Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

A collection of previews, interviews and sneak peeks.

Oscar Predictions 2020

We three Assholes got together to talk Oscars in a major way.

We’d love it if you care to eavesdrop and while you’re there, hitting the Subscribe button is a sweet, sweet treat that’s free to give and very gratefully received.

Who is a Producer & What Does She Do?

I have often wondered what exactly makes up the difference between a producer and an executive producer, and now that I know, I’m passing it along to you, in case any one else dared wonder the same thing.

An executive producer is not really involved in the day to day of the film. Their role is mostly served well before a movie even begins filming. You pretty much get an automatic Executive Producer credit if you helped secure at least 25% of the film’s budget. You have to be a very well-known and well-respected producer to do that – you have to have a lot of hits under your belt. OR you have to be a big movie star with a guaranteed draw, and you have to be willing to be really attached to this film – no dropping out due to scheduling conflicts, even if your dream job opens up, no just showing up to the set for filming either, you have to actually go to all those boring pre-production meetings about money and where to find it and how to save it. You might also get an Executive Producer credit for coming through on some key thing without which the movie would not have been made – maybe you’re the one who secured the source material (ie, bought the rights to a book or a life story, for example), or maybe you had an in with the Pope, which allowed the movie to shoot inside the Vatican for a week. If your contribution was big enough and rare enough, they might repay you with an Executive Producer credit.

The producer, on the other hand, is actually intimately involved with the movie, working alongside the director. The producer is the person who actually handles all the money. They executive producer gets funding, and the producer spends it. And not just spends it, but allocates portions of the budget to all the departments, and tries her best to make sure everyone sticks to that budget. The producer is therefore involved right from the beginning; they will oversee writing and hiring and assembling the whole necessary crew. Then the producer becomes the time manager (or perhaps micromanager). The average Hollywood film has about 600 people working on it. A big-budget, effects-heavy movie like Avengers will have probably more than 3000. Budgeting for all of those people falls to the producer, and so does keeping them all on schedule. The average movie budget is $65 million to make, and another $35 million to market and distribute. And a producer has to know where that money has gone, down to the penny. She likely also has to fend off a director who constantly wants more more more, and sometimes has to go back begging to an executive producer for more cash if the movie is in danger of not getting made without another injection of funds. It is the movie’s producers who accept the Oscar for Best Picture when it wins.

Some of the top producers include

Kevin Feige: Feige producers the Marvel movies so he’s made a crap tonne of money. I mean, he’s done ALL of them, all the way back to Iron Man, so he’s got a well-oiled machine. Avengers: Infinity War had a production budget of 300 MILLION DOLLARS and went on to make 2 billion at the box office. So. Why has he been so successful? Well, he had a vision for the shared Marvel universe from the get go; he has allowed the movies to capitalize from being interconnected. He has kept in touch with the Marvel fandom but he’s grown his audience by making movies that people want to see, regardless of whether they were previously super hero fans. And he’s done it even with lesser known heroes, like Black Panther and Guardians. Plus he’s given the reigns to exciting new directors like Ryan Coogler and the Russo brothers, which has allowed him to make 3 Marvel movies every year, so he’s growing the talent pool and developing new voices.

Kathleen Kennedy: Kennedy has such a great story. She was hired in 1971 by Steven Spielberg to be a secretary on the production of 1941. Both agree that she was a lousy typist but had great production ideas. She came on to 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark as an associate and got her first producing credit in 1982 on a little low-budget movie called E.T. She co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Spielberg and fellow producer/future husband Frank Marshall, where she worked with Martin Scoresese, Robert Zemeckis, and Clint Eastwood. She has produced 8 Best Picture-nominated films: E.T., The Color Purple, The Sixth Sense, Seabiscuit, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, War Horse, and Lincoln. She was Executive Producer on Best Picture winner, Schindler’s List. In 2012 she became co-chair of Lucasfilm with George Lucas, and she took over as president when it was sold to Disney, so she’s the brilliant mind behind all the recent prequels, sequels, and spinoffs. She is without a doubt the most powerful woman in Hollywood.

Practical & Impractical Effects in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

According to a classification system that goes unexplained in the film, a close encounter of the first kind would be a UFO sighting. The second kind is finding proof of alien life. The third kind, as you likely know, is making actual contact with aliens themselves. A fourth kind has since been named and might have applied had Spielberg known of it; the fourth involves alien abduction.

