Archive for the ‘filmmaking’ Category

This was originally posted in October 2012 as Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4):

The funny thing about Garry Marshall’s book Wake Me When It’s Funny is it’s not really that funny of a book. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It has its humorous moments, but it’s more part of his story and experiences of working for decades in TV and movies, and part of it is just rock solid practical advice. In fact, today’s directing insight from Marshall is not only something I never heard taught in film school—but I’ve never heard anyone else ever mention it in regards to filmmaking:

“I saw Michelle Pfeiffer at the catering truck ordering a bagel on Frankie and Johnny. When she discovered they were all out of bagels, she started to cry. I was ready to run to the nearest deli to buy her a dozen bagels, but she said it wasn’t that important. It turned out she was having her period and everything made her cry. I didn’t try to cheer her up but made it a positive thing because she had several crying scenes in the movie. After lunch, we sat down with the production schedule and, with Michelle’s approval, plotted the crying scenes around her menstrual cycle. This made these scenes easier for everyone, especially Michelle. Yes, I’m a filmmaker and I chart menstrual cycles. Later I saw Michelle walking around the set with a sign she had pinned on the back of her bathrobe that read BEWARE PMS.

“I originally learned the importance of women’s cycles from Debbie Reynolds on How Sweet It Is! We were sitting in our big production meeting with Debbie and ten others talking about a swimming sequence. Suddenly, Debbie secretly passed me a note that said, ‘Garry, ask me when my period is.’ Now, I was a first-time producer who knew nothing and I wanted to impress the others, but didn’t know what to make of this note. Was she coming on to me in the height of the meeting? I looked at Debbie and she gave me an encouraging nod. ‘Errrr…Debbie,’ I said, ‘when is your period?’ She smiled and said, ‘Oh, what a bright producer Garry is. That’s such a smart question to ask. You all should know my menstrual cycle so you can schedule the swimming sequences around my period.'”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 201-202

Now some other film director may have given that advice, but I don’t recall reading Ford, Capra, Hitchcock, Kazan, Coppola, Spielberg, Soderbergh—or even the female directors like Nora Ephron or Kathryn Bigelow—mentioning anything about menstrual cycles in terms of directing. Doesn’t mean no one else has, but regardless, it’s good practical advice. While things were less politically correct when the book was first published 20-years-ago, the fact that book was co-written by Garry’s daughter, and the two main sources are Michelle Pfeiffer and Debbie Reynolds, I hope show this isn’t some sexist and misogynistic thought.

P.S. Debbie Reynolds, most famous for her role in Singing in the Rain, is now 83 and still singing and acting and has a website—debbiereynolds.com. In 2013 she published Unsinkable: A Memoir (The definitive memoir, a story of heartbreak, hope, and survival). She’s also the real life mother of the fictional Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).

Scott W. Smith

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Here’s an extended quote from TV and feature film director Garry Marshall (The Odd Couple, Pretty Women) on working with actors taken from his book Wake Me When It’s Funny, written with his daughter Lori Marshall. And perviously used in the 2012 post Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 3):

“The truth is that there are a few stars who are just one taco short of a combo platter. The director’s job is to deal with it all…On the first day of a shoot, I always let my lead actors know that they’re the only ones on the set who are allowed to whine. Their performance can make or break the film, so if they want to whine every once in a while they can. Stars can be babies and learning to pacify then is part of the job and I don’t have a problem with that. However, I believe that every star has the ability to behave like an adult for at least an hour a day. So on the first day I take my stars aside and say, ‘I’m going to treat you like a temperamental artist. But there will be a time, say when we’re behind schedule or the sun is going down, when I will ask you to be an adult.’ This reasoning has worked with every actor I’ve ever directed from big stars to up-and-coming stars to never-going-to-be stars. When it really counted, they were adults and helped me solve a problem.”
Garry Marshall

P.S. And “dealing with it all” is good advice on smaller projects as well. A few years ago I was directing a video project for a national client using a well-known celebrity as talent. We had him booked for four hours for a short promo, but first thing he told me when we met on the set was,”I’ll tell you one thing, we’re not going to be here four hours.” I didn’t make it an issue and we were done in two hours. Embrace your limitations. There are many accounts of feature directors being challenged by stars on the first day of shooting as a sort of test of wills. And sometimes the results are difficult to handle. The extreme being the case on the shooting of First Blood, where the original actor playing in a key part walked because of a disagreement after the first day of shooting. Richard Crenna stepped in to fill the role.

