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Randee Dawn

Journalist | Author | Storyteller

How Costumes Convey the Story in ‘The Irishman,’ ‘Dolemite’ and ‘Downton Abbey’

A screenplay’s words are one thing. The director’s visual choices in framing scenes are another. Ruth E. Carter, who won an Oscar earlier this year for her “Black Panther” costume design, “You can’t tell the story in a movie without a costume. A good costume supports the performance and the script. You just go along for the ride in the story and the film, and the ride is the responsibility of the costume.”

Carter says her goal for “Dolemite Is My Name,” was to recapture what she remembered about urban black life in the 1970s. “The ’70s is often the butt of jokes — the big Afro, the platform shoes a la Elton John,” she says. “I remember as a kid everyone wearing Earth shoes and jeans and vests.”

“Dolemite” is about Rudy Ray Moore, a small-time comedian who finds his calling later in life when he transforms into his flashy, big-talking alter ego. Carter’s choices reflected that transformation.“We really wanted to be clear that there was a Rudy and there was a Dolemite,” she says. “He’s a vibrant guy who believes in himself, but hasn’t taken it to the next level.”

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Hair, Makeup Mirror Authentic Internal and External Changes in Characters’ Arcs

Cinematic hair and makeup is often unappreciated as a time-travel device. “I remember when Will [Smith] did ‘Ali,’ or Jamie Foxx did ‘Ray,’” says Stacey Morris, co-head of the hair department on “Dolemite Is My Name.” “They took you there. Hair, makeup, wardrobe — it all comes together and complements each other. You can imagine being back in time, when it’s successful. If those things are incorrect? They take you right out of the movie.”

Whether contemporary or period, hair and makeup are two of the least-appreciated visual contributions to a movie. Every hairstyle conspires with a complementary makeup application to create not just a look, but to fashion a storyline that audiences can follow from start to finish — even if they never realize the roles those elements play.

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Hollywood Still Struggles With Parity Behind the Camera

When Kees van Oostrum, president of the American Society of Cinematographers, was at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018, he noticed that many documentaries had been shot by women. But he was also aware of the dismal number of female lensers hired for feature films.

“I realized we had to do something,” he says.

That realization led to the creation of a documentary category at ASC’s annual awards; the first such honor is to be handed out Jan. 25. ASC, an invitation-only organization of more than 400 veteran cinematographers, has just 18 currently active female members.

The logic, says Van Oostrum, is simple: “It’s not that females can’t get work,” he says. “There’s a lack of awareness in the market to hire female cinematographers.”

Van Oostrum gets an A for effort — and perhaps this is the sort of thing that will move the needle a bit. But Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, who’s been tallying the presence of below-the-line women (plus directors and writers) in Hollywood films since 1998 and publishes her Celluloid Ceiling report each year, might see it differently. In her 2018 report (2019’s comes out in January), of the top 250 feature films released last year, just 4% were shot by women.

The percentage of female cinematographers shooting the top 250 films in 1998? Also 4%.

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Did GH’s Kendra’s Plan to Poison Alexis Hit a Speedbump? Ask the Experts!

It’s been a pretty lousy holiday season for General Hospital‘s Alexis (Nancy Lee Grahn) so far: Not only did her personal trainer Kendra (Michelle Argyris) dump poison into the legal eagle’s special smoothies,she kidnapped her, left her in the road and tried to run her over! We can think of better ways to work those abs, frankly. In any case, Kendra picked an unusual way to sicken her former friend/client – thallium. But what is thallium? Can we find it on our periodic tables? Will Alexis even recover? Soaps.com spoke with Dr. Kelly Bay of the Innate Wellness Group (who admits that “GH is my guilty pleasure”) to get to the bottom of all this, if not the bottom of those smoothies.

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Awards-Contending Costume Designers Dress to Reflect Characters’ Journeys

Earlier this year, Ruth E. Carter won the costume design Oscar for her superheroic efforts in creating outfits for “Black Panther,” but 2020’s contenders are more likely to reflect the real world. And many of those assist the film’s story by undertaking their own journeys.
In “Queen & Slim,” the titular fugitives spend the entire movie on a cross-country journey, and change significantly along the way. But the alterations Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya’s characters undergo along the way weren’t just on the page — their outfits had to change, too.

