Focal Point

In-depth interviews with directors and cinematographers by Jim Hemphill

  • 20 Years of Collaborating with Tarantino with Zero ADR: Production Sound Mixer Mark Ulano on The Hateful Eight

    Few directors this side of Joseph Mankiewicz are as attentive to the clear, crisp presentation of dialogue as Quentin Tarantino, giving the always important role of production sound mixer even more weight on his sets. Since Jackie Brown in 1997, Tarantino has relied on Academy Award winner (for Titanic) Mark Ulano to capture his production sound. Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight, represents some of Ulano’s finest work to date – which is saying something considering that he has over a hundred credits to his name, including The Master, Iron Man and Inglourious Basterds (for which he was nominated for another Oscar).…  Read more

    On Dec 15, 2015
    By on Dec 15, 2015Columns
  • “A Chance to Develop Technique”: Oliver Stone on Talk Radio

    From 1986 to 1995, writer-director Oliver Stone directed ten films in ten years which, taken together, comprise the most complex, provocative, and illuminating cinematic inquiry into American values since John Ford. The magnitude of his achievement seems virtually impossible in today’s Hollywood and was probably nearly as unlikely then. After a pair of powerful independent films exploring American foreign policy in Latin America (Salvador) and Vietnam (Platoon), Stone used the commercial success of the latter to harness studio resources at the service of a series of massively ambitious works, including an epic answer to and repudiation of the postwar mythology…  Read more

    On Dec 3, 2015
    By on Dec 3, 2015Columns
  • “Always Give Exposition While Running From a Bear”: Drew and John Erick Dowdle on No Escape

    For the past few years I’ve been bemoaning the decline of the mid-range genre film, the action movie or horror flick that is neither a contained micro-budget opus straining against its resources nor an oppressive studio behemoth in which all sense of character, theme, and nuance is suffocated under the weight of its own scale and CGI. That mid-range has always been the source of many of America’s best, most enduring films; it’s the arena where masters like Don Siegel, Nicholas Ray, and Anthony Mann plied their trade under the classical studio system, and in more recent decades auteurs like…  Read more

    On Nov 24, 2015
    By on Nov 24, 2015Columns
  • “I Have Four Days to Edit My Director’s Cut”: Bethany Rooney on Directing TV

    I first became aware of director Bethany Rooney’s work via her episodes of two of the most visually arresting series on network television, Arrow and The Originals. On each of these series – specifically, the “State vs Queen” episode of Arrow and the “When the Levee Breaks” episode of The Originals – Rooney exhibited a sophisticated sense of composition, lighting, and color surpassed only by her deft hand with actors. As I dug further into Rooney’s oeuvre while catching up on several other series this fall, I learned that those two shows were the rule, not the exception — performers…  Read more

    On Nov 17, 2015
    By on Nov 17, 2015Columns
  • “We Got Over 90 Setups One Day”: John Sayles on Eight Men Out

    Few directors in the history of American film have presented a perspective on the human condition as complex, varied, and compassionate as that of John Sayles. The quintessential independent filmmaker, he once said, “I’m interested in the stuff I do being seen as widely as possible but I’m not interested enough to lie.” He has remained true to that ethos from his directorial debut, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, to his most recent gem, Go For Sisters. No one tells the truth with as much humor, pain, sympathy, irony, or expansiveness as Sayles, a man to whom no aspect…  Read more

    On Nov 10, 2015
    By on Nov 10, 2015Columns
  • “I’m Not Like Wes Anderson Designing His Own Clothes”: Trey Nelson on Lost in the Sun

    It can be dangerous to make bold claims for a filmmaker on the basis of one feature, but then Lost in the Sun’s Trey Nelson is hardly a novice. While Lost in the Sun is his writer-director feature debut, Nelson has been working in television, documentaries, and commercials for years, racking up hundreds of credits for networks like A&E, National Geographic, and the History Channel. His experience is evident in every frame of Lost in the Sun, a remarkably assured sun-drenched noir that invites comparison with the early work of Malick and Bogdanovich but has a tone and sensibility all…  Read more

    On Nov 4, 2015
    By on Nov 4, 2015Columns
  • “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
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