The Savages balances comedy and tragedy. Film-maker Tamara Jenkins speaks to Patrick Z McGavin about the challenge

In The Savages, the story of a brother and sister coping with their dementia-scarred father, writer-director Tamara Jenkins deftly handles both comedy and tragedy.

'It's braided together,' Jenkins says of the film's tone. 'The only way it can work (dramatically) is if the humour is organic to the characters and situations. If I were applying gags, it would be a disaster, cheap and awful.'

Since its Sundance premiere, The Savages has earned appreciative critical notices. US distributor Fox Searchlight is releasing the film on November 28. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, the movie comes nine years after Jenkins' well-received autobiographical debut, Slums Of Beverly Hills. Her second film, which was backed by Fox Searchlight, originated at Focus Features. 'I signed a blind deal, meaning I didn't have to tell them the story, but they said it had to be funny and contemporary,' Jenkins says. It took her a year to produce a first draft. 'It was 200 pages, almost a novel, that I then had to turn into a screenplay.'

Every time she felt stymied, Jenkins subverted the rules, writing expositional prose that enabled her to find the voices and expressions of her characters. The acerbic, prickly dialogue sharply captures the calculation of the brother and sister, underlining their fears, regrets, traumas and sense of entitlement. 'There are no rules or etiquette of behavior. It's the primal confrontation, death and how do you behave,' she says.

ROGER DEAKINS - The Assassination Of Jesse James ...

The cinematographer behind Andrew Dominik's The Assassination Of Jesse James ... speaks to Patrick Z McGavin about immersing viewers in the past

Conceived by director Andrew Dominik as a 'Victorian Western', The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford was shot by five-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins in the wintry landscapes of Canada.

The period film, which premiered at Venice, was shot on a low budget that demanded speed, economy of movement and precision. Deakins' approach was to immerse the viewer in the past, making it concrete and vivid. 'The tricky thing about the whole film was maintaining a consistency of feeling so that the audience doesn't feel like it's watching a movie,' says the English-born cinematographer.

The movie's look is both painterly and lived in, an assiduous recreation of a precise moment and time. 'Andrew had been working on this project a long time,' Deakins says. 'He had a lot of visual references. He had photos from magazines, fashion photographers' work, pictures from everywhere, some just Polaroid shots he'd taken from different locations. He had this whole collage of images that ended up in the production building's corridor. They went all along the walls, so anybody that came in could get a sense of what kind of film he wanted to make, the texture, the feel.'

One of the film's most striking images - Brad Pitt as Jesse James wandering in a verdant field - was indicative of a production team that had to shoot instinctively and on the go. 'We shot it hand-held very quickly in the right light,' Deakins says. 'You use different methods to get the best you can given the production circumstances.'

SAM RILEY - Control

The star of Anton Corbijn's Control was working in a warehouse when he was cast as Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Jeremy Kay reports

Sam Riley, now 27, was arguably always destined for fame. Following a stint with the UK's National Youth Theatre when he was 19, he took minor acting jobs in TV and sang in promising Leeds band 10,000 Things.

'We got dropped by Polydor and I was starting a job in a warehouse. My agent told me about an Ian Curtis audition in Manchester,' Riley says. He had heard about Curtis, the frontman of English band Joy Division - and subject of Anton Corbijn's Control - who committed suicide in 1980 aged 23, and was intrigued.

He auditioned, got the part, and researched Curtis by watching hours of concert footage. 'He was the most incredible, charismatic frontman,' Riley says. 'I think he's a genius. His lyrics are incredibly insightful and intelligent for a 23-year-old and at the same time in his private life he was immature in the sense that all young men are - petulant at times, moody, making mistakes.'

Control, an adaptation of Curtis' wife Deborah's autobiography Touching From A Distance, shot over 10 weeks in Macclesfield, in northern England. 'Anton was great, and Samantha Morton was incredible, fun, and had lots of improv techniques that helped me.'

Riley and the on-screen band persuaded Corbijn to let them play live in the film. 'The first gig scene was in front of 500 Joy Division fans and the song was She's Lost Control,' Riley says. 'It was incredible pressure but the responses were almost all favourable.'

Riley is in the UK shooting the neo-noir film Franklyn with Eva Green and Ryan Phillippe. 'It's good, and I don't kill myself. I've been offered a lot of suicide roles since Control.'