Most people who want to get into entertainment have to leave their small town; writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s career literally got started in his.
“Shawshank Redemption” happened to be filming at the local prison in Ohio and Johnson-McGoldrick was able to work with the production, becoming an assistant to producer/director/writer Frank Darabont. However, it was patience and resilience that got him the rest of the way and now he’s part of one of the biggest blockbusters to come along this year.
Johnson-McGoldrick sat down with Moviehole to talk about the intricacies of co-writing “Aquaman,” Topo the bongo-playing octopus and Julie Andrews’ great role (not Mary Poppins!).
Moviehole: How did you get started in writing?
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick: I got started at a very early age. I was interested in putting on shows and I liked entertaining people from childhood. In my teenage years, I thought I would be an author and it was more because growing up in Ohio, it never occurred to me that you could work in movies. Back then to me, movies in the theater came out of a little box. At 16, I realized it was a job to make movies, and I decided not to write books so I went to film school. I wanted to direct and did a film and the script was good but the movie was terrible…that’s how I got started.
Moviehole: Your mentor was Frank Darabont. What are the most important things you learned from him?
DLJM: It was a great mentor ship. At the time I was frustrated, because it was five years between “Shawshank” and “Green Mile” and I was like, when are we going to make it? He was writing and I got to see firsthand the emotional rollercoaster of it, the ups and downs — it’s a lot when you’re in your office by yourself all day long, you’re part of a process with no complete control over things. It helped prepare me emotionally for the excitement and disappointment of that job. He knew it was what I wanted to do and he was reading everything I wrote and giving me critiques. I remember reading “Saving Private Ryan,” (Darabont worked on the film) and reading his writing; I think stylistically in my approach in writing I’m very influenced by his writing. We are still in touch and there is stuff we want to work on someday.
Moviehole: What is your writing style?
DLJM: I have only worked with a partner once on “Wrath of the Titans.” I work on my own, and on this film we (Will Beall, co-writer) didn’t work at the same time — he did a draft and I did a draft, they went back and forth between us and he was the one who started that process on “Aquaman.” I actually met him for the first time at a WGA event. Meeting him went well. It’s the nature of the beast, you’re hired and fired and rehired. I have found mostly that writers understand that when you meet up. I don’t have hard feelings about being rewritten, especially on a movie this size. I used to have to be alone with total silence, I’ve since learned to do it in different circumstances and while working consistently, I am not precious about it.
I have to work on a plane or in a coffee shop and so I make a mix of soundtracks as music is a big part of it for me, I love soundtracks. I can’t work with others talking. The music depends on what I’m working on. The only thing I have to avoid is a soundtrack if it’s too iconic, so I get soundtracks of movies I haven’t seen. My favorite all-time soundtracks are “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it’s too much of a visual image with those movies, I need to picture something original.
Moviehole: What was the biggest challenge about working on “Aquaman”?
DLJM: It was a lot of fun to be honest, you’re writing “Aquaman!” It was a little like getting to go play and I felt like the challenges that were faced were harder for Zach Snyder for “Justice League” — because he was the one who had to figure out who Aquaman was. It’s a maligned character and people are more familiar with the robot chicken character of Aquaman — a guy with a blond pompadour riding a fish is the conception. Zach cast Jason (Momoa) which completely shattered people’s perceptions and we were able to steer Jason back to the classic Aquaman. I don’t think you could’ve shown him in a suit right out of the gate. He had to show Aquaman was cool.
Moviehole: There’s a lot of psychology to writing then?
DLJM: Sometimes you have to break people’s expectations, like with Daniel Craig with “Casino Royale” breaking someone’s head with a toilet seat; two movies later on, he’s in a tux and he’s fighting komodo dragons.
Moviehole: What was your biggest surprise learning about the character Aquaman?
DLJM: When I first got this job, I went back to the comic issue one of Aquaman and was pouring through the issues, knowing we are doing a different take on the character. The biggest surprise I had reading it was that everyone had in their head an antiquated idea of who Aquaman was because of the cartoon show – the one with Aqualad where he had an Aquacave, and he got married and had an Aqua baby and it was an innocent comic at the beginning.
