In a Digital Movie World, Projectionists Still Matter

Posted on April 2, 2018 at 10:31 am

One of the great pleasures of seeing movies at the magnificent Virginia Theater each year for Ebertfest is the superb work of projectionist James Bond (yes, that is his name).  These days, most movies are digitally projected and remote controlled.  But for some films, projectionists still make all the difference.  It was great to see Vanity Fair profile Mike Katz, one of the best, sought after by perfectionist filmmakers like P.T.  Anderson and Martin Scorsese.  My favorite professor in film school started as a teenage projectionist, and that led him to go back to school to study film.

For the first time in years, specialists like him have once again become a hot commodity, thanks to fussy filmmakers like Phantom Threads Paul Thomas Anderson and others—“Batman guy, Scorsese guy, Tarantino guy”—who want to present their new films the way they believe they deserve to be seen, on 35mm or 70mm, in a handful of big-city markets. They’re frantically seeking projectionists like Katz to get the job done, even turning to those who have retired or moved on from the profession…Katz—like those film-nerds-turned-directors who are breathing new life into his industry—is hyper-aware of the differences between a D.C.P., or digital cinema package, and a film print. (He actually installed BAM’s first two digital projectors about 12 and 8 years ago.) He credits his father and uncle Louie, both of whom worked as projectionists and were proud members of New York’s still-thriving projectionists union, with giving him vital on-the-job training; he started working for them as a “reelboy,” rethreading just-screened film prints, and handing them back to the projectionist.

 

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Behind the Scenes

John Hanlon Interviews the Producer of “A Wrinkle in Time”

Posted on March 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Copyright Disney 2018
My friend and fellow critic John Hanlon spoke to Catherine Hand, who decided when she read A Wrinkle in Time at age 10 that she wanted to make it into a movie and has devoted her life to that one goal. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the story is that she actually did get the movie made once, for television, which everyone agreed was inadequate, and true to the spirit of the book, she did not give up. She produced the new version directed by Ava Duvernay as well. Here’s a look at the earlier version:

You’ve been working to adapt this novel for the big screen for a long time. What was the greatest challenge you faced?

I’ve been asked that question and there’s so many different answers but I will tell you A Wrinkle in Time is the quintessential heroine’s journey — which is different than a hero’s journey — and the industry was just not as open to telling that story. It was really when a whole new generation of executive producers, writers, directors rose up and the book —while it may have seemed daunting for many years for a lot of people — I think this new generation of creative individuals in the industry embraced it and I think that at the end of the day, it’s so much about timing and I think as you said earlier its themes are universal and timeless.

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Behind the Scenes Books Interview

Actors of Sound

Posted on February 25, 2018 at 10:01 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Brief archival footage has some violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 26, 2018
Copyright 2016 Freestyle Digital Media

It’s the climax of the film. The hero and heroine finally kiss. The power of the moment comes from the emotion built up by the story, by the acting talent and screen charisma of the performers, by the heart-tugging swell of the music — and by the sound of the kiss itself, probably so subtle you don’t notice it, but if it wasn’t there, you would notice its absence. That sound was not made by the tender touch of two beautiful movie stars’ lips. It was made by a Foley artist, the “actor of sound,” whose profession is the subject of this documentary.

Skip this next part and go to the next paragraph if you want to preserve the illusion: the slight smacky sound you hear is probably some burly guy kissing the back of his hand. And when a beautiful actress walks down a hall or street in high heels, that same burly guy is probably wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and high heels, stepping on one of the dozen or so different surfaces in the studio to match the shot. The sound of the trudging footsteps of the enormous football player in “The Blind Side” was created by a woman, who explains, “I had to become a 300 pound man who was feeling alone and like no one cared about him…I gave myself a sense of heaviness.” Another woman “was” Mr. T in “The A-Team,” at least the sounds of his feet.

The Foley artist is the person who provides everything from hoofbeats on dirt to the clacks of high heels on a wood floor, from the sound E.T. makes when he walks to the sound of Walter White taking off the mask he uses for cooking meth to the sound Robert de Niro makes when he slams a baseball bat into a guy’s head in “The Untouchables.” That last one, we learn in this fascinating and engaging documentary, was made with a combination of a raw turkey (gizzards still inside) and a coconut. We learn about sounds like the snap of Batman’s cape, the flutter of paper floating through the air, and the “hyper-real” coin toss in “No Country for Old Men.”

Foley was a real person, a pioneer in the field. While the technology for recording and editing the sounds has advanced along with most other aspects of filmmaking, the technology for creating the sounds has not. They are still using the same kinds of props — and sometimes even the exact same props — that go back to the heyday of radio. If it’s a period film and someone needs to dial a phone, you’re going to need a dial phone to create that sound. And nothing beats corn starch for the sound of walking on snow.

The documentary includes archival footage showing how sounds were created for some of the most iconic moments in film history. ET’s walk? Let’s just say that when the Foley artists were served Jello at lunch, it gave them a good idea. It also includes Foley artists from around the world and some discussion of how changes in the industry and technology may affect the future of the profession.

All of the participants are wonderfully imaginative and dedicated, and their stories and perspective make this essential viewing for anyone who is interested in film. “The sound has to pan, too,” to help create the illusion of movement. And they will do anything to get the sound just right — even a condom over the microphone.

As one of them says, a Foley artist has to be “an athlete, a musician, and an actor all in one,” and as another says, they are “painting a picture with sound.” So far, no one has been able to produce sounds digitally or via a sound library that feel real, not robotic. Being a Foley artist requires “imagination, tempo, coordination, and love,” and this film is filled with all of that as well, a welcome appreciation for an essential and often overlooked profession.

Parents should know that this film includes brief violent footage from films being discussed.

Family discussion: What movie sounds do you remember? How will this movie make you listen more closely?

If you like this, try: “Harold and Lillian”

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