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Vox Lux is a very big and puzzling movie that is now out, from director Brady Corbet.

You may remember Corbet’s last film, his debut feature The Childhood of a Leader. That film followed Prescott, a young American boy living in France during the dissolution of the first World War. Prescott’s encounters (some tacit, some quite overt—he literally witnesses the creation of the Treaty of Versailles) with some of his era’s most charged themes—fascism, revolution, burgeoning sexuality—shape him. He, in turn, shapes the world.

Vox Lux is drafted from a similar pattern. In 1999, 13-year-old Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) is gunned down in a horrific school shooting deliberately positioned to evoke Columbine, but survives. With the help of her sister (Stacy Martin, a carry over from Childhood of a Leader), Celeste channels her trauma into music, specifically a song performed as a eulogy for her slain classmates and teacher. A recording of the performance goes the 1999 version of viral, leading to a major label record contract. After a sudden reference to 9/11 and some Willem Dafoe narration, we catch up with Celeste (now played by Natalie Portman) in 2017. Celeste must claw through what has now been years of substance abuse leading to toxic familial relationships, the ravages of fame, and a terrorist attack in Croatia that seems to chillingly reference her own story, to mount a triumphant comeback show in her hometown. There was a lot to talk about with Brady Corbet, and some of it can be found below.

Celeste (Natalie Portman) struggles to address the press in the wake of a terrorist attack that mirrors her own traumatic youth. Image courtesy of NEON.

Ryan Coleman, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Was Vox Lux shot entirely in 35mm?

Brady Corbet (BC): The film was shot on a combination of 35mm and Hi8, which is what Dogme 95 movies like Julien Donkey-Boy were shot on in the 1990s. We also shot some of the concert on a high-definition camera, the same camera they shoot the Super Bowl on. Some of the more egregious, heinous looking images from the concert are shot on that camera. It’s very ugly—you can see people’s pores. It’s a camera that was designed for sports photography. There’s no motion blur, so it has this extremely unnatural look to it. But the majority of the film is 35mm.

MM: The subtitle of the film is “a Twenty-First Century Portrait,” but almost half of the movie takes place on the hinge of the century, from ’99 to 2001. Tell me about that decision on a script level.

BC: The idea was, what were the events that sort of kicked off 21st century, and have come so far to define it? The first thing that comes to mind is Columbine. Columbine was in 1999. Little did we know that event would become commonplace in this country. Those kind of things had happened before but not on that scale, so it was a cataclysmic event. I also think the century has been defined by 9/11. I had a version of the film where we dipped into the war in Iraq and the Bush presidency, but really those felt like stepping stones to where the country is at now. Like the character of Celeste, there is no middle. You just have the ignition, the result, and that’s all.

Eleanor (Stacy Martin) comforts her younger sister Celeste (Natalie Portman) in Vox Lux.

MM: Celeste (Raffey Cassidy/Natalie Portman) not only interacts with what comes to be the great issues of her time, she’s overtaken by them, almost becoming an icon of them.

BC: There’s something about the desire to be iconic which I find not completely unique to this century, but it is becoming more blatant. There’s nothing more disturbing than curated violence. That’s the reason that the Holocaust left a mark unlike any other. Beyond the scale of it, because there have been other terrible genocides, it was the organization of it that disturbs us to this day. Also because of events like the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, the young boy showing up dressed like the Joker. The idea that the last thing that you want to do as a free man is self-mythologize I find very fascinating and disturbing. What is it about heroes and villains alike that yearn to be iconic?

MM: Celeste begins to reproduce the violence that was done to her as a child, on small and large scales, incidentally and deliberately. Does that theme carry over the political commentary the film’s making?

BC: Absolutely. The film suggests that the character’s PTSD is the nation’s PTSD. If the film is about anything, it is about that—this is a post traumatic generation. We’ve all been through something, but we don’t quite have the perspective to know how it’s shaped us. What anxieties is that breeding in us? Our children? Basically, the film opening with a school shooting and ending with a pop concert suggests that this is the new normal. It is garish, it is absurd, but so is this administration. MM

Vox Lux opened in theaters December 7, 2018, courtesy of NEON. All images courtesy of NEON.

The post <b>21st Century Icon:</b> <i>Vox Lux</i> Director Brady Corbet Used Dogme 95 and Super Bowl Cameras to Craft His Pop Epic appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Attaining Oscar glory in the Best Foreign Language Film category back in 2007 with his first feature, The Lives of Others, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck instantly became one of the most fascinating new talents in international cinema.

Hollywood quickly came calling, but not with an offer similar in tone to his debut. Instead, his initial foray into large-budget moviemaking would be 2010’s The Tourist, a romantic thriller starring A-listers Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

Nearly a decade after that financially successful studio bid, Henckel von Donnersmarck is back in the race with a German-language production, Never Look Away, a three-hour period drama set in his divided, post-war homeland.  At the heart of the visually polished and elegantly put together film is the so-called Nazi Euthanasia Program—a horrifying extermination practice targeting those with mental illnesses and cognitive and physical disabilities—as well as the firsthand repercussions it had on young artist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling). 

Haunted by the memory of his aunt, an artistically minded woman who fell prey to the mass-murder policies implemented during the war, Kurt strives to develop his own passionate brand of creative expression while grappling with the unnerving possibility that his girlfriend Ellie’s (Paula Beer) father, Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), might be running from a sordid past. Thanks to the dynamic pacing and pitch perfect assembly, this sweeping historical work feels engaging and thrilling. 

Henckel von Donnersmarck, who’s based in Los Angeles, recently sat down with MovieMaker to dive into the idiosyncratic reasoning behind the way his films are written and edited, as well as the his thoughts on the ideal running time for a feature.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): It’s been almost a decade since your last feature, The Tourist, was the long gap due to any obstacles related to putting together Never Look Away or perhaps finding the right follow-up project?

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (FHVD): It was a long process to get this made—a film about a painter finding himself is not the easiest project to raise money for. It’s also a difficult time for cinema in general. Things take a lot longer; it’s become harder to make movies, for everyone. You see these gaps in filmographies becoming pretty length, filmographies of people who care about movies. I’m not quite ready to accept that it’s all OTT Media Services and Streaming yet, so it takes a while. It just takes longer to get the money together, to convince people that it’s the right thing to get the funds. There’s a world in which you could do it pretty quickly, and that’s in the very low-budget independent world. That’s not so much my world of comfort. I like things done in a way where you can really sculpt something.

MM: Was it a readjustment to go from a Hollywood production like The Tourist back into a more independent realm with a smaller budget but also less oversight?

FHVD: Money was a lot tighter than it was for something like The Tourist. Yes, that does make things a lot tougher, of course. It’s great when you don’t have to fight for every dollar, but that’s just the nature of independent cinema that that battle will never go away. It makes you think about what is important to you, in a way that might even be quite healthy. For example, it was important for me to have enough time to shoot this and not rush things. That meant you had to do away with some other comforts, and really focus on prioritizing what is most important. I said, “Okay, my priority is making the images as beautiful as they can be, and giving the actors the space to experience their full emotions.” 

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck stands with his cast Tom Schilling, Paula Beer, and Sebastian Koch.

MM: Did you know from the onset that the story you wanted to convey would need to be an expansive, three-hour historical piece?  

FHVD: I don’t think anyone ever knows really, going into a film, how long it’s going to be, unless you’re doing television and we know it has to end after 22.5 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour. I had a feeling it was not going to be short, but I didn’t expect it to to be nearly as long as Schindler’s List. Eventually, you reach a point where the film is a certain length and, if you try and take out some scenes, it either makes no sense or makes the film seem even longer.

There is a right length for every film, and it is possible to find that. I don’t even think it’s a subjective thing at that point; I think it becomes objective. I remember being very impressed with Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise while they were making Valkyrie. They had already seemingly finished the movie when Bryan told Tom Cruise that he had changed a few frames here and there. Tom wanted to see the entire movie again from beginning to end. It was clear what the change was, but he still wanted to see the entire movie again, although he had already seen it 20 times. Experienced moviemakers know that if you change so much as a frame from a cut that worked, it might wreck the whole thing. 

Maybe saying a frame is exaggerating, but a few seconds can make a difference. Sometimes adding 10 seconds to a film can make you loose the connection with the scene, and it will no longer be truly compelling— you will lose the flow. We worked for quite a while until we reached the point where it had that flow. That turned out to be the running time that it is now.

MM: How do you tackle a screenplay like this, with multiple time periods and a narrative that appears to be segmented into very defined acts that still have to be connected? How long did it take you to conceive it?  

FHVD: I’ve always had this belief that under no circumstances should it take you longer than nine months to write a script. In the time that one human can create another human being, it should be possible to make a script. I always try to remember that, so it took me about that amount of time, which is quite long. First, I thought about putting it in a non-chronological order, so that it could be pieced together like a puzzle as you jump through different time periods, but it felt a little bit forced. 

