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GIVE THEM A BREAK! … an Editor’s Thought

Wendy Laybourn - Editor

Wendy Laybourn – Editor

From time to time I’m asked to speak to young people about the realities of working in production. Although many won’t make it into the business, there are always the few passionate and talented individuals whose determination to succeed deserves a helping hand. So, if you’re involved in a production, why not make an effort to include at least one or two of these young people, even if it’s just for a few days. You may very well be disappointed – but it’s more likely that you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Everyone in the industry is very aware that there isn’t enough well-trained ‘new blood’ coming into production – and we all know that the colleges, universities and specialist schools can only go so far in the training process and that ‘on-the-job’ training is the most important aspect – but if the students, trainees and apprentices can’t get a ‘job’ how are they going to learn their skills and keep the reputation of British craftsmen and women at the forefront of the global film industry.

So, Producers, Directors and Heads of Department – take a chance and give these eager young people a break!

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2015 in Editor's Thoughts, Uncategorized

 

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BEING A JUNIOR COLOURIST … by Aurora Shannon

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

Aurora Shannon

Aurora Shannon

I first discovered filmmaking during a summer course where I wrote and directed a 16mm short called ‘Noise’. I had just left school with little idea of what I wanted to do except for a general sense of creativity and this inspired me to study BTEC ND Media Moving Image at Lewisham College and BA(Hon) Broadcast Post-Production at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, as well as joining a number of young people’s filmmaking groups and courses, where I continued to experiment with filmmaking and animation throughout my studies.

The transition to post-production came very naturally to me, as I found the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital tools incredibly creative. During my time at Ravensbourne where I was, in effect, training to be an editor, I discovered colour grading on an old Avid Symphony. There were only a few basic tools – saturation, brightness and so on – but seeing how they could transform an image was inspiring and, after discovering how to key and change a colour on Quantel I, was transfixed.

Half way through my last year I decided to focus solely on colour grading and spent my work experience unit at Soho Images, as it was the only facility in London to have a laboratory for processing film, a telecine for grading rushes and digital intermediate for grading features, all in one location.

I worked as a Runner but spent as much time as I could sitting with the Features Colourist Rob Pizzey, just watching what he did and asking the occasional question. He seemed to be impressed by these questions and he asked me to stay on, so I was offered a four day a week Runner position in the digital intermediate department – which is now known as Company 3 London. I did this job throughout the last term of university and so, by the time I graduated, I had already stopped being a Runner and was Assisting in scanning and recording.

'Quantum of Solace' (2008), the first film I assisted on with colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008), the first film I assisted on with Colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

A few months later I was asked to assist Stephan Nakamura, a Colourist from Company 3 LA, who came to London to grade ‘Quantum of Solace’, although in reality it was the other way round with him very patiently teaching me how to colourtrace and do other basic tasks! After that project ended I carried on as Digital Intermediate Assistant and had the privilege to assist some of the best Colourists in the business, Rob Pizzey, Adam Glasman, Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephan Nakamura and Mitch Paulson, on over 70 features.

 

'Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ' (2011), the first short that I graded with director Jack Ryder
‘Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ‘ (2011), the first short that I graded with Director Jack Ryder

 

One of the most embarrassing things that happened while I was assisting and still learning the basics of grading, was when I was asked to do a grading test with a cinematographer I really admire, as the Colourist was unavailable. I was reassured that he would just tell me what he wanted me to do and it would be very simple – but every time he asked me to do something like ‘move the highlight towards magenta’ it would go the other way, the exact opposite – until he eventually gave up on the session. I then found out that there are two modes on the system, the Da Vinci Resolve – rank and vector. I was accustomed to using vector as it’s the default but the Colourist had his project set to rank, meaning that everything is the opposite like on the older systems – so I now double check before I begin!

'Arthur Christmas' (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with stereographer Corey Turner

‘Arthur Christmas’ (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with Stereographer Corey Turner

My proudest moments have always been when I’ve really pushed myself, which happens to some extent on every project I grade. The best yet was asking one of our clients if I could grade the short she was editing, when I hadn’t yet done any – and then watching it on Sky Arts with my family on Christmas Day – which was pretty special and extremely rewarding as it kick-started me into grading my own projects.

'Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

‘Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

A disappointing occasion was when I was approached to grade a really great documentary after the director saw some of my work, but I was unable to meet their deadline and had to pass it up and it went on to win an extraordinary number of awards – but then really surprising things can happen too, I met a friend of a friend at a pub and went on to grade both of his shorts and will be grading his first feature later in the year.

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

'Snow White and the Huntsman' (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of colourist Adam Glasman

‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of Colourist Adam Glasman

As my colleagues saw me doing this they began to give me little bits of work – or I asked and sometimes got a ‘yes’ – so slowly my confidence and their trust in my ability built up over the course of about three years until I was doing the video grades, trailers and affiliated commercials, cut changes, new shots and scenes, ‘outsourced’ shots with complicated grades, visual effect backplates and providing additional grading hours on big projects.

