Interview with Editor Crispin Green (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who)

Crispin Green has edited some of the top TV shows in recent times. It was a pleasure to site down with him to talk about the craft of editing and his career.

Interview with Crispin Green: 

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about the “Game of Thrones” experience. How is editing such a unique show where there are 4-7 plots occurring in a single episode?

Crispin Green: It’s an experience quite unlike working on other shows in that the editors are there for the duration of the shoot (about 6 months) rather than blocks of two or three episodes. This can help in the editing process as you get more of a sense of the season as a whole story.

MT: Will you be back to editing the series “Game of Thrones”? How does the process work? Who do you report to and collaborate with? The showrunners? The novelists? The director of the episode?

Yes I’ll be back if the opportunity arises.

CG: When assembling the dailies I work closely with the director, showing him or her cut scenes as the shoot progresses. He or she will give me notes as we go along if needed as they only have limited time for fine cutting when the episodes are complete. Some VFX heavy scenes have to be fine cut early so that the VFX team has a chance to get their work done in time (dragons take a long time to animate!), in these cases the showrunners will get involved with the cutting process. Once the director has presented a fine cut to the producers, the showrunners take over and I will work with them until picture lock.

PHOTO: Game of Thrones Season 5: 

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MT: I have to ask you about editing “Doctor Who”. Another iconic series. Were you a fan of the show before you began editing it? How was your experience working on the show?

CG: Yes I was a fan, I grew up watching the show and couldn’t quite believe it when I got to actually work on it! It was great fun to work on, the showrunners were very open to unusual ideas.

PHOTO: Doctor Who Season 4:

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MT: What’s the key difference between editing a feature film in comparison to editing a TV episode?

CG: I’ve only cut one feature (and co-editor on The Great Rock n Roll Swindle – which wasn’t normal!) so I can’t really comment but I would imagine that TV shows have less time available due to pre-booked transmission dates.

MT: Besides “Game of Thrones”, and “Doctor Who”, do you have a favorite experience and film/TV show that you’re most proud of?

CG: Series one of “Bodies” was a ground-breaking medical drama written by Jed Mercurio where we got to try out some interesting stuff and equally “Misfits” was a pretty cool show to cut the first episodes of.

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

CG: The ability to get the story across in the most interesting way, understanding the director’s vision and being ready to adapt to what the writer/showrunners want.

MT: What is an editor looking for in their director/show runner?

CG: Someone who is good to work alongside (we spend many weeks together in a small room!) and who has an interesting vision of the project.

MT: What is a director/show runner looking for in their editor?

CG: Same answer as above but also it helps if the editor can second guess what the director wants while assembling the scenes.

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

CG: It’s a three way tie between “The Blues Brothers”, “Some Like It Hot” and “The Italian Job”!

MT: What advice would you have for people who like to be an editor in the film/TV industry?

CG: I started as a runner and worked my way up and I would recommend this route to anyone, you get to meet lots of people on the way who, more often than not, will be happy to help you on your journey. Also, try and cut as many things as you can to develop your cutting instinct, and watch lots of TV shows/movies to try and understand how to (or how not to!) construct an understandable story.

 

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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 Cinematographer Julio Macat (Home Alone, Wedding Crashers, The Boss)

What an honor it was to sit down with Director of Photography Julio Macat. Julio has DP’d most of the top comedy films in the last 25+ years. His list of credits include: Home Alone 1, 2 & 3, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,  The Nutty Professor, The Wedding Planner, Wedding Crashers, Winnie the Pooh, Pitch Perfect, and the upcoming comedy The Boss, starring Melissa McCarthy.

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Matthew Toffolo: You have worked in the Hollywood Film Industry scene for the last 36 years. What has been the biggest change in the filmmaking process from 1980 to present?

Julio Macat: The biggest change in our industry has been the choice of material that studios and most independent financing companies green light, as what films are made. It used to be that a film like ORDINARY PEOPLE would have no problem going forward, especially with a good director attached. Now, great films like that rarely get made anymore. I miss that.

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

JM: Without hesitation it’s HOME ALONE, it was a rare combination of all the elements of film making coming together harmoniously with a result better than expected.

PHOTO: Cinematography in the film Home Alone:

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MT: Home Alone is one of the most successful films in movie history, and it’s a film that really stands the test of time. During filming, did you ever imagine that this film would be as iconic as it was?

JM: No I didn’t. My hope was that it would be liked as much as I liked A CHRISTMAS STORY and that kids could relate to and be empowered by it. But It’s unusual to sense that you are doing something that special because you are in a vacuum, trying to do the best you can in your department (the visuals) and just hope that everyone else had their act together as well…Fortunately our young director Chris Columbus, had a great vision of what “it could be” and he guided us all in a great direction. The film was that unique circumstance where every layer that was added made the film even better…and John Williams’ score was truly icing on the cake.