I remembered that when Tarantino had first started writing True Romance, it was out of temporal sequence. Tony Scott then took it and put it into a completely straight storyline, which resulted in quite a powerful movie. I thought, “Okay, let’s try that.” Eventually, telling it completely chronologically made the most sense. 

It takes a lot of weaving. When a film is done—and I only do this it after a film is done—you do test screenings. We had one test screening, but it wasn’t to see what people don’t like so we could take it out. I don’t change anything after the test screening. What is really interesting is to see who responds to the film and who doesn’t. What is most important to me is walkouts—my aim is to always have zero walkouts, and so far I’ve always succeeded with that. People can like the story that’s being told or hate the story that’s being told, but they should be enveloped by it. That is a craft thing. 

For example, a scene should never come completely out of the blue. It has to be woven together with the previous scene, so that you’re immediately oriented. Making a film like that has great advantages because it will not allow the viewer to ever escape. The one disadvantage this has, however, is that if the film turns out long, it becomes very hard to cut pieces out. Everything is interwoven and the whole structure could unravel if you take too much out.

That was one of the most important things for me, and it also fit the story of the film, because it’s a film all about how the events in our life are interconnected. If we do it right, we can, at any point, use anything that we experienced in our lives to really excel at this specific moment. In a way, the structure of the film had to mirror the content. 

MM: Atrocities committed by the Nazis have been the subject of countless films, but their targeting of people with mental illness and their intolerance towards art is not often explored.  Why set your story around these specific policies and their victims? 

FHVD: I thought it was interesting to explore the line between art and madness. Much of contemporary art seem like objects of complete madness, such as someone creating a gigantic balloon animal for 30 million dollars. It seems crazy, in the making, in the paying, in everything. A really interesting example is a German sculptor who has a mental condition and is actually under governmental tutelage. The government then assesses her idea of making a 20-foot high sculpture of a flower, and breaks it down to judge whether her idea is actually craziness or art. 

Sometimes it’s impossible to say, and I thought it was really interesting to take this aunt, this beautiful strong woman who has an incredible artistic temperament, but somehow doesn’t have the constitution to make art out of it. The Nazis see it as only weakness and kill her. 

There was a really wonderful painter, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, who was murdered by the Nazis in their so-called euthanasia program. I always found this story so shocking. She was extreme, in a way would call that strong, eccentric, idiosyncratic today. At that time these characteristics were seen by the Nazis as something that had to go. I also found it interesting that, if a government has a certain idea of what people are supposed to be, they also have a certain idea of what art is supposed to be. This is a very dangerous path to go along. 

The government should not have an opinion of what its people should be, and I thought it was interesting to explore that. The idea that if the government starts voicing an opinion about art; it’s an indication that other things might be happening also.  

Tom Schilling paints his canvas as Kurt Barnert

MM: What elements were directly from historical accounts and how did the historical context influence your understand of the story? 

FHVD: There is nothing in the movie that doesn’t have a historical equivalent. This isn’t a biopic of this one guy, but it uses a lot of elements from the life of one German painter, Gerhard Richter. He had an aunt who was killed in the so-called “euthanasia program” by the Nazis, and went on to make a painting of his aunt holding him as a little boy. 

I was always fascinated by this painting, because it gave the victims of this euthanasia program a face. He had a long and successful career. As an old man he was able to, thanks to the research of a journalist, find out that the father of the woman that he ended up marrying—whom he knew very well and even lived under the same roof as—had been one of the murderers of the sick and had just gone undiscovered. 

I thought, “Wow, that’s an interesting starting point for a story: how two people could live under one roof, a victim and a murderer, loving the same girl, one as the father and one as the husband.” It triggered a lot of ideas of what could go on, and how this person could free himself through art

MM: Editing must be a crucial stage in realizing your vision, especially since you are dealing with a grand drama. How do you approach editing in a cohesive manner? 

FHVD: One thing that really makes it painful for me to watch movies is when I feel that the editing rhythm is not quite right. I actually find every cut hurtful, as if someone is cutting me. I spent a lot of time thinking about editing as a student, trying out various editing techniques.

For this movie, I experimented quite a bit before finding a really great French editor with the very German name of Patricia Rommel. I saw her films at various festivals and thought they were incredible. Every cut was beautiful! I also found a really great editor elsewhere, Patrick Sanchez. He had done a little animatic for me for something else, and I realized he was quite talented and I brought him on board as well.

Patrick Sanchez and Patricia Rommel both edited this movie with a very similar philosophy about what a proper cut is. It’s not a totally arbitrary thing; there is a certain rhythm that the images will dictate, and certain images that go together well. For example, Patricia has this really interesting philosophy. People always say that, if you do a dissolve, the images really have to match but she approaches every single cut as if it were a dissolve. She said that every cut is a dissolve in our head. That’s how I approached my direction as well. 

My cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel —a director himself for Twin Peaks, and Crusoe with Aiden Quinn— is someone who’s very good at shooting with editing in mind. We would sit there and talk about how to edit this film later on. The way we make images on set are so suggestive that normally the editor doesn’t even need to read my notes because it’s so clear how it has to be put together. 

Editing is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, because it creates connections. The only thing that I’ll sometimes mix the edit up for is music. We worked with composer Max Richter, who is an absolute genius. If you have a few minutes, go online and listen to three pieces. One is called On the Nature of Daylight, another is called November, and the third one, is a piece of music for the television series The Leftovers called Dona Nobis Pacem 2 (Grant Us Piece). If you listen to it, you’ll be blown away by the incredible power of music. And then read the comments that people write underneath them, where they say things like, “Oh my goodness, this music makes me realize I’m wasting my life.”

Sometimes, when Max develops a theme, and I know that that needs a little more space, I make an exception to tell him, “Okay, I’ll expand the edit a little bit to give the music the space that it needs.”

Never Look Away is Germany’s Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The post <b>Foreign Contenders:</b> Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on Germany’s <i>Never Look Away</i>  appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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“I am a creature of habit,” says When Jeff Tried to Save the World director Kendall Goldberg. “But while I was writing this film, I was going through a lot of change in my own life. And I had to learn to embrace it.” 

A 20-something herself, Goldberg deftly captures the precariousness of millennial anxiety in her debut feature When Jeff Tried to Save the World. Jon Heder leads the ensemble cast with heart and humor, lending Belushi-like pathos to his turn as the manager of a vintage bowling alley on the brink of closing.

Goldberg sat down with MovieMaker to discuss determination, collaboration, and the importance of taking a leap of faith. 

On Writing

I enjoy coming up with ideas based on locations. I find myself really attracted to the look or the feel of a place, and then I work backwards and think, “Who comes here, who lives here, who works here?” I was intrigued by the idea of a bowling alley. And then I settled on the idea of a manager because the manager is someone who has a lot of control but not full control. So there was the potential for that conflict where the rug can be ripped out from under him.

The neon lights of a bowling alley helped inspire Kendall Goldberg and Rachel Borgo to write When Jeff Tried to Save the World.

I was talking to [co-screenwriter] Rachel Borgo about this recently…there was never a moment where we went, “let’s make him a thirty-year-old man.” Subconsciously I was choosing someone who was physically different than me so that I could project my own insecurities and fears into the character.

On Working With Jon Heder

We did an initial search with a casting director at the very beginning, right after I had a solid draft of the script. This was when I was a sophomore in college, and I thought that I would cast it, find the money, and make it that next summer. It was very naive to think that, but I’m glad I had the determination because it definitely got the snowball rolling down the hill.

Kendall Goldberg (Right) directing her lead actor Jon Heder (Left).

Jon came in to audition one day. The script was at Gersh and they sent him in, which was a nice surprise. I had never seen Napoleon Dynamite, which I think is a good thing because I wasn’t nervous – he was just another person coming in to audition. And he gave a great audition. So I told him, “I’d love to offer you the role, we’re just not ready.” And he was like, “That’s alright, it’s an indie film, I understand.” So we kept in touch and he said he’d do it if he was available. We Skyped and got lunch a couple of times. I’m sure he didn’t expect me to be as persistent as I was, but I was. 

Jon is a very technically-talented actor. He knows what goes on behind the scenes, he was always asking good questions. And that’s because he went to film school himself.

On Working With a Comedic Cast

The cast came in with their own ideas, which was great. I gave them permission to go off-script, but would be specific about times I wanted to stay directly on-script and they were ok with that. Most of them have improv experience, especially Jim O’Heir and Steve Berg. We did this thing that Jim did on “Parks and Rec,” which is going through and getting a great take of the scripted version and then doing a fun run if you have time.

Director Kendall Goldberg working with comedic talents Jon Heder (Left, Napoleon Dynamite) and Jim O’Heir (Right, Parks and Recreation).

On Making a Short Version First

In the summer of 2016, I decided to make the feature into a short film, just because it was proving difficult to get the financing. That was the missing puzzle piece. It’s not that it directly got us the rest of the money, but it was more like, “Oh wow, Jon Heder and Jim O’Heir and the rest of the cast are willing to fly out to Chicago for four days and do a short for nothing.” 

Kendall Goldberg and her crew were prepared to make the feature after the prep work that was making a short.