'Dead Cat' (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

‘Dead Cat’ (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

Eventually, as clients responded well and I demonstrated that I was ready to take on ‘proper’ work, I was promoted to Junior Colourist. The work is similar to what I did before but the grading side, which of course I enjoy the most, has increased significantly, along with the prestige of the projects that I get to lead on.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to make a career in post-production is to do as much work experience as possible whilst at university so you can find out exactly which aspect you want to pursue – be persistent, learn from your mistakes and, above all, be patient – there’s a lot to learn and there are no short cuts!

'Rush' (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle - and also provided additional grading for the main version and  the trailers

‘Rush’ (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle – and also provided additional grading for the main version and the trailers

Aurora Shannon, Junior Colourist at Company 3 London

Aurora Shannon’s film credits include: Jack Ryan; The Counselor; Captain Phillips; Rush; World War Z; Les Miserables; Skyfall; Frankenweenie; Anna Karenina; Snow White & The Huntsman; Wrath of the Titans; The Woman in Black; The Iron Lady; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; The Inbetweeners Movie; The Decoy Bride; Paul; Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time; Nanny McPhee Returns; Green Zone. Television credits: The Gruffalo; The Promise; The Special Relationship.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3381741/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

 

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CARPENTER TO CONSTRUCTION MANAGER by Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

Dominic Ackland-Snow

How do I see the role of Construction Manager?

The Production Designer has to conceptualise the viewpoint of the script and the Director – and the CM’s job is turning that concept into reality, dealing with the technical, the financial and the scheduling sides.

I’m fortunate to have been brought up in a family with a strong design connection. I was lucky to have been able to crawl around as a youngster behind film sets while my Dad, an Art Director, was working. My first time working on a film set was when I did work experience on ‘Aliens’ with my Father and Peter Lamont in the Art Department. Although I enjoyed this, the element I was most interested in was Set Construction

I left school in 1986 and started an apprenticeship in carpentry & joinery. The company I worked for did mainly television scenery but also some exhibition and theme park work. I left the company after 5 years as a qualified carpenter/joiner and decided to ‘try my luck’ in the film industry as a freelancer, starting with ‘First Knight’ working for Construction Manager Tony Graysmark as a shop carpenter. This suited me very well because I preferred ‘setting out’ and the actual fabrication of the scenery. I worked for Tony again on ‘Goldeneye’ in 1995, then worked on a number of films after this including ‘Fifth Element’ with Ray Barret ‘The Borrowers’, ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Notting Hill’ with Michael Redding and ‘Love & War’ with Terry Apsey.

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

Construction on ‘Band of Brothers’ showing the back of the aircraft hangar

The front of the hangar with bombers, as seen by the camera

The cast of 'Band of Brothers' as seen by the television audience. It’s all an illusion!

The cast of ‘Band of Brothers’ in front of the hangar as seen by the television audience.
It’s all an illusion!

I was fortunate enough to be supervised by two great Construction Managers – Terry Apsey on ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ and Michael Reading on ‘Quills’ and ‘Tomb Raider II’. I was very lucky with both Terry and Michael, as they were very lenient on my slightly rebellious approach to what I did and how I worked.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ - 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre  capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from  the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic  backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing  rooms, costume department, props store etc, to the stage  door exit complete with  stables.

The fabulous set of the Paris Opera House for ‘Phantom of the Opera’ – 2004. This was built as a fully-operational theatre capable of holding a substantial audience in the auditorium, an orchestra and a full cast of artistes on stage. The construction used two adjoining stages at Pinewood Studios so that the action from the theatre stage could follow right through the authentic backstage area built on two floors, complete with dressing rooms, costume department, to the stage-door exit complete with stables.

I started on ‘Phantom of the Opera’ as a Supervisor but was cajoled by Terry Apsey to try my hand at running Carpentry as Head of Department – this is when I started to be exposed to the financial and scheduling side of construction – an area I found that I really enjoyed.

After ‘Phantom’ I ran a television show as Construction Manager, which was great for cutting my teeth. I had a few leads as CM after this but unfortunately all of them

– which, at that time, was a pretty regular occurrence. I had the horrible experience of working on a film that folded owing me wages – something that most film workers have experienced during their career. Around this time I decided to emigrate to Australia with my wife and children – but before leaving I enjoyed working on my last film with Michael Redding as his Head of Department.

When I arrived in Australia I had made my mind up not to be involved in films any more because the work was so fragmented, so I was really fortunate to land a job with a joinery company as their Operations Manager.

Then, out of the blue, I had a phone call from the production office of ‘The Pacific’ – asking if I would be interested in the role of Construction Manager. Luckily, the production had asked Terry Apsey of my whereabouts and he managed to track down my number. Although I had promised myself not to drop back into the industry, the complexity of ‘The Pacific’ appealed to me.

