American Film

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October 2012


    AFI FEST 2012 presented by Audi is right around the corner!

    AFI FEST, celebrating its 26th year, will take place November 1-8 in the heart of Hollywood at the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Chinese 6 Theatres, the Egyptian Theatre and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

    AFI FEST Packages and Passes

    For the fourth consecutive year, AFI FEST will continue its unprecedented offer of free tickets to all screenings, but only the Star Patron Package and Marquee Patron Package will provide reserved seating at the opening night gala of HITCHCOCK and the Official World Premiere closing night gala of LINCOLN. These and other AFI FEST Patron Packages and Passes – which can include access to sold-out galas and other high-demand films and events – are on sale now at

    Remember, AFI members at the Two Star level and higher receive a 10% discount on all Patron Packages and Passes. The American Film Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and cultural organization, and Patron Packages are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Click here to find the pass that is right for you or here to upgrade your membership!

    AFI FEST Advance Ticket Window for AFI Members

    Free individual tickets to AFI FEST screenings and galas will be available to all AFI members on Wednesday, October 24 in a 24-hour advance window before they become available to the general public on October 25 – ­ don’t miss out! Due to the high demand, AFI is implementing a staged registration process with assigned times for AFI members to access free tickets. Members will receive a special e-mail on October 10 with details, including a dedicated link for members to pre-register for access to the advance ticket window.

    Key dates:

    October 10: Members e-mailed details on registration process and dedicated link

    October 11-18: Pre-registration for free ticket selection times

    October 22: Ticket selection times e-mailed to registrants

    October 24: AFI members early ticket selection day

    October 25: Tickets available to the general public

    November 1-8: AFI FEST takes place in the heart of Hollywood


    Please note these dates in your calendars and check back to for festival updates and announcements. We look forward to “FEST-ing” with you soon!


    On a proud day for AFI, George Stevens, Jr., Founding Director of the Institute, will join stunt performer Hal Needham and documentarian D.A. Pennebaker as recipients of an Honorary Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy announced last month. Additionally, philanthropist Jeffrey Katzenberg will be honored with the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, which was given to Oprah Winfrey last year. All four awards will be handed out to the honorees at the Academy's 4th Annual Governors Awards dinner on December 1.

    Stevens was previously nominated for an Oscar® for his producing work on the documentary short subject THE FIVE CITIES OF JUNE (1963).


    Production Designer Keith Cunningham (AFI Class of 1991) and Set Decorator Doug Mowat (AFI Class of 1985) returned to campus last month for the filming of director Nicole Holofcener's as-yet-untitled feature film starring Catherine Keener, Toni Collette and James Gandolfini. They graciously came back the day after the movie wrapped to speak with American Film™ about the experience and life after AFI. That interview is reprinted below.

    Let's start with the biographical questions: Where did you grow up and go to school?

    DM: I'm originally from Michigan and I went to Michigan State for interior design. I was working in Detroit and ended up losing my job. I liked movies and I knew about interior design, so I thought 'how can I put this together?' I subscribed to American Film™ at the time and I saw the ad in the back for the school. I applied and I got accepted and came out a year later to study production design.

    KC: I was studying architecture at the University of Illinois in Champagne-Urbana and had a few little summer jobs designing parking lots and air-conditioning units for buildings and it was becoming a little stagnant. So I was looking for something a little more dynamic and I shifted my curriculum towards film before I graduated. They had a few modest classes so I moved out here to California in pursuit of film studies for graduate school. I didn't know about AFI. I thought I was going to go to USC or UCLA and was going in that direction until a friend showed me an article in a production weekly about the American Film Institute. I got a brochure and applied and also got accepted. It was a revelation. It was so great.

    Before this shoot, when were you last on campus?

    KC: I was last on campus maybe a year and a half before we filmed here. I had a breakfast with the design Fellows. But that was the first time in a decade probably.

    DM: I had come back about a year ago to talk to the Fellows. [Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence] Joe Garrity asked me, so that was the last time I was here.

    What changes do you notice?

    DM: It's a lot fancier than when we were here. I hate that word, but it's! The buildings are a lot more finished and I think you have a specific area for Production Design now. We didn't ever have that when I was here. We would sometimes sit with [former Production Design Discipline Head] Bob Boyle in the stairwell on folding chairs and that would be our class. So, to see them have their own building with drawing tables and props, it's pretty great.

    KC: I liked coming back to see the stage. That was like coming home. It still has the same smell. I don't know what that is, layers of paint or something...

    DM: I had kind of forgotten about that until we were in there and thought, 'This is where we did that story about Patty Hearst...'

    What part of campus were you shooting and what is it meant to be in the film?

    KC: We shot in quite a number of spaces here. We shot in the [Louis B. Mayer] Library and the archive area and then we were lucky enough to have access to the loft where all the magazines and videotapes are kept. James Gandolfini's character in the movie works at a television/media museum. He's an archivist-researcher.