The short was basically rehearsal. At first, I wasn’t excited about doing the short and thought it was two steps back. But it was a dry run of the feature, which was pretty amazing and something you don’t always get. 

On Post

We shot it in 18 days and had an editor [Meaghan Wilbur] working while we shot, so we had a rough cut maybe three days after we wrapped. I’m not a big fan of taking time off. People always recommend that the director direct the movie and then go take a vacation for two weeks, but I was like, “I can’t, I’m too excited.” So I came back to LA and immediately began working twelve or thirteen hours a day with the editor. 

The When Jeff Tried to Save the World crew celebrating the end of a fun, collaborative process.

The score was one of my favorite parts of the process. I met a young composer, Hannah Parrot, at Sundance in 2015. We kept in touch and she sent me her stuff, and she was incredible. She’s basically my age, so very young and easy to talk to. I started having initial conversations with her, just like I did with my DP Nico [Aguilar] and my art team. Music’s a medium you have to be familiar with as a director, but I didn’t think I’d be able to speak fluently in musical language. I am an amateur musician, so I know a little bit about it. I sat with her in her studio and played instruments, and got to really “do” the whole thing. 

I’ve known from the very first draft of the script what I wanted it to sound like. It goes with the feeling of the world that we wanted to create for Jeff, where the bowling alley is his everything. Maybe a viewer wouldn’t necessarily think of a bowling alley like that, but we had to make them think like that. It was all about adding to the neon beauty of the place when it’s turned on. MM

When Jeff Tried to Save the World opens on VOD December 7, 2018, courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky. All images courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

The post <b>Embracing Change:</b> Director Kendall Goldberg On Her Feature Debut <i>When Jeff Tried to Save the World</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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A caustic, royal love triangle is the new target of industrious Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ delectably wicked gaze.

Boasting absurd and hilarious turns by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite (yes with a “u” to keep it British proper), is a sumptuously realized saga of personal vendettas and selfish desires in 18th century Britain. Imagined by screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film marks the first time Lanthimos didn’t pen a project himself. Rest assured, however, his mischievous sensibilities found a match in this text. 

Tonally in tune with his most sardonic visions, this costume dramedy presented an opportunity for the lauded filmmaker to push his visual language in unexplored directions by challenging the very tropes he was stepping in for the first time. “The fact that it was a period film made us want to defy the perception of what period films should look like,” Lanthimos said.

“On this one, I went a little bit further in using some quite extreme wide angle lenses,” said Lanthimos. “There was also a difference in camera movements, which I had already started developing with my previous film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” 

His partner on the cinematography front was Irish DP Robbie Ryan, known for his work with Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach. Lanthimos and Ryan had met for coffee a couple times over the last few years to discuss their mutual interest in working together. Even thought the intentions were there, this didn’t materialize until The Favourite came into place.  

“With [Yorgos] being Greek, and the royal family being so English, I was always a bit curious as to how he would make it,” Ryan told MovieMaker. He knew Lanthimos would have an original angle on this tale about Queen Anne. The cinematographer explained that the director is tuned into the things he doesn’t like doing in his film, which makes it more difficult to get into his brain.  

“Yorgos doesn’t like to shoot things conventionally,” said Ryan. “He doesn’t like Shot-Reverse-Shot at all. I got a sense from talking to him that it wasn’t going to be a routine kind of film for coverage.”

Lanthimos shared the things he’d discovered about lenses and movement from the making of The Killing of a Sacred Deer with Ryan, and expressed his wish go further in that direction. The DP, however, didn’t get to see that film at the time because it was still being graded as they filmed The Favourite (Lanthimos was essentially making two movies at once). 

“He was very, very busy. He would finish filming for the day on The Favourite, and then he would go back and do all the post-production work on Sacred Deer,” said Ryan. At Cannes 2017, Ryan finally got to see Lanthimos’ previous effort and appreciated the visual progression from one film to the next. “Things that he was trying out with Sacred Deer were fleshed out a bit more in The Favourite.”

Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Masham (Joe Alwyn) dance in the gorgeous candle-lit halls of the Hatfield House.

In preparation for the shoot, the director and DP decided not to create storyboards as part of their approach—with the exception of some technically complex scenes that required more practical descriptions. Instead, they wrote down each shot, noted the angles and planned the route the camera would follow. They kept that as a guide, but every scene would eventually force them to rethink what they had previously decided on and adapt. Most of the changes came following the rehearsals at the locations, all of which Robbie attended to get a sense of the space and the actors in it. This flexible process was the basis of their creative relationship. 

“It created a language between the two of us, from which it became very easy to know which of these ideas we were going to use for each scene. Even if it was different from what we thought initially would happen, being on the location with the actors and seeing how the scenes played out helped a lot,” said Lanthimos. Their original ideas developed further as elements came into place, and continued to evolve as they were filming.

Having said that, there were certain rules they set up to formally shape how images would be crafted. A major one concerned the lenses they were going to use. First, they did a few tests to figure out which were the most appropriate and how they would react with different camera movements. 

“We knew that we wanted to use wide-angle lenses—even with medium shots—and we would only use longer lenses for very tight shots,” explained Lanthimos. “We basically used one lens for the close ups (a 75mm), and for all of the other shots, we went from a 6mm all the way up to a 21mm, and sometimes even a 27mm. We didn’t really film much on the in-between lenses, so that gave us quite a particular structure to work with.” 

These specific choices had to do with the framing of each shot. Lanthimos had a precise plan in mind for where people were in the frame, how the camera focused on them, and how the framing helps direct the audience’s attention. Breaking preconceived notions regarding period pieces also meant to employ distinct camera movements, including panning the camera from one actor to the other, or panning from one actor to a wider shot of a room within the same shot. 

“It’s the all-seeing eye,” said Ryan to describe The Favourite’s visual language. “It’s a wide vision of an intimate, small world.” By being so expansive in an optical manner, Ryan thinks, it produces a feeling of confinement. “For a film that’s shot on very wide angles, it feels even more claustrophobic, because you’re seeing the whole location and the whole environment. I can’t quite explain it, but that’s the impression I got from seeing the film. You want to get out of that house because it’s all around you, you can’t escape it.”

One major reference Lanthimos provided to illustrate how he wanted the camera to interact with the cast and sets was the 1983 German horror Angst. Ryan had never seen the cult classic until the director showed footage of it on YouTube. “The thing that was interesting to him about Angst was the movement achieved by spinning a camera body rig around the main actor,” he said. “Wherever the person moved, the camera spun around him. It wasn’t like anybody else was operating it; it was attached to him.” Lanthimos was really keen on trying to replicate that effect, but with actresses wearing delicate costumes, a body rig with a 35mm camera was not plausible. 

Still, Ryan did get to experience a new tool he wasn’t familiar with prior to The Favourite, and which facilitated some of the most complex moves. “We used this piece of equipment which I hadn’t used before, which is called a gimbal rig. With a gimbal rig, you have to wear a suit, like a stedicam jacket. It had these articulated exoskeleton arms with high-tension springs that sprung out from your back and hold up this gimbal rig which had a 35mm camera on it,” described Ryan. Getting the gimbal to work optimally was one of the DP’s most strenuous battles on set.

Ryan admits that he’s the most comfortable working on a handled camera, which he’s used quite a bit on Andrea Arnold’s dramas. On The Favourite, however, Yorgos Lanthimos decided not to have that at all, instead adapting to what the director wanted. It was an adjustment Ryan was eager to embrace, being the versatile DP that he is. “I enjoyed coming up with very elaborate tracking moves that don’t necessarily seem to be elaborate. The actual construction of that was quite tricky for us,” he noted. “The most exciting part of the process was trying to figure out the best way to get the camera to move in the way that Yorgos wanted.”

Yorgos Lanthimos turns his lens on the Queen (Yorgos Lanthimos) and her Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz).

The Favourite’s primary location was the Hatfield House, a large country house in Hertfordshire, England built in the 17th century. Lighting the vast halls inside this property represented a major challenge because of Lanthimos’s dogma. “I don’t like using artificial lighting, so all of the lighting in the film is lit with natural light and candle light, with a couple of exceptions (scenes that are outside in the garden or the forest at night) where you wouldn’t see anything without lights,” said Lanthimos.

“That’s kind of a rule of mine that I carry with me a lot.” He is aware of how extreme working in those huge spaces with no lights is, but he is more than pleased with the results. “I think it works beautifully,” he said enthusiastically. 

On a similar note, Lanthimos and his team also tried to limit the color palette of the sets in order to make them look stark; normally the spaces they used were inhabited with plenty of objects, furniture, and paintings. They decluttered the rooms and hallways so that the limited palette of the backgrounds would complement that of the costumes, which are mostly black and white. “The tapestries of the actual locations were green and gold. We just tried to limit it to a certain extent, so that the visuals were quite sharp in that sense,” added Lanthimos. Color is mostly seen in the waistcoats that are under the men’s coats or in their golden shoes.