MT: You’ve definitely been a part of some of the most successful films in the last 25 years (Home Alone, Wedding Crashers, Pitch Perfect to name a few). Is there a film that you worked on that didn’t do well at the box office that you consider a terrific film that people should see?

JM: Yes In comedy, I loved MY FELLOW AMERICANS which came out at an odd time and no one saw and the drama CRAZY IN ALABAMA which was a bit too long and did not connect with American audiences.

PHOTO: Crazy in Alabama. Starring Melanie Griffith:

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MT: You just wrapped “The Boss” starring Melissa McCarthy, Peter Dinklage, and Kristen Bell. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect?

JM: I have not been this excited about a comedy coming out since I photographed WEDDING CRASHERS!

JM: THE BOSS is the perfect vehicle to show Melissa McCarthy’s incredible talent. I think she is the present day Lucille Ball, someone who can and will do ANYTHING for a laugh and unlike other comedians, it’s ALWAYS really funny. She has the uncanny ability to step outside herself and correct situations to make them hilarious without being self conscious! There is a scene in which she puts on a teeth whitener to have Kristen Bell clean her teeth and holds a conversation while they are being cleaned. I assure you that this will have the people in theatres roaring with laughter! We had to start the scene again repeatedly, because the other actors and the crew could not stop laughing during the takes.

PHOTO: Melissa McCarthy in THE BOSS: 

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MT: Some of the comedies you work on the director demands the actors stick to the script, whereas other films, like Wedding Crashers, there is a lot of improvising occuring. Do you have a preference when shooting? How does the scene lighting setup change when you know the actors are going to go off script?

JM: It’s been my experience that comedy is an imperfect and individual science. The best results come when you leave an opening for great accidents to happen. So I try to not lock in actors with blocking that is too precise, and for example, if the scene develops into being filmed in an area that we had not anticipated, well, that then turns into a fun challenge!. Hopefully this adds to the piece. Ben Falcone and Melissa were eager to want overlaps in dialogue and action in some of our scenes, to be a part of the looseness of the jokes, so they asked that I cover these scenes with three angles simultaneously. It was challenging photographically, but the results were worth the effort and we got many “improvised “ moments with the proper intercut coverage.

MT: Since you started in the camera department, do you prefer operating the camera yourself? Or does this all depend on what type of film (budget/Union guidelines) you’re working on?

JM: I love operating the camera myself, and on some productions I prefer it.

But since I’ve now done 17 films with first time directors, lately, I find that all can go faster when I spend more time by the director’s side and away from the camera. I do love stunts, however, and I love operating on the tough shot …so that we get it in one.

MT: What’s the main thing you look for from your main crew members? Gaffer, Key Grip, Camera Operators etc…

JM: My most important criteria in choosing crew is PERSONALITY. After this many years in the film industry, I found that many people are qualified for the job description, not as many have the agreeable, kind and respectful personality that I require to be in my crew.

I like to be the example of being respectful to actors, directors, producers and other crew members. I expect my crew to do the same.

It’s amazing how much you can achieve with a hand picked crew that has a positive attitude and general kindness toward each other, I am always amazed at this, especially when we work under such tough circumstances that we often encounter. With this approach, when the pressure mounts with things like weather challenges, not enough time, locations changing, etc. etc. which by the way, are actually the daily obstacles of filming, one can rely on the crew to process it, deal with it professionally and find a solution with kindness achieving much better results.

MT: What do you look for in your working relationship with your director?

JM: A collaboration, Hopefully I look for this person to be someone who will do their homework, roll their sleeves up along with me and work as hard as I do.

I look for the director to be considerate of my craft and the elements I may need in order to help them realize their vision for the film And finally, maybe most importantly, a sense of humor.

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

JM: It’s a three way tie: In this order though…

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
LOST IN AMERICA
JERRY MAGUIRE

Cheers
JULIO MACAT, ASC

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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 1st AD John McKeown (50/50, Albert Nobbs)

The role of an Assistant Director – 1st AD on a film includes tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. 

John McKeown has worked in the AD department, mainly as a 1st AD, on over 40+ productions in the last 20 years. He is a fountain of knowledge, which is evident when reading this interview.

jack_1stad.jpgInterview with John McKeown:

Matthew Toffolo: In your 20+ year career, do you have a favorite and/or memorable experience?

John McKeown: Those 20+ years went by in a flash!

I’ve seen a lot of sunrises and sunsets around the world and I have my job to thank for that.

Shooting in India was a truly memorable experience. It’s a place I hope to return to.

