“All Quiet on the Western Front”
Before director and co-screenwriter Edward Berger’s 2022 version, Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” had never been adapted in its native German. The director thrilled at the opportunity to bring it to life for new audiences with a depiction of World War I that captured the brutality and dehumanization of battle. Though he is hard-pressed to call it his favorite scene in the film, Berger says the sequence in which young soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) stabs a French soldier while try- ing to climb out of a crater on the battlefield is the one he was most gratified to shoot — “because it was so hard to get done,” he says.
“We shot it over a period of about three or four days with Felix Kammerer crying nonstop, the camera operator giving everything by lugging the camera around the mud, and the prop master wading half marathons through water up to his belly every single day,” Berger says. “It was the last scene we shot on the battlefield and we were all so relieved but also incredibly proud when we wrapped it.”
“I had rehearsed it in a gym because I was so incredibly nervous about this scene. It is an iconic part in the book so I really wanted to get it right,” he says. “Felix brought an incredible depth of emotion and honesty to it. He played it full on in every single camera angle. [But] really only when I saw the film with an audience the first time at the premiere — when I noticed that everyone was holding their breath and absolutely immersed in the action — it was only then that I was able to sit back and realize that it was kind of working.”
In a film where every scene feels like a cinematic or narrative high-wire act, Todd Field says his favorite in “Tár” was the first rehearsal scene with the orchestra. “The aesthetic intent behind the rehearsal scenes had to do with capturing process, the same way one might with a small two-camera documentary team following a real-life conductor in rehearsal,” Field tells Variety. “We had to plan every set-up weeks in advance with our conducting technical advisor, Natalie Murray Beale, to know precisely where the camera should be for a particular musical bar or phrase.”
Due to star Cate Blanchett’s previous commitment to another film, Field says he utilized four color-coded camera teams and used a John Madden-like overview, as well as precise continuity sketches, to shoot the scene. “To keep on schedule, it was essential we execute 95 camera set-ups on the very first day,” he says. With so many parts moving in limited space in such a short time, Field relied upon his editor to know if they’d captured it.”
“There was no safety net, no contingency. We had to make our days, or we were finished,” he says. “I had to trust Monika Willi when she said ‘you have it.’ And Monika Willi is someone you can trust.”
“Top Gun: Maverick”
In “Top Gun: Maverick,” a film bursting at the seams with (literally) death-defying scenarios, Joe Kosinski was most excited — and trepidatious — about executing the climactic escape mounted by Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, with Tom Cruise’s fearless pilot in a cockpit with the son of his former wingman (played by Miles Teller), and in the same plane he flew back in the 1986 original film. “You have Maverick and Rooster stealing a jet that doesn’t fly anymore,” he says. “It was a massive challenge that required a lot of movie magic to bring it to life — including pulling an F-14 out of a museum and figuring out how to get it across state lines.”
Despite planning the sequence down to the last detail, Kosinski says the assistance of one of the first film’s most important contributors led to a change he hadn’t anticipated, but gave him the opportunity to insert an additional callback.
“Originally, Maverick was going to chase the fifth-gen fighter into the canyon. I got to work with Chris Lebenson, who is the editor of the original ‘Top Gun,’ to reorder that sequence so that the fifth-gen fighter would chase Maverick and he pulled the Cobra maneuver in the F-14 to get behind him.”
Still, Kosinski was not entirely confident that he and his collaborators had successfully paid tribute to the original film while telling a new story until the first time he watched with an audience. “We knew it was something that we were really happy with, but when the sequence was essentially done, we were three months into the COVID lockdown then. So there was really no way to check our work until CinemaCon in 2022 when I was sitting in an audience and watching the finished film for the first time.”
Baz Luhrmann’s latest feature, “Elvis,” was the project for which he faced the most obstacles.
“Just to begin with, we had to contend with fires and floods that shut us down. Then, as the world knows, on a fateful day, my first AD told me that Tom Hanks had what he referred to as ‘that cold thing’ and we all know what happened next.”
Despite a pandemic and natural disasters, Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic soldiered on, and that enduring spirit is palpable throughout the film. For instance, Luhrmann recounts a scene in which Austin Butler’s Elvis inspires an orchestra “to do his new big sound” before a Las Vegas concert.
