Spike Lee Wants a Nomination, But He’s Keeping Oscar History in Perspective

Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast, Ep. 69: “Whether you deserve it or not, has nothing to do with what actually happens,” said Lee.

The commercial and critical success of his “BlacKkKlansman” has given Spike Lee his first legit awards contender in years. And with four Golden Globe nominations this week, including nods for Best Director and Best Picture, it’s not an opportunity he’s taking for granted. In the midst of his always-busy schedule, Lee has made time to introduce the film at screenings, do interviews, and meet Academy voters.

“I’m doing the thing, meeting the voters and kissing babies,” said Lee when he was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “This is what everybody has told me, this is what you have to do.”

While Lee, who has never received a Best Director nomination from the Academy or the DGA, said it’s natural for anyone to want to be recognized for their work, he is more focused on making sure his long-time collaborators like composer Terence Blanchard and editor Barry Alexander Brown – both have never received nominations – are finally acknowledged by the Academy. Regardless, Lee said he is not going to get too worked up, he knows how the game works.

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

“Whether you deserve it or not, has nothing to do with what actually happens,” said Lee. “Don’t you think Al Pacino deserved it for ‘Godfather,’ ‘Godfather II,’ ‘Serpico,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon,’ ‘Justice for All’? You don’t think he should get one [for those films]?”

Lee know that filmmakers’ best work often gets ignored, like when his “Do the Right Thing” lost to “Driving Miss Daisy.” That’s not what motivates him.

“History has shown with the Academy, sometimes you don’t get the nod for your best work,” said Lee. “Here’s the thing though, and I think I can speak on behalf of my main man Martin Scorsese, the goal is not to win Oscars. That’s not the reason he’s making movies, he loves cinema. He loves it. That’s what it’s about.”

The director thinks the real danger is when film artists start chasing awards, or make specific movies because they are the type of project that will attract nominations. In particular, Lee thinks this has become a problem for actors.

Spike Lee, Barry Alexander Brown, Laura Harrier. Director Spike Lee, centre, poses with actress Laura Harrier, left, and editor Barry Alexander Brown after winning the Grand Prix award for the film 'BlackKklansman' following the awards ceremony at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France2018 Awards Photo Call, Cannes, France - 19 May 2018

Laura Harrier, Spike Lee, and editor Barry Alexander Brown after winning the Grand Prix award for “BlacKkKlansman”

Arthur Mola/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

“When you start chasing shit, this is just my opinion, then you start doing stuff for the wrong reason. Then it gets ugly,” said Lee. “‘I’m going to do this role because I want an Academy Awards with it.’ If you’re an actor and your mindset from the jump is to win an Academy Award, that’s going to affect your motherfucking performance. How can it not?”

For Lee, one of the blessings of the success of “BlacKkKlansman” is how many people are going back through his body of work and reconsidering some of his films that weren’t deemed successes and were ignored when they were first released. In particular, he is thrilled that “Bamboozled” and “25th Hour,” two films that bombed at the box office, are now considered amongst his best work.

“Some movies, for whatever reason, don’t get seen in theaters,” said Lee. “But that opening weekend box office isn’t how movies should be judged.”

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music.

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

The Best Cast Films of 2018, According to Casting Directors

Hollywood’s top casting directors explain why “Black Panther,” “Roma,” and “Eighth Grade” are among the best-cast films of the year.

Casting directors have a strange distinction in the awards world: It’s a guild with an Academy branch, but without its own Oscar category. Imagine for a moment that there was one. What are the best-cast films of 2018? IndieWire reached out to a number of the film industry’s top casting directors to ask them to nominate one outstanding work this year.

What follows is another lens through which to see our favorite movies of the year. Many of us are quick to highlight beautiful cinematography, expressive production design, visceral editing, a narrative-driving score, or an individual standout performance. However, casting directors play a vital role in interpreting the visions of today’s best directors.

Many casting directors noted that there were still many films this year they hadn’t yet seen. One other restriction, which was imposed as responses came in: IndieWire capped the number of entries at two for “Black Panther,” “Eighth Grade,” and “Roma,” which were the most popular picks amongst the group of casting directors polled for this article.

The nominations appear in alphabetical order by film title.

“Black Panther” Casting By Sarah Finn

"Black Panther"

“Black Panther”

Marvel

Cindy Tolan (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Straight Outta Compton”): To tell a story that is at the same time historic and futuristic, both classic and otherworldly, is one of the most challenging tasks a casting director can have. Add to that, that the film will be part of the Marvel [Cinematic Universe] and you’ve got a highly demanding albeit exciting task ahead of you.

Casting director Sarah Finn and director Ryan Coogler had to assemble a cast that could capture both the familiar superhero genre and the completely new black superhero idiom. Each actor had to be larger than life, uniquely individual, and yet be part of a whole greater than themselves.

Finn accomplished this by creating a unique ensemble comprised of dynamic actors all from different worlds; she truly did create a new universe. From Sterling K. Brown and Danai Gurira, both professionally trained at NYU MFA acting program, to Bambadjan Bamba, an undocumented immigrant actor from the Ivory Coast, to Letitia Wright, a Guyanese-born British actress, to Isaach De Bankole, a veteran of Jim Jarmusch films, and to Academy Award nominee, Angela Bassett, Finn built a single cohesive whole without losing each actor’s own individual voice. Not easy. Well done, Sarah Finn and Ryan Coogler.

Jennifer Euston (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”): Despite the very realistic projects I cast, I am and always have been a nerdy fangirl. Fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and superhero films and television are what I’ve thrived on since childhood. I’ve always thought these genres, most especially superhero films, never received enough credit for their casting—even before the Marvel Universe exploded on the scene over the last 10 years. In 1978, legendary casting director, Lynn Stalmaster cast “Superman” with Juilliard grad Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, and even Marlon Brando! No one’s been able to replicate that hero’s story ensemble although they try and try (sorry, DC Universe –but I love “Wonder Woman” and “The Dark Knight,” of course).

Similarly, no one will ever be able to recreate “Black Panther” with a better, more groundbreaking cast of actors from the smallest of roles to Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa himself. With the keys to Wakanda, Ryan Coogler was able to create a comic-book world that was still grounded and told a personal, family story with history and rivalry, love and hate. Sarah Finn was able to help him accomplish this by casting great black and African-American actors, established and up-and-coming, as well as character actors of all ages and types. From Sterling K. Brown’s emotional opening of the film (that would have not made such an impact with a lesser actor) to Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, and other strong female lead characters portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and breakout Letitia Wright. Ms. Finn cast each and every role memorable and specific. It was so exciting to watch every fresh face working alongside familiar actors we’ve had in our lives for years.

Sarah Finn has populated the MCU over the past 10 years with actors who have become iconic, household names. As a fellow casting director, I know this kind of casting is not easy. She needs to find women and men who can transform into literal heroes and villains who audiences believe in and care about so much they want to see more and more of them. No pressure! Sarah succeeded, and we all saw what happens when you cast the right actors in right the roles, rather than aiming for star power. “Black Panther” broke box-office records and made over a billion dollars. It is proof to closed-minded studios and producers that a black and African-American cast is as valuable as other superhero blockbusters — not only monetarily, but creatively as well.

“BlacKkKlansman,” Casting By Kim Coleman

"Blackkklansman"

“Blackkklansman”

Focus

Ellen Chenoweth (“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “No Country for Old Men”): Kim Coleman assembled such a great cast on “BlacKkKlansman”. There seems to be an understanding between her and Spike Lee, which is so important in producing the best casts. When we’re fortunate enough to have these collaborations, we all do our best work. I love the way Kim spiced the cast up between relative newcomers like John David Washington and Laura Harrier (both so good) and veterans like Michael Buscemi, Adam Driver, Ryan Eggold, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Topher Grace, perfectly embodying the banality of evil as KKK head David Duke. Add to this three of my favorite actors: Ashlie Atkinson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Corey Hawkins. What a wild story, brought alive and elevated to another level by Kim’s work.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me,” Casting By Jennifer Euston

Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and Richard E. Grant as "Jack Hock" in the film CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Photo by Mary Cybulski

Allison Jones (“Eighth Grade,” “Lady Bird”): The shrewd casting for “Can You Ever Forgive Me“ was crucial to its impact on me. Melissa McCarthy made the character of Lee Israel fascinating – not necessarily likable, but riveting. Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, and Stephen Spinella all created the NY literary world so believably – from Dolly’s careful articulation and Richard’s bohemian, sad but daring character, to Spinella’s intelligent specificity as a rare book dealer. Every character made me feel like this world was as competitive, challenging, and inscrutable as Lee Israel must have been.

This would not have worked as well with any other actors, thanks to Jen Euston’s understanding of putting the qualities of the role first, and the chemistry between actor and writing. A perfect cast.

Kim Coleman (“BlacKkKlansman,” “Dear White People”): There are a lot of great movies out this year, but one that stood out to me from an acting/casting standpoint is “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” directed by Marielle Heller with casting by Jennifer Euston.

In this movie, Melissa McCarthy tackled a more serious role than I’m used to seeing her play, portraying a real-life author desperate to remain relevant at any cost. I found her performance to be engaging, believable, and relatable as a damaged artist who just wanted the world to hear her voice. Although she was guilty of the crimes she committed, I found it easy to sympathize with her plight. Melissa dug deep to make us root for her character despite her untruthfulness. Her interpretation of Lee Israel provoked a sense of sadness and hope as she struggled to regain a life she once had.

Another stand out to me was Richard E. Grant. He took on the role of Jack Hock, a down-on-his-luck man who failed to live up to the expectations he set for himself despite his charm and appeal, and now must do whatever he needs to survive. Grant made compelling choices and provided the perfect balance with McCarthy. I was completely immersed in their world as they faced the consequences of the decisions they made along the way.

Kudos to Jennifer Euston, whom I adore and has an incredible eye for talent. She rounded out the cast with an outstanding supporting group including Jane Curtin, Dolly Wells, Anna Deavere Smith and Stephen Spinella — brilliant performers who enhanced the world of the story through their subtle yet impactful performances.

“Cold War,” Casting By Magdalena Szwarcbart

“Cold War”

Amazon Studios

Lucy Bevan (“Christopher Robin,” “Ready Player One”): From the opening scenes of “Cold War,” the audience is transported into a bleak time in history as if it were real time. The brilliant and detailed casting of all the people in the villages transports you further than any computer-generated imagery could. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot give memorable and heartbreaking lead performances, supported by Agata Kulesza (great to see her again after her fine work in Pawlikowski’s “Ida”), Borys Szyc, Jeanne Balibar and lots of other fine Polish actors. From the bureaucrats in Poland to the party people in the smoky bars of Paris, each scene is filled with great actors all of whom feel completely authentic and of the time and place. Magdalena Szwarcbart, you did an amazing job!

“Crazy Rich Asians,” Casting By Terri Taylor

“Crazy Rich Asians”

Sarah Finn (“Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War”): There are so many exciting options to choose from in celebrating the best cast film of the year, but the first one that comes to mind is Terri Taylor’s genius ensemble in “Crazy Rich Asians.” Although awards season tends to favor dramatic and serious works, when you’re looking at the craft of casting, the work is no less significant or valuable in a romantic comedy (or any other genre, for that matter.) The breadth and scope of this cast, including breakout new stars as well as veteran actors, is without a doubt part of the film’s magic and success. Indeed much of the enjoyment and discussion of the film revolves around the freshness and uniqueness of its all-Asian cast.

Terri Taylor brilliantly combined legendary heavyweights like Michelle Yeoh with newly discovered talent like romantic lead Henry Golding and breakout stars like Awkwafina. In Constance Wu’s casting, she chose an actress known already on television who burst onto the big screen with tremendous appeal, range and charisma. She searched literally around the globe, with the help of regional casting directors, to round out each role with a perfectly chosen actor bringing more spark and dimension to the film.  And she took chances mixing comedians with dramatic actors to stunning effect. In creating a balanced, witty, and immensely entertaining cast, she broke the mold yet again and surely contributed to the film’s enormous impact.

Yorgos Lanthimos: ‘The Favourite’ is Not a History Lesson – Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

Yorgos Lanthimos talks to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast on how he and screenwriter Tony McNamara crafted the unconventional period drama.

When director Yorgos Lanthimos read Deborah Davis’ script for what became known as “The Favourite,” he first became intrigued by the idea of making a period costume drama. On IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, he talked about what it was specifically that drew him to Queen Anne’s story.

“I was interested in three women that had this kind of power,” said Lanthimos. “And how their relationships, although very intimate and personal, they affected the fate of a whole nation.”

However, he had little interest in making a film that was slavish to history. According to screenwriter Tony McNamara – whom the director hired to rewrite Davis’ script, history was just the starting point.

“I remember [Yorgos] said in some development meeting,” said McNamara. “‘If people are coming to this movie for a history lesson, they’re going to be in the wrong movie.'”

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

For McNamara and Lanthimos, the story was always about the women’s humanity, not the details of their lives. History and primary documentation were fodder for story ideas, rather than source material.

“It was what serves our story and serves the essence of what we’re trying to do,” said McNamara. “And if does, and it’s true, that’s nice. If it doesn’t, we don’t care that much.”

Lanthimos interjected, “Or we’ll fix it. Sometimes when we got stuck, we would look back. If we needed an idea for something and we couldn’t come up with something, sometimes we would go back and check what actually happened and maybe we can get something from there. Sometimes it would be useful.”

In particular, the two collaborators found the womens’ real-life private letters to be helpful. Yet the language of the time, and how the women would have spoken, was something they never concerned themselves with mastering. According to McNamara, they were looking for the characters’ language to be more contemporary and freer than in a traditional period film.

Emma Stone and Director Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Emma Stone and Director Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of “The Favourite”

Atsushi Nishijima

“We wanted a tone that wasn’t ‘Howards End’ or a Merchant-Ivory. We wanted a tone that was different and reflected what we would like to see in a period film,” said McNamara. “We aren’t from that tradition. A Greek [Lanthimos] and an Australian [McNamara], making a English period movie — what do you expect?”

Lanthimos was also concerned his actors would put too much emphasis on the dialogue. He wanted to get the text drilled into the actors through an unconventional rehearsal process that steered them away from over-intellectualizing their lines.

“I don’t want them to learn the lines by rationalizing what the scenes are and how they’re supposed to do it and how they’re supposed to say certain things,” said Lanthimos. “So I try to have them learn the lines while they’re doing a bunch of other physical activities that basically take away their concentration from the actual lines and what they mean. So they have these very contradicting activity going on – from jumping around a room when [reciting] dialogue – that has nothing to do with [the drama].”

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

Killing the Sundance Myth: No Filmmaker Comes Out of Nowhere

What’s an unconnected filmmaker to do about a festival with over 14,000 applicants? Don’t worry about it.

In March 1985, the great George Plimpton wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated that told the story of Sidd Finch, a seemingly out-of-nowhere mountain man who was raised in an English orphanage, studied yoga in Tibet, and was now discovered by the New York Mets. The team was desperate to keep him under wraps because he threw the baseball at 168 mph. After creating an enormous stir inside the media and the sport itself with Plimpton’s exceedingly well-told yarn, the magazine revealed that Finch was, in fact, an elaborate April Fool’s joke.

The idea that a human being could throw a ball 168 mph is implausible, but the part of the story that should have sounded alarms is that such a prodigious talent would go undiscovered and then, somehow, kept secret. Pro baseball players, like Sundance filmmakers, don’t come out of nowhere.

