Interviews

HOLY HELL Calendar Image 6 - Courtesy of WRA Productions

Last year we had Going Clear, a documentary that took us inside the world of Scientology. This year, we have Holy Hell. William Allen was just a young man who enjoyed filmmaking when he when he was introduced to a man who went by the name of Michel, the leader of a cult called Buddhafield. For much of his life, Allen was involved in the cult. He eventually left and took his footage with him.

In the brand new documentary, Holy Hell, Allen unveils his experience in the cult and talks to us about why he chose to tell his story.

AD:  How did you get involved in the cult, for those who don’t know?

WA: Thank you! Well, it was very easy to get involved because my sister invited me. I was at a crisis moment when my mother had kicked me out of the house and I was so upset. She told me, in a voice I had never heard from her, it was very calm and loving, that I don’t have to do it all on my own. I didn’t ever realize that I could have support in my life and she told me to come to the meeting that night. I didn’t want to come because I was too emotional, but she was like “no, no come,” so I went. I had this really beautiful experience with peace and connection and everyone was meditating and I just thought that it was so beautiful and had never seen anything like this. It really resonated with me. It felt non-dogmatic. The leader would talk about all different types of religions and the source of all religions and then kind of throw it all away and create a new version of it. It was really appealing to me because I was raised Catholic so I was looking for anything that wasn’t guilt-ridden [laughs] and guided by do’s and don’ts. It was appealing to me.

AD: You have a lot of footage that goes way back, so when did you start filming? Have you always been a filmmaker?

WA: I started filming my life when I was younger, you know, making movies, and when I went to college my dramatic films were all very self-reflective of what was life about and why are we here and what is death and what happens when we die. I was trying to get on top of it all and understand what everyone was doing here. I was using my films for that. When I got into the group, even though he discouraged anyone from following their careers and encouraged us to give up all our ambition, I couldn’t give up that part of myself that had to document my life so I kept doing it. But, it changed for me; my films were not coming from angst or confusion, I was now coming from joy and I’d found a certain answer that I liked and so my films became very expressive of beauty which was new for me. I started to document pretty much the first year or so after I was there. I would just pick my camera up and start filming whatever we were doing. I would just eventually start making movies for the group. I would film us and edit it into movies and we would watch them on Christmas. It was a big event, but just for us. No one else.

AD: When did you become disillusioned?

WA: The truth of the matter is that I became disillusioned very early on, but something happens when you commit to something you believe in. This is, in part, what the film tries to explore. Once you say, “yes” it is really hard to back out and say, “no” and change your mind. Any disillusionment that I experienced or other people experienced would be pointed back to you like you had this problem that you needed to get passed. My problem happened when he came on to me sexually and forced a sexual relationship. Everything changed for me at that point. It ruined my spiritual innocence and so for the longest time after that, I kept trying to maintain this sense of innocence, in spite of everything. The closer I got to him, when I was younger, the more I didn’t like him, but he also used to say that no one is supposed to like the teacher and that the teacher is here to make you uncomfortable and break your ego. Of course you’re not going to like him so we thought that it was normal [laughs]. We thought we were supposed to be angry at him here and there because he’s telling us things we don’t want to hear. It was part of the universe that he was teaching us that inadvertently helped us stay.

AD: That is mindblowing. At what point did you think to tell your story?

WA: That happened years later. It took me a while. I left with much of my footage when the group broke up and I honestly never felt I was going to look at this footage again or maybe in 20 years I’d look at it. But there was nothing on there that I wanted to see. I just wanted to create a new life and to run and run and run. That was my style, to run away and create new memories and meet new people. We all tried to forget what happened to us, but was five year after that that I wasn’t healing very well and I hadn’t been able to process what happened, I didn’t understand it. I went to Sundance and while there I decided I was going to turn my footage into a film.

AD: That’s such an inspiration, to be at Sundance with all these filmmakers.

WA: I know, I know [laughs]! It sounds so stereotyped, but it’s true. I went there just to try to meet people and try to start my life and try to be a filmmaker and I realized that I have to make a film. If you want to be a filmmaker, you have to do it. You can’t just talk about it. That’s what I’ve done. I would always direct and write and produce and edit and film so that’s when I knew. And then, I thought, “what movie would you rather make than something that’s complicated and meaningful and would bring purpose to your life and others?” It was this story for me.

AD: Wow. How much footage did you leave with? I know sometimes it’s like 200 hours.

WA: Yeah. Luckily for me, and thank God, I would edit these movies every few years and I’d throw away all the footage I didn’t use and just keep my masters. I left with a lot of pre-cut films that were already made and then a lot of raw footage. I think I got out with about 25 or 30 hours of footage. It’s a lot, but it’s also condensed. It’s all the best footage because I had already gone through it all because I’d done so many years of work. Then, we had like ten hours of his interviews when he’s talking to us and then I did like 50 hours of interviews, at least.

AD: What were the struggles in making this?

WA:  It’s true, it was very hard to do. I would say that all of it was a struggle to revisit this stuff and to look at this footage and to look at this man that I have such a deep confusion and hatred towards. To listen and look at him over and over and over for the next four years, to listen to my friends’ interviews and to put everything together was painful. I had to put my emotions in it and I had to make sure the emotions were on the screen and so that was something you’d have to feel all the time. It was confusing how to tell the story because I’d done propaganda for so many years and only been shown the good things and actually only filmed the good things. I didn’t film the bad things. So, I had this challenge of how do I show the good and the bad when I didn’t capture the bad on camera. That was really interesting to layer in the negative on top because I didn’t have any clear-cut negative footage that was obvious [laughs]. I never had him saying that he was going to fuck me or any of that stuff so we had to layer all that and explain all that. Luckily, everything married together perfectly because both things existed so you could see an image of him and he might be laughing and you could hear someone talk about how bad he was and it works because you can see it even though it’s happy or this other thing going on. The duality was always present.

