In Conversation with… Trevor Hogg Looks Back on 2013

In an effort to examine what is required to bring a story to the big screen or onto the pages of a book, Trevor Hogg has taken the opportunity to chat with a variety of professionals who have contributed to the remarkable creative journey….
ACTORS
Billy Boyd discusses getting into character for his role as Woodsy a club deejay with drug issues in Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy.  
“Rob [Hayden] did an interesting thing that made it difficult but also wonderful; he didn’t say, ‘Look. This is 1992.’  And you go, ‘I know exactly what they’re wearing and the music they’re listening to.’  As a deejay you would want to know that but you wanted it set in a never time, not an exact moment.  In a way you have to be specific and real with your character but also slightly a stereotype of a clubber or deejay.  I went classic. I said to the costume lady, ‘It has to be Adidas Trainers or Adidas Sambas or something like that and top has to be a Fred Perry.  You could wear that now or you could’ve worn it in 1992.”
Aaron Pedersen emphasizes the idea that words were not always necessary to express emotion when it came to his performance in Mystery Road 
“I would improvise with my silence but not with extra dialogue.  The dialogue was quite precise.  My thought track was what I had room to play with.  It was a beautiful journey, a silent conversation.  It felt free flowing. We were able to work together succinctly and at a reasonable pace that wasn’t detrimental to missing anything.”  
PRODUCERS

Greg Siegel, who is the SVP Entertainment Development for Break Media which has entered into a creative partnership with producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, remarks, 
“The rise in digital channels provides an alternate platform for consumers to view content and an opportunity for filmmakers to utilize it to expand their experience and get feature-length films made.  We are in a position to give filmmakers the flexibility to develop a wider range of exciting content, something the traditional studio development process doesn’t always allow. As digital content continues to evolve we want to try and reach the ‘lean back’ viewers in addition to our existing audience.”

Lion Forge Comics founder David Steward II observes, 
“The digital format has basically allowed us different tools to use in our storytelling.  Instead of page bleeds in a print format, we have transitions that allow us to convey motion or slowly reveal things like a modern ‘flip-book.’”
COSTUME DESIGNERS
Colleen Atwood had to transform Kristin Stewart into a princess who leads an army for Snow White and the Huntsman.  
“The character evolved so I kept to similar colour mood and added armour to warrior so it didn’t look new or flashy.”
Joanna Johnston who was responsible for attiring the cast in Lincoln observes, 
“The clothes are the foundation of the character as they are saying who this person is the whole time, particularly, for the audience.”
   
Michael Wilkinson who tailored the outfits for Man of Steel states,
“Great costume design is when the clothes support the film’s themes; they help tell the story, using the tools of colour, silhouette and texture. It should never be distracting or overdone.”
Christine Bieselin Clark crafted the clothing for Ender’s Game.  
“I often speak with my design team about the concept that we are subliminally giving information to the audience about the character before the actor says a word.  I love the scene in Ocean’s Eleven where George Clooney is being let out of jail. He is given his possessions before leaving prison, the same things he would have been wearing when he was put into prison. Then we see him walking out in a tuxedo, black bowtie undone; that says so much.  Love it!”
COMPOSERS
Alex Pauk collaborated with Alexina Louie to compose the music for Pearls of the Far East which involved an uncommon wish from the director.  
“In many cases what you try to do with a film score is to support action or the mood or atmosphere but not necessarily make the audience aware that the music is even there.  Whereas in this case Cuong [Ngo] was not afraid to tell us, ‘Put the music right up front so that people are aware that they are being carried along by the music as well as by the images and the actions of the characters.’  It’s not usual for you to get a request to do that.”
Rolfe Kent had a busy year composing the scores for Labor Day, Dom Hemingway and Bad Words 
The film doesn’t suffer because it is carried along because of the music.  There are certain films where they’re scored brilliantly but you don’t ever remember the music or hum it. I enjoyed the score for The Social Network.  I wouldn’t say that it was brilliant but was extremely effective.  I love the work of Cliff Martinez and his score for Drive is superb but I’m not too sure that I would choose to listen to it often.   The score brings a quality and ambience which couldn’t be there in any other way.”