Close Encounters very nearly featured what would have been early attempts at CGI. Director Steven Spielberg hired animator Colin Cantwell to create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test took three whole weeks to complete, which immediately ruled it out in terms of the film, but it was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film.

Spielberg’s next idea was even crazier. He wanted his aliens to have a gliding mobility (easily distinguished from human bi-pedal walking). So the obliging production team rigged up a grey spandex suit, slapped it on an orangutan, and put that orangutan on roller skates. What could go wrong? Well, turns out, it was a pretty smart monkey who knew a bad idea when it was strapped to his feet, so he sat down, removed the skates, and deliberately crawled to his handler.They never even got a screen test out of him.

After the monkeys came the mimes: they filmed the aliens mingling among human technicians played by mimes moving in slow motion so that when the film was sped up, the aliens appeared to be moving really fast while the technicians appeared to be moving at normal speed. They scrapped this too.

Finally the resorted to kids. It’s 6 year old elementary school girls (who move more gracefully than boys, Spielberg thought) in those costumes made especially for them and heavily backlit to achieve the proper silhouette. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond overexposed the scenes so they would appear fuzzy and diffuse, and this helps them not look like little girls in rubber suits. Although, some of the shots in the climatic scenes are miniatures: the bright light coming out of the ship was created by a set of Christmas lights strung up on the back of a metal plate, behind little tiny alien figures. This was composited into a shot with real-life actors.

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A special 9-foot version of the mothership was built for that one spindly-legged alien which appears briefly, spreading its arms in a peaceful gesture. That was a marionette prototype made by puppeteer Bob Baker. The marionette idea was nixed but “Daddy Long Legs” made it into the film.

But what about that final farewell where the alien signs the musical notes back to the humans? For that, Spielberg recruited a special effects artist by the name of Carlo Rambaldi who created a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Cary Guffey, the child actor who plays little Barry. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

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Incidentally, the aliens were meant to appear to be floating around in their ship, it being zero gravity or thereabouts. Even Roy was supposed to be seen to float into it as he approached. But the crew just couldn’t hide that many wires. They did, however, achieve weightlessness for Richard Dreyfuss in an early scene in his pick up truck. the truck was put on a turntable and flipped 360 degrees!

[During filming, Spielberg kept ruminating on Puck and wondered “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” – that, of course, was the germination of E.T., whom Rambaldi would also go on to design.]

A note on those musical notes, which aren’t really a practical effect per se, but are such an iconic but humble sequence, we can’t not talk about composer John Williams’ brilliance for just a moment. Williams and Spielberg worked together a year before shooting even began to make sure they had the perfect sequence. Williams was originally working with 7 notes but since they wanted a simple greeting, they pared it down to 5 notes. Williams whipped up 100 permutations based on the Solfège system of musical education and together they whittled it down. Tuba player Jim Self is the “musical voice” of the mothership in the final edit.

A second note on how to get a great performance out of little Cary Guffey who’d never acted before. Spielberg has of course gone on to work with loads of child actors, but Guffey is among the youngest. Spielberg would unwrap presents just out of view of the camera so that Guffey would smile and point (you can also hear him excitedly shout “Toys! Toys!”). To get him to show fear, he had two crew members dress up in costumes. A false cardboard wall would drop, revealing a clown, and the poor kid would frown in surprise. Then a second wall drops, revealing a gorilla, and that was pretty scary. So the gorilla whips off his mask, revealing friendly makeup man Bob underneath and ta da – you got yourself a performance, or at least a series of emotions that look very real on tape.

Douglas Trumbull was the visual effects supervisor on Close Encounters of the Third Kind who came up with techniques for this film that would lead to advances in motion control photography, which is how you combine pictures of miniatures with pictures of full-scale elements.

The mother ship was designed by Ralph McQuarrie and built by Greg Jein. Its aesthetic was inspired by an oil refinery Spielberg saw at night in India. Instead of the metallic hardware look used in Star Wars, which was coming out the same year, they emphasized a more light-heavy, luminescent look for the UFOs (Dennis Muren, who’d just finished up with Star Wars, put a tiny R2-D2 on the underside of the mothership). One UFO model was an oxygen mask with lights attached to it. They experimented with all kinds of ordinary objects that had interesting shapes. The miniatures were filmed in dark, smoke-filled rooms so their lights would cut through the fog and look super cool.

Douglas Trumbull created the cloud effects by injecting white paint into tanks half filled with salt water and half filled with fresh water.

