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”


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




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.”

‘DriverX’: How a Sundance Veteran Was Forced to Drive Uber and Found the Inspiration For His Next Feature Film

Years after “Some Body” went to Sundance, its director fell on hard times. But they led him to make another passion project.

Most first failures stop careers in their tracks, and many early successes lead to nothing for lack of financing. But there are success stories of another kind we rarely hear about. Journeys through back alleys and down long treacherous roads that lead to a sustainable career.   

I am a producer specializing in micro-budget production. I first met writer-director Henry Barrial in 2000 when I was an executive at Next Wave Films. We were giving finishing funds to exceptional low-budget features, which included Chris Nolan’s “Following.”  We invested in Henry’s feature film debut, “Some Body,” a $3,000 drama shot on Canon XL-1’s with a two-man crew and no script. When it was accepted into Dramatic Competition at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, we repped its sale to Lot 47 Films, which ultimately released it theatrically in over 15 cities. A remarkable result for an improvised no-budgeter made out of necessity, several years before anyone had coined the term “Mumblecore.”

That story usually goes: director comes out of nowhere, beats the odds by getting into Sundance, and then becomes a household name. But it didn’t work out that way for Henry. Lot 47 went belly up before they released the film on home video and all the original deliverables vanished like the company’s principals. Then the producers of Henry’s follow-up film, “True Love,” a Sundance Screenwriters Lab project, walked away in pre-production when they couldn’t raise the $2 million dollars to shoot it. That’s when I jumped in, now an independent producer, and pulled Henry back into micro-budget filmmaking, a place he never really wanted to return to, and certainly didn’t want to stay.

We shot “True Love” for $50,000 and it just missed getting into Sundance. Our next film, a sci-fi thriller that Henry wrote called “Pig,” was also meant for a seven-figure budget, but I convinced (coerced?) Henry into making it the only way I knew how, on a micro-budget with money we put up ourselves and also raised on this new thing called Kickstarter.

“Pig” ultimately played over 35 festivals and won 10 awards before getting a domestic deal with Kino Lorber. Henry had been attached to a script for many years written by the deceased filmmaker Joe Vasquez, and with the success of “Pig,” those producers decided they too could make “The House That Jack Built” on a micro-budget. I was asked to join as a producer when they got into post with absolutely no money. We again raised funds on Kickstarter and the film went on to premiere at the LA Film Festival, win eight awards, and get a small theatrical distribution.

With four reasonably successful features under his belt, Henry again tried to get his next project, a clever horror film called “Final Girl,” made on a “real” budget. For the better part of 2014, we waited for financing to come through, but watched it collapse time and time again. Neither of us could take on other film work, and with two kids at home and a wife working during the day, Henry was forced to do what a lot of middle-aged men were doing at the time: He started driving for Uber at night.

When Henry had “Some Body” at Sundance, one of his champions was a woman named Lynn Auerbach, who was Associate Director of the Feature Film Program at the Sundance Institute. “Some Body” was based on the actual life experiences of lead actress Stephanie Bennett, who co-wrote and co-produced the film with Henry. What drew Lynn to “Some Body” was its striking naturalism and authenticity. This was not a film that seemed designed; it felt lived in. Henry was adamant that no moments could feel false. Actual people in Stephanie’s life were cast to play themselves. Not a single line of dialogue was written. Stephanie was persuaded to leave nothing hidden or unsaid — everything that happened in her real life was up for analysis and laid bare (often literally) in the film.

Lynn once told Henry that to follow up “Some Body,” he should quit his job and become a bus driver for six months, and then write a film about a bus driver. She believed that the majesty of everyday life was worth portraying on screen. Without realizing it, Henry did just that with his most recent feature, “DriverX.” He didn’t drive a bus; he drove a Prius. Lynn wouldn’t live to see Henry’s “bus-driving film,” (she died in 2004), but I’m sure she would have been pleased with the direction Henry took in early 2015, when we decided to turn his late-night Uber experiences into our next movie, and yes, make it on a micro-budget. Henry, once again, was pulled back into the mud of no-budget filmmaking.