Of all the Sundance myths that developed over the last 35 years, the biggest fallacy is that of being magically discovered and launching one’s career on a snow-covered January evening in Park City. If anything, when that does happen, it’s across the street at Slamdance, like when Kevin Smith saw a no-budget, off-the-wall film by a young Canadian (Matt Johnson’s “The Dirties”), or Steven Soderbergh caught some experimental flick by two Cleveland brothers (Anthony and Joe Russo’s “Pieces”).

And yet when young filmmakers submitted their Withoutabox application to Sundance this year, alongside a record-breaking 14,259 applicants, they dreamed of being the next Benh Zeitlin, who, as legend has it, strolled into Sundance with his young rag-tag New Orleans crew and a film featuring no professional actors to shock everybody with “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which would make him an Oscar-nominated director.

Three years before director Benh Zeitlin took the Sundance Film Festival by story, he workshopped his breakout hit at the 2009 Lab.

Three years before director Benh Zeitlin took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, he workshopped his breakout hit at the 2009 Lab

© 2016 Sundance Institute | Photo by Fred Hayes

Zeitlin did not come out of nowhere. His short, “Glory at Sea,” before it made a huge splash at SXSW, and gathered support from major filmmakers. Then he went to the Sundance labs before picking up major nonprofit financial support from everyone from CineReach to SFFilm, and that connected him with George Lucas’ ILM to help with the visual effects and to do his pre-fest sound mix at the Skywalker Ranch. Heck, I remember seven years before “Beasts” seeing his incredibly impressive student film “Egg” and, like everyone else at the screening asking, “Who is this Zeitlin kid?”

In other words, like Sidd Finch, he didn’t descend the proverbial Sundance mountain playing his French horn with one boot on (Plimpton really was a national treasure). His magical Sundance moment of being an overnight success was the culmination of years of incremental steps, many of which happened under the watchful and helpful eye of Independent Film’s elite gatekeepers.

In fact — and I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble here, but like all the competition films that year, this year, and all the years in between — the Sundance programming team didn’t find his film filing through thousands of Withoutabox applications. No doubt the head programmers were sent various cuts of the film along the way to screen, because like hundreds of other films, many of which inevitably didn’t get into Sundance, “Beasts” was carefully tracked.

When IndieWire asked Sundance’s new Director of Programming, Kim Yutani, what the biggest surprise discovery was in programming the 2019 festival, she didn’t really have an answer. “We track these things so far in advance,” said Yutani. “I feel like I hear about anything before it gets to us, but that’s just because we’re doing our job.”

If you are a young filmmaker staring at the abyss of 14K applicants and are not on Sundance’s radar, no doubt getting into Sundance feels like insurmountable odds. Maybe you didn’t go to NYU or a prestigious film school with connections, or have access to a big indie producer like Christine Vachon, who the moment her Killer Films puts a director under its wings, becomes someone Sundance must keep an eye on. That might seem unfair, but in reality, based on Vachon’s track record with scripts and filmmakers, it’s common sense.

So what should you do when the various gatekeepers — labs, producers, nonprofit funders and the wide variety of well-respected and well-connected figures in the indie world — seem as inaccessible as Sundance itself?

Alma Har’el, the Israeli-born filmmaker was broke, never went to film school, had no practical experience or industry connections. In retrospect, those now seem like assets when looking at her endlessly inventive first feature “Bombay Beach,” which she shot herself on a cheap consumer camera embedding herself in a forgotten town along the Salton Sea.

While Har’el’s 2011 debut didn’t get into Sundance — it played and won Tribeca Film Festival, a premiere platform for nonfiction features — she will make her Park City debut next month with her first scripted narrative, “Honey Boy.” It can certainly be debated if her previous two films should have played Sundance, or if it should have taken a filmmaker with her talent the better part of a decade to finally get a chance to direct her first scripted project, but what can’t be debated is the unique cinematic voice she displayed in “Bombay Beach” found a platform and the attention of indie gatekeepers. If they weren’t already, by early 2011 Sundance was carefully tracking Har’el’s career.

Young filmmakers with dreams of Sundance should not view the network of festival programmers, nonprofit talent developers, producers, and yes, filmmakers (no recommendations mean more) as a hurdle. In reality, their tentacles spread far and deep searching for talent.

A few years ago, I was a documentary feature jurist at a small DIY film fest dedicated to discovery. I had never heard of the filmmakers or the films in competition, but after the fest, I got an email from someone at Sundance asking if I’d seen anything good, which I had — there was one film by two southern photographers-turned-filmmakers that blew me away, as it had my fellow jurists. I was one of the very first people to see this film, and within a week someone at Sundance was watching “Farmer/Veteran” from a Vimeo link.

A decade ago, my girlfriend at the time produced her first indie feature. The director was from the off-Broadway theater world, it was independently financed, and had virtually no profile. However, there were enough well-known players involved that it registered — and I was approached by employees from two top distributors asking me if the film would be any good, what was the deal with the director, what could I tell them about the world of the film. And I was just the boyfriend.

“Honey Boy”

This year, the Sundance programming team is taking kudos for one of their most diverse festivals. Women comprise 53 percent of the directors in this year’s U.S. Dramatic Competition, 41 percent are people of color; 18 percent identify as LGBTQIA+. Sure, those making selections deserve a nod, but the reality is these numbers are the product of opening new pipelines to the programmers. It’s the product of Sundance’s careful and multi-year effort, spearheaded by Moira Griffin, senior manager of diversity initiatives, to find new and fresh sources that feed Sundance.

So for the unconnected, unknown filmmaker lost in the sea of thousands of filmmakers gunning for Sundance, the reality is it very well may be out of reach — for now. You cannot throw a 168 mph fastball that will catapult your career. Like with Har’el and Zeitlin, there likely other festivals for you at this stage. Your biggest challenge is to keep making films, not that you are so far down the totem pole that you can’t get into the Sundance parties.

By the way, the parties are horrible. You have a far better chance of meeting people on the rush line talking about filmmaking, which should be your fuel. If it’s not, you’ll never make it.

Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.

See How ‘Widows’ Captured Chicago Through Its Use of Color

In exclusive before and after images, go behind the scenes of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s collaboration with Steve McQueen and his colorist Tom Poole.

Widows” director Steve McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt have been working together for 18 years. It’s a collaboration that spawned from a friendship based on talking about art, photography, and politics. According to both men, with “Widows” they reached a point in their creative marriage where they barely talk about the look of the film.

“Sean is gorgeous in how he looks at things and what we don’t want to do is something decorative – not interested, we’re interested in getting something much more textural, that you can actually feel it in your hands,” said McQueen in a recent interview with IndieWire. “It gets under your skin, because unfortunately we don’t have smell, but we do have color grading, which is very important.”

"Widows" director Steve McQueen and DP Sean Bobbitt

“Widows” director Steve McQueen and DP Sean Bobbitt

Merrick Morton

One of the things that is important to both Bobbitt and McQueen, who have shot all of McQueen’s films on 35mm film stock, is this work is captured in-camera. It’s rare in a digital age, where so many films’ color story and overall look is manufactured in the post-production color grading process. And yet Bobbitt has an equally close collaboration with his longtime colorist Tom Poole, one of the most well-respected color graders working in movies, which begs the question: What is the role of the rigorous color grading for a DP who creates the look of his film in-camera?

Read More: In ‘Widows,’ Steve McQueen Does More with One Shot Than Most Directors Do with a Scene

IndieWire recently visited Poole at his Company 3 office in New York to look at some images from “Widows,” and spoke to both McQueen and Bobbitt to discuss their collaboration, in an effort to answer this question.

Widows Sean Bobbitt shooting Viola Davis in her character's apartment

Sean Bobbitt shooting Viola Davis in her character’s apartment

Merrick Morton

McQueen and Bobbitt are careful not to approach a film with a predetermined look, but rather one that emanates from the soul of the story itself. With “Widows,” that means the city of Chicago itself.

“One is not trying to say anything other than portraying the city as it is,” said McQueen. “Chicago, what’s so beautiful is it’s very gothic, at the same time it’s very modern, and then you have these areas that are very derelict, the southside which is decaying… The palette is such, it’s how do you differentiate, but at the same time merge these environments.”

For Bobbitt, ground zero of figuring this out was Veronica’s (Viola Davis) apartment. The location itself was the personal penthouse of one of the pioneers of modernist architecture, Mies van der Rohe, in one of the last skyscrapers he built (and in which his grandson still lives) along Lake Shore Drive.

“You have the blue of the lake and sky, and it’s all completely surrounded by glass, the interior has a unique sort of blue feel,” said Bobbitt. “All the walls are white and take on the color of everything else that goes on around, and that had a great impact upon me visually the more time I spent there. There’s a lot of very, very cold moments in the apartment, particularly when Viola has been left bereaved, and then the coldness of the apartment was there to reflect that literally. But then there are other times in the evening where there’s the incandescent light is on and the white walls are taking on that warmth, so the apartment had its own life within which she existed.”

While Bobbitt will capture that feel in-camera, he likes to give freedom to the colorist digitizing the dailies and then to Poole in the final grade to interpret his work. Poole will take a first pass on the film, which serves as a starting point for his 12-hour-a-day sessions with Bobbitt.

"Widows": Before and after the final color grade

“Widows”: Before and after the final color grade

Courtesy of Company 3/Fox

“We never like anything to look like it’s too heavily graded, it has to look like it could be ambient,” said Poole. “Even when there is a very strong look to a scene, we talk about making sure the grade emulates that photochemical look in a world, unlike what you are seeing so much of today where heavily graded films push the hyper-reality of things. That self-conscience look, for me, pulls you right out of the movie.”

Poole’s first pass often opens up elements of a scene or the location for Bobbitt by teasing out what was already there. Looking at the above still, Bobbitt marvels at how the early morning shot of Davis overlooking the lake, Poole was able to pull out the natural blue of the scene and then to contrast it with the distant orange. Poole said his initial pass was more neutral.

“Sean will be like, ‘Okay, this is a really nice somber moment, so let’s dial it back. This feels a bit too sunny, let’s just go a little bit cooler on it,’” said Poole. “And especially in this film. I mean, you’re playing up a lot of the sort of isolation that Viola has in this apartment. Liam’s character’s [has just died] and she’s in this beautiful apartment, but it’s sterile and cold and lonely, so we played the cooler element up. And that was all Sean’s direction.”

The lighting and color of the space reflects Davis’ character’s emotions, but it also served as a palate cleanser according to Poole and Bobbitt. Davis’ protagonist anchors a multi-character story which forces her from the clean, luxurious lifestyle of the apartment and pulls her into the darker, grittier parts of the city. Bobbitt’s visual design for the film was guided by using the apartment as a counter to define the look of the film’s other, more seedy worlds.

"Widows": Before and after the final color grade

“Widows”: Before and after the final color grade

Courtesy of Company 3/Fox

“That coldness and all the warmth, I think, led directly to the lighting concepts of the location where all the widows meet, which used to be where her husband would meet to plan their robberies,” said Bobbitt. “You have a total contrast, where Viola’s house has that uniformity of either the cold or the warmth, the husbands’ liar had a total mix of lighting – fluorescent hues, daylight and tungsten with varying degrees of green within them, but also incandescent lighting and sort of classical theatrical tungsten lighting as well. So that kind of mix created a world that emphasized that chaos of the world the widows had found themselves thrown into and which they were having to embrace.”

Bobbitt builds his lighting around making sure he gets the actors’ skin tones right, as the characters’ faces are the most important part of the frame. The husbands’ hideout presents specific challenges along these lines. It is where the widows – whose skin tone ranges from the alabaster skin of Elizabeth Debicki to the varying dark skin tones of Davis and Cynthia Erivo – meet and share the frame.

“You can’t mess around with the skin tone too much, especially African-American skin tones, which we had a lot of experience working with on ’12 Years a Slave,’” said Poole. “There was a very broad spectrum of skin tones, if you add too much warmth the skin can go very red. If you cool it down, it can go gray and look very ashen, so there’s such a fine line, so we tend to sort of dial the skin tone in the grade first and shape the environment around that.”

While having to create a grade that works for each of the women, Poole is also looking to pull out more of the gritty texture Bobbitt and McQueen want.

“I remember when we watched the dailies, initially the dailies colorist had gone cooler, so it was almost like an ultramarine blue that they were editing with, which looked icy,” said Poole. “Sean and I talked and instantly when I put more warmth back into the skin, the blues go that more kind of aqua-green color and just looks a bit dirtier and dingy. We both instinctively responded to that.”

Poole used power windows to isolate parts of the frame to enhance the color contrast. While introducing overall warmth to the frame, which can seen in the highlights in Debicki’s hair, Poole dialed into bluer, cooler parts of frame, like parts of the wood backdrop, to emphasize the warm-to-cool and dark-to-light transitions in the lighting design.

“We went quite dense, so we just had to lift a few things up by bringing it down just to get that mood and texture in there,” said Poole. “By putting that the contrast in there, you see all that texture in the walls right, so it’s dirty and has the feel Steve and Sean wanted. I did some work on Viola. She’s in the falloff of the frame, so we just gave her a bit of luminance and put a bit more warmth on her.”

"Widows": Before and after the final color grade

“Widows”: Before and after the final color grade

Courtesy of Company 3/Fox

According to Poole, the key is that Bobbitt takes this into account and properly exposes each character – controlling how the light’s color and reflection interact with the different surfaces and skin tones.

“I shoot as much as I can interior and exterior with a polarizing filter and by using the polarizer I can affect the amount of reflection off of any surface, but particularly faces so that I can use it to enhance say the reflection of another color of light on the flesh,” said Bobbitt. “And so I’ve enhanced the sort of warmer tones coming in onto the right hand side of her face which gives sort of a separation of the image in the background, but also shows the effect of the location on the person themselves.”

This image of Davis in the lair is a good example, as it shows how the light is actually playing on her skin with different colors giving different colored highlights. Poole then went in with a power window to bring out more of the coolness on her skin.

“Whenever I have a scene that has fluorescent light and tungsten light mixed together the trick is to find other nuance of color which you can see,” said Poole. “We desaturated some of this green so that it wasn’t this sort of teal and orange kind-of-obvious-wash look. The wardrobe is amazing, because you throw in this purple and there’s such a nuance of color, orange and purple are complementary. That’s what [McQueen’s whole team] is so good at, there’s a lot of that throughout the film where my job is made easy just because you have these beautiful offsetting colors.”

"Widows": Before and after the final color grade

“Widows”: Before and after the final color grade

Courtesy of Company 3/Fox

For Bobbitt, who has shot digitally on non-McQueen projects, the debate over digital versus film is boring. He sees the two as entirely different entities. For the type of work being done on “Widows,” film is what makes the nuance possible.

“For me, the beauty of the film is simply the fact that it is made of a multitude of layers, and that there are three separate individual color layers, the red, blue, and the green which are doing nothing but taking information for those colors,” said Bobbitt. “Whereas, the pixels are slightly different. You have no depth to a chip. It’s simply one surface and so the information that’s coming in is simply not three-dimensional.”

The ability to get that latitude in the image, but then having all that detail digitized to work with it, is the best of both worlds. Poole doesn’t disagree, but adds this only works if the film is exposed correctly.

“There is more latitude with film, sure, but it can be tough if it’s under-exposed,” said Poole. “Digital is very forgiving now. People are using at these crazy ISOs and there’s a lot of recovery in the low end. Film has to be exposed properly. You can’t undersell how much Sean is controlling this nuance of exposure and color in-camera.”