AD: You feel it as well as see it. I don’t know if creepy is the right word, but there’s a feeling of “oh my gosh.”

WA: Yeah, your human nature and intuition is feeling like the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up and you know when to be alarmed.

AD:  When you’re sitting back and looking at the footage, were there moments when you think “why didn’t I get out sooner?”

WA: I do. One of my goals in the film was to try to answer that question for people and why people stay in these situations and why people stay in not just cults, that has a religious and spiritual significance that keeps people bound, but why do people stay in troubled relationships and bad jobs for so long. We have to have reasons for doing it and so ours was that he was a hypnotherapist, first of all. Anytime we wanted to leave he would talk us out of it and anytime we wanted to fight we would be put down and suppressed and we were told be more humble. The more humble you are, the more you let go of your ego and the more you get over your critical thinking, the less power you have to make these independent choices that are better for you, but you might not be taking care of yourself and you’re serving a bigger whole and you get sacrificed. All these things were happening at once.

AD: You’ve finished it and you’ve screened it and everyone is saying that it’s such a great documentary. What has happened since you finished it? Have you had contact with any current members?

WA: Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately, yes, one of the individuals who is in the film received a death threat in Hawaii where the teacher still lives. Someone came up to him in person and threatened his life if the movie comes there. And my friend went to the police, there’s a warrant out for his arrest, they found out that the man lives at the same house the teacher lives in. So we finally made things change because the film just documented our story and is continuing in their story. Of course, who knows what they’re going to do to me. They’re slandering me all over the place, secretly though. That’s what they do. It’s all very subversive, but it doesn’t matter because it still isn’t about me or about 100 people. It’s for everyone. If 100 people don’t see it and 100 people hate me and whatever, it’s okay.

AD: It’s educational to watch as well.

WA: Even now when people are still defending him when they hear the truth. Why? What are you protecting? How long are going to go one protecting and hiding him? I love privacy and think it’s very important, but there’s also transparency that people need when people are devoting their life to something. People devote their lives to a lot of different things and many times they don’t know what it was until years later when they see all the different pieces to the thing they were involved in because there’s not transparency all the time.

 

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AD: When you’re in something, you don’t see it. When you step away, you suddenly have a clearer vision.

WA: Exactly. He wouldn’t allow people to step away. He wouldn’t allow people to get that distance. I wasn’t allowed to go see my parents. People weren’t allowed to have friends outside because in cults, the dangerous thing about them is that they become very singular and want you to only be around like-minded people. Only listen to him and only spend time with them; the outside people don’t understand and are going to take you away. So, once he establishes that then it’s really hard to have outside people that you listen to.

AD: It’s dangerous as well because like you said, that influence of somebody external realizing you sound completely crazy and he’s crazy.

WA: We heard that and would say that they don’t understand and we know it looks funny, but its not. We would have these answers [laughs]. There’s a comment someone in the group in the film that says “we used to say that we know we look like a cult, but we’re not one.”

AD: Denial is always good as well.

WA: Yeah, yeah. I love denial and compartmentalization too.

AD: Anytime we do something or say something about these cults and whatever they choose to mark themselvesas, they’re always going to come off to you and say something negative about you.

WA: Oh yeah, they demonize you if you leave. I would even do it to some of my friends when they would want to leave. I would be very angry at them and my mentality was very much in sync with the teacher because we were all emulating him and his thoughts that we adopted. If someone left the group, it was like they were against the group. It works, though, because why would you leave [laughs].

AD: Right. And now here you are in 2016. You’ve made it and you’ve done it for the world to see. How long did it take to edit all the footage?

WA: I went to Sundance in February of 2012 and I finished it at Sundance in 2016. It was literally four years, like I got to Sundance and was like, “it was four years ago since I had the thought.” But it took four years to raise money and to research and logging, so I didn’t keep track of all the months the whole editing process took. I was constantly creating the film and eventually we cut down from a five hour cut to three hour cut. There were so many great outtakes that we had to lose because people can only take 90 minutes of anything.

AD: I know, we’ve got such a short attention span. We need a director’s cut to come out.

WA: I think small sound bites of like two and half minute films sounds kind of fun. Now that we know the universe it takes place in, we can have more fun looking at the footage in context.

AD: So what are you doing next after this?

WA: Well, it’s not completely done yet. We’re still doing marketing and pushing it and making sure it has a successful theatrical run. Then, it’ll be on video-on-demand in July and we’ll be on CNN at the end of summer and on Netflix later. I think I have another month or two because we have some festivals I get to go to which are fun, in Poland and Belfast and some other places. I just got back from Spain and Toronto. You want other people in the world to hear about it and they don’t all just know about it magically. You have to go out there and put it out there. I’ll be doing that for a little bit. I really would love to take a break, honestly, and there’s part of me that would love to do a scripted television show, very Six Feet Under meets Big Love. You can’t write this stuff and you can’t make it up and there’s so much to it that really you can’t put into a documentary. I also love fiction and sci-fi and normal movies, not just documentaries only.

AD: Oh, I think we all love the normal movies.

WA: I think if I like the subject of a film, I’ll go see it no matter what it is. Documentaries have a lot to compete with. They have to entertaining and keep people’s attention and do something new. But, I love blockbusters and I’ll see all of them. I love everything.

AD:  Jared Leto is involved as an Executive producer.

WA: Yes! He’s fantastic. He came in early when we had done a really rough cut back in September so he saw the potential of where we were headed with it. It was nice and he’s an artist and everyone respects him so much.

