An Interview with Sidney Lumet by Peter Bogdanovich, Film Quarterly, VOL. XIV, NO. 2—WINTER 1960. A gem of an interview!
What have you found to be your main obstacle in film work?
For myself the main obstacle is the set—up, the film in America. The financial set—up, the method of making motion pictures, and the method of distribution is one that conspires to defeat freedom and good work. And I suppose it’s the age—old complaint, there’s no solution that I know of. I know every once in a while somebody just takes a camera and goes off into the street, but what if you had a piece that doesn’t belong in the street? What if your piece needs a sumptuousness and a sensuousness as part of its dramatic meaning? And, you know, documentaries and semi-documentaries are not the only method of work in film. And as soon as you get past that level, financially you’re caught in a miserable situation. Twelve Angry Men cost $343,000, which is ridiculously cheap, but that’s a rarity; it had one set, twelve actors, and a very tight shooting schedule of twenty days.
Many fine directors—Huston, Wilder, Bergman, Welles, Kubrick—either write their own screenplays or collaborate extensively with others on scripts. To date you haven’t done either; do you think you’d find it more satisfying to work on scripts rather than just do the best you can with material you are given?
It’s not “either/or.” I can’t write. And I have such respect for writers—I don’t understand how two writers collaborate, for instance—so that the method for myself is one simply of letting them do their work, then going back into work in terms of whatever specifics are needed, whether it’s structural or dialogue. On Fugitive Kind, for instance, there was a good deal of re—writing between the original draft and what wound up on the screen.
Did you have a say in that?
Oh, yeah. And the working procedure was that Tennessee and Meade [Roberts] brought in the first draft, then all of us together talk, talk, talk, talk, talk-back, another draft, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk-back, another draft—I think it was the fourth draft we used. —Sidney Lumet by Peter Bogdanovich, Film Quarterly, VOL. XIV, NO. 2-WINTER 1960.
How I Make Films: Interview with John Huston, Film Quarterly, Fall 1965. I must say that this is one of the best interviews with John Huston.
How does the script get written? Do you do it alone? And how long does it take you?
Again, there are no rules. I’ve written scripts and made pictures out of them in two weeks. At other times I’ve worked a year and a half just on a script. The Maltese Falcon was done in a very short time, because it was based on a very fine book and there was very little for me to invent. It was a matter of sticking to the ideas of the book, of making a film out of a book. On Treasure of Sierra Madre, I wrote the script in about 3-4 months, but I had had quite a long time to think about it before. The actual making of the film didn’t take very long, but I had had the idea of making it since before the war. It was the first film I made after the war.
What is the technical process of your scriptwriting?
Usually I write in longhand first, and then dictate a later version. I use a standard script form: action on the left and dialogue on the right. When it’s finished it’s mimeographed and distributed to the pople who need to see it. I often change again later. Sometimes I finish the final version on the set itself, or change again something I’ve written as a final version the day before. Mostly these changes come to me when I hear the words first spoken by an actor. It’s always different once it comes out of a living person’s mouth. By this I do not mean that I try to adjust to an actor’s personality—I try to do that as little as possible. When I write, I don’t have in mind an actor, but a character. I don’t conceive this character with a specific star in my mind. I guess what I am trying to do with this constant changing, is to try to put to work more than my own imagination, or at least allow my imagination the liberty of play, the liberty of coming out of its cage—which is me, my body, when I am alone and writing—and in this way it begins to live and to flower and gives me better service than when I put it to work abstractly, alone, in a room with paper and pencil, without the living presence of the material. Then, when the character has been born out of this extended imagination, I have to look for someone to play the role, and this someone isn’t always necessarily the person who I thought could play it originally, because often it no longer is the same character. In fact, I’ve often-at least, sometimes—delayed the making of a film because I couldn’t find anybody to play the new and adjusted character that I had finally arrived at construing. Although in my experience you usually find someone; there are enough good actors if you are willing to wait a little.
What should an actor’s relationship to the camera be?
He must have an awareness of the size of his gesture, his motion, in relation to the size that his image will be on the screen. It isn’t absolutely an essential quality, but it is very useful. I don’t mean that I tell him the focal length of the lens I’m using and expect him to adapt himself accordingly, but a good actor has an almost instinctual awareness of these things. When an actor comes from the stage, he usually has to make adjustments of this kind. He doesn’t need to project, he doesn’t need to make his voice heard over a distance. He can speak very quietly. He can be more economical in every way before the camera than he could be on stage. And he can work with the small details of his face.
Let’s see if we can follow your filmmaking method through logically and go on to a description of the process of turning the script into film.