Both men point to scene at the gym, where a menacing Jatemme Manning (Daniel Kaluuya) confronts two men he believes have crossed him and his brother (Brian Tyree Henry). The scene ends in surprising violence.

“Although the events there are ultimately horrific, the build up is unexpected and we didn’t want to foretell what was going to happen by making it overly dark and sinister,” said Bobbitt. “I lit the gym completely with daylight coming through the windows. It’s trying to keep an honesty, a truthfulness to the scene that could be beyond believable to an audience. It needed that reality. But what I think is interesting is to see just how filmic this frame is. It’s just quite clean in the white, but yet still holds all the darkness of the scene and hopefully holds all the different flesh tones correctly as well.”

Poole was able to dig into this image by once again working with the images’ natural contrast to make it even denser and richer in detail, but not in the way you might imagine.

“Sometimes when people like contrast they just lift their whites, crush their blacks,” said Poole. “I tend to like to do my contrast, and a lot of feature guys do as well, with steeper curves, and it gives you a lot of the density, but still preserves detail in your highlights and shadows. You’re sort of setting the mid-tones down, keeping the texture in the blacks and in the highlights. I never like anything to be crushed or clipped.”

"Widows": Before and after the final color grade

“Widows”: Before and after the final color grade

Courtesy of Company 3/Fox

One thing Poole does in the gym shot, that he also does with the image above, is add a layer of silver.

“Sean and I have these tricks we play, [using] highlight keys and luminance keys to really run this nice silver aspect through the skin,” said Poole. “There’s a very specific way that Sean and I do it, we call it our secret sauce, which works very well with his aesthetic and how he shoots.”

The above image highlights how important Poole’s black and white photography background is to their collaboration. Specifically, the concept of “dodging and burning,” exposing different parts of the frame differently to create the perfect contrast. “Then he brings out that blue,” said Bobbitt, admiring the image. “He’s a real artist.”

In ‘Widows,’ Steve McQueen Does More with One Shot Than Most Directors Do with a Scene

Toolkit Podcast Ep. 67: “I wanted this canvas where you touched upon icebergs, where you saw the tip of it, but you knew the depth of it.”

There has always been an efficiency to filmmaker Steve McQueen’s visual storytelling, but the multi-layered and complex narrative of his new film “Widows” puts the director’s ability to quickly translate complex emotional and dramatic situations to the test. Beyond the effortless way McQueen rips through exposition to ground his film in a story with 81 speaking parts as it weaves through different socio-economic, political, and criminal worlds, “Widows” relies on the audience grasping the emotional and psychological depth of 14 principal characters.

“I wanted to have this canvas where you touched upon things like icebergs,” said McQueen when he was guest on IndieWire’s Toolkit podcast. “Where you saw the tip of it, but you knew the depth of it.”

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

As an example, McQueen points to the introduction of Elizabeth Debicki’s character Alice, whose husband will die in the film’s opening heist. The audience must understand, through a single exchange the morning of the crime, that she is a victim of domestic violence. McQueen offers little in the way of details, but the audience instantly grasps an essential element of the Alice character, both psychologically and in terms of backstory, which proves to be key to how her character arcs through the film.

“There’s a metaphorical understanding of what that is and just by certain things, what her partner says, and you can see the dynamic of that relationship,” said McQueen. “A lot of it has to do with the audience’s history, our communal history. In our own everyday lives, we have an idea of a person, in our daily lives we have glimpses of other people’s lives, an idea, an understanding, a metaphorical sort of nuance look. It’s Tai chi filmmaking – using the audience to help me finish that narrative because they know often what that’s about.”

McQueen would rather give a sharp glance at a situation that stimulates the viewer’s ability to comprehend and fill in the missing pieces, rather than ever have to explain or show the whole. While McQueen enters each film with a clear visual plan, aided by working with longtime collaborators like cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, production designer Adam Stockhausen, and editor Joe Walker, finding his compositions or determining how the camera will interact with the actors is something he leaves until the very end of the process.

Instead, he puts the emphasis of finding the exactness of the scene and expressive staging during early rehearsals with his actors.

Elizabeth Debicki in "Widows"

Elizabeth Debicki in “Widows”

Screenshot

“We never have a shooting list,” said McQueen. “I don’t want to have a situation where I’m bringing my stencil, imposing myself on a scene or location. It’s all about embracing the situation in front of you and have a conversation with the actors. It liberates you, it liberates your camera and sometimes limiting whatever it is gives you a freedom.”

While McQueen and Bobbitt search for the most direct use of the camera to get to the heart of a moment, they often achieve complexity with stripped down simplicity. In one scene from “Widows,” Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), who is running for his father’s (Robert Duvall) city council seat, is rushed into the back seat of his town car after dodging questions from a dogged reporter at an event where was he promoting a minority empowerment initiative.

“There’s a sort of momentum and momentum of narrative because also there’s movement, but also you get five different levels of information from that one shot,” said McQueen in describing the decision to shoot the scene in one shot.

The location itself was incredibly important to McQueen and, once his team, after a great deal of initial struggle, found one that would work, he and Bobbitt knew that the camera should be mounted on the hood of the car. It’s an unorthodox shot, where the audience can hear but not see Mulligan and his staffer Siobhan’s (Molly Kunz) frank dialogue in the back seat. What the audiences ends up seeing is their driver and the neighborhoods they drive through as the car takes the politician home.

Steve McQueen, Director/Writer/Producer,

Steve McQueen at the “Widows” premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival

Dale Wilcox

“You see the landscape changing from a predominantly African-American neighborhood, which is disheveled, and we move to a sort more affluent area which is predominantly white,” said McQueen. “[In] that journey we understand this particular person doesn’t really care about the people he spoke about. He’d rather not be in politics. He’s his mother’s son, as he says, and that Siobhan, this lady who doesn’t hardly say a word in the whole movie, is an instigator that pushes him because she wants to push him to become mayor. … There’s another aspect of the person who is driving the car, who is an African-American, and they are saying certain things in the back of the car which he doesn’t react to, because whose going to pay more than Jack Mulligan?”

He continued, “There’s all these layers of information which the audience, we’re not suckers, we understand what people say in private and public, and we don’t need the Access Hollywood tapes to understand, so it’s interesting how you move narrative along and have these layers.”

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Goes to Washington: Instagram Stories Become a Populist Tool

For the new breed of ordinary citizen-turned-politician, Instagram is creating a new kind of currency to take on our reality TV President.

In her first week in Washington D.C. as Congresswoman–elect, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the 29-year old waitress who shocked the Democratic Party by upsetting popular Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in the primary for New York’s 14th congressional district — fired up her social media presence. As she explored her new turf, she shared her orientation experience with 780,000 followers followers via Instagram Stories. Whereas the default of most elected officials is to position themselves as experts on the levers of power, Ocasio-Cortez invited her supporters along for the ride as she got her bearings.

Ocasio-Cortez documented her first week in Washington in a way that was relatable on every level: from mundane everyday matters – like figuring out how to get around D.C. to financially balancing the big career change before her congressional salary kicked in – to immediate decisions she learned she would need to make in the coming weeks.

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram Stories

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram Stories

@ocasio2018

There are very practical reasons for politicians, especially Democrats, to turn to Instagram to communicate with supporters. Since being introduced in the summer of 2016, Instagram Stories – users post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours – now has 400 million daily users. Sixty percent of 18-29 year-olds are regular users of Instagram, while The Center For American Progress estimates that by the 2020 election, 90 million millennials will be eligible to vote and could potentially comprise close to 40 percent of the electorate. They are also a generation that strongly disapproves of President Trump, at a rate 60-70 percent depending on the poll.

There are also very practical reasons for Ocasio-Cortez to turn to Instragram Stories that extend beyond demographics. Social media and communications experts often advise public figures, or those hoping to build a public profile, to pick the medium that best fits their voice and message. For better or worse, there is no better example of than Donald Trump’s reliance on Twitter – a social media platform that serves as the pulse that the media checks to read the heartbeat of the news cycle.

For President Trump, who feeds off cable news chatter, his concise gut reactions play to Twitter’s strength and becomes an effective tool for injecting himself into the news cycle – framing, inflaming, or distracting by causing outrage and impassioned support that fuels the sharp partisanship he uses to his advantage. In 2016, Trump’s unfiltered reactions exploited an electorate ready to revolt against poll-tested politicians many believed were in the pocket of special interests.

In the wake of that 2016 victory, a new type of Democratic candidate ran for office in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez becoming the most prominent of the dozens of candidate one would never expect to run for Congress – ordinary working Americans with great personal stories and who refused to take corporate donations.

“You have to remember, Trump won connecting with voters about a system that doesn’t listen to them,” said democratic political consultant Cayce McCabe, in interview with IndieWire about campaign ads. “We can wring our hands about the irony of some billionaire in a gold tower with his policies being their champion, but the only way we’ll take it back is helping tell the story of authentic candidates who the voters believe will actually fight to change the system.”

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Instagram Stories

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram Stories

@ocasio2018

For someone like Ocasio-Cortez, who earlier this month rode an anti-Trump populism to victory, the move to D.C. could be treacherous as they become part of the political system they railed against. It’s in this light that the “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez Goes To Washington” approach to her Instagram has the potential to be so effective. By demystifying government, bringing followers inside the process, as if they, like Ocasio-Cortez, are having the inner workings unveiled to them. It’s essentially a form of real-time, first-person documentary filmmaking with an interactive hook.

For example, in one series of Instagram Stories on Friday, the Congresswoman-elect discussed how she was learning that she would have to make a handful of critical hires and develop a strategic plan for her congressional office before being sworn in. She then posted a poll to her followers: “What would you rather your Congressmember do better? Provide services or introduce legislation?” It’s the type of political dilemma most rising stars pretend they don’t have to face, but the Congresswoman-elect put on the table for discussion with her supporters as she contemplated how to staff her office.

The handmade, personal visual presentation of Ocasio-Cortez’s Instagram feed is the perfect fit of form meets content. In much the way that Franklin D. Roosevelt used the intimacy of radio to conduct his fireside chats with the American public, the Congresswoman-elect enacts an immediate, candid mode of address by holding her phone in selfie-mode while cooking black bean soup.

At a time when the current president has demonstrated his executive bonafides as a reality TV star,  the visual authenticity of Democratic officials’ newest breed has become especially significant. Dating back to her viral campaign commercials, Ocasio-Cortez and others favored a cinematic language with ample cinema verite; they employed documentary filmmakers over political consultants. So while a fresh kind of Democrat offers up unique personal stories, the format those stories take matters just as much to their ongoing appeal.

Camerimage: ‘The Fortress’ Wins the Golden Frog at the Cinematography Festival

The Oscar bellwether for Best Cinematography also recognized “Cold War,” “Roma,” and “The Favourite.”

Camerimage, the weeklong celebration of cinematography in Bydgoszcz, Poland, comes to a close today by handing out its prestigious Frog prizes. The big winner was South Korean drama “The Fortress,” which won the top prize, the Golden Frog, in the Main Competition. The film directed by Dong-Hyuk Hwang and lensed by Ji Yong Kim was a massive hit in its home country in late 2017 and has since been released in 28 countries, including the U.S., reaching 3.8 million viewers worldwide.

The competition jury gave the Silver Frog to cinematographer Łukasz Żal for “Cold War” and the Bronze Frog to director-cinematographer Alfonso Cuarón for “Roma.” With over 900 cinematographers from around the world in attendance, many voting members of the ASC, Camerimage is an important bellwether for the Oscar race for Best Cinematography. The silver and bronze prizes should be a big boost for the two black-and-white films angling for Oscar nominations.

Five years ago, Zal and director Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Ida” won the Golden Frog, which many credit as being the start of its winning campaign to eventually be nominated for the Oscar for Best Cinematography. In the case of “Roma,” there was concern that cinematographers would look past Cuarón — who previously worked with three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki — shooting his own film, but both the film and Cuarón himself were enthusiastically welcomed Tuesday night when “Roma” made its Polish premiere at the Opera Nova.

“Cold War”

The Camerimage Audience Award went to cinematographer Robbie Ryan for his work on director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite,” which comes out next week.

Other films in competition films this year included “22 July,” “At Eternity’s Gate,” “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “First Man,” “Peterloo,” “Phantom Thread,” “A Prayer Before Dawn,” “A Rose in Winter,” and “A Star Is Born.” The Opening Night film this year was “The Old Man & the Gun,” and closing the festival tonight will be “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

This year’s competition jury was made up of cinematographers Dan Laustsen (“The Shape of Water”), Kees Van Oostrum (“Gods and Generals”), Jean-Marie Dreujou (“Two Brothers”), Florian Ballhaus (“RED”), along with production designers David Gropman (“Life of Pi”), and Lilly Kilvert (“Legends of the Fall”).

This year’s notable jurists in other competition categories, including TV Pilot, Music Video and Documentary, included a virtual who’s who in cinematography: James Laxton, John Bailey, Seamus McGarvey, Ed Lachman, John Mathieson, Manuel Alberto Claro, Dick Pope, Amy Vincent, Nancy Schreiber and Denis Lenoir.

Below is the complete list of prizes awarded at today’s closing ceremony.

Main Competition

Golden Frog: “The Fortress”
Cinematographer: Ji Yong Kim
Director: Dong-Hyuk Hwang

Silver Frog: “Cold War”
Cinematographer: Łukasz Żal
Director: Paweł Pawlikowski

Bronze Frog: “Roma”
Cinematographer: Alfonso Cuarón
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Fipresci AWARD

The International Critics Prize to the director of the best film in the Main Competition – under specific consideration of its cinematography: “Peterloo”
Cinematographer: Dick Pope
Director: Mike Leigh

Audience Award

Camerimage Audience Award: “The Favourite”
Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Polish Films Competition

Best Polish Film: “Nina”
Cinematographer: Tomasz Naumiuk
Director: Olga Chajdas

Student Competition

Laszlo Kovacs Student Award – Golden Tadpole: “Sirene”
Cinematographer: Douwe Hennink
Director: Zara Dwinger
School: Nederlandse Filmacademie – Netherlands Film Academy (AHK)

Silver Tadpole: “Almost Everything”
Cinematographer: Simon Bitterli
Director: Lisa Gertsch
School: Zürcher Hochschule der Künste – Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK)

Bronze Tadpole: “Them”
Cinematographer: Holger Jungnickel
Director: Tim Dünschede
School: Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin – German Film and Television Academy (dffb), Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München – University of Television and Film Munich (HFF München), Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH

Documentary Features Competition

Golden Frog – Best Documentary Feature: “When the Bull Cried”
Cinematographer: Karen Vázquez Guadarrama
Director: Bart Goossesn, Karen Vázquez Guadarrama

Golden Frog — Best Docudrama: “I, Dolours”
Cinematographer: Kate McCullough
Director: Maurice Sweeney

Documentary Shorts Competition

Golden Frog: “Grand Prix: Horse Riders”
Cinematographer: Tomasz Wolski
Director: Anna Gawlita

Special Mention: “Pain Is Mine”
Cinematographer: Farshid Akhlaghi
Director: Farshid Akhlaghi

Directors’ Debuts Competition

Best Director’s Debut: “The Guilty”
Cinematographer: Jasper J. Spanning
Director: Gustav Möller

Cinematographers’ Debuts Competition

Best Cinematographer’s Debut: “Obey”
Cinematographer: Albert Salas
Director: Jamie Jones

Music Videos Competition

Best Music Video: Novo Amor “Birthplace”
Cinematographer: Nihal Friedel
Director: Jorik Dozy, Sil Van Der Woerd

Best Cinematography In A Music Video: Childish Gambino “This Is America”
Cinematographer: Larkin Seiple
Director: Hiro Murai

First Look – TV Pilots Competition

Best Pilot: “Patrick Melrose: Bad News”
Cinematographer: James Friend
Director: Edward Berger

Oscar-Winning Documentary Backer Now Taking Pitches to Develop and Fund New Non-Fiction Work

Exclusive: Impact Partners, which backed “Icarus” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” will invest in early-stage nonfiction projects. (Spoiler: The market is dying for more series.)

