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Director Series: Sundance Directors

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The Sundance Film Festival showcases fresh voices, quality storytelling and original subject matter. At the heart of its program is the Dramatic Competition, a first look at emerging filmmakers. Three directors featured in the 2006 slate share their experiences with below-the-line collaborators.Maria Maggenti/Puccini for BeginnersIn this screwball sex comedy, a noncommittal New York writer, rebounding from her latest lesbian relationship, complicates her life with two unexpected affairs. Screenwriter/director Maria Maggenti creates a friendly village in Manhattan, peopled with attractive, cultured characters and adds superb comic timing to provide a good laugh. Her words:“I couldn’t do without my below-the-line. My editor is my soul sister, my deepest, most powerful creative collaborator. The editor is a filmmaker, an artist. Because of my extraordinary collaboration with Sue [Graef], I went from 113 to 82 minutes in the nine-week cutting process. Sue taught me to look at my work and develop a vision. That is a skill. To decide what is best for the film, not how you feel about every little thing.“I want to give props to first AD, Solita Hanna. She was my on-set collaborator. She made it happen with her sense of humor and extraordinary organizational abilities. We shot a 103-page script in 18 days, with 22 speaking parts and 21 locations. I think one day we went 14 hours. The rest were 12. It’s preparation and flexibility. If somebody said, ‘We lost that location,’ it’s ‘fine I’ll shoot on the street.’ I thanked everybody every night, as did Solita. Solita taught me how to be a director that endears herself to the crew.“Video is very different from film. We did camera tests. My production designer, Aleta Shaffer, painted boards and shot them to see which colors looked best. We had a dedicated female gaffer, Nina Kuhn that everyone had a crush on. We had a lot of female crew. It’s a great vibe.“We shot on two Sony [SD24p] cameras that had just come out, using prime lenses. The color retention was extraordinary, the grain beautiful. Cinematographer Mauricio [Rubinstein] took everything to heart about how the film should look. Shooting digital, we could move quickly. “My sound people, Stuart [Deutsch] and Kelly [Neese] were extraordinary. Shooting Manhattan is a nightmare. The more you boom, the better off you are. I had very little ADR. I had the same sound editor on my first picture, Steve Borne, who is a genius. We had creative shorthand. We had a one-week mix and a great mixer, Peter Wagner. The film was up-rezed and screened in HD.“This was an InDigEnt project. We had union crew on a low budget. Everyone was paid the same, including the director, but everyone got profit participation and P&W [benefits]. I had people with credits on a wide range of films, from big budget to tiny budget. I knew everybody from the person who served breakfast to the girl who sat all night with the truck. That’s my style. Our little shoot was a village.”Hilary Brougher/Stephanie DaleyIn this study of two women coping with pregnancy, a well-educated teen is accused of infanticide after concealing her condition, while the psychologist assigned to evaluate the girl’s competency struggles with late-in-life pregnancy and the guilt of losing a child. Writer/director Hilary Brougher received the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for her screenplay, developed through the Sundance Institute Lab. Top-notch acting transforms the sensationalism of the story’s tragic central event into an emotional journey of self-discovery. Her words:“The first crewmember was Mariela Comitini, an amazing AD. We wanted to commit to 12-hour days, five-day weeks. We had a few long days, but it was important to make this movie in a healthy environment. Mariela’s a great scheduler. “David Morrison [cinematographer] had specific ideas to bring to the table. That sold me. We used a lot of natural light. In September there’s wonderful, low light, and David shoots in the moment and he worked fast. Few scenes were boarded. We mostly thought about coverage and rhythm. We tried to make the office scenes different, finding camera placement organically out of whatever was emerging from the scene.“Our production designer Sharon [Lomofsky] did a great job. The locations spoke well for how the camera would play. We shot in [Catskills] ski towns off-season. Our location manager [Morgan Patterson] was from the area. It was his first location job. He was a natural communicator. There are a lot of locations, more than we could afford, but he tapped into the community and they responded. There is nothing more satisfying than making a film where you’re wanted.“Keith Reamer, our editor, cut during shooting, so I didn’t have much time to interface with him. After wrap, we began from his cut. It brought freshness and distance that I could embrace. We worked fast. We submitted to Sundance a few weeks after I got into the editing room. We picture-locked three weeks ago. Crazy.“We are amazed at how HD looks on film. A lot of the bedroom scenes are in soft moonlight. That’s day for night and beautiful. We have a film-out thanks to a grant from Pacific Title and Deluxe. We got a great break for digital color-correction on a daVinci with Company 3 in Los Angeles.”Laurie Collyer/Sherry BabyAfter three years in prison, a young woman struggles to get her life on track and become mother to her daughter, but discovers things are more difficult than planned. Based on her work with kids of incarcerated parents, screenwriter/director Laurie Collyer creates grounded performances for her well-observed characters that inhabit an everyday world of harsh realities and childhood secrets.“I found Russ Fein [cinematographer] in the hiring process. I saw his reel, then rented a movie he shot. I was like, ‘I have to get this guy.’ We looked through photos and broke down the script by scene. How do we want to light it? What’s going to be wide? Close? Generally, we decided not to move the camera and do a classic third-person style. Because the story was point-of-view, we thought it would be interesting if the camera was objective.“I cannot say enough good things about Steve Beatrice [production designer]. An anecdote about how good his work is: At the screening Q&A a woman asked if it was hard to get the halfway-house to let us shoot there. I said, ‘We created that.’ She asked again. People giggled. I said, ‘We had a production designer. He created that.’ He pulled the most incredible production value out of the Salvation Army. His mother teaches small children. Her class did the artwork that Sherry brings home from the kids. There was nothing he was going to fake. No detail he was going to skip.“Costume designer Jill Newell hung out in New Jersey, at strip malls. She watched people and found costumes on the dime. Like the pink suit. This movie is about how women use their bodies to get what they want. This is survival for women like Sherry. Jill got it. She did her homework.“Curtiss Clayton is an artist editor. We took a break and tested the film, but it was an eight-month lapse. Joe Landauer made a final cut that brought it home. We lost a lot from the original script, stuff we didn’t need. It’s always different when you see it. You need more on the page because you don’t have flesh and blood.“[Shot on Super 16, the film was transferred to HD.] We did a DI and color corrected. It’s subtle. We did film tests for the look and worked with Technicolor and Goldcrest. No problems.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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