Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “This Was Not a Crime Story, This Was a Love Story”: Harold Becker on the Great Al Pacino/Ellen Barkin Noir, Sea of Love

    In 1989, Al Pacino returned to the screen after a four-year hiatus to appear in Sea of Love, a thriller that reinstated him as a major star and cemented novelist Richard Price’s status as one of the great American screenwriters of his era. Price’s script, which follows a detective (Pacino) who falls in love with a suspect (Ellen Barkin) in a string of murders of men placing personal ads, has a rock solid construction that allows for a multitude of tonal shifts and digressions, all of which are orchestrated to perfection by the film’s director, Harold Becker. In Becker’s hands,…  Read more

    On Oct 29, 2018
    By on Oct 29, 2018Columns
  • “Imagine How Angels Would Look at Us”: Wim Wenders on Restoring Wings of Desire

    As a longtime Wim Wenders fan and devoted admirer of his masterpiece Wings of Desire, I would never have thought it possible that the movie could look better than it did when it was released in 1987. Gorgeous in every sense of the word, from the shimmering black-and-white photography of Henri Alekan (the maestro behind Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast who Wenders prodded out of retirement to shoot the film) to the profoundly romantic story of an angel who wants to fall to earth and experience the human condition, Wings of Desire was a stunner when it came out…  Read more

    On Oct 19, 2018
    By on Oct 19, 2018Columns
  • “The Episodes Generate Their Own Lives”: John Peter Kousakis on Directing the “No-Rules” NCIS: Los Angeles

    John Peter Kousakis began his career in 1979 as a production assistant on the television mini-series The French Atlantic Affair, which led to work as a second assistant director on CHIPS. From there Kousakis worked as an AD on some of the most popular series of the era, including The Greatest American Hero, The Fall Guy, and The A-Team, but he caught the directing bug during his first foray into features, working as a second AD on the Burt Reynolds-Hal Needham car chase extravaganza Cannonball Run II. Since then he has moved back and forth between production management positions and…  Read more

    On Sep 21, 2018
    By on Sep 21, 2018Columns
  • “It Was No Gang, It Was One Guy, and He Wasn’t Really a Killer”: Producer and Star Edward James Olmos on The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez

    One of the greatest and most criminally overlooked Westerns in the history of cinema arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this week in the form of the Criterion Collection’s release of Robert M. Young’s The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. A landmark independent film that kicked off the Chicano cinema movement of the 1980s (a movement that would include movies as varied as El Norte, Stand and Deliver, and Born in East L.A.), it’s a genre piece without a shred of manipulation or sentimentality; director Young and producer Edward James Olmos, who also stars in the title role, tell their chase narrative…  Read more

    On Aug 16, 2018
    By on Aug 16, 2018Columns
  • “I Had a 40-Year Career That Was Mostly Just Riven with Existential Panic”: Two and a Half Men Co-Creator Lee Aronsohn on his Debut Doc, 40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie

    Lee Aronsohn was a college student in the early 1970s when he discovered Magic Music, an acoustic band based in Boulder, Colorado that attracted a devoted following thanks to their beautiful harmonies, memorable lyrics and bohemian lifestyle. In spite of flirtations with a number of record labels, the group never took off — they never even released an album — and by 1975 they broke up. Forty years later, Aronsohn — now one of the most successful writer-producers in the history of sitcoms thanks to his work on Murphy Brown, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men,…  Read more

    On Aug 9, 2018
    By on Aug 9, 2018Columns
  • “I Don’t Care If It Never Shows in a Theater”: Steven Soderbergh on sex, lies, and videotape, 4K HDR and the Studio System

    Some films make a splash on their initial release and are largely forgotten just a few years later; others are ignored but rise in stature with the passage of time. Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 debut sex, lies, and videotape is one of those rare movies that was a phenomenon in its time and has only gotten better with age, a razor-sharp exploration of the ways in which we lie to each other and ourselves and an inquiry into what those lies say about our relationships, our desires, and our society as a whole. An extremely specific movie about a precise social…  Read more

    On Jul 20, 2018
    By on Jul 20, 2018Columns
  • “I Like Being Aggressive in the Storytelling…”: Michael Dinner on His CBS James Ellroy Adaptation, L.A. Confidential

    One of the most haunting and atmospheric pieces of filmmaking I’ve seen this year is the pilot for the television adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential, which, as scripted by Jordan Harper and directed by Michael Dinner, beautifully captures Ellroy’s unique blend of acidic humor, weary resignation, and brutal violence as both a destructive and cathartic force. Working with his Justified collaborator Walton Goggins — brilliant here in the role of Jack Vincennes — as well as an equally fine Brian J. Smith (playing Ed Exley) and Mark Webber (Bud White), Dinner pays tribute to both Ellroy’s novel and Curtis…  Read more

    On Jul 9, 2018
    By on Jul 9, 2018Columns
  • “I Just Try to Approach It in a Teaching Way, Not an Overbearing Way…”: Bryan Spicer on Directing the TV Series, Hawaii Five-O

    I first became aware of director Bryan Spicer when I encountered his lively episodes of Eerie, Indiana back in the early ’90s. In the 25 years since then, he’s built up a resume that would be the envy of any filmmaker, doing excellent work in both features and television in virtually every genre — his filmography includes teen comedies, Westerns, sci-fi, a musical, urban action, romance, procedurals, comic book superheroes, period pieces and more. In recent years Spicer has focused almost entirely on one show, Hawaii Five-0, but that doesn’t mean he has left his breadth of style behind. To…  Read more

    On Jun 29, 2018
    By on Jun 29, 2018Columns
  • “Sprinkling a Little ‘Stacey’ On It”: Director Stacey K. Black on How to Excel at Directing Episodic Television

    Directing episodic television can be one of the most challenging forms of filmmaking. A tricky balancing act is required by having to simultaneously meet the expectations of the audience, the demands of the network and showrunner, and the desires and opinions of actors and crew, who have been on the show for years — and all while providing a distinctive enough point of view so as to make one’s self essential to the process (and thus get asked back to direct more episodes). Few directors have managed to navigate the intersection between personal expression and mass entertainment as well as…  Read more

    On May 22, 2018
    By on May 22, 2018Columns
  • “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
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