Sharing Insights Into “Judy,” “The Two Popes,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “Jojo Rabbit,” “Once Upon a Time...”
Director Rupert Goold (l) and Renee Zellweger on the set of "Judy" (photo by David Hindley/courtesy of LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)
Director Rupert Goold, DPs Cesar Charlone, Phedon Papamichael, Mihai Malaimare Jr., production designer Barbara Ling discuss their work and collaborators
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All the world’s a stage. And director Rupert Goold knows his way around a stage for varied pursuits. He is artistic director of the Almeida Theatre in London, served in the same capacity at the U.K.’s Headlong Theatre and Northampton Theatres, as well as associate director at the Royal Shakespeare Company. For his work on stage in live theatre, Goold is a two-time recipient of the Olivier, Critics’ Circle and Evening Standard awards for Best Director. He has directed revivals, opera, musicals, new plays, farce, pantomime, comedy--and Shakespeare fare for TV, including Richard II (for BBC’s The Hollow Crown) and Macbeth (for PBS’ Great Performances). Goold made his feature film directorial debut with True Story, starring James Franco and Jonah Hill, for Plan B and Fox Searchlight, a 2015 release.

Now Goold’s second feature, Judy (Roadside Attractions), finds itself centerstage, surrounded by Oscar buzz, headlined by Renée Zellweger’s tour de force performance as Judy Garland towards the end of her life in 1969. It’s at a juncture when Garland is in dire personal and professional straits, has  health issues, can’t get a good paying gig in the U.S. and is struggling with her third ex-husband Sid Luft over custody of their children for whom she can’t suitably provide. Her only viable alternative is London where she is still revered, and can make major coin with a running engagement of live performances before sold-out crowds at The Talk of the Town theater.

Goold takes us on-stage where Garland both fails and triumphs, while also going back in time to the hallowed soundstages of MGM where Garland as a 16-year-old star is cruelly manipulated in the Hollywood studio system.  

But Goold’s work goes beyond live on-stage performances and the Metro soundstages--it portrays two distinct stages of Garland’s life, some 30 years apart as her past informs her present. We see, for example, the studio putting a young Garland on pills to control her, starting an addiction that carries through to what’s become a brittle adulthood.

But the constant from both eras is Garland’s desire to lead a normal life. While her childhood was lost, Garland as an adult fights to keep her children, to be a mom. It’s this chance to do empathetic justice to Garland that motivated Goold. When first approached by producer David Livingstone to possibly direct the film, Goold didn’t immediately come on board. He didn’t consider himself an adoring fan of Garland but he started to embrace the project when he met and felt an affinity for both Livingston and screenwriter Tom Edge. Perhaps not having a predisposed allegiance to Garland was an advantage for Goold who discovered a character worthy of empathy--and came upon what he regarded as “a golden opportunity to make a film with a female protagonist.”

For Livingston and Goold, Zellweger was the clear choice to portray Garland, citing the actress’ dedication to craft as well as her dramatic (an Oscar for Cold Mountain) and comedic chops--the latter important for Garland’s brand of often hilarious, self-deprecating humor. Zellweger took on Garland’s physicality, musicality and vulnerability. Goold said that vulnerable quality--enabling viewers to access someone’s emotion and humanity--has been a long-time Zellweger attribute, pointing to her work in the role of Bridget Jones, allowing audiences to deeply relate to that character.

For Goold, the biggest casting hurdle was finding the actress to portray Garland as a child. “That was what I really worried about,” related Goold, adding that in some respects the younger Judy is better known than the older Judy given the legacy of The Wizard of Oz.  Goold felt he had two central characters--Judy as a child and as an adult--and both performances had to be unerringly believable in order for the story to work. 