We filmed in the far North of Queensland, the You Yangs Regional Park near Melbourne, around the city of Melbourne itself and in Melbourne Central City Studios. In total there were 105 different sets and we were turning over 2 sets a day to the 2 main units. Some of the sets were worth $50k and a couple were worth $6m each! The overall construction budget was $24m out of an Art Department budget of $50m.

Because the job was so large it had 2 Supervising Art Directors – Dominic Hyman & Richard Hobbs. There’s quite a difference in work practice between Australia and the UK – in Australia the Construction Manager usually doesn’t have financial control but luckily ‘Pacific’ used the UK system where the CM had full financial control of the construction budget.

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

Construction in progress on one of the 105 sets for the television
series ‘Pacific’ in Australia

For me, one of the best things that came out of the ‘Pacific’ project was the fact that, because I needed a crew of 450 and the local crew base wasn’t large enough to facilitate this, we undertook a training scheme – specifically in fibrous work. A lot of the sets were very different to normal film construction and involved some fairly innovative approaches, mainly utilizing civil engineering and geo textiles. Also in Australia, the sculpting department is normally as big as the carpentry department because they don’t usually use fibrous plastering – they mainly sculpt in concrete, which is a very, very cost-effective method.

After ‘Pacific’ I returned to the company I started with when first arriving from the UK, where I moved up to the position of General Manager. Although scenery was not in my company’s portfolio, I very quickly added a ‘special projects’ division to the business and have been lucky to have involved the company in theme park, exhibition and film. 

The CM’s first responsibility is to the Designer – and I often see this as a protective responsibility as far as the budget goes, in dealing with the Producers – and also a responsibility to the Designer in allowing enough time for a design to be constructed properly. Because, as I mentioned, I have grown up in a ‘design’ environment, when I see the blueprints I can visualize the construction methods required and see it in a 3-dimensional image – which makes it very easy to budget and schedule the job.

When you work with a good Production Designer like Tony Pratt, it’s easy to understand what you need to produce. Peter Lamont was very much the same, an Art Director of the old school like my Dad and Jim Morahan – and I’m very lucky, having worked in television, exhibitions and theme parks, as well as films, so now I can bring all of those methods together.

From my point of view, the ‘old school’ design, the ‘pencil’ design, is the easiest to interpret because, with a pencil you can actually ‘feel’ the type of set you need to do. With CAD drawing there is no emotion involved. If I look at a drawing by Jim Morahan or Tony Pratt, or my Dad, I know exactly what I need to do – but if I look at a CAD drawing I have to start talking to people to find out exactly what the set is supposed to look like – the feel, the texture, the finishes.

There’s a guy in Australia called Mike Molloy – he’s not in films but I’ve worked with him in commercial construction work in night clubs, shops etc. I use him because he draws in pencil first. I think now that you can actually get CAD which doesn’t use a ‘straight line’ format so it begins to look like an actual drawing – but all the designers on ‘Pacific’, with one exception, were pencil Draughtsmen – and the only set we had major problems with was drawn on CAD! It was the only one that the Scenic Artists and the Plasterers couldn’t quite get the feel of what exactly the Art Director was after. 

Tony Pratt is very conceptual – very epic in his designs – and I was asked to produce two sets of 90,000sq m in 20 weeks alongside 80 other sets. I know that he worried a great deal for 3 months whilst we were conceptualizing and, in the end, I had to remind him that I was the Construction Manager, so it was my responsibility and not his so that he could stop worrying so much! It was such a pleasure working with him. 

I have to say, never have I seen crews who want to please the Designer more than the Australians – if the Designer gains their respect, they will do absolutely anything to produce the best sets possible.

The big difference between Australian and English crews is mainly in construction techniques. Just as you would find a difference working in Prague – but the results are the same, although the differences are reducing as more and more British guys are emigrating – and both crews learn a lot from each other.

I have found that the Australian approach can be very interesting, for example, Chris McMahon is one of the best sculptors I’ve ever worked with. Sculpting here is completely different, they can do very fine work – they did all the work for ‘Narnia’ & ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ but the most amazing thing is that their sculpture is in concrete – and they’ve devised a method which Disney now uses in the theme parks – they’re extremely talented guys and are more construction based than art based. 

The Scenic Department is very different to the UK. The Paint Department is run by the Scenic Artist who is quite often also the Scenic Finisher. Which sometimes doesn’t work very well! To get the best results I think that you need to specialize – Scenic Artists to do backings with the Scenic Paint Department finishing surfaces.

