Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • Andrew McCarthy on The Family Is Acting Really Just Being the Drunk Uncle Who Shows Up On the Couch with the Bag of Fritos? Andrew McCarthy on Directing TV

    Two things distinguish director Andrew McCarthy’s television work: exceptionally loose, naturalistic performances, and a rigorously elegant sense of framing and blocking. An actor’s director in the best sense, in that he treats behavior as one component of a fully integrated, visually expressive whole, McCarthy’s episodes of any given series are almost always that program’s most emotionally and cinematically layered. Even on a show like The Blacklist that already has a strongly established visual style, McCarthy is able to integrate his own preoccupations with the preexisting framework to both serve the franchise and deepen it. (He also elicits delightful effects from…  Read more

    On Apr 19, 2016
    By on Apr 19, 2016Columns
  • The Invitation “Framing is its Own Dark Art”: Karyn Kusama on The Invitation

    Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation achieves the kind of cinematic alchemy one finds in Blood Simple or the best of Hitchcock, where genre meets philosophy and character to yield something both razor-sharp in its clarity and infinitely complex in its provocations. The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi follows a group of friends over the course of one night when they reunite after a tragedy that has affected all of their lives. The intentions of the hostess, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), are mysterious and only grow increasingly troubling as the night progresses, at least as far as her ex-husband Will (Logan…  Read more

    On Mar 17, 2016
    By on Mar 17, 2016Columns
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingay — Part 2 “Seven Hours’ Worth of Movie over Three Years”: Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part Two

    Four years ago this month, one of the most successful series in recent film history was launched when director Gary Ross helmed his adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games. An instant phenomenon, the movie turned Jennifer Lawrence into a superstar and provided a bleaker, more political alternative to the Twilight franchise. Ross didn’t return for the sequel, Catching Fire, so the producers entrusted the series to director Francis Lawrence, who stayed on for two more films. In Lawrence’s hands the allegorical aspects of the series grew more pronounced, the visual style more diverse and elaborate, and the emotional…  Read more

    On Mar 10, 2016
    By on Mar 10, 2016Columns
  • Donald Sutherland and Jon Cassar on the set of Forsaken Making a Western in 31 Days: Jon Cassar on Forsaken

    Director Jon Cassar breathes new life into the Western genre while honoring its traditions in Forsaken, a beautiful, haunting piece of work that will be released day and date on February 19. In a story reminiscent of Shane and Pale Rider, Kiefer Sutherland plays John Henry Clayton, a reformed gunslinger drawn back into action when he returns to his hometown and finds it under siege by an unscrupulous land grabber (Brian Cox). While sparring with Cox’s hired guns (led by Michael Wincott in a rich, thrillingly entertaining performance), Clayton also reconnects with an old love who has moved on (Demi…  Read more

    On Feb 17, 2016
    By on Feb 17, 2016Columns
  • The Veil Shooting a Movie in 25 Days for Blumhouse: Phil Joanou on The Veil

    One of the best American suspense films of the last ten years sneaks onto VOD, iTunes, and Netflix streaming this week as director Phil Joanou’s The Veil arrives courtesy of Universal and Blumhouse. A movie in the subgenre that James Mangold once referred to as “the cinema of unease,” it’s a slow burn horror flick that skillfully utilizes the Blumhouse production model (which yielded The Purge, Sinister, and The Visit) to tell a slightly more ambitious – though no less unsettling – tale. Working from a subtle, complex, and ruthlessly original script by Robert Ben Garant, Joanou tells the story…  Read more

    On Jan 21, 2016
    By on Jan 21, 2016Columns
  • Kurt Russell, James Parks and Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight “Looking for False Performance Beats”: Editor Fred Raskin on The Hateful Eight

    As the first film to be shot in the Ultra Panavision 70 format since Khartoum in 1966, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has deservedly garnered a lot of attention for its cinematography; shot in an extra-wide aspect ratio on a 65mm negative, it’s undeniably a spectacular showcase for director of photography Robert Richardson’s visual gifts. Subtler, but perhaps even more impressive, is the contribution of editor Fred Raskin, who assembles the 2.76:1 images like a maestro of space, timing, and movement. At over three hours in its Christmas Day “roadshow” edition, The Hateful Eight doesn’t have an extraneous frame –…  Read more

    On Dec 28, 2015
    By on Dec 28, 2015Columns
  • Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight 20 Years of Collaborating with Tarantino with Zero ADR: Production Sound Mixer Mark Ulano on The Hateful Eight

    Few directors this side of Joseph Mankiewicz are as attentive to the clear, crisp presentation of dialogue as Quentin Tarantino, giving the always important role of production sound mixer even more weight on his sets. Since Jackie Brown in 1997, Tarantino has relied on Academy Award winner (for Titanic) Mark Ulano to capture his production sound. Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight, represents some of Ulano’s finest work to date – which is saying something considering that he has over a hundred credits to his name, including The Master, Iron Man and Inglourious Basterds (for which he was nominated for another Oscar).…  Read more

    On Dec 15, 2015
    By on Dec 15, 2015Columns
  • Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio “A Chance to Develop Technique”: Oliver Stone on Talk Radio

    From 1986 to 1995, writer-director Oliver Stone directed ten films in ten years which, taken together, comprise the most complex, provocative, and illuminating cinematic inquiry into American values since John Ford. The magnitude of his achievement seems virtually impossible in today’s Hollywood and was probably nearly as unlikely then. After a pair of powerful independent films exploring American foreign policy in Latin America (Salvador) and Vietnam (Platoon), Stone used the commercial success of the latter to harness studio resources at the service of a series of massively ambitious works, including an epic answer to and repudiation of the postwar mythology…  Read more

    On Dec 3, 2015
    By on Dec 3, 2015Columns
  • No Escape “Always Give Exposition While Running From a Bear”: Drew and John Erick Dowdle on No Escape

    For the past few years I’ve been bemoaning the decline of the mid-range genre film, the action movie or horror flick that is neither a contained micro-budget opus straining against its resources nor an oppressive studio behemoth in which all sense of character, theme, and nuance is suffocated under the weight of its own scale and CGI. That mid-range has always been the source of many of America’s best, most enduring films; it’s the arena where masters like Don Siegel, Nicholas Ray, and Anthony Mann plied their trade under the classical studio system, and in more recent decades auteurs like…  Read more

    On Nov 24, 2015
    By on Nov 24, 2015Columns
  • Bethany Rooney on set “I Have Four Days to Edit My Director’s Cut”: Bethany Rooney on Directing TV

    I first became aware of director Bethany Rooney’s work via her episodes of two of the most visually arresting series on network television, Arrow and The Originals. On each of these series – specifically, the “State vs Queen” episode of Arrow and the “When the Levee Breaks” episode of The Originals – Rooney exhibited a sophisticated sense of composition, lighting, and color surpassed only by her deft hand with actors. As I dug further into Rooney’s oeuvre while catching up on several other series this fall, I learned that those two shows were the rule, not the exception — performers…  Read more

    On Nov 17, 2015
    By on Nov 17, 2015Columns
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