 

Holy Hell is in wide release

inifnity3

Who is Srinivasa Ramanujan? If you’re a film buff, you would have heard his name being mentioned in Good Will Hunting. Matt Brown discovered Robert Kanigel’s biography of Ramanujan and the story stuck with him. Twelve years later, it comes to life in Brown’s latest film, The Man Who Knew Infinity. I recently caught up with Brown to talk about the challenges of making a film about a mathematical genius, especially when math is a subject that typically intimidates Hollywood. We also talked about filming on location in England and India.

AD: Congratulations on the film. I watched it and was like, “math was my weakest point in school, I did terribly.” But this is such a touching film.

MB: Thank you very much.

AD: How long did it take you to get it off the ground?

MB: Like yourself, I wasn’t much good at math either. I think a lot of people are pretty intimidated by the subject of mathematics, especially in Hollywood. It took about 12 years to get the film make from the time I first discovered the biography by Robert Kanigel that it was based on until now. It took a long time [laughs]. It’s the subject matter really and that it’s a period piece and mathematics is the backdrop for it and then it’s an Indian lead. It just didn’t have a lot of the things Hollywood sort of looks for when they want to finance movies.

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27_Presenting-Princess-Shaw-opt-1024x566-1024x585

Online, she goes by Princess Shaw, but Samantha Montgomery’s story is nothing short of an inspiring rise from struggling nurse to YouTube viral sensation. Her rise to fame is documented in a brand new documentary, Presenting Princess Shaw, by Ido Haar. Haar follows musician Kutiman and Montgomery as the former takes the latter’s vocals, without her knowledge, as he often does, and mixing in jazz, soul and other sounds, he creates a whole new sound. By day, Princess Shaw is a nurse, and by night, she works the open mic scene and uploads videos to her YouTube channel. What happens after Kutiman discovers her video and creates this new sound is the subject of the documentary. I caught up with Montgomery who’s currently working both coasts to promote the new documentary that screened at the Toronto Film Festival to find out more about working with Haar and Kutiman and how she found the confidence to find her voice.

AD: Congratulations on the story. It’s so beautiful and inspiring to watch this and then talk to you afterwards. Did you always want to be a singer? I have to ask that question. Your voice is so soulful.

SM: I started off when I was younger wanting to sing and wanting to go out and have the confidence. I’ve always wanted to sing, even when I was younger, but I didn’t have the confidence to sing in public. I would sing by myself and then I started to sing more. I didn’t really venture out into the world of singing until I moved to New Orleans. At 29 or 30 or maybe even 32 I really started to venture out and sing. In 2012 I started my YouTube channel and I said, “Let me just do it.”  It started from there and has been that way ever since.

AD: You also say you didn’t have the confidence. When did you suddenly sit there and be like, “Okay, I’m going to use YouTube as a platform”?

SM: You know, before I had braces my teeth were really crooked. Like, really awful (laughs). So I was not in front of anyone singing any songs. That’s the main focal point when you sing so like that was another issue. But, I found my voice in New Orleans. It wasn’t a voice I heard other people singing, it was my voice, my tone, and it was me. That’s when the confidence came. It was like, “Oh my God, I’m just me and I feel comfortable in that setting.” That’s the reason I came forth and started to sing on YouTube.

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Love and friendship

Kate Beckinsale has spent the day talking to American journalists about her new film, Love & Friendship in which she plays the Lady Susan. The film is based on the novella by Jane Austen, and is like Mean Girls in corsets. Love & Friendship sees the actress dressed in gowns of brocade and embroidery, playing a widowed socialite. The film reunites her with director Whit Stillman and Chloe Sevigny.

We bond over a marmite joke and which part of London we come from. Beckinsale grew up in Hammersmith and is originally from West London. She mentions how hard it is to get a “cab” in Tooting which is in South London.

Awards Daily: Congratulations on the film. It’s such a relief to see a film like this. One thing I love is the relationship you have with Chloe Sevigny. One of my favorite lines is when she says to your character, “Nobody deserves you.” It’s such a nice and rare female relationship.

Kate Beckinsale: Her character says that quite a lot. I’ve actually been saying recently that I know Whit changed the title, and a few people have asked me what does love and friendship means to me. Certainly for this movie, I feel that Love & Friendship actually refers very much to the relationship between my character and Chloe’s more than anything else.

I love the fact that the female relationship is free and mutually supportive. The two women are able to be candid and approve of each other.

AD: What was it like being reunited with Chloe on screen after all these years?

KB: It was lovely and very familiar in a lovely way. Last Days of Disco was a turning point for me. It was a very different world when we shot that. One was much more into living in England and being highly suspicious of LA and America. I’d only ever been to America once, and that was to go to Disneyland. So, at 22, in my mind, America housed Disneyland and was just far away. When I was doing Last Days of Disco, it was a very particular social group that I was not familiar with, and Chloe was. She was my Virgil in a way during that period of time. I had arrived this very English, West London person. She was goofy, quirky and comfortable with herself, and very not English, and yet an Anglophile. She took me around and gently led me around, this twat from Chiswick (West London).

This time around we were both two million years older. I was in a British movie. I wasn’t this Alice in Wonderland thinking, “What’s that?” I was a bit more on my territory so she didn’t have to be a tour guide. She was there was less than half of the movie. I would have loved for her to be there more.
It’s such a treat to be in a movie with another woman, because most of the time, it’s me on my own. So, it was lovely to have another chick around.

LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, 1998
LAST DAYS OF DISCO, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Beckinsale, 1998

AD: When I saw the film, my first thought was that your character, Lady Susan Vernon is a quite like Mean Girls but in a corset. You love to hate her, but you love her. What was it like when you first read the script ?