Marcelo Zarvos was also kept occupied in 2013 scoring Enough Said, The Face of Love and the TV series Ray Donovan  
“Sometimes it happens when you write music it ends up in a different scene and works even better than the original one.  I spend a lot of time writing away from the picture for that reason.  If the music has a good enough inner strength and integrity chances are that it will be used.” 
VISUAL EFFECTS SUPERVISORS
Bill Westenhofer ominously observes before Rhythm & Hues filed for bankruptcy and he won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects for Life of Pi
“The studios are looking at visual effects as a commodity and that’s a shame.  With this picture it is not like someone said, ‘We’re going to fill water in the tank and throw up some skies.’  The visual effects were as much of the art of the final film as anything else.  The budgets keep shrinking and the demands keep getting more and more.  We’re approaching the breaking point.” 
Guillaume Rocheron emphasizes the important of realistic elements being used to make things believable in movies such as Life of Pi and Man of Steel 
“Every visual look that a director is after has its own set of challenges. Even if you’re trying to make something stylized on the screen you always need to ground it to something that is somehow real.  You need to have some element of reality in there that will tell the audience that this is a stylized waterfall.  You master all of the components of how it moves and looks, and then you alter it to make it look a certain way.”
Hal Couzens makes sure to be present during the principle photography working on such action films like The Bourne Legacy.  
“I personally would not want to do the post-production unless I had been on-set.  There’s an ownership to it that you were there.  You know exactly what went into it.  You can understand far better what the director wants if you’re there together trying to achieve something in the story.  You’ve also been involved with the edit and follow that through and entre the true the post-production period of finishing the shot.  Not only were you there to have seen what it looked like from a lighting point of view but you have the relationship with the director so [it improves] your ability to communicate what he wants through the team you are leading or are getting to do the work.”
Eric Saindon reveals the detail that went into producing the Goblin Cavern in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  
“The buildings were not just wood buildings.  Most people watching the movie would never catch any of that but the buildings were all individual planks and pieces of carts.  They were doors to buildings. They were wagon wheels. The buildings were all made up of thousands of individual items that the goblins scavenged from everywhere.  Peter [Jackson] wanted to get this idea out there that these were scavengers and their entire city was built up on all of these different bits.  For us, one of the big challenges was to create all of these assets and put them together in such a way that looked like this immense environment without looking too cluttered.”
Dan Glass explains the reasoning behind using visual effects to ethnically change a performer in Cloud Atlas. 
“Chang was probably the biggest challenge as a character because he has a fairly significant role but we had to adjust him convincingly. We didn’t want to Jim Sturgess to go full Korean.  We felt it would be better to design his look as a Korean related individual.   The goal in all of our early concepts was that we wanted the actors to be recognizable.
James Madigan was curious as to the approach that was to be taken for G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  
“The first question I asked them was, ‘Being this is a franchise is the look and feel of the first Joe which made the film a bit cartoony something we’re looking to repeat because it feels like this one would be well served by a rough and tumble, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker feel to it.’  Everyone jumped out of their seats and said, ‘Exactly.’  Right from that point I liked the idea of where they wanted to take it.”
Bjørn Mayer spent four days from dust to day shooting sky plates at 10,000 feet for Oblivion
“Joseph [Kosinski] had some concept art and explained what he wanted and I needed to find out how difficult it was to do.  The cloud projections we did on the Skytower were hard to make in CG; the idea came quickly that we were going out to shoot them somehow somewhere.  I came up with this location Haleakala, to shoot the clouds in Hawaii.”
Christopher Townsend was handed the responsibility of Iron Man 3.  
“Marvel is always keen of eying and working with not fans or run of the mill directors who you expect to be directing this kind of movie.  They’ve done that will all of their films including with Jon Favreau [Swingers] with the first two Iron Man movies. They wanted to go with something different and edgy, and that’s what Shane [Black] brought to it; he’s all about storytelling.”
Everett Burrell holds the A Good Day to Die Hard stunt team led by Stunt Coordinator Steve Davison and Second Unit Stunt Coordinator J.J. Dashnaw in high regard. 
 “I don’t jump out of helicopters or set myself on fire.  I had so much fun working with J.J. and Steve, and they made me so proud.   This is a part of the film industry that I really like and like to be involved with.  It’s the great handshake between practical effects, visual effects, and stunts; there needs to be a unity between the three foundation cores of big action filmmaking.”
John ‘DJ’ DesJardin teamed with Zack Snyder to provide the visual effects for Man of Steel 
“We didn’t go to the Richard Donner comic book Metropolis.   We went to a gritty, realistic Metropolis. It is more of a sci-fi story.  I don’t know if I would call it hard sci-fi but it tries to be a first contact type of story about an alien on our planet, how that whole situation comes to light, and how the human race reacts to his existence.  It ends up being a stronger story for the character because then Superman can figure out who he is in the context of the real world.”
Phil Brennan had to seamlessly integrate digital doubles such as the Bullet Train Fight Sequence featured in The Wolverine
“Usually you make that takeover point happen when there is a ton of motion blur or the camera is moving violently so you can disguise the point of the takeover from live-action to CG.”
Volker Engle and his business partner Marc Weigert had to improvise when dealing with filming restrictions in the American capital city for White House Down.  
“The locations dictated everything regarding the VFX in this film. You simply could NOT shoot on location, except a handful of aerial shots with a 400 mm lens from very far away. Half of Washington, D.C. is a so called ‘No-Fly Zone.’”
Matthew Butler explains how it was decided which scenes would require green screen in Ender’s Game.
“Once the lights go out and the Simulation Cave is on you don’t want anything else so it made sense to have a full surround green screen.  We did the same with the zero gravity Battle Room.  We did as much stunt performance and that made sense to shoot that in green screen in general.  There are times when there is zero value in having green screen there and we went with black or rotoscoping.  You do your best guess as to the procedure going in but that only works if you can execute what is planned.  Obviously, on the day it’s free-form jazz and you have to shoot from the hip.”

