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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Lewis’

“My story is like an American dream story. I grew up on the south side of Chicago [in a] working poor family…I was a freshman in high school when I saw Bonnie and Clyde, and I remember very profoundly there is a scene where Gene Hackman’s character gets shot in the head and he’s in this field and he’s dying. And I remember being overwhelmed with sadness and emotion. And that was the seminal moment where I go I gotta be a movie director. Right around the same time I’m watching Johnny Carson and his guest that night is Jerry Lewis. In the 60s he was like the Spielberg of the movie industry. He had like total autonomy of making his movies. So Johnny says, ‘Hey Jerry, I hear your teaching school at a university,’ and he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m teaching at USC Cinema School.’ And I went, there’s cinema school? I thought there’s a place where you can actually learn cinema. I said I gotta go to this place. I got accepted into the USC film school and that was my connection to the movie business. I came out cold turkey. I had no relatives in the movie business, nobody had a union card, and I basically got into the industry through the film school.”
Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump)
The Director’s Chair
interview with Robert Rodriguez

In 1975 Zemeckis won at the The Academy’s Student Film Award for his film A Field of Honor. Over the years his filmography includes Back to the Future, Cast Away, Flight, and The Walk (which is released in theaters next week).

Related posts:
Professor Jerry Lewis (The Total Filmmaker)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Screenwriting)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Great Filmmakers)
Jerry Lewis (Directing)
Professor Jerry Lewis (Actors)
Filmmaking Quote #13 Robert Zemeckis
Postcard #43 (Savannah)
40 Days of Emotions

Scott W. Smith

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“IF YOU PRETEND THE CHARACTERS CANT SPEAK, AND WRITE A SILENT MOVIE, YOU WILL BE WRITING GREAT DRAMA.”
Screenwriter David Mamet
DAVID MAMET’S BOLD MEMO?

Everything looks worse
In black and white
Kodachrome by Paul Simon
(I love this song, but everything doesn’t look worse in black and white)

Today wraps up a series of posts taken from Jerry Lewis’s book, The Total Film-Maker. These insights are from chapter 14—OTHER FILM-MAKERS, OTHER FILMS.

“I’m convinced that the best example of a total film­ maker was Chaplin. He was totally in, on, and all over his films. He created them in the fullest sense of the word: ex­perimented to see how widely, how cleverly and skillfully he could work.

“Chaplin also had a powerful family of fine comic people who worked with him picture after picture. He often used one actor for three different roles within the same film, changing costume and make-up to change characters. Ford Sterling played three completely different roles in City Lights.

“…Older men like Chaplin and Hitchcock were masters of their craft during their prime years. They were great artists with people and with the tools of their art. George Stevens, in directing A Place in the Sun, Giant and The Greatest Story Ever Told, shows mastery in almost every frame.

“…The work of a Fred Zinnemann comes from knowledge, care and lots of sweat. Films like High Noon, The Sun­downers and A Man for All Seasons are the product of a master craftsman. Any young director can learn quite a lesson by watching what he did with the camera, how he handled the actors and treated the subject matter as the result of both.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

P.S. Those first 30 seconds of the clip from the 6-time Oscar-winning film A Place in the Sun (including Best Picture) where Liz and Monty meet and greet is a great example of fine filmmaking. So much subtext in each other’s “Hello” and great exposition in her line, “I see you had a misspent youth.” In fact, that line covers about 100 pages of the Theodore Dreiser novel— An American Tragedy (1925)— from which the Michael Wilson (a two-time Oscar winner from  McAlester, Oklahoma whose credits include Lawrence of Arabia) and Harry Brown based their screenplay. BTW–Patrick Kearney wrote play on the book that premiered on Broadway in 1926. And to come full circle, I have read that Russian Sergei Eisenstein spent some time in Hollywood wrote a screenplay on the book in 1920 that he hoped Charlie Chaplin would produce. If anyone has a link to Eisenstein’s version I’d love to read it. Josef von Sternberg directed the 1931 version of An American Tragedy from a script by Samuel Hoffenstein. If there was ever a timeless title in our 24-7 newscyle era it’s An American Tragedy.

Related Posts:

Comedy, Cruelty, Chaplin
Chaplin on Embracing Cliches

Scott W. Smith

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“Breaks will come to the young film-maker, but unless he possesses at least rudimentary knowledge they will be of little use to him. Recently I saw a film made by a twenty­ one-year-old, Steven Spielberg. It was twenty-four minutes of film called Amblin, produced for around $17,000. It rocked me back. He displayed an amazing knowledge of film-making as well as creative talent. He was signed to a director’s contract by Universal. Even at twenty-one, he was ready when the break came.”
Actor, writer, director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971)

Related posts:
John Ford’s Advice to Spielberg
Filmamking Quote #21 (Spielberg)
The Next Steven Spielberg
Raiders Revisted (part 1) “What we’re just doing here, really, is designing a ride at Disneyland.”—Spielberg

Scott W. Smith

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“Simplicity makes bet­ter film: master, medium, choker. At least, men like Chaplin and David Lean think it does.”
Jerry Lewis
Referring to camera shots; master (wide shot with all the actors), medium (shot of actor or actors from the general area around the waist up), and choker (close-up shot of actor from the neck up). See Empire’s post on 30 camera shots to see the wider variety of shot options.