KB: I didn’t believe Jane Austen had written it. I honestly thought Whit had written the movie in the style of Jane Austen. Because she’s so unexpected for a Jane Austen heroine, it just took me a second.
The longer I sat with it, and researched it, and thought about it, on the surface she seems like a ghastly and manipulative person, but on a completely different level, as a woman in that time period, what’s she’s doing is rejecting the notion that any forms of freedom, whether they’re social, financial and intellectual are denied to her. That was rather pioneering. So, the fact that she’s unapologetically ruthless about her right to having money and a secure future and her choice of sexual partners, none of which are mutually exclusive, there’s something about that, that one cheers about her, she is a woman struggling about an awful lot of stuff. She glides over it in a wealthy way, I really like her.

AD: She’s very likable in a way.

KB: I’ve always been attracted to those characters that aren’t necessarily the nicest person. They’re the most fun to play. I like that Jane Austen wrote a character that ideally you like despite yourself.

AD: What was it like working with Whit again after all these years?

KB: I did a Q&A with him the other day and someone asked, “When did you start working on this?” and he said something insane like 1999. I thought, blimey, I was just getting ready to give birth.

He was such a game changing moment for me. I remember I had this wonderful play that I had workshopped in London with the writer, it was a brilliant play that ended up being immensely successful and great. At the same time I was offered that role. I was really torn and part of me was so terrified about going to New York and playing this part, feeling not equipped. It scared me more than the play. I like going to things that frighten me a bit work wise. It was a difficult decision at the time. I’m really glad that I did. I spent a lot of the time in the hotel initially, almost scared to leave the hotel. I didn’t know anyone and felt unfamiliar. You can feel so out of place in a city like New York when you don’t know anyone. I did at first.

The movie was a much longer shoot. I made life long friendships. Coming back, I hadn’t seen Whit at all. I didn’t know what he was doing, he’s such an interesting creature. It was so familiar with all this time, life and everything that had happened in between. It was comforting. Chloe is still really cool. Whit is still really interesting and elegant. Everybody is an oddball but it works.

AD: You shot this in 27 days.

KB: It was 26. Whit told me to say that it was because I’d learned my lines properly that we ended up finishing a day early [laughs]. That was such a nice thing to hear.

AD: What was the challenge of having to shoot in that timescale?

KB: I think the challenge on all departments was that everybody was so thrilled to be doing this movie. Whit had to do all sorts of convoluted financing things. Everybody was aware of wanting to do their absolute best job and do it justice. We were the first cast members to put these characters of a Jane Austen piece on screen which was such an unusual and amazing privilege to have. Nobody wanted to be that person to capsize this incredible piece of luck that we were all involved in. This was a lot of dialogue.

She does a lot of pontificating and manipulating and talking. The other person maybe gets one sentence out, before she starts again. I said to Whit, “I went to Oxford. I like to be prepared and do my homework, and do my PhD of a novella and get everything in order.”

I was a brownie, I don’t want to be the one to let it down. Whit was wonderful because he’d ask me for my notes on the script and would use them. So, it was a really nice collaboration. I find directors who have also written the script are open to that sort of thing.

I forgot that Whit’s great strength as a director is that he is a thousand percent in the moment, so it’s all very meticulously planned and structured, but then he will see something he likes, and change it day of.

One thing was that terrifying was that I’d quite often be sitting in hair and make up in the morning having spent three hours the night before, and he would elegantly appear in a suit, pop his head in the trailer, give me some pages, and say, “It’s only a few changes,” and he’d have moved a huge bit of this speech around. It was like a mental agility test. [laughs]

I just didn’t want to be that thing where everyone was bringing their A-game and have people say, “Oh, Kate can’t remember her lines.” [laughs]. The most basic thing you can do as an actor is really know what you’re saying.

AD: And thanks to you everybody got off work one day early.

KS: I know. That worked out. [laughs].

AD: How was wardrobe because you know you must be so used getting into corsets by now?

KS: It’s like a fetish. I never seem to get away without a corset, it seems very unusual. They were a lot. I was very surprised because my early career was a lot of costume dramas. I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Jenny Beavan and the most amazing people. You can be on a bigger budget movie and they’ll make your clothes, but as you know there are a lot of fantastic costume house in England. You find you’re wearing Kate Winslet’s shoes, or you’ve got a necklace from some other movie. Things pass around.

What was really surprising was that I turned up on this movie with a very modest budget, and all my costumes, and Chloe’s were completely designed and made from scratch. So that was really surprising. Also, a real treat because my character doesn’t half like her clothes.

It was a really big part of the character. She starts off a widow, gradually with a respectable period of time, eases into a mauve, and ends up in red dresses.

They are quite a lot. Hair and make-up was fairly swift because we were mostly in wigs. Costuming took the longest time. At lunch time, we only had half hour lunches which goes by incredibly quickly. Every single day, my priority would be getting my corset off for at least ten minutes, which is a terrible idea. It’s like when you’re at a party and your shoes are too small, the worst thing you can do is take it off because then getting it back on really hurts, and it was a bit like that with the corset. I just did it every day for that gasp of air.

AD: What about the accent and you had to go super posh for this. Where did you go for inspiration?

KS: I’m fairly posh to begin with. It is an interesting thing because when I did Emma, I went to Joan Washington who is the most gifted and wonderful dialect coach. The producer of that said by going there it would iron out any hint of London in my accent. It was incredibly helpful and fascinating in terms of the nuances of how accents change. So, for this, I went back to see her. I love accents and have one long meeting and go through the script, and that’s what I did here, and it was just wonderful. .

AD: The scenes with Tom Bennett were wonderful to watch. Did you have fun shooting that because those scenes were hysterical?

KS: What was so amazing about him because he was one of the few cast members who wasn’t able to be present for the table read, and joined us through Skype. Very often that means a person doesn’t feel they’re connected to the table read. He arrived with this very complete character who was hilarious. The table read was derailed, everybody was so thrilled and astonished by this hilarious performance. Whit was so tickled, I think he ended up with more scenes than he originally had because it was such a fun character. Also, he’s the nicest person in the whole world.

