Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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, 2021Columns
  • “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, 2021Actors
  • “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, 2021Columns
  • 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, 2021Columns
  • 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, 2021Columns
  • “The Marvel Paradigm is to Come at It Like a Movie”: Kari Skogland on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

    Director Kari Skogland has long been a master of tonally complex television, having helmed episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Boardwalk Empire, The Walking Dead and many other beloved series; she also executive produced and directed several episodes of one of the best limited series of the last ten years, the Showtime Roger Ailes drama The Loudest Voice. Yet the best work of her career is her most recent, as the director of all six episodes of Marvel’s Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. An extraordinarily ambitious expansion of the Marvel universe that takes full advantage of the opportunities television…  Read more

    On May 25, 2021
    By on May 25, 2021Columns
  • “Before Directing, I Never Truly Understood Just How Exhausting and Taxing the Filmmaking Process Is”: David Weil on Solos

    Showrunner David Weil’s Amazon series Hunters was one of the most audacious pieces of television I saw in 2020, a profound meditation on morality and history articulated with the exhilarating narrative rush of a great genre film. Epic in its sweep and ambition, the show made me eager to see what Weil would do next—where does a filmmaker go after such a bold swing for the fences? The answer turned out to be Weil’s new show (also for Amazon) Solos, which operates at the other end of the spectrum in terms of scale but is just as daring in its…  Read more

    On May 19, 2021
    By on May 19, 2021Columns
  • “We Have to Get a 65-Piece Orchestra with Strings”: Eugene Ashe on Sylvie’s Love

    Writer-director Eugene Ashe was a successful musician before he started making films, a background evident in every exquisite frame of Sylvie’s Love. Not just because male lead Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) is a saxophonist and the movie features the best jazz soundtrack since ’Round Midnight, and not just because female lead Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) begins the film working in her dad’s record store and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music and knows how to tailor recommendations to each customer. The musical influence goes beyond these considerations to inform every texture and detail of Ashe’s late ’50s-early ’60s set drama, a gloriously…  Read more

    On May 18, 2021
    By on May 18, 2021Directors
  • “With Everything that Editing Prepared Me For, Working with Actors Wasn’t One of Those Things”: Maja Vrvilo on Clarice

    Director Maja Vrvilo began her career as an editor, and her former job is consistently manifest in her economy of visual expression, impeccably calibrated pacing and use of montage to convey interior states. I first became aware of Vrvilo when she was directing on Hawaii Five-0, a series that made me sit up and take notice of her kinetic action staging and lively handling of actors. That led me to her episodes of Blindspot, MacGyver and other procedurals that all exhibited the sophisticated blocking and precise compositions I quickly realized were hallmarks of her filmmaking. Last year Vrvilo helmed two superb…  Read more

    On May 4, 2021
    By on May 4, 2021Directors
  • “The Second Movie I Operated On”: Camera Operator Lou Barlia on Love Story

    When I revisited the classic tearjerker Love Story last month, I was struck by the intimate connection between the actors and the camera; at every given moment, Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw’s doomed young lovers seemed perfectly showcased for maximum emotional impact, every gesture and expression captured from the proper distance and in perfect proportion from shot to shot—undoubtedly one of the reasons the film was the most popular of its year (1970), whether audiences were conscious of the delicacy of the framing or not. What’s all the more impressive about Love Story’s camerawork is how off the cuff some…  Read more

    On Mar 10, 2021
    By on Mar 10, 2021Columns
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