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Crisis chat: How minis-movies directors turned lemons into lemonade

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Director

It’s safe to say that you shouldn’t become a director if you can’t problem-solve. For the helmers of this year’s notable miniseries and movies, plenty of challenges presented themselves, whether in pre-production, casting or during filming. Here, a handful of directors in Emmy contention relate how they went from problem to solution.

Jay Roach
“Game Change” (HBO)
Challenge: Casting of Sarah Palin.
Solution: Roach knew there would be a lot of media scrutiny attached to this part, and a top pick like Julianne Moore — who everyone knew could bring the acting chops — sounded iffy as a physical match. “We would see those photos side by side on the Internet as soon as it was announced,” says Roach. “Finally, I said, ‘Let’s invest the money and do some artist renderings.’ We got a great Photoshop artist to paste on all the iconic attributes of Sarah Palin — her hair, glasses, clothes — and as soon as I saw that, it was instantaneous.”

David Hare
“Page Eight” (PBS)
Challenge: Aim for the bigscreen or television?
Solution: Hare had envisioned his political/spy drama as a feature, but some sage advice from BBC Films head Christine Langan set him straight: “She said, ‘You have two choices. Either we can spend two years putting the money together to make this a cinema film, and you can listen to people telling you how it should be cast and how you should rewrite it. Or we can be shooting for television in six months’ time.’ I was 63, so I made a swift actuarial decision. Shooting in six months? I’d go with that option!”

Philip Kaufman
“Hemingway & Gellhorn” (HBO)
Challenge: Filming a script set in eight countries, on a limited budget.
Solution: Shoot in the Bay Area. San Francisco’s Chinatown acted as China, an abandoned Oakland train station became Spain’s Hotel Florida, Marin County became Cuba, and Livermore the Spanish countryside. “The Bay Area probably has the most varied topography and architecture of virtually any American city,” says Kaufman. Placing actors into archival footage was also used, a technique the director’s been employing his entire career. “It gives you the feeling that you’re there. So often artificiality creeps in when you create everything from scratch.”

Paul Mcguigan
“Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia” (PBS)
Challenge: Filming Irene Adler nude scene without showing anything.
Solution: Hoping to avoid a jokey “Austin Powers” vibe of complicated blocking using artfully placed objects, McGuigan told actress Lara Pulver to trust that all would not be revealed. “It was easier for the actor to walk about and do what she does naturally, and for us to surreptitiously find interesting angles. There were a lot of takes where you saw her naked, but we managed to edit around it.”

Kevin Reynolds
“Hatfields & McCoys” (History)
Challenge: Filming on a tight budget.
Solution: With only 69 days and a 210-page script, preparation and flexibility were required. Reynolds moved a planned October start in Romania earlier to allow for bad weather and finishing before Christmas. On-set, thinking on one’s feet was essential. Says Reynolds: “You’d find yourself with an hour of daylight and two scenes to shoot, throwing out Plan A and going, ‘OK, how do I do this in two set-ups?’ “

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Director
A-Listers get schooled on set | Helmers huddle on how to get ahead | Nonfiction directors make strange bedfellows at Emmys | Crisis chat
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