Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • 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
  • “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
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