Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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
  • “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
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