SXSW Film Conference Quickies
Catherine Hardwicke's Directing Workshop
Catherine Hardwicke's Directing WorkshopSaturday, March 12, 2pm, ACC Room 16AB
"How many of you are filmmakers?" asked Catherine Hardwicke, director of the immensely successful Twilight and revelatory Thirteen, at the start of her SXSW director's workshop on Saturday. Quite a few, as it turns out.
Hardwicke didn't shy from questions about the (male) "nipple alerts" involved in working with teen actors or the subject of winning over studio heads ("Who has the best scam story ever?" she asked the crowd at one point. "Best not to answer that," said the moderator, Hollywood Reporter's Jay Fernandez). But she was clearly there to work.
Charming and disarming the crowd with a sort of shy-rock-star wave, Hardwicke detailed how she is able to bring in visually engaging – often stunning – and emotionally difficult films within the relatively small budgets she's been given. Her years as a production designer – on films like Three Kings, Vanilla Sky, and Laurel Canyon – make her approach to directing highly visual and carefully planned; she demonstrated with set diagrams, shot lists, and moving concept images from several shoots. Particularly instructive was "Thirteen in 30 Seconds," which revealed how progression and regression of color saturation matched the shifting emotional tones of the film.
Other clips focused on technically demanding sequences, such as the treetop scene from Twilight and a very horse-and-fortress-gate-intensive one from her just-released Red Riding Hood. The packed room was impressed with the attention to detail and planning that made those giant scenes work, but it went dead quiet after she showed an emotionally devastating scene from Thirteen.
Hardwicke, whose films focus almost exclusively on stories centered around teenagers and young adults ("the most dramatic time of life," she says), is masterful at drawing intense performances in difficult scenes from her actors. There she's done the work, too: taking acting classes to get some feel for the experience, doing detailed blocking and rehearsing before shoots, and spending time with her actors before shoots, talking and playing improv games, in which she includes herself. "Most directors I've worked with just talk with you a little about the role," testified Red Riding Hood's Shiloh Fernandez (also part of the panel). "She has a mind that isn't shut down yet." – Cindy Widner