According to Ryan, what was lovely about the darker walls made of wood was that daylight would come through the big windows and light the characters, but not necessarily much else. The backgrounds soaked up all the light, and that gave a lush quality to the images. He also pointed out that Lanthimos had chosen those locations for the lighting more than anything else, as he really enjoyed the idea of having the light source be the large windows from one direction. 

“The palette was kind of down to the location more than anything. The great thing about shooting on film is that it renders what it sees very beautifully. It doesn’t show a heck of a lot more to what’s already there, and it somehow wraps it all up in a nice beautiful image,” said Ryan, who also recognized the help provided by fellow DP Stephen Murphy, who took over the cinematography for a week while he was out dealing with a family bereavement. 

Aside from its aesthetic benefits, Ryan prefers shooting on film because it reduces the number of people in the production and removes some of the anxiety brought associated with digital moviemaking. “It strips back a lot of the technical side of the process,” said the cinematographer. He believes it is ideal to shoot with the least amount monitors around possible, and film allows that because no one is trying to fix the footage on set. “The loader is there to take the film and box it up and send it to a laboratory, so all of the DIT or the on-set grading doesn’t exist, which is to me a very nice benefit.” 

Once you’ve filmed it, he said, you forget about it until the next day, when you the records back. It’s only then that he and his crew think about what is right or wrong. It’s a different mindset, because you’re not thinking about it in the moment you’re filming it. I think that’s a huge difference, because it means you can concentrate on what you need to get done in the day,” adds Ryan. There is one no one pouring over each shot problem—solving visual elements. 

“When you’re on set shooting digital, people tend to get a little bit obsessed with looking at the monitor and trying to grade it on set. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all going to get graded down two, three or maybe six months later. I love the fact that film cancels that out instantly,” Ryan concluded. 

Lanthimos and Ryan’s artistic partnership was based on the director’s need for someone willing to step out of conventions, and in that regard he found a remarkable risk-taker in Ryan. “I like is when DPs are fearless, bold, and eager to try new things. When they dare to go into places that they might feel are uncomfortable or dangerous. Ultimately, you’re rewarded in the end,” said the helmer. Before considering Ryan, he had seen most of his repertoire, not only in feature films but also in music videos and commercials. Even if Lanthimos was asking for something quite different to he had done up to that point, Ryan delivered both in craft and courage.  

For his part, Ryan was glad to have devoted himself to The Favourite’s success. That meant aligning his talent and skills with Lanthimos’s overall enterprise. “The best approach is always being able to adapt to a director’s particular style. To not necessarily impose your own style on that director. Unless they’re looking for something, it’s better that you try and adapt to their thinking,” he said. “Hopefully, whatever you can bring to a project will filter through into whatever their ideas are, and it’s a nice fusing.”  MM

The Favourite opened in theaters November 23, 2018, courtesy of Fox Searchlight. All images courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

The post <b>All-Seeing Eyes</b>: How Director Yorgos Lanthimos and DP Robbie Ryan Defy Period Film Aesthetics in <i>The Favourite</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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A purveyor of communal introspection and historical accountability, Romanian visionary Radu Jude makes movies about specific events, defining time periods, and relevant figures in his country’s past, both to comment on the present and preemptively understand where the future may lead. 

The director’s two previous fiction features, Aferim! and Scarred Heats (both distributed by Big World Pictures in the US) were period pieces with a powerful intellectual edge about mankind’s propensity to commit atrocities driven by xenophobia. The former is set in the 19th century Wallachia when gypsies were enslaved, while the other hones in on a sanatorium patient as Hitler rose to power in 1930s Europe. Elegant mise-en-scène serves as a backdrop for the larger observations the two films are respectively making.  

For I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, the auteur’s amply titled new politically minded work, Jude sticks to the present to poke holes at the denialist narrative many of his fellow countrymen believe about the 1941 Odessa massacre, a tragic event where Romanian forces working with Nazi Germany were ordered to murder the Jewish population. To address this, the filmmaker tells the story of Mariana (Ioana Iacob), a theatre director in today’s Bucharest attempting to put together a reenactment of the savagery that took place. She faces pushback from officials, regular citizens, and even those cast in the production. 

Responding via email, the director, who won the top prize at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for Barbarians this year, told MovieMaker about manipulated history, the movie’s potent title, and the aesthetic decision to create a key sequence as live TV. 

Ioana Iacob plays Mariana Marin, a woman in the midst of controversy as she plans the reenactment of the 1941 Odessa Massacre.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): You’ve made historical films in the past, Aferim! and Scarred Hearts, why did you decide to approach the Odessa Massacre from a modern standpoint rather than a traditional period piece?

Radu Jude (RJ): There are many reasons for that. First of all, the films you mention already had some elements of distancing in them and here I needed more, especially because a film about such a tragic event cannot be done but only obliquely, in my opinion.  How can one represent a massacre in a realistic manner and why? I believe it is impossible and, even if it would be possible, it would be very questionable to do it. 

MM: The famous phrase, “History repeats… first as tragedy then as farce,” seems very fitting for the film. What are your thoughts on this cyclical truth that perhaps shows we don’t learn from our mistakes? 

RJ: I am not sure history repeats itself. I guess there may be similar behaviors, ideas, power structures, etc., that give rise to similar events. When I am optimistic, I have the feeling that showing these things can be useful. When I am pessimistic – and can one be optimistic nowadays? – I doubt. 

MM: What was the intention behind having a female director being in charge of a show that’s controversial? We see Mariana’s fight against masculine forces that are trying to control her actions. 

RJ: Two reasons. First of all, to block any possible identification between me—as the director of the film—and the director of the show in the film. It didn’t work out, apparently. Secondly, to create a contrast between the very masculine, even macho activity, that is the historical reenactment and the main character. It was to create tension, to have another layer of conflict.

MM: We witness the live performance in the last segment of the film. What were the logistical complications of putting on the show in a main square and shooting it cinematically? 

RJ: Well, we couldn’t rehearse in that space – which normally is a parking lot, right in the middle of the historical Bucharest – so we rehearsed in a kind of a football playground in a park. Then, when we got to the real space, some things didn’t fit, but we adjusted. Otherwise, it was exhilarating to film that scene. A lot of people walked by. We didn’t block anything. I kind of like the mixture of documentary, live TV recording style and fiction. Oh, and it was extremely hot. This was a problem as well.

MM: How big was your crew and what kind of instructions did you give to your cinematographer in order to capture this final sequence, which is visually different from the rest of the film? 

RJ: Since the film is also about the representation and its limits, we decided to film the show in another style. It was meant to point out to the viewers the representational nature of cinema, so we chose to do it in a style similar to live TV recordings. What we did was exactly that and collaborated with the crew of the National Television, which does this kind of thing, and our collaboration was perfect. They did what they are used to and that was exactly what we needed. And they were many, 20 people or so.

MM: Did you shoot at the actual museum and was it difficult to get permission? 

RJ: Yes, we managed to film in the Military Museum and I am very pleased that it really happened. This museum is organized in a very patriotic and nationalistic way, so I liked the fact that always in the foreground is this secret history of the massacre and in the background is the official, nationalistic history. It creates, I hope, an interesting tension.

MM: What was the process to cast all the supporting cast and actors that were acting as actors in this fictional performance for the film?

RJ: I knew some of them from my previous films. For the rest, we worked with a very good casting agency. I chose the people from their database with the idea of having a kind of a small-scale representation of Romania there.

MM: Was there any pushback from government officials because of the topics in the films and the public display that you wanted to shoot as part of it? 

RJ: Not really. There was some tension here and there, but nothing official.  The reason is that, in order to join EU and NATO, Romania had to form an official commission of historians who made a report acknowledging the war crimes from that time. The information in our film exists in that official report, so we were safe from this point of view. The report is here, in English. 

The past and present clash as the troops on the foreground reenact the Odessa Massacre and the onlookers in the back are seen in modern clothing.

MM: Tell me about the decision to use such a powerful phrase as the title of the film. Was that always the title or did it change throughout the process?

RJ: These words, spoken in the Council of Ministers of the summer of 1941, started the ethnic cleansing on the Eastern Front. The film is an answer to that phrase. When mentioning about “going down in history,” they were thinking of the future and we are now in that future. So we can answer. I had another title at some point, taken from a Goya engraving from the Disasters of War series.

MM: On that note, the film’s poster is a white background with the titles and credits. What’s the significance of this? 

RJ: It is an open work, as Umberto Eco defined it. I wouldn’t offer my interpretation – I have one, but I’ve heard better ones than mine.

MM: In the film we see Mariana watching older films and footage regarding men considered heroes by many. In many cases, what she is watching is propaganda. How difficult is it to open people’s mind to the truth when the narrative has been so manipulated by those in power? 

RJ: And is still manipulated, actually. It is a difficult process; my film is just a drop in the ocean. It takes some time, it seems. It is like colonialism, I have the feeling that many people in UK or Belgium still do not talk about the colonialist crimes. By the way, is there any prominent Belgium film about colonialism Congo? I do not know any, but maybe there are.

