I watched how gags were set up and every detail that goes in to even the simplest of stunts. Even for a small trip to the ground, the area has to be checked for hazards like glass for example, but someone outside of stunts might not think of those things because they never have to be the ones hitting ground.

Perhaps the most valuable experience was making a mistake on a job an realizing that that sort of stunt is not something I want to do, and being honest with myself about it. Why try and do something and risk not only yourself but others. We all have things we thrive at and fail at.

PHOTOS of Hannah fighting. Swords & Training: 

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

HDS: Funnily enough everything has been outside of work. My Mirror fell off of my windowsill and went through my foot when I was at home…doing nothing. I always expect to get a little bruised even though I have pads for safety, but it comes with the territory. There have been some terrible accidents, perhaps some were avoidable and some were just simply tragic accidents, but we are all aware in going to work that we stand the chance of being hurt and maybe seriously. Everything in our power and the power of those working with us is done to keep things safe. I don’t think the general public realize how much danger there is involved and how much of the physical stuff we actually do without it being CGI or some such thing.

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

HDS: I haven’t done burns yet, being set on fire. There are full and partial burns, each with their own skill set and risks. For some reason that’s high on my list of things I’d like to learn and have the opportunity to do.

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

HDS: This is always a hard one to answer as there in no one ‘way’ in. Personally I was picked to work on a film as I had a background in martial arts, gymnastics and fighting. I very much had to learn as I went that day because the most I had was stage combat for a base in understanding reactions and so on, but it’s a whole different world with a camera, pretty much polar opposite. I was lucky enough to be hired, do a good job and keep connections in order to find out how to progress once I’d made a choice to commit to stunts.

There is no ‘training’ for stunts in a way, you can’t go to a school and then come out with a range of skills and find recruiters. There are workshops available and they’re certainly more frequent in NY now. It has been very hard in the past to attend workshops without already being ‘in’ the working community and without a resume. Most were private invites and with good reason. Things are becoming more open to those starting out now and giving people a chance to learn. It’s a catch 22. How do you get into stunts without training but how do you get training and invited without already being in stunts? Who should even be teaching it is another story and sometimes cause for friction, but at the end of the day it’s about keeping each other safe and using the best skills we have individually, working together to make the best picture possible.

We all train regularly at various sports complexes and in teams. You have to keep the muscles moving, work reactions and timing and watch yourself back all the time on video to make sure you’re not catching yourself for example, putting a hand down being shot in the head where in life you’d just collapse…if that makes sense. Conditioning is always important so you’re fit enough to do multiple takes and have the ability to take the impact, are prepared for it.

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

HDS: I’m not sure I”m experienced enough to answer that, but I think that technology will obviously continue to grow in ways we can’t even imagine yet. Look at animation, it’s mind-blowing. But, I do think there will always be a need for physical bodies and work, so hopefully non of the advances will take jobs away.

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

HDS: I’ve done a dog stunt, which could easily go wrong should the animal decide he wants to do what he wants, but I’d say high-fall holds some of the highest risk. Falling off buildings, cliffs, over balconies and so on into boxes, airbags or porta-pits. There are so many factors that could go wrong either from the miscalculation of the person jumping or the people on the ground spotting or prepping the air-bag, it’s a very risky stunt and a speciality. It’s certainly not for everyone.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

HDS: Yes, I am very lucky and honored by the people I’ve been surrounded and guided by. I think it’s somewhat essential in this part of the entertainment industry as it can be so hard to navigate. I was incredibly lucky on the first major job I did having the chance to work with some of the longest working members of stunt community, their generosity astounds me.

Whenever I’m confused about anything from a contract to what I might need to work on or where I can find who and what I need, they are all there. It’s never too much to check in and there’s never a question that’s too silly to ask. I feel like they all remember what it’s like to have had that first day and remember where they started. I would love to name them, should I name them? Manny Ayala, Elliot Santiago, Chazz Menendez and Joanne Lamstein are all those I consider it an absolute honor that I have them in my life.

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

HDS: Oh boy…honestly? Probably ‘Pete’s Dragon’, no kidding. I know every part of that script and gutted they have made a new one. I’ve never wanted dragons to be so real in my life!

Her Website: http://www.hannahdstunts.com/

PHOTOS: More Hannah fight photos:

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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 Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska (Maggie’s Plan)

Chatting with Costume Designer Malgosia Turzanska was inspirational, educational, and fun! She’s a true talent and someone who is obviously in love with her job. Maggi

To learn more about Maglosia, go to her website: http://www.turzanska.com

maglosiaMatthew Toffolo: I recently interviewed director Rebecca Miller about the film “Maggie’s Plan” and she raved about her working relationship with you. How did you find working on the film and collaborating with Rebecca?