AD: Up next, you’ve got three movies coming out this year?

KS: I’m not sure if The Disappointment Rooms will come out this year, or next. At the moment, I’m writing. There’s a British writer, Emma Forrest who is a baby journalist. She wrote this brilliant book, Your Voice in My Head. She and I went to the same school. We’re writing this script together and that’s a process that I’m enjoying a lot.

With my daughter being a little bit older, it’s given me the freedom to do that. That’s what I’m in the middle of right now.

AD: You don’t drive. I remember moving here, losing my license and having to walk everywhere. It was a nightmare. What’s that like for you living in LA?

KS: I think because I’ve never driven anywhere, I don’t know any better. I live with a degree of frustration of captivity that I think is normal, but isn’t. Lucky they also invented Uber quite recently. That’s helped me out. I’m happy they thought of me when they were thinking that up. [laughs].
Also, what’s deeply embarrassing and shaming, is that my daughter has actually learned how to drive and got her licenses. [laughs] I’ve been saying, I can go and take my test, in the meantime this baby I had says, “I can drop you off.”

AD: I’m sure she would.

KS: Ha. I’m sure she’s dying to become my chauffeur. It’s quite a novelty at the moment, but I’m sure I could overuse that. [laughs]

 

Love & Friendship is on release 

LouderThanBombs

Louder Than Bombs made its premiere almost a year ago at the Cannes Film Festival. The film marked a big step for the Norwegian director. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert, it was his first feature film with American actors. I recently talked to the director about the film, his style, and how this film makes him feel like he’s the luckiest guy alive.

Awards Daily: This was the first time you’ve worked with American actors. How was that for you?

Joachim Trier: I actually went to film school in London, the National Film and TV School.

AD: No way.

JT: Yes, it’s true, in Beaconsfield. I lived in England for a while, so I had the experience of working with a lot of English speaking actors before this. But, this is my first time making a feature film in the English language in America.

I’d done some films in Norway before — Reprise. Part of the motivation of doing this was to work with these kind of actors. The thing about it, was we set the film up in a way that it wasn’t going to be dependent on having the most famous actors in the world, but people that were prominent, but were also good actors.

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my-golden-days

French film-maker Arnaud Desplechin likes to challenge himself with each film by trying out something different. With his latest release, My Golden Days, Desplechin took on the challenge of working with teenagers and breaking up narrative. The film depicts Paul Dédalus (Mathieu Amalric) looking back on his life, and reflecting on an affair he had as a teenager with a young woman, Esther (played by Lou Roy-Lecollinet).

I caught up with Desplechin to talk about making the film and delve into the inspirations behind the storytelling.

Arnaud Desplechin

 

Awards Daily: One thing that strikes me is how beautiful the narrative is. Talk to me about that.

Arnaud Desplechin: Thank you for that. When I started writing it, I knew I didn’t want to write a novel. In a way, I had already done that with My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument and so this is a story of a man plunging into his memories. When I do plunge into my own memories, it’s only bits and pieces that I recall which don’t make sense. So, I knew that I wanted three stories, rather than one.

Each story would belong to different areas, one was about childhood and almost like a poem to his childhood, we kept that part short at just seven minutes.

After that, we had the trip to the USSR, and finally we had the coming of age part. I thought it would be different and close to my own memories that aren’t one logical story, but bits and pieces of recollections. I look at them and wonder how is it possible that I experienced different things and what sense do they have. This was the way I tried to construct it like a brain process, rather than the narrative.

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Kristin Hahn moved to Los Angeles, a stranger in this town. She didn’t know anyone. She just knew she wanted to tell stories. Even then she wasn’t aware of what that entailed. One phone call changed her path. Hahn would get a job working with Bob Ellison, her mentor. At night she attended USC.
Today Hahn is a producer, behind such films as The Departed, Cake and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Next up she’s working on Stargirl staring Joey King with Catherine Hardwick directing.
I recently had the chance to catch up with Hahn to talk about her journey in this town, and discuss her latest film, Tumbledown.

Awards Daily: First of all, I’m glad to be speaking to a female producer. Now, I have to say how refreshing it was to see Rebecca Hall in this role.

Kristin Hahn: She’s the best, she’s so dreamy and I love her in this role, and I feel like you just want to live with her.

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A quiet community is in he path of danger when a sudden tsunami threatens to destroy them. A geologist battles to find and save his family. This is The Wave. It’s not a Hollywood blockbuster. It was this year’s official submission for Norway in the Best Foreign Language film category. I managed to catch up with director Roar Uthaug to discuss the challenges of working with water and a budget of $5 million dollars — and see what beans he could spill about the Tomb Raider reboot.

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Just as the voting closes for this week’s Oscars, I had the chance to catch up with Ruben Feffer. Feffer is wrapping up a vacation, but he still had time to talk about composing Boy and the World.

The animated feature is nominated for an Oscar. Containing very little dialogue, music is integral to the plot. I spoke to Feffer about the challenges of composing a film purely reliant on its score.

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In 2012’s The Act of Killing, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer explored the mass genocide in Indonesia from 1965 to 1966, exposing the horrors of that regime. In this year’s The Look of Silence, Oppenheimer profiles Adi Rukun, a man born soon after the massacres, who confronts the perpetrators who killed his brother during that time.

We’re honored to share this interview with Oppenheimer and Rukun as they discuss the fears they faced to make this film. The Look of Silence is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Read how the Indonesian government has reacted to the film.

The interview closes with a statement from Adi Rukun.

Awards Daily: OK, let’s get back to how you and Adi Rukun met.

Joshua Oppenheimer: In 2001, 2002, I was helping to teach a group of plantation workers on the same oil plantation where Adi’s family lived. I was teaching them how to make a film about how to organize a union in the aftermath of a military dictatorship under which unions were illegal.

