Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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
  • “It’s. Never. Easy.”: Thommy Hutson on The Id

    Thommy Hutson’s new film The Id features a lot of conventions familiar to fans of low-budget horror – limited locations, handheld camerawork, a subjective point of view linked to a protagonist with a fractured psyche – but it stands apart from the crowd thanks to Hutson’s subtle and beautiful approach to color, space, and psychology. The film, which arrives on Blu-ray today, is an eerie character study that follows Meridith (Amanda Wyss), a woman torn between the horrors of caring for an abusive father and the fear of the unknown that comes with escaping the only life she’s ever known. As…  Read more

    On Oct 25, 2016
    By on Oct 25, 2016Directors
  • Kurt Kuenne on Shooting his First Television Episode, From Shadowing to Editing

    I first became aware of Kurt Kuenne’s work when I saw his 2011 feature Shuffle on the festival circuit; that film, an audacious psychological thriller about a man who finds himself waking up each morning at a different stage of his life, was an extraordinary fiction debut for a director who, I later discovered, had also made one of the most powerful documentaries of recent years. Dear Zachary (2008) begins as Kuenne’s tribute to a murdered friend and develops into an excruciating portrait of a legal system gone horribly wrong; it’s touching, enraging, devastating, and inspiring in equal measures. Last year’s…  Read more

    On Oct 11, 2016
    By on Oct 11, 2016Columns
  • Mark Pellington on Directing Pilots, Blindspot and Collaborating with TV Creators

    One of the most visually arresting pieces of filmmaking I saw last year was the pilot episode of Blindspot, an NBC series that slyly reinvigorates the network procedural genre by fusing the raw materials of 70s conspiracy thrillers with an ingenious puzzle device. The puzzle comes in the form of a body covered with tattoos; the body belongs to “Jane Doe” (Jaimie Alexander), a woman who, in the opening scene of the pilot, is discovered zipped up in a duffel bag left unattended in Times Square. Jane has no memory of who she is or how she got in the…  Read more

    On Aug 10, 2016
    By on Aug 10, 2016Columns
  • Danny DeVito on The Ratings Game, Storyboarding and Test Screenings

    In 1984, Danny DeVito made one of the most assured and entertaining directorial debuts in comedy history when he helmed The Ratings Game, a hilarious satire that premiered on Showtime only to disappear from circulation in the decades that followed. The movie tells the story of a New Jersey trucking mogul (DeVito) who moves to Los Angeles with dreams of making it in the TV business. When he falls in love with a woman (Rhea Perlman) who works for a ratings service, he figures out a way to rig the system in his favor, rising to the top with a…  Read more

    On Jul 26, 2016
    By on Jul 26, 2016Columns
  • “We Laid Out the Chessboard of the Movie”: Fede Alvarez on Don’t Breathe

    Filmmaker Fede Alvarez made an impressive feature debut in 2013 with his uncompromisingly savage, Sam Raimi-approved remake of The Evil Dead, but it didn’t come close to preparing me for his extraordinary follow-up, Don’t Breathe. That film, which reunites Alvarez with his Evil Dead producers Raimi and Rob Tapert as well as co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, is a clinic in how to construct a perfect thriller – a Swiss watch of a movie that takes the audience in the palm of its hand in the opening scene and then squeezes hard for an hour and a half. The premise is elegantly…  Read more

    On Jul 20, 2016
    By on Jul 20, 2016Columns
  • “Whether It Takes One Camera or 12”: TV Director Anthony Hemingway on Underground and The People v. O.J. Simpson

    Two of the best television series ever to tackle America’s endlessly complicated relationship with race premiered almost simultaneously in the first half of this year. First up was the FX series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, in which two of the greatest living American screenwriters, Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, found their greatest subject in the tragicomic bouillabaisse of race, class, sex, and violence that was the O.J. Simpson trial. A darker and more unsettling – though no less entertaining and riveting – examination of the same issues could be found just a matter of weeks later…  Read more

    On Jun 21, 2016
    By on Jun 21, 2016Columns
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