Scott W. Smith

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Garry Marshall Month—Day 8

The following quotes are from of the post Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 2) that originally ran in October 2012, and found in Garry Marshall’s book (written with Lori Marshall) Wake Me When It’s Funny:

“Michael Eisner once said, ‘Garry Marshall doesn’t direct a movie. He hosts a movie.’ That’s pretty accurate. Just as on my television shows, I run a loose ship. I want everyone to get along while they’re working because I hate tension while I’m working. I don’t care if two people kill each other at the wrap party as long as they can get along during the shoot. Movie sets are extremely intense and it’s critical that petty squabbles are kept to a minimum. One way to do this is to make sure each person feel as if he’s one of the most important players on the team. I let anyone make a suggestion on a film, from the smallest star to the biggest Teamster, because everyone is part of the process. I have no use for people who play it safe and refuse to give suggestions. On my set everybody can speak if he waits his turn.”
Producer/director/writer Garry Marshall

“I once worked with a cinematographer who told me that I didn’t command enough authority to be a film director. One day he brought me a ladder and asked me to stand on to of it. He wanted me to yell at the actors and scream at the crew. Stand tall on this perch, he said. This is the way you should control the set. I climbed up the ladder, yelled, and almost fell off. It just wasn’t my style. I wanted to control the whole set while sitting in the corner, with my eyes closed, sucking on a toothpick (a habit I adopted after I quit smoking). You have to find a way to work that suits you.”
Garry Marshall

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Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012 as The Power of Gentleness:

“Several years ago when I lectured at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, I was startled to see how much the students knew about directing. They were up to date on the latest technology, knew which lenses to use to achieve different shots, and were comfortable behind state-of-the art sound and editing systems. Many of them honestly knew more about the mechanics of film directing than I did. This was ironic considering that I had directed seven feature films and most of them hadn’t even directed one.

“What was obvious, however, was that they didn’t understand this: Directing is about more than just the nuts and bolts and technological process. That can be learned. It’s also about the people, which is much more difficult to master. More important than selecting the right camera lens is learning how to get the star out of his trailer. More important than knowing the cranes and alternating lengths of the dissolves is knowing the mood of an actor and using his mood to stretch the actor to a better performance. I do this through gentleness, which often confuses my co-workers. Most people in Hollywood don’t understand the power of gentleness.”
Garry Marshall
Wake Me When It’s Funny (written with Lori Marshall)
Pages 189-190

When I discovered Garry Marshall’s book in a used bookstore in Dallas a few weeks ago I wasn’t expecting to blog posts about it for two weeks. But that’s what looks like is going to happen. Since the book was written 15 years ago [now 18 years ago], and some of Marshall’s greatest successes were 20 and 30 years ago, I was concerned if my views would drop off. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, last week with all those Garry Marshall insights made for the most singled viewed week I’ve ever had,

It’s nice when you go with your gut and it works out well. Part of the boost in views came from writer Larry Brody and his excellent blog TV Writer  when he linked to this blog in his post Garry Marshall on Rewriting. So a big thanks to Marshall, Brody, and the new readers for the boost.

Scott W. Smith

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“The perfect movie doesn’t have any dialogue. So you should always be striving to make a silent movie.”
David Mamet
On Film Directing 

“One of my notions [in making Mad Max] was that if I make the action sequences as a silent movie, and it reads as a silent movie, then it can only get better with sound.”
Mad Max director/co-writer George Miller 

Today is the last day of a month of posts centered around filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (with help from a few of his director friends and acquaintances). And we end with the bang looking at the journey of George Miller, the 70-year-old director of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) who not only started working with an unusual career for a film director (medical doctor), but was raised in an unlikely place (Chinchilla, Queensland, Australia—population 5,000 today).

“I grew up in a remote, rural town in the Outback of Australia. And there was no television then. There was a Saturday matinée and there were comics. And I grew up with brothers and we’d play out what we saw in movies and the comics. It was an invisible apprenticeship to make movies. I’d read American Cinematographer magazines and we’d scrutinize them about, and go, ‘Oh, that’s how they did the car rigging,’ and anything Hitchcock said became a little dictum. I learned where I think we should all learn— in the cinema. I just consumed everything…The big influence on me was Buster Keaton because cinema—the silent era—they were able to do things you could see nowhere else. It wasn’t a recording device, it was actually creating a language. And I suddenly thought, wow, this is amazing.”
Producer/writer/director George Miller
The Director’s Chair with Robert Rodriguez interview
(On the El Rey Network and available on iTunes)

While in medical school he entered a one-minute silent film contest with his brother which led to winning the competition and both attending a filmmaking workshop. Within ten years he made his debut feature film Max Max starring Mel Gibson.

Two remarkable things about that low-budget feature is its strong action photography (shot by  director of photography Dean Semler and the lack of dialogue by Gibson. (Under 20 lines of dialogue in the entire film for the lead role.)

