Friday, February 7, 2020

Editor Thelma Schoonmaker on Making THE IRISHMAN With Martin Scorsese: "My Tastes Are His Tastes" -- by Juith Resell

Joi McMillon and Thelma Schoonmaker at the Egyptian Theatre. Photo by Lee Christian
“It was very devoted of them to struggle that long,” editor Thelma Schoonmaker said of the seven years Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro spent looking for the right material and getting financing for THE IRISHMAN (2019). Three-time Oscar winner Schoonmaker was interviewed by Joi McMillon, editor of the Oscar-winning film MOONLIGHT (2016), at the Egyptian Theatre on January 28, 2020. A screening of THE IRISHMAN followed their conversation.

“I can’t imagine three young actors who could play the young Pacino and the young De Niro and the young Pesci,” Schoonmaker explained regarding the choice of using de-aging technology in the film. The technology required three cameras and three people pulling focus for each actor. When all three were in the same scene, that meant nine cameras and nine focus-pullers. But the results were extraordinary.

“I’ve never seen acting like this,” Schoonmaker said of De Niro’s performance. “I’m disappointed that he wasn’t nominated.” She recalled editing the opening sequence with the song “The Still of the Night” as the camera moves through a nursing home setting and ends on De Niro’s face and his exceptional voiceover narration begins. Both Al Pacino and Joe Pesci received multiple nominations for their performances in supporting roles, including competing against each other for the 2020 Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

The de-aging element of production necessitated bringing a body coach to the set to make sure body movements were age-appropriate. When the body coach saw movements by one of the actors that were "too old" for the de-aged character, he went to Scorsese and said “You better tell him. I’m not going to.”

“Scorsese has an incredible genius. There is no one else like him. Editing for him is a great joy,” Schoonmaker continued. They have collaborated for more than 50 years on more than 20 films. Schoonmaker added that Scorsese trusts her because he knows she will do what is right for the film.

When McMillon asked her what prepared her for editing, Schoonmaker stressed the importance of music. She played a number of instruments, including flute and piano.

Schoonmaker became a film editor by accident. Raised abroad, she planned a career as a diplomat in the foreign service. A newspaper ad to edit classic European films (Truffaut, Godard, Fellini) caught her eye and she took the job. When fellow NYU student Martin Scorsese’s class project was butchered by a negative cutter, a professor suggested to Scorsese that Schoonmaker could repair what seemed like irreparable damage. She did so, and went on to edit his first film.

Some of Schoonmaker’s best editing experiences were on RAGING BULL (1981). As an example, she cited the superlative, emotional fight scene where Jake takes a brutal beating. “The light goes down, all we can see is the beating,” Schoonmaker continued.

McMillon wanted to know how editing comedy differed from editing crime or drama genres. “Comic timing is different,” Schoonmaker replied. When they were making THE KING OF COMEDY (1982), Jerry Lewis said, “Before you answer me, count to three.” Editing THE KING OF COMEDY is a fond memory for Schoonmaker. “I just laughed so hard when I was making it,” she recalled.

“Marty taught me everything I know about editing,” Schoonmaker concluded. “Because he trained me, my tastes are his tastes. It’s very fascinating, very stimulating being in the room with him. We talk about religion, art and music while we’re editing. He was the best film course in the world. I’m very lucky.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Exciting Awards Season Events Added!


Like the rest of Los Angeles, we at the Cinematheque are fully immersed in awards season. In addition to our usual repertory screenings, we've added a slew of events that feature films nominated for the 2020 Academy Awards, many of which include Q&As with filmmakers. You won't want to miss these.

For a full list of these just-added screenings, along with the full calendars for January and February and beyond at the Aero and Egyptian Theatres, see our website. We hope you'll join us for these spectacular films on the big screen, as they were meant to be seen.


At the Aero:
Saturday, January 25, 2:30pm TOY STORY 4  
Matinee Screening! In the new TOY STORY 4, new member of the toy collection Forky (Tony Hale) declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, and Woody (Tom Hanks) takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. Discussion following TOY STORY 4 with director Josh Cooley, screenwriter Stephany Folsom, and producers Jonas Rivera and Mark Nielsen.