It was a Belgian-owned company, where they made the women spray the pesticides and the herbicides because they said it was easy and the women didn’t have any protective clothing. Women in their forties were dying from liver failure. The workers had confronted the company to ask for protective clothing, and the company met those demands by hiring paramilitary to threaten and attack the workers who dropped their demand. They explained that there had been a mass killing in 1965 and their parents and grandparents had been killed by the same paramilitary. I realized what was killing these women was not just poison but also fear. Continue reading…

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Deniz Gamze Erguven is one of only two female directors nominated for an Academy Award this year, the other is Liz Garbus for Whatever Happened, Miss Simone? Erguven’s film, Mustang, has received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Mustang almost didn’t happen after producers dropped out right before filming. However, Charles Gillibert stepped in and the coming of age film was made. I had a brief chat with Erguven about her Mustang journey and what it’s like to be a filmmaker in France.
Awards Daily: Congratulations on being nominated for Mustang, but the film almost didn’t happen — and now here you are.

Deniz Gamze Erguven: We went from a low to a high.

AD: On that high, how is the experience for you.

DGE: It’s a responsibility. The Foreign Language Oscar goes to a country, and you’ve been chosen by France where I feel like the adopted child. It means a lot to me. I want to be worthy of the trust we’ve been given. So there’s this emotional responsibility. When the nominations came out for me, the pressure was huge. I was relieved.

AD: How did Mustang happen?

DGE: It’s my second film project. I had worked long years on another film, and at the point when I started off I was hungry of everything, about working with actors and picking a film. I tried getting into production with a sense of urgency. Also the subject matter of the film was urgent. It was urgent in every possible way. It took longer than planned. I was hoping to shoot during the Summer of 2013. I had written it in Summer 2012, but the financing took longer than expected. We were ready to shoot by 2014. At that point the producer had completely dropped the film. We later found out it was under-financed and left for dead. We had three days to find another producer. I actually didn’t tell the girls about it.

I had also discovered I was pregnant the week before so it all felt dramatic at that point. Since then, it’s been one straight line. Aside from being postponed for four weeks, then it was a race. I wanted to finish before the baby came. I remember we didn’t even stop for Christmas. We were with the editor, alone in the office with piles of garbage. I was getting bigger and bigger. The baby was born, and we hadn’t finished, so I had my little koala sticking on me, and we went on in post production right until Cannes.

Mustang started running really fast once it was at Cannes. The French distributor released it early on, and we were doing a lot of press.

I was making jokes at the beginning of Cannes that we would show the film on Tuesday, do press on Wednesday, and be has-beens on Thursday. That Thursday never came, and we were doing endless press and it became bigger and we went from doing student magazines, the film was released and we did festivals, the film won lots of awards. Then it was released here and in Europe which meant more travel and more press right up to today, and here we are.

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Paco Delgado is a celebrated costume designer who has worked with Pedro Almodavar and Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. He reunited with Hooper for The Danish Girl, which tells the true story of Lili Elbe, the first person to undergo transgender surgery.
Delgado received his second nomination for Best Costume design. I spoke to Delgado about the challenges of having to dress Eddie Redmanye both as a male and as a female, and discussed how he created the look of Lili and his partner Gerda.

Awards Daily: Congratulations on your second nomination. How does it feel to have your work celebrated like this?

Paco Delgado: I’m very very happy. It’s always a surprise because you never know what’s going to happen and you don’t expect it to happen. It was a very nice surprise and it’s fantastic.

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Henry Hughes has served two tours in Afghanistan. With a thousand stories to tell, Hughes decided to focus on the story of a female translator who is working with the U.S Military in Afghanistan.

I sat down to talk to Hughes who scored an Oscar nomination for Best Live Action Short, to talk about his choices behind the subject and find out what it’s like having George Lucas as a mentor.

Awards Daily: Before we even start talking about the film, you trained yourself in Afghanistan, like twice, right?

Henry Hughes: Yeah, I did two tours with the 173rd Airborne [Brigade Combat Team], which is like airborne infantry or paratroopers. I did two tours, I was an officer. That’s like the resume of it [laughs].

AD: Obviously with that kind of background you must have thousands of stories. What made you want to tell this particular story?

HH: You know, it’s hard to capture what it feels like to go to war, like in a movie or in a book. A part of the issue is that we kind of see the same story over and over again, which is my story. A young white man goes to war, very idealistic, and comes back and tries to figure out what to make of it all. Or doesn’t come back. I felt like we’re not getting anywhere new with this territory, we’re not illuminating things different. Then, when I met my interpreter, it didn’t hit me right away that I would make a story about her. We were just friends for a year and then I got out of the army and we kept calling each other and you start to realize that this person has a lot of inherent conflict and that she had to find her own way in the world. She is having to bridge two cultures and gender. No one is supporting her to go there, she had to do it on her own. Having that sort of integrity is the stuff of movies and the stuff of inspiration, I guess.

AD: How long did it take for you, from writing the script to directing and then getting it made. How long was that process?

HH: The script was kind of rushed into production actually because I was at the American Film Institute and this was my thesis film. We were going to make a different thesis about something else entirely, but we ended up losing the life rights. I had done an exercise in my year at AFI where you shoot like two or three days and you cut it together and it’s all like internal; you don’t show it to other people. It’s a way for us to practice our craft. I had done something [for that] with the character of my interpreter and I thought that if I have to do something very quickly, I can do this because I know this person and I know that world. We started writing the script around seven or eight weeks before production.

Henry Hughes winner of the Gold medal in the Narrative category for "Day One" attends the 42nd Student Academy Awards Ceremony at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

AD: One thing that is so refreshing is that you tell it from her point of view. There are so many viewpoints you could have told it from. What was the decision behind that? 

