Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • “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, 2017 Columns
  • 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, 2017 Columns
  • “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, 2017 Columns
  • “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, 2017 Directors
  • “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, 2017 Cinematographers
  • “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, 2017 Columns
  • “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, 2016 Directors
  • 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, 2016 Columns
  • 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, 2016 Columns
  • 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, 2016 Columns
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