Impact Partners, the Brooklyn-based documentary funders behind last year’s Academy Award winner “Icarus,” has launched a seven-figure development fund to support documentary features and series. It will support the development of four to eight nonfiction projects a year, with a range of $10,000-$100,000 per project.

“We review 800-plus projects a year, and we see so many incredible ideas from filmmakers who have unique access or a fantastic vision for a film,” said Jenny Raskin, executive VP for development and filmmaker relations. “But they often need further development. We are thrilled that we now have a mechanism to give filmmakers the time and resources they need to reach the next stage.”

Prior Impact titles include “Dina,” “The Eagle Huntress,” “The Cove,” “How To Survive a Plague,” and this year’s breakout hit and Oscar hopeful “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Beyond supplying early financial support to promising projects, Impact now will provide filmmakers strategic support as well.

Founded by Dan Cogan and Geralyn Dreyfous in 2007, Impact previously did not invest at the development stage. Cogan said the change in course comes in response to the marketplace.

“There are many more filmmakers interested in doing limited series then there were before,” said Cogan. “And I think in limited series, it often doesn’t make sense to fully finance something and then take it to market. It’s much more about developing something, getting it to a place where it’s ready to be pitched and then taking it out. And even in the feature world, what we’ve found is that a lot of companies these days, both streamers and broadcasters, would rather come onboard something earlier in the process, during production, than having to fight it out to acquire something at a festival.”

Cogan said in many cases, nonfiction filmmakers may stumble upon a subject better suited to a long-form series — which the marketplace currently craves — than the feature-length movie they intended to make. He believes that what’s best for each project is unique to the project.

“I think there will be certain situations where, together with the filmmaker, we decide yes, this is a film that we want to make independently and take to market,” said Cogan. “And then there will be other situations where we develop it, and again, together with the filmmaker, we decide, you know what, the best thing to do right now is to take it to the right home. And we want to do this because we want to create both opportunities.”

Filmmakers can apply for the development fund through Impact Partners’ general submission process. Acceptance will begin on a rolling basis December 1. Filmmakers can apply to the fund for a variety of reasons, including development shoots, cutting a trailer or reel, conducting archival research, casting characters, or many other reasons related to development.

“It will all go through our regular online submission process,” said Cogan. “It’s important to me that our submission process is totally open. It will not be invitation only; we want to be open to the broader film community and to anyone who thinks they have a great project to share.”

Oscar Cinematography Survey: Here’s the Cameras and Lenses Used To Shoot 35 Awards Contenders

The world’s best cinematographers explain how they created the visual language of “Roma,” “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther,” “Vice,” and more.

IndieWire reached out to the cinematographers whose films are in awards contention and among the most critically acclaimed films of the year to find out which cameras and lenses they used and, more importantly, why these were the right tools to create the visual language of their films

(Films are alphabetical order by title.)

“Annihilation”

Director of Photography Rob Hardy on the set of Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Director of photography Rob Hardy on the set of “Annihilation”

Peter Mountain

Format and Camera: Sony F65 at 4K, for the shimmer we switched to RED weapon 6K.
Lens: We started with Primo anamorphic, then for the shimmer we switched to the G-Series anamorphic.

Rob Hardy: I wanted a subtle shift in the look of the film as Lena’s character (Natalie Portman) moves through the story and things get progressively more and more hallucinogenic. So by switching out camera and lens systems we introduced a much more heightened look. Additionally, we generated the color shimmer effect in camera by creating a shimmer library — this was achieved by shooting color projectors against black, fired into a large format Panatar Anamorphic lens. The resulting color aberrations were then added as layering in the DI to achieve an organic look for the shimmer itself.

“At Eternity’s Gate”

"At Eternity's Gate" cinematographer Benoît Delhomme

“At Eternity’s Gate” cinematographer Benoît Delhomme

CBS Films

Format: Digital, 2.35 aspect ratio, 8k and the post production was done in 4k
Camera: Red Helium 8K
Lens: Vintage Kowa spherical lenses

Benoît Delhomme: I chose the Red Helium because I had never used a Red Camera before on a feature film and I liked the idea of working with a camera that I could not control and understand completely. I knew it would affect my photography but I was interested in taking that risk. I wanted to find new textures. I wanted to get surprised by my own images. I found that the Red was giving me more saturated colors than what I was used to and that was good for capturing Van Gogh’s territory. I also wanted to shoot in 8K to get very precise details in the landscapes and the trees.

I never thought of shooting this movie on film because of the way I wanted to be able to operate. I needed a camera as small as an old Hasselblad. I reduced the Red Helium to the smallest box possible with two big wooden grips to hold and I was able to run in the fields like a war photographer. I could follow Willem Dafoe everywhere and improvise complex shots. I wanted the hand-held operating to be very alive, like if the camera was a character in the movie. The Kowas lenses were very special and dangerous to use because they had nearly no anti-flare coating. So when I was framing the sun I was getting very interesting ghost circles around it. It looked very similar to the way Vincent Van Gogh was painting the sun. These lenses were far from perfect and this is why I loved them. I often added split diopters on them to blur the bottom of the frame when we were shooting subjective shots of Vincent having a crisis.

“Bad Times at the El Royale”

"Bad Times at the El Royale" cinematographer Seamus McGarvey

“Bad Times at the El Royale” cinematographer Seamus McGarvey

Kimberley French

Format: 35mm Film (Kodak 5219), Anamorphic with 1:2.39 Aspect Ratio
Camera: Panaflex XL
Lens: Panavision C Series and E series Anamorphic lenses

Seamus McGarvey: From my very first discussions with director Drew Goddard about the cinematographic look of the film we always talked about shooting on film using anamorphic lenses. We chose anamorphic because I love the natural inherent distortions of squeezing and un-squeezing an image and what that does to the “real.” It torques with the real in an interesting way and distances you from the theatricality of the set. You can throw the background out of focus more effectively. It is also a beautiful format for portraiture. We had extreme wides in our set, but also a lot of key moments play in close-up. There’s nothing more beautiful than an anamorphic close-up, with the way it focuses on the eyes and drops off. You really get a sense of being inside someone’s head, which was a critical thing for the psychological aspect of this film.

The older C series lenses bring in a bit of personality. Many cinematographers are very keen on the glass lending something that isn’t pristine clarity, contrast, and sharpness edge-to-edge. Sometimes people want a bit of distance and a gauze between you and the set and the actor. It somehow brings in a little bit of the essence and magic of cinema. Shooting with film as our medium lent the movie texture in color, contrast and grain. I love how film depicts the profundity of the darkness and the detail in highlights (especially in flames) which were crucial elements in our story. Shooting on film demands a discipline which I have witnessed disappearing on some of the digital productions I have shot. With film there is a respect for the actual take… it almost makes the set a more holy place!

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

"The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel

Alison Cohen Rosa / Netflix

Format: ARRIRAW 3.4K OPEN GATE
Camera: Arri Alexa Studio XT and Mini
Lens: Zeiss Master Primes. zoom lenses Arri Alura 15.5-45 and 30-80

Bruno Delbonnel: I was trying to keep things as simple as possible since it was the first time Joel and Ethan Coen were using a digital camera. I’ve never been interested in the new technologies, I always tried to keep thing very simple. Light and framing are more important than the new toys. For years I was using the same package: a set of Cooke S4 lenses, an Arricam and Kodak 5219. For this project, the closest to this set on digital was the Alexa studio and its optical finder and a set of master primes because of the extra stop I would need on remote locations with a very limited access to big generators. The main challenge for “Buster Scruggs” was to find a different “look” for the six short stories while keeping the visual idea of an “Illustration book.”

Six different very remote landscapes were shot during a very bad summer weather-wise. I guess the Alexa and its wide latitude helped me to get the contrast I needed when going from a sunny morning to an overcast afternoon. With this latitude and knowing I couldn’t relight big landscapes, I knew that while grading I would have enough information in the high and low part of the image to match grade and find six different “looks.”

“Beautiful Boy”

BEAUTIFUL BOY featuring Cinematographer Ruben Impens and Director Felix van Groeningen courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“Beautiful Boy” cinematographer Ruben Impens and director Felix van Groeningen

Francois Duhamel/Amazon

Format: ARRIRAW 2.8K
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT
Lens: HAWK anamorphic V-lite 1.3x squeeze get a 1:85 aspect ratio

Ruben Impens: We wanted the film in a 1:85 aspect ratio and a look that feels not too modern, the movie takes place in 2002. At the same time it shouldn’t feel too romantic, so we tested a bunch of spherical lenses and the Alexa 65 camera. When analyzing the test footage we very quickly feel in love with the hawk look. I had never used this 1.3x squeeze lenses, but it felt like it was the perfect balance. We had a lot of sunny exterior locations and the anamorphic bokeh felt just right. The Alexa 65 was interesting but too clean and the lens choices rather limited, plus because we only had a couple of weeks left in prep I was uncomfortable going down that path.  I needed more time.

About the camera movements. We wanted a solid simple use of camera, rather wide lenses with ‘slow imperceptible‘ tracking moves. The pace of the movie is rather slow and so is the camera, it creeps on you. That was the idea and it worked out very well.

“Black Panther”

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHERL to R: Director Ryan Coogler and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison Ph: Matt Kennedy©Marvel Studios 2018

Director Ryan Coogler and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison on the set of “Black Panther”

Format: 3.4K Open Gate Arriraw
Camera: Alexa SXT and Alexa Mini
Lens: Panavision Primo primes and zooms. We shot the majority of the film on the 27mm, 30mm and the 35mm

Rachel Morrison: We ultimately chose spherical 35mm sensor over 65mm or anamorphic because [director] Ryan [Coogler] really wanted a naturalistic feel and wanted a deeper depth of field so that the audience could see and experience the world of Wakanda. We needed glass that was sharp enough for compositing, which eliminated some of the older “funkier” optics. That said, I wasn’t interested in Master Primes, which can feel too perfect and even clinical at times. We tested a number of lenses but it ultimately came down to Cooke S4s or Panavision Primos and we chose the Primos because we liked the quality of their flare. Additionally, and importantly, we were exploring the theme of a circle for Wakanda and the Cookes have an octagonal bokeh, whereas the Primos have a much rounder bokeh — at the same shooting stop. The Arri Alexa with Primo lenses helped us to balance epic scope with humanity and intimacy.

“BlacKkKlansman”

Chayse Irvin on the set of "Blackkklansman"

Cinematographer Chayse Irvin on the set of “Blackkklansman”

David Lee/Focus Features

Format: Kodak 35mm Film
Camera: Panavision XL2, Arricam LT, Aaton Penelope
Lens: Panavision PVintage Lenses

Chayse Irvin: It wasn’t really that I chose these tools, they chose us. I experimented with many ideas in pre-production, video, 16mm, 35mm, Ektachrome, anamorphic lenses, spherical lenses, modern lenses, vintage lenses. Then I viewed the footage naked, free of an obstructed view about a format or practice. I was really hypnotized by the 35mm images, and additionally when it was flashed with a Panaflasher 3. Somehow it felt fresh to me, it challenged me. Kodak had just opened a new Lab in NYC and I interpreted all these signs as the film telling us this is what it needed to be. It’s a very Wu Wei approach to filmmaking, but I never want the images to feel contrived and symbolic, to avoid that I have to let it all grow from within the process.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel

“Bohemian Rhapsody” cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel

Alex Bailey

Format: Arriraw, 16mm and 35mm film
Camera: Arri Alexa SXT, Alexa 65, 35 Arri BL
Lens: Arri DNA lenses, vintage Cooke Speed Panchros

Newton Thomas Sigel: The beginning days of immigrant Freddie arriving in London and meeting the other boys in the band was photographed with the Alexa SXT and vintage Cooke Speed Panchros. As Queen formed and hit the national stage, a transition was made to the Alexa 65 with specially designed Arri DNA lenses – all recorded in Arriraw. I also used some 16mm and 35mm film, particularly on the iconic “I Want To Break Free” video, which was shot on a 35 Arri BL. Fun fact: We found the actual camera that photographed Freddie’s very last video, just before he passed away!

“Bohemian Rhapsody” opens with a tease of Live Aid, then dives back to 1970 when Freddie first came to London. In those days he, and his future bandmates, had a beautifully idealistic energy. I used the old Speed Panchros and a special LUT to express this period. It is very golden and romantic, but also a little raw: hand-held and grainy. Then comes “Top Of The Pops,” their American tour and they skyrocket. This was done with the 65/DNA combo, and has a cleaner, more desaturated feel. It grows as we approach the 80s and Freddie transforms his look as well. It culminates in the massive Live Aid concert.

“Boy Erased”

Boy Erased" cinematographer Eduard Grau

“Boy Erased” cinematographer Eduard Grau

Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

Format: 35mm for the exterior scenes, Alexa Arriraw 2.8K the rest.
Camera: Arri Alexa and Arri Lt.
Lens: Zeiss Superspeed t1.3 coated and uncoated sets depending on the scene.

Eduard Grau: When we talked about the movie with [director] Joel [Edgerton] we were looking to be honest to the characters and after testing it felt right to shoot spherical with an 1:1.85 [aspect ratio], because it is less fancy and made the characters more real and likable. But also we wanted to have a shallow depth of field so that Jared (Lucas Hedges) is in his own personal world. We also liked the zeiss superspeed lenses because they had a pastel look and helped us on the softness of the images. Nothing is black or white in the image, because our characters are not good or bad.

We shot on 35mm because it gave us the base texture of the film, but it was more beneficial for the performances on the movie to shoot digital, so that’s what we did on the main scenes. At the end of the day, we should help telling stories with our decisions.

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Cinematographer Brandon Trost and Director Marielle Heller on the set of "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"

Cinematographer Brandon Trost and director Marielle Heller on the set of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Mary Cybulski

Format: REDCode RAW 8K
Camera: Panavision Millennium DXL
Lens: Panavison Primo 70 series lenses with a custom optical design by Dan Sasaki that became the genesis for the Panavision Primo Artiste T1.8 lenses.

Brandon Trost: Director Marielle Heller and I had always planned to shoot “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” with anamorphic lenses, but at the last moment we tested the DXL and instantly felt that large format was the right choice for the story. Traditionally large format is used for a grand sense of scale and scope, but we wanted a smaller scale, so it wasn’t on our radar. We were after an intimate portrait of early 90s NYC and we were surprised to find that the large sensor could allow a more personal sense of depth. We could use wider lenses for closeups without a distorted effect, which felt like we were allowing the audience to experience this intimacy in a real personal way.

