A little while ago I had the delightful chance to interview Todd Hallowell, the Executive Producer and Second-Unit Director of recent films like Frost/Nixon and the upcoming Angels & Demons. Since Frost/Nixon was just released on DVD that was the focus of our chat yet we also discussed various other projects and the fact that Hallowell would love to come to town.
“I’ve been working with Ron Howard for quite some time and he was in London seeing the play and called me,” said Todd about how the theatrical Frost/Nixon was brought to the big screen. “He was really excited about this thing and really wanted to push to get the motion picture going.” Immediately on board with Howard who would direct the film, he called the project a true “labour of love”.
Frost/Nixon retells the dramatic series of television interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and former President, Richard Nixon. It was nominated for five Oscars (including Motion Picture of the Year) and stars Frank Langella (as Nixon) and Michael Sheen (Frost) who were both in the Broadway versions of the play.
“You can’t do any better, they were just amazing,” noted Todd about the decision to bring the stage actors to the film. Both have plenty previous movie experience and Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen, is currently in Vancouver shooting The Twilight Saga: New Moon. “The process of taking a stage actor and getting them familiar with the working realities of film was nothing Ron had to even think about. So in terms of them adapting their performance to film, there wasn’t any uncertainty on his part.”
Frost/Nixon was released in late 2008, at the height of election season on both sides of the border when film-makers feared there would be some sort of political burn-out factor but Hallowell said they waited until the dust settled and it seemed to work out.
One thing I enjoyed about the film was that it was in a docu-drama style, having been set in the post-Watergate seventies. “It’s really a style that was created because the material lent itself to it,” said Todd. “It wanted to have that kind of immediacy and that kind of ‘implied reality’ so the style just grew out of the material itself.” Hallowell credited Ron Howard’s work with Salvatore Totino (Director of Photography), Michael Corenblith (Production Designer), and Daniel Orlandi (Costume Designer) for bringing that time period to life. “Really the idea was to try and create a sense of that period and a sense of this moment in history without having to resort to sort of what had become the painful cliches of the 70s era movies… …I think Ron really wanted to try and do the accurate yet tasteful versions of that period – the style elements that you might choose to remember as opposed to the somewhat garish style elements that you might hope to forget.”
Hallowell’s involvement with the film had him doing what he loved best and what he describes as, “a left brain, right brain buffet of line producing and handling all of the responsibilities of the physical production of the movie… …at the same time being involved in the creative elements of the pre-visualization of the film, of the story-boarding and all of that process that then leads to directing second unit.” He said it’s definitely not a very common combination but he had a lot of fun.
With this weekend’s global premiere of Angels & Demons Hallowell will be one busy man however he does hope to make it up our way sometime soon. During our conversation he said, “I really like Vancouver, I’m always trying to angle for a reason to make a movie there.” He has made it here to shoot commercials but truly envies those who get to come here and work much longer on feature projects.
I had a great time talking with Todd Hallowell and I truly hope he’ll make it up here for an upcoming production. I highly recommend watching Frost/Nixon, which is currently available on DVD (and was also live on stage with the Vancouver Playhouse last year).