“We’d been rehearsing it for almost 18 months to play back, but on the day it was clear that it just didn’t have true life to it. In that moment, I said to Austin ‘There is only one way to do this. These are real musicians and you are Elvis. Let’s do it for real.’ I know that he went through a moment of true panic, but we unmuted all the instruments and what you see on screen is Austin, as Elvis, truly inspiring those musicians to create that sound.”
Butler’s Oscar-nominated performance also delivered an “almost out of body experience” for the cast and crew when he performed his first three numbers in the Vegas showroom.
“I know even people who have worked with me for 30 years said they have never known anything like it, so for sure that would have to be one of my career highlights in terms of on-set shooting.”
“The Banshees of Inisherin”
Known for his absurdist black humor, Martin McDonagh offers a rare and insightful look at male friendship — well, the end of one, anyway — in his latest tragicomedy. Set on a remote Irish isle, “The Banshees of Inisherin” follows the breakup of two lifelong friends, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), and how efforts to rekindle it are rewarded with shocking consequences.
McDonagh favors the first beach scene between Pádraic and Colm, when Pádraic apologizes for a drunken argument the night before. “There was a simplicity to the scene, a quiet two-hander between these great actors,” McDonagh says. “It was mostly about being open to finding the subtle detail in the performances. Also, it was filmed on a gorgeous beach on Inishmore, and I like a nice beach.”
He points out a cinematic nugget in the scene: as Pádraic approaches the beach, there are gravestones in a cemetery on a hill behind him. “Just before we filmed this scene, we shot an earlier scene in that cemetery, Padraic visiting the grave of his parents, then spotting Bren- dan’s character on the beach. That scene was deleted in the final edit, but I like that the ghost of it remains in this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it detail of gloomy gravestones behind him, foreshadowing the death and darkness to come.”
“Triangle of Sadness”
Ruben Östlund’s “Triangle of Sadness” explores the unsurprising but humorous to witness reality of the super-rich — money and privilege go only so far, especially if you’re a bunch of obscenely wealthy jerks stranded on an island. The Cannes Palme d’Or winner is deviously entertaining, with memorable scenes ranging from a sickeningly chaotic dinner to the devastating death of a donkey. When Östlund picked his top scene from the film, the Swiss director opted for his introduction of model couple Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean). The two argue over who should pick up the tab at dinner, with Carl furious that Yaya expects him to pay despite her earning more.
“The reason it was the most meaningful scene to shoot is that it comes straight from my own life experiences when I met my wife,” Östlund tells Variety. “One of the things I’m most ashamed about being a man is when my main role is connected with economy. I loved shooting that scene because I love when I cringe myself.”
Östlund says he spent the most time writing and reviewing Carl and Yaya’s argument about money and gender roles as he felt this discussion was “thematically bringing up everything the film is about.”
It came down to test screenings for Östlund to feel he’d fittingly captured this exchange about relationships and economy.
“The problem with that scene is my ambition level was so, so high. I knew that content of that scene had great potential. So when I started to cut it, I was not satisfied with the cutting for a long, long time. It was not until I actually saw it with test screenings with an audience that I said, ‘Oh, it’s actually working.’ That was the moment that I felt I got it.”
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
“Everything Everywhere All At Once”
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Schein- ert describe the weeks of shooting “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which picked up 11 Oscar nominations, as “a manic schedule of fight scenes and absurd chaos.” For them to select just one scene as a favorite seems like an impossible task. Then again, these two successfully visualized countless parallel universes featuring Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn in all forms of mad situations — from being a kung fu master and movie star to an insightful googly-eyed rock.
The two decided on the final scene in the parking lot, where Evelyn and Joy (Stephanie Hsu) finally reconcile. “It was incredible to watch Michelle and Stephanie give us such grounded and emotionally raw performances standing in normal clothes in an unremarkable parking lot. Our goal with the film was to create small intimate moments like this that could be strong enough to stand up next to the spectacle of the rest of the film and still hold their own.”
They described the first take as “explosive” as the actors “had built up so much energy and emotion leading up to this scene” and perhaps they needed to tone things down.
“They were heaving together in their embrace, trying to regain composure, for so long that we thought it was too much and left it out of the edit for several cuts. It was only after living with the edit for a while that we realized the film was so big and overwhelming, we needed that long embrace of tears and heaving to properly allow the audience to recover as well.”