Dig this twenty minute interview with Sam Peckinpah done for the BBC in 1976, as he was finishing post production on 'Cross Of Iron' and preparing to shoot 'Convoy' (I thought the two came in reverse order in his career as they do in his filmography but I was wrong...so so wrong). Sam is an interesting man. Intelligent, quiet in a lethal kind of way, darkly humorous, thoughtful etc. Much is made of the violence in his films which seems, from this perspective, to be a wasted interview opportunity--why bother with all that blather given where we are now in the world when we could be talking some really interesting shit with this singular fellow? Sam drinks coffee and smokes and talks and about halfway through you might find yourself getting a little tired of the line of questioning. Perhaps Sam felt the same way because that's when he reaches for the bottle of Bourbon on the table next to him and adds a healthy shot to his coffee. The next ten minutes of the interview become not only funnier and more interesting but also show the dark and bitter wisdom that lay behind Sam's eyes. This is not a man you wanted to cross. I'm not even sure having a drink with him was a good idea for very long...
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As always, I promised to blog the making of a movie and, as has become something of a habit, I have immediately failed to fulfill the promise. First of all, I'm dead tired from the get-go. Even if I had time to write and/or post pictures and stuff every day, I would be hard pressed to concentrate the effort necessary to do so. But ultimately the big reason not to bother is: who cares?
Let me explain. Having over twenty years of doing this, I've ceased to find the work glamorous or even basically fun in any way. What it is is satisfying...but only when you start to see it come together. The shooting of a film is essentially a footage-collection process. Me and the crew are basically a gigantic recording device capturing the actors who are inhabiting the roles that will eventually be seen as a representation of reality that tells a story that is hopefully believable, coherent, moving, funny or whatever. (Hate that last word. But I used it to my discredit and thus will let it stand as a warning to myself). What I'm getting at is that deconstructing the process of making the film is all well and good for youthful enthusiasts but is no longer something that I find interesting as a grizzled veteran. It's the construction of the film that is now my focus. Thus the set is not a place for exuberant joy for me but a workplace where I will either collect the correct material or fail to collect it. Nobody wants a failed film. I take it for granted that you don't, whoever you are. So I prefer to focus entirely on thinking of the finished product instead.
So instead of blogging the making of my movie, I'd rather post finished sequences of other movies that are, for me, perfectly constructed results of the footage collection process. Thus my previous post (scroll down, Einstein) or Peckilnpah's brilliant and stirring battle sequence from 'Cross Of Iron' and the above final showdown from George Steven's 'Shane'. Enjoy! Or should I say, 'Confefe!"
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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 8:55 AM
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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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:44 AM
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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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 8:47 AM
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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Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 5:23 PM