The most important thing is that the Designer gains the respect of the Construction Crew and therefore will get the best work. In a film every person had their own input, whether it’s a Stagehand sweeping or the Producer who raises the money, all have to work as a team to bring the project together – but I wish that, when awards and praise are handed out that the highly trained and creative Construction Crews – Carpenters, Sculptors, Painters – would get more recognition. After all, it is they who bring the Art Department and the Director’s ideas to life! 

Dominic Ackland-Snow’s film credits include: The Invisible Woman – 2013, Sanctum – 2010, The Magic Flute – 2006, Phantom of the Opera – 2004, Tomb Raider II – 2003, Quills – 2000, Sleepy Hollow – 1999, Notting Hill – 1999, Fifth Element – 1997, The Borrowers – 1997, In Love & War – 1996, Goldeneye – 1995.

Television credits: Parade’s End – 2012, Pacific – 2010, Planet Cook – 2004, Band of Brothers – 2001.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Construction Department

 

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I WANT TO BE A CINEMATOGRAPHER…..OR A DIRECTOR! by Robin Vidgeon BSC

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on  'The Penitant' in Mexico

Robin Vidgeon in 1988 with Raul Julia on ‘The Penitant’ in Mexico

To be at the sharp end of making a feature film, ie. in the camera department, or as a Director, or any of the other departments involved in bringing the film to the screen, you must start with an understanding of how the jigsaw fits together.

I started working at Pinewood Studios for two years in the camera department straight from school – cleaning boxes and learning what went into those boxes – cameras, lenses and all the equipment necessary to photograph a movie. Most importantly, I started to learn the incredible discipline that goes to make a top camera crew.

Now, many years later, I find myself working as a Cinematography Tutor with the new student film makers of all nationalities, in several top film schools and universities and I find a fierce ambition in both young men and women to work in our industry. On my first encounter with my students, it is so important to gently remind them that they must learn to walk before they can fly. They are undoubtably talented but, as a seasoned Director of Photography, I feel it is my duty to teach them the system which has stood the test of time for more than 100 years.

Film making, first and foremost, is a collaborative venture between many groups of people and departments, all striving to bring the best storytelling film to the silver screen.

Even when a student only wants to be a DoP, he or she must go to the set with an understanding of each job done by their camera crew. In film school, I help them to understand each role – Grip, 2nd AC (Assistant Camera), 1st AC (Focus Puller), Camera Operator and the HoD (Head of Department). I am adamant that, as HoD, I am responsible for my crew at all times and that I can only be as good as the crew I have around me. All departments have one goal, to support the Director and his script – and you need to be punctual, remain calm and enjoy each day’s work, with all its ups and downs.

The technology in our industry has changed drastically over the past decade – but the role of the DoP has not! When confronted with a set to light, I don’t think …’what kind of camera is on the dolly behind me?’… I’m there because the Director has asked for me and my expertise on the set. Whether the camera is film or digital, my job has changed little. The Operator’s job has hardly changed either, he is concerned with composition and camera movement and working closely with the Director. The 1st AC’s job has seen the greatest change with the arrival of the computor box with a lens on the front. With these incredible sensors, depth of focus has become a real issue. Digital cameras have a much shallower depth of focus, so great care has to be taken with each shot, whether it is with an ultra wide angle lens, or any other focal length up to 1000mm. With new digital cameras coming on stream every few months, it is a constant battle to keep up with this wonderful technology – and with the range of new studio low voltage, dual colour temperature LED soft lights, an exciting new world is opening up to Cinematographers.

So, when I meet a new group of film students who are aspiring to become Cinematographers, I look for talent that will continue to produce wonderful images for the big screen, to entertain audiences all over the world. I try to encourage them to create a story with images that will entertain, make people laugh, cry and leave the theatre feeling that they have been transported into a world of make believe.

Robin Vidgeon is a Past President of the British Society of Cinematographers, a Fellow of the BKSTS and a member of the Guild of British Camera Technicians.

Robin’s film credits include: Following Footsteps – 2010, Nine Lives – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Event Horizon – 1997, Neverending Story III – 1994, As You Like It – 1992, Under Suspicion – 1991, Memphis Belle – 1990, Hellraiser I & II – 1997 & 1998, The Penitent – 1998, The Mission – 1986, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom – 1984, Never Say Never Again – 1983, Raiders of the Lost Ark – 1981, The Dogs of War – 1980, Close Encounters of the Third Kind – 1977, Rollerball – 1975, The Great Gatsby – 1974, The Lion in Winter – 1968.

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Cinematography

 

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CREATIVITY, ORIGINALITY AND A TOUCH OF HUMOR …. LONELY ESKIMO PRODUCTIONS!

Lonely Eskimo Productions, based in New Orleans, is a student-run company that aims to show people the artistic, visually enticing and emotional side of filmmaking.