Joe Mankiewicz once said, ‘A good director is a man who creates an atmosphere for work.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about. You start out by giving actors a million-dollar hug. You don’t use them and later on start hugging them.”
Jerry Lewis

(The videos here aren’t of Jerry Lewis but are FilmSkills videos that I thought fit pretty good in this post on directing.)

“The actors must know how the scene is being covered. If not, they may spit out everything in the master shot, which is the comprehensive coverage.

If you tell the girl that you are making a master of the boy and girl, followed by a single of the boy, a single of the girl, and a tight two, she’ll save something for the snug stuff. She won’t let the tears go in the master. She’ll whine a lot in that one, which will be matchable, but then sob it out in the close shots.

I speak from personal experience. If I’m going to go facially, visually crazy I won’t do it in a head-to-toe shot. Neither will I dance my best in a close-up. A professional actor’s experience lets him know how to pace himself in the coverage of a scene if that coverage is explained to him.”
Actor/Director Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (Notes from his teaching at USC film school

“I doubt any other industry, or art form, has as many breakable rules. My camera setup is right; the next direc­tor’s is wrong. Or we’re both right and wrong. What mat­ters is the material and what has to be shown. There are no ground rules: no rules to say you must pan if a man walks around a table; no rules to say the camera has to move in any direction. You may pan and then throw half the pan away and cut to a cat. It is, absolutely, the director’s choice.”
Jerry Lewis

P.S. Keep in mind that cameras have gotten smaller (and cheaper) than when Charlie Chaplin and David Lean were making films, and when Lewis published The Total Film-Maker in 1971. So film shooting has evolved in some ways were you have films that are shot almost totally hand held, movies where since it’s being shot digitally that even rehearsals are recorded and sometimes find their way into the movie, more movies where multi-camera shots are used on scenes. Even lower budget movies can employ drone shots, and Go Pros and DSLRs tucked away in places you could never have traditionally put a 35mm Panavision or Mitchell camera. Does the medium shot still rule like it did when John Ford was shooting? That’s a good question. But as far as saving time and money on the set, it’s hard to be the simplicity and dependability of a medium shot.

Related posts:
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 1)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 2)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 3)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 4)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 5)
Garry Marshall’s Directing Tips (Part 6)

Scott W. Smith

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“There were times when [actors] went off somewhere and I’d look them in the eyes and they’re not looking at me. They’re pointing their eyes at me, but they’re looking at a broad over there or a guy over there. They wouldn’t listen. And I finally gave them one shot on the behind and they were very good after that. So it was just a gag, but it worked for me.”
Director Jerry Lewis on using “The Not Listening Stick”

Jerry Lewis directing with "The Not Listening Stick"

Jerry Lewis directing with “The Not Listening Stick”

“Actors are a strange breed of people. They are all nine years old. They stop at nine. If you want to attempt to un­derstand actors, read a quote from Moss Hart’s Act One: ‘The theatre is an inevitable refuge of the unhappy child, and the tantrums and childishness of theatre people are not either accidental nor a necessary weapon of their profession. It has nothing to do with so-called ‘artistic temper­ament.’ The explanation, I think, is a far simpler one. For the most part, they are impaled in childhood like a fly in amber.’

Locked like flies in their million-year-old amber, they are all different, wearing different costumes, giving dif­ferent portrayals at different times, yet basically they are all alike-nine-year-old children.

Speaking now as an actor: tremendous ego is involved and we tend to believe that whatever weaknesses we have are justification for our neuroses. That’s childlike. If the actor were truly adult, in that strict sense of definition, he could not act. He’s standing up there because of needs. He must express himself, be heard.

A director, whether he’s a Wyler or a student film­ maker, cannot run on to the set and yell, ‘Hey, watch me, I’m going to show off.’ That is what actors do. That is the actors need. He’s built that way.”
Writer/director (and one time USC professor) Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker (1971) 

home-alone-movie-

 

At the end of his chapter on actors, Lewis adds, “I have never known a professional actor who did not re­spond to kind and fair treatment, plus a little spoon-feed­ing. Aside from being flies in amber, actors are very human.”

