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Director Series: Brett Ratner

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By Mary Ann SkweresNew Line’s After the Sunset has all the elements of a perfect heist movie: a master thief, “The King of the Alibis” (Pierce Brosnan); beautiful women—one a thief (Salma Hayek), the other a cop (Naomie Harris); a convincing nemesis, obsessed FBI agent Stan Lloyd (Woody Harrelson); a tropical island paradise location; and, of course, something worth stealing, in this case diamonds. The high-stakes action-comedy is helmed by director, Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2, Red Dragon), a music-video-turned-feature director with a love for caper films. Ratner infuses After the Sunset with his trademark contagious passion, creating a game of cat and mouse with character twists and double-crosses in a fast-paced romp.Below the Line: A lot of the success of this genre of movie has to do with timing. It seems your editor Mark Helfrich instinctively gets your way of doing things. Brett Ratner: I’ve worked with Mark on six films and various music videos and commercials. I first met him on Money Talks. He was about 30 years younger than all the other editors I’d met. So I said, “I gotta hire this guy ’cause he’s gonna really get the comedy.” He’s been my guy ever since. He is so brilliant. I think every crew member I have in a key position is a filmmaker themselves. Mark can direct a movie if he wanted to.BTL: What do you look for in an editor?BR: Somebody who’s going to be honest with me and not just do what I want. Who’ll say, “Let your ego go. You don’t need this scene. Trust me.” So he argues with me, which I appreciate. It’s important that you work with people who aren’t intimidated by you, who vocalize how they feel and tell you the truth. Plus he really knows storytelling.BTL: Why did you choose Dante Spinotti, ASC as your cinematographer? BR: I saw Heat, The Last of the Mohicans and L.A. Confidential. I just thought he was so brilliant. I met with him and he agreed to do The Family Man. I’ve done three films with him.BTL: How do you convey your vision to a cinematographer?BR: On each movie it’s very different. Dante describes it as “finding the language of the film.” Once you decide on the language—really it’s the tone—everything falls into place. The costume designer knows what you’re looking for, the production designer, everything, once Dante and I set the tone. For instance, it could be as simple as, it’s going to be colder, bluish in the beginning of After the Sunset. And of course we’re going to have more warmth and more gold and yellow on the island. So that’s one way. Also it has to do with camera movement and composition.Dante is so great because he’s always thinking about the story. He could show off all day long, do trick shots, but he’s always focused on trying to tell a great story. He comes up with some wild ideas sometimes and all I ask is “justify it.” If there’s a glow on the side of his face, is there a lamp over there? Tell me where the light, the source, is coming from. If you can justify it, then I can wrap my head around it. In the end I’m one of the most collaborative directors. I think that’s why these crews continue to work for me. I make them feel like they’re part of the process.BTL: You talked about the different color scheme for the lighting. How does that relate to your production and costume design?BR: The production designer, the costume designer… we’re all very much connected. We’re all talking about the look and what we’re going to go for. But it’s not really a color thing. It’s really more of an energy. A vibe. A feeling. There are certain rules that I like to go by: I don’t like to mix a lot of colors in one frame. It’s not monochromatic, but simple. It becomes distracting when there are too many colors.BTL: This is your first movie with production designer Geoffrey Kirkland.BR: I love Alan Parker movies and he’s done most of Alan Parker’s movies. He brings a realism, and that’s what I needed. I don’t want it to be surreal. None of my movies have been surreal or abstract. He has an incredible sensibility and taste. The English designers are brilliant. They’re very hands on. They’re designing and drawing everything themselves instead of giving it to other people to draw. They’re actually drawing and showing me the drawings and saying, “This is what I’m thinking.” So, with Geoffrey, I really have a grasp of what he’s going for.BTL: What do you look for in a sound designer and mixer?BR: Gregg Landaker and Steve Maslow were the supervising sound mixers. I worked with those guys before. I love a full mix. I love clear dialog. I don’t like a lot of foley. The thing I hate the worst is looping. I’m very particular about looping and keeping it sounding real.With the sound designer, I’m really looking for someone who is going to give me a lot of options. Then when I go into the mix, I can take stuff out or add it in. Greg [King, supervising sound editor] has me covered. There’s not a sound that’s 100 feet away in the background that’s not there if I wanted to bring it up or bring it down. He gives me a lot of choices. He has an incredible eye and understanding of sound design and the process. He’s worked with Michael Mann. He did Ali. He’s done some great movies. He’s just a really, really talented guy.BTL: After the Sunset has a very exotic location, the Bahamas. How did location manager Douglas Dresser help you find it?BR: We scouted all the islands. I needed an island that had a big commercial hotel, a slice of paradise, a private beach and an urban kind of neighborhood for the Don Cheadle character. This island had all of those elements. My production designer scouted a lot. We went through the process, discovering it as we were going.BTL: Did anybody else on your crew go above and beyond?BR: My AD, Jamie Freitag, who has been with me for all six films, I don’t know how I would do it without him. He really knows me. He has a real talent for background. He has a great eye for placement and movement. I’m very happy to be working with him. Mike Weldon, my focus puller, is one of the greatest focus pullers. I mean hard, hard, hard. This was a super 35mm movie. We’ve done anamorphic movies with very low light. This guy just nails it every time. And the operators [Duane Manwiller, Chris Moseley]. I’ve been completely blessed because I’ve had such great experiences. My sound mixer, Kim Ornitz, has been with me for all six films. I’ve worked with my props guy on three or four films. Brad Einhorn is one of the greatest props guys. No one takes the job more seriously than this guy. This is the first time I worked with these music supervisors [Gary Calamar, Thomas Golubic]. You can’t be an expert in every kind of genre, but these guys are really smart and come up with eclectic, different ideas. I have a great assistant, John Rickard. He gets me up in the morning when I’m too exhausted to get up. He’s very good at shaking me.These guys have tremendous taste and take pride in their work. They have their own individuality. They don’t necessarily have to be in line with me. They have to kinda follow my orders, I guess, or what I’m looking to accomplish, but in the end they bring their own personality to the work. I tend to work with the same people repeatedly, I’m very proud to say.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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