Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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
  • “Am I Going to Have to Reshoot Half of This Movie?” Howard Deutch on Some Kind of Wonderful

    Writer-director John Hughes had just begun to make a name for himself with three films he made for Universal (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science) when Ned Tanen lured him over to Paramount with an overall deal designed to turn the filmmaker into a mogul. In less than three years, Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed five movies for the studio (Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful, Planes Trains and Automobiles and She’s Having a Baby), all of which have now been reissued on Paramount’s “John Hughes 5-Movie Collection” Blu-ray with a generous supply of extra…  Read more

    On Feb 18, 2021
    By on Feb 18, 2021Columns
  • “Almost the Entire Movie is Shot on Steadicam but You’d Never Know It”: John Patrick Shanley on Wild Mountain Thyme

    As a writer (Moonstruck) and director (Joe Versus the Volcano), John Patrick Shanley has created some of the funniest, most compassionate, and original romantic comedies of the past 35 years, which makes his return to the genre with Wild Mountain Thyme cause for major celebration. Adapting his play Outside Mullingar, Shanley has created his most lyrical and complex film to date, and his most moving. Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt play Anthony and Rosemary, would-be lovers who have grown up together on neighboring Irish farms without acknowledging their mutual attraction—mostly due to introvert Anthony’s hopeless awkwardness. Anthony’s father (Christopher Walken)…  Read more

    On Dec 16, 2020
    By on Dec 16, 2020Columns
  • “It Came Out of Feeling Like I Didn’t Actually See Myself in the Movies…”: Claudia Weill on Girlfriends

    Claudia Weill is a director whose work meant so much to me at such a formative age that I was almost hesitant to interview her; the two features she directed, Girlfriends (1978) and It’s My Turn (1980) spoke to me on such a profoundly personal level that I feared speaking with her could only be a disappointing experience—either because she wouldn’t live up to my image of her or because I would be so intimidated that I’d turn into a blabbering idiot. One of Weill’s many talents is to create work so intimate and precise that it always feels like…  Read more

    On Nov 23, 2020
    By on Nov 23, 2020Columns
  • “The Hardest Thing to Do is to Pick Up the Dolly Track When the Shot’s Not Right”: Max Winkler on Jungleland

    A lot of filmmakers point to the New Hollywood movies of the 1970s as influences, but few directors have internalized and applied the lessons of the era as effectively as Max Winkler, whose new feature Jungleland recalls seminal studies of masculinity in crisis like John Huston’s Fat City and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail. The movie follows bare-knuckle brawler Lion (Jack O’Connell) and his older brother Stanley (Charlie Hunnam), broke siblings looking for a way out of their desperate circumstances. They think they’ve found it when a local underworld figure offers to clear their debts if they chaperone a young…  Read more

    On Nov 12, 2020
    By on Nov 12, 2020Columns
  • “The Set was a Circle with the Floor and Mirrors Rotating”: Jan de Bont on The Haunting

    Before he became a director, Jan de Bont was the cinematographer on some of the most visually intricate, elegantly lit movies of the 1980s and early ’90s, including Paul Verhoeven’s The 4th Man and Basic Instinct, John McTiernan’s Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and Ridley Scott’s Black Rain. When de Bont made his directorial debut in 1994 with Speed, the film’s kinetic energy and precise attention to light and composition were no surprise; what made the picture a classic was how finely attuned the visual choices were to the nuances of performance. Speed made Sandra Bullock a star,…  Read more

    On Oct 27, 2020
    By on Oct 27, 2020Cinematographers
  • “Everyone Should Take an Editing Class, Even Actors”: Rich Newey on Killing Eleanor

    I first became aware of director Rich Newey’s work a few years ago when I caught his “Dreamland” episode of the sci-fi series Stitchers; working from an audacious script by Lynne E. Litt, Newey deftly juggled styles and tones with an inventiveness and confidence that led me to seek out his other episodic work on shows like Blindspot and The Fosters. I was consistently impressed by both his precise, expressive visual style and his sensitivity to dialogue and performance, skills on prominent display in his terrific new feature Killing Eleanor. The film tells the story of Natalie (Annika Marks), an…  Read more

    On Oct 22, 2020
    By on Oct 22, 2020Columns
  • “One Thing I Learned From Michael Mann, You’ve Got to Have Rules”: Brooke Kennedy on The Good Fight

    In the first episode of The Good Fight, a spinoff from and sequel to the acclaimed legal drama The Good Wife, liberal attorney Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) watches Donald Trump’s inauguration in horror. In the premiere episode of the series’ most recent season (season four), Diane wakes up to find herself in an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the presidency. Both episodes – and the 38 others that have aired to date – exhibit a satirical sense as sophisticated as it is original; series creators Robert and Michelle King consistently engage with issues related to race, sex, gender,…  Read more

    On Oct 16, 2020
    By on Oct 16, 2020Columns
  • “By Reconnecting Us To Our Humanity, I Believe Nostalgia Could Be the Very Thing That Saves Us”: Director Jenni Olson on Her Criterion Channel-Streaming Films

    Like many cinephiles I know, I’ve found the Criterion Channel to be a sort of emotional life preserver during these anxiety-ridden times; while it’s nearly impossible to achieve a state of total calm, one can come close by revisiting old favorites and making new discoveries while browsing through the streaming service’s expertly curated selection. This month the programmers have given audiences a great gift by showcasing the work of Jenni Olson, a director who understands the restorative power of nostalgia and reflection better than any other – it’s a key component to her work, and one of many reasons why…  Read more

    On Oct 16, 2020
    By on Oct 16, 2020Columns
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