The Lonely Eskimo Team

The Lonely Eskimo Team

L.E.P was formerly known as J.M.K.M., which stood for ‘Jorge’s Machine, Kevin’s Mind’. The group was formed when Jorge and Kevin discovered their shared passion for filmmaking. The duo, with the help of some good friends, made a couple of short films – ‘Separation’, a psychological thriller and ‘Unknown’, a  horror film – which are among the highlights of the group. J.M.K.M. also worked with local artists in the New Orleans area for promotional and music videos.

                After some minor projects, Jorge and Kevin decided to expand the group and added Alejandra Menendez to the team. Alejandra, who has directed a couple of films on her own, helps with management, creative ideas, screen writing and directing. The team continued its expansion by inviting Xavier Lacayo, who was the lead actor for ‘Separation’,  to help the team with public relations and social media. Finally, Khoi Nguyen, who had helped with the making of ‘Separation’ and other short projects, was asked to join the team as a financial advisor.

                J.M.K.M. then changed its name to Lonely Eskimo Productions, a name suggested by a mutual friend.  Alejandra devised the logo and Jorge is currently working with a lawyer to obtain a limited liability corporation status for Lonely Eskimo Productions.

                The Lonely Eskimo Team has released a couple of short skits called ‘Brainfreeze’, which are comedic shorts designed to show the audience a more playful side of the company. They also recently released their first short film, ‘Pieces’, written and directed by Kevin Mah. The team is currently working on their next short film, which is written by Alejandra Menendez.

Website: www.lonelyeskimofilms.com Lonely Eskimo Logo

E-mail: lonelyeskimofilms@gmail.com

 
 

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THE ART OF COSTUME DESIGN by Lindy Hemming

From a 2010 article in Network Nine News ©

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for 'Topsy Turvy'

Lindy Hemming with her Oscar for ‘Topsy Turvy’

 

I was born in a remote country village in Wales in 1948, the eldest of 5 children. I was always bilingual, speaking Welsh at school and English at home. Both my parents were creative in a craft way and supplemented their rather overstretched income by making and selling things in our local town market at weekends. During the week my father worked at various kinds of sales jobs and at night he worked as a talented woodcarver. My mother was a teacher – she could draw, design and make clothes – mostly in my case, converting ‘hand me downs’ and sometimes, if we were really lucky, she used new fabric – although in rural Wales this usually meant something in design and fashion terms which looked about 10 years out of date, especially to my beady eye as, even from about 7 or 8 years old, I was very concerned with what people wore and how they looked (I was also very worried that the previous owners of the hand me downs would recognise them on me, in their newly converted state!)

So we spent lots of time hanging around in market places, seeing wild and wonderful people on their one day out off the mountains and later on, when I was about 8 years old, we moved into a village shop where we all took turns to serve and observe.

Anyhow, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in people – who they were, what they did, where they came from, what they thought and why did they dress like that … and what did it say about them – what are they saying with their clothes, hair, jewellery, shoes, creases, wrinkles, wear and tear –  so many clues to be gleaned but never knowing at the time that this weird obsession would one day form the basis of my work.

I didn’t ever attend art school as my father had convinced me that I must do a ‘worthwhile’ job. So I trained as an orthopaedic nurse which, though seemingly irrelevant to costume design, meant dealing closely with people and observing and listening to them, which I later found incredibly useful in my career.

The Oscar-winning 'Topsy Turvy'

The Oscar-winning ‘Topsy Turvy’

Eventually, encouraged by the example of friends, I attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and studied there for three years, encompassing Stage Management, Design and a notably bad attempt at acting an old woman in a Checkov play!  It was at RADA that I first encountered ‘Costume Design’ and loved it from the first moment, knowing that it encompassed everything I was interested in.    

It’s my strong opinion that before all else, a person who wants to be a costume designer needs to have an innate, inquisitive and abiding interest in human beings of every age, type and class (this justifies my nosiness!) and be strong enough to hold on to an idea and play a long game … have patience … because, in its simplest form, what designing costumes for film, television, theatre or commercials is all about, is clothing the human body in something which the designer believes will speak both to the actor – who wears the costume – and to the audience, thereby playing a part, however subtly, in creating the character ‘with’ the actor – thus providing more information to the audience and helping with their understanding and enjoyment of the play or film. This applies equally to both ‘period’ and ‘contemporary’ films.

The work is often so subtle that it is pretty subliminal. It is a good exercise to watch contemporary films and think about the garment choices that have been made and whether you think they are perfect. Often, uninitiated audiences think that in a contemporary film the actors are wearing  their own clothes.

A costume designer, like most kinds of ‘designers’ by definition is going to spend a huge portion of their life solving problems and being creative within prescribed parameters which arise, not  solely from practical and financial reasons – but from having to take into consideration and often incorporating the ideas and opinions of many other people during the design process; director, producer, studio executives, accountants, actors, et al (not to mention the egos which come with the territory!) It is agreed, I think, by most of us that contemporary costumes are much more difficult to execute, precisely because so many people feel they know what a character would/should wear – with period costume there is a barrier called ‘historical accuracy’ which quiets the suggestions of the … ‘wouldn’t it be good if ‘ … or worse …‘my wife loves shopping, maybe she could do your job’….