HH: Certainly, and part of it is that I think the female point of view, in that environment, is far more interesting. My mother was in the army, for instance, and I grew up with my mom and two sisters, and much later we had a little brother. I grew up around a lot of women and you see things differently. The electronic voices for all the military equipment, like in a tank or in a cockpit or even Siri, it’s always a woman’s voice. It cuts through all of that stuff. It’s totally happened where I’ve had an interpreter who is a woman where you say something and you hear her say it back to you and there’s something about having the other gender say it that just tamps down, somewhat, that Lord of the Flies, boy’s club stuff. It gets closer to what the truth is, I think.

AD: There are two important scenes are so powerful. The first one is, obviously, the first scene and then the second is when she’s going to the toilet. What can you tell me about those two scenes?

HH: Sure, the toilet one is a combination of a few things that actually happened to us; one where she was using the restroom and we’re like out in the middle of a mission and her whole thing for a long time was like, “try not to use the bathroom while we’re out on mission.” But it was like five hours and you need to drink water and so, I remember, it just got to a point where she couldn’t take it anymore and said, “I have to go.” I was like, “I didn’t know you had been holding it in for weeks of missions, what are you doing, man, just go [laughs]! We’ll find a spot!” It made me think about how she had to hide that.

Then there was another event where we had gone out and found four IED roadside bombs and I knew there was more on the route because you could just tell. It was like we were still going that way, we haven’t seen this land for while, there is going to be more. But it was getting dark and so we realized that the next one would find us, so we stopped searching. We circled the wagon, fuck the night. So it was my turn and I was using the restroom and I saw this motorcyclist driving on the road that we were just on, he passed me, and then about 100 meters or so down the road he blew up. That was obviously a crazy and interesting feeling to sit with because I regret not saying anything. Why didn’t I think to? I was tired and it slipped my mind. It didn’t even occur to me to say, “Hey stop.” In the film, it somewhat comes across, not as well as I had hoped it would, that her stopping to pee stopped them from getting hit.

AD: That just gave me goosebumps! Something else I loved is the way it flows. There’s  a nice flow to the whole film. From the way you wrote it and envisioned it, there’s a final product on the screen; was that how you had envisioned it?

HH: Um, it’s hard for me to say. I was really trying to capture something that’s really hard to do and I can’t tell if maybe someone else can feel this or not. It’s after these sublime moments that are very particular to a conflict like this where you have things that are beautiful and things that are horrible and things that are both. Also, you don’t have the structure in how you view the world; this is now beyond that. You don’t have language to comprehend it. So, I feel that that was certainly a part of that and I wanted it to be a rush and somewhat of a roller-coaster of ups and downs. At the end, I can’t tell you what it was like to go to war. I haven’t figured that out yet and that’s what I’m trying. I can maybe take you on an emotional ride that’ll make you feel like how I felt. Over the course of a longer time, that’s certainly how I felt.

AD: How long have you been back now?

HH: Since 2011.

AD: Wow, that’s very recent.

HH: I suppose. I don’t know. It feels far away now [laughs].

AD: I have to ask, how does it feel to have the Oscar nomination?

HH: Sure, it’s unsettling [laughs]. All of a sudden there’s this thing other than you that people think you are, which is fine, except that’s not me. I got like weird with all that for a moment, I just tried to focus on how cool it’s going to be that my wife and I get to go to the Oscars.

AD: That’s incredible. And I read somewhere that George Lucas is your mentor!

HH: It’s totally right! He was very kind in volunteering to be a mentor for a veteran as a part of a veteran’s program called American Corporate Partner’s. I happened to get George because he saw some of my work; I assume other people submitted work. He’s just been incredibly supportive; I’ll show him my work and he’ll give me notes. Less on particular stuff and more about big picture, how you want to be a filmmaker, how you want to be an adult, how you want to be a husband, that kind of stuff. It’s cool. It’s interesting because obviously he’s this massive titan in the industry or iconoclast, but he’s also a  human. I appreciate that about him. He’s been very good to me.

AD: That’s so cool. How can we see Day One? I’ve had the honor of seeing it, but how can the public get to see the film?

HH: It’s in theaters presently, along with the other Oscar nominees. It’ll be out on iTunes and VOD and all that on demand stuff February 22nd or something. It’ll be on Amazon, iTunes, Verizon, and Google Play.

AD: That’s great!  What can we expect from you next?

HH: I definitely want to continue working in this area. It’s very integral to who I am and what I want to explore. I hope that I get to make a feature or series about this. I’m shopping around both ideas. Not for the same story, but for the same world. Something that we’ve really had a good look at is the way that we look at love or sex because of the sexual revolution. We haven’t had that kind of talk about what combat is for the modern day. Our stories and the way we look at it are kind of antiquated. I think we need to look at it from a new point of view.

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Leonardo Di Caprio won the SAG Award this past weekend for Best Actor in The Revenant. He’s tipped to march all the way to gold at the Oscars later this month. This weekend, the Directors Guild will hand out its prizes. The Revenant led the way when the Oscar nominations were announced with 12 including Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Actor, Team Innaritu/Lubezcki were nominated in their respective categories for Best Director and Best Cinematographer.

 

Catch up with conversations I’ve had with some of the nominees from The Revenant, and enjoy re-visiting Sasha’s review of the film

 
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Not only is Todd Haynes’ Carol a beautiful love story, its outfits are stunning ensembles, like characters in their own right. Sandy Powell has received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design for Carol.  Powell is also a double nominee this year, as she has received a nomination for Best Costume Design for Cinderella as well. I sat down to talk to Sandy on how she created the look for the Carol and what it’s like being a double nominee.

Sandy Powell : This is so weird, this is the third interview I’ve done and it has all been with Brits.

Awards Daily: That’s so funny. I was looking forward to speaking to you because you’re a fellow Brit. Anyway, congratulations on being a double nominee.

