Interview: Shepherd Frankel, Production Designer for “Ant-Man”

Interview: Shepherd Frankel, Production Designer for “Ant-Man”

Posted on November 30, 2015 at 3:59 pm

Shepherd Frankel is the production designer who created the world of “Ant-Man,” the Marvel film about the teeny little superhero named Scott Lang and played by Paul Rudd. It will be released on DVD/Blu-Ray December 8, 2015. I loved the design of the film, and it was an honor to get to ask him about it.

Marvel's Ant-Man Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2015
Marvel’s Ant-Man
Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)
Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal
© Marvel 2015

So when you come into a movie like this are you more excited or terrified at the idea that you’re going to have to create a world where somebody is the size of an ant?

I used to say, “If you’re not scared going go to work every day you are going to need to find a new job,” meaning there is an exhilaration to being nervous at the task of doing an amazing job. I definitely felt that on a day-to-day basis on “Ant-Man” but it wasn’t fear. It was more like wanting to make sure that we could take advantage of every opportunity in the script and in the Marvel cinematic universe, to bring this film into its most receivable and exceptional form. And I do feel like we did, it’s almost like I never wanted to let any rock be uncovered. I would say that this film was definitely the most fun I have had making a movie.

And I think you can see that on the screen. It was a testament to the filmmakers, the Director, Marvel, our producers and the environment that they created. When I saw it for the first time I was tickled at the visual journey that we were on which was a byproduct of many different departments and everyone’s effort. I thought it was an exceptionally fun visual journey we just went on and I felt like literally creatively — like wow! I’m happy, I just felt like I ate a great meal. So I was nervous but only nervous about wanting to make sure we fulfilled all of the opportunities and possibilities that were implied and that we came up with as a result of investing in the story and the characters.

There were two very different and very character-defining settings in the film, the house that Hank Pym, the Michael Douglas character, lived in and the lab owned by the movie’s villain, Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll.

Hank Pym is a retired scientist and he needed to be in an older house. We wanted the house to be quintessential San Francisco. So we found a location and we ended up painting the entire thing and building a huge gate around outside so Scott could jump over it. This house was in San Francisco and the color was tied into the color palette of Michael Douglas. It felt like it was from another time. The entire inside of that house, the main story, the top story and the basement were all built on stage in Atlanta. And also the back of the house where Scott jumps off and breaks in at the window where he came up in the yard through the ground, we built that outside in Atlanta.

So basically the idea was you want it to feel like, “Oh there is some old guy living in this house.” When you meet him Scott doesn’t know he is Hank Pym, the genius. We think of him as this old guy whose house shows that his work had kind of taken over his house and it was loved and nurtured at one point but it has seen better days and it has a little clutter and so you see it and think, “What’s going on here? What’s the backstory?” And then when you go downstairs in the basement it’s like “What the heck is this?” There is a vault and a high-tech wall and a gym that was the best of its time in the 70s and that’s where Ant-Man trained.

So the challenge there was that the space had two meanings, one as we first see it but two the surprise that “Wow, this is the place that Hank Pym developed the technology for the Ant-Man suit in this secure vaulted world.” Then you counter that with the laboratory which was this mid-century old building which is where Hank Pym went after he retired the Ant-Man suit.

But then there is the lab, in contrast. The story that Darren Cross had taken over that lab and pushed Hank Pym out of his own company and created this tactical laboratory that was always like a machine, the casino that you kind of felt like you were being devoured by you are being devoured by the technology of the architecture of this building. The way Darren Cross kind of like chew you up and spit you out and like it needed be so obviously Hank Pym warmer colors, brown, wood, a Victorian home and then Darren Cross, metal and blue and glass and icy and steel and cold. So you needed two characters in one. And one of the fun things is that Hank Pym’s labs in 1970, what did that place look like and it is basement that thing was so much fun to do that in juxtaposition to Cross technology, like the future walls and the future lab.

What was the biggest challenge you had in indicating the scale as Ant-Man shrinks down?

