Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “Most of the Movies You’ll Want To See This Fall Will Be Independents”: Edward Zwick on Pawn Sacrifice

    Writer, producer, and director Ed Zwick is a singular presence in the American media landscape – and a presence whose gifts become increasingly valuable as they become less and less common. He’s a filmmaker committed to serious, important subject matter who never succumbs to didacticism or pat conclusions; he has never once compromised the complexity of the issues his films address or the people whose lives are affected by them. What’s all the more remarkable about his work is that he achieves this complexity via mass entertainments that are as straightforward and involving as they are ambitious and adult –…  Read more

    On Sep 23, 2015
    By on Sep 23, 2015 Columns
  • “I’m Not Qualified For Anything Else”: Writer/Director Steve Kloves on The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone

    Twelve years before he became the screenwriter of the most successful franchise in film history, adapting all but one of the Harry Potter novels for the screen, Steve Kloves directed the first of two extraordinarily powerful and original films – movies all the more remarkable for how different they were from each other. Kloves had one produced screenplay to his credit, 1984’s Racing with the Moon, when he assembled the dream cast of Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Beau Bridges to create The Fabulous Baker Boys in 1989. Its story of two piano-playing brothers and the singer that upends years…  Read more

    On Sep 17, 2015
    By on Sep 17, 2015 Columns
  • “I Was Definitely Curious About What It Would Mean For My Career”: David M. Rosenthal on The Perfect Guy

    There’s been a lot of talk lately about indie directors making the leap to studio productions, but few have handled the transition as skillfully as David M. Rosenthal does in the smart, funny, and scary thriller The Perfect Guy. In a way it’s the perfect studio assignment for Rosenthal, in that it takes full advantage of the skills he exhibited in his previous film, 2013’s richly atmospheric thriller A Single Shot, while also allowing him to explore new territory as an old-school genre director. The basic premise is nothing new – it’s the stuff of dozens of Lifetime “woman in jeopardy”…  Read more

    On Sep 10, 2015
    By on Sep 10, 2015 Directors
  • “The Mid-Size Studio Feature is Gone”: Ken Kwapis on A Walk in the Woods

    When Ken Kwapis was a cinema student at USC, he ran the school’s film society and programmed retrospectives that enabled him to not only study the classics but also to meet several of the directors who made them – among his guests were Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, and Don Siegel. The experience clearly influenced Kwapis when he became a director himself, as he forged a career similar to that of many of the filmmakers of the classical studio era, albeit without the same corporate support system. Like a Michael Curtiz or Victor Fleming, Kwapis employs a self-effacing style and often…  Read more

    On Sep 2, 2015
    By on Sep 2, 2015 Directors
  • Disembowelment and Doggie Cams: DP Sandi Sissel on Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs

    If there are two characteristics defining director of photography Sandi Sissel’s work, they are versatility and realism. Sissel began her career in the documentary field, shooting countless hours of footage for NBC and ABC News as well as 60 Minutes, and she has continued working in the non-fiction form on dozens of highly acclaimed films for PBS (Before Stonewall, Witness to War), HBO (Jane Goodall: Chimps So Like Us), and Disney (Endurance, for which Sissel received a BAFTA nomination). Concurrently with her non-fiction work, Sissel has forged a career as a superb narrative cinematographer; her acclaimed feature debut, Mira Nair’s…  Read more

    On Aug 26, 2015
    By on Aug 26, 2015 Cinematographers
  • Steering Away From “Ooga-Booga” Horror Movies: John McNaughton on The Harvest

    In 1985, a pair of brothers who owned a video equipment rental business in Chicago offered local filmmaker John McNaughton $100,000 in financing if he could come up with a low-budget horror movie. They probably got a little more than they bargained for when McNaughton delivered Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a chilling (though also blackly comic) character study loosely based on the experiences of real life sociopath Henry Lee Lucas. McNaughton eschewed slasher movie conventions in favor of an ultra-realistic, serious-minded film with no escape hatch for the audience; one of the greatest cinematic representations of the banality…  Read more

    On Aug 19, 2015
    By on Aug 19, 2015 Columns
  • “I Was Getting Hate Mail Before I Even Started Shooting”: Keith Gordon on The Singing Detective

    Writer-director Keith Gordon had one of the best film schools imaginable in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when he broke into the business as an actor and appeared in several now classic movies including All That Jazz, Dressed to Kill, and Christine. He must have learned quite a bit watching the likes of Fosse, De Palma, and Carpenter direct, because his own filmography is one of the most consistent in all of contemporary American cinema. Gordon has directed five features to date, every single one of which is an uncompromised treasure – and each one is different from the…  Read more

    On Aug 12, 2015
    By on Aug 12, 2015 Columns
  • “The Ultimate ’80s Guilty Pleasure Movie”: Randal Kleiser on Summer Lovers

    Has there ever been another summer for American movies like the summer of 1982? From the release of John Milius’s Conan the Barbarian on May 14 to the exploitation double-whammy of Class of 1984 and The Beastmaster on August 20, virtually every week saw the release of one or more spectacularly enjoyable films across a wide array of genres. The summer gave us a pair of Spielberg classics (E.T., Poltergeist) and numerous seminal science fiction films (Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing were released on the same day); teen comedies both high (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last…  Read more

    On Aug 5, 2015
    By on Aug 5, 2015 Columns
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