Miller told Rodriguez of Mad Max, “I definitely had the Hitchcock dictum in my head, he said, ‘I try to make movies where they don’t have to read the subtitles in Japan.’ And as it turned out, the Japanese took to it.” (It’s important to remember that while Alfred Hitchcock is known for his classic films Psycho (1960), North By Northwest (1959), and Vertigo (1958), that he actually began making films in the early 1920s— in the silent era of movies. Read Hitchcock Loved ‘The Hurt Locker’ to see some of his takeaways of visual storytelling.)

As the global market today is more important than ever in the Hollywood film industry, there is much to learn from Hitchcock about visual storytelling. As well as from another director who bridged the silent era into “the talkies” with great effectiveness—John Ford. He also informed Miller’s visual style. In fact, the Mad Max movies have been called “Westerns on wheels.” Watch an action scene from Stagecoach (1939) and compare any of the four Mad Max films.  (By the way, Orson Welles watched Stagecoach 40 times before making Citizen Kane.)

One of my all time favorite movie entrances by a character is in Mad Max 2:The Road Warrior. The surprise intro of Gyro Captian doesn’t quite have the same impact on DVD or You Tube as it did on the big screen when I first saw it, but here’s a clip of it I found online:

Here’s the dynamic character intro of John Wayne in John Ford’s Stagecoach.

The movie Ben Hur (1959) also informed Miller’s visual style.

And lastly, to show the diversity of Miller, he directed Lorenzo’s Oil,  and was the one responsible for bringing prolific author Dick King-Smith’s Babe to the movies, and he won his sole Oscar for his 2006 animated feature Happy Feet. When asked the connection between Babe, Happy Feet, and Mad Max. Miller said they all follow the classic hero-myth story.

The real inspiration from Miller is if you’re from a remote, rural town in the Outback or a farm in Iowa, if you’re closer to 7 or 70, or if you just graduated from medical school or grammar school— some interesting things can happen if you take that first step and make a one-minute movie. (Start Small…but Start Somewhere.) For Miller, it eventually led him down Fury Road.

“George and Brendan McCarthy and a couple of other storyboard artists basically wrote [Mad Max: Fury Road] in storyboards.”
Colin Gibson
Production Designer

“There were 3,500 [storyboard] panels around the room and I would say a good 80% of those panels are reflected in the images that you see on the screen today…It was something that was very non-verbal. People obviously speak in the movie, but they speak only when it’s necessary.”
George Miller

P.S. If you can combine classical mythical storytelling with classical silent movie visual storytelling you will be tapping into powerful stuff. Two core books on the mythical journey are Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces  and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.

10/8/14 Update:
Here’s a video from the post The Editing of Mad Max: Fury Road by Vashi Nedomansky where he explains how Miller, DP John Seale, and editor Margaret Sixel used a “crosshair framing” or “center framed” technique in Mad Max: Fury Road so the quick cutting action would be visually friendly for audiences.

Also, it appears that later in the day after wrote this post that George Miller did a live stream Q&A with Michael Radford after a screening of Mad Max:Fury Road. So if you haven’t had your George Miller fill yet the Q&A begins at the 5:04 mark:

Related posts:

‘Storytelling Without Dialogue’ (Tip #82)
The Best Film School
Mr. Silent Films
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Harold Loyd vs. Buster Keaton
Emotionally Silent Dialogue
Directing Tips from Peter Bogdanovich  “Silent looks between people—to me, that’s what movies are about.”—Peter Bogdanovich
Show, Don’t Tell (Tip #46) “One of the cardinal sins for a scriptwriter, when he runs into some difficulty, is to say ‘We can cover that by a line of dialogue.”—Hitchcock
Show, Don’t Tell (Part 2)—Chaplin

Scott W. Smith

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There’s been a big surge this month on my post Screenwriter/Saleman Pete Jones.  Why would there be a surge from a post written over four years ago? I haven’t seen the rebooted Project Greenlight, but I have a felling it’s connected to that since Jones was the person who wrote and directed the first Project Greenlight film, Stolen Summer.

And since I’m on the tail-end of a month long of posts centered around filmmaker Robert Rodriguez it’s a fitting time to talk about his salesman side that’s helped allowed him to build a creative career.  Earlier this year on Tim Ferriss’ podcast he asked Rodriguez this question, “When you hear the word successful who’s the first person that come to mind to you?”