We literally willed this new film into being, helped by 0% credit card offers, 400 Kickstarter backers, a few overly-supportive friends and family members, and a very talented and selfless lead actor named Patrick Fabian, (“Better Call Saul” supporting player Howard Hamlin), who played our driver.

More about unmet life expectations than Rideshare driving, “DriverX” deals with a 50-something man’s existential crisis, after he is forced into a new employment environment. His crisis comes into clearer focus when he drives around millennials, the generation superseding him, who now expect people like him to take a figurative back seat.

The heart of “DriverX” comes from the same inspiration as Henry’s first feature — real life — though the two films are very different. Henry has steadily developed his craft over the last two decades. With new cameras and equipment and no-budget tricks, we were able to make an ambitious film (night driving scenes, numerous locations, over 50 speaking parts), on a paltry budget. But at its core, “DriverX” is Henry returning to what moved him in the late ‘90s, going back to that advice from Lynn Auerbach, confronting the reality of your life and putting it on screen.

Festival audiences have connected with the film, seeing themselves in the main character’s struggle and will to persevere, despite the challenges of life confronting him at every overpass.  IFC Films’ Sundance Selects is releasing the film in theaters and On Demand beginning November 30, almost exactly 18 years to the day Henry found out “Some Body” was accepted into Sundance.

Legendary UCLA professor Howard Suber says that the #1 quality his most successful students share is “Perseverance.” This certainly applies to Henry. The lesson in “DriverX” becomes the lesson of “DriverX”:  never give up, learn to accept the road you’ve found yourself on, no matter how bumpy or twisty it may be, and if truth and authenticity are your guides, you’ll always find your way back home. These are lessons that many of us filmmakers can apply, when success proves to be more elusive than what we usually read about.

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”


“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.

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.)


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

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.


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


Format: 2.8 ARRIRAW
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.


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.


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”


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.


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.

‘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)


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.”




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)


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.

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.

Luca Guadagnino On Directing Bob Dylan-Inspired ‘Blood on the Tracks’: ‘I Don’t Believe in Originality in Filmmaking’

Guadagnino explained why his new project, like “Suspiria,” wasn’t subservient to its source material.

This week, it is was officially announced that Luca Guadagnino would direct an adaptation of Bob Dylan’s 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks.” The script, written by Richard LaGravenese (“The Fisher King”), is a drama based on the album’s themes that follows characters throughout the ’70s. In an interview with IndieWire, Guadagnino talked about what drew him to the project, and why he wasn’t worried about doing justice to the source material.

“It is an idea of Rodrigo Teixeira, one of the producers of ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ whom I started to have a great relationship with,” said Guadagnino. “He said to me, ‘You know, I have the rights to make a movie out of ‘Blood on the Tracks’ by Bob Dylan. What do you think?’ And I found this concept very good because, as I’ve said many times, I don’t believe in originality in filmmaking. I think filmmaking is really a question of point of view.”

Guadagnino, whose remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” is hitting theaters on October 26, is no stranger to adapting pre-existing source material. The director finds the idea that any film’s story could be “original” to be foolish, noting that every narrative can be traced back a canonical work centuries ago. The concept that authorship in film is based on a director having written his or her own original script is one he finds equally misguided.

“Cinema became all about if you wanted to become an auteur [it meant] someone writing a story,” said Guadagnino. “So, if you had your name written on the script, that made you an auteur, but I grew up with Hitchcock being an auteur and I think he’s never written one single script his whole entire life.”



In adapting “Suspiria,” a film the director has worshipped for decades, Guadagnino’s version is actually based on what he found Argento’s version to be lacking. Whereas Argento’s film is a hermetically sealed cinematic world, Guadagnino’s version draws from, and is grounded in, the historical events of Germany in 1977, when the original was made, while also exploring psychological elements and feminist themes that are the antithesis of Argento’s version. For Guadagnino, adapting source material is actually a way for a director to better assert control and his or her unique point-of-view.