Actually I don’t separate the elements of filmmaking in such an abstract manner. For example, the directing of a film, to me, is simply an extension of the process of writing. It’s the process of rendering the thing you have written. You’re still writing when you’re directing. Of course you’re not composing words, but a gesture, the way you make somebody raise his eyes or shake his head is also writing for films. Nor can I answer precisely what the relative importance, to me, of the various aspects of filmmaking is, I mean, whether I pay more attention to writing, directing, editing, or what—have—you. The most important element to me is always the idea that I’m trying to express, and everything technical is only a method to make the idea into clear form. I’m always working on the idea: whether I am writing, directing, choosing music or cutting. Everything must revert back to the idea; when it gets away from the idea it becomes a labyrinth of rococo.
Occasionally one tends to forget the idea, but I have always had reason to regret this whenever it happened. Sometimes you fall in love with a shot, for example. Maybe it is a tour de force as a shot. This is one of the great dangers of directing: to let the camera take over. Audiences very often do not understand this danger, and it is not unusual that camerawork is appreciated in cases where it really has no business in the film, simply because it is decorative or in itself exhibitionistic. I would say that there are maybe half a dozen directors who really know their camera—how to move their camera. It’s a pity that critics often do not appreciate this. On the other hand I think it’s OK that audiences should not be aware of this. In fact, when the camera is in motion, in the best-directed scenes, the audiences should not be aware of what the camera is doing. They should be following the action and the road of the idea so closely, that they shouldn’t be aware of what’s going on technically. —How I Make Films: Interview with John Huston, Film Quarterly, Fall 1965
A Guest in My Own Dreams: An Interview with Federico Fellini, Film Quarterly, Spring 1994 [pdf]
This is probably one of the best interviews with Fellini.
The conversation which follows did not take place all at once. Although I had known Federico Fellini since 1956, when he came to New York to publicize Nights of Cabiria and appeared on my radio show, and although I had written about him extensively, made a documentary about him (Ciao, Federico!), and photographed him continually for 37 years, we had not actually sat down to discuss his filmmaking ideas and his life philosophy until a few years before his death.
This was not because I did not ask him. It was, I now think, his reluctance to sound definitive about anything, and especially about himself, which made him postpone again and again a long-promised, lengthy, and in-depth conversation on these topics. Even the simple telling of the facts of his life kept being postponed. And although once, in 1962, after I had worked with him on 8’/2 and was following him during the shooting of Juliet of the Spirits, he sat down with me on a rainy afternoon and allowed me to record his story on five hours of tape, he was beside himself when these tapes were lost and refused to do new ones. I think this is because the story would not have been the same if he had tried again. He would have invented another life, a risk he probably wished to avoid in case the first tapes ever showed up.
But after City of Women, on which my companion, Deborah Beer, was the set photographer (as she was on And the Ship Sails On and on Ginger and Fred), he became somewhat more open to the suggestion of talking about himself in what I told him would be a discussion in depth. He smiled at this definition but he did not refuse, although at the same time he practically stopped giving journalistic interviews. From today’s vantage point, I can’t help feeling that for Fellini, allowing this discussion was a small way of giving up a battle for continual renewal.
I hope to convey, with these excerpts from many hours of tape, an image of a man who has shaped our vision of the century. —Gideon Bachmann
If you made a list of the ten best editors ever, Ann Coates and Dede Allen would be in there. They’ve been an inspiration to a whole generation. Dede got her start in New York. I never ran into her there, because I had moved out here to the West Coast, but Richie Marks, Barry Malkin, Steve Butler, and many other New York editors my age grew up under her guidance. —Walter Murch
Off the top of your head, can you mention what you’ve learned from certain directors?
DEDE ALLEN: I learned a lot about story from Robert Rossen. I learned a lot about performance from Arthur Penn, with whom I did six pictures. I learned a lot about everything — including psychology — from Elia Kazan. From Paul Newman I learned a great deal about acting. From Warren Beatty you learn a lot about everything, including how to be smarter in life. Warren’s one of the best producers I’ve ever had. He was our producer on Bonnie and Clyde. He was 30 years old then. He’s a very, very brilliant guy. You learn, and he learns from you because he lets you teach. He works with people very well, much like Kazan does.
What a treasure of an interview!
Four of Walter Murch’s nine Academy Award nominations and one of his three Oscar wins are from Coppola-directed films — The Conversation, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part III. Murch began his career in sound editing working for Coppola on The Rain People and continued with The Godfather Parts I and II. He received his first Oscar nomination in 1975 for sound on Coppola’s The Conversation. In 1980, he won his first Oscar for the sound mix of Apocalypse Now (1979) and was nominated for picture editing the same film. He was also nominated for film editing on The Godfather Part III (1990).
