Chris Menges served as a mediator on 'Yellow Handkerchief'
Sometimes a casting decision can have unforeseen benefits.
“The Yellow Handkerchief” was shot in 2007, premiered at Sundance in 2008, but wasn’t released until Friday — a move presumably made easier by the presence of Kristen Stewart, who stars opposite the more seasoned William Hurt and Maria Bello.
Stewart’s growing popularity, resulting from her role in the “Twilight” films, no doubt helped market “Handkerchief.” Producer Arthur Cohn, who has shepherded films such as “The Garden of the Finzi Continis” and “Central Station,” financed the film privately.
At first “many distributors said no because it has no sex and no violence, so I delayed it. I had no deadline and wanted a distributor who is totally behind the film. Very happily, Samuel Goldwyn called,” Cohn said.
Distribution aside, thorny issues also arose during “Handkerchief’s” production. Cinematographer Chris Menges characterizes it as “quite a tense shoot. … It was hard to get the balance right between the performances.”
Menges wouldn’t elaborate, but the way he dealt with on-set difficulties underlines the critical role a d.p. can play in keeping a film on track. “I helped get the film going by being very involved, listening very carefully, trying to make some strategic decisions,” he says, adding that he acted as a mediator in some situations.
But his role remained primarily artistic. “In any film, it’s a question of aiding the writing with the composition, of finding a fine balance to serve the story. You have to be careful not to force anything into the pot, so to speak.”
Menges, who received the Intl. Award from the American Society of Cinematographers on Saturday, feels he succeeded in overcoming the limitations of “Handkerchief’s” modest budget, shooting for just over 30 days in a post-Katrina Louisiana on 35mm with a medium-sized crew. “We’re problem-solvers; we understood how little time we had, and worked harder and faster.”
Cohn sees crew size a bit differently than most producers. “We had a large camera crew, which made everything a little slower and more expensive, but it was absolutely worth it,” he says. “Chris is the best cameraman I’ve ever worked with.”
Unlike some cinematographers, Menges likes to be hands-on with his equipment. “I always try to operate (the camera) if I can,” he says. “When you’re watching an actor’s performance (in a viewfinder) you’re much closer to what’s happening than if you’re watching on a monitor.”
But in the end, “it’s not about the cinematography,” Menges says. “It’s about trying to make a story that’s alive.” He paraphrases John Huston, who said that many cameramen do great work for their peers, but only a few work for the story.
“I try not to work for what my peers think; life’s too short for that,” he says. “I try to be a part of a story that has some significance, that’s not just about entertainment but about enriching all our lives.”
Bookings & Signings
Paradigm bookings: d.p.’s Anthony Hardwick on NBC pilot “Our Show,” David Klein on ABC pilot “Mr. Sunshine,” Michael Goi on ABC pilot “How to Be a Better American,” Mark Doering-Powell on TBS pilot “Glory Daze,” Patti Lee on ABC pilot “Awkward Situations for Men” and Greg Gardiner on NBC pilot “Outsourced”; production designers Gregory Melton on AMC pilot “The Walking Dead,” Kitty Doris-Bates on NBC pilot “Prime Suspect” and Keith Brian Burns on Cliff Dorfman’s “Criminal Empire for Dummies.”
Paradigm also booked editors Deborah Moran on USA’s “Royal Pains,” Jonathan Corn on an Adam Goldberg pilot for Fox, and Billy Fox on ABC pilot “187 Detroit”; and production designers Eric Weiler on Andrzej Bartkowiak’s “Dark Deal,” and Clark Hunter on George Ratliff’s “Salvation Boulevard”; and editor Ken Blackwell on Marcus Nispel’s “Conan.”
Innovative Artists bookings: d.p.’s Levie Isaacks on CBS’ “CSI: NY,” Chuck Minsky on Luke Greenfield’s “Something Borrowed,” David Hennings on a Seth Gordon pilot for Fox and John Thomas on Showtime’s “The Big C”; production designers Stefania Cella on TBS pilot “Glory Daze,” Rachel Kamerman on ABC’s “Pretty Little Liars,” Lauren Crasco on CW pilot “Wyoming,” Michael Wylie on Showtime’s “Californication,” Cece Destefano on “The Cape” pilot for NBC, and Chase Harlan on HBO’s “Entourage.”
IA has also booked costume designers Molly Maginnis on ABC pilot “No Ordinary Family,” Ruth Carter on the Fox pilot “Ridealong,” Marissa Borsetto on a Seth Gordon pilot for Fox, and Katia Stano on the CW’s “Betwixt” pilot; editors Annette Davey on HBO’s “Hung” and Ned Bastille on CBS pilot “The Odds”; and line producers Peter Burrell on Fox’s “Wilde Kingdom” pilot and David Grace on Abe Sylvia’s “Dirty Girl.” IA has also signed editor Matt Barber (“Chuck”).
Montana Artists has booked producer Frank Conway as UPM on NBC pilot “Justice”; 1st a.d.’s Rich Cowan on ABC pilot “True Blue,” Bill Clark on John Whitesell’s “Big Momma’s House 3” and David Sardi on Cliff Dorfman’s “Criminal Empire for Dummies”; d.p. Feliks Parnell on NBC pilot “The Event”; production designers Dawn Snyder on ABC pilot “It Takes a Village,” Stephen Marsh on TNT’s “Rizzoli & Isles,” Maxine Shepard on NBC pilot “Rockford Files,” Vincent Peranio on Fox pilot “Ridealong” and Shane Valentino on Chris Neil’s “Goats”; and costume designers Wendy Greiner on ABC pilot “Hope Floats,” Kathleen Detoro on ABC’s “Scoundrels” and Rebecca Bentjen on Cliff Dorfman’s “Criminal Empire for Dummies.”