“I saw hundreds and hundreds of tapes,” recalled Goold of his search for the young Garland, and then finally he found one to be “spellbinding”--that of 15-year-old Darci Shaw. “She came in three times,” noted Goold, adding that “when she dropped into character, she had this huge soulfulness.” Goold in particular saw that soulfulness on screen when Garland as a youngster met with MGM chieftain Louis B. Mayer--and in the scene when she defied orders in a fit of fun and whimsy, diving into a swimming pool. Shaw’s performance was a critical building block to the story, creating a character who is “innately sympathetic” so that audiences can “really connect with her emotional plight.”

Goold himself connected more deeply with moviemaking thanks to Judy. “I loved making this film. It was in a box for a while, waiting to come out. Feeling the warmth, the variety of richness of the responses has been gratifying. It can take two to three years of your life to make a movie so you have to pursue something worthwhile. We made Judy. We care about her.”

César Charlone
The Two Popes (Netflix) continues a collaborative relationship between director Fernando Mereilles and cinematographer César Charlone that spans several films, including City of God, which earned each an Oscar nomination in his respective discipline in 2004. 

It thus seems apropos that The Two Popes is now generating Oscar buzz. The Academy Award pedigree of its key contributors extends beyond Mereilles and Charlone to screenwriter Anthony McCarten, a three-time Oscar nominee--first in 2015 for his penning of The Theory of Everything, which as a producer also garnered him a Best Picture nod, and then in 2018 for writing Darkest Hour. Furthermore, actor Anthony Hopkins, who stars in The Two Popes as Pope Benedict (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger), is a four-time Academy Award nominee, winning for The Silence of the Lambs back in 1992.

The Two Popes takes us behind Vatican walls where the conservative Pope Benedict and liberal Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis (portrayed by Jonathan Pryce), come together to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Charlone said he usually begins his process with Mereilles by finding out why the director wants to do the film they’re about to start working on. In this case it was the special relationship between the two Popes and its continued societal relevance particularly in light of today’s divisive times. 

Charlone described Mereilles as “a humanistic militant” who loved McCarten’s script because it was about “building bridges instead of walls. This film is about two men who at the beginning are complete opposites in terms of their views. But at the end there’s a feeling of friendship, collaboration and compromise between them.”

Then came a meeting of minds between director and DP as to the best approach to creating the look of the film. Charlone had the contrarian idea of using the Sistine Chapel’s famed frescoes as a lighting reference for The Two Popes. Michelangelo’s low contrast, soft tones and color palette make for a shadowless, flat, elegant look that’s quite a departure from the typical deployment of bright light shining through church windows and rich, high contrast oil paintings as a frame of reference. Actors are instead front and center, not obscured by shadows, seemingly a part of this world because it’s all lit like a fresco.

Driving Charlone and Mereilles in this direction was their desire to give The Two Popes a slight documentary tinge and feel. They felt the typical approach--using shafts of light with smoke, often adopted to romanticize and glamorize church scenes--lacked the authenticity needed for The Two Popes. The reality is that church windows are tinted, meaning that the sun doesn’t come in too harsh, noted Charlone who also dovetailed with production designer Mark Tildesley to make sure the sets and environments constructed would be conducive to the fresco-inspired lensing.

Initially Charlone had an office in close proximity to that of Mereilles. But the cinematographer requested that he instead have a desk in the art department. He wound up in Tildesley’s office. “Every shooting test we did I would share with the art department,” said Charlone who enjoyed the give-and-take between himself and the art ensemble headed by Tildesley. This served to further fortify a rapport the two had established most notably on Mereilles’ The Constant Gardener. Tildesley was nominated for an Art Directors Guild Excellence in Production Design Award for The Constant Gardener in 2006.

Charlone opted for the RED 8K camera to shoot The Two Popes, using 16mm lenses which helped bring the Red sensor down to in effect the 4K delivery mandated by Netflix. He also went mostly handheld, lensing the action in a realistic fashion. “I didn’t want it to look like fiction. I wanted a touch of documentary so you would believe this was all happening,” he explained.