    Have you worked together before?

    DM: Yeah. We've done four or five pictures together — THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB, HOPE FLOATS, SIGNS, BRIDESMAIDS — that's four — and this one is five.

    Have you worked with other AFI alumni?

    DM: I just worked with Caleb Deschanel [AFI Class of 1969] on a picture in Pittsburgh called JACK REACHER, which is just coming out.

    KC: I did a commercial with Wally Pfister [AFI Class of 1991] about a year ago. It was great fun. It was right before he did the last DARK KNIGHT movie. We just met on the spot and had AFI in common.

    What has it been like working with Nicole Holofcener?

    KC: It's been great. She's a terrific director, writer...Having the writer and director in the same person is a luxury because she can answer so many questions and talk so much more in depth about character. I had a number of sit-downs with her in pre-production and she puts so much of it on the page. It was a great first read and we both took to the material when we first read it, just great nuances to the characters that gave us a jumping off point when it came to their physical environment.

    What's your fondest memory of shooting on campus as a Fellow?

    DM: We're going in the "way-back machine" for that.

    KC: A lot of what comes to mind first was inspired by Bob Boyle. He was my fondest memory of being here. He was such an inspiration. Every day I was literally skipping through the door because he had so many amazing stories and could break down stories and scripts and tell us how to approach design and subtext and bring more to the visuals. There was a movie I was doing, a little narrative workshop project and we wanted to show a character flying through a dream sequence and we weren't sure how we wanted to approach it, but we wanted to do some kind of old school effect, so we did a real simple blue-screen with a chroma-key effect where we put an actor on a table and we had a blue-screen and draped it over his head, sort of floating. We filmed that. Then on a separate plate, I had done a painting like a seven-foot watercolor painting. We literally put it on rollers and rolled it in front of the camera, didn't even move the camera. It was very old school. And then we chroma-keyed it and there he was: floating through this dream. It was inspired. And Bob sort of gave us some tips. We looked at old movies and how they did it. And it worked. It was totally effective. I remember we got a lot of questions on that day when we were reviewing the project. We were screening it in front of the other students so we could get their feedback and everyone was just blown away by our little effect.

    DM: Mine was one of the student films. It wasn't the final project or anything. But it was about Patty Hearst and we had to recreate a sleazy hotel room, sort of the first real set I got to do since they built it on stage. It was about aging and Bob is the one who said, 'this is how you get a crackle finish on a chair — sodium silicate.' Just doing that and being able to get things dirty and have it come to life. That was kind of fun.

    KC: Yeah, he was great. He had a lot of practical tips for us because we had to do everything, which was great. It was exciting. We had to design our sets and paint them and figure out how to put them together.

    Has the AFI method of learning by doing served you well?

    DM: Yeah, I think so. Ever since the first movie I worked on out here, it's been about how collaborating is real important and I think that's one of the big things that [former AFI Conservatory Dean] Tony Vellani used to stress: collaboration. Not everybody is always approaching it the same way, but generally in the art department we do.

    KC: I agree. I look back and that was a big learning curve for me. It was just a fancy word, collaboration. I had experience in my architecture and drawing and art school and painting and things like that, but not building physical environments myself, personally. It was all about design, but not until I came here did I get to help out other students and work with them.

    What, if any, aspect of production design has surprised you in your career?

    DM: When you start doing the character's set, you're doing the newspapers and their books and their car keys and I guess it surprised me, the depth that we end up going into...the amount of detail that goes into our work.

    What do you consider the highlight of your film career thus far?

    KC: I kind of took my time after I graduated from AFI and was determined to work my way up the ladder, working as a set designer and art director and production designer. I was really determined to appreciate all the jobs that take place within the art department and to get the vision on the screen. Some of my experiences with David Fincher were really eye opening, even after having quite a few years under my belt. He's so detail-oriented and is so concise and laser-focused. I did ZODIAC and SOCIAL NETWORK with him.

    DM: I just did a series with him for Netflix called HOUSE OF CARDS and that was real interesting because here it is 27 years later and this was a whole new approach. It's really so specific. It's great in a way; you know exactly what will fly and what won't.

    KC: He's a director with a true vision. Working on a Fincher film really says something because no matter what genre, there's still a Fincher-esque approach and look to it.

    How would you characterize your style as a Production Designer or Set Decorator?

    DM: As a set decorator, I think you really try to not have a look. You should be well versed enough in every period and genre of films to be able to do it. They shouldn't be able to go in and say, 'Oh, Doug did that' because that's not what it's about.

    KC: I feel a little chameleon-like. It goes from project to project depending on what the script is and what the director's like. It's a matter of bringing something to it that speaks from the page.

    When you're not working, what do you enjoy most?

    DM: I do museums and gardening and travel when I can.

    KC: I have a wife and two young daughters so I get to spend a lot of time with them. I've been lucky enough to work in town the last two years so I haven't been away from them for too long, but there's a lot of zoo time and museums.