Then it took a dark and sophisticated turn long before ”Watchmen” came about, it became about what comics could be. You had Black Manta kill Aquababy! It took a dark turn and it was that abrupt; Aquababy didn’t even have a name. The stories changed from Superman under water to a broader scope where he had to deal with politics and palace intrigue and he was a king. You went from the bongo-playing octopus Topo to a baby getting murdered. James Wan (director) was all into the octopus getting into the movie so Topo made it in the movie. He was all into the old school hat tip to Topo.
Moviehole: What about the special effects on “Aquaman”?
DLJM: James early on was making a comparison about “Star Wars” under water, and I think it will surprise people — it takes us out of the typical superhero story. It’s not about a nuclear bomb, it takes place on a grand scale in a world we’ve never seen. It’s what makes that character different from other superheroes. We have a whole underwater civilization to explore and it feels like the opening of a giant world.
Moviehole: Not to do any spoilers, but how did Julie Andrews get involved?
DLJM: That was a surprise! Especially as “Mary Poppins” is coming out? That came early on from a very early incarnation as James always had this character that was going to be in it and communicate telepathically. At some point in the process, he said this type of creature always had a male voice so he thought why can’t it have a female voice? And it needed to have a lot of menace and gravitas. When he said it, I wasn’t thinking about the Mary Poppins thing of it.
Moviehole: Any Justice League stuff going on here?
DLJM: There are no Justice League cameos in this film. We discussed doing that and it was a fun thing to get to write, but it was the decision to have Aquaman stand on his own two feet that was the right way to go.
Moviehole: Any advice to newbies getting into the business?
DLJM: The hardest thing to do is getting your foot in the door. The thing I found was that I got very lucky in that I graduated from film school and just a few months after that “Shawshank” came to shoot in my hometown and I got hooked up in production. I gave Frank a script and he liked it and read it and that’s how I got my foot in the door. You have to be prepared for that luck when it happens. I had a script to give to Frank, plus I was working on a script after working 12 hours a day. There was stuff outside of my control, but I was also busting my ass to take advantage of that luck.
Sometimes it seems pointless, but if you have a pile of scripts to hand to someone, as long as you’re working you’re ready to pounce when luck turns that way. I always found pitching to be really difficult, it was hard to go out there and sell myself and I had to force myself to go and drive to meetings. Every nerve in my body wanted to turn around and go back. But eventually I can do it and be good at pitching. I had to learn though countless pitches and it seemed pointless but it was actually not.
Moviehole: Any upcoming projects?
DLJM: Next year I’ll be working on “The Conjuring 3,” the script is written so we will hopefully shoot it next year.
Interview: Judy Craymer, conceiver of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray
When you hear the word “ABBA” you may not think automatically of Judy Craymer, and yet, she has almost single-handedly been the driver behind ABBA’s prominance in popular culture in the last decade. Craymer is an English creator and producer of musical theatre, bringing the musical “Mamma Mia!” to life, first on the stage, seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and then in film.
As the conceiver of the sequel, we also have Craymer to thank for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”. Now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray, we sat down with her to get some behind the scenes insight.
Did anything go wrong behind the scenes – any injuries, funny moments?
Everyone got the giggles when Julie Waters did anything. they always had a surprise from her.
Did Cher make any changes to the script or was there anything she suggested that made its way into the movie?
Cher had input on the script. They always wanted her and the role was written with her in mind. When she confirmed she had her own suggestions, Cher had an ear for her dialogue. She knew who the mother was and she had a lovely time. Loved it. She had an input in what she was wearing and suggestions from the team about her hair.
Did the actors playing the younger versions of Pierce, Stellan and Colin spend time getting to know/bonding with those stars before filming took place?
We had a dinner at an outdoor restaurant and it was like being out with the parents. Younger cast, older cast, with the younger cast belting out songs at the table.
What was the most difficult scene to film and why?
Dancing Queen was a challenge. Men with megaphones, music, ques and dancers, and marine safety with wind and rain. Quite complex timings and logistics wise. It was very bumpy on the water and people’s feet were worn from the 1970s sneakers.
The Super Trouper scene – they didn’t know what they were doing until halfway through it. They had to shoot in London and just didn’t know what it was going to be but knew they wanted costumes with sparkles to make it ahead of time. Choreography took about a day for that scene alone.
Which star got the giggles the most on set during filming?
So many! It was all great. Meeting and working with Cher and bringing everyone together. Every song was a highlight. On Judy’s birthday they all sung happy birthday to her including Cher, Meryl. On the music side of things – being in the studio and hearing the music with a six piece orchestra is mind blowing.