Malgosia Turzanska: Rebecca is a wonderful artist. She is a fearless writer and director and honestly, she took a chance on me. The images I brought to the first interview were so abstract, that it really took courage to trust they would end up as regular clothing rather than people dressed as snowflakes. I am very grateful to her for that trust, because it lead to one of my favorite collaborations. I am very proud that the costumes ended up a little pushed and I have Rebecca and our fantastic actors to thank for embracing them and encouraging me to push further. Julianne, Greta and Ethan are such smart and sensitive artists and working with them was very inspiring.

The rest of the team as well — DP Sam Levy, Production Designer
Alexandra Schaller, Producer Damon Cardasis — they’re wonderful to work with and created an environment where we could really find the world of the film together and end up in a very satisfying place, having a lot of fun on the way.

PHOTOS: Original Maggie design sketches from “Maggie’s Plan:

MT: Do you have a favorite working experience? What film are you most proud of?

Malgosia: I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with talented directors whose vision I fully believed in, so I enjoyed basically every project I’ve been on, but there’s a few stand outs.

“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”, directed by David Lowery was an amazing
experience. David Lowery is one of the most brilliant directors of his
generation, and I absolutely love the lyrical, sensuous movie we made.

The people I met during that shoot have become my dearest friends and I hope to continue working with them forever, as they bring out the best in me.

“In A Valley of Violence” directed by Ti West was an absolute blast. It’s a
revenge western set in late 1870s, with Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Karen Gillian, Taissa Farmiga, and Jumpy the amazing dog. It was just joyous, and brought back together part of the ATBS team. I am very very proud of that one and can’t wait to share it with people. It’s opening in theaters this September, but will screen at BAM in New York during the upcoming cinema fest if you want to see it before then! That shoot was a also a beautiful adventure, including rattle snakes, tarantulas and a whole lot of mice. I also learned the hard way how difficult it is to shave a buffalo hide.

But I’d go back in a beat.

“Hell or High Water” was another favorite New Mexico escapade. A modern western with Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and Chris Pine, it was written by Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario, and directed by David Mackenzie.

David was wonderful to work with and fearlessly walked the tight rope
between bleak and sexy, hopeless and funny, making a film that is
enjoyable and entertaining, but also incredibly heart wrenching and valid. I really can’t wait for August, when it’ll open in theaters.

PHOTOS: Original sketches from Malgosia and on set photos from the film “Hell or High Water”:

MT: What type of film (genre, setting etc..) would you love to do costumes on that you haven’t done yet?

Malgosia: I love movies that are firmly set in reality, and then have an unexpected, magical element introduced to that reality, shifting the rules and creating a new logic, unraveling into a different dimension. My absolute dream would be an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita”, which is one of my favorite books. I get goose bumps just thinking about it! The second one would be an adaptation of “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, who is an outrageously talented young author and whose next book I’m waiting for very impatiently.

MT: Rebecca talked about you building a character from the inside out. How you need to know the person before you dress them. Can you share your plan/structure when you begin a project?

Malgosia: It starts with the script. I read it once or twice and create a primary, emotional response to the whole piece or to specific characters. That phase tends to be pretty abstract, raw and untethered. I’m often drawn to images that are seemingly not relative to the story, but I later discover that they become the core of the design. So I don’t censor myself at that phase and just go with my gut. Then I do a proper breakdown, which helps me learn the script by heart, and research it properly. I study the specifics of the period and environment where the story takes place, which includes reading books, looking at photos, going to museums, watching movies — whatever is available. That’s one of my favorite stages, because you come across so many unexpected tidbits that gradually shape the design. I then create a moodboard for each character and start sketching. I find that sketches are a crucial part of my process. It’s a moment where I start asking specific questions about the characters, when the initial abstract ideas begin to take a concrete, realistic form. Fabric swatches are very informative and inspiring during that phase too — color and texture are my favorite things to play with, and often I’ll dye or fade swatches to see what happens to the color or pattern and find surprising outcomes that I wouldn’t necessarily think of off the bat. Of course throughout the whole process, I talk to the director, DP and PD and exchange ideas to make sure we’re on the same page.

Then comes the actual shopping/building stage. We use the sketches and boards as a roadmap, and decide what we’re making from scratch and what we’re buying or renting. Usually the things that are purchased are either altered heavily or dyed, so very few things actually are off the rack, unless the character calls for it.

