Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “We Don’t Have a Script, But We’re Working on It”: Michael Pressman on Doctor Detroit and Transitioning from Film to TV

    One of the most interesting filmmakers to emerge from Roger Corman’s New World Pictures in the 1970s – a period in which great directors like Jonathan Demme, Allan Arkush, and Joe Dante were making their first movies for the company – was Michael Pressman, whose 1976 action-comedy The Great Texas Dynamite Chase remains one of the smartest, funniest, and most energetic exploitation pictures of its era. Throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, Pressman directed one distinctive film after another, exhibiting astonishing range – the only thing his movies of the era have in common is that they have nothing…  Read more

    On Apr 24, 2018
    By on Apr 24, 2018Columns
  • “What’s the Ripple Effect?… It Was the Most Complicated Script I’ve Ever Shot”: David Barrett on Directing the Time Loop Episode of Star Trek: Discovery

    A couple years ago, I was in a hotel room flipping channels when I came across an episode of the popular CBS series Blue Bloods, an ensemble family drama in the form of a procedural anchored by Tom Selleck. I was struck almost immediately by how stylistically expressive the episode was; it was clear that the director had thought through a precise means of conveying each character’s perspective in a distinctive way, assigning specific focal lengths, camera moves, and color and lighting strategies to each protagonist. It was the kind of subtle but dynamic approach to visual design one finds…  Read more

    On Feb 14, 2018
    By on Feb 14, 2018Columns
  • “Everybody Can Make Their Money Back and You Get to Make the Movie”: Mark Pellington on Nostalgia

    Director Mark Pellington has long been one of the American cinema’s foremost chroniclers of the connection between mortality, memory, and identity; questions related to how we define ourselves in life and how those lives define our legacies have been key in films as diverse as The Mothman Prophecies (a thriller in which Richard Gere becomes obsessed with the supernatural ramifications of his wife’s death), Father’s Daze (a documentary about Pellington’s father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s Disease) and Of Time and Memory (an unconventional adaptation of Don Snyder’s novel about Snyder’s attempts to know his deceased mother). In Pellington’s last several features,…  Read more

    On Feb 8, 2018
    By on Feb 8, 2018Columns
  • “Making a Hammer Film As If It Was Directed by Scorsese”: John Landis on Innocent Blood and Operating Muppets with Tim Burton

    One of the most underrated films by one of America’s most underrated filmmakers just arrived on Blu-ray in the form of Warner Archive’s 25th-anniversary release of John Landis’ Innocent Blood. To call Landis underrated might seem perverse given that he’s directed some of the most successful and enduring movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s – National Lampoon’s Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Trading Places, Coming to America – but I still think his body of work has never quite gotten its critical due in this country, partly because his movies are so damn…  Read more

    On Oct 3, 2017
    By on Oct 3, 2017Columns
  • “My Handiest Trick is to Watch as Many Previous Episodes as You Can — With the Sound Off”: Mary Lou Belli on Directing NCIS: New Orleans

    I’ve written elsewhere about my admiration for the filmmaking on NCIS: New Orleans, a procedural that channels the spirit of Rio Bravo-era Howard Hawks to combine laid-back charm and camaraderie with kinetic, expertly choreographed action sequences. Under the guidance of producing director James Hayman, whose “Aftershocks” episode from season three is a clinic in Hitchcockian suspense, NCIS: New Orleans has assembled one of the best rotating companies of directors in episodic television: James Whitmore, Jr., Stacey K. Black, Rob Greenlea, and Bethany Rooney are just some of the superb helmers who have done fine work on the series over the…  Read more

    On Sep 7, 2017
    By on Sep 7, 2017Columns
  • Behind The Graduate‘s “Leg Shot”: Daniel Raim on Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

    Two unsung heroes of the American film industry get their due in Daniel Raim’s extraordinary documentary Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story. Most filmgoers – even the most informed ones – have probably never heard of Harold and Lillian Michelson, but the history of movies was forever changed by their contributions to classics like The Ten Commandments, The Graduate, The Apartment, West Side Story, and DePalma’s Scarface. Harold was a storyboard artist and Lillian ran a massive Hollywood research library; separately or together, they were essential resources for directors including Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Coppola, Danny DeVito, and Stanley Kubrick. They…  Read more

    On Apr 28, 2017
    By on Apr 28, 2017Columns
  • “Can You Make All Your Money Back Just Showing on TV Every Mother’s Day?”: John Waters on Serial Mom

    The last couple of months have been good ones for John Waters fans. Last month Criterion put out a gorgeous restoration of the director’s first truly great film, Multiple Maniacs, and on May 9 Shout Factory is set to release Serial Mom, a movie Waters made 24 years after Multiple Maniacs with the full resources of Hollywood at his disposal. A hilariously provocative riff on the true crime genre, Serial Mom follows suburban wife and mom Beverly (Kathleen Turner) as she’s driven insane by everything from loud gum chewing to women wearing white after Labor Day; a pristine overseer of…  Read more

    On Apr 25, 2017
    By on Apr 25, 2017Columns
  • “Don’t Ever Ask Me For A Shot List”: Walter Hill on The Assignment

    America’s greatest living action filmmaker returns in top form in The Assignment, the deliriously entertaining new film from director Walter Hill. The premise, from a screenplay co-written by Hill and Denis Hamill, is pure lurid pulp: male assassin Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) runs afoul of a brilliant but deranged surgeon (Sigourney Weaver) who has him abducted and knocked unconscious. When Frank comes to, he discovers that he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman – a revelation that only briefly slows down his obsessive quest for revenge. It’s a provocative conceit that might be offensive in…  Read more

    On Mar 30, 2017
    By on Mar 30, 2017Directors
  • “When I Shoot Film Today The Set Seems to Move Faster”: DP Nancy Schreiber on Moving from Film to Digital Throughout Her Career

    When director of photography Nancy Schreiber receives the Presidents Award at the 31st annual ASC Awards this Saturday, she’ll make history as the first woman to be honored with the award. It’s an appropriate – some might say overdue – recognition of an innovator who has consistently broken new ground in the fields of documentary, narrative features, and television. An early proponent of digital technology (she won the cinematography prize at Sundance in 2004 for her mini-DV work on November), Schreiber is also a fierce advocate for celluloid who creates stunning, expressive images regardless of the format. Her range is second to…  Read more

    On Jan 31, 2017
    By on Jan 31, 2017Cinematographers
  • “Forget Sepia, It’s Garbage”: Maggie Greenwald on Sophie and the Rising Sun

    I first became aware of director Maggie Greenwald’s work in 1993, when her extraordinary Western The Ballad of Little Jo was released. That film, the story of a woman choosing to live as a man rather than yield to patriarchal society’s demands and expectations, established a number of ongoing concerns in Greenwald’s work: a richly observed sense of anthropological detail; a dynamic sense of light, color and composition designed to portray the past with immediacy rather than distance; and a concern with the intersection between the personal and the political that makes her films both timely and timeless. All of…  Read more

    On Jan 26, 2017
    By on Jan 26, 2017Columns
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