How did the concept arise?
In mymind there was always going to be another film. I went to Richard Curtis and spoke to Catherine Johnson who wrote the original and asked how we could revisit it. Richard Curtis said she could go back and forth in time and then the light bulb idea came.
“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
Interview: Pippa Anderson, film editor for SOLO: A Star Wars Story
The Vice President of Post Production for all Star Wars films
When you think of the person cutting together roaring Wookies, blaster battles and high speed space chases, you don’t necessarily think of a female, ex journalist from Brisbane Australia, and yet, it is in fact Pippa Anderson who is the Vice President of Post Production for all Star Wars films.
One female of many on the Lucasfilm executive team, as well as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Anderson oversees the entire post process for the Lucasfilm slate, including live-action, direct-to-consumer, and animation. Since 2013, with production schedules often overlapping, she has led the post production process for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” as well as the “Star Wars Rebels” animated series. She will continue to oversee post for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.
Ahead of the digital, DVD and Blu-ray release of “SOLO: A Star Wars Story”, we sat down with Pippa to talk life in the male-dominated film industry, how Peter Jackson started her on her journey to Hollywood, and her advice for keeping sane with so many (high-stakes) projects on the go.
When you first started your career, it was actually in journalism, and now you’re the VP of post-production over at Lucas film. Were you surprised about where your career has taken you?
Pippa: Oh yes, I would say surprised and so amazed, and you know really pleased the opportunity came up and that I was in a position where I could grasp it with both hands. That involved obviously changing jobs, but also changing life, moving to Sydney, to New Zealand and then setting up life here in California. So yep all of that was fantastic. You know when I came into Lucasfilm at the time I did in 2013, Kathy [Kathleen Kennedy] and I, we’ve talked about it recently, taking over from George and you know we were in development on “The Force Awakens”, which was the first film with Disney, and then followed up with “Rogue One”, and then we also have Rebels really going strong. And then there was “Last Jedi” and then “SOLO”. “Force Awakens” was the highest number one movie of 2015, “Rogue One” 2016 and “The Last Jedi” 2017. Not only are they amazing movies, but grossing crazy amounts of money. Wow, how could I not be amazed, surprised and delighted to be right in the middle of that?
And I hear you still have your Australian accent?
Pippa: Yes, I was born in Brisbane in Queensland. I spent a good deal of my adult life before heading off to New Zealand to work with Peter Jackson, in Sydney; in Putney area in Sydney, for those that really want to get specific because my great passion, one of my many great passions is boats in the water.
So we lived on an island there at the time, you know; as in you could only get there by boat. So it was a pretty and amazingly fun early life and I was a freelance editor and a post-editor supervisor then and then I moved over to join Peter Jackson to be his head of post in New Zealand. But then from there of course, you know I moved to California and I spend some time in London. So I think my accent is pretty modernized these days. You know, it’s got a lot of all of those flavours in it, so. Funny it only takes an hour or so to– when I’m back in the room with all these Aussies, for it all to come back.
It seems that almost every aspect of film, from screenwriters to directors to editors to critics, is male-dominated. Lucasfilm has an executive team that is more than 50 per cent female which is incredible to see. Was that part of the attraction for taking this position?
Pippa: You know I can’t say enough how what an honour it is to be part of the executive team under Kathy and also under Lynwen Brennan who’s the General Manager of Lucasfilm and also the Executive Vice President. I mean, both incredibly strong, smart, sharp savvy women and so they’ve surrounded themselves, and I’m delighted to be part of it. There are strong, smart, savvy women who are at the heads of very diverse roles such as Legal Finance, Human Resources, Post-Production, Publicity, Marketing, Story Development; what else? X-lab you know, ministry of entertainment, visual effects, animation, et cetera.
I mean it’s phenomenal that it’s across the board with a range of skills and talents – no wonder it’s a great team, but you know we have at our helm if you will, we have Kathy who’s such an inspiration, such a role model and an inspiration.
Working on so many films across the board, such as “SOLO”, and I’m sure you guys have a really busy slate, how do you manage to stay (a) Sane, and (b) Have that work-life balance?
Pippa: Yes, okay, I think that might be a different interview [Laughing].
How do we do it all? I certainly don’t wear the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman suit. Because the secret really is just amazingly dedicated teams. Really talented people, you know I’m talking in post now.