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film‘The World is not Enough’

Lindy’s sketch for Elektra’s costume in the1999 film
‘The World is not Enough’
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

Sophie Marceau in costume as Elektra, Maiden’s Tower
© 1999 Danjaq, LLC & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first work as a costume designer was at a fringe theatre on Tottenham Court Road called The Open Space Theatre. I was the general and often only costume person and so designed, made, shopped, washed and ironed. I was then fortunate to work at The Hampstead Theatre Club as a designer for several years, simultaneously looking after and supporting a young son and daughter. It was a fantastic opportunity to really find out how theatre costume design worked at a time when there still was political and experimental writing and producing happening. I worked in Fringe Theatre for about 10 years in all and gradually was asked by directors such as Michael Rudman, Mike Leigh, Alan Ayckbourn, Trevor Nunn, Richard Eyre, Howard Davies and Nancy Meckler to work on bigger and more mainstream shows, consequently working in the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the West End of London and Broadway in New York. The magic was, at one point, having  five shows running simultaneously in London!Anyone who has worked in theatre will know that, whilst it is the most satisfying design experience there isn’t, even at that level, a decent living to be earned for a costume designer. So, for that and other reasons, after about 15 years I began to hope that I might be fortunate enough to be asked to design the odd film or two! Good fortune, in the forms of Richard Eyre and Mike Leigh, smiled at me and for the ensuing twenty-six years I have almost exclusively designed for film.

How is this different … well, initially you feel it must be, as the method of production is so different – but all the costume design basics remain exactly the same …

Firstly, there is an interview/meeting situation where you are asked to read the script and then go to meet the Director and possibly the Producer. At this time you are expected to have had some ideas and make some observations and even, if you feel an idea or two forming, you can look out some reference/research to show them, which is a useful aid to your interview and gets them reacting, thus giving you an idea of what they might be thinking. Mainly though, they will be looking to see if you have ‘suitable form’ or a CV which interests them and whether they feel they will be able to work creatively with you. Often they are also thinking of how you would get on with the actors they have in mind – whether you will ‘gel’. IF they decide to engage you, you will have more meetings with the director to discuss his/her and your vision of the film and who the characters in the story are, what their background is and how do we feel their clothing reflects their personality. You will begin to draw your ideas, not necessarily fully-blown costume drawings but sketches and details that you think of, or see, in reference material.

This part of the process is really fantastically enjoyable – a time when you can do loads of research and learn about the world that the film is portraying, whether it be historical or contemporary – it is equally challenging and equally important to come to a conclusion and be clear about what you would aim to do with each character. It could mean spending time in libraries, art galleries, magazine shops, in a hospital or a factory, or just riding on public transport. Collecting things which reflect the colours or textures you want to use and swatching for fabrics either with the intention of using them to make the clothes, or to show alongside your drawings as an aid to understanding what you mean. Often on large films, there isn’t time for lots of drawing and I often use tear sheets and collage boards to get my point across – for contemporary work they are sometimes clearer.

It’s at this time that you consolidate the LOOK and collaborate with the actors. It is important to them during their creation of the character that they know what the person they are creating will look like.

Here is also the time for you to explain your ideas to the Hair & Makeup department who ideally are working towards the same goal as you. It is important in film to lead a creative ‘team’ of people and share information – failure to do this can have horrible results.

At this time it is very important to meet with the Production Designer, who will have probably been engaged months before you and will have a broad vision of what the whole film should look like and is responsible to the director for the overall look of everything. He/she can take part in the costume design process and can help you greatly with things like the overall colour palette of the film and what colour the sets are which – don’t forget – your costumes will be standing in front of !!

Also there will be the Director of Photography to liaise with. The DoP can be ones greatest ally or downfall. Faces and fabrics change radically in different lighting situations and obviously, so do colours – I’m sure that you know, different film stock will alter the whole look of the film.

Armed with all this information, now is the time to go and meet the actors starting, most sensibly, with the principal actor/actors or STAR …. you will probably be the next person after the Director and Producer that the actors will meet and so you become the representative of the Director’s vision of the film. This is not always a welcome position to be in, especially when the actor discovers that the director’s lifelong concept may include something radical for instance like …. ‘everyone wears a shade of blue’…. and the actor …. ‘Hates blue, every time I’ve ever worn blue the film was a flop’…. ‘under no circumstances’…. etc. Now you’ve got it! You are up and running, carrying the torch (concept) and trying to negotiate the minefield of everyone else’s ideas, without letting the torch going out!