I’ve been lucky enough to work on action movies, dramas, comedies and most things in between.

Traveling to distant countries, seeing behind the scenes of cities, places and other peoples lives is a real privilege.

When I really think about it the thing that I value the most is the people I’ve worked with, both in front of and behind the camera. Most of my closest friends are people I have worked with. Spending your working life surrounded by people who are enthusiastic and talented is a real blessing and not to be taken for granted.

MT: In a typical Hollywood production, how many weeks before shooting does the 1st AD come aboard the film?

JMK: It varies. Depending on the project the AD can be in prep for many months or as little as 3 weeks.

I usually start a couple of weeks after the director and a week or two before the DP.

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MT: When setting the schedule for the production, what is the fine line between what is most logical and cost saving to what schedule has the best chance to make the best film?

Knowing when you can economize on a given scene or shooting day in order to allocate more resources to another part of the script is what the schedule is all about.

Achieving that delicate balance is the skill of a good AD. Talking to the director about what is vital to their story telling process and what they are most passionate about is the starting point of prep for me.

Working closely with the director and producers to bridge the gap that sometimes exists is a big part of the AD’s job.

I want to go into day one of shooting with a schedule that the director, the producers and I agree gives us the best opportunity to enter post production feeling great about what we got during the shoot.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a great 1st AD?

JMK: You’d have to ask one!

I can tell you that the qualities I look for in a 2nd AD apply to the 1st AD as well.

– A calm unflappable personality under extreme pressure
– Real attention to detail
– The ability to plan ahead and think on your feet if the plan falls apart
– The grit to do a great job when they are sick / exhausted / just had their car stolen / got yelled at by someone above the line or any number of other things that would put a regular person off their game
– Sense of humor – essential!

MT: How does the 1st AD gain the respect of the crew on the first day to set the tone of the production?

JMK: I try to set the tone during prep and at the production meeting.

I treat everyone with respect and I expect them to do the same.

On the first day at the safety meeting I make it clear that we are a team, that everyone needs to play their part and that I am always available to any member of the crew who needs me.

I make the assumption that they are there to do the best job they can.

In the rare case that we hit a speed bump because someone either can’t or won’t deliver what is expected of them I try to resolve the situation in private away from the set.

MT: Is there is a key difference when you’re a 1st AD on productions of an action film in comparison to a drama?

JMK: In large action sequences it is much more about logistics, safety and planning with the stunt team and special FX crew.

Often the angles are story boarded and detailed shot lists are created and then scheduled.

Running the set is always about making sure that everyone knows what’s happening right now and then what is happening next up.

It’s never more essential than when shooting potentially dangerous action.

Drama is a different discipline. Creating the right environment on the set for the cast to work with the director is the top priority.

Dramatic scenes can seem simple – two people in a room? What could go wrong? A surprising amount!

I try to remove all of the distractions from the set so that the director can work with the cast and get the best performances.

A combination of intense drama and extreme stunts? That’s when it gets really interesting!

MT: If the day or entire schedule goes into overtime, does the 1st AD carry the most blame?

JMK: Only if he/she is the cause of the overtime!

There is a lot the AD can do to make sure that things run efficiently.

Proper planning in prep is essential (The 3 Ps!).

Having a plan B, C and on some days plan D is also something an experienced AD is used to.

All that being said there are some things that you can never predict. Weather can be forecast but change in a moment, a cast or crew member can have a bad day for any number of reasons, equipment can fail etc.

My personal rule is this.

If something happens (however unlikely it was to occur) that I could in any way have expected, predicted or prevented then I carry the blame. If there was no way to know ahead of time that disaster would strike then I accept the new deal and do everything I can to move past it and get us back on track – the expression “It’s not my fault but it is my problem” comes into play here. The trick is knowing the difference!

MT: What is a director mostly looking for in a 1st AD?

JMK: Very much depends on the director.

Some want a drill sergeant, some want a very low profile AD. Most want a combination of skills and experience that the AD can bring to the ever changing circumstances on a set.

I always talk to a director when we first meet and ask them how they like the set to run. In my experience a good AD is really a chameleon, drill sergeant, advisor, morale booster on the tough days. Most of all I think the AD is there to get whatever the director sees in their head onto the screen.

jack1stad3.jpgMT: What is a 1st AD mainly looking for in a director?

JMK: For me it’s collaboration.

The best experiences I have had are when the director the DP and the AD are all in sync and pulling for the same goal.

Sometimes the director and the DP are a creative team and see the AD and indeed “production” as a barrier to getting their vision made.

This is really unfortunate but it is understandable.

A director I love once told me that he came to work everyday with a “bucket of diamonds” that were his ideas for how to shoot that days work. He told me that at the end of the day if all his diamonds had been lost (killed by production in his view) and all he had left was the handle of the bucket he considered that a good day!