I also wanted a very soft and analog tone for this film, so initially I was concerned that shooting 8k would have too much resolution and look to sharp for my taste. This ultimately wasn’t the case, and I found various techniques of “softening” that worked well. I wanted to use vintage lenses at first since they’re usually softer by nature, but they proved unavailable so I had the Primo 70s lenses re-optimized. This gave an analog quality that was very soft and almost creamy feeling while maintaining the perfect amount of resolution. We also shot most of this film wide open, and the shallow depth of field we could achieve with this system was really quite beautiful, even with wide lenses. The camera was rated at 3200 ISO for the entire film which induced an additional layer of softer texture while allowing to shoot with very low light. On top of that we added a grain effect in the DI that really tied the whole thing together.

We were also the very first film to use this camera and lens system, so it was a bit of a gamble heading into this, but it delivered marvelously and the result was well worth it. I wanted this film to look like a nostalgic NYC winter photograph printed on matte paper and I think we got just that.

“Cold War”

"Cold War" cinematographer Lukasz Zal

“Cold War” cinematographer Lukasz Zal

Amazon

Format: 2.8 ARRIRAW
Camera: ARRI ALEXA SXT
Lens: Zeiss Ultra Prime series, Angénieux Optimo zooms 24-290mm, 19,5-90mm and 45-120 Lightweight

Lukasz Zal: The equipment is important to a certain extent, but it does not influence the way the story is told through the image. For Paweł, the image is an integral part of the story and is as important as the actors, music and the narrative. During the long preparation process we were looking for the best formal solutions to tell the story. We spent huge amount of time preparing ourselves, but once the shoot started, we allowed for some space to literally sculpt the image – we constantly reframed and refined each shot in order to find the best one. We didn’t do typical coverage, mostly we’d do the scene with just one or two shots. We took all these elements – actors, extras, props, camera movement and lighting that all needed to coincide in one go, at the same time. This magical moment when all these things come together is for me the most exciting part of being a cinematographer.

This post continues on the next page.

‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ Director Marielle Heller on What Gets Lost When Movies Strive For Clarity

Toolkit Podcast, Ep. 66: Heller talks about taking on her follow-up to “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” and the importance of leaving room for the audience to think for themselves.

There’s a scene in Marielle Heller’s new film “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” during which Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) is having a dinner with Anna (Dolly Wells), a bookstore owner who buys Lee’s forged letters that are, to Anna’s knowledge, written by famous literary figures. The dinner could be interpreted as a date – the two women have become friendly and it seems as if they like each other.

“I remember getting the note from somebody, ‘Is it clear that they are asking each other out on a date?,’” said Heller when she was guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “And I was like, ‘No, it’s not clear, and nor should it be clear because that’s what it feels like to be a gay woman in 1991 and not being somebody that wears their sexual orientation on their sleeve – this sort of slightly dancing around the issue.’”

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

It’s an incredible scene that reveals so much about Lee’s character. As Anna tries to pivot the conversation to being more personal, sharing intimate details about her own life, McCarthy gives a very guarded performance as Lee backs away, sabotaging any hope that this meeting this could be interpreted as a date.

“Lee is somebody who moves through the world in much more protected, not closeted, but she’s very private, and so her interactions with her potential love are therefore shrouded in these layers of mystery where they are trying to read between the lines,” said Heller. “So much of what is being said is about what they are not saying, and I found that beautiful and exciting.”

One of the things Heller found particularly exciting was that, while rehearsing the scene, both actresses and herself had a slightly different interpretations of why Lee was behaving this way. Not only did Heller see each interpretation as being valid based on what she and McCarthy had already established about the character, but there was also a joy in the audience going through that very same thought process.

“I don’t know why the note is always, ‘Is this clear?’ Why is that the best thing?,” said Heller. “There’s something really getting lost in our desire to overly clarify every detail of a script and make sure every person in the last row could understand every single thing that is happening the moment it happens and no one has to go home and think about it at all. That’s just unfortunate, because some of the joys of storytelling are doling information slowly and letting the audience catch up and letting people figure things out and question things.”

(From L-R): Dolly Wells, Director Marielle Heller, and Melissa McCarthy on the set of CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Photo by Mary Cybulski. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Marielle Heller directs Dolly Wells and Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Photo by Mary Cybulski

While on the podcast, Heller also talked about capturing what it felt like being a struggling artist in early ‘90s New York City, why she built up the Jack (Richard E. Grant) role and his friendship with Israel, her process of working with actors and cinematographer Brandon Trost, and what drew her to directing a new movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

‘The Front Runner’: Here’s How to Mic 20 Actors and Mix Their Sound at the Same Time

Exclusive clips: Jason Reitman wanted a mix that sounded like films from the ’70s. Here’s how his sound team pulled it off.

In Jason Reitman’s films, dialogue is often the engine that drives a scene. That is certainly the case with “The Front Runner,” which follows Gary Hart’s tumultuous three-week presidential campaign in 1988, but he also wanted it to sound like like a 1970s film. Specifically, the political dramas like “All The President’s Men” and “The Candidate,” and the long-take, multi-character films of director Robert Altman (“Nashville”).

As cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s camera wove through the ensemble cast, Reitman wanted to enter and exit various conversations and feel the commotion behind the scenes.

“He wanted to hear everybody all the time in the sense [of the] normal life of a political campaign, where everybody’s just talking and working all at once,” said sound mixer Steve Morrow. “Depending on who the camera is focused on is who you’re hearing and understanding what they’re saying.”

Hugh Jackman stars in Columbia Pictures' THE FRONT RUNNER.

“The Front Runner”

Frank Masi SMPSP

Morrow, whose three-person team was responsible for mic’ing, recording, and mixing the production sound, had just finished a “A Star Is Born.” That film required an unusually high number of production audio track recordings, but this project was on another level. There were multiple scenes with 15-20 cast members, and while a fraction of them had scripted lines, he knew Reitman would have every character engaged in conversation in long takes — and he’d want all that dialogue recorded.

“Jason would give the cast a little booklet to say, ‘Okay, this date and time in our movie, June 4th, 1984, here’s the hit song of the day, here’s who won a sporting event the night before, here’s the political background,” said Morrow. The cast used that information to improv conversations to fill in the blanks.

Recording dialogue tracks with a shotgun mic on a boom pole is preferred because it sounds more realistic, and to get a clean audio track, directors tell off-screen actors not to overlap dialogue with characters speaking on camera. In this case, overlapping dialogue was exactly what Reitman wanted. Morrow knew he’d need to devise a system for recording each cast member’s dialogue as cleanly as possible on its own isolated track.

This scene from “The Front Runner” is a good example. The audio you are hearing in this clip is Morrow’s production mix, recorded on set and before any post-production:

Morrow set up a 20-track recording system that would manage up to 20 mic’ed cast members per shot. Boom operator Craig Dollinger pinned wireless lavalier mics to the actors’ clothing, hiding it from camera but as close to the actors’ mouths as possible. Morrow then had to live mix the tracks on set. While the tracks would also be mixed in post, Morrow knew Reitman would be editing with his recording. If the editor had to mix up to 20 tracks to make a shot work in a scene, post production would come to a grinding halt.

“Jason, as a director, gets married to the sound that he hears on set and when they are editing in post,” said Morrow. “He wants to feel the scene as he’s filming it. If you’re giving him just your basic mix, and it’s not really smooth, or clean, then how’s he going to know if he has the scene and [performances]?”

It was a tremendous risk — and a feat of mental and physical agility — to raise and lower the recording of 20 individual tracks in real time. For Morrow, it was all in the preparation. While Reitman set up the shot, Morrow would check to see whose dialogue the director wanted to focus on and at what point. He would then carefully keep his eye on the video playback monitor to watch characters entered and exited the frame.

“The camera went through the crowd, and we picked and chose who we heard as we watched the monitors, bringing up people, or bringing them down as the camera moves around,” said Morrow. “You want to make sure you really hear them crisp and clear so that you can understand what the script is trying to accomplish.”

Once Morrow figured out the scene’s audio flow, he would lay out and label his tracks to provide a logical and clear guide for his mix.

Below is a video of Morrow’s hands mixing the same scene on set.

After the first day, Morrow panicked that what he was doing sounded horrible. He called supervising sound editor Perry Robertson to ask that he make sure it was at least usable.

“Steve did an incredible job and you have to understand the risks involved,” said Robertson. “It’s dialogue-driven all the way through the whole movie, and to be honest with you there was one line of dialogue in the entire movie where the mic did not work, and luckily enough it was covered by the boom mic. So we didn’t do any ADR because of technical difficulties in this movie.”

Robertson points to how similar Morrow’s production mix was to the final mix (see below), but his own work on the film wasn’t easy. In editing the dialogue, he jumped into each of the 20 tracks to create a fuller sense of movement through space. Robertson split each track and adjusted the pan so the audience could feel the characters’ movement in relationship to the camera’s movement.

“We wanted to be able to do all the panning,” Robertson said. “It wasn’t for an effect as much as it was for the audience to know that something’s coming in from the left, and we wanted to make sure that your focus was on the correct conversation. The initial conversation with Jason was just making sure that the focus is on the right place at the right time, and how do we get there.”

At the same time, Reitman wanted to feel the commotion. He wanted the audience to feel the different conversations that were happening. “Jason wants it busy, he doesn’t want it super, super clean,” said Robertson. “He wants to hear that world around them, and the fact that everybody’s mic’d up, but it just doesn’t feel as natural as when they’re on the set, and they’re in that scene.”

Robertson doesn’t believe that this recording would have been possible with the tools available even 10 years ago. Audio software removed the recorded-in-a-vacuum sound of lavalier mics and found the perfect balance of clarity and that ’70s cacophony.

You can watch and listen to the final mix of the same scene below:

Elections 2018: How the Midterm Results Could Impact Film and TV Production

Tax incentives fuel film and TV production, but they can also be political landmines. Here’s a quick tour of major production hubs that elected a new governor on Tuesday.

When Phil Murphy replaced Chris Christie as New Jersey Governor last January, the New Jersey film world did a complete 180. Christie, who infamously did battle with MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” killed the state’s film and TV tax incentive program and with it production in the Garden State. By July, Murphy had signed into law a robust $75 million a year incentive program that instantly put the state in direct competition with the overcrowded New York City production world. In just four months, it brought major Hollywood projects back across the Hudson River.

For producers and distributors’ bottom line, which is now being subsidized to the tune of well over a billion dollars a year by state tax incentive programs, elections matter. Over the last 10-15 years, virtually every state has dipped its toe in the enticing waters of luring stars and moviemaking by doling out millions to major studios, but it’s only been a handful of states that have the sustained political support — and hence budgetary support — along with a base of union crew, to become fixtures of Hollywood’s production cycle.

And it’s not just big productions that are affected. When writer-producer Zoe Kazan and director Paul Dano were adapting Richard Ford’s “Wildlife,” they dreamed of shooting against the big sky of Montana, only to discover that in just one year the state went from desperately trying to lure indie filmmakers looking to keeping costs low, until it canceled its incentive program altogether. “Wildlife” could afford less than a handful of days in Montana and was forced to find its period detail in incentive-rich Oklahoma.

Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal on the set of “Wildlife”

Along those lines, here’s a quick tour of major production hubs that elected a new governor on Tuesday.

Florida

Hollywood’s eye was focused squarely on Florida this Tuesday. Only two years ago, Florida, with its colorful beachfront cities and district landscapes, was an important location for production before the Republican-dominated legislature eliminated the state’s film and TV incentive program. The Democratic nominee for Governor, Andrew Gillum, promised on the campaign trail to fight to bring back the incentive; Republican nominee Ron DeSantis was in sync with his fellow Republicans in the legislature, and was opposed to spending a dime to lure Hollywood. While it remains possible that a recount could be automatically triggered in the close race, it would appear DeSantis defeated Gillum and any glimmer of hope that production would return to the Sunshine State in the immediate future.

Georgia

There is no more important state tax incentive for Hollywood than Georgia’s 30% giveback. Unlike other states, like New York, that return such a high, uncapped percentage of the money spent in state, Georgia additionally returns 30% on above-the-line costs like directors and actors’ salaries. It’s for this reason Atlanta has become Marvel’s home-away-from-home, and crew have bought actual homes in the state. Movie production has become so engrained in the day-to-day life of Atlanta, that the state sending billions back to California has near-universal bipartisan support. The Republican candidate, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, may have railed against special interest tax giveaways during the campaign, but he was always careful to qualify such criticism by making it wholeheartedly clear he supported preserving the Film and TV production credit.

So in that sense, if Kemp’s lead over Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams (who voted in favor of all film/TV incentive program while serving as House Democratic Leader) holds – despite one of the most blatant and widespread examples of voter suppression since the 1960s Civil Rights movement – the election outcome won’t change Hollywood’s bottom line.

Nevertheless, Hollywood would have felt far more comfortable with Abrams winning, as the state’s political controversies have become a major headache. Back in 2016 — when a bigoted bill that would permit discrimination against LGBT individuals passed the state legislature — a slew of major stars and studios threatened to boycott the state if current governor, Nathan Deal, signed the bill. Considering the issues at stake in Abrams’ apparent loss – including 1.5 million individuals being purged from the voter rolls – and the support Abrams received in the form of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Will Ferrell literally knocking on doors canvassing for her campaign, Hollywood Democrats are laser-focused on how this plays out over the next few days and weeks. In the age of President Trump, many in Hollywood have been willing to put their political principals ahead of their bottom-line.

"Black Panther:" Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman

Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman shooting “Black Panther”

Marvel/Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

And if you think that’s an overstatement, consider this: If this voter suppression story gets worse, could Ryan Coogler and his cast decide to keep “Black Panther 2” from returning to Atlanta? Such a maneuver would cause a ripple effect throughout Hollywood. Systematically removing people of colors’ ability to vote, and on this scale, is not something that will inevitably blow over — and Kemp doesn’t seem like the Republican likely to steer clear of these type of controversies.

New Mexico

As with Georgia, film and TV tax incentives have become politically popular and received bipartisan support in New Mexico. It became evident the rebate wasn’t going anywhere when it was announced — just weeks before the election of a new governor — that Netflix was buying Albuquerque’s largest studio and making the city its new production hub. The question for the Governor-Elect, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham is if the state will double down on its investment. Georgia has become a Hollywood favorite with its quick flights to and from Los Angeles, not to mention its cinematic landscapes. If the state can help quickly build new infrastructure to replace studio space for non-Netflix productions in Albuquerque, and is willing to expand its $50 million a year expenditure, it could expand to become an even bigger production hub than it already is.

California

Newly elected California Governor Gavin Newsom will inherit a five-year $1.55 billion incentive program, which doesn’t even offer an off-ramp in the form of a sunset date until June 2020. Current Governor Jerry Brown bumped the allocation from $100 million to $330 a year after the state’s budget stabilized. In general, Newsom appears more open to tax incentives to lure business than Brown ever was, and he’s inheriting a booming state economy with a surplus. Considering how much money Newsom raised in Hollywood, and how friendly he became with its big players during the Democratic primary, it’s at least worth asking: Could he raise the cap? More than any other state, California’s incentive program can bring a show shooting elsewhere “back home” with the offer of tax rebate.

‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening’ Is the Most Significant Piece of Nonfiction Filmmaking This Year

In this episode of the Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, RaMell Ross refused to accepted the limitations of black cinema and created something new.

ConsiderThis

RaMell Ross knows the press notes for his first feature can be misleading: “An intimate portrait of a place and its people, ‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening’ follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, two young African-American men from rural Hale County, Alabama, over the course of five years. Collins attends college in search of opportunity while Bryant becomes a father to an energetic son.”

For a doc-savvy viewer, it’s a description that conjures a certain type of well-trod character portrait. One seen through the lens of a well-intentioned, socially conscious filmmaker, probably white, who uses these men’s lives as a way to shed light on the systemic struggle of black men in this country. And that’s not Ross, or his film.

