Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “Filmmaking is Not a Job, It’s a State of Mind”: Directors John C. Lyons and Dorota Swies on Unearth

    Fifteen years ago I was touring the regional horror film festival circuit with my first feature when I discovered the work of John C. Lyons, a filmmaker based in Erie, Pennsylvania whose short Hunting Camp was one of the more inventive and compelling movies I encountered that year. It was also one of the most interestingly photographed, by cinematographer Dorota Swies, who formed Lyons Den Productions with Lyons in 2004; the two of them have been working together ever since. Their latest collaboration and first feature together is the environmental horror movie Unearth, set to premiere on August 25 at this year’s virtual…  Read more

    On Aug 12, 2020
    By on Aug 12, 2020Columns
  • “You Get to Be Your Own Editor as You’re Watching It”: Catherine Hardwicke on Quibi Series Don’t Look Deeper

    Ever since she made her directorial debut in 2003 with Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke has been one of the American cinema’s great chroniclers of young people navigating the transition to adulthood. In films as diverse as Lords of Dogtown, Twilight, Red Riding Hood and The Nativity Story, Hardwicke has explored teenage crises and discoveries with serious intent and the sharp attention to visual detail that she developed as a production designer on movies like Three Kings and Vanilla Sky. Her work on those films and other often demonstrated a bold and original approach to color, and this is true of her…  Read more

    On Jul 27, 2020
    By on Jul 27, 2020Columns
  • “The Key Word on Set was ‘Darker'”: DP Jeremy Osbern on The Big Ugly, The First Feature to Shoot on a RED Gemini

    Writer-director Scott Wiper’s The Big Ugly is the best kind of genre film, a crime movie aware of the traditions in which it’s working but not beholden to them; combining elements of ’40s and ’50s crime fiction (Jim Thompson seems to be a particular touchstone) with the flavor of ’70s Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill filtered through the visual grammar of ’90s Tony Scott, The Big Ugly synthesizes its influences into a unique and compelling western noir. Its emotional power comes largely from Wiper’s richly textured script and the performances by his consistently riveting ensemble, which includes Vinnie Jones, Malcolm…  Read more

    On Jul 21, 2020
    By on Jul 21, 2020Cinematographers
  • “Is Evil Outside of Us, Or Does It Come from Within?”: D.P. Fred Murphy on Shooting Evil, Wide-Angle Lenses and Working with Wim Wenders

    Evil was one of the best new television series of the 2019-2020 season, a thoughtful consideration of a vast array of moral, spiritual and sociopolitical issues in the guise of a supernatural procedural. The show follows Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers), a clinical psychologist with a complicated family life who teams up with David Acosta (Mike Colter), a haunted ex-journalist who works for the Catholic Church as an assessor; he investigates – then confirms or debunks – incidents involving miracles, demonic possessions, and the like. Series creators Robert and Michelle King (the husband and wife team responsible for The Good Wife…  Read more

    On Jul 7, 2020
  • “Stay Open to the Moose Head on the Table”: Director Lesli Linka Glatter on Homeland, Learning from Lynch and Spielberg, and Resuming Production

    Lesli Linka Glatter began her career in the arts as a choreographer and dancer, and this early experience clearly informs her work as a director. On shows as varied in genre and style as Twin Peaks, NYPD Blue, True Blood and Mad Men, one thing remains consistent when Glatter is at the helm: an astute attention to the dramatic rhythms that are created by finding the precise visual corollary for whatever is going on emotionally in a scene. Hers is a cinema of extreme precision, defined by clear, bold choices when it comes to her compositions and rigorous control over…  Read more

    On May 27, 2020
    By on May 27, 2020Directors
  • “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
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