8/20/17

CROSS OF IRON: "DEMARCATION!"



I begin---or more accurately--resume shooting my new movie "Stano" which stars Joe Mangianello and Sofia Vergara  tomorrow, Monday August 21. I say resume because we filmed four days of work a few weeks ago before shutting down for three more weeks of prep. This work stoppage was, fortunately, part of a bigger plan and not an accidental detour of the sort that all too often happens in the making of an independent film. We needed to shoot out most of Sofia Vegara's material in order to make room for her TV commitments. Thus our twenty-six day movie has twenty-two days of photography left ahead of us. Capishe?

Nonetheless it really does feel like we're beginning a new movie and thus the attendant pre-shoot anxiety has already ruined much of the day. But this always happens to me (I suspect I'm not the only director who experiences this syndrome) and over the years I've developed a way to deal with it. Basically I spend the day watching sequences of films that have inspired me over the years, even if they're not necessarily pertinent to the movie I'm making. It's a way of getting jacked to go back to the exhausting but addictive work of shooting a picture and approaching it with the same vigor and enthusiasm that I had when I was a kid with a Super 8mm camera. I've posted one of these sequences above. It's the brilliantly shot and edited "demarcation" sequence from Sam Peckilnpah's 'Cross Of Iron'.  Whenever somebody asks me what a director really does, I steer them toward this sequence and tell them that, as scripted, the scene took up one and half pages. Peckinpah took the bare bones description of the action and developed it into a masterful, heartbreaking seven minute sequence of astonishingly lyrical and brutally violent action. I can't even get my head around how he planned, shot and edited this scene or how long it took to capture. But I remember hearing from somebody who worked with him that Peckinpah was a director who never stopped shooting, compulsively inventing new set-ups, bits of business, whole sub-storylines within scenes and often doing it completely off the cuff. Something of that sort may have happened here, as the 'demarcation' scene always feels to me like the work of a master-in-motion, a composer who can't notate the music quickly enough as inspiration pours fourth...

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8/19/17

WELCOME BACK TO HELL



This Monday, August 21, I begin principle photography on my ninth movie. "Sonny Stano" is the story of a middle-aged ex-con who gets out of prison to confront his past, which happens to have been a terribly thwarted one. As a teenager, Sonny was a baseball phenom, raised in the Bronx and loving the Yankee's (natch). His talent actually earned him a place on that fabled team's roster (it would have been in the 1998 season, which was one of the greatest of all for that ball club). But a street fight and an accidental death took Sonny away from his greater fate and sent him to Sing Sing. Will he repair his life? Will he play baseball again? Don't ask me. Watch the fucking movie when it's done, all right?

Meanwhile, I will--as I have before--be blogging the making of the movie over the next few months. Our shoot happens in good old New York City and its environs (Queens, Bronx, whatever) and I'll be posting on-set videos, photos etc. So follow along as we create the world, story and--I hope--emotional salvation of a boy from the Bronx who 'coulda been a contender' instead of becoming 'a bum...which is what I am"...but possibly not forever. Click here for the deadline.com article announcing the film and its stars.

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7/20/17

DIRECTORS BEING A LITTLE BIT UNCOMFORTABLY INTERVIEWED PT. 3: ROBERT WISE!



Above is a Belgian TV interview in 1961/62 with Bob Wise ( I get to call him that since I knew him since age 12 when he directed the movie of my father's book 'Audrey Rose') discussing why 'West Side Story' was important to the time in which it was made as well as the difficulties involved in getting it  made, conceptually at least. Bob was a most self-effacing man and was happy to share directing credit with Jerome Robbins. Or was he? Bob ( I get to call him that since etc. etc.) was also a very savvy Hollywood player--in a seemingly innocent  but by no means spineless way. He agreed to the unheard of proposition of sharing credit with 'Jerry' and halfway through the shoot he somehow got the Mirisch's (the producers) to fire the tempestuous choreographer/co-director. They had fallen terribly behind schedule and, as that's about the worst thing a studio/producer/bond company can here, it's likely that it was the card played by Bob to finally rid himself of the way-too-protective partner who he'd inherited (and who, remember, he'd embraced to get the film done). Remember he had previously built credibility with RKO via his involvement with 'saving' "The Magnificent Ambersons', despite Orson's wishes. Welles afficianados think of Wise as an informer; Bob thought of himself as a man thankful to the studio system for giving him a life that he never anticipated and that he took advantage of and defended to the end of his days. I always liked his lack of neurosis.