My film work could be divided into pre-and post ‘Bond’. Before the fateful phone call asking me to come to Pinewood Studios for a meeting with Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, I had been working consistently on smaller British films, often financed by Channel 4. My previous work with Mike Leigh on ‘Abigail’s Party’ in the theatre led him to ask me to work with him on ‘Meantime’ (one of my favourite films) then ‘High Hopes’, ‘Life is Sweet’, ‘Naked’ and ultimately ‘Topsy Turvy’ for which both Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud (Hair & Makeup) and I were awarded Oscars. That was, sadly, my last film with Mike Leigh and really I have not changed my way of working from that time – which came from his unique method of improvising everything. Mike Leigh is a National Treasure!!!

Amongst many other films, I have also worked with Steven Frears on ‘My Beautiful’ Launderette’, and (another favourite film) ‘Funnybones’ directed by Peter Chelsom – I also designed the very successful ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ for director Mike Newel.

Angelina Jolie in the title role of the 2003 film ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ Another distinctly original costume design

Angelina Jolie in 2003 as ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’

When I was told about the ‘Bond’ interview by my agent, it seemed as if someone was playing a prank so far was it outside my normal film experience. So legendary and so glam! Anyhow, it was and is, a fantastic relationship with the Broccoli family who are the dedicated and hands on custodians of their ‘Bond’ world.

What fun and what a privilege it is to travel the world and see it whilst working. Since designing the look of the two new  ‘Bonds’ and creating the look of Angelina Jolie as the ‘Tomb Raider’ (1&2), I have worked on mostly American studio films. During the past few years I was fortunate to be asked by Chris Nolan to design the new ‘Batman’ films. This has been a new departure for me involving learning lots more about different technologies of costume such as ‘Batsuit’ design and manufacture – and the new Joker was just a pure joy to create!

 

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ - 2008 The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality - twitchy, grubby, corrupt

Heath Ledger as The Joker in ‘The Dark Knight’ – 2008. The costume is designed to reflect The Joker’s personality – twitchy, grubby, corrupt

This past year is typical of my varied work experiences. Firstly America to work with Martin Campbell on ‘Edge of Darkness’, a dark Boston-set contemporary thriller, then quickly back to London to work with young director Louis Letterier on the new ‘Clash of the Titans’ – phewww.!!! Now a rest!

 

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ - 2010(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

Sam Worthington as Perseus and Ian White as Sheikh Suleiman in ‘Clash of the Titans’ – 2010
(C)2010 Warner Bros Entertainment Inc & Legendary Pictures. Photo by Jay Maidment

I feel that I have had the most fantastic opportunities in the world of film and theatre to have worked with some really good producers, directors, actors, production designers and cinematographers – but most of all I have had the pleasure of being able to be surrounded by some of the absolute best technicians in the world in my own department. Supervisors Dan Grace and John Scott. Assistant designers Jaqueline Durran, Michael O’Connor, Guy Speranza, Andrea Cripps, Graham Churchyard, Maria Tortu and Gabriella Loria. Cutters Anne Maskerey, Jennie Alford and Alison O’Brien. Dyers/distressers Tim Shanahan, Vicky Hallam and Steve Gell – and so many makers, wardrobe men and women, sculptors, leather workers, embroiderers – all of whom are artists who are loyal and dedicated to producing the best in their own disciplines.  Thank you to everyone who has helped me in my work life and for the opportunity to write this article!   

Lindy Hemming’s film credits include: The Dark Knight Rises – 2012, Clash of the Titans – 2010, Edge of Darkness – 2010, The Dark Knight – 2008, Casino Royale – 2006, Batman Begins – 2005, Tomb Raider 1 & 2 – 2001 & 2003, Die Another Day – 2002, Harry Potter – Chamber of Secrets – 2002, The World is Not Enough – 1999, Topsy Turvy – 1999, Little Voice – 1998, Tomorrow Never Dies – 1997, Blood and Wine – 1996, GoldenEye – 1995, Funny Bones – 1995, Four Weddings & a Funeral – 1994, High Hopes – 1988, Wetherby – 1985

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Costume Department

 

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Saul Bass 1920-1966 – The Master of Film Title & Poster Design

Saul Bass

Saul Bass

Saul Bass was not only one of the great graphic designers of the mid-20th century but the undisputed master of film title design thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese.

Bass was one of the first to seize on the potential storytelling power of the opening and closing credits of a film. He used a number of styles (animation, live action, type treatments) to create credits for a diverse range of films. What he created were opening credit sequences that did not simply announce the credits and open the film but were a logical extension of the film. Each sequence was, in itself, a short film that prepared the viewer for what was to come.

He was a celebrated graphic designer before he ventured into the film world. Born in the Bronx district of New York in 1920 to an emigré family, Bass studied at the Art Students League in New York and Brooklyn College under Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian graphic designer who had worked in 1930s Berlin before coming to the USA. Kepes introduced Bass to Moholy’s Bauhaus style and to Russian Constructivism.

