Behind The Scenes

Bobcat Goldthwait on God Bless America

18 Mar, 2015 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel

“To me, the best part about being famous is taking down phonies…” As God Bless America receives its UK TV premiere on Film4, writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (World’s Greatest Dad, Willow Creek) looks back on his razor-sharp, blackly comic satire, in which a middle aged man and a teenage girl take shockingly violent exception to modern-day US popular culture.

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Was this a hard film to pitch? There’s a common perception that producers are risk-averse and afraid of controversy. Was that the case with God Bless America?

I knew that it would be hard to pitch so I avoided that and went straight to the people who funded World’s Greatest Dad. I knew we work well together. Plus I tattooed their name across my chest. Made it hard for them to say no.

It’s often easy to fall into the trap of presuming that characters’ beliefs closely match those of the writer/director, but how autobiographical are Frank and Roxy’s rants?

I always denied that I was Frank, but my daughter and wife at the time, they say that Frank is 100% me. I wouldn’t do what Frank does, but he’s about 80% me. (Okay, like 99%.)

I think most people would recognise Joel Murray from Mad Men, but your work with him dates back to Shakes The Clown and One Crazy Summer. Did you have him in mind for Frank from an early stage?

No, I didn’t. I was binge watching Mad Men while I was recovering from back surgery and I sent him the script asking him to be in it. He thought I was asking him to play Frank’s boss (Geoff Pierson’s role) because my communication skills were dulled by painkillers. I didn’t write it with him in mind, but he’s the right man for the job.

Tara Lynne Barr is a real scene-stealer – a force of nature. How did you find her?

Well, she came in and auditioned. Most of my movies I populate with old friends, but being that I wasn’t friends with any 15 year old girls (which is as it should be), I had to audition that part. She was so right for the role, I remember feeling panicked that she wouldn’t do the movie. Certainly glad she did.

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You fill out the cast with familiar faces in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it roles, as well as actors from your previous films. What’s the story behind those? Do you like to make room for these cameos?

I suppose I do. When I work with friends, there’s a level of comfort on set that I really appreciate. It’s like there’s a short hand. Some days feel like a reunion. Makes for a fun atmosphere.

One of Frank’s targets in the film is the ‘Oh no, you didn’t say that!’ style of comedy. I find that interesting because your recent films (Sleeping Dogs, World’s Greatest Dad) have each stood at the border of what some would call ‘bad taste’, yet are still rooted in more sincere character concerns and social commentary. Is that humanity an integral difference, in your opinion?

Yes. I guess I was trying to underline the fact that there’s a lot of shock in the world that at the end of the day isn’t about anything. It doesn’t have any weight to it. I’m not easy to offend, I just don’t care much for sensationalism. I care about the intent behind the actions people take. A lot of things are said solely to make the person saying it famous, but that makes a person a phony.  To me, the best part about being famous is taking down phonies.

You’d think that a broadside against popular culture would date quite quickly, but the world that Frank and Roxy are fighting against is still very relevant, especially the touchstones of social media and reality television. Do you think much has changed since 2011? Would Frank and Roxy have any different targets in 2015?

Yeah, they would have went after social media a little harder. I’m sure some anonymous internet troll would have gotten some hot lead in the face.

 

God Bless America premieres on Film4 on Friday 20th March 2015.

Dark Horse: Postcard from Sundance

Dark Horse director Louise Osmond on visiting Sundance for the first time, where her film premiered to critical acclaim and won the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary.

Dark Horse: winner of the Audience Awards for World Documentary at Sundance

Dark Horse: winner of the Audience Awards for World Documentary at Sundance

Sundance has such a romance attached to it – the original indie festival – and I’m glad to say it genuinely lives up to its reputation. There is some madness out there – a swanky crowd who gather on the main street of Park City and swarm over celebrities like Chris Pine (we saw the swarm snaking down the road but not the man inside.)

But most of it is people who love film watching everything they can and a very warm atmosphere that gets film teams together in brunches and lunches and events that remind you why you love the job you do.

The producer, Judith Dawson and editor, Joby Gee were out there too and, nervous as cats, we waited for the premiere. Joby had one of his trademark fantastic/horrible shirts on – brown and blue dancing horses in 100% vintage rayon. Laughing at him proved oddly calming.  Coming out here, I’d thought – worried – a lot about whether American audiences would take to the story. In Park City, listening in the dark to every sigh or cough it seemed like they did but at a screening in Salt Lake City the next day it was louder and easier to read. They did seem to take to it and better still what they loved most about our fantastic characters – Jan and Brian, Howard and the others – was their spirit of defiance.