At the same time Charlone confessed to being “ashamed to move the camera” at times because the performances of Hopkins and Pryce were so stellar. “I wanted to be flat on them, having them fill a hundred percent of the screen.”

Charlone observed that seeing the actors work, prepare and then deliver was “the biggest present.” Noting that his father was a theater director, Charlone shared that he very much appreciates acting and working with actors. 

The DP said he was profoundly impacted by Hopkins and Pryce, relating, “When I started the project, I had a prejudice about Ratzinger. Hopkins’ performance was so enlightening that it changed my view. The same for Jonathan (Pryce). I had a stereotyped view of that Pope. Jonathan showed me another side, a deeper humanity in him.”

Of course also contributing significantly to that depth was McCarten’s meticulously researched and crafted writing. “It’s great when you have a script like that,” affirmed Charlone. “When the clock rings at 4 am, I was so happy, knowing I was going to soon see something beautiful.”

Beyond The Two Popes and The Constant Gardener, Charlone’s work with Mereilles also includes Blindness for which the DP received a Silver Frog at Camerimage. He additionally is a Golden Frog winner for The Constant Gardener.

More recently, Charlone worked on Doug Liman’s American Made starring Tom Cruise, in addition to several feature length documentaries, such as Red Trees, Unseen Enemy, No Place on Earth, Stranded, and 2 Billion Hearts, where Charlone led a team of 22 DPs. Besides serving as a cinematographer, Charlone has worked as a director and showrunner for 3%, the first Netflix original series produced entirely in Brazil. He also directed one of his native Uruguay’s most acclaimed films, The Pope’s Toilet, which was selected by that country as its official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar some 12 years ago.

Phedon Papamichael, ASC, GSC
Phedon Papamichael, ASC, GSC enjoys a special bond with select filmmakers. For example, he’s shot four films for director Alexander Payne: Sideways, The Descendants, Nebraska and Downsizing. For his gorgeous black-and-white lensing of Nebraska, Papamichael earned Oscar, BAFTA and ASC Award nominations, among other honors.

Similarly Papamichael has a special bond with director James Mangold, which spans five full films--Identity, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, Knight and Day, and Ford v Ferrari--and a portion of another, the end sequence of Logan.

Set for a November release, Ford v Ferrari (20th Century Fox) chronicles the efforts of an automotive designer (Matt Damon) and a race car driver (Christian Bale) to build a Ford that could best Ferrari at the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1966.

Papamichael described Ford v Ferrari as a $100 million-plus movie, sans superheroes, “about two 40-year-old guys pursuing their dreams, It’s a friendship movie with a few visual effects in it. It’s not a visual effects movie. It’s an adult drama which is a dying breed of Hollywood filmmaking, which connects me to Mangold. Classic Hollywood filmmaking, labeled at times as old fashioned, is something we both embrace and admire.”

Of his relationship with Mangold, Papamichael said, “We’re like brothers, the same age more or less, with similar influences growing up--European cinema, Japanese films. He’s a very unique combination of being an independent filmmaker who understands that way of filmmaking but can function financially and successfully within the Hollywood system. In terms of film language, it’s almost scary how we see things in a very similar way. He writes and is very eloquent directing actors. He also has an extremely astute eye for the camera, which is a rare combination.”

Papamichael has distinctly different methods of operation with Payne as compared to Mangold. For the former, Papamichael explained, “Normally I like to operate the camera. Alexander is often next to me. There’s no video assist tent or DIT village. It’s an intimate small triangle--actor, director and cameraman.”

By contrast, Papamichael’s norm with multiple-camera, big scale Mangold films is “to sit with him by the monitors, communicating with the crew through little headsets. Even during a take, as I’m saying ‘start pushing in,’ Mangold is at the same time yelling over at me to slowly push in. We’re on the same wavelength. I’ll say ‘pan a bit left, don’t center so much’ and Mangold will say the same thing. It’s almost worrisome how we’ve become this one voice. People are often shocked by it.”