In terms of Skywalker Sound, in terms of the editors and the editorial team. I mean everybody loves Star Wars and so it isn’t usually very difficult to find A-listers, people who are excellent, who are really keen to work on a production, to come on-board. I for one definitely try to provide an environment where everyone can be individuals, and collaborative, work together, still be at their best and be at their best at all times within their own areas of the post-production process.
And they are the ones that enable me to kind of stay on top; not sure about the sanity bits, and definitely another conversation but stay on top of all of the curveballs, the changes, the very fact that that for me in my role, where I have very often got different complex productions you know; we’ve got one production that might be going on with all of the challenges that entails, but then we all have a number of different productions, all the way from starting to talk about something in the future in the very early sort of nascent stages, all the way through to whether you’re in that full-on crazy delivery time with mastering delivery and try to manage the system. All of that at any one day of any one week can theoretically all be happening at the same time. So you know I rely incredibly heavily on all of the teams both in London where we typically shoot, and in the teams in post land which is usually for us in Los Angeles, and of course my core, my incredibly, oh such strong, small core team here in San Francisco.
And did you grow up watching Star Wars, were you a big fan? And if so, what is one of your favourite Star Wars movies from that era, just for the fans out there?
Pippa: First of all I should say I grew up loving movies. I love that version of storytelling. I mean using all the different aspects like location and music and picture obviously and all that stuff. I just loved that storytelling and thought it was such a good expression of whatever was going on in society or in the world at that time. I wasn’t per say a Star Wars fan, but I very quickly became one. I’m old enough to have been there when the original came out. And I just was so smitten with this movie, and it was different, there was nothing else like that around at the time and I just loved the way that the story was excitingly told.
For the time, it was sophisticated. So as a movie experience, it was amazing. Now I’m talking about “A New Hope” now. And what it did do ,and then this was George’s brilliance, was just those fundamental things and issues like good and evil, and anger and betrayal and sacrifice and such different level; all those things that make human beings tick, and enable human beings to either effectively or not, interact with each other. It was just so well done that I was smitten, you see, and I saw the movie many times.
Then of course I loved “Empire” and “The Return of the Jedi”, but I have a special soft spot for “A New Hope”, just because I think it was that the first time I really received a movie like that into my heart.
What excites you about working on the Star Wars franchise in terms of the direction it’s going ?
Pippa: What I love is the fact that now with the new Star Wars films, I really loved the fact that it is so generational, speaks to all generations, and really able to go in that direction of diversity. I mean obviously as a woman we have this amazing executives with so many women but just also there’s such strong women being a role model. And then we’ve got women, people of colour, people of different backgrounds. We’ve got– yes, our minutes you know I could wax on forever but I love the fact that the standalones allow us to go inside the Star Wars universe and express new things. We can deal with stories, we can answer questions like Solo came about; how did he and Chewie meet, how did they find the Millennium Falcon, how did they get it off land, metal etc.
All of those things which is in sort of a Canon if you will, but it’s just very exciting to be able to explore the Star Wars universe now and do that in a way that is really satisfying from a personal and a sort of a societal and social point of view.
What kind of advice can you give, kind of aspiring filmmakers?
Pippa: Honestly, I think I’ve got to say this. I think you know I don’t want this to sound glib or anything but I think you know the best thing you can do is to be a bit of student of life.
Really, you know be observant, watch lots of movies, be open in your thinking, respond to people around you and everything because all of those things are a part of I think what makes you a good filmmaker or a good person in post-production – in fact a good human being really in all those ways. I mean you can choose to go to some film school or you can choose to go out like I did – and back then, by the way there weren’t so many film schools or possibilities to do it that way, you effectively came up through the ranks in a way; and they both have pluses and minuses, but they both get you to the same goal if you could be determined. And I think that’s one thing that is to be is, just don’t give up.
And be serious, keep your eyes open and don’t give up, and then as the opportunities reveal themselves, take them.
“SOLO: A Star Wars Story” is now available on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.
Extensive extras invite fans aboard the Millennium Falcon with Han, Chewie and Lando, and behind the scenes with the stellar cast and crew
Lucasfilm’s “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Academy Award®–winning filmmaker Ron Howard—the creator of unforgettable films, such as “A Beautiful Mind,” “Apollo 13,” “Parenthood” and “Splash”—took moviegoers on this summer’s wildest ride with the most beloved scoundrel in the galaxy, Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich). The action-packed journey explores Han’s first encounters with future friend and copilot Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and notorious gambler LandoCalrissian (Donald Glover), as well as his adventure-filledpast alongside fellow street thief Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke)and career criminal Beckett (Woody Harrelson).