    Any advice for current AFI Fellows?

    DM: Polly Platt was on the Board here and we asked her how to get started and she said, 'Do everything you can, work on anything and everything you can do.' And she led me to my first movie. She said that she couldn't hire me, but she told me that Roger Corman's wife, Julie Corman, was producing a movie and I sent my resume in and they called me in and I got hired.

    KC: I would say work on everything and anything you can. Do commercials and low-budget and tier-two movies. I think there's less opportunity now. I mean, there doesn't seem to be as many non-union jobs out there, so I think you just work, work, work.

    I remember being in class and asking 'How do we get to the next level?' and I think there's no right answer. You just have to kind of put yourself out there like Doug said. Try to get jobs in the art department. Be really persistent.


    We spoke with Jacqueline Lyanga, Festival Director of AFI FEST presented by Audi, in the conference room at the Manor House on the AFI Campus, where the 2012 festival is taking shape. (Incidentally, the festival dates this year are November 1-8 and admission to screenings will once again be free!) Lyanga, who logged 41,280 miles traveling to other film festivals for AFI last year, was headed next to the Toronto International Film Festival.

    1. Where are you from? I grew up in Canada. I have lived in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg. But I have been living in Los Angeles for over a decade, so now I do consider myself a Californian!

    2. Where did you go to school? I did my undergraduate degree in Film Studies and Semiotics from the University of Toronto where they have an extraordinary film criticism program. And I studied here at the American Film Institute. I have a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from the AFI Conservatory.

    3. What did you do before you came to AFI? Before I came to AFI to work for the festival, I worked for the Toronto International Film Festival and I worked in film distribution, as well, with Polygram Filmed Entertainment. I was also a screenwriter. I had some screenplays that were optioned and developed, so I have been involved in both the creative process of filmmaking and in distribution; it’s experience that is invaluable when you are working with filmmakers, producers, sales agents and distributors as you put together a festival.

    4. How long have you been at AFI? I’ve been working for the film festival since 2005.

    5. What do you do at AFI? My job starts in a very exciting way at the beginning of the year. I start at Sundance then go to Berlin and Cannes and other film festivals throughout the year to look at the kinds of films that are being made; to find new voices and new works from master filmmakers and then my job is to contextualize the year in cinema and bring as many of the most significant films and filmmakers of the year to Los Angeles for the festival. This also means looking at which themes are emerging as trends in filmmaking, and on the business side of the industry overall. The goal is to bring together our industry partners, the press, community supporters, cultural partners, consulates, the public and the filmmakers to further contextualize the dialog about moviemaking that emerges over the course of the year. We bring their ideas together along with the films and filmmakers and then present them at the end of the year at the festival. It culminates in a year-end celebration of cinema in Hollywood, the moviemaking capital of the world.

    6. How does that affect our members? The festival is a great place for members to see some of the most significant films of the year and interact with the filmmakers that made them. The festival flies in a number of filmmakers from all over the world for the festival. They present their films at special screenings and engage in Q&As with the audiences, so the festival is a great opportunity for AFI members at every level to participate in the Institute’s mission to celebrate and honor artists and their work.

    7. What was your best day at AFI? I have had many great days at AFI but my best day was graduation day, the day when I received my Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from the AFI Conservatory. It was an exciting day that was filled with energy, optimism and hope. It is a feeling that I experience again on the opening day of AFI FEST each year. It’s an exciting day. The filmmakers are arriving, the audiences arrive and you know that over the next eight days you are going to have conversations with the filmmakers and the public that are going to re-contextualize the films for you. And then there’s just the overall energy of the show. I love bringing everyone together to put on a show and there’s nothing more exciting than when the show begins.

    8. What are you working on today? Today I’m working on putting together some of our marketing materials, locking timelines for press and publicity, and I have some meetings with community partners. A cultural attaché is coming in from a consulate today and we’re going to talk how they are going to support the filmmakers from their country at the festival this year. And I will watch a couple of films that we are considering for the festival.

    9. What don’t your colleagues know about you? My colleagues do not know that I used to be a dancer and danced semi-professionally with a modern dance company in Toronto.

    10. What’s your favorite film? It’s a really tough question to ask a programmer what their favorite film is because I fall in love with films. That’s what’s so wonderful about this job. Ideally, every week I discover a new film, or rediscover a classic, and it becomes my favorite film of the week. I probably watch about four films a day at this time of the year. So my favorite film of the week – I have to be careful about that question because I might reveal some of the films that are coming to the festival this year – but this week my favorite film is LA DOLCE VITA. I love Fellini and there’s just something about putting together a festival and thinking about that intersection of fame, film, beauty, fantasy, desire and spectacle, and the grandiose expression of emotion that Fellini films exude, even when he is taking you to the depths of disillusionment, that is intoxicating. This week that film really resonates for me.