We had to think about everything two times. First was the usual “Okay, we’re doing all these sets and the movie takes place in this like a regular world of like a Victorian home or a jail, or tenement housing and then we go to these labs,” and you’re like, “Okay that’s cool.” But then we see those spaces again when he shrinks down. So we did a lot of math in the beginning, meaning like if Scott shrinks down to this size what does the environment look like to him? And the way I lay out a set is all based on the scale and relationship of character to environment and the way the camera is going to perceive that. So when you shrink someone down and suddenly a one or two foot tile for an ant-size person is basically 400 feet. So that tile has to create interesting cinematic obstacles and depth. We were constantly thinking about how it exists for someone an inch tall in an environment that we already designed full-scale?

So I was always building set within set, the real set and then the macro set and we always shot the macro environment on the actual environment. I never built like an oversized spoon or fork or cup, everything was shot within camera of the original size set. Sometimes we would rebuild it if the schedule required us to have the macro set ready when the first unit was on the original set but ultimately we built these environments for us to capture the digital assets for visual effects, who would then have Scott and Ant Man running through these environment at that scale. It was a combination scientific and creative kind of solutions which was only achievable by virtue of new technology and Frazier lenses and various ways to capture things with cameras these days. We could not have done these like 10 or 15 years ago.

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Exclusive Clip: Merry Kissmas

Posted on November 30, 2015 at 8:00 am

Karissa Lee Staples (“Necessary Roughness”) and Brant Daugherty (“Pretty Little Liars”) star in the cheerful romantic comedy, “Merry Kissmas,” available on Digital HD and On Demand December 1, 2015 from MarVista Digital Entertainment. Directed by Michael Feifer, the film also stars Doris Roberts (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), David O’Donnell (“Christmas Under Wraps”), Ion Overman (Madea Goes to Jail) and Brittany Underwood (“One Life to Live”).

Kayla Hansen’s long-term relationship with Tony-winning choreographer Carlton Peters is on the rocks, mainly because Carlton treats her more like his personal assistant than his girlfriend. However, the two have agreed to not address their rocky relationship until after Christmas and Carlton’s new production of “The Nutcracker.” When Kayla shares an impromptu mistletoe kiss in an elevator with handsome Dustin Casey, she feels that she has finally and serendipitously encountered the love of her life. However, due to Dustin’s previously failed relationships, he shies away from expressing his feelings, and when Carlton starts wooing Kayla to give their relationship a second chance, Kayla’s love life becomes even more complicated. This holiday season, Kayla must follow her heart, and make a few wishes along the way to find true love.

Available December 1, 2015 on Amazon, Comcast Xfinity, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo and VUDU, as well as On Demand with Charter, DirecTV, Verizon, and Vubiquity.

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Interview: Erin Bernhardt of “Imba Means Sing”

Interview: Erin Bernhardt of “Imba Means Sing”

Posted on November 29, 2015 at 6:35 am

The African Children’s Choir is more than a performing group. It is a chance. Children from the direst poverty who tour with the group get to see the world. They go to school. And when they grow up, their education is paid for through college. A touching and inspiring new documentary about the group is called “Imba Means Sing,” available December 4, 2015 on VOD. In an interview producer Erin Bernhardt explained how she became involved with the group and what the children taught her.

Copyright 2015 Imba Film
Copyright 2015 Imba Film

How did you meet the choir?

I met the African Children’s Choir the summer after I graduated from the University of Virginia. I had already committed to the Peace Corps but I wasn’t going to move to Madagascar until September. So I had that summer off and number one selling indie rock band of all time, Dispatch brought me on to be their outreach coordinator for a big benefit concert they had, a three night event at Madison Square Garden for Africa. And that’s how I met the choir. We had the kids come perform with the guys at the Garden and meeting those kids just totally changed my life. The children were from Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya and they were all orphans and they had nothing back home. They had no running water, no electricity, no parents, no toys, no education and thanks to being in the African Children’s Choir their education was now going to be funded through college. So they would be able to go on to achieve their dreams. They were the happiest, most joyful kids that I had ever met in my entire life, actually the most joyful people I had ever met, and it really changed my perspective on what mattered in life.

So for eight and a half years I’ve been wanting to tell their story and it’s really exciting that it’s finally happening. After the concert, I left them, moved to Madagascar, lost touch with them. I came home and worked at CNN for three years as a writer and producer mostly covering politics and then four and a half years ago I went with one of my best friends to Uganda to do a story for CNN about her social enterprise, the Akola Project. I ran into the choir my first day in Uganda, the same kids. I had gotten Croc, the plastic shoe company, to donate shoes for the kids in New York in 2007 and then in 2010 I saw those kids wearing those shoes and they were just doing really, really well. So I made a documentary about them for CNN and then I left to make this feature film because I wanted to reach younger audiences and be able to get the film in schools, and have it really make a difference.