Interview: Toni Collette talks Hereditary
” I hope that they understand that it isn’t just another horror film full of gratuitous scares”
Hollywood’s hottest indie studio, A24, which in a few short years has amassed an incredible catalogue and 24 Academy Awards, has turned its sights on the horror genre with, “It Comes at Night”, “The Witch”, and now “Hereditary”. The supernatural horror film follows the Graham family as they discover the cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets of their ancestry. They find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.
As the film becomes available on DVD and Blu-ray, star Toni Collette talks about working with first-time screenwriter-director Ari Aster, how she stayed same filming it, and how it’s not just your standard horror fare.
Tell us about your character.
Toni: I play a woman who is experiencing an awakening of sorts. At the beginning of the film you find her in a position of loss – her mother has just died – and you quickly realise it wasn’t the kind of idealised lovely relationship a mother-daughter shares, and this woman missed out on a lot of nurturing and a lot of what a kid really is owed when they’re growing up. The film is about her coming to understand what her family means. Where they come from. What their intentions are. What her own existence really entails. and it’s really very, very confronting and shocking.
Was there something unique you did to prepare for the role of Annie?
Toni: The one thing that I would say is somewhat unique, only in that I don’t think I’ve ever really worked in this way before. As a younger actor I used to love the grit and the more intense the better and I’m not into that at all anymore, and I think it had such strength and spoke to me in such an intense way that it was more a case of really trying to avoid what I had to do until they called ‘action’ [laughs]. Really that was the only way I survived it. Since then I’ve kind of wondered ‘geez I wonder what the experience would have been like for me if I really gave myself over to it’. But I don’t think it would have worked because it was just too much. I think this was the only way to survive it and be able to give a reality to each moment when it was required instead of existing in something really rather exhausting to do 24/7 for a long period of time.
Where did you look for inspiration for the role of Annie?
Toni: Really I didn’t have to look further than the script. It was so brilliantly written by Ari Aster. He’s a wonderful writer. Because I think he just gets what it is to be human and he gets dynamics between human beings and how complex it is to literally exist. So he created something so honest and so raw I really didn’t have to look beyond that, and if I did, I would always look up to his face and he would have the answer should I have a question.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
Toni: I hope that they understand that it isn’t just another horror film full of gratuitous scares. There is such a profound beautiful story within this. And it is very sad and very moving. And it does become deeply shocking and upsetting. So it is a roller coaster but it’s an exciting new voice in cinema making a film in a very original way, and that in itself is worth seeing the movie, but the content of the movie is also really really special. And it seems to excite people more than it intimidates them.
What was the most rewarding scene to film?
Toni: Working with Ari is honestly such an incredible pleasure because he’s very clear about what he wants at any given moment. He’s lived with the story for so long in his head and knows every single shot, cutting point, nuance, everything he wants from every actor, however, he does leave room for interpretation and collaboration. There was one particular scene where it was a very long shot towards the end of the movie where my character is quite maniacal and trying to convince her husband to sacrifice her in order to save her son. Quite literally. And there’s a moment where I convince him to come down stairs and explain what’s going on and ask for his help. It was a long scene and the words that were written were not quite enough, and I was always very, very loyal to Ari and what he wrote, did a take that way and it didn’t feel right because there wasn’t enough on the page and the scene was so emotionally big. Kind of a begging scene really. A pleading scene and a declaration of true, true love. I literally took a moment and I thought ‘I just have to f#&*ing give it. I have to tell myself to get over whatever fear was in the way and just get it done. And so we did it again and it just felt so alive. And I didn’t stick to the exact dialogue, it was the only scene I ever improvised in, but it was so spacious and needed, needed that freedom to convey the reality of the moment. And the most gratifying, exciting moment of the film, I think, was when I knew they were planning other coverage, and sometimes when you get something and you know that it’s right, and when you do get it right in that way that feels very real – there’s no way you can repeat it. It becomes like you’re replicating or mimicking or trying to get it again, you can never actually get it again, and Ari said to me, ‘that’s it, we don’t need anymore shots’, and I was like ‘thank you!’ [laughs].
Now available DVD and Blu-Ray and at The Viewing Lounge.
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