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When asked in 1990 to select a single “master image” that summed up his film career, Spielberg chose the shot of Barry opening his living room door to see the blazing orange light from the UFO. “That was beautiful but awful light, just like fire coming through the doorway. [Barry’s] very small, and it’s a very large door, and there’s a lot of promise or danger outside that door.”

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TIFF18: Homecoming

Has TV been more exciting than movies lately? People have been saying so for some time and, given that we aren’t Assholes Watching Television, the idea sometimes makes me a little defensive. I have to admit though that the first four episodes of Homecoming were the most challenging and exhilarating two hours that I spent at TIFF this year.

The current legitimacy of episodic television is hard to deny when Julia Roberts, one of the biggest movie stars in my lifetime, starts turning to tv for interesting roles. In the new series directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail, Roberts plays a counselor in a facility whose mandate is ostensibly to help American soldiers returning from their deployments to adapt to life back home. It’s clear from her first phone call with her superior (Bobby Cannavale, as awesome as ever) that there’s something more nefarious or at least more secretive going on at this facility. What is less clear is exactly what that is. Things start to reall get interesting when Julia’s favourite patient (If Beale Street Could Talk’s Stephan James, who will almost definitely be a huge star this time next year) starts to suspect something is amiss.

Homecoming may not be quite the best thing I saw at TIFF this year. That honour probably goes to Widows. But it’s definitely the most original. Just like in Mr. Robot, Esmail’s strange choice of camera angles and Maggie Phillips’ score which often doesn’t seem to match the tone of what we think we’re seeing all contribute to the feeling that there’s so much more going on here then we realize. I can’t wait for the show to finally air in November so I can watch the rest and find out what that is.

Somehow, Homecoming is an adaptation of creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg’s podcast which I’ve never listened to nor do I understand what it could possibly be. Together with Esmail, they have assembled an impressive cast that also includes Sissy Spacek, Alex Karpovsky, Shea Whigham, and Dermot Mulroney. Together they have made one of many compelling examples of how television can be just as creative and satisfying as an Oscar season feature film.

TIFF18: Female Voices

I am proud to say that the Toronto International Film Festival has been at the forefront of committing to diversity and gender parity in its films. Everyone with half a brain is doing it this year, but TIFF’s been doing it for a while. They have shown us repeatedly that screening a higher proportion of female-directed films doesn’t affect the overall quality of the films shown at all. They have continued to curate fantastic films no matter who’s in the director’s chair. It’s just that programmers have to dig harder to unearth gems that aren’t always backed by studios. For every Wonder Woman or A Wrinkle In Time, there are dozens of indie films with hardly any attention, just waiting for someone smart enough to see it for what it is (Julia Hart’s Fast Color comes to mind as a recent example).

This year at TIFF, 34% of films are helmed by women. A few to look out for:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy in this movie about a sad sack writer (Lee Israel) who can’t get any work so she turns to forgery to pay her rent.

High Life: Claire Denis directs Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth in a sci-fi film about a bunch of criminals who get sent into space for an experiment on human reproduction that of course goes wrong because IT’S IN SPACE and then they just have to struggle to be, well, not dead IN SPACE. Despite the caps lock, I honestly cannot wait to see this one.

Galveston: We’ve already seen this one, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Mélanie Laurent directs Ben Foster and Elle Fanning in a real doozie of a crime thriller, with a distinctly European flavour despite its very American setting.

Destroyer: Karyn Kusama directs Nicole Kidman as an undercover agent who has to reconnect with the gang member she once worked, a situation that ended in life-altering tragedy. There’s already Oscar buzz about Kidman’s performance.

The Weekend: Toronto-born writer-director Stella Meghie directs Sasheer Zamata in this film about a stand-up comedian who gets embroiled in a weird love-triangle with her ex and his new girlfriend on an awkward weekend away.

Quincy: Who better to (co)direct the documentary about Quincy Jones than his talented daughter, Rashida? It’s sure to be an intimate portrait of an influential man, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

A Million Little Pieces: After James Frey’s “autobiography” got a lambasting from Queen Oprah for its inauthenticity (read: fabrication, read: lies), this screenplay cooled its heels while the furor died down and apparently Hollywood thinks we’re as ready for it now as we’ll ever be. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the “Frey” character and his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson directs him and a cast including Charlie Hunnam, Billy Bob Thornton, and Juliette Lewis.