“I started off the film with cold grays; for Queen it was white,” recalls first-time feature costume designer Shiona Turini, who collaborated with hip-hop fashion pioneer Dapper Dan for some of her flashy looks. “As they travel to the South and warm up to each other, the costumes are more comfortable, more colorful.”

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Makeup and Hairstyle Artists Juggle Tech, Time Shifts to Deliver the Right Look

If there’s one story dominating the makeup and hairstyling category this awards season, it’s the instance where makeup wasn’t actually used.

Oh, there’s plenty of makeup in “The Irishman,” as department head Nicki Ledermann can attest — she had to craft looks that spanned multiple decades and a physical cast of more than 200 actors — but it’s the de-aging visual effects on Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino that’s stealing a lot of the thunder.

Still, Ledermann says she’s not worried for her profession’s future. “De-aging is a helpful tool, but it’s hard to achieve with makeup,” she says. “It’s probably cheaper to age people with makeup than do it digitally. Besides, you want a makeup person present when the de-aging process happens on a computer, to make sure the anatomy is correct. It’s not just going in and erasing wrinkles.”

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Father-son relationships play out in many movies this season, but rarely pleasantly

In Trey Edward Shults’ “Waves,” the dad, Ronald (played by Sterling K. Brown), thinks he’s doing all the right things to keep his son on the straight and narrow. But his son Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) both worships and resents his father’s controlling, exacting micromanaging of his life, and it ends in tragedy.

“Ronald’s shortcoming is in not having an ability to let his son’s voice be heard,” says Brown. “If he gave him the space to let him know how he was feeling, that his perspective had value in the house, he would have been more inclined to share his problems with his father. It’s a lesson in vulnerability — that you have to be a model of vulnerability with your children, so they won’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Tangled, complicated parent-child relationships are frequent fodder for films, but among this year’s awards season contenders, dysfunctional father-son pairings seem to be grabbing a bigger share of the spotlight than usual. “Waves,” “Ad Astra,” “Rocketman,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” “Honey Boy” and even the dark comedy “Knives Out” all circle around the legacy of pain, heartbreak and redemption that complicate and tangle those specific family bonds.

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Of all the characters Laura Dern has played, this is the one she loves the most

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” is full of wonderful performances from stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson among others, but one of the most memorable is Laura Dern’s. No surprise; the actress was born into Hollywood royalty via dad Bruce Dern and mom Diane Ladd, and routinely turns in firecracker performances. But as bulldog divorce lawyer Nora, Dern (who also appears in “Little Women” this season) is clearly having a blast — and could scoop up a third Oscar nomination, if not her first win. Over tea and scones at New York City’s Whitby Hotel, the actress talked about divorce, childhood acting perils and the critical role of correct jungle footwear.

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The flashback: When there’s no way to go forward in a film without looking backward

Longtime screenwriters know the truth: There are any number of potholes and speed bumps that can drive their script right into a ditch. But in Scott Z. Burns’ case, there’s one roadblock in particular that makes him tense.

“Every time you’re typing the word ‘flashback’ in a script, a shiver runs up and down your spine,” says the director-screenwriter of “The Report” and screenwriter of “The Laundromat,” two new films this awards season that deal with governmental misdeeds. “Flashbacks can be confusing, and they can really take away the forward momentum of your story.”

Yet flashbacks are critical storytelling devices for virtually every film. What differs is just how flashbacks are used — to provide back story, to remind us of history, to explain things that otherwise aren’t clear — and the visual way directors choose to portray these scripted moments. Done well, flashbacks can help deepen the story; done awkwardly, they can send an audience into that same ditch the screenwriter dug.

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Film editors make the story work on multiple fronts

Movies are never just one story. Thanks to skillful writers, directors and — ultimately — editors, they interweave multiple tales to reveal a deeper, more emotionally resonant story. But accomplishing this is never just a simple cut-and-paste job, as these three editors reveal.

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