After apprenticeships with Manhattan design firms, Bass worked as a freelance graphic designer or ‘commercial artist’ as they were then called. Chafing at the creative constraints imposed on him in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After freelancing, he opened his own studio in 1950 working mostly in advertising until Preminger invited him to design the poster for his 1954 film, ‘Carmen Jones’. Impressed by the result, Preminger asked Bass to also create the film’s title sequence.Bass 3

After ‘Carmen Jones’ he got commissions for two 1955 films: Robert Aldrich’s ‘The Big Knife’ and Billy Wilder’s ‘The Seven Year Itch’ but it was his second project for Preminger, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ which established Bass as the doyen of film title design.

When the reels of film for Otto Preminger’s controversial new drugs film, ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ arrived at US film theatres in 1955, a note was stuck on the cans ….. ‘Projectionists, pull curtain before titles’…… until then, the lists of cast and crew members which passed for film titles were so dull that projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished but Preminger wanted his audience to see this film’s titles as an integral part of the programme.

The film’s theme was the struggle of its hero – a jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra – to overcome his heroin addiction. The titles featured an animated black paper cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm. Knowing that the arm was a powerful image of addiction Bass had chosen it – rather than Frank Sinatra’s famous face – as the symbol of both the film’s title and its promotional poster. That cut-out arm caused a sensation and Saul Bass reinvented the film title as an art form. By the end of his life, he had created over 50 title sequences for Preminger, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Frankenheimer and Scorsese. Although he later claimed that he found the ‘Man with the Golden Arm’ sequence …. ‘a little disappointing now, because it was so imitated’….

Bass 5Over the next decade he honed his skill by creating an animated mini-film for Mike Todd’s 1956 ‘Around The World In 80 Days’ and a tearful eye for Preminger’s 1958 ‘Bonjour Tristesse’. Blessed with the gift of identifying the one image which symbolised the essence of a film, Bass then recreated it in a strikingly modern style. Martin Scorsese once described his approach as creating ….‘an emblematic image, instantly recognisable and immediately tied to the film’…….

In 1958’s ‘Vertigo’, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s ‘North by Northwest’, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the film has begun – with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator – that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper.

Equally haunting are the vertical bars sweeping across the screen in a manic, mirrored helter-skelter motif at the beginning of Hitchcock’s 1960 film ‘Psycho’. This staccato sequence is an inspired symbol of Norman Bates’ fractured mental state. Hitchcock also allowed Bass to work on the film itself, notably on its dramatic highpoint, the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh.

Assisted by his second wife, Elaine, Bass created brilliant titles for other directors – from the animated alley cat in 1961 ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, to the adrenalin-laced motor racing sequence in the 1966 film ‘Grand Prix’. He then directed a series of shorts culminating in 1968 Oscar-winning ‘Why Man Creates’ and finally realised his ambition to direct a feature in 1974 with ‘Phase IV’.

When the film unfortunately flopped, Bass returned to commercial graphic design. His corporate work included devising highly successful corporate identities for United Airlines, AT&T, Minolta, Bell Telephone Systems and Warner Communications. He also designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

To younger film directors, Saul Bass was a cinema legend with whom they longed to work. In 1987, he was persuaded to create the titles for James Brooks’ ‘Broadcast News’ and then for Penny Marshall’s ‘Big’ in 1988. In 1990, Bass found a new long term collaborator in Martin Scorsese who had grown up with his 1950’s and 1960’s titles. After ‘Goodfellas’ in 1990 and ‘Cape Fear’ in 1991, Bass created a sequence of blossoming rose petals for ‘The Age of Innocence’ in 1993 and a hauntingly macabre one of Robert De Niro falling through the sinister neon lighting of the Las Vegas Strip for the director’s 1995 film ‘Casino’ to symbolise his character’s descent into hell.

Saul Bass died the next year. His New York Times obituary hailed him as …‘the minimalist auteur who put a jagged arm in motion in 1955 and created an entire film genre … elevating it into an art’….

Saul Bass’s film credits include: Casino – 1995, Mr Saturday Night – 1992, Cape Fear – 1991, Goodfellas – 1990, War of the Rose – 1989, Big – 1988, Broadcast News – 1987, The Human Factor – 1979, Rosebud – 1975, Grand Prix – 1966, Bunny Lake is Missing – 1965, The Victors – 1963, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – 1963, Walk on the Wild Side – 1962, West Side Story – 1961, Exodus – 1960, Spartacus – 1960, Ocean’s Eleven – 1960, North by Northwest – 1959, The Big Country – 1958, Bonjour Tristesse – 1958, Around the World in Eighty Days – 1956, The Man with the Golden Arm – 1955, The Seven Year Itch – 1955, Carmen Jones – 1954.

 
 

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