Tim Webber was pleased with how everything turned out for Gravity.  
“I often mention the animation where Ryan is pulling out the boards in the opening shot; people are always shocked when they learn that is mostly all CG. When I first saw the simulation of the damage happening to the ISS in a really basic multi-coloured rough form, I could tell from the way everything was bending, buckling and breaking up that the sequence was going to be great. It had something about it that was already fascinating to look at.”
Ben Shepherd was present during the filming of Half of a Yellow Sun.  
“It was important to have an on-set presence to ensure the visual effects needs were understood.  For example, we had to change one of the supporting cast’s costumes when she appeared in a green skirt on a green-screen set. Additionally, it was great to have an on-set presence so that the director and cinematographer could discuss their creative vision and any questions on the day.”
   
FILM EDITORS

William Goldenberg had a creative influence on Ben Affleck when assembling Argo 
“Early on I talked to him about not having music in the embassy takeover and having it all be real sounds, and hard edge cuts sonically and pictorially; that created a sense of urgency and panic.”

PRODUCTION DESIGNERS

Tom Yarith Ker thematically used different colour pallets throughout Pearls of the Far East.  

“Each chapter represents different level of loves of these seven characters: childhood love, fantasy love, forbidden love, and self-love. The colour of the design is unique as each one is in different colour. For example, in Childhood chapter, you will see that every touch from the costumes to décors is dominated in saturation of green colour, and natural tone. The composition itself stands for a new bud of green leave. Then, you will see in The Boat, where passion is heightened, the composition encompasses saturation of red and black, and so on. The colour is flown with the emotions of the characters.” 

Scott Chambliss comments on J.J. Abrams being able to move from the small screen to direct films such as Star Trek Into Darkness

“He’s quick on the draw and is also brave.  The telling moments for us in terms of the transition were at the beginning of Mission: Impossible 3.  It was being strongly suggested to him that he surround himself with a bunch of well-known seasoned pros on every level, in front and behind the camera.  J.J. made a strong case that he’d do a better job for them if he brought some of his key players with him; once J.J. got his way with that he was able to charge into this challenging and some ways frightening circumstance for both of us.  We had a couple of conversations about that along the way but J.J. felt confident because he knew his back covered was by those of us he brought with him.”