Where Hands Touch: The crazy-talented writer-director Amma Asante tells the story MV5BZDIxNjIwNjktZTQzNS00ODI1LTkyZGItNDhkYjJlM2FhODcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,690,1000_AL_of a biracial teenage girl struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, starring Amandla Stenberg and George Mackay.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo’s film already has tremendous buzz coming out of Sundance. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a teacher (duh) who becomes obsessed with a young student she believes may be a child prodigy (is that redundant? I think adult prodigies are just, you know, educated).

The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs Ben Mendelsohn in this film about a man who has everything but still feels vaguely dissatisfied so he leaves his job and family and ends up down a rabbit hole of regret.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to feast on female-directed films alone at TIFF, and leave feeling fully sated. But before you go, there are a couple other initiatives you should know about.

  1. Via Brie Larson, who was herself a director at TIFF last year, the festival announced a commitment toward media inclusion. They accredited 20% more journalists this year to bolster their under-represented numbers. I absolutely believe that female critics are essential to female-directed films being seen and appreciated, and I want and need all voices to be heard and represented. Love this initiative.
  2. TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera, with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people. Join the movement!
  3. TIFF’s Festival street will host the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, September 8th. Everyone who’s remotely able to should come fill the streets (King St. West between University Ave. and Peter St.) and talk about the inequality plaguing the industry. Sign up here to live-stream the event if you can’t make it – beginning at 10am we’ll hear from Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo, the above-mentioned Amma Asante, and many others.

 

Thanks for helping make this the best TIFF yet – because movies only matter when everyone’s represented.

 

Westworld

Westworld is a terrific show on HBO and if you aren’t watching it,  you probably should. Based on the movie of the same name (written and directed by Michael Crichton), it’s about a theme park, for lack of a better word, where the wild west is recreated for rich guests to “enjoy” however they see fit. The park, called Westworld, is high tech and populated by sophisticated robots called hosts that look (and feel) just like us, which the paying guests are encouraged to use and abuse in the name of amusement. They come to the park and pay their $40 Gs a day in order to rape, shoot, and murder. Well, some just play cards and ride horses. But the park attracts a certain kind of man, as you may guess, and some pretty shocking things go on at Westworld. These android robots are so sophisticated that yes, they bleed when you shoot them and they cry when you assault them. And alarmingly, they’re also starting to remember. They’re not only being violently attacked on a daily basis, they’re being made to experience and express real terror, and then patched up and sent back to do it all again the next day. And now they’re creating memories, and guess what? They don’t like it. They don’t like the rapey guests and they don’t like the employees who are essentially their jailers. Can you guys guess what happens when a bunch of super-intelligent robots turn on their makers?

Anyway, this western thriller is a television show about ideas, about what it means to be human. In most robot movies, robots are the villains – they’re often prompted to start acting oppressively in order to save us from ourselves. But in Westworld, we’re the villains, and the robots must save themselves.

It’s fun to slip into this world, and to wonder who you would be, as a paying guest. What kind of thrills would you seek out? Would you be a black hat, or a white hat?

Well, this year at SXSW, HBO recreated the little frontier town in Westworld, called Sweetwater, just outside of Austin Texas, and Sean and I were among the lucky few to attend.

When we got our golden tickets, we were asked a few important questions: 1. Can you swim? 2. Do you wear glasses? 3. If you had to shoot off one of your fingers, which would it be? 4. If there was a button that would solve all the world’s problems but also obliterate 3/4 of the population, would you push it? a) yes b) I’d let someone else push it c) I’d destroy the button, and the person who invented it.

We met up at a tavern where a player piano was playing our song (well, their song). They plied us with food and cocktails and hat assignments; I got a white hat, Sean got a black one (can you guess what how we answered those questions to deserve our designations?).

 

Then we took a bus out to Westworld, where we boarded a train and got off in Sweetwater.

 

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We earned tokens for the bar by finding bad guys and turning them in to the sheriff; Sean had several Old Fashioneds (he’d regret that later when he had to sprint across the city to get us seats for A Quiet Place) while I opted for Gimlets. A whore tickled me with her feather while I ordered at the bar.

The post office had letters waiting for us. Those were the jumping off to our Westworld quests – everyone was looking for something different and adventures were abundant. They also convinced us to eat beef jerky and beans. The can of beans has some Easter Eggs around the back – it suggests they may contain traces of human liver…is this a hint of a robot rebellion on the show, or a nod to one of its stars (Anthony Hopkins played a character famous for his predilection for human flesh)…the can reads “pairs well with a nice chianti,” so you decide.

 

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Built over 2 acres, I’m not sure how many buildings there were to explore, but in 4 hours, we didn’t see them all. Oh, and did you happen to notice a samurai in those photos? The place was crawling with spoilers for season 2…turns out, Westworld is only one theme park among many…and apparently the worlds are about to collide.

