Last Friday evening an assortment of like-minded film folk gathered at the Bafta building on Picadilly, London for an exclusive talk on Making Better Movies: Crafting Other Worlds with Makeup, Design and Physical Effects.
The panel of speakers consisted of Makeup Designer Christine Blundell (Casino Royale, Topsy-Turvey, Another Year), Costume Designer Lindy Hemming (The Dark Knight, Clash of the Titans, Die Another Day) Makeup and Effects Designer Neil Gorton (Saving Private Ryan, Atonement, Lesbian Vampire Killers) and Sound Recordist Simon Clark (Shooting Fish, Waking the Dead, The Promise).
Between them this intimidatingly experienced ensemble discussed firstly the importance of working with a director who appreciates character development and story. Mike Leigh and Christopher Nolan were cited as two such directors. Blundell spoke at length about the meticulous and unique rehearsal process Leigh goes through with his cast and crew during pre-production. She further commented on his need to develop a well-rounded back story for each character on screen; when she created a scar on an actor’s face Leigh insisted on establishing a back story on how this scar came about. Not only is it refreshing to hear that there are directors working in the mainstream who are dedicated to such detail, but what’s even more encouraging is that this level of devotion is not restricted to the likes of Mike Leigh. The man behind what is perhaps the most anticipated film of the year, Chris Nolan, is equally as committed to his craft.
Lindy Hemming, the woman behind Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker look, talked at great length about her role on The Dark Knight and how she has collaborated with Nolan to fashion the new Bat-suit. Something both Nolan and Hemming agreed on was that the functionality of the Bat-suit had to ring true. Bruce Wayne is a millionaire but is still limited by the available technologies of the time. Hemming designed a Bat-suit that she believed Bruce Wayne could have designed himself, adding features such as a separate neck piece that allowed Batman to move his head without moving his whole body, a gun that clips together from two separate sections on his utility belt and ninja darts that fire from the arms. The idea behind all these touches is to perpetuate a sense of realism within the film…the fact that they look really cool is just an added bonus.
A further interesting point that all of the speakers agreed on was that the production gap between TV and films has all but closed. This is a trend that many will already have noted, especially with acting talent such as Kate Winslet and Steve Buscemi stepping forward to take part in weekly programming, but to hear four TV and film professionals confirm that there literally is no difference between a TV and film set in terms of production values is quite an astonishing shift from ten years ago. Neil Gorton in particular talked about the cinematic experience that has permeated the home. People are able to buy home cinemas, bigger televisions and sound systems and TV producers have begun to think about this when commissioning and creating shows. Simon Clark cited The Promise as an example of how TV, just like film, can be shot in exotic locations if the project calls for it.
Overall this event offered a very positive picture of the state of mainstream film and TV. With people so focused on creativity and narrative working behind the scenes in the industry it is easy to see why the quality of television has improved and why some of the big budget blockbusters remain engaging to the brain as well as to the eye. There is, after all, a big difference between a film such as The Green Lantern and Nolan’s Batman trilogy. And although this conference was initially about the power of effects, it quickly became apparent that it is still story that drives the aesthetic values of the best productions. Heartening news.