In 2002 there was a screening of 'West Side Story' at Radio City and we were invited to attend by Bob's step-daughter. We went and he was in great form. None of the surviving writers--Sondheim, Laurens etc.--showed, a tribute I guess to how much they resented his having gotten rid of Robbins. Bob was, as usual, self-effacing, charming and uncombative. Bob truly believed that it was better not to see an insult than confront one. In his opening remarks he simply said that he'd watched the movie "the other day for the first time in many years" and that "it seemed to hold up pretty well." Very Bob Wise. An editor's opinion--not a director's bluster. As soon as the movie started, with the iconic helicopter shots looking right down on the neighborhood where the story takes place, the audience went wild. Yes, it was right after 911 and every celebration in New York was much needed. But it was also an affirmation that a great piece of filmmaking can survive a generation or two--as well as a whole bunch of Hollywood/Broadway bullshit--and mean something profound and exciting to a future generation.

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6/29/17

RICHARD FLEISCHER TALKS MOVIES WITH TWO FRENCH GUYS



Above is another installment of that very French cinema TV show 'Cinema, Cinemas' (translation:
'Nickelodeon, Nickelodeons') which I've been posting since discovering it on Youtube. The earlier interviews (scroll down) are with Richard Brooks and Edward Dmytryk. Today's episode features Richard Fleischer, son of Max ('Betty Boop' creator/animation innovator) and a very capable man in his own right. Click here for his Wikipedia entry, which will save me the time of having to explain who he was and list his credits. From the look of things at the opening of the interview, Fleischer seems to have lived in a standard issue Beverly Hills Spanish villa (not overwhelmingly large) with a standard issue late 70s Rolls parked in the driveway (the interview was shot in 1990). His demeanor is self-assured, gentle but assertive, and he talks honestly about his reputation as a director who took over other director's movies that were in trouble. He discusses how he stages a scene with the actors prior to even bothering to figure out his shots, thus allowing the whole thing to develop organically (my word, not his). I've been doing it that way for awhile now and it really is a lot simpler than trying to figure out how to move actors around and convincing them to do what you want. In fact, I haven't bothered with a shot list on my last three movies and frankly they've turned out better for it. The only problem is that the time you spend with the actors rehearsing makes the producers nervous since all they can see (I don't let them on the set when rehearsing) is that the clock is ticking and you're not shooting. But of course once you've figured it all out the shooting goes much quicker than if you'd jumped into it without the benefit of working things out more smoothly and in privacy.

But enough about me. What about Fleischer? He makes no bones about being a 'professional' more than an artist and seems serenely confident in his opinions. He may not be the most interesting interview subject but this lack of personal dynamism shouldn't lead one to consider him a wilting lily. Hence the following story about Fleischer and Orson Welles:

Fleischer was directing the 1959 movie 'Compulsion', which co-starred Welles. On the first day that Welles worked, they rehearsed a scene in which Welles had to exit the set after giving a speech. Welles asked Fleischer which way he should exit and the director replied "to the right". "I don't think I would exit that way, Dick. I think I would exit to the left." Fleischer replied that Welles had to exit to the right and, when asked why by the portly actor, replied "Because there's no wall built on the left and we'll be shooting off the set." Welles considered this for a moment and then said: "Do you know what I'd do if I were directing this picture? I'd have them build the wall." Fleischer replied: "That's exactly why I'm directing this picture and you're not, Orson." A chill went through the air as the two men stared at each other. And then Welles burst out laughing and did as told. When Welles was asked by Peter Bogdanovich in an interview if he gave Fleischer any help in directing 'Compulsion', Welles replied: "Dick Fleischer is not a director who needs any help directing a motion picture." If I were to receive one compliment from Welles, that would be the one I'd choose.

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6/23/17

EDWARD DMYTRYK TALKS WITH TWO FRENCH GUYS



Here's my old friend and film school advisor Eddie Dmytryk talking to the same two French guys as in the previous post (scroll down, dammit) for the mysterious TV program 'Cinema, Cinemas' (translation: 'Theater, Theaters'). As always with Eddie, much time is devoted to his infamous blacklisting and subsequent recanting. I like the way at the very opening Eddie waits for the French interviewer to ask his uncomfortable opening question about his firing after the Hollywood Ten came into public view. The interviewer thinks that his opening statement is enough for Eddie to take the bait, but Eddie is having none of it, forcing the interviewer to stumble on in increasing discomfort until the interviewee finally lets him off the hook and launches into an extended answer. Eddie was articulate and forthcoming to a fault and the interview is fascinating and entertaining. He was a difficult, controversial figure and not always an easy man to like. I had a long and complex relationship with him when growing up (he and my father were close friends and collaborators). If you're interested in knowing more about that particular subject, click here to read an extended post I wrote back in 2008, his centenary year.

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