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Sundance Directors Roundup

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The films shown at this year’s Sundance Film Festival were thematically and stylistically diverse. Filmmakers experimented with new technologies such as HD or framed their vision using classic super 16 and 35mm film. But despite story and production differences, directors showed a common loyalty and appreciation of their hardworking crews.The Squid and the Whale is writer/director Noah Baumbach’s highly personal chronicle of adolescent boys caught in the crossfire of their parent’s divorce. The collaborative decisions in cinematography, production design and editing reinforced the emotional text behind the subtly rendered characters of the film.“Ann Ross, the production designer, did an amazing job,” says Baumbach. “Because we had so little time and money, preparation was extra important. She was great in helping me articulate what I wanted—in some cases it was a feeling, in some cases a color. We got these two houses, which are characters in their own way. We were very specific about the walls and the textures.”Baumbach chose to work with cinematographer Bob Yeoman, who recently shot Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. “I’m enormously grateful,” for his input to the movie, says Baumbach. “It was strenuous because almost the entire film was [shot] hand-held. I wanted… a slight sense of uneasiness, but I didn’t want it to jerk around. We shot super 16, a beautiful medium, which, when it’s blown up to 35mm, has a little bit of grit and grain, but at the same time, the colors are beautiful. It makes the movie look like an old film, but also has the immediacy and intimacy that the film needs.”Baumbach has worked with editor Tim Streeto on a digital short some years ago and wanted to work with him again. “[The short] was a movie very much formed in the editing. When we started working on The Squid and the Whale, which is the opposite—scripted and very specific—having had that experience we had a shorthand. It was good groundwork,” says Baumbach.Polish filmmaker Malgosia Szumowska’s first feature, Happy Man made the “Variety Critics Choice” of the 10 best films by young European directors in 2001. Her current film, Stranger, shot on 35mm and developed through the Sundance Institute Filmmakers Lab, is a poetic exploration of life and courage as a young woman strives to introduce the world to her unborn child—the stranger inside her that she believes is listening to her every word.“The crew was incredibly important in the preplanning of the movie,” says Szumowska, who relied on old buddies from her film school days for her department heads. “What’s important about the crew is that they are my close friends. We can work 10 to 12 hours with full passion and energy. For me this is the most important part—to have good people around when making the movie, people who believe in your idea and who believe in you.”Szumowska’s crew included cinematographer Michal Englert, production designer Marek Zawierucha and editor Jacek Drosia, with whom she began collaborating a year before shooting began. “We were talking about how to do it, going to the locations, talking about the colors, talking to the composer, Pawel Mykietyn, about good solutions for the sound,” she remembers. “I think it is very unusual because so many people were involved so early. It’s my way of working. I see making movies as an act of creation. I cannot work only for money. We didn’t get any money for this work. It was a passion.”Loggerheads is a narrative of adoption and search told through three emotionally intertwined stories. Writer/director Tim Kirkman was so tired of writing and being alone that he couldn’t wait to collaborate, especially with cinematographer Oliver Bokelberg, whose work on The Station Agent he greatly admired. “Oliver made a couple trips down to North Carolina,” Kirkman recalled. “We drove around the coast, where we shot most of the film. We’d take the script and look at different scenes and decide what kind of light would work best. Oliver did a lot of photographs at different times of day. From the very beginning we collaborated. I felt that it was very organic. Go into a location and experience it. I had some ideas on the page that were improved by being in the place. I had originally written a scene in this diner. When we went into the diner it was uninteresting. Oliver said, ‘There’s not much going on here visually.’ I was looking at it as the writer and he was bringing in a visual. He pushed to look for another place. So we walked across the street and found this great bar.“I’ve worked with my editor Kaitland Dixon twice before,” Kirkman continued. “She was an assistant editor on my documentary and she edited the last film I did. She also helped develop the story early on. What I like about Kaitland’s sensibility is that she appreciates an image that is still. She understands that one of the best choices in editing is not cutting anything at all. The best cut may be no cut. That’s pretty rare right now.”In the metaphysical thriller Between, first-time director and Hitchcock fan David Ocanas pieces together a mind-bending puzzle to create a tale that explores the mind’s power to its own create reality. The director’s biggest goal was to foster an atmosphere of collaboration. “It was important for me, if the film succeeded, for them [cast and crew] to get a share, give them points,” he said. “Another important thing is: do you get along? Can they collaborate? Will they listen? It’s a back and forth. Everyone I selected was based on that.“I had a vision of the film looking the way it looked,” the director added. “Production designer Candi Guterres and I both lived in Cuba and liked the color and texture. One reason to shoot on high definition—which [cinematographer] Rob Sweeney had never shot before—[is that] during the camera tests we wanted to see how far we could push it in terms of color textures. For the money that we had, HD was the best way to go. We could get the look that we wanted—these rich colors. In terms of lighting, everything that we did, we thought exactly like film.”Apple’s Final Cut Pro editing software allowed Ocanas’s team to “push-in, speed up or slow down a shot,” he continued. “But there are certain things that an editor needs to learn about HD or have problems in online editing. When you do HD, you cannot have any subclips. The fastest, most inexpensive way is to take the masters and downconvert directly onto a hard drive. Stay at 23.98 at all times and work at that frame rate. When you go back to the online, you should be able to push one button for every tape and that’s it. My editor Fritz Feick and I both made the mistake of not asking enough questions. We should have gone to the online editor. We asked questions of people who had worked in HD, but had not seen HD postproduction all the way through.”First-time film director Adrienne Weiss brought her theatre directing experience to the quirky, character-driven comedy, Love, Ludlow. It was an interesting, spontaneous experience for her because she was hired a mere six weeks before production—even inheriting some of the cast and crew chosen by writer/producer David Paterson, who had originally planned to direct.“I got a call from [cinematographer] Rueben O’Malley.” Weiss remembers. “He told me that he got hired to shoot a movie. They had the script, the financing and a start date, but no director. He thought of me. It was completely out of the blue. They sent me the script and I really responded to the characters.“The lead actress [Alicia Goranson] was cast before I was brought on. I knew she was a good actress and ended up designing the whol
e movie around her,” Weiss continued. “She had qualities that reminded me of Giulietta Masina, the great Italian actress married to Fellini. [For costumes] I wanted someone who wasn’t scared to make bold choices [so we went with] Angela Wendt, a great designer from Germany who designed the costumes for Rent on Broadway.”

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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