The best directors include all the key departments in the plan and the end result is always better. I think the secret to success is to hire smart motivated people in the key crew positions and then let them really do what they are best at.
As a director you have the final say as to whether an idea brought to you is in the movie but having a whole team of talented people offer up ideas is a gold mine of opportunities.

MT: Did you have a 1st AD mentor?

JMK: I was lucky enough to have two. Nael Abbas & Jon Older. Both top AD’s in the UK and the two people who put me on the right path at the start of my career.

Nael gave me my first break and got me into TV. I worked as a PA and then 2nd 2nd for both Nael & Jon.

I moved my way up to 2nd AD working for both of them on multiple projects. Jon Older gave me my very first job as a 1st AD. He was moving up to direct and asked me to run the set for him. I’m very grateful to them both.

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

JMK: Jaws. I pray they never remake it as it is the perfect film.

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

Interview with Emmy Winning Editor Geoffrey Rowland (Path to 911, The Young Messiah)

Geoffrey Rowland has worked in the film and television industry for over 50 years. We chatted on the phone for 2 hours with topics ranging from our mutual love for baseball, life lessons, being Canadian, and of course film and editing. He was a pure joy to chat with. Enclosed are the highlights of our conversation:

Matthew: “The Young Messiah” is set to hit the theatres this week. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect? How was your experience working on the film?

Geoffrey Rowland: Terrific experience. I worked 77 straight days editing that film. It became a part of me. I gave it my all and I think it’s a very good film.

PHOTO: Still from “The Young Messiah” with actress Sara Lazzaro. Geoffrey called her one of the finest actresses he has ever edited. “Amazing eyes”. He praised. 

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MT: You’ve worked on over 80 productions as an editor in the last 40 years. Do you have a favorite experience? What film/TV episode are you most proud of?

GR: There was a “Cagney & Lacey” episode in 1984 called “Heat”. It was about a hostage situation. The producer of the show called it a movie that was also a TV episode. I’m very proud of that episode because the director Karen Arthur won an Emmy for it. The first time a female won a Best Directing Emmy.

There was a scene where someone gets shot in the episode and instead of showing them get shot down, I focused on the reaction of the husband and let the sound of the gun and his face tell us what happened. That’s editing!

PHOTO: Tyne Daly in “Cagey & Lacey”. Geoffrey edited multiple episodes of the series and considers working with director Karen Arthur as one of his finest working experiences:

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MT: I have to ask about your experience working on “Rocky” early in your career as an assistant editor. The film ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture. What are you memories working on the film?

GR: I was an apprentice editor for Richard Halsey on the TV series “Peyton Place”. One day as I was driving home from work on a show I was assisting for, I realized I forgot my wallet and had to go back to the Production Lot. I ran into Richard who was looking for an assistant editor for this film called “Rocky”. The only reason I got the job was because and I was lucky to run into Richard at the exact time he was going to hire someone. I wasn’t his first choice, but because I was eager to do it, he went with me. That’s faith! If I remembered my wallet my career could have gone in a different direction.

MT: You then moved onto “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. You worked on an Oscar winner to Steven Spielberg! What were your duties working on that production?

GR: I watched, assembled the dailies, and organized the footage. From Memorial Day 1977 to the fall of that year, I had two days off. We worked tirelessly on that film.

Steven was a terrific guy. It was all about the film. That’s what made the working relationship great. No one needs to know anything about you except what you know about the film. A sole focus always leads to the best relationships.

MT: You won an Emmy for the “Path to 911” mini-series. I had a few friends working on that production in Toronto, so I visited the set for a few days. Every shot, no matter what, had at least three cameras rolling, sometimes 4-5 cameras. I remember thinking that the editor and his team are going to have SO much footage – it’s going to be a nightmare. What were your experiences working on that film? You must have had a big team of assistant editors to go over all that footage.

GR: There was almost 3 million feet of film shot on that production. Yes there was a lot of coverage – which is amazing for an editor because you have choice and can really dig into the story.

We had 5-7 editors at a time working on the project editing scenes. The trick on that film was to make it look like it was edited by just one person when it came all together. That was my job. The director David L. Cunningham is a brilliant guy. Shoots the film like it’s a documentary in a very unique style. He reminded me of a young Spielberg.

We were proud to receive the Emmy but it wasn’t us who won it, but the entire production and people who worked on the show.

PHOTO: Still Shot from the mini-series “Path to 911”. A controversial series when it premiered in September 2006. Geoffrey wins his first Emmy after 5 previous nominations: 

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MT: What’s the key difference between working on a TV episode in comparison to working on a feature film?