“I always thought my dad was successful because he was an entrepreneur in that he had ten kids and he sold cookware door to door. And the beauty of that was he’d come home and my mom would say, ‘the kids need braces,’ and he’d calculate how much cookware he’d have to sell to pay that—and he’d go sell it. Once he knew he had a target, If he worked a job where if he got the same amount of money no matter what you’d be screwed, but because he could go sell harder—sell somebody on something. It’s really strange, I have five brothers and none of them work for anyone, they’re all entrepreneurs, they all have their own businesses…No one wanted to work for anyone else. Partly because it’s in the DNA, you just don’t want to be under someone else’s thumb….I used to read his little entrepreneur magazines and I’d say, ‘that’s so cool that guy owns video machines in the back of his truck and drove them around the malls.’ I was always encouraged by these entrepreneur stories. People finding another way to go, instead of following everybody else and finding success and happiness. Successful people to me are people who put it all together. Because you can have business success, and job security and be miserable in your personal life, or always having that falling apart or some crisis always happening, and I’m eating it up and loving it and I got that from my father.”
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez

On a related note, last night I watched on Netflix Milius and enjoyed the doc as it filled in some gaps on the life and work of writer/director John Milius (Conan the Barbarian, Big Wednesday). Besides being a gifted storyteller, Milius sold his persona of bravado and machismo that was a mixture of Hemingway, John Ford, and John Huston. He came on the scene in the late 60s with Coppola, Lucas, and Spielberg. He wrote iconic lines such as “…You’ve got to ask yourself one question—do I feel lucky?” (Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry) and “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” (Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now). Oliver StoneJoe Eszterhas and Quentin Tarantino all followed the larger than life Hollywood persona using a torch borrowed from Milius. (And one that Milius took from his childhood heroes John Wayne, Gene Autry, and Chuck Yeager.) More on Milius later when I can do some research.

Scott W. Smith

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“Nobody knew anything. We were just a bunch of kids making a movie.”
John Carpenter on making Halloween when he was 29-years-old
(Though there is some understatement from Carpenter who grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and eventually graduated from USC film school back when John Ford and Orson Welles were guest speakers.)

The fun part about embracing your limitations is seeing where it will take you. What kind of odd connections can you make that will be fresh and interesting? My post yesterday (The Perfect Ending) had a video clip of David Nutter winning an Emmy for directing, and I noticed on that clip that the actress handing him his Emmy was Jamie Lee Curtis. I wondered if there was a way I could play off that today on my all month-long of writing posts connected to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

When I think of Curtis I think of her first feature film role in Halloween (1978). And when I think of Halloween I think of John Carpenter who directed the film from a script he wrote with Debra Hill. And it just so happens that Rodriguez interviewed Carpenter on The Director’s Chair.

“Why would a young hispanic filmmaker from San Antonio, Texas ever believe he could be a filmmaker? It was because of your movies. I would see John Carpenter’s The Fog—I’d say who’s this guy? Why is his name above the title. Well look, he’s writing it, he’s directing it, he’s editing it, he’s scoring it, and I’d think this guy is having so much fun. He’s doing it without a studio. He’s doing it independently. He’s doing it with a low-budget. Two hands, boot straps, check, got it— we can go.”
Robert Rodriguez to John Carpenter
The Director’s Chair, Episode 1

I don’t write too much about horror films because it’s not a genre I’m drawn to these days. But like every other teenager in 1978 I remember watching Halloween in a packed theater with people screaming. Great memories. I’ll never forget the one dude being picked up in the movie and being nailed to a door by the bad guy’s knife—ending with the shot of his feet just dangling in the air.

And I remember when I was 12-years-old being enthralled watching the house burn in the House of Usher when they showed the movie one night at the junior high where my mom was a teacher.  Visions of Dracula, Godzillia, Cujo, Norman Bates, Hannibel Lecter, Alien Queen, and those giant ants in Them! will follow me to the grave.

There are plenty of classic horror films throughout film history; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1922), Nosferatu (1922) Dracula ( 1931) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Alien (1979), Friday the 13th (1980) and Poltergist (1982). And the low-budget films The Blair Witch Project (1999), Saw (2004)  Paranormal Activity (2009) are still in the top 20 of movies that percentage wise are the most profitable movies of all time.

“Horror will always be the same. Horror will always be with us. It was around at the beginning in the birth of cinema. Edison did Frankenstein. It’s one genre that translates around the world. Big monster comes through the door everybody, in every country jumps up and screams. It’s a universal language. You don’t make horror movies to make money. you don’t make horror movies to be popular. You want to do it because you have a story to tell.”
John Carpenter
Interview with Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair

The Devils Castle (1896 or 1897) written, directed and starring George Melies is often credited with being the first horror film, so ending with the beginning seems a fitting way to round out this post:

P.S. House of Usher (based on an Edger Allen Poe short story) starred Vincent Price and was directed by Roger Corman. Didn’t know that until I did some research writing this post. I have written much about Corman over the years and Carpenter names him as his inspiration from wanting to be a filmmaker.

Related posts:

Fear of the Unknown ““The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” H.P. Lovecraft
The Creature from…
Coppola & Roger Corman
The ‘Piranha’ Highway
Screenwriting Quote #189 (Darren Bousman)
Stephen Susco Q&A at Full Sail * Think primal. Fear and personal loss are the foundations of many fine films.
Writing ‘Silence of the Lambs’
Orson Welles at USC (Part 1) 

Scott W. Smith 

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