Matt's Blog


A New Old Cinema In Brisbane?

One of my favourite cinemas in Brisbane was the Village Twin on Brunswick Street in New Farm.  I can remember seeing some of my favourite films there including The Ice Storm and Being John Malkovich.  Sadly, the cinema closed about a decade ago, the back half was demolished (due to structural issues), and the rest was boarded up.

It turns out there’ll be a happy end to this story.  The cinema was acquired by Peter and Stephen Sourris in 2013 who lodged a development application with the Brisbane City Council to breathe life back into the complex.  They had plans for a restaurant, bar, coffee shop and a 6-screen cinema complex (with room for a total of 535 seats).

Those plans are now well underway.  The cinema have set up a Facebook page (see here) and an Instagram page (see here) that provide a behind the scenes look at the current construction.  There are also a few heritage photos that show the cinemas in their former glory (and it brings back a lot of memories).

I believe the cinemas will be open mid-year and it’ll be interesting to see what type of films they go for (big blockbusters, small independents, or a mix of both).  One thing’s for sure – I can’t wait to set foot inside its familiar doors.

Interview - Director Chris McKay On The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie is receiving terrific reviews (it’s currently 97% on Rotten Tomatoes) and I recently caught up with Chris McKay (the film’s editor and animation director) to talk about the film. You can listen to the full audio extract from the interview by clicking here.

Matt:  When I first heard they were making a Lego movie, my first reaction was one like “What? Really? How?”  Did you get a lot of people asking you the same sorts of questions when you signed on?

Chris:  Yeah.  That’s a perfectly reasonable response to the idea of doing The Lego Movie.  When I said we were going to do it in the stop-motion style and try to make it feel as charming and warm as a Rankin-Bass movie, they were still saying no one is going to want to watch a movie where the minifigs only move the way minifigs can move and where the style is trying to adhere to a stop-motion aesthetic.

For Chris, Phil and myself, we stuck to the vision of what it thought it might be.  When you watch those “brick films” that fans make on Youtube, they’re beautiful and silly and absurd.  Their ambitions are epic and that’s the kind of movie we wanted to make.  We wanted it to feel like Michael Bay or Henry Selick were 10-year-old boys and got together in their basement to make the coolest movie ever!

Matt:  I’m accustomed to a director sitting on a set, giving instructions, looking at footage overnight.  How does it work though as the co-director of an animated feature?  What’s your day-to-day routine?

Chris:  Day-to-day, I’m the guy who is down on the ground with the team.  I’m with the layout artists, designers and animators.  I’m then sending those images and edits back to the studio and back to the other filmmakers.  We then have a dialogue about where the movie is going and what other opportunities exist.  We may have come up with an idea in animation or with the dialogue that will require a change.

We also had some amazing actors who would go off on tangents while they were recoding that would open up other possibilities.  We would explore those things and then send them back to Chris and Phil and say “look, this is where the movie feels like it’s going” so let’s follow this path and see what happens.

Matt:  One thing I’ve always wondered about in animated features is the way characters mouths move up and down while speaking.  Is there a formula you follow – as in “when they say this, their mouth should always move like this” or is it more random than that?

Chris:  It kind of depends on the design but there are definitely rules people follow.  That said, rules are always made to be broken.  It has to be measured against what you feel like is “true”.  Every time there’s a rule that says “you have to do it this way” – for example a lip sync has to be “this” way every time a character does a “P” – there’s always another solution that does something completely different but rings absolutely true.  You have to go with your gut.  It’s way more art than it is science.

Matt:  In this film you have characters from DC Comics, The Simpsons, The Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter.  Do you have certain rules from the copyright-owners that you have to follow when bringing these characters to life in the film?

Chris:  Yeah, to a certain extent.  We were obviously in love with all these characters and so we never wanted to do anything like poking a stick in someone’s eye.  When you’re dealing with Star Wars and stuff like that, there are copyright owners that get nervous with the way they’re being presented.  But honestly, with every single person we approached, we showed them what we were doing and said that we might improvise a few things.  No one ever said “no, you cannot do that” or “here’s a set of rules”.  By background is Robot Chicken.  Phil and Chris made Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.  People knew that were going to treat these characters with love and respect because we’re also fans.  They trusted us.

Matt:  There’s so much going on visually in this film – not just with the characters but with the detailed background shots that all I have to look like some kind of Lego construction.  To give us some kind of perspective, how many people are working on a film like this?

Chris:  We had close to 300 people work on the movie but that’s actually a small crew for an animated movie.  That number is from top to bottom including sound and everything else.  Usually it’s closer to 500 or 600.  I had 30 animators at most.  I had 5 board artists.  There were a handful of people in lighting and in layout.

Compared to other animated features, this was a low budget movie but it’s a testament to the crew that we pulled it off.  Many of them wore multiple hats.  There were plenty of people that did a variety of jobs to just get the movie done.

Matt:  What sort of work goes into editing a film like this?  Given the expense of pulling every scene together, I’m guessing there’s not a lot that gets left on the cutting room floor so to speak?