For Maggie’s Plan for example, my design for Georgette was inspired by frozen twigs and cracked ice and various textures of snow and fur, to emphasize her Viking nature, so we ended up building quite a few pieces in house. Her grey leather minidress, the fur vest and one of the fur stoles.

We added leather trim to a few tops for more detail. She also wears beautiful custom-made No.6 Store clog boots that I ended up changing the color of to fit in more with her controlled palette. But there were a few pieces that we were in love with from the very start that became her signature, like the gorgeous blush pink Ryan Roche sweater which was just perfect the way it is. For Maggie’s costumes, it was crucial to feel the handme-down and reused nature of the clothes— she is so practical and so careful of not being wasteful that we did not want anything of what she wore to feel new, but still wanted to retain the unabashedly vibrant hues.

We used a lot of vintage clothes that we altered and dyed (a big thank you to my husband for letting me turn our home bathroom into a dye room for weeks) and also were very lucky to get pieces from Archerie NY that have the feel we desired but fit a modern shape beautifully. We found a lovely men’s double breasted coat and turned it into a single breasted women’s one for her, changed buttons on pretty much every garment for various reasons (like the ones on the dressing gown that Ethan Hawke’s character unbuttons, one by one). And just all in all, made every garment personal to the character.

I feel this specific process is emblematic to my general way of working. And it’s exciting every time!

PHOTOS from “Maggie’s Plan”. Pictures taken by Jon Pack:

MT: How early do you get hired in pre-production? Do you work and report to the Production Designer? Is your wardrobe budget already set in stone by the time you begin your first day?

Malgosia: It varies from project to project, but around 5-6 weeks of prep is what I’ve usually been given so far.

The budget discussions happen during prep, so all should be agreed upon, unless there’s a huge change to the script, or for example a shift of a number of period extras from 20 to 200. It’s all a living, shape-shifting organism until it’s picture locked!

The collaboration with the Production Designer as well as with the DP is
crucial. We perform a creative cross-pollination of sorts, exchanging ideas, lookbooks, comparing fabric swatches and paint chips and making sure the various layers of the world we’re creating are congruent and that we’re not stepping on an another’s toes in any way.

MT: What are the key differences when working on a TV series in comparison to working on a movie?

Malgosia: In film, you have the luxury of having a complete arc of the story and of each of the characters from the get go. You can break down each character and graph their progress through the story and plan out the emotional or practical changes to the costumes to design it from the
beginning to the end. In TV, you have a script to an episode or two and
then a general idea of what’s happening further in the season, but without the specifics. Also, the arcs are more open-ended, as you’re never sure if season 2 will or will not happen, or will a certain character be involved in the following season or not.

MT: What do you look for when hiring your assistants?

Malgosia: I’ve been very lucky to find incredible people that I work with over and over again, who are talented, hardworking and generous. They know me through and through and speak my language perfectly, so there’s no need to establish an alphabet every time we start a new project. I hope they know how much I treasure their presence in my life, both professional and personal.

But when hiring new team members, I look for honest people who are not sissies, who are curious, efficient, don’t melt under pressure, have a sense of humor and who treat work as an adventure and an opportunity to learn rather than clocking in and clocking out.

MT: What type of skills do you need to be a great costume designer?

Malgosia: I think imagination and the love of story-telling are key. Not being afraid to get your hands dirty, whether digging through batches of moldy thrift store bails for treasures, or some last minute distressing of a too-pristine hem.

Finding sunrises enough of a reward for getting up at ungodly hours.
Creative problem solving. Letting little things like an unusual button or a
faded piece of lace speak to you. Being ready to be creatively challenged at every step, and to challenge others if need be. But most importantly, understanding that the initial sketch is not the be all end all — it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s not a fashion plate, but a tool to collaboration with the whole team.

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

Malgosia: It’s not the movie that I’ve seen the most, but it’s seminal enough that I feel I should mention it —Almodovar’s Kika was the first movie that I ever saw that made me think of costume design as an art form. I was in high school probably skipping a math test or something like that, and happened upon its screening. I had no idea who Almodovar was, and sat there saucereyed, having some sort of a religious experience. I was especially blown away by Jean Paul Gaultier’s creations for Victoria Abril’s character. Such joy!

But the two films that I love beyond anything else and that perfectly reflect my own film aspirations are Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (Melissa Toth’s costumes) and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich” (Casey Storm). Both written by Charlie Kaufman, so I guess there’s that!

But also, I would be dishonest if I didn’t mention my guilty pleasure —
Wayne Wang’s “Maid in Manhattan” with costumes by Albert Wolsky. I love that it’s a Cinderella story where the magical garment that transforms a maid into a princess is a pant suit! How brilliant!

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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.