For Ford v Ferrari, Papamichael gravitated to the ARRI Alexa LF (large format) camera and anamorphic lenses, capturing the beauty and speed of the cars and the frantic backdrop of the tracks and pit stops, reminiscent in some respects of classic racing movies such as Grand Prix and Le Mans. He wanted to go with vintage period correct Panavision C lenses but hesitated because that glass didn’t fully cover the Alexa lens sensor. However Papamichael turned to lens guru Dan Sasaki at Panavision who expanded the vintage lenses to cover the larger sensor--he accomplished the feat in two weeks, just in time for the start of shooting. “We went into production with the prototype first-time expanded anamorphic C Series and the more modern T Series,” related Papamichael. 

Sasaki’s work “took sharpness off the T series, making it more similar to older glass,” assessed Papamichael. “With digital cameras and sensors becoming bigger, everything is pushing towards sharper images--4K, 6K, 8K. No one wants to look at an actor’s face at 8K anyway. The C’s are older glass and gave us a look we wanted. The T’s, though, gave us the added advantage of closer focus capability. You can shoot close up with a wider lens while being physically close. We get wide and physically closer. Psychologically you feel it as being close to the action.”

Papamichael continued that this closeness helps to express “the sense of speed, danger, the claustrophobic concept of sitting in a little box that has an enormous powerful engine strapped to it, trying to convey what it must be like to put your life on the line every time you go out there in a race car--kind of similar to The Right Stuff, with astronauts in a little capsule.” Papamichael sees a parallel between Ford v Ferrari and his work on Walk the Line with Mangold. “We wanted the audience to feel what it’s like to be on stage with Johnny Cash (in Walk the Line). We didn’t do a closeup from the audience view with a longer lens. Instead we were up there on stage with a wide angle lens, two feet away from the performer. The physical proximity of the camera to the performance creates a different involvement for the audience--we did that with Christian Bale and his car (in Ford v Ferrari). You can feel the vibration of the cabin as we embraced old school technology, hard-mounting cameras to the chassis. In combination with sound design and audio mix, cutting in and out, we created a racer’s point of view, intimate and close to the action, capturing what’s exciting about racing.”

But all this is moot, noted Papamichael, without the human dynamic. “It’s a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kind of friendship story, with classic offbeat characters who don’t fit in, fighting the bureaucracy and paper pushers, coming up against all kinds of hurdles along the way. No matter how great the car work, the car chases, you only connect to the audience if they care for your main characters. Action on its own means nothing if you don’t care a darn about the people. Action becomes meaningless no matter how well executed. Mangold as an actors’ director understands that.”

Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Jojo Rabbit marked the first time cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. worked with Taika Waititi, who wrote, directed and starred in the film--which last month won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. The honor is viewed as an early harbinger of what’s to come in Hollywood’s awards season. Every Toronto Audience award winner in the past decade has scored a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Last year’s Audience winner Green Book went on to take the Academy Award for Best Picture, continuing a tradition which saw such films as 12 Years a Slave, The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire win the Toronto honor and then the coveted Best Picture Oscar.

Malaimare found Waititi to be an ideal collaborator, open-mindedly teaming with him, production designer Ra Vincent and costume designer Mayes Rubeo to create the look and tone of Jojo Rabbit. Vincent and Rubeo were already keenly aware of Waititi’s deeply collaborative spirit, having earlier contributed their talents to the filmmaker’s projects, including Thor: Ragnarok.

Malaimare recalled that during rehearsal for the actors, Waititi was willing to talk to him about how to best photograph scenes, “I couldn’t hope for better collaboration as we saw the performances and the visual approach develop,” affirmed the DP.