People will sometimes tell you America is a classless society but that news hasn’t reached Utah. Taking on the elite sport of kings with a horse bred on a slagheap allotment seemed to resonate very strongly with them. One man said: ‘Good to see people who aren’t respected getting the respect they deserve.’  Can’t argue with that.

Read more about Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance

 

 

 

Alicia Vikander’s Turing Test

In Ex_Machina, Alicia Vikander plays Ava, the sentient android subject of a Turing Test, required to convince Domhnall Gleeson’s computer programmer Caleb that she possesses a fully functioning artificial intelligence. We thought we’d quickly test Alicia’s humanity using six of the questions Ava and Caleb exchange during the film…

Alicia Vikander

Alicia Vikander

1.       When did you learn to speak?

What language? It’s interesting with language because now I probably speak more English than Swedish and I had a hard time doing my Swedish interviews. I’d forgotten some of the words of my native language. People say “do you think or do you dream in English or Swedish?” but being bilingual, you realize that thoughts are not language. You don’t think in words. If you go to pick up your phone you don’t think “I’m going to pick up my phone now.”

2.       Where would you go now if you could go anywhere?

I would probably say my own bed. I’ve landed in London and been here for three days but I still haven’t been able to see my own flat yet!

3.       Do you have a favourite colour?

Blue.

4.       What makes you nervous?

That people can see right through me. That I can’t hide things.

5.       Are you a good person?

Oh! [laughs] Coming back to what I was nervous about, I guess I don’t want people to see who I really am.

6.       What’s your earliest memory?

It’s so funny with memories trying to figure out if they’re real memories or just created in your own mind, but I have a memory of me walking across a big bridge, I think it’s Christmas, and I see this red man, a man that I’m very scared of, but I’m being told that he’s Santa Claus and he will come and visit us at our home.

Result: Pass. Although she’s such a great actor, we will never know for sure.

 

Ex_Machina is in cinemas 21st January 2015

 

Domhnall Gleeson’s Turing Test

In Ex_Machina, Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, the human component in a Turing Test, tasked with deciding whether Alicia Vikander’s sentient android Ava possesses a fully functioning artificial intelligence indistinguishable from a human. We thought we’d just quickly test Domhnall’s humanity using six of the questions Ava and Caleb exchange during the film…

Domhnall Gleeson

Domhnall Gleeson

 1.       When did you learn to speak?

I believe it was early enough. I think I was two. I know that when I met my younger brother for the first time I said, ‘Oh mam, he’s beautiful.’

2.       Where would you go now if you could go anywhere?

New York.

3.       Do you have a favourite colour?

Blue. That’s the same as Caleb, I think. And then in the end his answer is that he doesn’t actually have a favourite colour because he’s a grownup. So maybe the important thing here is that I actually do have a favourite colour, and it is blue.

4.       What makes you nervous?

People who are certain about everything. That really makes me nervous!

5.       Are you a good person?

That’s the killer. [pause] It’s impossible to know. Caleb says “I think I am”, but he follows it up with, “Yes, I’m a good person,” and I don’t know if I can definitively follow that up. Because we live in a messed up world, and have I done enough for the world that I live in? Probably not. As much as I could? Probably not. So maybe I’m not.

6.       What’s your earliest memory?

I remember having a dream. In our house there were stairs which used to go down and then take a sharp right-angle turn, and I remember having a dream where I could jump from the top step and somehow turn that corner in the air and land on your feet at the bottom. I never remember my dreams. But I remember that dream from when I was pretty young. I’m sure there are previous memories, but I think they’re more based on photographs and created memories, whereas that one I know is a memory of a dream.

Result: Pass. We’re 99% convinced he’s human.

 

Ex_Machina is in cinemas 21st January 2015

 

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Liz Arnott

05 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel, Idents

We’ve been celebrating the launch of a new set of idents on Film4 throughout the week, and you can now watch five – one from each scenarios – of the new idents on YouTube or tune into the channel to see all fifteen. We’ve also been interviewing some of the key members of the creative team throughout the week, and in this final interview we speak to Liz Arnott, the producer of the idents. Watch a video below that gives you a behind the scenes look at how the new idents were made, and then read on for our interview with Liz.

Liz Arnott on her role as producer…

As a senior producer at Film4 I was responsible for the promo output for the channel and channel branding. The previous channel branding had been in place since 2006 with an update in 2008, so the Film4 marketing team and the Film4 team in 4Creative were very keen to give it an update. Towards the end of 2013 some budget was allocated for the project so together with Dan Chase, the creative director of Film4, we briefed the in-house creative teams and four external branding and graphic design specialist companies. I was responsible for all the logistical planning, the budget and scheduling for the project. This included presenting concepts and ideas to internal stakeholders, producing the shoots for the idents, UK and USA, overseeing graphic creation with ManvsMachine and Red Bee Media, and producing post production on the idents (the offline edit, post production SFX, grading, composition, audio mix etc.).