Alex McDowell who was recruited for Man of Steel explains,

“The visual effects supervisor’s job is to coordinate and instruct the technology that is going to execute the vision.  The designer’s job is to lay down the vision in respect to how it reflects what the director wants, what the script needs, what the film shoots, and to make the environments that the actors touch and occupy.   It’s our job to make sure that’s consistent and coherent across the entire movie whether it’s done in production or post.  It’s a close relationship.”

John Stoddart was part of the aborted cinematic adaptation by Bruce Beresford of a classic story by Philip K. Dick.

“I worked on Total Recall for about 11 months then suddenly a few weeks before we started shooting Dino De Laurentiis ran into a financial crisis and the whole thing was closed down in a couple of days.  I made models and built sets for it; that was a great disappointment for me.”

Andy Nicholson got an opportunity to blur the line between visual effects and production design with Gravity.  

“My approach to Designing Gravity was the same as that for any film which is set in a specific environment. However, everything about my Art Department’s structure and output was tailor-made for the film. I’m very used to liaising with VFX houses when it comes to set extensions or modifying existing landscapes and locations but Gravity was different because much of the final output was to be built as fully CG.”

ILLUSTRATORS
Lynne Yoshii contemplates how females are physically shown in comic books. 

Superhero art, by default, depict highly idealized fantasy characters with perfect bodies. How a female artist and male artist perceive as the perfect female form is quite subjective. It’s easy to see that a triple D breast size might not be considered ideal to a female artist but ideal to some male artists.”


Raffaele Ienco does all of his layouts on a computer for his comics such as Epic Kill

“My rule was if it’s boring to draw it will be boring to the reader so I would revise the page to make it exciting for me to illustrate. I like the wide panel that stretches the width of the page more than tall panels mainly because it’s more like a cinema screen. Four wide panels a page is my favourite layout rather than get all complicated with bizarre layouts that were big in the 90s.”

Livio Ramondelli collaborated again with writers Chris Metzen and Flint Dille to produce The Transformers: Monstrosity.  

“I actually love a lot of the ‘faceless’ characters like Prime, Soundwave and Shockwave. In particular, Shockwave’s completely unsympathetic face totally fits that character.  You almost add your own meaning to what he’s thinking depending on the dialogue coming from that unmoving eye. And with Prime, I enjoy tilting his head in certain shots to really play with the emotions. He’s got sympathetic eyes as well.”

Tracy Yardley talks about writing and illustrating for an established comic book title.  

“There have been so many Sonicstories already. I simply try to come up with a situation that we might not have seen the character in yet – something fun with the potential for lots of action.”

Jeff Zornow reflects on what makes an effective comic book cover while discussing Godzilla: Rulers of Earth.  

“My idea on this is the same as any type of illustration.  Come up with an exciting dynamic image that will make your audience want to either plunk down their hard earned money for the book or movie right away or at LEAST take the book or movie off the shelf to see if it’s something they want to own.”

Amy Reeder is multitasking for Rocket Girl.  

“As an artist I just try to make the reader ‘feel’ what they’re seeing, whatever that is.  It’s one reason I’m colouring myself.  That way, her jetpack can have different exhaust-like qualities, she can travel through time lightning-fast…stuff like that, so that it feels fleshed out, even if we know it’s not real.”

   

CINEMATOGRAPHERS

Mikhail Petrenko was tasked with shooting seven different storylines for Pearls of the Far East  

“It was one of the most challenging parts – creating a unique style for each story while keeping them connected. I had several ideas but none of them seemed to be working well at that time.  After an extensive pre-production and several conversations with Cuong [Ngo], I realized that the desired effect will come from having every story taking place in different location, with a different cast and a different meaning.  I needed to adjust to that without imposing different visual approaches.”