“No one really spends five solid years with someone in order to represent their life,” said Ross when he was a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “They come in with a specific idea — ‘This person has a really good character’ — and they chose certain things from [hours of filming every day] to represent a person. [It] becomes the representation of truth of not only the person, but the community and the African-American experience.”

Collins and Bryant experience major life events over the five years. For one character, he experiences an unforeseen tragedy that would be the second-act turning point in any other nonfiction film. However, Ross refused to use these as tentpoles to structure his film. He did not want to construct a narrative leading up to those moments, nor did he want to reduce his character’s lives to a series of major decisions surrounding these events.

“From the moment you show someone making a decision on film, you judge that moment and that starts to build your point of view of the character’s life path,” he said. “We need more stories of the African-American experience from a multiple of perspectives, especially from inside the African-American community, but stories are also pretty damning at times and they can foreclose a greater understanding of the person’s life or how they got there or what composes them as person.”

Rosso grew up in Maryland and went to school at Georgetown University and Rhode Island School of Design; he now teaches at Brown University in Providence. He initially found himself in the South when he was invited to teach a two-week youth photography class, and ended up staying the better part of a decade. While enjoying the change of pace and his work with young people, via coaching sports and teaching art, he also fell in love with the canvas it presented for his photography.

“The south is the [center] of the black experience,” said Ross. “It’s where we were put, it’s the origin of the image, from minstrel shows to flyers of a lynching, that represent what it means to be a black person. That was a great belief system to start investigating the relationship between what being black is and the reproduction of that blackness via film and photography.”

"Hale County This Morning, This Evening"

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

Ross’ photography creates moments of ambiguity, presenting frames that allow for multiple ways of seeing something — as he describes it, using black skin in the South as a Rorschach test. He was always drawn to moving images, but he didn’t see a model that could translate what he did with still photography.

“One photograph is suppose to have all the meaning you can possibly put in it, ‘This is the center of the universe,'” said Ross. “And when it comes to film, every photograph is neutered and it’s suppose to be proving something else. To me, to neuter a photograph of person of color in some general sense is to continue to forget the complexity of the black experience, because of the history of the black image.”

While filming in Alabama, Ross turned to books analyzing the history of the way African Americans had been portrayed in images. Even today, films about black characters cannot escape the subject matter of the characters being black.

“I intuitively knew about the problem with cinema and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s why. There’s this thing called “black representational space” that everything falls into,'” said Ross. “Once it’s in the this black representational space, everything is foreclosed to this meaning of blackness. It can’t be about a greater humanity.”

Ross wondered if there was a way for him to film by approaching each shot like his photographs — capturing something complex and whole, rather than being subservient to a larger narrative or being a portrayal of blackness itself. With Bryant and Collins, two teenagers he’d grown close to during his first three years in Alabama, he decided to experiment with the technique. Early in filming, Ross was playing video games in a trailer home with a few of his young subjects and they walked outside just as a massive storm appeared. The boys just stood and stared in awe.

"Hale County This Morning, This Evening"

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

“It’s something I realized quite early,” Ross said. “I’d film and I’d see the moment that I think would be used to represent a person and then I continue filming, then this magical moment would happen. And I’m like, this is kind of what life is – this is something you happen upon and if the entire film could be made of magical moments, it could be experiential for the viewer.”

Ross believed there was a way to capture the beauty of his characters’ ordinary lives, one in which they weren’t viewed through a lens of black pain, and construct a film that became a form of participatory cinema rather than an abstract art. However, when he cut together eight minutes for meetings with potential funders, all of them wanted to know more about Collins’ and Bryant’s narrative — “What was their story?” All, but one.

Joslyn Barnes, co-founder of Louverture Films with Danny Glover, helped shepherd innovative nonfiction films (“Cameraperson,” “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”) and international scripted narrative directors like Apichatpong Weerasethakul (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) and Lucrecia Martel (“Zama”). He saw what Ross was reaching for, and as she did with Yance Ford on “Strong Island,” helped surround the filmmaker with a talented post-production team that could aid him in forging his own unique path.

Ross would ultimately find his narrative inspiration in prose, Faulkner and Salinger having a particularly big influence, but it was in James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” written about the region where Ross filmed, where he discovered his structuring device. Agee’s 1941 essays accompanied photographs by Walker Evans, whose groundbreaking portraits captured the dignity in the lives of impoverished tenant farmers during the Great Depression. However, it was Agee’s words that sparked the breakthrough.

“Agee describes things in terms of light, mood, movement,” said Ross. “I really love looking at the light and the moon and trying to figure out, just looking at it through the camera.”

"Hale County This Morning, This Evening"

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

Ross started to look at his footage in the same way. He started to see the light and time of day as a way to connect seemingly disparate images into a fluid whole. He began piecing his film together as 11 days, sunrise to night to sunrise again. The finished, 78-minute film followed the flow of five musical movements, as Bryant and Collins float in and out of frame, their lives progressing through college and fatherhood.

To call the enthralling “Hale County” “experimental” is a mistake. In a year when Ryan Coogler showed what black superheroes could look like, and Barry Jenkins showed what the power of black love could feel like, the most the groundbreaking and important work of 2018 may prove to be Ross’s “Hale County.” Ross is a filmmaker who not only flipped the script on the portrayal of African Americans, but created his own filmic language to do it.

“I want to say documentary filmmakers are some of the most conscious media makers, the most empathetic, though sometimes empathy is the problem,” said Ross. “It’s embedded in the form of the practice itself … we’re conditioned to think about things in certain ways. A big challenge is evolving to be able to receive things with complexity, and then for us to take those risks.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” is one of 15 films that are part of the upcoming DOC NYC Short List, a distinction that often correlates to being shortlisted for an Academy Award. The first Doc NYC Screening is November 9, 3:15 PM. The second screening is November 14th at 12:30 PM.

‘Homecoming’: All the Classic Movie Soundtracks In the Series – And Why Sam Esmail Used Them

Behind the scenes of the unprecedented scoring process and a complete list of the pre-existing music, by episode, used from films like “Carrie,” “The Thing,” “Vertigo,” and “All the President’s Men.”

For “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail, classic thrillers were the inspiration to adapt Gimlet podcast “Homecoming” into an episodic series. He wanted to capture the tension and paranoia of films by directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Alan J. Pakula, Brian De Palma, and Stanley Kubrick.

“When we started talking about music, I started to talking to my editors about those classic scores by Pino Donaggio, Bernard Herrmann, John Williams and John Carpenter even,” said Esmail.

However, Esmail didn’t want to use these classic scores as a reference point, or temp music: He wanted to use the actual scores.

“I just started thinking, this is going to be really unfair to ask a music composer to ape David Shire’s ‘Conversation’ theme,” said Esmail. “That’s just ridiculous, or to ask someone to ape Michael Smalls’ theme from ‘Klute.'”

Gene Hackman in "The Conversation" (1974)

Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974)

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Esmail broached the subject with music supervisor Maggie Phillips when she first interviewed for the job. She found the idea discomfiting. “People have licensed a score piece here or there, but there’s no real paper trail for older scores like there is for the other music we license,” said Phillips. “There was no way of estimating costs, at all, and the people we were licensing from wouldn’t even know. The NBC-Universal clearance team and my team, no one had ever done this before.”

Still, Phillips took the job and it became an extensive research project to determine who owned the scores’ publishing rights, and then the actual recordings. Once that was determined, another journey began: locating the recording and digitizing it for the show. (While there might be obvious appeal in a “Homecoming” soundtrack comprised of the best thriller scores from the 20th century, that was a licensing bridge too far.)

Pre-existing scores meant tremendous time and expense. Sometimes Phillips discovered dead ends, or scores that couldn’t be licensed. Phillips and NBC-Universal also had to work with unions to make sure dozens of session players would be paid for scores they played decades ago. However, Phillips’ bigger concern became the creative side.

“Most editors are used to sending a scene to a composer, and having a composer hit those beats and write to those beats and emotional storylines to make it work,” said Phillips. “On ‘Homecoming,’ the editors, and our one music editor, had to to carve it out of preexisting score written for a different movie. We’d have to combine a few scores, and there were times I had to tell them to replace some scores, because they were too expensive after they had carefully crafted it to work with their scenes.”

As the first few episodes hit the editing room, Phillips and the editors started to see an even bigger creative problem. In the 10-episode series, there are longer, key scenes between Heidi (Julia Roberts), a counselor helping veterans adjust to everyday life, and Walter (Stephan James), a young soldier back from a tour in the Middle East. The show ultimately arcs around their many-layered relationship.

Homecoming Season 1 Julia Roberts, Stephan James

Julia Roberts and Stephan James in “Homecoming.”

Jessica Brooks

“It’s a weird tone between the two of them,” Phillips said. It’s slightly romantic, it’s a little emotional, but you don’t want to push it too hard. It should be pretty subtle, and the scores that we were using were really big scores… a lot of these things we found to put under those scenes felt very heavy handed.”

Often, published scores don’t include quiet moments of “underscore,” but rather the showy moments of action, drama, and emotion. Phillips started to doubt the feasibility of using entirely pre-existing scores.

“I called one of the producers and I was like, ‘I really don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this,’ and it was mostly because I was trying to help the editors find stuff for that first scene between Heidi and Walter,” said Phillips. “So they sat down and talked to Sam, I wasn’t there, and Sam was like, ‘Absolutely no. I want all pre-existing score.'”

Esmail recalled the moment he realized there was no turning back on his concept. “Music is everything to me,” said Esmail. “It’s the heart and soul of a movie or TV show to me because it can be such an injection of tone, and I think tone is everything to a story. So I just took a moment and said, ‘We should embrace this.’ This is too critical for me to ask someone to be derivative, which is also not very fair to them, but also, I wouldn’t want that. I would always constantly compare it to the real thing, and just thought it was so critical to the kind of tightrope walk that we’re doing with tone in the show that I just thought, ‘Let’s just go for it.'”

Phillips agrees that using older scores as temp music would have been a mistake. Music supervisors and composers refer to this as “temp love,” in which creators fall in love with the temp music and ask composers to mimic it. Like many, Phillips believes it’s not only a horrible way for a director to collaborate with a composer, but it’s also why so many scores in the last 15 years sound the same.

Homecoming Sam Esmail Julia Roberts

Sam Esmail and Julia Roberts on the set of “Homecoming.”

Hilary B. Gayle / Amazon

Phillips did get Esmail to use a few more modern scores for the show’s quieter moments. She also established a “No YouTube” rule for the editors: Not only were many scores pulled off the internet knock-offs that wouldn’t match, Phillips also wanted to secure the original recording before the editorial team started cutting to it.

Now that she has the final product, Phillips is impressed by how organic the music feels to the show, and the future possibilities for television scores.

“You don’t hear scores this big in TV, and it added so much of the tension,” said Phillips. “It’s a thriller, but it’s a slow burn. It’s not like you are wondering what’s behind the corner. The scores make it feel very thematic and heighten the tension and add to that edge-of-the-seat feeling you’re getting while you watch it. I don’t think it’d be like that without that big dramatic score on top of these scenes.”

So would she recommend using pre-existing score to other creators? “No,” laughed Phillips. “This ended up working because it was so organic to how Sam saw the show and shot the show. He’s a crazy genius, who was backed by a producing team willing to spend the money to see the process through.”

Below is list of the scores used in “Homecoming,” by episode.

Episode 1

“Dressed to Kill,” composer Pino Donaggio
“All The President’s Men,” composer David Shire
“Marathon Man,” composer Michael Small
“Vertigo,” composer Bernard Herrmann

Episode 2

“Klute,” composer Michael Small
“Duel,” composer Billy Goldenberg
“The Gift,” composers Daniel Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans

Episode 3

“Capricorn One,” composer Jerry Goldsmith
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“The Car,” composer Leonard Rosenman
“Chariots of Fire,” composer Vangelis
“Gray Lady Down,” composer Jerry Fielding
“Star Chamber,” composer Michael Small

Episode 4

“The Amityville Horror,” composer Lalo Schifrin
“The Day The Earth Stood Still,” composer Bernard Herrmann
“The Hand,” composer James Horner
“Carrie,” composer Pino Donaggio
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“L’Apocalypse des animaux,” composer Vangelis
“All The President’s Men,” composer David Shire

Episode 5

“Body Double,” composer Pino Donaggio
“The Taking of Pelham 123,” composer David Shire
“The Conversation,” composer David Shire
“Escape from New York,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“Narrow Margin,” composer Bruce Broughton
“The French Connection,” composer Don Ellis

Episode 6

“High-Rise,” composer Clint Mansell
“Scanners,” composer Howard Shore
“The List of Adrian Messenger,” composer Jerry Goldsmith
“Copycat,” composer Christopher Young
“Creation,” composer Christopher Young
“Three Days of the Condor,” composer Dave Grusin

Episode 7

“Gray Lady Down,” composer Jerry Fielding
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“The Andromeda Strain” (TV Series), composer Joel J. Richard
“Christine,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“The Parallax View,” composer Michael Small
“The Thing,” composer Ennio Morricone
“The Fog,” composer John Carpenter
“Halloween 3,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth

Episode 8

“The Conversation,” composer David Shire
“Christine,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“Halloween 3,” composer John Carpenter & Alan Howarth
“Altered States,” composer John Corigliano
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“The Fog,” composer John Carpenter
“Body Heat,” composerJohn Barry

Episode 9

“Dove Siete? Io Sono Qui,” composer Pino Donaggio
“Raising Cain,” composer Pino Donaggio
“Legend,” composer Tangerine Dream
“Oblivion,” composer Anthony Gonzalez & Joseph Trapanese
“All The President’s Men,” composer Michael Small
“The Eiger Sanction,” composer John Williams

Episode 10

“The Dead Zone,” composer Michael Kamen
“The Andromeda Strain,” composer Gil Mellé
“Opéra sauvage,” composer Vangelis

Thom Yorke Surprised Luca Guadagnino by Singing on the ‘Suspiria’ Soundtrack — Podcast

Toolkit Podcast Ep. 64: The “Call Me By Your Name” director opens up about his struggle with film scores and why, before working with the Radiohead front man, he swore he would never work with a composer again.

Fourteen years ago, Luca Guadagnino and his longtime editor Walter Fasano decided that the soundtrack for their 2005 feature “Melissa P.” should be made up of “music of the now.” With the help of Carlo Antonelli, editor in chief of Rolling Stone Italy, they scored the film using 40 songs they believed would resonate with teenagers all around the world. On IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast, Guadagnino said what the trio had created was impressive, but the ultimate end result was a disaster.

“We did that in a little bit of an irresponsible way because we didn’t know if we could afford it,” said Guadagnino. “The studio hated it because they found that not having a theme in the soundtrack, but going from song to song, like in ‘Goodfellas,’ you could not really connect with Melissa (María Valverde) in the way Hollywood makes you believe a soundtrack should connect with a character, with the music almost pushing you to feel what you should feel.”

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

The studio forced Guadagnino to hire a composer, a collaboration that left him scarred. It wasn’t that he necessarily disliked the music, but that the score added a layer that altered the movie in a way the director never intended.

“The relationship between music and images is so important, that I [ended] up being in a place where I didn’t recognize my movie because my movie wasn’t there,” said Guadagnino. “I was watching something that was a voice I didn’t want. So I promised myself never again was I going to work with a composer, never again.”