“Stanley Kubrick never made an original movie,” said Guadagnino. “He always made a movie from source, and in doing that he made some of the most strikingly personal and unique films of his generation.”

Guadagnino pointed to one of his favorite Kubrick films, “Barry Lyndon,” which is based on a book by William Makepeace Thackeray as an example. “I love the book, but the movie it’s Kubrick, it’s not an illustration of Thackeray,” said Guadagnino. “I understood that Kubrick was not interested in original stories [based on] the fact he needed control. And I think having that control in your hands, the possibly of really dealing with something that exists and working around it and really making something unsentimental about it, it frees you, instead of being bound by the originality of your story, which is a completely gratuitous element.”

That element of control, combined with having enough time to properly prepare, is even more important to Guadagnino than if he likes the source material. In the case of his 2015 film “A Bigger Splash,” it was a remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 film “La Piscine” which he found to be “quite lame.”

“The movie came out [when] Godard, Truffaut and great filmmakers were dealing with life in the streets, and this guy came on board [to make] a little bourgeoisie story about [actors] Alain Delon and Romy Schneider,” said Guadagnino. “I said yes because I spoke to my friend at StudioCanal, I said, ‘I [will] do it only if it’s going to happen in Pantelleria [an Italian island and comune in the Strait of Sicily], it deals with rock ‘n roll people, I direct and produce.’ And they said yes to all three things, [so I] said, ‘cool, let’s do it.'”

Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash

“A Bigger Splash”

In the case of “Blood on the Tracks,” the album means a great deal to the director, while Teixeira is a producer and collaborator who Guadagnino said he has come to implicitly trust. Nonetheless, Guadagnino still tested the limits of his ability to shape material with a fairly big request that, in all likelihood, could have torpedoed his chances of taking on the project.

“I had been granted by Rodrigo, who is a Renaissance Man, the freedom to say something [that] may have sounded provocative and gratuitous like, ‘I’ll do it only if Richard LaGravenese is eager to be the writer,'” said Guadagnino. “I didn’t know Richard, I knew him from his movies. I was wowed by his career, and he said, ‘Yes.’ So there was a real possibility the thing would never happen because maybe Richard was going to say, ‘No, I’m not interested.'”

“Suspiria” opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 26, then nationwide on November 2.

At 3,000 Feet, Shooting ‘Free Solo’ Was More Like ‘Mission Impossible’ Than a Documentary

An inside look at how the crew behind the heart-stopping documentary shot the incredible footage of Alex Honnold’s death-defying climb.

For a sensible person, the idea of attempting to climb a sheer, 3,200-foot wall of granite without ropes or safety gear is enough to send shivers down your spine. As directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai reveal in “Free Solo,” their documentary about Alex Bonnold’s death-defying climb of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan, Bonnold is not one of those people. And to judge by the shots captured by the directors and their crew, neither are they.

Take this three-shot sequence from “The Boulder Problem,” a particularly tricky part of Honnold’s climb.

Shot 1: A vertigo-inducing, high-angle shot points straight down the face of El Capitan. Honnold is in the middle of frame, with the earth 2,050 feet below him in the background. He turns his body slightly diagonal as he reaches for a hand hold. As he pulls himself up, a cut on action to:

“Free Solo”

Shot 2: A tighter shot of Honnold from the side and behind; we see how his torso is almost horizontal as his feet find small crevices to support his weight. His breathing intensifies as his right foot carefully crosses inside his left, twisting his body, until his left foot swings wide reaching a crack in the granite. A cut on action as he looks up.

Shot 3: A high-angle, tight close-up of Honnold as he looks up, down, and up again. He reaches his left hand straight up to grab hold of a protruding piece of the wall in the foreground, which appears to be inches from the camera’s lens.