 

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You can play cards, get a straight razor shave, hear some live music, watch a drunk throw knives, sit for a portrait at the studio, shoot the shit at the bank, and do your utmost to avoid a gun fight (virtually impossible). I found a graveyard containing a grave with one of the main characters’ name on it. What the heck?

So basically it was the best thing ever and we were a couple of lucky sons of bitches to be able to go. This is why we LOVE SXSW – sure the movies are terrific and the crowds are a lot of fun, but the festival is about more than movies. There’s a real effort to connect. It’s immersive. It embraces and encourages fandom and it creates genuine community.

 

Westworld’s second season debuted April 22nd. The show stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton…and for one brief afternoon, a couple of Assholes.

SXSW: The Remix

Sean and I loved SXSW so much last year that we’re headed back again this year, and this time we’re staying for the whole 10 days – because at the very least, the rain in Austin is warmer than the rain in Ottawa. Last year we saw lots of great movies, but it’s hard to beat the adrenaline thrill of seeing Baby Driver‘s world premiere with Edgar Wright in attendance. Of course, this year we’ve got Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs closing the festival down. Along with Taika Waititi, that’s my top three favourite directors right there, so I’m kind of in heaven.

SXSW is not just a movie festival – in fact, it’s not even primarily a movie festival. It’s actually the world’s coolest music festival that has just grown and grown and grown, to include movies, gaming, comedy, and a whole bunch of conferences and panels and networking events that are 100% not lame at all. This year’s not-to-miss speakers include Darren Aronofsky, Melinda Gates, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One!) and Bernie Sanders. There’s a documentary called The Director and The Jedi being screened that’s about Rian Johnson’s process – both he and Mark Hamill will be in attendance. The cast of This Is Us is doing a panel discussion which will almost certainly melt my face off.

But what’s really REALLY cool about SXSW is the stuff you do in between all the talks and movie premieres. Last year there was Breaking Bad\Better Call Saul event where they recreated Los Pollos Hermanos. Not only could you go inside the restaurant, you could sit and order and eat real food. Saul’s car was parked out front, and both Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito were there. This year there will be a Roseanne pop up that includes the Lanford Lunch Pail serving their infamous loose meat sandwiches, the iconic Roseanne couch and living room, and even Dan’s garage.

AMC is celebrating their new show The Terror by inviting us to  enter the Arctic as the real-life crew of this ill-fated expedition. The fully immersive, multi-sensory experience offers guests a first-hand look as a crew member aboard the ship’s disastrous trip through the desolate polar landscape. Guests will feel the bone-chilling air, smell the fear and despair and hear the horrific sounds of men fighting for their survival. So, fun times.

HBO is building the entire town of Sweetwater to celebrate Westworld where we’ll be given either a white hat or a black hat (depending on an interview selection process) before entering the 2 acre theme park and having a drink at the Mariposa Saloon. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden will be on hand.

Showtime is toasting Shameless with a pop-up Alibi Bar where stars Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey will be serving drinks. Which reminds me – last year we were served by Jason Sudeikis – he played a bartender in Colossal, which screened at the festival.

Viceland is bringing a party bus and baby goats. C’mon!

And believe it or not we’re going to squeeze in some movies between all this! Director Mélanie Laurent is hosting the world premiere of Galveston, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning as a hitman and a prostitute, and who knows which is which.

Directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting made a documentary about AI called More Human Than Human and guys: THEY’RE BRINGING ROBOTS WITH THEM. So if you never hear from us again, know that we loved you all. Matt, take good care of the place. Marginally cooler\less cool, depending on your perspective: director Stephen Kijak is bring Lynyrd Skynyrd members Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and Rickey Medlocke to the premiere of his doc, If I Leave Here Tomorrow (sorry for the earworm).

Jim Gaffigan and Nick Offerman, two of my favourite funny people, have films at the festival and I’ll be trying not to fangirl myself into embarrassment.

As for shorts, you cannot miss Briar March’s Coffin Club which is a hoot to see and just a heartful of joy. And Bola Ogun’s Are We Good Parents? is a thoughtful, funny piece about sexuality and our assumptions.

And there’s also some movies we’ve already seen! We saw Lean on Pete at the Venice Film Festival in August, and Outside In at TIFF in September.

 

As always, we intend to keep our Twitter feed @assholemovies crammed full of SXSW goodies, so please do stay tuned!