For his next films Guadagnino relied on a repertoire of well-established tracks handpicked by Fasano and himself. With “I Am Love” they leaned on the music of composer John Adams. “A Bigger Splash” combined Adams music with songs by The Rolling Stones and Antonio Carlos Jobim. “Call Me By Your Name” mixed piano pieces by a collection of great composers, while Guadagnino invited Sufjan Stevens to write two original songs.

“But on ‘Suspiria,’ I thought it was a cheat to use let’s say [composer Krzysztof] Penderecki or John Adams, because already Stanley Kubrick had done it [in his horror film ‘The Shining’] in a way that is unsurpassable, in my opinion,” said Guadagnino. “And also because Dario [Argento, director of the 1977 ‘Suspiria] had this soundtrack by Goblin that spoke to that generation in such an important way that my thread of thought went through, ‘OK, if I have to consider someone to do the soundtrack and not use repertoire, it should be someone who speaks for my generation, that is the voice of my generation, and the answer was quick and inequivocabile, it was Thom Yorke and Radiohead, but mostly Thom.”

"Suspiria"

“Suspiria”

Amazon

The first step was to ask Yorke, who unlike bandmate Jonny Greenwood had never done a film score, if he would be interested. If Yorke said no, Guadagnino was resolved to lean once again on music of Adams and mix in some Pentrechky.

“It is only after a few months of conversations, before shooting, [Yorke] sent me a few cues,” said Guadagnino. “I put the cue on and there was this beautiful melody and there was [hums ‘The Suspiria’ melody] without words. So I said, ‘Oh my god, he wants to sing!’ But I never spoke to him about songs in the film. And that’s when I realized his concept of the soundtrack was really almost like a total piece of art that encompassed symphonic music, electronic music, songs, choruses— amazing.”

Guadagnino said Yorke had an incredible interpretation of Dave Kajhanich’s script and threw himself completely into the project, including visiting set to see how it was being shot and constantly sending in a stream of material throughout the process.

“We were sending him material all the time,” said Guadagnino. “His relationship with my editor was great and his commitment to this was amazing. I can’t wait to do another movie with him, if he wants to do it.”

SUSPIRIA Dakota Johnson (center) and Mia Goth (center-left)

“Suspiria”

Alessio Bolzoni/Amazon Studios

Guadagnino also talked about deciding to take on the adaptation of Bob Dyan’s “Blood on the Tracks” and his love of the original “Suspiria,” but how his version was based on what he felt Argento’s film was missing.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple PodcastsOvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

‘First Man’: Making Neil Armstrong Human Meant Shooting With Very Big and Very Small Cameras

How Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren found a way to tell a personal story of “the moon and the kitchen sink” by acting like a cinema verite documentary filmmakers.

When Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) lands on the moon and exits the spacecraft, the “First Man” soundtrack goes quiet, the camera still, and the image expands  to accommodate the IMAX-shot footage. The 15 minutes leading up to this inevitable, climatic moment of Armstrong’s first steps on the moon move like music. Not unlike director Damien Chazelle’s previous film, “La La Land,” the visuals are carefully designed to match the timing and emotion of composer Justin Hurwitz’s score.

This third act is conclusion is the polar opposite of the 110 minutes that preceded it, when the film leaned heavily on documentary-style footage. As a guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, the Oscar-winning director explained that building emotional currents toward the cinematic explosion of the film’s conclusion required using the camera to unearth the man behind the myth.

Subscribe via Apple Podcasts to the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast

“With someone like Neil Armstrong, both the challenge and the appeal to me of doing a movie about him was that it’s hard to get more iconic, or more mythic, than him or his exploits as a subject matter,” said Chazelle. “The thinking was, what if this was actual authentic documentary footage and we could use that style to maybe de-glamorize, de-mythologize this part of history.”

In development, Gosling coined the phrase “the moon and the kitchen sink,” which Chazelle used throughout production to capture the dichotomy of the film’s two opposing forces. For Chazelle, the success hinged of finding a way to balance and interweave the two, as the domestic scenes with Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy) informed and collided with the visceral scenes of the dangerous Gemini and Apollo missions that led to the triumphant Apollo 11 space walk. According to Chazelle, it was key to make the scenes in the home “feel as un-staged and unscripted as possible.”

“We felt that by committing to that kind of language, shooting handheld with a zoom, was the most immersive way of telling the home-life story because it would signal that you are there for real, like in a documentary,” said cinematographer Linus Sandgren. “Then when you go into the spacecrafts with them, it would feel more scary than if you there just watching actors. We believed if we had proper crane shots or dolly shots, it would have signaled it was more a movie that you were watching.”

For Chazelle, the approach was a return to his Harvard undergraduate filmmaking roots and his first feature, the 16mm cinema verite-styled “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench.” Chazelle said it’s a style he gravitates toward, but that wasn’t called for with “La La Land” and “Whiplash.”

"Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench"

“Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench”

“If I look at my first film, ‘Guy and Madeline,’ it’s almost a similar situation where characters that don’t really speak their emotions, [they] kind of hide or obfuscate their emotions, and sublimate their emotions into other aspects of their life,” said Chazelle. “It ends up dictating a subtle performance style and by extension it feels like if I’m thinking of the camera on a human being’s shoulder, who is trying to, like an archivist or archeologist, grab stuff and instinctively put a microscope on [them that] picks up the smallest flutters, the smallest micro-gestures or the in-between moments between people.”

It’s a style of shooting meant Sandgren and Chazelle would find their shots on set.

“You need the flexibility for the camera to find very delicate moments in the action,” said Sandgren. “We worked much more organically with the cast so we could be as spontaneous and find the drama and zoom in really quickly if something happens.”

According to Chazelle, the goal was to act like a cinema-verite crew that was on set to capture moments that would happen with or without them. However, that demanded meticulous planning.

“We had a rule on set where basically everything had to be 360, which can be tricky for a period film,” said Chazelle. “It meant no matter where the camera turned, or what room an actor decided to go into, it had to be lit, it had to be obviously correct set design, and cleared of any equipment.”

RYAN GOSLING as Neil Armstrong, LUKE WINTERS as Rick Armstrong and CLAIRE FOY as Janet Armstrong in "First Man," directed by Oscar®-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle ("La La Land").

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in “First Man”

Daniel McFadden

At home, that meant having the kids and pets running in and out of frame. During the dinner party, extras in the background have a conversation that may end up on screen. Sandgren needed to be able to start the shot in any room and end on any character. Characters without scripted lines needed to create their personal scripts for the scenes.

“That’s also how we did mission control. I remember that was one place it was tricky to make work,” said Chazelle. “So for example, every desk, every flight controller, and there are 20-30 flight controllers in a scene, they each had to have their own private script that would walk them through the entire scene, so they always had something real to be saying so we could be shooting wherever we wanted. We could move the camera over to the flight director at any given moment and they would be saying what they would be saying at that time. It was never planned, ‘OK we’re just going to shoot this person, or just this person.’ Everything was fair game.”

At times Sandgren would  intentionally zoom in, eliminating a character speaking scripted lines from the frame, just so it felt more like documentary footage of the era. This also meant abandoning plans to shoot 35mm, and only relying on the larger format for wider shots that required more detail than 16mm could handle.

JASON CLARKE as Ed White in "First Man," directed by Oscar®-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle ("La La Land").

“First Man”

Universal Pictures

“We shot the spacecrafts on 35mm for the camera test, which we thought we were going to do, then we felt it looked too good. It looked like too much like a movie,” said Sandgren. “It didn’t feel as authentic and real as the inspiration, which was [NASA’s] actual footage that we’d screened. To be authentic ’60s, to be emotionally connected as well, the grain and 16mm softness is something we felt was more human and connected with them, while the moon was so far away.”

Adds Chazelle: “It felt like that [16mm cinema verite] could be a way to unify the language of the movie, and also at the same time setting up a contrast with the moments where we do finally going into the expanse of space on the moon, where we switch from shooting 16mm to shooting the polar opposite, which is IMAX. It was about setting up those contrasts that we knew we could pay off at the end.”

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music

‘The Simpsons’ Is Eliminating Apu, But Producer Adi Shankar Found the Perfect Script to Solve the Apu Problem

As “The Simpsons” side-step the controversy and character altogether, Shankar will produce the contest winning script through his Bootleg Universe site.

In April producer Adi Shankar launched a spec script contest for “The Simpsons” to solve what has become known as the show’s “Apu Problem.” The long-running character, a convenience store owner voiced by Hank Azaria, has become a controversial figure because many believe him to be an inaccurate and hurtful portrayal of Indian-Americans.

It was Shankar’s intention to crowdsource a script that “in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a creation that was the byproduct of a predominately Harvard-educated white male writers’ room and transforms it into a fresh, funny and realistic portrayal of Indians in America.”

Shankar’s primary hope was that Fox would produce the script as an episode of “The Simpsons,” but now that he has found what he calls the “perfect script” and announces the winner of his contest, he told IndieWire that he has heard from people who work for the show that “The Simpsons” is eliminating the character.

“I got some disheartening news back, that I’ve verified from multiple sources now: They’re going to drop the Apu character altogether,” said Shankar in an interview with IndieWire. “They aren’t going to make a big deal out of it, or anything like that, but they’ll drop him altogether just to avoid the controversy.”

Shankar clarified that he got this news from two people who work for “The Simpsons” and a third source who works directly with creator Matt Groening.

Reached for comment on Shankar’s allegations, a representative for “The Simpsons” at Fox provided a cryptic response: “Apu appeared in the 10/14/18 episode ‘My Way or the Highway to Heaven.’” In the episode, Apu only appears in a single wide shot (below) that showed dozens of characters gathered around God.

screen shot

“The Simpsons” episode “My Way or the Highway to Heaven”

Following Hari Kondabolu’s 2017 documentary “The Problem with Apu,” “The Simpsons” poked fun at the controversy in the ironically titled episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” that took a jab at the political correctness of the shows’ critics. Then in May, Matt Reiss, the only original writer still at the show, told Vanity Fair that the show dealt with the Apu problem back in 2016 episode, with the episode “Much Apu About Something,” and the character has “barely had a line in the past three seasons.”

Shankar believes the decision to yank the Apu character and avoid the controversy is a mistake, especially for a show known for its social satire.

“If you are a show about cultural commentary and you are too afraid to comment on the culture, especially when it’s a component of the culture you had a hand in creating, then you are a show about cowardice,” said Shankar. “It’s not a step forward, or step backwards, it’s just a massive step sideways. After having read all these wonderful scripts, I feel like sidestepping this issue doesn’t solve it when the whole purpose of art, I would argue, is to bring us together.”

Shankar who viewed his contest as an olive branch to the show, has picked a winning script from hundreds of submissions that he believes will be enjoyed by fans on both sides of the controversy. The Grand Prize winner is Vishaal Buch, a family doctor in Bethesda, Maryland.

Vishaal Buch

Vishaal Buch

Courtesy of Coverfly

In Buch’s script, Apu goes from a single store owner to a thriving businessman in Springfield. The spec episode doesn’t just focus on Apu, but pulls in other prominent Indian Americans in hilarious ways to highlight the importance of diversity and individuality through the lens of “The Simpsons.”

“The contest was never meant to be an attack against anyone, but I think in a lot of ways we weren’t asking for anything too radical than to be viewed in three-dimensions,” said Shankar. “I think the beauty of Vishaal’s script is it did just that. It wasn’t preachy. It wasn’t hammering us over the head. When a lot of people hear ‘The Problem with Apu’ they roll their eyes, ‘there is no problem with Apu, it’s these millennials, they’re out of control.’ I think in a lot of ways those people will really like this episode.”

Buch was like a number of the spec script contestants in that he had never written a screenplay before. In fact, Coverfly, the screenplay submissions management software company that administered the contest for Shankar, is helping the doctor this week translate his winning script into proper screenplay formatting.

“I think as entertainers we can be myopic in our view and it was really refreshing to read a script that was outside of our bubble, our ecosystem,” said Shankar. “It was clever and authentic.”

What Buch, a former US Air Force pilot, lacked in creative writing experience, he made up for with life experiences and a deep love and knowledge of “The Simpsons.”

“I was born in Oklahoma, moved to California, and have gone through all the ups and downs that comes with being an Indian-American,” said Buch. “To no one’s surprise I ended up in medicine, but what is different is that I actually practice in the US military. When you think of the US military you don’t necessarily think of an Indian guy, but that is how much the Indian-American has evolved. I grew up a huge fan of ‘The Simpsons,’ so to be able to help tell this story is a testimony to not only my hard work, but the hard work of others like me. It’s been a pleasure to work with Adi and his team, and I am incredibly excited for the journey.“

Shankar noted that the number of doctors who applied to the contest was enormous. He also noted that the guest star most often written into submitted spec scripts, by an extremely wide margin, was Elon Musk.

Adi Shankar

Adi Shankar

Project Bootleg

Shankar is working under the assumption “The Simpsons” will not produce and air Buch’s script, which Shankar is in the process of helping to hone, so he will do it himself through his Bootleg Universe YouTube page. In addition to producing big-budget action films like “Dredd” and “The Grey,” Shankar’s Bootleg Universe has been his outlet to produce short films that reimagine well-known franchises and characters, like James Bond, The Punisher, and most notably a 14-minute short based on the The Power Rangers — directed by Joseph Kahn, starring Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Beek — which racked up over 11 million views in its first 24 hours online and that many believe Saban Film took its cue from in rebooting the “Power Ranger” franchise.

In addition to his work in live-action, Shankar also has roots in the animation world and is the co-showrunner of the animated Netflix series “Castlevania.” Shankar is confident that he is capable of producing an episode of “The Simpsons” that will sound and look like the Fox series. He is also open to inviting “The Simpsons” voice actors, including Hank Azaria, to lend their talents.

Below is a video Bootleg made for $3,000 to test how it would emulate the art and style of the show.

Shankar also named a second place winner: Tasha Dhanraj, a London-based comedy writer represented by Emily Wraith at Berlin Associates. The producer said he hasn’t 100 percent ruled out producing that script as well, but mostly he wanted to acknowledge Dhanraj’s “incredible talent.”

Sundance Institute Names 2018 Art of Nonfiction Fellows and Grantees

10 cinematically inventive filmmakers will be supported in their exploration of the medium.

The Sundance Institutes’ Art of the Nonfiction Program today announced its 2018 fellows and grantees. Launched in 2016 to creatively and financially support filmmakers “exploring inventive artistic practice in story, craft and form,” the program is unusual in that it supports filmmakers and their process, rather than specific projects.

The 2018 Art of Nonfiction Fellows are: Deborah Stratman, Natalia Almada, Sam Green, and Sky Hopinka; biographies at the end of this article. These fellows receive an unrestricted, year-long grant tailored to their creative aspirations and challenges.

The 2018 Art of Nonfiction Fund Grantees are Jem Cohen, Kevin Jerome Everson, Kevin B. Lee and Chloé Galibert-Laîné, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Leilah Weinraub. Each grantee is in the early stages of developing new work. These artists will have access to a range of Sundance Institute programs and opportunities open only to alumni, as well as ongoing strategic and creative support from the Documentary Film Program.

The 10 filmmakers have been chosen for their cinematic approach to documentary filmmaking, and is designed to give them the space and opportunity to continue to explore their unique approaches to the medium.

“This year’s cohort reflects our continuing desire to explore the space in between,” said Tabitha Jackson, Director of the Documentary Film Program. “The space between art and film, between photography and moving image, between poetry and social justice, between artist and audience. And who better to lead us into this space of imaginative possibility, and beyond, than this particular group of creative adventurers.”