If it wasn’t for Honnold being one misstep or loose rock away from falling to his death, the scene would seem staged for camera. Each aesthetically balanced shot has an intentional composition that perfectly calls attention to the physical drama at that particular moment. The overlapping shots not only allow for match cutting on action, but the sequencing feels storyboarded with each edit reframing and intensifying the tension. The camera is still, the vibrant 4k image properly exposed and optically perfect. The intimate synced sound of Honnold draws us closer, heightening the subjectivity of the moment.

“I don’t particularly like big moves or really dramatic shooting that call attention to the shooting,” said Chin, who also served as a cinematographer and camera operator. “We like the classic cinematic shooting, but pushing the edge a little bit. We needed resources to support the scale of this and how we wanted to shoot. It had to be grand, it had to be really perfectly executed and push the edge of what I’d done in the past.”

National Geographic provided the resources: Honnold was a prominent free solo climber, the climb was historic, and Chin and Vasarhelyi previously directed the critically acclaimed climbing documentary “Meru.” However, it’s the way the filmmakers put those resources to use is what makes “Free Solo” play like a real-life “Mission Impossible.”

Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi on location during the filming of Free Solo. (National Geographic/Chris Figenshau)

Jimmy Chin and Chai Vasarhelyi on location for “Free Solo”

National Geographic/Chris Figens

Drones are not allowed in Yosemite, which meant everything had to come from someone holding a camera. Chin, a professional climber with 20 years experience filming “in the vertical,” knew he would need a handful of cameramen with his level of experience to climb and shoot.

“From my experience, it’s a lot easier to go from a world-class climber to great cinematographer, than a great cinematographer to world-class climber,” said Chin. “It has to be second nature to be on the wall and get to the top of El Cap. You literally go over the lip to El Cap and there’s 3,000 feet of air below you, and to even flinch is taking up bandwidth in the creative part of your mind. There’s a head-game aspect of this and we needed to be focused on the technical filmmaking challenges. The safety side and climbing can’t be a question.”

According to Vasarhelyi, there are only a handful of climbers/cameramen in the world who met these qualifications, and they all knew each other and had climbed or filmed Honnold in the past. Most importantly, the documentary had the resources for the camera team to film Honnold over two years as he trained using ropes and safety harnesses to figure out how to climb El Capitan.

“One thing about our high-angle shooting is we edit while we are shooting,” said Vasarhelyi. “So we’re constantly looking at the shots and trying economize on what is the impact and what we really need. That way we can improve and make it stronger. You can’t always afford to do it; it was nice to be able to have an assistant editor on site with our DIT.”

That shoot-edit-iterate workflow allowed Vasarhelyi and Chin to maximize what they got from each cameraman. They figured out which positions allowed multiple key shots, and would also allow them to quickly climb ahead of Honnold for the next one.

“On the day of the climb, every single person knew exactly what shots they were supposed to get,” said Chin. “How we would stay out of the other person’s shots, how we were going to move, when we were going to shoot tight and when we were going to pull back. It was very surgical.”

Alex Honnold atop Lower Cathedral with El Capitan in the background, Yosemite National Park, CA. (National Geographic/Samuel Crossley)

“Free Solo”: Alex Honnold on El Capitan

National Geographic/Samuel Cross

In the film, Chin and his crew struggle on camera with how to film and not affect Honnold’s climb. According to Vasarhelyi, the key to solving this problem was in the extended preparation.

“They’ve all been practicing for so long, Alex has an understanding of where to anticipate people,” said Vasarhelyi. “Yes, you don’t want to be in his eyeline, but he knows you’re around.”

Vasarhelyi and Chin wanted a grand scale that required shooting in 4k with cinema cameras and lenses, including a large 17-120mm zoom. Each cameraman had to be his own independent unit, serving as rigger, AC, and focus puller, while also carrying his food and the supplies needed to shoot and climb for the day. Figuring out how to climb and shoot with a large, fully loaded Canon C300 was a challenge.