A coming-of-age satiric hybrid comedy-drama, Jojo Rabbit centers on a 10-year-old boy--the title character (portrayed by Roman Griffin Davis)--growing up in World War II Germany. His imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, a strangely inspired rendition of whom is played by Waititi. The lad lives with his mom (Scarlett Johansson) and for a time unknowingly with a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) who is hiding in the attic to escape Nazi persecution. When Jojo discovers and gets to know her, he begins questioning what he’s been told about Jews--and for that matter, the world.

Seen through a boy’s vivid imagination, Jojo Rabbit presents a different POV of Germany in WWII, full of bright colors and natural beauty, a major departure from the drab, oppressive look and feel normally depicted.

Helping to put Malaimare in tune with this child-like vision was the realization that it wasn’t a figment of the imagination. The cinematographer viewed some recently resurrected color footage of Germany during that era. Those images reflected a world alive with color, akin to what Jojo experiences.

Malaimare noted. “We have seen so many muted period films from WWII, whether in black and white or in more somber colors, that we are shocked to see such a vibrant spectrum of color. But that was the reality and once we decided to reflect this, it was an idea that circulated through the set design and the costumes and helped to set the tone Taika wanted for the story. It feels a little strange to the audience only because we are not used to it, but the color I think makes it more real to us.”

Malaimare deployed ARRI Alexa SXT cameras in tandem with Hawk V-light squeeze anamorphic 1.3X lenses. The DP related that standard anamorphic 2X lenses didn’t yield the desired look. The 1.3X glass helped attain the color saturation needed for the project, with skin tones taking on a velvety quality, underscoring “a very alive feeling without being overly cinematic.”

Locations also lent themselves well to Malaimare’s lensing. To bring Jojo’s fictional hometown of Falkenheim to life, the production turned to a couple of small towns in the Czech Republic which Malaimare said dovetailed perfectly with the period piece, looking historic with minimal signs of modern times. This afforded him the freedom to often shoot 360 degrees without compromising the quest for authenticity.

Still it was the collective effort from all the departments, from production design to costume design, visual effects and camerawork--along with “amazing acting”--that defined Jojo Rabbit. On the latter front, Malaimare observed that perhaps the biggest takeaway from his experience on the film was that “child actors can be amazing. Roman and Thomason were great. I never thought I would see so much commitment and professionalism from performers at such a young age.”

Jojo Rabbit adds to a filmography for Malaimare which includes such notable features as last year’s The Hate You Give directed by George Tillman, Jr., and earlier The Master helmed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The Master won five best cinematography awards, including one from the National Society of Film Critics.

Malaimare additionally shot the pilot episode for the upcoming ABC primetime drama series For Life, also directed by Tillman Jr. Additionally, Malaimare is prolific in the advertising arena, shooting commercials for clients including Apple, Nike, Samsung, Sony, Hulu and Toyota. His spot credits feature performances from world-class athletes such as LeBron James and Lionel Messi, movie talent including Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Spike Lee, and music performers like Taylor Swift, Adam Levine, Drake, Nikki Minaj and Sean Combs.

Malaimare has found commercialmaking to be a great space for experimentation visually and in terms of working with different technology he’d never get the chance to use in his feature film endeavors. “It’s an amazing medium. You learn so much when you have only thirty seconds to tell a story. You can take something from the commercial world and show it to a movie director who will be responsive to what you’ve captured.”

Malaimare began his film career at the National University of Theatre and Film in Bucharest. He shot several shorts and features in Romania before auditioning for and getting the chance at the age of 29 to shoot writer/director Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, a period drama which garnered an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Cinematography. Malaimare went on to lens two more features for Coppola, the drama Tetro and the surrealist genre film Twixt. Then The Master came, rising Malaimare’s industry stock as a cinematographer exponentially. Malaimare’s other feature credits include writer/director Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones, director Sacha Gervasi’s November Criminals and Baran bo Odar’s Sleepless.

