Interview with director Lior Sperando (PEOPLE OF NOWHERE)

PEOPLE OF NOWHERE,  directed by Lior Sperando, was the winner of Best FILM at the July 2016 Under 5min. FEEDBACK Film Festival. It was one of the most popular films that has ever played at the festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Lior Sperando: I have heard and read different opinions about the wave of Syrian refugees who try to make their way in to the EU.

But Seeing the people behind the headlines with my own eyes, and feeling their deep struggle, broke my heart.

I wanted to show what I saw in the Greek island.

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

LS: The shootings took about a week and the post another month.
So 5 weeks all together

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

LS: Humanity first

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

LS: The shootings were very complex physically and also mentally.
Trying every day to avoid the medias circus in order to get the raw emotions was a pain but also a success

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

LS: I would never guess this film will get so popular. Hearing people from all over the world watching and sharing the film with their friends and families was. A really great surprise!

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

LS: While the world was so busy labeling this crisis from left to right. I tried to show another perspective.

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

LS: Ahh.. Probably Robbin Hood /:

Haha

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

LS: Since “People of Nowhere” –

I was able to make another short film with the same concept of
Giving a voice to a muted community, this time in Ethiopia:
http://www.liorsperandeo.com

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of PEOPLE OF NOWHERE:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-50 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 Kyran Davies (STEPHEN THE TIME TRAVELLING DOG)

STEPHEN THE TIME TRAVELLING DOG, directed by Kyran Davies is perhaps one of the most loved films that was ever played at a WILDsound Festival. The audience attending the July 2016 Under 5 minute FEEDBACK Film Festival LOVED this film. It was a pleasure interviewing the director, especially because his answers were all funny.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Kyran Davies: People always say that you should write about what you know. I’d probably say time travel is one of my favourite past times. Next to mountain hikes and playing Tetris battle. I’m particularly fond of the 16th Century. So I’d say my main motivation came from my love of time travel and my fondness for animals. Especially cats.

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

KD: It took me about four years to convince a crew to come and shoot it with me. But once i did the shoot only took a day. It was the best day of my life.

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

KD: Gritty Realism

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

KD: I was really lucky to work with a super professional crew during the shoot of this film. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about a certain unnamed cast member, who kept barking, asking for treats and shitting on the floor. The Dog Archie was great to work with though. There was also quite a steep flight of stairs in the flat that we shot the film in which I had to walk up and down at least twice, that was quite challenging.

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

KD: When I first got sent the link, I thought it was spam mail but I watched it anyway. Initially I thought “Who the hell would make a film about a time travelling dog” but once I remembered that it was a film I’d made I was very grateful for the kind words and positive feedback. It meant a lot. I have lots of love for the Canadian Audience and for all the people at Wildsound.

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

KD: I was playing a lot of Bugs Bunny: Lost In Time for the playstation 1 at the time I came up with the idea for Stephen the time Travelling Dog. It’s a fantastic under rated game that really shows off diverse character study and complex narrative involving time travel and animals. It really was a big inspiration so I just tried to visually rip it off as much as possible.

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

KD: When I was a kid I used to have periods of time where I’d binge watch Return of the Jedi for weeks on end. But as an adult I usually wake up each morning and watch a scene from Purple Rain with Prince to start my day. Seeing Prince do something cool is my substitute for coffee.

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

KD: I’m currently working on a short comedy film set in the 90s about a video shop. I am going to release it directly online once it is complete. Hopefully towards the end of 2016. Should be a nice bit of nostalgia for all the 80s, 90s kids and anyone who remembers their local video shop.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of STEPHEN THE TIME TRAVELLING DOG:

stephen_the_time_travelling_dog_1

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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 director Nicola Balhuizen Hepp (WALK)

WALK, directed by Nicola Balhuizen Hepp played to rave reviews at the Under 5 Minute FEEDBACK Film Festival in July 2016. It was an honor to interview her:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Nicola Balhuizen Hepp: In dealing with my father’s ageing process, my films are exploring themes and issues that have to do with age, memory, life and death. I had worked with him on a performance with projected video images in 2006. The material for Walk is actually material that we shot for those projections.

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

NBH: The material was shot in 2006, I had the idea for Walk in november 2014 and finished it by the end of that year.

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

NBH: perpetual, inevitable

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

NBH: Dealing with how it was filmed originally as it wasn’t shot for this short film but for the projections for a very long piece, the timing of the shots was very slow and I wanted to make Walk as a very short one-minute, full-circle film.

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

NBH: I was humbled and grateful to see that people really seemed to understand my film. Particularily, I was touched by how the audience were truly interested and wanting to relate. As a filmmaker, that is really what I want, to connect with the viewers and have them think about issues that I touch upon with my films.

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

NBH: This came out of the need to deal with my father’s ageing process and at the same time, having this material that sat unused on a shelf 8 years after the live performances, I felt curious to see what I could make of that material in the edit.

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

NBH: Singing in the Rain and Twelve Monkeys

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

NBH: After Walk I made two more films, The Double and Songs of the Underworld. Now I am busy with a music video for a british band and making plans for my next short film.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of “WALK”:

walk

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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 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”:

star_trek_beyond_action.jpg

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.

 

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”:

friends_with_benefits.jpg

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”:

bewitched

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”:

project_nim-still.jpg

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”:

vice_principals_tv_show.jpeg

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.