But note this. The following interview concentrates, not on Murch the picture editor, leaning over an Avid in a cutting room, assembling a film’s image track, but on Murch the sound designer and re-recording mixer. For once, the eyes don’t have it, and the term “soundtrack” is meant literally. It refers to every sound—to the collage of voices, noises, and music—that a movie-going audience hears coming through speakers, not just to a potentially marketable collection of music isolated from the film it accompanied. —Sound Doctrine: An Interview with Walter Murch [txt, pdf]
- Walter Murch: Film Lecture
- Trevor Hogg profiles the career of three time Academy Award-winning sound designer and film editor Walter Murch in the fifth of a five part feature: one, two, three, four and five
- Worldizing: a sound design concept by Walter Murch
- Walter Murch about his career path
- An evening screening and discussion of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film STALKER, with Walter Murch
- Walter Murch: The ‘Rule of Six’ in Film Editing
- Walter Murch: ‘Three Fathers of Cinema’
- Coppola/Murch: Second Youth
- Josh Melnick and Walter Murch in Conversation
- Redo The Redux: The Lost Walter Murch Interview
- Walter Murch: The Sound of the Apocalypse
- Walter Murch Interviews Anne V. Coates
The director of photography for Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart, Reds, and Last Tango in Paris reveals his theory of the effect of colors on our emotions. Writing with Light: An interview with Vittorio Storaro, Film Quarterly, Volume XXXV, No. 3, Spring 1982 [pdf].
Photography, for me, really means writing with light in the sense that I’m trying to express something that is inside of me. With my sensibility, my structure, my cultural background, I’m trying to express what I really am. I am trying to describe the story of the film through the light. I try to have a parallel story to the actual story so that through light and color you can feel and understand, consciously and unconsciously, much more clearly what the story is about. For several years I thought that the light and only the light was the main thing. I was really concerned with the fact that I was using elements that came between myself, my use of the light, and the audience. I’m talking about different lenses, different cameras, different film stock, different developing, different printing, and different screenings. These things were a kind of obstacle to really expressing myself clearly. These things got in the way of what I was trying to say in a story to an audience.
My first picture in 1968 was an incredible moment in my life. It was like my first love. It was the first time I had the chance to express myself in a complete “opera.” I had previously done some short films, but a feature allows you to be more solid, complete and specific. I was trying to be present every single moment of every single day. I told myself, “Vittorio, be careful, because this moment will never come back again. You will do hundreds of pictures that will be bigger, smaller, better or worse but this particular time in your life will never come back again.” After your first film, you can add and develop certain things but it will never be like the first time. I remember that two days before the end of my first film, I was crying like a baby. A friend of mine didn’t understand and wanted to know what was going on. And I told him what I was thinking: that it was a beautiful moment in my life. I was going to lose something very, very important; that is, the innocence to do something for the first time. Everything I have done since then, like Spider’s Stratagem, The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, 1900, and Apocalypse Now, is sort of a branch of things that were born on my first picture. I just went on to develop this main idea. I think my first film is like an imprint. —Vittorio Storaro
“Herzog: The God of Wrath.” American Film Magazine, AFI, Iss. 8, June 1982 [pdf].
“Caracas, 21 June 1979: No one came to meet me. My passport was confiscated immediately because I had no visa.”
[…] The quote comes from Herzog’s diaries of the mythic two-year shoot in the jungles of Peru, just published in the US, excerpted in the New York Times and picked up by blogs including the IFC Daily. All proof, if needed, that I’m not the only one fascinated by this epic folly of a movie – a grand mission statement in which an ascendant young director flung himself into a comically hostile terrain, endangering career and health in the name of a notion of art that seemed quaintly old-fangled even at the time.
But vivid as the first-person, present-tense account of the production (the camp being burned down by troops in the midst of a border war and crew members cutting off their feet after snakebites, etc) surely is, one of the most striking aspects about the book is the apparent weight it gives to Herzog’s stay prior to the shoot with none other than Francis Ford Coppola. The American director was then in San Francisco recovering from a hernia operation. Not only does this provide some beautifully deadpan Herzogian moments (“Coppola did not like the pillows and complained all afternoon”) – the pairing takes on a special significance because of his host’s other malady, the still-fresh trauma of making Apocalypse Now. —Danny Leigh, ‘Werner Herzog’s jungle fever’, guardian.co.uk, 3 July 2009
Roger Ebert’s review of the documentary “Burden of Dreams” shows his enthusiasm for the material:
“The whole production was moved twelve hundred miles, to a new location where the mishaps included plane crashes, disease, and attacks by unfriendly Indians. And all of those hardships were on top of the incredible task Herzog set himself to film: He wanted to show his obsessed hero using teams of Indians to pull an entire steamship up a hillside using only block and tackle!”