Chris:  (laughs) Yeah, it’s different for an animated movie because post-production starts at the very beginning.  You’re starting in the story phase as you’re taking the boards that are coming in and you are editing them against music and voices that you and your co-conspirators are doing in order to make a scene work.  You get need to get the movie up in an emotional way to show people if this scene is working and if this act is working and if the character’s arc is working.

You are doing the pre-visualisation of the movie as an editor.  There are only a certain number of editors that have that skill set as other editors are only reactive to the material that’s in front of them.  In animation, you need to develop and build the idea and come up with new ways to solve problems.  For example, if a joke isn’t working, you may have to come up with a way to sell it through different visuals.  It’s something that you do in tandem with the board artists.

Matt:  You have your own little cameo in this film as Larry the Barista.  How did that come about?

Chris:  It’s because I was doing scratch voices and one of them stuck in the movie.  I recorded it on my desk while trying to meet a deadline and we needed to figure out who would be this character and I was like “ok, I’ll just do it” and so I recorded a bunch of things.  Believe me, I tried, I wanted to get other people to do it.  We had other people read it.

It’s part of the magic of filmmaking.  If you get it right once, that’s all you need.  Some people can psych themselves out of a performance because they’re trying to work it too hard.  At the end of the day, if you can just get one take right, you’ll be fine.  So actors out there, just relax, it’ll be ok!

Matt:  You’ve won an Emmy and directed a bunch of episodes for the animated TV series, Robot Chicken.  And I was therefore going to ask if you wanted to step up be the head director of an animated feature film… but I believe that’s already the case!  Is it true you’ll be heading up a sequel to The Lego Movie?

Chris:  Yeah, I’m going to direct The Lego Movie sequel.

Matt:  When will that get started?  When can we expect to see it?

Chris:  We’re working on a treatment right now.  Once the movie took off like it did, we knew we wanted to make a sequel.  It’s kind of a double edged sword because good sequels are very hard to come by.  I’m looking forward to the challenge of trying to make this into something that’s worthy of the first movie because it’s so special.  Having watched it several times with different audiences and seeing how people respond to it, it’s something that’s very important to me.


Would You See A 4 Hour Movie? What About A $50 Movie?

There are two very different film going experiences on offer in Brisbane this weekend.

Firstly, for one week only, the Palace Centro will be screening both volumes of Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.  Described in the press notes as a “wild and poetic story of a woman’s journey from birth to the age of 50”, the film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellen Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Christian Slater, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman and Willem Dafoe.

The film is rated R for its “high impact sexual themes, actual sexual activity and nudity”.  I suppose that will raise a few eyebrows… but what I really want to note is the film’s length.  The two volumes clock in at a combined 4 hours and 1 minute.  There’s also a 15 minute internal (not included in that runtime) that will allow me to replenish my popcorn.  From memory, this makes it the longest cinematic release in Brisbane since Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet back in 1997 (which was one minute longer).  With only two sessions per day, it’ll be interesting to see how it performs at the box-office.

I should also mention that the 4 hour cut is not the whole film!  There’s a 5 and a half hour version that will most likely be released on DVD later in the year.  Bet you can’t wait.

Secondly, Event Cinemas are continuing a concept they launched last year and are holding a special screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier this Sunday night at their Chermside and Indooroopilly cinemas.  You’ll be able to see the film a few days before everyone else (it’s not released officially until next Thursday) and I’m sure many Marvel / comic book fans will be keen.

There’s a catch though.  The ticket cost is $50 per person and it includes a small drink, poster, figurine, 3D glasses and a Marvel branded bag.  This is piggy-backing off an idea that was trialled in the United States last year.  It’s a way of getting a few extra dollars from those people who are prepared to pay more to see a film in advance.  You may see it as a “cash grab” but it’s not a new concept in the entertainment world.  Some pay more to attend the opening night of a theatrical production.  Others pay more to attend the sound check at a major concert.  It’s economics 101 – supply and demand.

The likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas aren’t fans of the concept (you can read an article here) and I’m curious to know if this trend will continue in coming years.  Would you pay $50 to see a movie in a theatre?  A quick check of the Event Cinemas website shows that both the Chermside and Indooroopilly sessions for this Sunday are close to fully booked.  So I’m guessing there’s quite a few out there would answer that question with a “yes”.

Interview - Nick Frost Brings Us Some Cuban Fury

Nick Frost

We’re used to seeing Nick Frost in supporting roles (or working alongside Simon Pegg) but he gets a chance to take the lead in Cuban Fury, a romantic comedy that also stars Rashida Jones and Chris O’Dowd.  I caught up with him recently to have a chat about the experience. You can download a short audio extract from the interview by clicking here.

Matt:  I believe this is your baby, your idea.  Can you tell us where it first came from?