Stephen Goldblatt who was responsible for the first two Lethal Weapon films as well as The Help notes, 

“Ironically, the problem with film school is film itself. What is far more important in my opinion is to hangout with a painter, a still photographer, a sculptor or car designer.  The vast range of human experience is what makes a filmmaker not whether you use the RED camera or still shoot film on an Arriflex 11C.”


Peter James has worked on everything from Driving Miss Daisy to Meet the Parents. 

“You have to tell the story that enhances the script in the best possible way.  Put the audience in the position where it’s the best seat in the house to look at that story.  You cannot bring the drama perspective into the comedy area.  It won’t get any laughs.  You won’t make any money.  The same way you can’t take the comedy aspect to the dramatic side of things.  You’ve got to understand what the genres are and how they work.”

WRITERS

Lucy Alibar had to adjust her approach to writing when adapting her play Juicy and Delicious into the screenplay for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  

“I had to understand the scope of what I was doing as supposed to seeing something in a closed stage.  All of a sudden the whole landscape became the stage, under the water, the sky, and across the water; there was so much more and I had to learn to make that the world we were writing about.”

Susan Beth Lehman explores world of cinema and theatre in her book Directors: From Stage to Screen and Back Again.  

“Film schools are relatively new to academia, and technology makes beginning filmmaking accessible to so many people.  It’s easy to skip the steps that lead to passionate and enveloping storytelling.  I don’t want to see films that are technically successful, but emotionally empty.” 

Adam P. Knave was undaunted about creating with co-writer D.J. Kirkbride another Young Adult Fantasy tale with Amelia Cole.  

“You find the story you want to tell and tell it. If there are twenty other books about talking otters that month, so be it, you tapped into something.  Amelia comes from a desire to tell a female-led, hope-based story. The fantasy aspect of it came along for the ride, but it would have worked as science fiction or any number of things. We landed where we did because it felt right for the characters and for our heads as a story to tell.”

Chris Mowry offers some advice which he makes use of when outlining Godzilla: Rulers of Earth.   

“For me, it’s all about pacing. Keep things going forward, end things with cliffhangers to keep the readers wanting more, have your odd-numbered pages not be splashes or huge reveals; save those for the even-numbered ones where there’s some page-turning ‘WOW!’ moments. Those to me are the keys of pacing a book.

Brandon Montclare had to overcome a major hurdle in order to get Rocket Girl publish. 

“One of the biggest challenges was the actual publishing.  That is, to have the financing and support to make the book.  We did a somewhat famous Kickstarter, but that’s only one aspect.  Partnering with Image Comics was another.  Outreach to comic shops yet another.  Creating some merchandise—t-shirts, prints, sketchbooks—were a small part.  But all these parts [and more] were necessary to achieve escape velocity.  And now we have lift off.  The trick is to keep flying for as long as we need to tell this story.”

 


J.W. Rinzler wanted to take an insider’s perspective with The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

“I don’t like it when writers get between the subject and the reader because they’re trying to interpret and put their stamp on everything.   I find that to be really annoying.  The people who did the work have the most interesting stories and you want to enable those stories to come to the fore in the text.” 

DIRECTORS
Luke Jurevicious creator of Australian animated TV series The Adventures of Figaro Pho which deals with an excessively paranoid boy discusses the art of being speechless.  

“When I voiced Figaro, it was important for me to lay down a scratch vocal track for the animators to work with.  This helped me direct the performances in a way that I was not able in the first series.”

Rob Hayden talks about the logistics of shooting his cinematic adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy.  

“Working on music videos helps you learn how to shoot quickly. We had 14 days of main unit photography which is very short for any film. Then two days + one night in Amsterdam to cover that location and shooting on planes overnight on the flight over to Amsterdam then one another plane to Scotland. We shot in the airport in Edinburgh, and six days of mostly exteriors in Edinburgh; it was a VERY tight schedule for any feature film production. It is a miracle any film ever gets made, but especially hard for independent films.”

Roman Coppola at one time was planning to have his cousin Nicolas Cage portray Dr. Strange on the big screen.  

