Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “I Think for Every Story There is a Hidden Way to Tell it Best, and Your Journey is to Try to Find It”: Director Rick Linklater on Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood

    When Richard Linklater was in second grade, he became enthralled by the historical moment that was happening right in his Houston backyard as NASA prepared for the Apollo moon landing. Decades later, it occurred to Linklater that he was probably the only filmmaker who remembered the excitement of that moment and was also that geographically close to NASA, a realization that led to his latest feature as writer-director, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. Combining the delicate observational eye and ear of Boyhood with the more fantastical animated approach of Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, Apollo 10½ tells the…  Read more

    On Apr 1, 2022
    By on Apr 1, 2022 Columns
  • “I’d Never Really Written Personally About My Own Loss”: Mark Pellington on The Severing

    Director Mark Pellington has long been one of the American cinema’s great chroniclers of grief, from early genre films like The Mothman Prophecies (in which the horror story is a vehicle for an unsettling, affecting tale of personal anguish) to more overtly philosophical takes on the subject like I Melt With You, The Last Word, and Nostalgia. While Pellington’s work is undeniably informed by the devastating loss of his wife Jennifer in 2004, it has tended, up until this point, to come at the subject from oblique angles, as in the 2008 dramedy Henry Poole Is Here. With his latest…  Read more

    On Jan 26, 2022
    By on Jan 26, 2022 Columns
  • “Family Was Always On Set”: Valerie Weiss on Mixtape, COVID Rehearsals and Why Directing TV is Great

    In the new Netflix film Mixtape, 12-year-old Beverly (Gemma Brooke Allen) tries to learn about her late parents by tracking down the songs they loved, a task made difficult by the pre-iTunes and Spotify era in which the movie takes place. The quest to find the songs—a necessity for Beverly given the unwillingness and inability of her grandmother (Julie Bowen) to answer questions about her mom and dad—yields one of the sweetest, smartest, funniest, and most touching coming of age dramedies since Stand By Me, a film with which Mixtape both invites and earns comparison thanks to its skillfully calibrated…  Read more

    On Dec 1, 2021
    By on Dec 1, 2021 Columns
  • “97% of the Film Has No Green Screen in It”: Writer-Director Rawson Marshall Thurber on Red Notice

    Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber makes movies that are so impeccably crafted and deliriously funny that it’s easy to take them for granted; like the classical Hollywood directors of the 1940s to whom he often pays homage, Thurber employs an elegant but invisible style in which an immense amount of effort goes into making his films look effortless. This is particularly true of his latest release, Red Notice, a caper movie of enormous scale that nevertheless remains light on its feet, fast and funny and romantic in the way Ernst Lubitsch and Preston Sturges movies used to be while still delivering…  Read more

    On Nov 11, 2021
    By on Nov 11, 2021 Columns
  • “I’m an Only Child, I’m Jewish and I Use Wide-Angle Lenses”: Barry Sonnenfeld on The Addams Family

    Barry Sonnenfeld was less than ten years into a successful career as a cinematographer—with credits including Blood Simple, Raising Arizona and When Harry Met Sally on his resume—when he sat down in the director’s chair for the first time on 1991’s The Addams Family. It followed what turned out to be his last job (Misery) as director of photography; from that point on Sonnenfeld would work exclusively as a director, and occasional producer, on visually inventive and conceptually ambitious comedies like the Men in Black trilogy and Pushing Daisies, continuing to hone the dynamic style he had established as a DP.…  Read more

    On Oct 28, 2021
    By on Oct 28, 2021 Cinematographers
  • “Once It Exists Conceptually, It’s Just Problem Solving”: Writer-Director Jonathan Mostow on Breakdown

    In the summer of 1997, a season characterized by gargantuan spectacles like The Lost World, Con Air, The Fifth Element, and Batman and Robin, a modest thriller by an unknown young director surprised audiences, critics and probably even its own financiers by becoming a sleeper hit thanks to its classical virtues and relentless determination to put the viewer in the palm of its hand and squeeze. The film, Breakdown, began when Dino de Laurentiis hired low-budget filmmaker Jonathan Mostow to write and direct a new adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Trucks,” which King had already directed himself as Maximum…  Read more

    On Sep 23, 2021
    By on Sep 23, 2021 Columns
  • “Multitasking in Film is Quite Stressful”: Sean Penn and DP Daniel Moder on Flag Day

    Ever since his directorial debut with The Indian Runner in 1991, Sean Penn has been intent on keeping a certain tradition of American cinema alive: the tradition of directorially self-effacing, behavior-driven movies for adults in which complicated men and women find themselves unable to get out of their own and each other’s way. It’s the school of filmmaking practiced by John Cassavetes, Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson, on whose work Penn builds with movies that fuse character and landscape to get at something unique and complex about American identity and culture. His latest film, Flag Day, stands alongside The Indian…  Read more

    On Aug 19, 2021
    By on Aug 19, 2021 Actors
  • “Directors are Not Born Being Blockbuster Filmmakers”: Producers John Davis and John Fox on Jungle Cruise

    With all the changes that have been taking place in the film industry over the last few years, I’m always fascinated by the filmmakers who seem consistently able to adapt to the shifting landscape while still remaining true to their own tastes and sensibilities—the producers and directors whose careers span decades and show no sign of decline. The release of Disney’s new adventure film Jungle Cruise gave me the opportunity to talk with two such filmmakers, producers John Davis and John Fox. Davis has produced over a hundred movies and TV shows going back to the 1980s and early ’90s,…  Read more

    On Jul 29, 2021
    By on Jul 29, 2021 Columns
  • A Whole Other Toolbox: Theater Director Bartlett Sher on Making his First Feature, Oslo

    One of the most impressive directing debuts I’ve seen this year is Bartlett Sher’s clear, concise and extremely moving drama Oslo, a movie that distills complex themes and conflicts into a remarkably accessible and riveting political suspense film. Adapting his own Tony Award-winning play, screenwriter J.T. Rogers tells the true story of the secret back-channel talks and unlikely friendships between a small group of Israelis, Palestinians, and a Norwegian couple acting as facilitators that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. The script is a model of elegant structure, weaving precise journalistic details into a sophisticated ensemble character study in…  Read more

    On Jun 1, 2021
    By on Jun 1, 2021 Columns
  • Sitcom Boot Camp: Matt Shakman on WandaVision

    In a world where most episodic directors tend to specialize in hour-long dramas or half-hour comedies—and some specialize even further within those formats, becoming known for procedurals or prestige dramas or multi-cam sitcoms—Matt Shakman might be the most versatile filmmaker working in television today. He has directed one of the funniest comedies on TV (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), one of the largest scale and most popular premium cable series (Game of Thrones) and was behind some of the best episodes of Succession, Fargo and Mad Men. As comfortable with network crowd-pleasers like The Good Wife as he is at the…  Read more

    On May 27, 2021
    By on May 27, 2021 Columns
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