SP: I know, it’s weird isn’t it? [Laughs] It was a thrill to get the nomination and then you hear it again. I’m not ungrateful, but it’s also a tricky one.

AD: And you’re dressing the same person.

SP: Yes! I know, but differently. Couldn’t be more different which is great.
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Joe Walker was nominated for editing 12 Years a Slave, working with fellow Brit Steve McQueen. He recently was nominated for an ACE award for his work on Sicario. I sat down to talk to Walker about his working relationship with Denis Villenueve and discussed more about his craft… and we talked about being Brits in LA, bonding over going to pub quiz.

Joe Walker : Hello!

Awards Daily : Hi, Joe! How are you doing?

JW: I’m very well! Everyone was saying, “oh you’ll love Jazz; she’s from Britain [laughs]!”

AD: I love that! Where are are you from in the UK?

JW: I’m from Ealing in West London. That was my stomping ground. Strangely enough, I live not a mile away from Steve McQueen, who is an Ealing-ite. They used to call it the Queen of the Suburbs.

AD: That’s so funny! I’m from south London in Tooting.

JW: I used to live in Balham, the Gateway to the South! How funny! My brother lives in Tooting.

AD: I know Balham.

JW: I got to tell you [Balham] was very grim when I was there in the ’80s.

AD: Oh my gosh, yes. It’s changed now. It’s become very posh [laughs].

JW: [laughs] It used to be if you wanted to find somebody to smash you car window to grab your glasses.

AD: Are you still living in London then?

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JW: No, I’ve got no real control over where I live these days. I’m renting a place in West Hollywood which is where my daughter lives.  I’ve got another daughter who’s at university back in the UK. I’m currently working in Montreal for six months with Denis; I’m working on an Amy Adams science fiction film. I’ve gotten used to living out of suitcases. It’s a bit bad [laughs]! I’m very engaged with what I’m dong at work so I’m really happy about it, but trying to control where I live these days. The next thing I do will probably be in Hungary. I’ve gotten used to packing light.

AD: You do get used to that! I mean, I’ve lived in West Hollywood now for just over a year and having gone back and forth in a long distance relationship. Finally moving, it was like “Okay, I’ve got to learn to pack.” It’s an interesting town.

JW: I was in Santa Monica and there’s a lot of British people there. I always sort of detected this slight feeling, it was like a shared look that said, “We know what it’s really like on the other side of the pond.” We’re all quite lucky to be over here and we better keep really quiet about it.

AD: There is a great community of Brits in LA and they have pub quiz every other Tuesday and it’s a lot of fun and a lot of them are Brits so it’s a good evening.

JW: I had a little bonding moment or two with Emily Blunt and one of the things we bonded over was the fact that we both went to the same pub quiz on the river. There’s a great place for Sunday lunch in Balham so we had a bit of a joke about that. That’s the strength of Emily Blunt, that you can talk about pub quizzes and then she turns around and she’s wearing a glittery dress and there’s a million cameras flashing and she’s oozing timeless Hollywood glamour. She’s an extraordinary girl, that one.

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Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman have received a Writer’s Guild nomination for Straight Outta Compton, the surprise hit of Summer 2015 that spans the rise and fall of N.W.A.

I had a catch up with the two to find out more about the appeal of the movie and how they had to rush a draft script in order to film in Los Angeles.

Awards Daily: Let’s start by talking about the genesis of the film and how it all began.

Andrew Berloff: I guess in 2009 or so New Line acquired the rights to the songs and they acquired a script as part of that. That was something of an Eazy-E story, and then when I was hired in 2010 the thought was trying to figure out how to tell the story of the whole band, N.W.A.

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Brie Larson has already collected more than major ten awards this season for her universally acclaimed performance in Room.  Almost every Oscar expert has Larson down to win the Oscar for Best Actress. Director Lenny Abrahamson says, “She’s lovely. She’s funny, warm, beautiful and a little boy is going to love her.” That’s just what you take away when you see Larson in Room, how much she loves co-star and on-screen son, Jacob Tremblay.

I caught up with Larson the day before the AFI Awards to talk about how she brought Ma to life, and how she physically trained for the role.
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In I Smile Back, Sarah Silverman plays Laney, a suburban wife and mother. She has everything; the perfect family, the perfect husband (Josh Charles), and a big house. But underneath, Laney is suffering from depression and addiction that sends her spiraling into a world of recklessness.
The film is based on the Amy Koppleman novel and Silverman was approached by Koppleman to play the lead character after hearing her on the Howard Stern Show.

In a departure from her comedy, Silverman took on the role. I sat down with her to talk about her latest role, and discussed the challenges of making the film during a bitter winter in New York.
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Brian d’Arcy James has quite a presence, dashing and charming, and lots of leading man talent. I first heard him sing alongside Idina Menzel on the cast recording of The Wild Party. He appeared in the Broadway productions of Shrek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Titanic. He has just spent the last two hours tap dancing, singing and strutting his stuff on stage at the St. James Theater in the Tony Award winning Something Rotten. d’Arcy James plays Nick Bottom, a playwright desperate to write a hit play. It’s a complete tranformation from his role in Spotlight where he plays reporter Matt Carroll, one of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe who exposes sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church.

d’Arcy James is having a whale of a time on Broadway, but he’s also enjoying talking about Spotlight and being a part of the movie.

I caught up with d’Arcy James just before Christmas, in between rehearsals for his Carnegie Hall show to find out how Broadway is treating him, but also to talk Spotlight.

AD: It’s such an honor to speak to you! I’m a huge fan! 

BJ: Oh, that’s very nice. Thank you!

AD: You’ve got Something Rotten! and you’ve got your Carnegie shows this weekend

BJ: Yeah, it’s a nice way to end the year with a little cherry on top with Carnegie Hall after a pretty extraordinary year.
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