MM: To your knowledge, is the Odessa Massacre still a taboo subject and is anti-Semitism still ingrained in some segments of Romanian society? 

RJ: I wouldn’t say taboo, but it’s still negated by many. I think some progress has been made, but it is very fragile. For instance, when I was in high school at the beginning of the 90’s, nobody mentioned the Romanian participation in the mass murders of WW2, but there is some information on this now. On the other hand, in the last few years, one can notice a revival of nationalism that’s been put to use in many different ways. It happens in many places, not only in Romania. For instance, we just had a terribly shameful referendum organized by the state hand-in-hand with the Romanian Orthodox Church. The referendum was about “the definition of the family,” but in actuality, it was a hate referendum to prevent the possibility of equal rights for LGBTQ people. And not only that, the whole campaign in favor of that referendum was filled with nationalism and conservatism in its most dubious forms (“let’s get back to our old Christian traditions,” “let’s not accept the fake values of Europe” etc.) and all that in a frightening quantity. The fact that many people boycotted the referendum, which in the end was not successful, shows there’s some hope left. MM

I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians is Romania’s Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film, courtesy of Hi Film. All images courtesy of Hi Film.

The post <b>Foreign Contenders:</b> Director Radu Jude on Romania’s <i>I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Nijla Mu’min and I are on the phone talking about rep sweats.

“Have you heard of the NPR podcast Code Switch?” I ask her.

“Yes, I have!” she answers brightly.

We then shifted to the subject of Margaret Cho’s notoriously short-lived 1994 sitcom All-American Girl, the first prime time television show to feature an Asian American cast. The show was cancelled after one season due in no small part to criticism from prominent Asian critics. Occasional Code Switch podcast host Kat Chow describes the rep(resentation) sweats as: “the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows starring people who look like you, especially when people who look like you tend not to get a lot of screen time.”

Did Mu’min get the rep sweats while writing Jinn, her feature length directorial debut? “I wasn’t really thinking about representational politics,” she says. “I was thinking about my characters—Summer (Zoe Renee), Jade (Simone Missick), Tahir (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). I was focused on their stories, not mine.”

Jinn follows its protagonist Summer through a tumultuous period in her young life. As she juggles her passion dancing with applying to colleges, maintaining friendships, and experimenting with sex and romance, she is pushed to navigate a fraught terrain of identity politics. Summer is African American and, after moving to a new town, her mother dives deep into the local Muslim community. Pulled between a devout crush, an ignorant friend, the unfeeling matrix of social media, and her mother’s influence, Summer fights to chart her own course through an increasingly turbulent world for girls who look like her.

MovieMaker was able to sit down with Mu’min to discuss how Jinn came to be.

Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoe Renee, and Gabriel Garzaro in Jinn.

Ryan Coleman, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): When did you start writing Jinn and what sparked you to write it?

Nijla Mu’min (NM): I started writing the script for Jinn over the summer of 2015. It was a story that was many years in the making, and took even longer to develop. As a young girl, I was raised in a Muslim community in the Bay Area. I really felt such a love for that community, but becoming a teenager, questioning my identity, and being confused, I found that I wanted to define what my life was for myself. I never saw that life represented in cinema. 

I didn’t know that I wanted to be a filmmaker until I was in college. I did have a background in writing poetry and short stories when I was younger but didn’t know I’d end up here. When I became a filmmaker, and learned how to write screenplays, this was one of the first stories I wanted to tell. However, it didn’t end up being until 2015 that I wrote the script for this particular iteration of the story.

MM: When it comes to Summer’s hesitation at first regarding Islam, is that a generational thing, or is she uniquely responding to the times we’re living in?

NM: I think that there’s a lot of ignorance, hatred and general unwillingness to learn about different things. I think this is especially true in regards to Islam because of how it’s been portrayed for so many years. This portrayal in the media impacts so many people, especially teenagers who, in this age of over-information, have access to so much through social media. Even in this environment of constant knowledge, it’s still so easy to be grossly misinformed. I wanted to address that in Summer’s character. The main thing she knows about Islam is about oppression, the feeling that women are not able to be free—something we have been hearing for many years. It’s generational but it’s also a result of the power structures at play in this country. These institutions disperse information that dehumanizes people. They place people into categories, and put all of their effort into dividing people. That’s what Summer is able to overcome. She is eventually able to realize that this is a world she can feel part of. To see her actually enjoying it and really finding herself able to be at peace within it, that’s something that I wanted to show. I wanted to bring people away from these very limiting stereotypes.

MM: Characters from marginalized identity groups often get short representation shrift in film—their narratives centering around suffering or sacrifice. How and why did you choose not to structure Jinn that way?

NM: As a writer, I really wanted to capture what it means to be a teenager today, which was a little different from how it was for me growing up. I wanted to paint a picture of what freedom is for these black girls. They’re exploring their identities, their sexuality, and their freedom through dress. When I was a teenager, if someone wore pink dye in their hair they would be teased for it. If they were bisexual, they might have been really torn apart about that. I didn’t want to make a movie about despair. Though I think movies about these themes are credible, I didn’t want a movie about black people struggling through life. I love a lot of movies where struggle is a main feature of the narrative for black characters, but I felt like it had no place in this movie. When we filmed, I knew I wanted to paint a world that was painful, yes, but also fun, hopeful, and full of color. MM

Jinn opened in theaters and on demand November 16, 2018, courtesy of Orion Classics. All images courtesy of Orion Classics.

The post <b>Full of Color:</b> Nijla Mu’min on Seeking Representation in Her New Film <i>Jinn</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Attaining Oscar glory in the Best Foreign Language Film category back in 2007 with his first feature, The Lives of Others, German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck instantly became one of the most fascinating new talents in international cinema.

Hollywood quickly came calling, but not with an offer similar in tone to his debut. Instead, his initial foray into large-budget moviemaking would be 2010’s The Tourist, a romantic thriller starring A-listers Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp.

Nearly a decade after that financially successful studio bid, Henckel von Donnersmarck is back in the race with a German-language production, Never Look Away, a three-hour period drama set in his divided, post-war homeland.  At the heart of the visually polished and elegantly put together film is the so-called Nazi Euthanasia Program—a horrifying extermination practice targeting those with mental illnesses and cognitive and physical disabilities—as well as the firsthand repercussions it had on young artist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling). 

Haunted by the memory of his aunt, an artistically minded woman who fell prey to the mass-murder policies implemented during the war, Kurt strives to develop his own passionate brand of creative expression while grappling with the unnerving possibility that his girlfriend Ellie’s (Paula Beer) father, Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), might be running from a sordid past. Thanks to the dynamic pacing and pitch perfect assembly, this sweeping historical work feels engaging and thrilling. 

Henckel von Donnersmarck, who’s based in Los Angeles, recently sat down with MovieMaker to dive into the idiosyncratic reasoning behind the way his films are written and edited, as well as the his thoughts on the ideal running time for a feature.

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): It’s been almost a decade since your last feature, The Tourist, was the long gap due to any obstacles related to putting together Never Look Away or perhaps finding the right follow-up project?

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (FHVD): It was a long process to get this made—a film about a painter finding himself is not the easiest project to raise money for. It’s also a difficult time for cinema in general. Things take a lot longer; it’s become harder to make movies, for everyone. You see these gaps in filmographies becoming pretty length, filmographies of people who care about movies. I’m not quite ready to accept that it’s all OTT Media Services and Streaming yet, so it takes a while. It just takes longer to get the money together, to convince people that it’s the right thing to get the funds. There’s a world in which you could do it pretty quickly, and that’s in the very low-budget independent world. That’s not so much my world of comfort. I like things done in a way where you can really sculpt something.

MM: Was it a readjustment to go from a Hollywood production like The Tourist back into a more independent realm with a smaller budget but also less oversight?

FHVD: Money was a lot tighter than it was for something like The Tourist. Yes, that does make things a lot tougher, of course. It’s great when you don’t have to fight for every dollar, but that’s just the nature of independent cinema that that battle will never go away. It makes you think about what is important to you, in a way that might even be quite healthy. For example, it was important for me to have enough time to shoot this and not rush things. That meant you had to do away with some other comforts, and really focus on prioritizing what is most important. I said, “Okay, my priority is making the images as beautiful as they can be, and giving the actors the space to experience their full emotions.” 

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck stands with his cast Tom Schilling, Paula Beer, and Sebastian Koch.

MM: Did you know from the onset that the story you wanted to convey would need to be an expansive, three-hour historical piece?  

FHVD: I don’t think anyone ever knows really, going into a film, how long it’s going to be, unless you’re doing television and we know it has to end after 22.5 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour. I had a feeling it was not going to be short, but I didn’t expect it to to be nearly as long as Schindler’s List. Eventually, you reach a point where the film is a certain length and, if you try and take out some scenes, it either makes no sense or makes the film seem even longer.