GR: TV is a Producer’s medium. That’s who you’re working with. They know the show and how the episode needs to fit into the context of the entire season and series. Film is a director’s medium. The director knows the film better than anyone else. In TV, it’s a faster process versus working on a film.

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

GR: Hand ons. Hands off. Instense. Casual. They are all different and you always learn a ton from them. As long as they are passionate, that’s all that matters.

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

GR: Do the job and don’t bring your ego to the film. A director has one focus (to finish the film) and has a 1000 things going on in their head. They want you to be professional. Don’t cross boundaries and tell them your life story or anything for that matter that’s not about the film. When you finish working with them they’ll know whether they want to work with you again and vice/versa. You don’t have to say anything more about it.

In professional situations and when putting a film together, less is always more.

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

GR: The Immortal Beloved. Probably seen it 2 to 3 dozen times. When I want a good cry, I watch it.

Great films leave an impression. My daughter Brooke was 15 years old when we went to see the film together. She just quit the piano weeks before, but went right back to it after she saw the film because she was so inspired. And stayed at it. When Gary Oldman (who played Beethoven) heard that story, he wept.

Stories like that is the reason why most of us get into the business. It’s all about leaving an impression in this world.

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

GR: The next project. Whatever the next project is.

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

GR: Learn subtext. A great way to do learn is to listen to classical music. Listen to the instruments and how it all comes together. It’s the same way when editing a film.

Get your foot in the door and be a sponge. You have to be obsessed with editing. Nothing else matters.

Also, buy the book: http://www.CUTTINGITINHOLLYWOOD.com

And remember when editing – it’s all in the eyes!

PHOTO: Banner of the book “Cutting it in Hollywood”, where author Mitchell Danton interviews the great film editors, including Geoffrey Rowland. 

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

Interview with Cinematographer Natasha Braier (The Neon Demon, The Rover)

Natasha Braier is a Director of Photography on the rise. Her list of credits is already impressive, but 2016 could be her banner year. She is set to film “American Express”, directed by Nash Edgerton and starring Charlize Theron. Her film, “The Neon Demon”, will be coming out later this year. It stars Keanu Reeves & Elle Fanning, and is directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson).

For more information, go to: http://www.natashabraier.com/

It was an honor to sit down with the Cinematographer:

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about THE NEON DEMON. What should we expect to see? Nicolas is a very visual filmmaker – shows more than tells. How was your working relationship with the director?

Natasha Braier: I think working with Nicolas Winding Refn is a gift for any cinematographer, because he is interested in visual story telling, in poetry, in suggesting rather than narrating. He doesn’t care about the conventional established representational mode of film story telling, he goes beyond, and for me thats what always been exiting in film making. I always tend to look for directors that are working in this direction, but Nic is probably the most extreme of them, and that’s what I love about him. He pushes me to get the bravest part of myself, to jump the abyss, he doesn’t care if we fall and crash while trying, he would rather try and fail than to stay in a safe territory. So, I love jumping with him, and most of the time, we don’t fall but we fly.

PHOTO: Elle Fanning in “The Neon Demon”

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Matthew: You are set to DP the feature film AMERICAN EXPRESS, directed by Nash Edgerton. We showed Nash’s last short film at our festival last year. Lots of camera movement while showcasing the production design to give multiple feels and emotions to the viewer. How is your experiences in prep been so far?

Natasha: We are having a great time in prep, we start shooting tomorrow. Its very interesting that you mention about his camera movement because I love how Nash moves the camera and that’s one of the things that attract me of his work. Together with his sense of humor and his sensibility.

Matthew: After a string of successful short films, you jumped to features in 2005. How did you obtain your first feature film job? What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned as a DP in the last 11 years?

Natasha: My first film GLUE was directed by my then husband, Alexis Dos Santos.

He won a 30K development grant in Rotterdam and we shot the movie with that money plus another 15 I made on a car commercial. Glue won in Rotterdam and showed in more than 20 film festivals, Lucia Puenzo called me to do XXY after seeing Glue, so did Claudia Llosa for The Milk of Sorrow. So, that’s how it all got started.

Matthew: You still like to DP short films from time to time. What keeps inticing you to work on shorts? Do you like/love the medium?

Natasha: I shot a few in the last few years, Loxoro for my friend Claudia Llosa who I shot “Milk of Sorrow” with. I shot “Swimmer” as I admired director Lynne Ramsay who after that collaboration because a great friend. And a short film for Zegna with director Park (Chan Wook) another big hero of mine, whom I had never dreamed I would have the chance to work with. If these amazing directors are doing shorts, sure, I love shooting shorts with them. Also, short films are a format that allow for more experimentation, more poetry and freedom.