Sunday, January 26, 1:00pm LITTLE WOMEN
On 35mm! The new LITTLE WOMEN draws on both the classic novel and the writings of Louisa May Alcott to tell the story of the four March sisters in the wake of the Civil War. Discussion following with director Greta Gerwig and producer Amy Pascal!

Monday, January 27, 6:30pm HARRIET    
Based on the thrilling and inspirational life of an iconic American freedom fighter, HARRIET tells the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's (Cynthia Erivo) escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Discussion following with actress Cynthia Erivo. This program is free with RSVP.
 
Tuesday, January 28, 7:30pm AMERICAN FACTORY    
In Oscar-nominated documentary AMERICAN FACTORY, hopes soar when a Chinese company reopens a shuttered factory in Ohio. But a culture clash threatens to shatter an American dream. Discussion following with co-director Julia Reichert. This program is free with RSVP.

Wednesday, January 29, 7:30pm I LOST MY BODY      
Romance, mystery and adventure intertwine as a young man falls in love and a severed hand scours Paris for its owner in mesmerizing animated feature I LOST MY BODY. Discussion following with director Jérémy Clapin. This program is free with RSVP.
http://americancinemathequecalendar.com/content/i-lost-my-body-0  



At the Egyptian:

Monday, January 27, 7:30pm ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD
ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD 
visits 1969 Los Angeles, where everything is changing, as TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) make their way around an industry they hardly recognize anymore. A conversation with director Quentin Tarantino precedes the film.
Note: We are sold out online for the conversation with Quentin Tarantino with ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD. We did reserve some for tickets for American Cinematheque upper level members. If you are interested in getting one of these tickets, and are a Friend level ($175) or above member, please contact andrew@americancinematheque.com You can still join (online via our website) and gain access to this limited number of tickets. There will also be a standby line on the day of the show, when box office opens.

Tuesday, January 28, 7:30pm THE IRISHMAN
During her 50-plus-year career, editor Thelma Schoonmaker has crafted some of the greatest scenes and sequences in the cinema, celebrated for her work on nearly all of Martin Scorsese’s filmography. This conversation with the Oscar winner about her work will be followed by a screening of the new THE IRISHMAN, an epic saga of organized crime in post-war America.

Friday, January 31, 7:00pm PARASITE
L.A. Premiere of Black & White Version! In the Oscar-nominated PARASITE, Kim Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) agrees to take over from his friend as English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy family, setting the stage for an epic showdown as class warfare meets black comedy, with the stakes deadlier than you could ever imagine.



NOAH BAUMBACH AT THE AERO, by Judith Resell

“I always thought of it as a love story,” writer-director Noah Baumbach said of his Oscar-nominated film Marriage Story (2019). Baumbach talked to lawyers, judges, and couples - both longtime, happy couples and divorced ones - in researching the project.


Marriage Story opened a five-film retrospective of Baumbach’s work at the Aero Theatre on January 18 and 19, 2020. Baumbach appeared in person both days for Q&As.

When he first began discussing the project with actor Adam Driver, Baumbach described it as “a love story, maybe a divorce.” Later, when Baumbach got to the point where “this is what I am writing now” with Marriage Story, he started asking questions like “what would be a good occupation?” The choice of theater director was perfect for Driver’s lead character because “everything becomes a performance” as the story develops. The lawyers are performers and the couples take on relationship personas as they communicate more and more through the legal system. Driver’s character finds himself in the end through performance - singing Sondheim’s “Being Alive.”

Scarlett Johansson told Baumbach she was currently going through a divorce before she knew what Marriage Story was about. “She was immediately engaged with the character and story,” Baumbach recalled of their lunch meeting.

Baumbach was friends with Laura Dern, whose portrayal of a divorce lawyer earned multiple awards, before Marriage Story. “She’s just such a great collaborator,” Baumbach said of Dern. “She had so many ideas about her character.” Both Laura and her parents went through divorces, so it was as personal for her as for Johansson and Baumbach. Marriage Story is informed by how people experience divorce, because “it’s something that happens to so many families,” Baumbach concluded.


“When I felt I could write the movie, I thought it should be a two-hander so we get to know who both of the people are,” Baumbach recalled. He opened the movie with two monologues to show the love the main characters had for each other. Both characters are in each other’s monologue - one as subject and the other as voice-over narrator. This “prologue of sorts,” Baumbach feels, reveals a marriage where there is so much unsaid. The relationship is so intimate, yet there is a lot each doesn’t know about the other.

