Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “Take Control Over the Color and Build That Into the Sets”: DP Frederick Elmes on Hunters

    Early on in his career cinematographer Frederick Elmes worked as a camera operator for John Cassavetes and was a director of photography on David Lynch’s debut feature Eraserhead, laying the groundwork for a career that would absorb and expand upon both those influences. Like Cassavetes, Elmes is a filmmaker who knows how to frame and showcase great performances; his multiple collaborations with Ang Lee, Jim Jarmusch and Tim Hunter have yielded career best work from Kevin Kline, Bill Murray, Joan Allen, Matt Dillon and many others. Yet like Lynch, Elmes is also supremely attuned to the visual properties of cinema…  Read more

    On Apr 30, 2020
    By on Apr 30, 2020Cinematographers
  • “What’s Happening in the Vertical Version?” Mark Pellington on Quibi Series/Film Survive

    Director Mark Pellington has spent a great deal of his career addressing the complexities of grief, memory and reconciliation, but with his new film Survive he explores these themes on a larger canvas than ever before, placing his preoccupations in the context of an adventure tale that is sweeping in its physical scale yet every bit as emotionally penetrating as more intimate Pellington character studies like Nostalgia and I Melt with You. Richard Abate and Jeremy Ungar’s script tells the story of Jane (Sophie Turner), a traumatized young woman who plans to commit suicide in the bathroom of a plane…  Read more

    On Apr 20, 2020
    By on Apr 20, 2020Columns
  • “As a Pilot Director, You Must Load the Toolbox for All the Directors that Come After You”: Director Michael Robin on All Rise

    The courtroom drama has been a staple of network television since Perry Mason and never really gone away, which makes the CBS series All Rise’s achievement of breathing new life into the genre truly impressive and exciting. An ensemble drama anchored by Simone Missick as a young judge out to challenge conventional wisdom, All Rise deftly explores complex ethical questions relating to race, class, gender and power via a sprawling examination of the lawyers, judges, clerks, cops, and defendants whose lives intersect in an LA courthouse. Following Jean Renoir’s dictum that everyone has their reasons, series creator Greg Spottiswood and…  Read more

    On Apr 9, 2020
    By on Apr 9, 2020Columns
  • “People Live on Hope When There’s Limited Freedom”: DP/Director Gonzalo Amat on The Man in the High Castle and SEAL Team

    Two of the most elegantly directed and photographed shows on television and streaming right now—and two of the most disparate in terms of their visual style and tone—share a common filmmaker, cinematographer and director Gonzalo Amat. I first became aware of Amat’s work as director of photography on The Man in the High Castle, Amazon’s bold and nerve-shredding adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel that imagines an alternate America ruled by Japanese and German powers following a US loss in World War II. In its fourth and final season, The Man in the High Castle jumps between multiple realities…  Read more

    On Mar 25, 2020
    By on Mar 25, 2020Cinematographers
  • “We Kept the Third Act in a Safe”: Tarantino’s Assistant Director William Paul Clark on Kill Bill, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Improvisational Logistics

    “I can’t imagine making a movie without him.” That’s what Quentin Tarantino said about first assistant director William Paul Clark, whose roots with the writer-director go back to Pulp Fiction. Since then, Clark has worked on nearly every Tarantino picture while also facilitating great work by a wide array of directors from Mark Pellington and Gregg Araki to Terry Zwigoff and Barry Levinson. As an enthusiastic cinephile with an infectious passion for both making and watching movies, Clark seems to have had the time of his life working with Tarantino on last year’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Taking on…  Read more

    On Mar 18, 2020
    By on Mar 18, 2020Columns
  • “Whatever I’m Working on Sort of Annihilates Everything That Came Before It”: Steven Soderbergh on the 20th Anniversary of Erin Brockovich

    Twenty years ago this month, director Steven Soderbergh achieved what most filmmakers dream of but rarely experience when his Erin Brockovich proved to be that rarest of movies: an artistic success that was also a box-office smash embraced by critics. An aggressively linear drama following the structural gymnastics of The Limey, Erin Brockovich was nevertheless every bit as smart, adult, and distinctive as Soderbergh’s other recent work; combining the journalistic detail of All the President’s Men with the working-class character study of Norma Rae and the entertainment value of a 1940s Howard Hawks comedy, it proved that 1998’s Out of…  Read more

    On Mar 12, 2020
    By on Mar 12, 2020Columns
  • “I Wanted the Camera to Get Close… What Does Our Body Allow Us To Do, Or Prevent Us From Doing?”: Jennie Livingston on the Criterion Restoration of Her Classic Doc, Paris is Burning

    In the mid-1980s, photographer and aspiring filmmaker Jennie Livingston discovered New York City’s drag ball scene and found the subject for what would become her debut feature, the landmark 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. A moving, empathetic, and very, very funny portrait of the black, Latinx, gay and transgender voguers who find support and community in rival “houses” during a time of cultural hostility defined by homophobia, transphobia, and racism, Paris is Burning is both a remarkable time capsule and a timeless ensemble character study about the need for self-expression and the desire to be heard. Livingston’s sensitivity as an…  Read more

    On Mar 2, 2020
    By on Mar 2, 2020Columns
  • “I Had Gunfight Westerns in Mind With the Structure”: Writer/Director John Sayles on the Criterion Rerelease of Matewan

    When John Sayles wrote and directed Matewan in 1987, he was already a hero to those of us following American independent film, both for his witty, energetic genre screenplays (Piranha, The Howling, Battle Beyond the Stars) and for his self-financed directorial efforts (Return of the Secaucus Seven, Lianna, The Brother From Another Planet). His movies as writer-director, which also included a detour into studio filmmaking with the exquisite coming of age drama Baby It’s You, were major inspirations for an entire generation of aspiring filmmakers, because they gave us a high standard of excellence to reach for yet also seemed…  Read more

    On Feb 28, 2020
    By on Feb 28, 2020Columns
  • “Pushing for Black Actors to Tell Black Stories”: Euzhan Palcy on A Dry White Season

    In 1989, Euzhan Palcy became the first black woman to direct a major studio movie when she helmed A Dry White Season for MGM. A brutal yet inspiring anti-apartheid drama, A Dry White Season remains a model of political filmmaking, as Palcy (adapting Andre Brink’s novel with co-screenwriter Colin Welland) boldly and forcefully indicts the South African government of the period with clarity, complexity and passion. Donald Sutherland plays Ben Du Toit, a schoolteacher (a surrogate for both Brink and the movie’s white audience members) who keeps his head buried in the sand when it comes to the injustices around…  Read more

    On Feb 5, 2019
    By on Feb 5, 2019Columns
  • Getting the Job, Learning from The Master and Goodfellas, and Shooting with Cleaner Glass: Cinematographer Sean Porter Talks Green Book

    Viggo Mortensen always seemed like the kind of actor who would insist on eating a dozen hot dogs in a scene if his character did the same. Green Book cinematographer Sean Porter confirmed those suspicions. “We shot a hot dog eating contest and Viggo was cramming them in at full speed every take,” laughs Porter. Green Book provided Mortensen (and his digestive system) with ample opportunities to display that kind of commitment to authenticity. In the based-in-fact story, Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga, a Bronx bouncer with a penchant for gluttony who accepts a job driving a refined piano virtuoso (played…  Read more

    On Dec 15, 2018
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