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Edward Norton Hails His ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Crew for Their ‘Career-Best’ Work

Edward Norton wrote, directed, produced and stars in Warner Bros.’ “Motherless Brooklyn,” but he’s quick to give credit to his behind-the-camera collaborators. Norton told Variety: “I think this is career-best work for some of these people.” The film is set in 1950s New York, and the team accomplished a lot on a budget of $26 million and a shooting schedule of 46 days.

Joe Klotz, editor

“I said to Joe, ‘I want to start things off with a bang. I want a great car chase through north Manhattan, over the bridge and into Queens. Also, you have to introduce
an unusual character, Lionel [played by Norton], and get the audience to understand a condition that they haven’t seen much of [Tourette’s syndrome]. Also, you have to set up the emotional relationship with his boss and then plant noir-style clues that will become clearer later. And we need to do all that in the first 15 minutes.’ Joe shaved and shaved until the story became its essential self. I believe audiences can handle a lot more than they’re given credit for. Joe has tremendous vision.”

Beth Mickle, production designer

“She is one of the great emerging talents in this field. She found places in New York that allowed us to make something period and gritty, not a ‘diorama’ period film. Beth has an audacity; she’s bold at convincing people to let you work in spaces that you don’t traditionally get to use. For example, she found gems like that [indoor] pool and the office of big power broker Moses Randolph [Alec Baldwin], and she made those two separate locations fuse together. What she pulled off, considering our budget, was remarkable.”

Amy Roth, costume designer

“When I met with Amy, she showed me a look book of visual references, like Robert Frank photos and Edward Hopper paintings. It was like she had downloaded my brain. She avoided the clichés of the ’50s. She was dressing a lot of people and did it on a shoestring budget. Amy has a sensibility of what makes cinema work, beyond accuracy. When Lionel follows Laura [Gugu Mbatha-Raw], we need to be distant from this woman and yet drawn to her. Amy found a blue coat and said, ‘This coat will pull you through the shots.’ And she was right. One coat can make a whole sequence work.”

Dick Pope, cinematographer

“Dick is one of the great living cinematographers, and I’d had a great experience with him on ‘The Illusionist’ (2006). I’ve been a huge fan of all his work with Mike Leigh, particularly the period work. ‘Mr. Turner’ was one of the most impressive pieces of digital cinematography I’ve ever seen; every filmmaker I know thought they shot that film on Super 35. I knew he could indicate period without doing that cheap effect of sepia or grain. I also knew Dick was capable of doing great work on a very short schedule. He created luscious cinematography, yet on an independent-film-style schedule.”

Mark Russell, visual effects supervisor

“Mark did 683 effects shots. Some were small and some were big-ticket ones, like when they’re traveling over the Triborough Bridge, and the audience has to see the New York skyline of the ’50s. Plus, he created the Penn Station of the ’50s from scratch. I have had many people ask where we found that station; that’s a testament to Mark’s artistry. There’s also a ton of stuff you don’t notice. He did all this on a $2.5 million VFX budget. He crushed it.”

Daniel Pemberton, music; Thom Yorke, song

“I threw out a wild idea, but there were three geniuses to make it real. I had the notion of Thom giving voice to Lionel’s inner landscape and the dissonance of living in dark times. The ballad he wrote is beautiful, and I had the challenge of doing live jazz music in the club, which Wynton Marsalis curated for me. I also needed 75 minutes of score. I always liked Daniel Pemberton’s talent and work ethic. I said, ‘I love the Vangelis score for “Chariots of Fire,” where you have a lovely piano melody but also a great synth-electronic score for a movie set in the 1920s.’ Daniel said: ‘The first money I ever made, I bought Vangelis’ CS80 synthesizer. I love the mashup of his scores.’ He wrote the score in three weeks. I’m amazed that he could fuse a classical jazz melodic score with the Radiohead-like dissonances and landscape of a fractured mind.” 

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