Dern’s character also has a monologue. Baumbach explained that this lawyer entered her profession for all the right reasons, but the system changed her. That’s what the monologue reveals.

Including a young child in the story makes it a triangle. For the adults, there is a struggle for individuation within the marriage, but with their son, they are both driven to protect him and spend time with him. “They love their child more than anything, but the process makes even simple things so hard,” Baumbach explained.

“It’s about communication—the couple, the lawyers, the child,” Baumbach said regarding themes in the movie. Marriage Story also explores the notion of home, which the characters are transforming all of the time. Baumbach sees relevance to our contemporary political culture as well. “People with totally opposing opinions need to find compromise.” With Marriage Story, Baumbach raises the question “How do people find compromise, bridge an unbridgeable gap?”

Marriage Story is Baumbach’s second collaboration with cinematographer Robbie Ryan. He and Ryan visited all of the locations in both New York and Los Angeles. “I felt he saw it,” Baumbach concluded about Ryan’s work on the film.


Baumbach wanted his cast to know all of their lines before coming on the set for Marriage Story. He rehearsed a lot and wanted them to be able to concentrate on learning blocking and then, when the camera rolls, to just rely on “muscle memory.” He didn’t want them thinking about “what’s my character’s motivation?” or working on lines. He was looking for a cast who was “just excited and eager to say it.”

Asked what movies influenced Marriage Story, Baumbach thought about how to shoot couples in conversation. He mentioned Dr. Strangelove (1964), which had an absurdist tone that influenced Baumbach’s portrayal of the absurdities in the divorce process, especially the set design of the lawyer’s offices and their dialogue. Baumbach’s favorite gangster films reminded him that he wanted the audience to be engaged with the characters and not judge them or their actions.

Other screenings in the retrospective included Baumbach’s first film Kicking and Screaming (1995) and The Squid and the Whale (2005), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Two films he made with current partner Greta Gerwig as star and co-writer, Frances Ha (2012) and Mistress America (2015), screened together.

Baumbach was just 24 when he made Kicking and Screaming. “I would do something totally different now,” he commented. He observed that there are “also some things that only the me I was at that time could do. There are some things you know when you’re young that you don’t when you’re older.”

After Kicking and Screaming and his second film Mr. Jealousy (1997), Baumbach went into a seven-year period he described as like Frances Ha. He made no films, but really focused on himself. “During that period, I grew up a lot,” he explained. When he started writing The Squid and the Whale (2005), he wrote in a way he hadn’t before. “I discovered the filmmaker I was.”


“There’s a kind of honesty in this writing that I hadn’t been able to achieve before,” Baumbach said of The Squid and the Whale. He also described a sense of urgency, of all-or-nothing. He had only twenty-three days to shoot the film and he was turned down by many actors for the male lead role. He had always loved Jeff Daniels’ acting and was happy when he accepted the role. But the first rehearsal didn’t seem like a total fit. Jeff was all he had, so Baumbach was worried. Daniels came back to the set on Monday and told Baumbach he had been thinking about his part a lot. Jeff said he had to be more honest about the way he played his character “and that turned it around,” concluded Baumbach.

Baumbach received the best advice he’s ever gotten while working on The Squid and the Whale. It came from Ethan Coen. Baumbach told Coen about the movie he was making and mentioned using a friend’s cat. “Hire a professional cat,” urged Coen. So he did. There’s a scene where the cat must run down a flight of stairs and under a car. The first professional cat just sat there. “You need the other cat, the running cat,” the cat wrangler told him. The “running cat” did the scene just fine and it is pivotal to the story.

Judith Resell is a volunteer with the American Cinematheque.

Photos by Silvia Schablows

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

ED NORTON AND HAWK KOCH AT THE AERO, by Judith Resell

“Noir reminds us that behind the American narrative we trust in, there is a shadow side of power machinations,” explained Ed Norton of his choice to make Motherless Brooklyn (2019) full-on film noir. “Noir is a tradition in American cinema. There’s a kitsch version, but the best of it - films like Reds (1981) or Unforgiven (1992) - look at the shadow side of life.”