Sundance Institute

“Our intention with this program is to provide artist-based support to nonfiction filmmakers operating outside of formal convention, those contributing unique texture to the documentary landscape,” said John Cardellino, Producer of Art of Nonfiction. “As funders, we are thrilled to be in dialogue with these artists, to bring them into dialogue with each other, and to continue building a program rooted in the encouragement of uncompromisingly exploring one’s artistic ambitions.”

Filmmakers previously supported by the Art of the Nonfiction include Yance Ford (“Strong Island”), Sierra Pettengill (“The Reagan Show”), Theo Anthony (“Rat Film”), Robert Greene (“Bisbee ’17”), Margaret Brown (“The Great Invisible”), and Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq (“These Birds Walk”).

The 2018 Art of Nonfiction Fellows

Deborah Stratman: An artist and filmmaker who makes work that investigates power, control and belief, exploring how places, ideas, and society are intertwined. Her themes range widely, as do the mediums she uses to question them. Recent projects have addressed freedom, expansionism, surveillance, sonic warfare, public speech, ghosts, sinkholes, levitation, propagation, orthoptera, raptors, comets, exodus and faith. She has exhibited internationally at venues including the MoMA (NY), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Hammer Museum (LA), Mercer Union (Toronto), Witte de With (Rotterdam), Tabakalera (San Sebastian), Film Museum (Vienna), Whitney Biennial (NY) and festivals including Sundance, Viennale, Berlinale, CPH/DOX, Toronto, Oberhausen, True/False, and Rotterdam. Stratman is the recipient of Fulbright, Guggenheim and USA Collins Fellowships, an Alpert Award, and grants from Creative Capital, Graham Foundation, and Wexner Center for the Arts. She lives in Chicago where she teaches at the University of Illinois/UIC.

Natalia Almada: Recipient of the 2012 MacArthur “Genius” Award, Almada combines artistic expression with social inquiry to make films that are both personal reflections and critical social commentaries. Her work straddles the boundaries of documentary, fiction, and experimental film. Her most recent film “Todo lo demás” (Everything Else) is a narrative feature starring Academy Award-nominated Adriana Barraza; it premiered at the New York Film Festival and was nominated for a Mexican Academy Award. “El Velador” (“The Night Watchman”) premiered at the 2011 Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and broadcast on the award-winning PBS program POV, along with her other two feature documentaries “Al otro lado” (“To The Other Side”)and “El General” (“The General”). Almada was the recipient of the 2009 Best Documentary Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, USA Artists, The Herb Alpert Foundation, and MacDowell Colony. Almada currently lives between Mexico City and San Francisco.

Sam Green: A a documentary filmmaker. He’s made many movies including most recently “A Thousand Thoughts,” a live cinematic collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. Previous “live documentaries” include “The Measure of All Things” and “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller,” featuring the indie rock band Yo La Tengo. Sam’s documentary “The Weather Underground” was nominated for an Academy Award and included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

Sky Hopinka: Born and raised in Ferndale, Washington and spent a number of years in Palm Springs and Riverside, California, Portland, Oregon, Milwaukee, WI, and is currently based out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. In Portland he studied and taught chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. His video work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and landscape, designs of language as containers of culture, and the play between the known and the unknowable. His work has played at various festivals including ImagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, Images, Wavelengths, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Sundance, Antimatter, Chicago Underground Film Festival, FLEXfest, and Projections. His work was a part of the 2016 Wisconsin Triennial and the 2017 Whitney Biennial. He is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

The 2018 Art of Nonfiction Grantees

Jem Cohen: Filmmaker/photographer Cohen’s feature-length films include Museum Hours, Counting, Chain, Benjamin Smoke, Instrument, and World Without End (No Reported Incidents). Shorts include Lost Book Found, Little Flags, and Anne Truitt – Working. His films are in the collections of NYC’s Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Jewish Museum, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, and Melbourne’s Screen Gallery. They have been broadcast by PBS, Arte, and the Sundance Channel. He’s had retrospectives at Harvard Film Archive, London’s Whitechapel Gallery, Indielisboa, BAFICI, Oberhausen, Gijon, and Punto de Vista Film Festivals. His multi-media show with live music, We Have an Anchor, was a main stage production in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave series, and at London’s Barbican. His current show of film with live soundtracks, Gravity Hill Sound+Image, has been presented in Istanbul, Porto, New York City, Nantes, and Knoxville, TN.

Kevin Jerome Everson: An artist and filmmaker born and raised in Mansfield, Ohio. He has made nine feature length films and over one-hundred and thirty short films including “Tonsler Park” (2017), “Ears, Nose and Throat” (2016), “Park Lanes” (2015), and “Quality Control” (2011). Everson’s films and artwork have been widely shown at venues including Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Venice International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Tate Modern in London. The work has also been recognized through awards and fellowships such as Guggenheim Fellowship, an Alpert Award, a Creative Capital Fellowship and an NEA Fellowship. Everson is currently a Professor of Art at the University of Virginia, and represented by Picture Palace Pictures and Andrew Kreps Gallery.

Kevin B. Lee and Chloé Galibert-Laîné: A team of videographic essayists developing a collaborative practice that combines filmmaking and media research. Their work explores contemporary audiovisual media through online, amateur and found footage contexts in relation to the politics of authority, self-expression, and the histories and theories of cinema. They have presented their works at the Austrian Film Museum, London Essay Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the Ars Electronica Festival and the Impakt Festival. In 2018 they were Artists in Residence at m-cult in Helsinki through the European Media Art Platform (EMAP). Lee, a US-born filmmaker and critic, was the first-ever Artist in Residence of the Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin. He is now Professor of Crossmedia Publishing at the Merz Akademie, Stuttgart. Galibert-Laîné, a French filmmaker and researcher, teaches at Université Paris 8 and is currently writing a PhD at the art-research doctoral program SACRe (École normale supérieure de Paris).

LaToya Ruby Frazier: Works in photography and video to build visual archives that address industrialism, rustbelt revitalization, environmental justice, health care inequity, family and communal history. Her most recent use of imagery and storytelling that visually represent and advocate justice on behalf of working-class families have appeared in The New Yorker feature-story “Georgia’s Separate And Unequal Special-Education System,” The New York Times cover story, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis,” and ELLE Magazine special-commission story, “Flint Is Family.” Frazier is the recipient of many honors and awards including an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute (2017); the Gordon Parks’ Foundation Award for Photography (2016), fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Fellows Program (2015), TED Fellows (2015), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2014). Frazier’s work is represented by Gavin Brown’s enterprise in New York City and Rome.

Leilah Weinraub: An artist and director living in New York. A short version of her film “Shakedown” was recently included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. She is the CEO and co-founder of Hood By Air, the New York-based fashion collective known for luxury ready-to-wear. Weinraub helped to radicalize fashion by championing what she calls “modern people”: the rising class of consumers who subvert traditional markers of race, class, and gender and revel in freedom, lawlessness, and spectacle. As a filmmaker, Weinraub has helped document such unacknowledged tastemakers, particularly those belonging to queer, autonomous communities of color whose creative output is often plundered by mass culture but whose stories are rarely told on their own terms.

FilmFreeway Defeated Amazon’s Withoutabox Monopoly, and Film Festival Submissions Will Never Be the Same

FilmFreeway promises it won’t force festivals into exclusivity, and will drop its prices later this week.

Last Friday, IMDb announced it would close Withoutabox (WAB), with submission services disabled September 16, 2019. It’s the end of an era: In 2000, WAB brought the internet to the film festival submissions process and revolutionized it forever. Suddenly, filmmakers could find and apply to festivals around the world from a single website. The innovation was embraced not only by filmmakers — who no longer had to search for eligibility requirements or mail DVDs — but also film festivals. Although festivals had to pay upward of 18 percent of their admission fees to WAB, they saved on administration costs and, most importantly, saw an increase in the number of submissions. IMDb, a subsidiary of Amazon, bought the company in 2008.

Withoutabox also had a patent-protected monopoly. Filed in 2001, US patent US6829612 gave WAB intellectual protections for an “internet-based film festival digital entry and back office services suite model” for 20 years. Combined with Amazon’s legal resources, the patent was enough to scare off competitors.

However, that monopoly led to complacency, and to WAB resentment inside the indie film community. In 2014, that opened the door for a four-person Canadian start-up, FilmFreeway, to steal at least half of its business. “We saw an opportunity to potentially disrupt a monopoly,” wrote FilmFreeway’s Andrew Michael, director of business development, in a recent email interview. “We knew that filmmakers and festivals had grown extremely frustrated and even resentful of the Withoutabox user experience, pricing model, and total lack of customer support.”

Read More: Amazon and IMDb Are Closing Withoutabox Film Festival Submission Service

Snow piles up as people walk past the Egyptian Theater at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, USA, 26 January 2017. The festival runs from 19 to 29 January.2017 Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Usa - 26 Jan 2017

The Sundance Film Festival

George Frey/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Users expressed frustration with WAB for years. There was a call to boycott the company in 2012 in the face of rising submissions costs and product issues, including a secure streaming video feature that festival directors said was virtually unusable. This created a market opportunity for competitors, but WAB held off Indee.tv, FBIscreeners, and Submissions 2.0 with the threat of patent litigation while telling festivals that WAB would drop them for using alternate services. While many questioned if WAB’s patent could hold up in court, no one wanted to take on Amazon’s deep pockets to find out.

“We were aware that, prior to FilmFreeway, WAB had used their patent to bully several would-be competitors out of the market,” wrote Michael. “Withoutabox failed to secure a patent for their software in Canada, so while they could theoretically prevent their US customers from using FilmFreeway, they could not prevent us from operating legally in Canada.”

Before FilmFreeway wrote a single line of code, it consulted with a leading patent law firm to ensure the programming didn’t infringe on WAB’s patent. Even so, Michael said they were prepared for the very real possibility that Amazon could decide to drown the start-up in legal costs. WAB, which the Federal Trade Commission investigated in early 2014 for unfair trade practices, decided to not go on the offensive.

In two years, it saw a significant portion of its business go to the Canadian upstart. Michael points to the Amazon-owned Alexa.com website ranking service, which in 2015 showed FilmFreeway passed WAB in its number of clicks. This month, Alexa ranked FilmFreeway three times higher than WAB, both domestically (#5,649 vs. #14,530) and globally (#15,060 vs. #45,425).

In response, WAB invested in its tech, trying to compete with FilmFreeway’s user-friendly interface while using its financial resources to capture major festivals with exclusive deals. Exclusivity wasn’t cheap, requiring pricey festival sponsorships, free advertising on WAB and IMDb, IMDbPro coverage of the festival, and free marketing.

Michael wrote: “We are told that the reason Withoutabox is closing slowly over the next year, instead of shuttering immediately is so they can fulfill their contractual obligations to festivals for the remainder of these agreements, as many of these festivals are receiving annual payments from WAB ranging from tens of thousands to more than $100,000 per year, as well as other perks through IMDb.”

A spokesperson for IMDb told IndieWire that the company does not “share details of our relationships with customers.”

While WAB improved, its reputation in the indie film world did not. Beyond the cost of trying to compete with FilmFreeway, IMDb didn’t see WAB’s market share drastically increase. Over the next year, as WAB exits the market, FilmFreeway said formerly WAB-exclusive festivals plan to open their doors to his company.

“There are several more top-tier festivals that will be announcing partnerships with FilmFreeway in the coming weeks,” wrote Michael. “However, Withoutabox’s exclusive agreements with these festivals contain a confidentiality clause that restricts festivals from disclosing the terms or even the existence of these agreements. For this reason, festivals have asked us not to discuss these matters publicly until their contracts expire and they are ready to open their call for entries on FilmFreeway.”

Cinequest and Fantasia Film Festivals both recently started accepting submissions from Film Freeway. IndieWire has also learned that one major film festival will announce its switch to Film Freeway later this week.

IndieWire also learned that potential start-ups, backed by “major players,” have explored entering the film festival submission space. There is still a question surrounding WAB’s patent, which is set to expire in June 2022. IndieWire asked IMDb if they planned to enforce the patent over the coming year, or explore selling it, as it remains the company’s one real remaining asset. Representatives for the company declined to comment, but observers wonder what value the soon-to-be-expired patent has without the financial resources of a company willing to enforce it.

In the short term, at least in North America, FilmFreeway finds itself in the unusual position of being the new monopoly. Michael said the focus of his 20-person company will continue to be on the tech — updating its code daily — and improving user experience. Recently, the company started offering festivals the ability to sell tickets on FilmFreeway with no fees, and is getting ready to create a free-of-charge DCP creation tool for customers.

This week, FilmFreeway plans to announce a price reduction. Michael also promised the company will not use its position to force festivals into exclusive arrangements.

“This strategy of paying festivals to use WAB exclusively proved to be shortsighted and unsustainable,” wrote Michael. “While we love it when festivals choose to use FilmFreeway exclusively, we never require exclusivity and we never will. Festivals should have complete autonomy as to how they run their events and the services they choose to help them reach filmmakers. We don’t believe in the approach that WAB used to lock up festivals exclusively with secret contracts. We’ve always believed that if we provide festivals with a high quality product, personal customer care, and a world-class user experience they will continue to happily utilize FilmFreeway to facilitate and manage their submissions.”

Amazon and IMDb Are Closing Withoutabox Film Festival Submission Service

The service will be operational through the next festival season, but be disabled on September 16, 2019.

More than 17 years after first launching the game-changing festival submission service, Withoutbox announced today that it will be phasing out its services over the next year.  Submission services will be disabled starting September 16, 2019, and access to Withoutabox will be disabled on October 30, 2019.

“We are working with current film festival customers to fulfill Withoutabox’s commitments through October 30, 2019 and are working with filmmakers to ensure their submissions are properly processed in this transition phase,” wrote a spokesperson for Withoutabox. “We are grateful to all the filmmakers who have shared their stories through Withoutabox and the film festivals who have discovered talented artists around the world using our service.”

In 2000 Withoutabox changed the way filmmakers applied to film festivals by creating a service where it was easier to find and apply to festivals – a one-stop site which had all the information and eligibility requirements for virtually all festivals and offered a streamlined submission process that made applying to multiple festivals easier. It also became the portal for festivals to communicate with applicants about rejections and next steps if they were accepted.

In 2008, Withoutabox was bought by IMDb, a subsidiary of Amazon. In the following years the company faced competition (most notably by FilmFreeway in the US) and complaints from filmmakers about its services, both of which resulted in the company losing its ironclad grip on the festival submissions market. In more recent years, Withoutabox placed a premium on locking up top festivals to long-term agreements that shut out competitors. At the same time the company vastly improved its product and worked with festivals to build an interface that was easier to navigate, for both festival and filmmaker, while delivering vastly improved video streaming.

The news comes as a surprise to many in the independent film world. Earlier this year IMDb and the Sundance Film Festival announced a three-year extension on their exclusive partnership to run through 2021.  In the last 10 years, Sundance alone has received over 100,000 submissions from Withoutabox. IndieWire reached out to IMDb about the reasoning for shuttering Withoutabox, but did not receive an immediate reply.

Withoutabox is still taking submissions and allowing filmmakers to upload videos, but is recommending filmmakers also supply a Vimeo link so that festivals have more flexibility in watching the submitted film after Withoutabox has been shuttered.

Festival filmmakers with more questions about current Withoutabox submissions should visit this page.