“These were real big cinema cameras, it’s incredible we only smashed two [camera] bodies and lenses,” said Chin. “When you first drop in, [the cameras] are in packs. Then you get into position, pull it out of the pack, put the camera together, shoot, and you don’t want to pull it apart again to put it in the pack because you don’t have enough time.”

When possible, they would just clip the camera to their belts. For longer moves, Chin and his crew came up with a system in which the camera would clip to the harness and shoulder sling. That made it possible, although still difficult, to climb to the next shooting position in time.

Shooting with a long lens causes even the smallest shake to be emphasized and felt by the viewer, yet even the tightest shots in “Free Solo” are remarkably steady and smooth. Vasarhelyi said the camera crew at times got almost too good at shooting and climbing.

“These guys are so clean in how they shoot,” said Vasarhelyi. “It was actually feedback from us in the the edit room being like, we actually need some camera moves. It was so clean [it wasn’t] fitting into the verite aspect of the rest of the film.”

free solo alex honnold review

“Free Solo”

One of the hardest problems to crack was getting sound from Honnold, who often was too far from the camera to use wireless mics. Meanwhile, the wiring of the mic couldn’t interfere with his climbing, and any recorder on his body would need to withstand the rigors of climbing.

“The audio on this was challenging,” said Chin. “But we needed to hear Alex breathing, and you needed to hear his reaction if we had a long lens shot on him and didn’t have a camera on top of him.”

To solve the problem, they turned to production sound recordist Jim Hurst, who was a climber himself. He utilized a recorder that could transmit a signal to the camera, but also record to itself when the camera was out of range.

“Jim’s a climber, so he knew that you can’t clip it to your hip because you’re constantly shoving your hips into a giant crack, it’d get torn off,” said Chin. “So he had built it into the chalk bag [climbers use chalk on their hands to help their grip], and knowing that Alex would be sometimes have to move the chalk bag around his waist, he had it rigged so there was enough wire to move it and be unencumbered, but then have it come up through his shirt and taped to his chest.”

‘Spring Night, Summer Night’: One Film’s Bizarre 50-Year Journey to Its Long-Delayed New York Film Festival Premiere

The astounding production brought Italian Neo-Realism to Appalachia, but distributors recut it as an exploitation film. Years later, Nicolas Winding Refn has restored it to its former glory.

The 1968 film “Spring Night, Summer Night” finally received its much-deserved New York Film Festival premiere last week, 50 years after it was “unceremoniously bumped” — per NYFF’s festival catalogue — to make space for John Cassavetes’s “Faces.” It’s a film of astounding beauty – bringing to life rural life in a way rarely seen on the big screen – but it was never properly exhibited, and faded from existence shortly after it was made.

Long before its restoration, the film was re-cut and re-shot to look like an exploitation picture, with the new title “Miss Jessica is Pregnant.” It was only saved from oblivion decades later, through extensive efforts by the filmmakers’ former students, director Nicolas Winding Refn, and a former Albuquerque theater owner by the name of Peter Conheim, who made it his mission to restore the film after seeing a version of it in 2004.

“I first saw ‘Spring Night, Summer Night’ on a not-so good DVD that was duped from damaged print and was blown away,” said Conheim. “Why had I never heard of this film? It was like this incredible European arthouse films, but shot in rural Ohio. It really stuck with me.” He started telling friends about the film, including Ross Lipman, the Senior Film Restorationist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

"Spring Night, Summer Night"

“Spring Night, Summer Night”

Courtesy of J.L. Anderson

Director J. L. “Joe” Anderson’s ambitions were as humble as they were big. In the ’60s, Anderson was a young film professor at the University of Ohio with incredible knowledge of international film who dreamed of bringing an Italian Neorealism approach to filmmaking to the rural Appalachian communities not far from the Athens campus. “Spring Night, Summer Night” was written by his 24-year-old student Franklin Miller, and set in a nearby coal mining town after the mines had closed. According to Miller, who attended the NYFF screening with his wife Judy (the film’s script supervisor), the film was shot for $29,000. That money covered the cost of 35mm film stock, processing and food, which was easily raised by taking advantage of ’60s-era tax laws that made losing money on investing in film a profitable endeavor for wealthy funders.

