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How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting at The Acropolis During Tourist Hours for ‘The Two Faces of January’

How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting at The Acropolis During Tourist Hours for 'The Two Faces of January'

Hossein Amini is an Iranian-British screenwriter known for penning such films as “Wings of a Dove,” “Drive” and “47 Ronin.” Recently, he’s taken on a more hands-on approach with his directorial debut, “The Two Faces of January,” which will screen at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac, the thriller follows a glamorous American couple vacationing in Europe and the dangerous situation they find themselves in.

[Editor’s Note: Indiewire reached out to filmmakers with films playing at the 20th LA Film Festival (June 11-19) to ask them about how they shot their indie, and what advice they had for other filmmakers. We’ll be posting their responses throughout the run of the festival. Go HERE for the master list.]

What camera and lens did you use? We used the Ari Alexa and old Hawk Anamorphic lenses to try to capture the look of 1960’s colour cinematography.

What was the most difficult shoot on your movie and how did you pull it off? The most difficult day of shooting was a scene at the Acropolis. We were the first film in twenty years to be given permission to shoot there, but under heavy restrictions. We weren’t allowed to stop the hundreds of tourists enjoying their sightseeing and we weren’t allowed more than four cast and crew members in the Parthenon temple itself. We had to be very fast with each take and were also fortunate that the tourists that day happened to be extremely patient and interested in the filming process. In each shot there are literally hundreds of tourists just out of frame.

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you BEFORE you started your movie? I wish someone had warned me that every scene, even the smallest and seemingly least important, is crucial to the finished film. One badly shot scene can undermine dozens of good ones in the edit. I wish they’d told me that you have to approach every scene as if it were the most important in the film and to never allow satisfaction from a previous day’s work or complacency or exhaustion to distract you from the scene at hand. You have to be 100% every day and not let go of a scene until you’re sure it’s the best it can be. Otherwise it will come back and bite you.

What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got? “Don’t worry, we can fix it in the edit.” The edit is unforgiving if you don’t have the material.

What’s the best? Listen to your actors. They are often your best creative collaborators. On “Drive” I was fortunate that the director, Nicolas Refn, allowed me to sit with the actors and discuss their parts with them well before shooting. It helped enormously with the script. As a result I asked for rehearsals a month before shooting “Two Faces of January” to give me time to discuss the script with the cast then go away and rewrite without the pressures of filming. The same advice applied during the shoot. The actors were invaluable collaborators in choosing costumes and props, blocking scenes, and finessing dialogue and performance.

What advice do you have for aspiring or first-time filmmakers? I am a first time director so I feel very qualified to answer this question. Don’t be afraid not to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help from your cast and crew. The great fear is to appear as if you don’t know what you’re doing but if you are confident in yourself no-one will think less of you as a director. Confidence in listening to people makes you come across as collaborative not clueless. For me the greatest thing about being a first time director is that, if you let them, people will do everything they can to help you. I’m not sure that happens in a second film where everyone assumes you know what you’re doing and are less forthcoming with their advice.

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