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

Natasha: I would love to work with Leos Carax. And I would love to do science fiction. I guess it would be dark, arty science fiction ha .

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

Natasha: Someone you respect as an artist and as a human. Someone who has something to say that I relate to and I feel I wanna help express with the tools of cinematography.

Matthew: What does a director for for in its DP?

Natasha: I guess that depends on the director.

Matthew: What do you look for when hiring your main team? Gaffer. Key Grip. Camera Operator. Etc…

Natasha: I look for the best technical expertise, an artistic eye and sensibility that resonates with mine, a passionate love for film making, and personalities I would like to have around for months.

You are creating a family that will support you not only technically but also emotionally, so the human aspect is as important as the technical one.

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

Natasha: I’m very sad to see film disappearing and I feel is our responsibility to keep fighting to keep it alive and to have the option to choose what’s the best format for each project.

PHOTO: Natasha on Set of the film “The Rover”:

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

Natasha: Mauvais Sang, Leos Carax. I’ve seen it so many times I can probably draw it frame by frame.

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

Interview with Editor Jake Roberts (Oscar Nominated film BROOKLYN)

It was a pleasure to sit down with Jake Roberts, the editor of BROOKLYN, which was nominated for 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay). Jake has already established himself as one of the top editors in the industry. This year alone he cut two Hollywood Productions coming to a cinema near you. COMANCHERIA, starring Chris Pine & Jeff Bridges. And TRESPASS AGAINST US, starring Michael Fassbender & Brenden Gleeson.

Interview with Jake Roberts:

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about your experiences working on “Brooklyn”? How many months do you work on editing the film? How does it feel to be the editor of an Oscar Nominated film?

Jake Roberts: ‘Brooklyn’ was a great experience. There was a really positive energy throughout the shoot and it felt like we might be working on something quite special. It was personal to a lot of the people involved and that seemed to come through in the material and that makes you want to raise your game, especially when you’re watching a performance like Saoirse’s unfold you feel a huge pressure to do it justice. Once John and I were back in London we cut for about 3 months and obviously there was plenty of back and forth but at the same time it was quite a calm and controlled process. We had a very strong first assembly and we never deviated too far from it or went down too many experimental cul-de-sacs. This is largely a testament to Nick’s script which only needed the subtlest of refinements so essentially it was about distillation, making it as tight as possible and all the while carefully calibrating the emotional journey through the performances. As for the Oscars it is all a surreal bonus, like I say you hope as you work on something that it is special and obviously a nomination suggests you did something right but the most thrilling thing is that a wide audience gets to see it and thankfully it seems we managed to strike a chord with a lot of them.

PHOTO: Still shot from BROOKLN:

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Matthew: You have worked on many documentaries. Is this something you like to continue to do?

Jake: In theory yes as documentary is so much of an editor’s medium but having fought for so long to get into features it’s difficult to turn your back on them. Certainly as a viewer I’d rather watch a great documentary than a fictional film so if the right one came along it’d be hard to say no.

Matthew: What is the key difference between working on a narrative film in comparison to a documentary?

Jake: In documentary you are creating the narrative as you go, effectively writing the script in the edit, but at the same time you are obviously constrained by your material so you have to know both how to tell the story but also how best to illustrate that within the limitations of the footage you have available. Someone once said that it’s like being given a bag of sentences and being asked to write a novel. The fact that in narrative film you get to follow a script that has been very carefully written and developed means that all that heavy lifting has been done for you and your role is just tell that story as effectively as possible.

PHOTO: Documentary film LONG WAY AROUND, starring Ewan McGregor:

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Matthew: How did you transition from working on short films to features?

Jake: The very first short film I ever cut was for the director David Mackenzie after which we made a low budget feature together, I was 23 at the time, but then David went on to make a bigger film with actual film stars and the producers insisted on a more experienced editor so I lost that relationship. I then spent years cutting every kind of project that came my way, documentaries, commercials, music videos, shorts, television drama, you name it. Basically I honed my craft and just tried to become the best editor I could always hoping I could return to features one day. Many years later David was preparing his sixth feature film and his regular editor was unavailable so we reconnected and fortunately I had gained enough experience to be given a chance by the financiers. We have now made 5 features together.

Matthew: In the last 16 years you’ve worked as an editor on over 20 productions. What film has been your favorite working experience so far?