Barbara Ling
For production designer Barbara Ling, the allure of Once Upon a Hollywood (Sony-Columbia Pictures) was simply getting the chance to work for the first time with writer-director Quentin Tarantino, a two-time Oscar winner for his screenplays for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained

“It’s been a dream of mine,” she shared, noting, “The minute I read the script for Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood, my brain exploded with an ‘oh, my God’ reaction. This is my town (L.A.), my life, though it goes back to when I was a teenager. The script itself was just extraordinary, almost like reading a novel. It was so descriptive of the characters, the people, an extremely exciting read.”

Set in L.A. in 1969, this hybrid drama-comedy introduces us to an actor (Rick Dalton, portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) who’s fallen from stardom but still landing some roles based on his past fame. He and his stunt double (and best friend, played by Brad Pitt) are navigating a changing entertainment industry landscape. Looming over this nostalgic look at Hollywood are Charles Manson and his disciples as Dalton moves into a home next door to the residence of Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate.

Ling noted that Tarantino immersed all his collaborators in that era. She recalled location scouting with him. In the car or van each day, Tarantino played a KHJ radio station audiotape from that time period. “We heard all the music, all that was happening that day, like Sirhan Sirhan going on trial (for the assassination of presidential candidate, Sen. Bobby Kennedy),” said Ling.

At the same time, while hearkening back to another era, Tarantino is very much in the moment, according to Ling. “I’ve never seen a filmmaker more excited during a meeting. His love of filmmaking, besides being infectious, makes everybody excited to be there--because he’s so excited to be there. His love of the process is like no other’s. He’s like a kid in a candy store. He loves every aspect of working on something. I’d show him a dressed set and then he’d tell me there were a couple of things he wanted to add. The trunk of his car opens and he pulls out a little mug or something else. He lives for every little piece.”

Additionally, continued Ling, Tarantino “wants everything to be in the real world, not in front of green screen. We reconstructed four blocks of Hollywood Boulevard to bring back that era--without stopping tourists, without being able to close any buildings. Giant cranes put up the original signage. We also did the same for Westwood, recreating the facade of a building, accounting for all the little details.”

Doing this on the fly in such short order wouldn’t have been possible without the artistry of Nancy Haigh, whom Ling described as “one of the greatest set decorators of all time.”  Ling’s second ever project, a TV assignment back in the 1980s, marked her first time collaborating with Haigh, a seven-time Oscar nominee who won for Bugsy in 1992. It took nearly 30 years for them to get back together, on Once Upon a Hollywood. Ling described their working reunion as a joy.

Another Once Upon a Time... highlight for Ling was teaming again with cinematographer Robert Richardson, ASC, a nine-time Academy Award nominee who won three times for his lensing of JFK, The Aviator and Hugo. Ling had worked with Richardson on Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Richardson also was instrumental in her breaking into the ad arena. “I did an enormous amount of commercials with Bob,” related Ling. “He pulled me into the commercial world way back. He was directing and shooting at that time for MJZ, and then Tool. We have a visual connection in films and commercials. And it was an incredibly exciting process to be working as what I call the tripod--Quentin, Robert and myself--on Once Upon a Hollywood, making sure we were backing up each other as we went after just the right visual style and color saturation for the movie.”

That process, concluded Ling, was particularly remarkable because it entailed “the excitement of doing things practically which is not really done much anymore due to financial reasons. The focus is on what you get done viscerally in design and interaction with the characters. It’s a movie that’s a real movie. It’s not a Marvel or a DC movie which also has its artistry. CGI has opened up doors for us to create whole new worlds and visions. But it’s still fabulous to do a real period piece, particularly with Tarantino. It’s an incredibly exciting visual proposition.”

This is the second of a 16-part series with future installments of The Road To Oscar slated to run in the weekly SHOOT>e.dition, The SHOOT Dailies and on, with select installments also in print issues. The series will appear weekly through the Academy Awards gala ceremony. Nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards will be announced on Monday, January 13, 2020. The 92nd Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, Calif.,and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network.  The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

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