Cinematographer Ed Lachman (“Carol,” “Far From Heaven”), who was also at the NYFF premiere last week, was a student of Anderson’s and the film’s cinematographer David Prince. After the screening, Lachman spoke to IndieWire about the approach to filmmaking on the Athens, Ohio campus.

“The film department only existed because of the football department, who owned a film processing machine and 16mm cameras we could use,” said Lachman. “It was this very open classroom where Joe exposed us to all these films we had never seen before – you really could feel that influence of European films of the time watching that film tonight. Joe made his films with his students. He thought we should be out filming in areas around Athens, not unlike the Italians after the war. I worked on his next film after this one, ‘America First.’ It was one of the most exceptional experiences I had and really formulated my interest and approach to filmmaking.”

Soon after completion, “Spring Night, Summer Night” had the good fortune to have one very influential champion, who Miller said he and Anderson believed would help “Spring Night, Summer Night” find a distributor: Willard Van Dyke, who saw the film while he was guest lecturing in the Midwest, was a well-respected anthropological filmmaker out of the WPA era and, in 1968, the head film programmer at Museum of Modern Art in New York.

"Spring Night, Summer Night"

“Spring Night, Summer Night”

Courtesy of J.L. Anderson

“Willard Van Dyke was blown away and immediately showed it to distributors,” said Conheim. “Then it never did make it into the New York Film Festival because it was bumped to make way for ‘Faces,’ and that was the extent of its American screenings. That’s the heartbreaker of it all, that’s where it should have really taken off. I don’t know what they were thinking. Maybe, ‘We only have room for one sort of independent black and white relationship movie.'”

Miller told the NYFF crowd that after Van Dyke struck out finding them a distributor, the only offer was from Joseph Brenner Associates, who specialized in exploitation films.

“It’s so embarrassing,” said Miller. “[Brenner] immediately wants to re-edit the movie and shoot more shots of the naked women to put in it and get it onto the screen with the name ‘Miss Jessica Is Pregnant’ — which is striking, because there’s nobody named Jessica in movie.”

According to Conheim, the title came out of a suggestion by Brenner’s daughter. Anderson begrudgingly did the reshoots and re-edited the film. Miller, however, wanted no part of it. Around that time, he took a university teaching position in Iowa City, where he would occasionally show his students the one remaining original print of the film, and in the late 70’s would take on the responsibility of storing the film’s negative in his office basement.

In 2004, Michael Schmidt, one of Miller’s former students, worked for Kino International (now part of Kino Lorber) and included “Spring Night, Summer Night” in the Rural Route Film Festival, a collection of films that traveled the U.S. Conheim programmed the Rural Routes festival at The Guild theater, which he co-owned in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s there that he saw the poorly duped DVD, which he quickly shared with Lipman, one of the leading film restorers in the country. There were only the funds to strike a duped print from Miller’s 35mm print, but Conheim still dreamed of finding the funds to restore the negative, which had been re-cut as “Miss Jessica Is Pregnant,” and digitally scan it to return the film to its full glory.

“Nicolas [Winding Refn] had been suggested to me a possible funder,” said Conheim. “He had just bought this big collection and was about to pursue the idea of doing something with it online.”



That online project would eventually become byNWR.com, a free streaming service that launched this summer and features rare, forgotten and in many cases never-really-known films from the fringes of film history. Refn was so taken by “Spring Night, Summer Night” that he paid for the full restoration and decided to make it the anchoring title for first year of the collection. During that process, he also decided to hire Conheim to be the site’s lead archivist, a job which has led to him overseeing the restoration of 13 films, including “Spring Night, Summer Night.”