Jake: Films are like children and like any parent you can’t really pick favourites but each has their own unique qualities. Being involved in ‘Long Way Round’ Ewan McGregor’s round the world motorbike trip was a great communal experience, working out of a garage in Shepherd’s Bush in the months before they set off we were cutting upstairs as they prepped the bikes downstairs. Everyone involved stayed up all night helping pack up the equipment the night before they left and then months later we were flown to New York to be there when they arrived. We shot ‘Tonight You’re Mine’ in 4 days at a music festival working 22 hour days which was a very intense and disorientating but bonding process. ‘Starred Up’ was shot over four weeks in Belfast but was similarly intense as David was insisting that we have all the scenes fully cut within hours of them being filmed. We were shooting completely sequentially and he wanted to have as clear an idea as possible about the shape of the film up to the scene he would be filming the next day so we basically made the film as we went. We eventually screened the entire movie at the wrap party and locked the picture 3 weeks later so it was ultimately very short and sweet. Just recently I was cutting in a log cabin in New Mexico and every Sunday we would have a barbecue and screen assemblies for the entire cast and crew, Jeff Bridges would bring his guitar. That was a lot of fun.

Matthew: What is an editor looking for in their director?

Jake: Work. No seriously I think a coherent vision that hopefully translates into the dailies and then a sense of collaboration in the cutting room. It’s definitely a conversation and I think I would struggle to work with someone who insisted on doing all the talking.

Matthew: What is a director looking for in their editor?

Jake: You’d have to ask them but I would imagine someone who brings ideas and solutions to the table but doesn’t force their agenda, merely offers it. Ultimately someone who makes them look good, which we usually do.

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

Jake: Probably Jaws or This Is Spinal Tap.

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

Jake: I’d love to do a kids film so that my children might be allowed to see what I do for a living.

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

Jake: Start early. I can only speak from my own experience but if you’re clear about what you want to do then I wouldn’t waste time getting a media studies degree, you’re going to have to work for nothing to get started anyway so better to do it at 18 than 22. Get any practical experience you can, firstly to make sure this is really something you want to do, it’s going to take a lot of work and sacrifice so make sure you’re suited to it. Approach established professionals directly and tell them you want to do what they do, most will try and help in some way even if it’s just a cup of coffee and some advice, I always do. Try to edit rather than assist. Personally I think you’d learn more cutting a zero budget music video than you would assisting on a big budget feature. Even if you’re at the bottom of the ladder doing very basic tasks do them as well as humanly possible, listen to any instructions very carefully and never think of anything as beneath you or not worth trying over. Care. I once had to edit 9 hours of obese women discussing their bras in a focus group but I treated it like I was making art. You never know where the contacts who can ultimately give you a break might come from. It might be the guy directing the corporate video you’re working on? He might be making a feature in a few years so do an incredible job and he might remember you. If you are always creative, reliable, conscientious and good company doors will eventually open I promise.

PHOTO: Saorse Ronan in BROOKLYN: 

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

 

Interview with Production Designer Jane Musky (When Harry Met Sally…, Ghost)

Jane Musky is one of the top Production Designers working in the industry today. She has designed over 40 productions in the last 30 years, working with directors Mike Newell, Ivan Reitman, Andy Tennant, Gus Van Sant, Jerry Zucker, James Foley, and The Coen Brothers, to name a few. She also happens to be married to the President of the United States (well on the TV show Scandel) for the last 28 years too!

It was an honor to interview Jane and talk about her amazing career, and it looks like she’s just getting started.

Matthew Toffolo: You have been the Production Designer on over 30 films in the last 35 years. Is there a film or two that you’re most proud of?

Jane Musky: My favorite films as a Designer are GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and THE DEVIL’S OWN.

GlenGarry was a once in a lifetime chance to work with an INCREDIBLE ensemble of actors, great Director and DP and Mamet script. Who could ask for more?

David Mamet’s stories are full of great language, texture and sense of place which feeds his stories. That sense of place, that moment in time is a gift for a Designer to define.

PHOTO: Alec Baldwin gives his famous speech in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

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The Devil’s Own was not only a large budget film that involved the two biggest male film actors of that time, but was Directed by Alan Pakula and was his last film. Gordon Willis shot the film. I was very lucky to be with this group. Alan taught me more than any other Director I have been associated with.

I had started another film with Alan and Gordon that folded so I was happy when we launched into this story about the IRA. We shot in Ireland and New York. I loved doing the big shootout in the opening with a great Dutch special effects group.

MT: Early in your career, you were the Production Designer on the first two Coen Brothers films: Blood Simple and Raising Arizona. How did you first meet the brothers? After Blood Simple wrapped, what were your feelings? Did you foresee their iconic career?

JM: I met Ethan and Joel through a mutual friend, Mark Silverman. Mark was an up and coming Producer they had hired and I had worked with Mark before.

I was doing Summer Stock at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and they all drove up to meet me. I had never done a film, just smaller TV work. Most of my Design work was in the theatre then. We hit it off.