On the pitches…

We briefed external companies for the on-screen graphics (menus, end boards etc.), but most came back with extra ideas for idents too. The brief was essentially to highlight Film4 as a film channel that shows a broad range of films, and that we make films too. ManvsMachine suggested some on screen graphic designs and a concept for continuity idents that were immediately right for the channel, and so we began working on developing the concept together and refining the on-screen graphic design. The other pitches we received all had really interesting and appealing ideas, but the ManvsMachine concept with the living frames inside a film strip was arresting immediately and was the one chosen by Chris and John, the 4Creative Creative Heads.

On developing the concept…

Once we had a concept we liked, we then worked on what would happen within that idea. That involved looking at what the ‘action’ would be and what the ‘scenes’ would be. We quickly worked out that the logo should be the key action, and that we wanted the scenes to be cinematic and feel like films, without specifically referencing genres or movies. A long process of generating ideas and honing them went on, and there were approximately 15 scenes to begin. We then had to whittle them down based on a variety of factors including appeal, variation, mixture of interior and exterior etc., and we eventually whittled them down to the five that were ultimately chosen. We then looked at different options for action to take place alongside the logo build within each scene, and came up with 15 different ones, again after a long process of developing ideas.

On the main challenge shooting the idents…

During our creative development process we worked out that the camera needed to pass above the ceiling plane and below the floor plane to work. Without doing that the effect of the parallax as the shots were stacked together didn’t work. That meant that we could only film at locations where we could dig a hole, and we could only film interiors if they were built in a studio where we could build them up on decking. We were able to shoot in one location without digging a hole- the stairway ident allowed us to get around the problem because was shot looking upwards, so the floor and ceiling planes became the sides of the atrium, which had corridors we could access. The other main challenges came from shooting on location which is always more of a challenge because of crew logistics, permissions needed, and of course you can’t control the weather.

On the locations…

The UK location shoot was in The Grand Hotel in Brighton. We had decided we wanted a stairway so our location managers (Algy Sloane and Hugo Smith Bingham) began the search, looking at large private houses and hotels trying to find a square staircase. A square staircase was important because we wanted a square shape in the centre of each ident. The Grand Hotel was always our favoured location but we feared gaining permission to film would be tricky. However, they were amazingly accommodating, and let us take over a large part of the ground floor, and we were thrilled to be able to access such a beautiful location.

The US shoots took place in California. We decided we’d like to shoot in the US to represent the number of US films shown on the channel, and we wanted to find a gas station in the desert. We looked at a few options, and chose the one we shot in as it had a good shape for the canopy, the ability to dig a hole, and the background of desert and trees. We then decided to shoot in woodland in the US as it made budgetary sense and gave us a different feel to ones you would find in the UK.

The woodlands were found after a location manager searching and looking at various locations within reach of the gas station location. The location near Big Bear Lake was chosen due to the feel of a corridor between the trees that we were looking for, the accessibility, the friendliness of the park ranger, and again the ability to dig a hole. This was especially important in this case as some parts of the forest cannot be disturbed in case they are an ancient Native American site without an archaeological survey. I enjoy all of my roles as a producer, but the shoots are my favourite. There’s a lot to do, it’s exciting, and seeing the crew you have put together working well and creating something beautiful is enormously rewarding.

On what was added in post-production…

Some of the idents shot mostly in camera, but others had a lot more added in post. The flaming tyre at the gas station, for example, had the fire added in post. Conversely, the fire in the corridor was shot for real, but we were only able to shoot one section of fire at a time, as otherwise it would have got too hot and been dangerous, so in post-production the shots had to be layered to give the impression the fire was moving along the corridor. The corridor gravity ident was all created in post-production, with just a few elements shot for real – the light moving and the door opening – but even the trolley was entirely recreated as a 3D animation. The trolley is real, however, when seen in the other two corridor idents.

The ball of light in the woods was filmed with a puppeteer holding a light, however she was painted out of the shot, as was the light she was holding, so just the light spill on the trees was kept and then the ball of light itself was then added in post and sped up and slowed to give the effect of an inquisitive life form. In another one of the woods idents, the wolves were supposed to be as shot, but we ultimately discovered that we could layer a shot to make it look like there were four wolves, when we only really had three. The balloons are all real, though, except for at one point when they turn into 3d balloons so they can hit the 3d logo. And then there’s the gravity chase in the stairwell ident which may look like a 3D effect at the end, but is actually all shot in camera.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.