There is a right length for every film, and it is possible to find that. I don’t even think it’s a subjective thing at that point; I think it becomes objective. I remember being very impressed with Bryan Singer and Tom Cruise while they were making Valkyrie. They had already seemingly finished the movie when Bryan told Tom Cruise that he had changed a few frames here and there. Tom wanted to see the entire movie again from beginning to end. It was clear what the change was, but he still wanted to see the entire movie again, although he had already seen it 20 times. Experienced moviemakers know that if you change so much as a frame from a cut that worked, it might wreck the whole thing. 

Maybe saying a frame is exaggerating, but a few seconds can make a difference. Sometimes adding 10 seconds to a film can make you loose the connection with the scene, and it will no longer be truly compelling— you will lose the flow. We worked for quite a while until we reached the point where it had that flow. That turned out to be the running time that it is now.

MM: How do you tackle a screenplay like this, with multiple time periods and a narrative that appears to be segmented into very defined acts that still have to be connected? How long did it take you to conceive it?  

FHVD: I’ve always had this belief that under no circumstances should it take you longer than nine months to write a script. In the time that one human can create another human being, it should be possible to make a script. I always try to remember that, so it took me about that amount of time, which is quite long. First, I thought about putting it in a non-chronological order, so that it could be pieced together like a puzzle as you jump through different time periods, but it felt a little bit forced. 

I remembered that when Tarantino had first started writing True Romance, it was out of temporal sequence. Tony Scott then took it and put it into a completely straight storyline, which resulted in quite a powerful movie. I thought, “Okay, let’s try that.” Eventually, telling it completely chronologically made the most sense. 

It takes a lot of weaving. When a film is done—and I only do this it after a film is done—you do test screenings. We had one test screening, but it wasn’t to see what people don’t like so we could take it out. I don’t change anything after the test screening. What is really interesting is to see who responds to the film and who doesn’t. What is most important to me is walkouts—my aim is to always have zero walkouts, and so far I’ve always succeeded with that. People can like the story that’s being told or hate the story that’s being told, but they should be enveloped by it. That is a craft thing. 

For example, a scene should never come completely out of the blue. It has to be woven together with the previous scene, so that you’re immediately oriented. Making a film like that has great advantages because it will not allow the viewer to ever escape. The one disadvantage this has, however, is that if the film turns out long, it becomes very hard to cut pieces out. Everything is interwoven and the whole structure could unravel if you take too much out.

That was one of the most important things for me, and it also fit the story of the film, because it’s a film all about how the events in our life are interconnected. If we do it right, we can, at any point, use anything that we experienced in our lives to really excel at this specific moment. In a way, the structure of the film had to mirror the content. 

MM: Atrocities committed by the Nazis have been the subject of countless films, but their targeting of people with mental illness and their intolerance towards art is not often explored.  Why set your story around these specific policies and their victims? 

FHVD: I thought it was interesting to explore the line between art and madness. Much of contemporary art seem like objects of complete madness, such as someone creating a gigantic balloon animal for 30 million dollars. It seems crazy, in the making, in the paying, in everything. A really interesting example is a German sculptor who has a mental condition and is actually under governmental tutelage. The government then assesses her idea of making a 20-foot high sculpture of a flower, and breaks it down to judge whether her idea is actually craziness or art. 

Sometimes it’s impossible to say, and I thought it was really interesting to take this aunt, this beautiful strong woman who has an incredible artistic temperament, but somehow doesn’t have the constitution to make art out of it. The Nazis see it as only weakness and kill her. 

There was a really wonderful painter, Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler, who was murdered by the Nazis in their so-called euthanasia program. I always found this story so shocking. She was extreme, in a way would call that strong, eccentric, idiosyncratic today. At that time these characteristics were seen by the Nazis as something that had to go. I also found it interesting that, if a government has a certain idea of what people are supposed to be, they also have a certain idea of what art is supposed to be. This is a very dangerous path to go along. 

The government should not have an opinion of what its people should be, and I thought it was interesting to explore that. The idea that if the government starts voicing an opinion about art; it’s an indication that other things might be happening also.  

Tom Schilling paints his canvas as Kurt Barnert

MM: What elements were directly from historical accounts and how did the historical context influence your understand of the story? 

FHVD: There is nothing in the movie that doesn’t have a historical equivalent. This isn’t a biopic of this one guy, but it uses a lot of elements from the life of one German painter, Gerhard Richter. He had an aunt who was killed in the so-called “euthanasia program” by the Nazis, and went on to make a painting of his aunt holding him as a little boy. 

I was always fascinated by this painting, because it gave the victims of this euthanasia program a face. He had a long and successful career. As an old man he was able to, thanks to the research of a journalist, find out that the father of the woman that he ended up marrying—whom he knew very well and even lived under the same roof as—had been one of the murderers of the sick and had just gone undiscovered. 

I thought, “Wow, that’s an interesting starting point for a story: how two people could live under one roof, a victim and a murderer, loving the same girl, one as the father and one as the husband.” It triggered a lot of ideas of what could go on, and how this person could free himself through art

MM: Editing must be a crucial stage in realizing your vision, especially since you are dealing with a grand drama. How do you approach editing in a cohesive manner? 

FHVD: One thing that really makes it painful for me to watch movies is when I feel that the editing rhythm is not quite right. I actually find every cut hurtful, as if someone is cutting me. I spent a lot of time thinking about editing as a student, trying out various editing techniques.

For this movie, I experimented quite a bit before finding a really great French editor with the very German name of Patricia Rommel. I saw her films at various festivals and thought they were incredible. Every cut was beautiful! I also found a really great editor elsewhere, Patrick Sanchez. He had done a little animatic for me for something else, and I realized he was quite talented and I brought him on board as well.

Patrick Sanchez and Patricia Rommel both edited this movie with a very similar philosophy about what a proper cut is. It’s not a totally arbitrary thing; there is a certain rhythm that the images will dictate, and certain images that go together well. For example, Patricia has this really interesting philosophy. People always say that, if you do a dissolve, the images really have to match but she approaches every single cut as if it were a dissolve. She said that every cut is a dissolve in our head. That’s how I approached my direction as well. 

My cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel —a director himself for Twin Peaks, and Crusoe with Aiden Quinn— is someone who’s very good at shooting with editing in mind. We would sit there and talk about how to edit this film later on. The way we make images on set are so suggestive that normally the editor doesn’t even need to read my notes because it’s so clear how it has to be put together. 

Editing is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal, because it creates connections. The only thing that I’ll sometimes mix the edit up for is music. We worked with composer Max Richter, who is an absolute genius. If you have a few minutes, go online and listen to three pieces. One is called On the Nature of Daylight, another is called November, and the third one, is a piece of music for the television series The Leftovers called Dona Nobis Pacem 2 (Grant Us Piece). If you listen to it, you’ll be blown away by the incredible power of music. And then read the comments that people write underneath them, where they say things like, “Oh my goodness, this music makes me realize I’m wasting my life.”

Sometimes, when Max develops a theme, and I know that that needs a little more space, I make an exception to tell him, “Okay, I’ll expand the edit a little bit to give the music the space that it needs.”

Never Look Away is Germany’s Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film, courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The post <b>Foreign Contenders:</b> Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on Germany’s <i>Never Look Away</i>  appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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A caustic, royal love triangle is the new target of industrious Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ delectably wicked gaze.

Boasting absurd and hilarious turns by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite (yes with a “u” to keep it British proper), is a sumptuously realized saga of personal vendettas and selfish desires in 18th century Britain. Imagined by screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, the film marks the first time Lanthimos didn’t pen a project himself. Rest assured, however, his mischievous sensibilities found a match in this text. 

Tonally in tune with his most sardonic visions, this costume dramedy presented an opportunity for the lauded filmmaker to push his visual language in unexplored directions by challenging the very tropes he was stepping in for the first time. “The fact that it was a period film made us want to defy the perception of what period films should look like,” Lanthimos said.

“On this one, I went a little bit further in using some quite extreme wide angle lenses,” said Lanthimos. “There was also a difference in camera movements, which I had already started developing with my previous film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” 

His partner on the cinematography front was Irish DP Robbie Ryan, known for his work with Andrea Arnold and Ken Loach. Lanthimos and Ryan had met for coffee a couple times over the last few years to discuss their mutual interest in working together. Even thought the intentions were there, this didn’t materialize until The Favourite came into place.  

“With [Yorgos] being Greek, and the royal family being so English, I was always a bit curious as to how he would make it,” Ryan told MovieMaker. He knew Lanthimos would have an original angle on this tale about Queen Anne. The cinematographer explained that the director is tuned into the things he doesn’t like doing in his film, which makes it more difficult to get into his brain.  

“Yorgos doesn’t like to shoot things conventionally,” said Ryan. “He doesn’t like Shot-Reverse-Shot at all. I got a sense from talking to him that it wasn’t going to be a routine kind of film for coverage.”

Lanthimos shared the things he’d discovered about lenses and movement from the making of The Killing of a Sacred Deer with Ryan, and expressed his wish go further in that direction. The DP, however, didn’t get to see that film at the time because it was still being graded as they filmed The Favourite (Lanthimos was essentially making two movies at once). 