“In the past, 15 to 20 years ago, when I talked about Dr. Strange most of the comic book movies were terrible.  They’ve [I’m speaking of the Marvel Universe] managed to make them more true to the spirit of the comics as I recall reading them as a boy.  If someone said to me, ‘We’d love you to do Dr. Strange. Run with it. What’s your take on it?’ I’d be delighted to have a shot at that but it seems that many comic book movies are made with a certain mentality that pervades all of them and if I had my choice I’d rather do an individualistic than a factory movie but you never know.  I’m open to whatever adventure comes my way.”

Cuong Ngo was inspired by the landscape of his homeland while filming his feature debut Pearls of the Far East

“When I worked on the script in Toronto I relied heavily on my imagination and visual preparation, research and edited it in my head. But, when we went on location scouts in Vietnam, things changed for me 360 degrees because the location inspired me more and when you worked with the actors on the locations, it even inspired me more. I always go on-set with a shot list but then I shot it in different ways.”

Tobias Lindholm was able to fulfil his dream of doing a story at sea with A Hijacking

“We found out that the crew members who needed to work for us and were extras on the film had been hostages in real life.  They knew a lot of details about being hijacked by Somali pirates.  They gave me a lot of these details and I changed the script immediately.  For example, keeping the other crew members down below wasn’t in the script.  It came from them.”

Saschka Unseld was inspired by a personal experience which resulted in the Pixar animated short film The Blue Umbrella.  

“For me over a couple of films I made a lot of it was down to finding a central image for the whole story.  It’s something that encapsulates a core moment of the whole film where there is stuff that happens before and stuff that happens afterwards.  With The Blue Umbrella I was fortunate because the umbrella that I found on the street that became for me the central image of the film.”

Denis Villenueve diverted from his regular routine when making Enemy.  

“Usually I don’t like music a lot in movies but in Enemy there is music all over the place because I felt that it helped to create a distance with reality and it gave a sense of tension in scenes that could feel banal.”

Ivan Sen altered the setting of the script while principle photography was taking place for Mystery Road.

“It was something about the landscape.  Some of those scenes were written for night and were meant to be darker so you have no sky.  It could be anywhere.  Why not show this horizon line?  That landscape inspired pushing some of those scenes to the dawn area because it’s so vast and strong visually.”

Stephan Franck helmed the animated tale The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow.  

“We didn’t start with the Irving story and Smurfed it down.  We went the other way around. We started with a fun character story about Smurfs that felt sincere and fun, and injected the spooky elements into it.”

Bob Smeaton continues to find the subject of his documentary Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A Comin’ to be a man of mystery.  

“Hendrix was this strange dichotomy where you’ve got this guy on-stage who appears to be super confident, really sexy and wild but everyone was saying, ‘He’s really shy.’  I was thinking, ‘How does that work?’  Not everybody is on a hundred per cent of the time but with Hendrix I would have thought if one person had said he was quiet but everyone said it.”

Robert Lepage adapted his play Lypsynch into the film Triptychco-directed with Pedro Pires.  

“A lot of stuff was unplanned.  What I found to be interesting is that you shoot all of this material and have all of these great transition ideas and you do them.  ‘They’re cool and nice.’  But then there are these extraordinary things in the material that you don’t expect and suddenly they’re close cousins.  You say, ‘This goes here.’  Usually, they contain the essence of the film.”

Gavin Hood personally connected with Ender’s Game

“For me it wasn’t so much a particular scene but a particular feeling that it generated in me.  I was drafted when I was 17 in the South African military in 1981, during the bad old days, and taken a thousand miles away from my home, and dropped into a basic training place where I was yelled and screamed at.  I was set in an environment that was very different from my experience in growing up where aspects of my personality, particularly the more aggressive side of one’s male personality, were being praised in ways that would have been unthinkable by your mother.”

The conversations will continue in 2014…
Many thanks to all who agreed to be interviewed as it has been a pleasure talking to you!

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.
  • http://mycareersuicidenote.tumblr.com/ anghus

    Trevor, your work is always excellent and fantastic to read. Great year. Look forward to seeing what you do in 2014.