The children in the film really are always joyful. And yet they have so little and as they travel through the United States they can see how much others have that they do not. What keeps them so cheerful?

When you ask them why they’re so happy, they say God. So if you talk to them about why you’re so happy, why are you so well behaved, why do you always have a good attitude, why are you so thoughtful? Their answer to all of those question is God.
For the kids in Uganda and a lot of developing countries spirituality is a lot more alive. It’s not just like an intellectual thing in their head and it’s not just something that is in your heart that you talk about. These kids come from communities where anything good that happens they think it’s happening because of God. That’s just how their life is in their villages and even in their slums. They just have so much faith. They talk about it and they live it and they wear it on their sleeves. So that’s really how they live. They realize how lucky they are that they have this opportunity and they totally give that credit to God for picking them and letting them have this opportunity to change their life and their families’ lives.

The film has a very intimate feel. And the performances are filmed very dynamically. What kind of crew did you have? And how big?

To me it was big, it was bigger than the crews that we use on CNN. I had a director of photography who was always using one or two cameras and a director who was doing the second or third camera and then we always had a field audio mixer because the audio was really, really important for the film because it was about music so we always had that. And then we had a production assistant who would be helping with writing and making sure everyone in the other rooms nearby were quiet and all that stuff and then me, the producer. For performances, we had two or three cameras at the time and always an audio person and sometimes you have to bring in extra audio people or extra photographers.”

The choir performed in a wide variety of venues. What were the ones that they enjoyed the most?

They loved singing at the Atlanta Braves baseball games. I think that was really fun for them to have such a huge audience. At that point they had been at only one baseball game before and that was a minor-league with a really small stadium and a really small crowd. So I think that this was beyond their wildest expectations and they loved that. They really liked performing at the Grand Canyon because it was just really fun. They weren’t as into the vast landscape of the Grand Canyon as they were into the snow there. They stayed and made snowmen and had snowball fights and then they sang. So they definitely loved it.

How did you make the children comfortable with you so that they were so unselfconscious in the film?

What makes me be able to tell really intimate character-driven stories is that I’m just really honest with all of the people I work with and it allows me to tell stories about people that I really love. And so they can tell that I genuinely love them and care about them and the kids, you know kids can see through anything so the kids really knew that I had their best interest in mind and the second they were selected for the choir I was there. So they didn’t know life in the choir without me around and without all the cameras around. So really their new life as members of the choir started with us there, too. So I think it would have been harder if they had been on tour for a while and then we came into the picture but it was really natural.

At first we were using a big camera and I had a different crew and that didn’t work so I ended up hiring a crew that worked better with the kids. They used smaller cameras. The kids never paid attention to us when we were rolling but when we weren’t rolling they would play with us, and they hung out with us and we would all be really mindful of spending time with the other 17 kids who weren’t the main characters of the film, too. We ate tons of meals with them and had tons of fun with them and everything off-camera. And they are singing professionally to make money and they are the news a lot so they know what’s going on; they are very smart and very wise.

What did they find most memorable in the US?

They volunteered at a few homeless shelters and Boys and Girls Clubs and I think they really liked that. They like seeing what Americans do for the less fortunate because in Uganda it’s mostly Westerners helping the less fortunate but in America they saw black Americans helping black Americans and I think that they definitely took that with them. But Anthony , who hadn’t been to America since he was eight, when he started touring, he as an adult was really bothered by the fact that we have homeless people in America. He was like “I don’t understand how that’s possible. Everything that you guys have, like we stay on tour in these mansions with pools and slides and families where each kid has their own bathroom and bedroom.” So he is was like, “I just don’t understand how you have homeless people, it just doesn’t make any sense.” So it’s interesting what the perspective of an eight-year-old is versus a 28-year-old. Of course, they are both right. For my grandmother’s birthday my cousin and I made a donation to the Survivor Initiative, which helps Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty.

To see the film, check here or host one yourself at a theater, place of worship, or school.

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