In Motherless Brooklyn, Norton adapts a Jonathan Lethem novel about an orphan with Tourette’s syndrome who has matured into a hard-nosed detective. His pursuit of the murderer of his mentor leads to an unscrupulous New York developer who is covertly destroying the city. The developer’s huge projects make money at the expense of working class people, many of them people of color, and line the pockets of a tiny minority of very rich individuals. While the theme has contemporary relevance, Norton reminded the audience that he began the project in 2012 and his “inspiration goes much deeper than current affairs.”

Friday, January 3, 2020

ADAM DRIVER AT THE EGYPTIAN, by Judith Resell

“The thing I don’t understand is making a living as an actor,” Adam Driver commented. “Just thinking about it is an embarrassment of riches. I’ve been incredibly lucky - just that I get to do it.”




Driver spoke following a screening of Marriage Story (2019) at the Egyptian Theatre on December 15, 2019. Driver received a Screen Actors Guild award nomination a few days before and already has a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Charlie Barber in the film.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Cinematheque Members Give THE IRISHMAN a Warm Welcome by Judith Resell


Martin Scorsese “wanted the technology to be invisible,” said cinematographer Rodirigo Prieto of THE IRISHMAN(2019). “Every camera angle has three cameras, not one, so that Scorsese could direct how he wanted, the actors could act as they wanted and I could light it any way I wanted.”

Prieto and IRISHMAN producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff appeared for a Q and A following a screening of the film at the AERO theatre on October 23, 2019, the night before its LA premiere.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” Tillinger Koskoff said of the difficult twelve years it took to get the film made. “The new technology made the time right.” When Netflix agreed to finance the project, motion capture technology was highly-developed and the remarkable cast headed by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci signed on.

“It was so amazing,” continued Prieto, “when you watch the performances, you totally forget they’re de-aged.”

“O my God, I can act for thirty more years!” Tillinger Koskoff laughed as she recalled the actors’ response to de-aging.

Because the story spans a long period of history, Scorsese wanted the feel of an old movie. A color scientist went to Kodak to get the color process right for different eras, Prieto recalled. Kodacolor for the fifties, Ectochrome for the sixties and the process of color in 2000.

Another important visual choice was when to move the main characters from CGI to just regular make-up. Prieto and Scorsese wondered “when do we do the transition?” They decided on sometime in the sixities and used make-up and prosthetics for the characters who survive to old age, including DeNiro and Pesci.

The car sequences, a significant part of the film, were shot in the studio. Prieto explained that allowed him to shoot through the windows and to use billboards they “drove” past as lighting. Neither could happen on location.

“He’s not a typical director,” Prieto said of Scorsese. He made comments like “I’d like it to be more extreme,” leaving the specifics of how to do that up to Prieto rather than telling Prieto what lenses and camera angles to shoot. “Now I know what he likes and doesn’t like,” Prieto explained.

“The relationship between the cinematographer and director is huge,” Prieto continued. “Every single shot is the two working together.”

Prieto mused that, in a sense, everthing the actors do and everthing the audience sees has to go through a lens. So it’s crucial that the cinematographer knows what the director wants. You have to “really listen, really carefully, to the director, try to understand it, why he wants it. I’m the one who has to be flexible,” Prieto concluded.

As an example, he gave the type of shooting required to communicate the DeNiro character’s clockwork methodology. A Mafia hitman, he has to time it perfectly and make sure all the pieces are in place in the right sequence for a successful kill. He visually notes that everything and everyone is where they should be when they should be so he can complete the hit.

“It plays,” Tillinger Skoskol said when asked about the over three-hour length of the film. She added that an intermission was never contemplated and that “we got absolutely no negative feedback from Netflix” about it.

Prieto commented that there was no conscious effort to look like GOODFELLAS(1990) or any of Scorsese’s other movies. “But every filmmaker has his style. I have things I like and he has things he likes. It’s definitely there—his signature.” For example, graphic direct shots.

Asked if she believes that Frank Sheeran murdered Jimmy Hoffa as the book on which THE IRISHMAN is based contends, Tillinger Skoskol replied with a smile “I don’t know.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” interjected Prieto, whether the story is factually true or false. “Since we are telling it the way Frank sees what happened and it is told from his point-of-view.”