“He was very, very busy. He would finish filming for the day on The Favourite, and then he would go back and do all the post-production work on Sacred Deer,” said Ryan. At Cannes 2017, Ryan finally got to see Lanthimos’ previous effort and appreciated the visual progression from one film to the next. “Things that he was trying out with Sacred Deer were fleshed out a bit more in The Favourite.”

Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Masham (Joe Alwyn) dance in the gorgeous candle-lit halls of the Hatfield House.

In preparation for the shoot, the director and DP decided not to create storyboards as part of their approach—with the exception of some technically complex scenes that required more practical descriptions. Instead, they wrote down each shot, noted the angles and planned the route the camera would follow. They kept that as a guide, but every scene would eventually force them to rethink what they had previously decided on and adapt. Most of the changes came following the rehearsals at the locations, all of which Robbie attended to get a sense of the space and the actors in it. This flexible process was the basis of their creative relationship. 

“It created a language between the two of us, from which it became very easy to know which of these ideas we were going to use for each scene. Even if it was different from what we thought initially would happen, being on the location with the actors and seeing how the scenes played out helped a lot,” said Lanthimos. Their original ideas developed further as elements came into place, and continued to evolve as they were filming.

Having said that, there were certain rules they set up to formally shape how images would be crafted. A major one concerned the lenses they were going to use. First, they did a few tests to figure out which were the most appropriate and how they would react with different camera movements. 

“We knew that we wanted to use wide-angle lenses—even with medium shots—and we would only use longer lenses for very tight shots,” explained Lanthimos. “We basically used one lens for the close ups (a 75mm), and for all of the other shots, we went from a 6mm all the way up to a 21mm, and sometimes even a 27mm. We didn’t really film much on the in-between lenses, so that gave us quite a particular structure to work with.” 

These specific choices had to do with the framing of each shot. Lanthimos had a precise plan in mind for where people were in the frame, how the camera focused on them, and how the framing helps direct the audience’s attention. Breaking preconceived notions regarding period pieces also meant to employ distinct camera movements, including panning the camera from one actor to the other, or panning from one actor to a wider shot of a room within the same shot. 

“It’s the all-seeing eye,” said Ryan to describe The Favourite’s visual language. “It’s a wide vision of an intimate, small world.” By being so expansive in an optical manner, Ryan thinks, it produces a feeling of confinement. “For a film that’s shot on very wide angles, it feels even more claustrophobic, because you’re seeing the whole location and the whole environment. I can’t quite explain it, but that’s the impression I got from seeing the film. You want to get out of that house because it’s all around you, you can’t escape it.”

One major reference Lanthimos provided to illustrate how he wanted the camera to interact with the cast and sets was the 1983 German horror Angst. Ryan had never seen the cult classic until the director showed footage of it on YouTube. “The thing that was interesting to him about Angst was the movement achieved by spinning a camera body rig around the main actor,” he said. “Wherever the person moved, the camera spun around him. It wasn’t like anybody else was operating it; it was attached to him.” Lanthimos was really keen on trying to replicate that effect, but with actresses wearing delicate costumes, a body rig with a 35mm camera was not plausible. 

Still, Ryan did get to experience a new tool he wasn’t familiar with prior to The Favourite, and which facilitated some of the most complex moves. “We used this piece of equipment which I hadn’t used before, which is called a gimbal rig. With a gimbal rig, you have to wear a suit, like a stedicam jacket. It had these articulated exoskeleton arms with high-tension springs that sprung out from your back and hold up this gimbal rig which had a 35mm camera on it,” described Ryan. Getting the gimbal to work optimally was one of the DP’s most strenuous battles on set.

Ryan admits that he’s the most comfortable working on a handled camera, which he’s used quite a bit on Andrea Arnold’s dramas. On The Favourite, however, Yorgos Lanthimos decided not to have that at all, instead adapting to what the director wanted. It was an adjustment Ryan was eager to embrace, being the versatile DP that he is. “I enjoyed coming up with very elaborate tracking moves that don’t necessarily seem to be elaborate. The actual construction of that was quite tricky for us,” he noted. “The most exciting part of the process was trying to figure out the best way to get the camera to move in the way that Yorgos wanted.”

Yorgos Lanthimos turns his lens on the Queen (Yorgos Lanthimos) and her Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz).

The Favourite’s primary location was the Hatfield House, a large country house in Hertfordshire, England built in the 17th century. Lighting the vast halls inside this property represented a major challenge because of Lanthimos’s dogma. “I don’t like using artificial lighting, so all of the lighting in the film is lit with natural light and candle light, with a couple of exceptions (scenes that are outside in the garden or the forest at night) where you wouldn’t see anything without lights,” said Lanthimos.

“That’s kind of a rule of mine that I carry with me a lot.” He is aware of how extreme working in those huge spaces with no lights is, but he is more than pleased with the results. “I think it works beautifully,” he said enthusiastically. 

On a similar note, Lanthimos and his team also tried to limit the color palette of the sets in order to make them look stark; normally the spaces they used were inhabited with plenty of objects, furniture, and paintings. They decluttered the rooms and hallways so that the limited palette of the backgrounds would complement that of the costumes, which are mostly black and white. “The tapestries of the actual locations were green and gold. We just tried to limit it to a certain extent, so that the visuals were quite sharp in that sense,” added Lanthimos. Color is mostly seen in the waistcoats that are under the men’s coats or in their golden shoes.

According to Ryan, what was lovely about the darker walls made of wood was that daylight would come through the big windows and light the characters, but not necessarily much else. The backgrounds soaked up all the light, and that gave a lush quality to the images. He also pointed out that Lanthimos had chosen those locations for the lighting more than anything else, as he really enjoyed the idea of having the light source be the large windows from one direction. 

“The palette was kind of down to the location more than anything. The great thing about shooting on film is that it renders what it sees very beautifully. It doesn’t show a heck of a lot more to what’s already there, and it somehow wraps it all up in a nice beautiful image,” said Ryan, who also recognized the help provided by fellow DP Stephen Murphy, who took over the cinematography for a week while he was out dealing with a family bereavement. 

Aside from its aesthetic benefits, Ryan prefers shooting on film because it reduces the number of people in the production and removes some of the anxiety brought associated with digital moviemaking. “It strips back a lot of the technical side of the process,” said the cinematographer. He believes it is ideal to shoot with the least amount monitors around possible, and film allows that because no one is trying to fix the footage on set. “The loader is there to take the film and box it up and send it to a laboratory, so all of the DIT or the on-set grading doesn’t exist, which is to me a very nice benefit.” 

Once you’ve filmed it, he said, you forget about it until the next day, when you the records back. It’s only then that he and his crew think about what is right or wrong. It’s a different mindset, because you’re not thinking about it in the moment you’re filming it. I think that’s a huge difference, because it means you can concentrate on what you need to get done in the day,” adds Ryan. There is one no one pouring over each shot problem—solving visual elements. 

“When you’re on set shooting digital, people tend to get a little bit obsessed with looking at the monitor and trying to grade it on set. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all going to get graded down two, three or maybe six months later. I love the fact that film cancels that out instantly,” Ryan concluded. 

Lanthimos and Ryan’s artistic partnership was based on the director’s need for someone willing to step out of conventions, and in that regard he found a remarkable risk-taker in Ryan. “I like is when DPs are fearless, bold, and eager to try new things. When they dare to go into places that they might feel are uncomfortable or dangerous. Ultimately, you’re rewarded in the end,” said the helmer. Before considering Ryan, he had seen most of his repertoire, not only in feature films but also in music videos and commercials. Even if Lanthimos was asking for something quite different to he had done up to that point, Ryan delivered both in craft and courage.  

For his part, Ryan was glad to have devoted himself to The Favourite’s success. That meant aligning his talent and skills with Lanthimos’s overall enterprise. “The best approach is always being able to adapt to a director’s particular style. To not necessarily impose your own style on that director. Unless they’re looking for something, it’s better that you try and adapt to their thinking,” he said. “Hopefully, whatever you can bring to a project will filter through into whatever their ideas are, and it’s a nice fusing.”  MM

The Favourite opened in theaters November 23, 2018, courtesy of Fox Searchlight. All images courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

The post <b>All-Seeing Eyes</b>: How Director Yorgos Lanthimos and DP Robbie Ryan Defy Period Film Aesthetics in <i>The Favourite</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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For the last 15 years, Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda has elicited unfeigned portrayals from children and teens using parameters tested over several feature films.

“This methodology started when I was doing Nobody Knows, and I had auditioned and chosen many children who had no acting experience,” the director—whose most recent masterwork of empathy, Shoplifters, won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival—told MovieMaker during a visit to Los Angeles last month. 

While shaping the young talent for his 2004 feature Nobody Knows, a moving drama concerning four siblings braving abandonment, Kore-eda discovered his efforts were more effective if he didn’t share any text or details about the production with the children. “Before that, I had tried teaching them the script and found that it ended up like a school play, and that wasn’t what I wanted,” he explained. He then took a stab at implementing improvisational techniques, but that also proved unfruitful. 

