Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “I’m a Cheap Guy”: John Carpenter on Vampires

    John Carpenter is a unique case among American filmmakers, in that his work is immensely popular and acclaimed yet still weirdly underrated – he’s acknowledged in many circles as great, yet he’s even better than most people think he is. Just about everyone agrees that he directed two of the greatest horror films ever made, Halloween and The Thing, though the second of these was largely considered to be a critical and commercial disappointment when it was released in 1982. And there’s no denying the massive influence of his 1981 action classic Escape From New York, or the prescience of…  Read more

    On Oct 29, 2015
    By on Oct 29, 2015Columns
  • Director Ron Shelton on Making Play It to the Bone, Fighting Gratuitous Insert Shots and Why White Men Can’t Jump Tested Well

    How many filmmakers are capable of writing a script that not only invites comparison with Casablanca but earns it – and then surpasses its source on nearly every level? That’s what Ron Shelton did with his first produced screenplay, Under Fire (1983), which riffs on Casablanca’s combination of romance and international intrigue but strips it of all sentimentality and gives it a concrete political context (the 1979 Nicaraguan Revolution) that intersects seamlessly with the film’s intimate character studies and relationships. The love triangle between the journalists played by Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, and Gene Hackman is as mature, complex, and…  Read more

    On Oct 20, 2015
    By on Oct 20, 2015Columns
  • “Two Girls Coming into your House and Unleashing Havoc”: Eli Roth on Knock Knock

    Eli Roth’s Knock Knock is to Fatal Attraction what that film was to Play Misty For Me: an homage that expands upon its source and intersects with the zeitgeist in immensely entertaining, provocative ways. Like both Attraction and Misty, Knock Knock is a cautionary tale and a male fantasy turned nightmare: Keanu Reeves plays a husband and father who, when left alone on Father’s Day, answers the door to find two gorgeous young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) stranded in the rain and looking for help. He invites them in and eventually succumbs to their erotic overtures, quickly…  Read more

    On Oct 8, 2015
    By on Oct 8, 2015Columns
  • “If You Read the Script You’re Not Gonna Want to Do the Movie”: Mark L. Lester on Commando

    Thirty years ago this month, director Mark L. Lester changed the course of action cinema forever when he solidified Arnold Schwarzenegger’s persona in the gloriously excessive Commando. Schwarzenegger was already a star thanks to the Conans and The Terminator, but Commando is the film that established the identity he would revisit in film after film – and that introduced the “bigger is better” combination of exaggerated action and comedy that producer Joel Silver would apply to his Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Predator series, among many other pictures. Those movies would be heavily influenced by Commando’s vivid palette and precise attention…  Read more

    On Oct 1, 2015
    By on Oct 1, 2015Columns
  • “Most of the Movies You’ll Want To See This Fall Will Be Independents”: Edward Zwick on Pawn Sacrifice

    Writer, producer, and director Ed Zwick is a singular presence in the American media landscape – and a presence whose gifts become increasingly valuable as they become less and less common. He’s a filmmaker committed to serious, important subject matter who never succumbs to didacticism or pat conclusions; he has never once compromised the complexity of the issues his films address or the people whose lives are affected by them. What’s all the more remarkable about his work is that he achieves this complexity via mass entertainments that are as straightforward and involving as they are ambitious and adult –…  Read more

    On Sep 23, 2015
    By on Sep 23, 2015Columns
  • “I’m Not Qualified For Anything Else”: Writer/Director Steve Kloves on The Fabulous Baker Boys and Flesh and Bone

    Twelve years before he became the screenwriter of the most successful franchise in film history, adapting all but one of the Harry Potter novels for the screen, Steve Kloves directed the first of two extraordinarily powerful and original films – movies all the more remarkable for how different they were from each other. Kloves had one produced screenplay to his credit, 1984’s Racing with the Moon, when he assembled the dream cast of Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Beau Bridges to create The Fabulous Baker Boys in 1989. Its story of two piano-playing brothers and the singer that upends years…  Read more

    On Sep 17, 2015
    By on Sep 17, 2015Columns
  • “I Was Definitely Curious About What It Would Mean For My Career”: David M. Rosenthal on The Perfect Guy

    There’s been a lot of talk lately about indie directors making the leap to studio productions, but few have handled the transition as skillfully as David M. Rosenthal does in the smart, funny, and scary thriller The Perfect Guy. In a way it’s the perfect studio assignment for Rosenthal, in that it takes full advantage of the skills he exhibited in his previous film, 2013’s richly atmospheric thriller A Single Shot, while also allowing him to explore new territory as an old-school genre director. The basic premise is nothing new – it’s the stuff of dozens of Lifetime “woman in jeopardy”…  Read more

    On Sep 10, 2015
    By on Sep 10, 2015Directors
  • “The Mid-Size Studio Feature is Gone”: Ken Kwapis on A Walk in the Woods

    When Ken Kwapis was a cinema student at USC, he ran the school’s film society and programmed retrospectives that enabled him to not only study the classics but also to meet several of the directors who made them – among his guests were Orson Welles, John Cassavetes, and Don Siegel. The experience clearly influenced Kwapis when he became a director himself, as he forged a career similar to that of many of the filmmakers of the classical studio era, albeit without the same corporate support system. Like a Michael Curtiz or Victor Fleming, Kwapis employs a self-effacing style and often…  Read more

    On Sep 2, 2015
    By on Sep 2, 2015Directors
  • Disembowelment and Doggie Cams: DP Sandi Sissel on Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs

    If there are two characteristics defining director of photography Sandi Sissel’s work, they are versatility and realism. Sissel began her career in the documentary field, shooting countless hours of footage for NBC and ABC News as well as 60 Minutes, and she has continued working in the non-fiction form on dozens of highly acclaimed films for PBS (Before Stonewall, Witness to War), HBO (Jane Goodall: Chimps So Like Us), and Disney (Endurance, for which Sissel received a BAFTA nomination). Concurrently with her non-fiction work, Sissel has forged a career as a superb narrative cinematographer; her acclaimed feature debut, Mira Nair’s…  Read more

    On Aug 26, 2015
    By on Aug 26, 2015Cinematographers
  • Steering Away From “Ooga-Booga” Horror Movies: John McNaughton on The Harvest

    In 1985, a pair of brothers who owned a video equipment rental business in Chicago offered local filmmaker John McNaughton $100,000 in financing if he could come up with a low-budget horror movie. They probably got a little more than they bargained for when McNaughton delivered Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a chilling (though also blackly comic) character study loosely based on the experiences of real life sociopath Henry Lee Lucas. McNaughton eschewed slasher movie conventions in favor of an ultra-realistic, serious-minded film with no escape hatch for the audience; one of the greatest cinematic representations of the banality…  Read more

    On Aug 19, 2015
    By on Aug 19, 2015Columns
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