Nick:  I think I’m known for playing a certain role… and for being in Simon and Edgar’s films and the three of us making genre comedies with a sci-fi / cult slant.  For years and years, I’ve harboured a dream to be a dancer and to make a dance film.  I’ve had the idea of a long time and whenever I had a few beers, it would pop into my head and I’d go “this is a good idea… you have to tell someone about this”.  But I had a fear that if I told someone then somewhere down the line I’d probably have to do it.

About two and a half years ago, I plucked up enough courage and I wrote an email pitching the film to Nira, my producer.  I pressed “send”, went to bed, and when I woke up the next morning, slightly worse for wear, there was an email back from Nira saying “what a great idea, let’s do this.”  That was that.  I’d been caught and it was now out of my hands.

Matt:  So if you’ve always wanted to make a dance movie do I assume that you’ve always known how to dance?

Nick:  Yeah, I could dance and I like dancing but I’d never danced with anyone in a competition or anything.

Matt:  So did you have to do a lot of training?  How much work did you have to put in to get ready for the main scenes in this film?

Nick:  Yeah.  It was 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 7 months.  I had a team of 15 people who would rotate around and they taught me how to salsa dance. 

Matt:  Was it what you thought?  Now having been through the whole process, is there stuff that you would have done differently looking back?

Nick:  I probably wouldn’t have sent the email!  It was just really hard all the time.  It never got easier because as soon as you think “I’ve got this” then they pile more stuff on you.  One of my greatest fears in life is having people watch me dance.  You come to this place where you’ve been training for these scenes for 7 months… and then you’re standing on a stage with your partner being watched by 500 of the country’s best salsa dancers.  It was an absolute nightmare… but it also made me feel great.  I felt like I’d conquered something which had held me back as a person in my life. 

Matt:  There’s a stigma associated with dance and it’s touched upon in the film.  Your character is teased for doing it at high school and then you’re bullied again by someone at your work.  Is it actually like that?  When you went your through training, did you get any odd comments or looks from anyone?

Nick:  Yeah.  I was training at Pineapple Dance Studios which is a really famous studio in London.  Sometimes I’d be outside having a break and someone would walk past and say “what are you doing here, why are you at Pineapple?” and I’d say “well I’m training to be a dancer” and they’d often laugh and walk off. 

Matt:  What’s interesting is that in the early scenes of the film, you actually have to dance not-so-well.  Is that as easy as it sounds?

Nick:  No, it was a pain in the bum!  When we were looking at the early takes of those scenes, it was kind of too good.  We had to tone it down and I was talking to the director and producer and saying “why didn’t we shoot this 7 months ago?”

Matt:  We’re going through a wave at the moment of dance films – like the Step Up series – and TV shows – like Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.  Do you have any idea where this surge in popularity has come from?

Nick:  I don’t know.  That’s a really good question that I haven’t been asked yet.  I think it’s cyclical.  We’ve always had dancing on TV and I think that Australia has always had a rich history of dance when you look at the success of films like Strictly Ballroom. 

Matt:  Were you involved in the casting process?  How do you pick out who would be a good fit for these roles?

Nick:  I wanted Chris O’Dowd straight away.  I’ve worked with Ian McShane on Snow White and me and Nira thought he’d be perfect for it.  As for Olivia Coleman, I’ve always wanted to work with her on everything I do.  I just did a sitcom with her and she was also in Hot Fuzz.  As you can see, you end up with a list of people you want to work with and then you end up being very lucky if they want to come and hang out and make a film.

With Rashida, she was someone on the top of most people’s lists.  I met her for a cup of tea in a restaurant in town… that turned into a glass of wine at 5pm… and before you knew it, it was 9pm.  We just got along.  It was one of those meetings where I felt like I’d found a friend for life even if we didn’t end up working together.

Matt:  Chris O’Dowd is sensational in this.  It’s as if you gave him the instructions of being the most annoying, irritating, offensive individually imaginable.  I’m guessing he had fun with it?

Nick:  He did have fun with it but to be honest, he found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he was going to have to play this horrible scumbag and that’s not who he is in real life.  He’s actually a lovely charming man.  Often during a scene he’d turn to me and say “oh my God, I can’t say those things to you” and I’d say “come on, let’s do it, let’s do it”.

Matt:  The film recently had its premiere in the UK so finally people have had the chance to see it.  What sort of comments have you been receiving so far?

Nick:  I think people seem to be liking it on the whole.  I realise that not everyone is going to like every film and that’s just how it is.  What’s surprised me is that men are enjoying it too.  Getting men to see a dance film was thought to be difficult but because Rashida and Chris are in it, they’re going along for that and then enjoying the dancing too. 

Matt:  I always finish up by asking what’s next.  What projects do you have in the works?  Will I be seeing you in the next Step Up movie?

Nick:  I could play an old, wrangled hip-hop artist!   I did a film with Vince Vaughn just before Christmas and I think that’ll be out in the autumn.  It’s called Business Or Pleasure and it was a lot of fun to shoot.  I’ve also shot a sitcom called Mr. Sloane with Olivia Coleman and that comes out in the UK in May.