The directors of this awards season’s documentary hopefuls explain the ticking hearts at the center of their shortlisted films.
Apollo 11, Director: Todd Douglas Miller
Setting the Scene: The pre-launch sequence for the first mission in which humans landed on the moon, featuring NASA workers and regular citizens alike.
“It encapsulates everything and highlights a lost time — a hot day in 1969 in a fidelity that hasn’t been captured before,” says Miller. “It’s the bridge between what is coming and what’s come before. It’s kind of the pinnacle of human evolution.”
Greta Gerwig’s screenwriting style starts in the middle and fans out.
“I don’t write in a straight line,” admits the “Little Women” writer-director. “It’s like a quilt I try to stitch together.”
But one piece was more important than the others: the opening scene.
“Getting the opening just right was so important,” says Gerwig. “When I had it, I thought, ‘There’s a movie here.’ I knew I could make that movie.”
Direction, performances and technical details are all critical to a film, but it’s the opening scene that sells the picture — or sinks it. And every writer has a different approach to start telling their stories.
When Adam Driver and Noah Baumbach decide to brainstorm a new project, they’ve got it down to a routine. The longtime friends gather at a restaurant and just start … talking.
“The conversation turns to work, things we’ve seen, things we want to make, structural ideas,” says Driver, who has now appeared in four Baumbach-directed productions, including the new “Marriage Story.” In it, he plays Charlie, a New York City theater director whose marriage has crumbled. The role has already earned Golden Globe and SAG nominations — and few will be surprised if/when he lands his second Academy Award nomination for it.
Anyway, that’s how it starts when Driver and Baumbach put their heads together. “Then it changes location, and suddenly we’re in a rehearsal room, and then we are on set, and then it’s over,” Driver continues. He’s sitting in a New York City hotel room a few days after Thanksgiving, dressed head to toe in black, the neckline of his sweater starting to fray. His back is to the wide bay window, so it’ll take a few moments before he realizes it’s snowing.
“And then — ” yes, there’s more — “we still come and talk about it,” he says. “Even when it’s all over, we talk about it, and then we move on to ‘OK, what do you want to do next?’ That’s the cycle.”
Being inspired by film actors, directors and writers is easy. It’s all there on the big screen, in the finished project. But fewer aspirational filmmakers first think, “What I really wanna do is produce.” That particular job, which can cover an enormous range of organizational, financial and generally unsexy duties, is frequently invisible and thankless.
But without producers, films wouldn’t get made.
After a screening of “The Two Popes” in New York recently, screenwriter Anthony McCarten recalls being approached by an audience member with a surprising take on the film.
“He said, ‘You do know this is a Jewish movie, right?’” recalls McCarten. The man went on to say, “‘It’s a foundational aspect of Judaism to debate scripture in such a way that you present an argument hoping to produce a better counterargument.’ That delighted me — because it was not meant to be a movie about Catholicism.”
This awards season, there are a slew of films that directly or indirectly touch on the purpose of religion in characters’ lives — specifically, Catholicism: “Popes,” Poland’s Academy Award entry “Corpus Christi,” Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life” and Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters.” Yet though they may have popes, priests or martyrs as protagonists, these films tend to be less about institutions and doctrine than they are about faith, community and sacrifice.
Jonathan Pryce knows what it means to play a religious leader: In addition to his extensive résumé of secular roles in “Brazil” (1985) and “Evita” (1996), he’s also been blessed to play Cardinal Wolsey (“Wolf Hall”) and the High Sparrow (“Game of Thrones”). But donning the robes again, this time as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio/Pope Francis in “The Two Popes,” isn’t what gave the veteran actor of five decades an attack of nerves — it was starring opposite fellow Welshman Anthony Hopkins, as Pope Benedict.
Pryce, 72, joined The Envelope here to discuss the Welsh mind-set, unexpectedly wading into #MeToo, and being called “No. 1.”
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.”
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.
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%.
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.