Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • 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
  • Ted Kotcheff on Making First Blood, Changing Rambo’s Suicide Mission and (Not) Working with Kirk Douglas

    Most filmmakers are lucky if they can master one genre in their lifetime, but over the course of a sixty-year career Ted Kotcheff has conquered several. He helmed a grimly funny suspense classic (Wake in Fright); a literate, witty Gregory Peck Western (Billy Two-Hats); fast and funny comedies (Fun with Dick and Jane, Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe); and dramedies where the laughs coexist with unsettling insights into the dark side of the human condition (North Dallas Forty, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz). All of his films are characterized by a vibrant pictorial sense – no one…  Read more

    On Jun 7, 2016
    By on Jun 7, 2016Columns
  • Brian De Palma on Directing Actors and The Boardroom Scene in Scarface

    A master director gets the cinematic treatment he deserves in Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s De Palma, which is quite simply the greatest film about filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. That it consists almost entirely of a feature-length interview with its subject, interspersed with impeccably selected clips from his films, makes it all the more remarkable – it’s a deceptively simple piece of work that yields infinite insights. Using the intimacy gained from their years-long friendship with the auteur, Baumbach and Paltrow interrogate Brian De Palma about each of his films in chronological order, and the result is not only…  Read more

    On Jun 2, 2016
    By on Jun 2, 2016Columns
  • Is Acting Really Just Being the Drunk Uncle Who Shows Up On the Couch with the Bag of Fritos? Andrew McCarthy on Directing TV

    Two things distinguish director Andrew McCarthy’s television work: exceptionally loose, naturalistic performances, and a rigorously elegant sense of framing and blocking. An actor’s director in the best sense, in that he treats behavior as one component of a fully integrated, visually expressive whole, McCarthy’s episodes of any given series are almost always that program’s most emotionally and cinematically layered. Even on a show like The Blacklist that already has a strongly established visual style, McCarthy is able to integrate his own preoccupations with the preexisting framework to both serve the franchise and deepen it. (He also elicits delightful effects from…  Read more

    On Apr 19, 2016
    By on Apr 19, 2016Columns
  • “Framing is its Own Dark Art”: Karyn Kusama on The Invitation

    Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation achieves the kind of cinematic alchemy one finds in Blood Simple or the best of Hitchcock, where genre meets philosophy and character to yield something both razor-sharp in its clarity and infinitely complex in its provocations. The script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi follows a group of friends over the course of one night when they reunite after a tragedy that has affected all of their lives. The intentions of the hostess, Eden (Tammy Blanchard), are mysterious and only grow increasingly troubling as the night progresses, at least as far as her ex-husband Will (Logan…  Read more

    On Mar 17, 2016
    By on Mar 17, 2016Columns
  • “Seven Hours’ Worth of Movie over Three Years”: Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part Two

    Four years ago this month, one of the most successful series in recent film history was launched when director Gary Ross helmed his adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games. An instant phenomenon, the movie turned Jennifer Lawrence into a superstar and provided a bleaker, more political alternative to the Twilight franchise. Ross didn’t return for the sequel, Catching Fire, so the producers entrusted the series to director Francis Lawrence, who stayed on for two more films. In Lawrence’s hands the allegorical aspects of the series grew more pronounced, the visual style more diverse and elaborate, and the emotional…  Read more

    On Mar 10, 2016
    By on Mar 10, 2016Columns
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