Blood Simple was really the first film for all of us. We were a very small crew. It all just clicked. We worked so hard and when it was over we all knew we had made a good film full of humor and irony and I thought it was stylish. Ethan and Joel were and still are great in how they plan and execute their work. It is all very lean and mean and cohesive. It was a utopian time for a young designer. We were a great young gang of filmmakers and everyone has done well from that original Coen Bros. group.

PHOTO: Bar Scene in Blood Simple (1984):

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MT: Some will argue that Raising Arizona is a masterpiece. You created a fantasy universe within the context of the reality of Arizona. Do you remember the initial conversations with the directors and your team about the overall look, feel, and tone of the film? How was your overall experience working on the film?

JM: Well, Raising Arizona. We had a blast. I have to say Phoenix back then was such a bizarre place. It was still a small town pretending it had the hutzpah of Dallas.

There was a great collision of the Wild West meets the nouveau riche of Arizona.

Once I got that vibe it was easy to create the fantasy of their world. I enhanced the style that was already rampant. What a confusing place, stylistically. Once I grabbed the idea of the Arizona home I next designed the GRIB for the Boys to get of sense of how far everyone wanted to go with the humor and then it all flowed. Ethan and Joel’s scripts were very much defined as to what happens; dialogue and great descriptions of each character. They really allow their Designers to run with it.

PHOTO: Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona (1987):

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MT: When Harry Met Sally…, is another all-time classic. It has a timeless feel to it. How was your experience creating the world of this couple in a span of 15 years in New York City?

JM: When we began working on “When Harry Met Sally”, New York City was on a roll.

It was a Single’s City full of romance. Harry and Sally’s opening drive to begin their lives after college in NYC had to be as unsophisticated as could be so we could feel their rite of passage into adult life in a complicated city. What are the chances they would meet again after parting at Washington Square, and how complicated their lives had already become after a few years apart?

The passage of time allows for a more complicated story and Nora Efron just hit a great stride in her writing and fed the complications of the relationships which in turn allows the Designer to jump right in to define their lives and begin to ground the story for the audience visually.

PHOTO: The 3 frame phone call shot in When Harry Met Sally… (1989):

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MT: Harry/Sally had a lot of exterior shots of NYC, plus interior locations within the city (like the famous restaurant scene). Generally, what is the Production Designers main job when working on a location that is already established and known by many? What do you need to add or remove (or not) to enhance the story?

JM: Iconic locations are picked because they are perfect or almost perfect for the story in that moment. There is little I can do to enhance the Design value of these landmarks other than to pick the right ones for the moment. We had many Iconic locations; Katz’s Deli, Central Park. All were chosen to give us a romantic New York. The more romantic the location or the more counter to the romantic moment like Katz’s, the more we hit Harry and Sally on the head saying…Fall in Love. Iconic locations give the audience a great comfort and familiarity that allows them to fall into the story more easily wishing they were there.

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

JM: Each Director I work for has their own different idea as to what they want from their Designer. The Director and Designer are the first ones of the Creative Staff working on the job. Those early moments together are used to dissect the story and begin to give it a visual tone and map the moments. It is during these first weeks the Designer morphs to suit the Director’s vision and enhance that vision and help tell the story. The Director must be followed and a Designer must take their lead from the Director and faithfully back that vision.

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

JM: The Designer and Director are first of the Creative Team on a film. That is what I consider my Golden Time. This is when I look to the Director to take the lead as to where the story is headed creatively. We spend a lot of One to One time these first few weeks to set the visual plan for the film. At times I have to work hard to pull at ideas from a Director. The more comfortable this process, the better the journey.

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

JM: I come on to a film very early on and the earlier the better so I can wrangle the location scouting. I am usually on 6-8 weeks before the DP depending upon the project. My crew comes on about 6- 8 weeks before we shoot but now a days with smaller budgets sometimes this moves up to 5 weeks before we shoot which is scary.

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

JM: Well, of course everyone has seen the Wizard of Oz tons of times, and Munchkin Land made me wonder, WHO creates this stuff?!

I am a fan of To Kill a Mocking Bird. The story is stirring for sure but as a Designer; The Town, The House. I also love, Last Picture Show. Again the subtlety of the Town and easiness of creating the environments. Carnal Knowledge also for many of the same reasons.

For a bit of Romance I love The Goodbye Girl. I’m not as old as my taste in favorite films, haha.

MT: Do you have a Production Designer mentor?

JM: That is easy…Polly Platt and Eugene Lee. Their work has always pointed me in a good direction. I started in the theatre as a Designer so Eugene Lee was a big influence and then I watched him move between Theatre and TV/Film/Concert Sets, (Simon and Garfunkel Central Park). He helped me understand how a Designer could move between these Mediums.

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

JM: I’d love to do a BIG FAT period piece in Europe or Asia.

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