Yuri (Sasaki Miyu) and Shota (Jyo Kairi) are a formidable petty crime duo in Shoplifters. Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Finally, the director felt that guiding his most inexperienced cast members closely could do the trick. Kore-eda would tell them, “He is going to tell you this, so this is what you want to say back to him.” This way he would get the result he sought but filtered through the children’s own personalities. “It was through trial and error that I arrived at this methodology, and it just works really well.” 

Ever since that epiphany, Kore-eda’s utterly compassionate movies have featured nuanced turns from child performers: from Still Walking, to I Wish, to Like Father Like Son, to After the Storm, and, of course, his latest Shoplifters.

From the moment he meets them in the audition, he communicates directly what he wants as opposed to requiring memorization. “One thing I do is whisper in their ear and tell them their lines verbally, and I see how they respond to that, and they need to respond well to that in order to be chosen,” he asserted.

Throughout the film production Kore-eda only provides them with the lines necessary for the scene they are about to shoot. “I do not give the children anything in advance, so they literally experience the story as it unfolds.” By limiting the amount of information they have previous access to, he ensures reactions are genuine throughout. For example, in Shoplifters, child actors Kairi Jō and Miyu Sasaki, who play siblings in a makeshift family, were not aware they were involved in a heart-rending film until one of the characters dies.

Nobuyo (Ando Sakura) and Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) adopt little Yuri into their makeshift family.

Conversely, adult cast members got more details and direction prior to filming. Kore-eda brought them in for a table read where they discussed each of their roles within the family unit and how the characters create a nest for themselves as part of the unorthodox setup. Although they know the overall story and some specifics on the situations they will encounter, there are no rehearsals, so whatever they are bringing to their roles occur in the moment and are undoubtedly impacted by their youngest counterparts. 

Characterized by their sheer sincerity, Kore-eda’s deeply humanist movies almost always examine family entanglements. No one is ever presented as an irremediable antagonist, but their flaws are still observed. In Shoplifters, the clan in focus is inherently more morally questionable as it’s composed of a group of deviants sporting varying degrees of indecorous behavior: a few charming pariahs, an elderly woman getting by on government benefits, a prepubescent boy, and a girl they rescued from her abusive home.  

“I was thinking, ‘If I have a family in which the members are not connected by any sort of blood ties, what would I do?’ They’re not connected through kindness, a sense of goodness, or a sense of what is right or wrong; none of that connects them. What would connect them?” Kore-eda explains about his endearing band of thieves.

Kore-eda then introduced money as a link between them born out of self-preservation. “Everybody comes to that house and relies on the grandmother’s money.” The filmmaker pointed out that they are also bonded through their shared instruction in teaching the children to carry out petty crimes. As twisted as it may sound, that shared responsibility is part of the glue that binds them together. 

Consistent with his prior filmography, a father-son relationship sits at the core of Shoplifters. Osamu (Lily Franky) has raised Shota (Kairi Jō) to the best of his ability, but his selfish nature leads him to manipulate his adoptive son for personal gain. Still, this often unscrupulous man has functioned as the boy’s only male role model. 

Osamu and Shota scout a local supermarket before stealing groceries.

According to Kore-eda, the way he writes father figures in his films is influenced by his own recollections from being a son and a father—even if the parallels are not literal. “There may be times when my father would be reflected onto the father figure, and sometimes myself is reflected onto the father figure,” he said. 

“In this movie, for example, the young boy realizes that the father is teaching him to shoplift, and gradually he develops a sense of conscience around it and is not happy with that,” said Kore-eda. As this awareness grows, Shota starts seeing the ways in which the surrogate father is not all that he thought he was. He unveils his weaknesses and is distraught by that, which in turn, as the director explained, triggers the family’s final collapse. “I felt that feeling with my own father, at some point, like any person growing up, I saw my father for who he was, rather than who I thought he was.” 

On the subject of stories about parents and children, Kore-eda spoke about fellow Japanese director Mamoru Hosoda, who’s behind superb anime gems like The Boy and the Beast, Wolf Children, and this year’s Mirai. Geniuses in their respective mediums, both address similar human conflicts. 

“There is a simpatico friendship between the two of us,” said Kore-eda. “I have no ghosts or half-wolf children, but I think his work is very similar in the kind of questions around parenting to what I work with: How does someone become a mother? Or, what can go wrong with the father?” Ultimately, Kore-eda is not actively pursuing work in the animation world, but he is glad kindred spirit Hosoda is creating spiritually kindred fables in that realm. MM

Shoplifters is Japan’s Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Language Film, courtesy Magnolia Pictures. All images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The post <b>Foreign Contenders:</b> <i>Shoplifters</i> Director Hirokazu Kore-eda on Father Figures and His Methods of Working with Children appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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Nijla Mu’min and I are on the phone talking about rep sweats.

“Have you heard of the NPR podcast Code Switch?” I ask her.

“Yes, I have!” she answers brightly.

We then shifted to the subject of Margaret Cho’s notoriously short-lived 1994 sitcom All-American Girl, the first prime time television show to feature an Asian American cast. The show was cancelled after one season due in no small part to criticism from prominent Asian critics. Occasional Code Switch podcast host Kat Chow describes the rep(resentation) sweats as: “the feeling of anxiety that can come with watching TV shows starring people who look like you, especially when people who look like you tend not to get a lot of screen time.”

Did Mu’min get the rep sweats while writing Jinn, her feature length directorial debut? “I wasn’t really thinking about representational politics,” she says. “I was thinking about my characters—Summer (Zoe Renee), Jade (Simone Missick), Tahir (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). I was focused on their stories, not mine.”

Jinn follows its protagonist Summer through a tumultuous period in her young life. As she juggles her passion dancing with applying to colleges, maintaining friendships, and experimenting with sex and romance, she is pushed to navigate a fraught terrain of identity politics. Summer is African American and, after moving to a new town, her mother dives deep into the local Muslim community. Pulled between a devout crush, an ignorant friend, the unfeeling matrix of social media, and her mother’s influence, Summer fights to chart her own course through an increasingly turbulent world for girls who look like her.

MovieMaker was able to sit down with Mu’min to discuss how Jinn came to be.

Kelvin Harrison Jr., Zoe Renee, and Gabriel Garzaro in Jinn.

Ryan Coleman, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): When did you start writing Jinn and what sparked you to write it?

Nijla Mu’min (NM): I started writing the script for Jinn over the summer of 2015. It was a story that was many years in the making, and took even longer to develop. As a young girl, I was raised in a Muslim community in the Bay Area. I really felt such a love for that community, but becoming a teenager, questioning my identity, and being confused, I found that I wanted to define what my life was for myself. I never saw that life represented in cinema. 

I didn’t know that I wanted to be a filmmaker until I was in college. I did have a background in writing poetry and short stories when I was younger but didn’t know I’d end up here. When I became a filmmaker, and learned how to write screenplays, this was one of the first stories I wanted to tell. However, it didn’t end up being until 2015 that I wrote the script for this particular iteration of the story.

MM: When it comes to Summer’s hesitation at first regarding Islam, is that a generational thing, or is she uniquely responding to the times we’re living in?

NM: I think that there’s a lot of ignorance, hatred and general unwillingness to learn about different things. I think this is especially true in regards to Islam because of how it’s been portrayed for so many years. This portrayal in the media impacts so many people, especially teenagers who, in this age of over-information, have access to so much through social media. Even in this environment of constant knowledge, it’s still so easy to be grossly misinformed. I wanted to address that in Summer’s character. The main thing she knows about Islam is about oppression, the feeling that women are not able to be free—something we have been hearing for many years. It’s generational but it’s also a result of the power structures at play in this country. These institutions disperse information that dehumanizes people. They place people into categories, and put all of their effort into dividing people. That’s what Summer is able to overcome. She is eventually able to realize that this is a world she can feel part of. To see her actually enjoying it and really finding herself able to be at peace within it, that’s something that I wanted to show. I wanted to bring people away from these very limiting stereotypes.

MM: Characters from marginalized identity groups often get short representation shrift in film—their narratives centering around suffering or sacrifice. How and why did you choose not to structure Jinn that way?

NM: As a writer, I really wanted to capture what it means to be a teenager today, which was a little different from how it was for me growing up. I wanted to paint a picture of what freedom is for these black girls. They’re exploring their identities, their sexuality, and their freedom through dress. When I was a teenager, if someone wore pink dye in their hair they would be teased for it. If they were bisexual, they might have been really torn apart about that. I didn’t want to make a movie about despair. Though I think movies about these themes are credible, I didn’t want a movie about black people struggling through life. I love a lot of movies where struggle is a main feature of the narrative for black characters, but I felt like it had no place in this movie. When we filmed, I knew I wanted to paint a world that was painful, yes, but also fun, hopeful, and full of color. MM

Jinn opened in theaters and on demand November 16, 2018, courtesy of Orion Classics. All images courtesy of Orion Classics.

The post <b>Full of Color:</b> Nijla Mu’min on Seeking Representation in Her New Film <i>Jinn</i> appeared first on MovieMaker Magazine.

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