Herzog believed in the ‘voodoo of location’, according to Ebert, that the location of the film was just as important as the source material. He could have used other, safer locations, but he insisted on shooting in the middle of the rainforest, which allowed him to take fabulous aerial shots of the savage, undeveloped jungle. Klaus Kinski, playing Fitzcarraldo, notes his frustration, and his skill with languages, with the location:
Legend has it that Herzog drew a gun on Kinski when he threatened to quit Aguirre, Wrath of God, and that on Fitzcarraldo, helpful natives volunteered to do the job for him, they were so appalled by the star’s tantrums. This particular argument took place on the set of Fitzcarraldo:
Now, more than 20 years after the release of the film, Fitzcarraldo still remains one of the most momentous achievements captured on celluloid, and puts the stunts of modern Hollywood movies to shame. Herzog, able to relax after the filming, wryly noted that no one would ever bother trying to match his achievement and that he was the “Conquistador of the Useless”.
In Memory of Les Blank (1935-2013)
More on Werner Herzog:
- Werner Herzog on Fitzcarraldo and the obscenity of the jungle
- German trailer for Fitzcarraldo (with English subtitles)
- Werner Herzog | Official website
- Werner Herzog discusses his work on The Henry Rollins Show
- BBC Imagine: ‘Werner Herzog: Beyond Reason’: Part One | Part Two
- Film in Focus: Paul Cronin interviews Werner Herzog
- Time Magazine: Werner Herzog on Fitzcarraldo
- My Best Fiend (Mein liebster Feind, 2009), by Werner Herzog. Herzog on his friendship with Klaus Kinski
ALEXCOX.COM Free Download Section:
10,000 WAYS TO DIE (1978)
My book about the Spaghetti Western - written in 1978. Deals with films made between 1963 and 1973.
Free .pdf, released under a Creative Commons
License (249 pp)
MOVIEDROME GUIDE 1 (1988-1990)
56 Cult Film Reviews from ACE INTHE HOLE to YOJIMBO.
MOVIEDROME GUIDE 2 (1991-1993)
62 Cult Film Reviews from AT CLOSE RANGE to WITCHFINDER GENERAL
BUGS ARE MY BUSINESS (1999)
a.k.a. THE SECRET LIFE OF DON LUIS BUÑUEL - the best script we never made - by Tod Davies
Please Kickstart this: Alex Cox directs Harry Harrison’s BILL THE GALACTIC HERO.
Cinefantastique v09 01 [pdf]
Cinefantastique was a horror, fantasy, and science fiction film magazine originally started as a mimeographed fanzine in 1967, then relaunched as a glossy, offset quarterly in 1970 by publisher/editor Frederick S. Clarke. Cinefantastique’s articles and reviews emphasized an intelligent, near-scholarly approach, a then-unusual slant for such a genre-specific magazine. Advertisements were few, with most of them being only ads for other titles and materials by the publisher. This lack of “page padding” assured the reader a high proportion of original editorial content. The magazine quickly came to be known for its lengthy, information-filled “retrospective” articles devoted to the full production details of such classic films as 1951′s The Day The Earth Stood Still, George Pal’s War of the Worlds, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Planet of the Apes. Based on the popularity of these articles, Cinefantastique began producing huge double-issues centering on comprehensive “Making-Of” looks at such movies as Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Forbidden Planet, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, The Thing, and Alien. Many of the articles have since become accepted as the definitive source of production information regarding these and other genre titles.
The magazine was responsible for introducing the work of several writers who have continued to produce important work in the film field, including Don Shay, Bill Warren, Tim Lucas, Mick Garris, Stephen Rebello, Steven Rubin, Dan Scapperotti, Dale Winogura, Jeffrey Frentzen, Paul M. Sammon (who authored the Blade Runner double issue and later turned it into an extensive book called Future Noir) and Alan Jones. On October 17, 2000, due to complications from long-time, clinical depression, Clarke committed suicide at the age of 51. Editorship was briefly assumed by long-time contributor Dan Persons, until rights to the continuing publication of Cinefantastique were acquired by Mark A. Altman’s Mindfire Entertainment, who formally re-named the magazine CFQ. In November 2006, CFQ editor Jeff Bond announced that the magazine would be “going on hiatus into 2007″, promising that in the near future it would return “on an irregular basis for in-depth spotlights & special issues”. The magazine was succeeded by Geek Monthly, with Bond at the helm.
Cinefantastique relaunched as a webzine in August 2007, called Cinefantastique Online, under the supervision of the magazine’s former West Coast Editor, Steve Biodrowski.
Go back to where the series all began. Discover the in’s and out’s with the Director of Alien Ridley Scott and the actors such as Sigourney Weaver through a fun and remarkable story of how the movie became to be called ALIEN and how its legacy went on.