“Spring Night, Summer Night” will premiere on byNWR.com in early November. Conheim told IndieWire he is actively trying to get the film programmed at retro-arthouse theaters, including The Metrograph in New York, which will screen the restored film in early 2019.

IATSE Members Avert Strike That Was Looming Over Hollywood By Voting to Ratify 3-Year Contract

Editors voted 89 percent against ratification. It’s been three bumpy months for the union representing film and TV crew, but the fight for IATSE’s future has just begun.

The 13 film and television locals of IATSE, consisting of 43,000 members and making up a majority of the West Coast crew, have voted to ratify a new three-year agreement with producers (AMPTP), ending the possibility of a strike that would have brought a temporary stop to Hollywood production. A majority of members in 12 of the 13 locals voted “Yes” to ratify a controversial contract that includes increases to wages and benefit funding, but the process included a contentious three months since a tentative agreement was reached July 26th.

The 2018-2021 contract includes $153 million in new health benefit funding, increases in turnaround (the rest break between wrap and the next day’s call time), and a new media residual that covers big-budget (over $30 million) movies made for Netflix and other subscription streaming services. Opposition to contract — which radiated from inside local 700, the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, but spread through other locals — centered around the belief the contract did not go far enough to make up from the loss of residuals stemming the industry’s shift toward streaming-only content like Netflix Originals or protecting crew from long hours.

In step with IATSE’s history, a majority of members in each local followed the recommendation of its leadership in how they voted, but the push toward ratification was far from business as usual. Since a tentative agreement was announced, IATSE President Matthew Loeb and the leaders of locals received unexpected blowback as members questioned the deal. Fearful that opposition of an engaged minority could dominate the vote of a traditionally unengaged union, IATSE’s efforts to get out the vote were unprecedented, launching a “vote yes” website, spending tens of thousands of dollars on mailers and targeted Facebook ads, and leadership actively visiting sets, sending emails, and making phone calls to prevent a strike.

Based on the numbers that have shared with members in Local 695 and 600, IATSE’s efforts resulted in 36 percent of members mailing a valid ballot, which leaders say is a sharp uptick compared to previous elections.

Local 700, led by National Director Cathy Repola, also made a significant effort to turn out the vote of its members, but through cost-free methods like meetups, phone banking, and a podcast in which Repola continued to educate members on why she believed the contract was not in their best interest. The results of Local 700’s vote were staggering, with 89 percent voting against ratification and 71 percent of the 7,000-plus members mailing in their ballots. In her letter to Local 700 members on the evening of October 10, Repola discussed embracing the way her membership banded together as a victory and looking toward next steps.

“We must now turn our focus on building upon your activism, involvement and interest in your union,” wrote Repola. “We must reinvent our union and unite around common goals. We will continue to be under political and social attacks in this country and face challenges in future collective bargaining. We must look within ourselves, each one of us, to see how we can contribute to the future success of this union.”

In the fight to save the contract and defend himself against criticism, Loeb attacked Repola’s personal motives and called her actions illegal, after having iced Repola out of the final round of contract negotiations with producers. Now that the contract has passed, all eyes turn to Loeb to see how he handles Repola and her thousands of followers. Loeb’s term as president carries through the 2021 contract negotiations and he enters the next three years with a tremendous increase in membership engagement and key issues surrounding work hours and residuals still on the table.

Yet possibly the largest issue facing IATSE falls outside Loeb and Repola’s debate. One of the triggers for member alarm heading into this round of contract negotiations was benefit funding had fallen to 67 percent, down from 80 percent three years prior. IATSE actuaries based their predictions of the union’s future financials on receiving an 8 percent rate of interest (ROI), but with interest rates so low the only way to receive returns that high is investing in less stable financial markets. After falling short of their 8 percent ROI on the last contract, actuaries lowered the projection to a 7.5 percent, but in the first six months of 2018 the ROI for the year was at -0.4 percent.