Consider this: Conversations spotlight award-winning film productions through panel discussions with the artists themselves. The video above is brought to you by Amazon Studios and hosted by Jim Hemphill. “The Tender Bar” is now in theaters and streaming on Prime Video.
“The Tender Bar,” director George Clooney and screenwriter William Monahan’s 2005 adaptation of JR Moehringer’s memoir, begins in the 1970s and immediately envelops the viewer in a warm mood of nostalgia – a heartwarming feeling that was entirely intentional, according to editor Tanya Swerling.
“We wanted to make a feel-good movie, especially considering what we’ve all been through over the past few years,” she said at a recent panel. The story of a future writer (played by newcomer Daniel Ranieri in Childhood Scenes and Tye Sheridan in later years) growing up in working-class Long Island with an absent but loving mother (Lily Rabe) , a devoted uncle (Ben Affleck), and eccentric grandfather (Christopher Lloyd), “The Tender Bar” is both funny and moving, with an inviting visual design in which every decision is tied to a specific point of view. “When I make a period film, I come from the perspective of the emotional lives of the characters,” explained production designer Kalina Ivanov. “I’m less concerned with being on the cutting edge of fashion or style.”
To that end, Ivanov’s design of the Moehringer family home was not exclusively tied to the 1970s era during which the story is set. “It was very interesting to me as a designer because the 70s and 80s tend to be overly stylized in movies,” she said, noting that she and Clooney were looking for a kind of heightened naturalism in home and other decors.
“The way I always approach something like this is that I don’t look at the 70s when the characters live. I’m like, ‘When did they start their life in the house?’ ” Ivanov calculated that the grandfather would have bought the house around 1944 and built the environment from there. “You let it sit and decay for three decades until you get to the 70s”, a- she explained, “so the wallpaper and furniture are mostly from the 40s, but then you have the touches of the 60s and 70s with changes. in appliances and decoration.
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Ivanov worked closely with cinematographer Martin Ruhe, whose cinema truth approach was aided by Ivanov’s set design. Using a Steadicam and multiple cameras, Ruhe and Clooney often shot in 360-degree motions that gave the actors maximum flexibility.
“We wanted to be able to move fast, both because of the limited time we had with the boy and also because we wanted to create a rhythm by going fast,” Ruhe said. “If you make one shot and it takes an hour or two to get to the next shot of the same scene, it’s a bit dragging.” Ruhe felt that by simply lighting sets and refraining from giving actors too many scenic directions, he was able to capture unexpected moments that produced spontaneous and relatable emotional moments.
Like Ivanov and Swerling, Ruhe aimed for a combination of naturalism and nostalgia, which led him to chat with Clooney about films of the era like Dog Day Afternoon. “We told the story as it might have been told in those days,” he said, adding that the ’70s influence was particularly evident in Clooney’s desire to use zooms, both to reflect the times and to add comedy to certain scenes. For Swerling, finding the right perspective and pacing was on a scene-by-scene basis, as she reacted intuitively to the moments captured by Ruhe’s camera.
“My goal is always for the audience to not notice any editing, so I feel like the choices we made were about what was naturalistic for characters, moments and scenes,” she said. “So there were certain scenes with a lot of overlapping dialogue that is enhanced by more cuts.”
In a scene where J.R. receives a letter from Yale and everyone around him reacts with nervous energy, Swerling chose to “convey the inner turmoil they all have” with frenetic energy in the cut. At other times, such as a scene where JR tells his mother that he won’t be spending Christmas at home, the editing is more restrained.
“We really left the moments there because we wanted you to feel that punch,” Swerling explained. Occasional scenes were even more stripped down, with Clooney opting to play scenes in one unbroken take; Ruhe recalled that a ride J.R. takes with his neglectful father (Max Martini) provided such an opportunity, though the crew had doubts as to whether the shot plan for the uncovered scene would work as planned.
“We did a cover with side angles, but then we did it in two takes and George was very happy with that. George doesn’t shy away from making decisions; once we shot the scene, he said ‘I got it. That’s it, I love it.'”
Swerling added that the director’s decision also made her job a pleasure. “George gets to things so well planned that there’s just not a whole lot of headache, and the crew is so masterful that you just feel like you’re in it. As I cut it, I always felt like I was with this family.
All three collaborators agreed that clarity of intent was key to the film’s artistic success and their own personal satisfaction with both the process and the end result. Ivanov concluded that such successful collaborations come in large part from knowing when to listen.
“Obviously I have ideas when I read a script,” she said, “but I also keep a very open mind about opposing points of view and other ideas, because it’s really about hearing what a director is looking for or what a DP is or what a costume designer is after. That’s what I love about filmmaking – it’s such a collaborative art form.