Related Post:
“Never lie to an actor”—Paul Haggis
“No Dogs, No Actors” Hollywood c.1908
Sweeping the Floor
Really Good Writing & Acting “It’s a little cliché, but I’ve learned that you can’t make a movie that even works, much less that’s good, without really good writing and really good acting.”—Ben Affleck
Film Collaborating, Mismatched Souls & Pizza Making 

Scott W. Smith

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“Producers and directors buy a property because they like the story. Actors buy it because they see them­selves in a part. “
Jerry Lewis
The Total Film-Maker

When you read an over 40 year old book on filmmaking you expect there to be some stuff that’s outdated, but here are some screenwriting thoughts from Jerry Lewis found in The Total Film-Maker (1971) that are timeless.

“Finding good properties to film is similar to mining 100­ carat diamonds. They don’t come along often. When they do, bidding is high. Even good original screenplays are comparatively scarce. Every studio and independent com­pany is on a constant search for suitable material, and de­spite the thousands of submissions each year only a few are bought. Of those, only one or two are really outstanding.

“…I tell new writers to study old scripts. Dig up a copy of On the Waterfront, In the Heat of the Night or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. I have found that the best scripts are written, rewritten, and written again before they ever reach the sound stage. The director and writer have married to the point that chopping or adding isn’t an everyday occurrence once shooting begins…Ben Hecht, Abby Mann, Stirling Silliphant, Reginald Rose and Isobel Lennart are my ideas of heavy­weights in screen writing.”
Writer/director/actor Jerry Lewis (The Nutty Professor)
The Total Film-Maker 

Ben Hecht (1894- 1964) won two Oscars (The Scoundrel, The Underworld)
Abby Mann (1927-2008) Oscar-winner for writing Judgment at Nuremberg
Stirling Silliphant (1918-1996) Oscar winner for writing In The Heat of the Night
Reginald Rose (1920-2002) won an Oscar for writing 12 Angry Men and also won three Primetime Emmys
Isobel Lennart (1915-1971) won a WGA Award for writing Funny Girl, and was nominated for two Oscars (The Sundowners and  Love Me, or Leave me) 

P.S. Maybe 2014 is turning into the revival of Jerry Lewis. (Sort of like Johnny Cash experienced in his later years.) Just two days ago in a Rolling Stone online article Peter Relic wrote about an unreleased single the Beastie Boys recorded called The Jerry Lewis that included Ad-Rock rapping “Hey, yo Mike! Let’s do the Jerry Lewis!” and Mike D. responding, “My baby does the Jerry Lewis!”

When Jerry Lewis has Rolling Stone magazine, the Beastie Boys, and Screenwriting from Iowa talking about him in 2014, you know his stock is rising.

Related posts:
The Prophet Ben Hecht
Rock, Paper, Scissors & Screenwriting
Writing Actor Bait (Tip #64)

Scott W. Smith 

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“I’ll tell you what I did to become a film-maker. I had this drive and I was curious.”
Jerry Lewis
Actor, producer, director, writer, composer, etc.

“You’ll be unstoppable if you become technical as well as creative.”
Robert Rodriguez
Writer, producer, director, editor, cameraman, composer etc.

“Where do you start? There’s no Monopoly board. No Start. Do Not Pass Go. I think you start out by just being there, and being curious and having the drive to make films.

More important: make film, shoot film, run film. Do something.
Make film. Shoot anything.

It does not have to be sound.

It does not have to be titled.
It does not have to be color.
There is no have to. Just do.
And show it to somebody. If it is an audience of one, do and show, and then try it again. That is how.

It sounds simple.
It’s not. Then again, it is.”
Producer, director, writer, actor Jerry Lewis 
Prologue to The Total Film-Maker

Keep in mind those words were first published in 1971 when making a film meant literally shooting and editing film.    There were hard cost to buying and developing film even if you owed or borrowed a camera. But in the digital age today it’s easier than ever to “Do something” and to “Shoot anything.”

I just shot an edited a promotional project for a talent agency and looking back the only hard cost involved was a few gallons of gas. While the cost of gas has risen greatly since 1971 (when the average gallon cost 36 cents) the cost of shooting something and showing it to an audience has dropped considerably.

Maybe not a feature film full of CGI, with the most expensive acting talent, and the latest equipment—but if you’re resourceful and driven you can do something today—as in this very day— for less than a tank of gas. It may just be you producing, directing, writing, shooting, editing–even being on camera—and that’s okay. “Do something” even “If it is an audience of one”—i.e. “The Total Film-Maker.”

“Charlie Chaplin was the first great total film-maker.”
Jerry Lewis

To round out this post, let’s go back to Lewis— “I believe that the quickest way to find out your capacity for being a total film-maker is to determine whether or not you have something to say on film.”

P.S. If it helps, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez started out making videos of his family for his family. Today the producer/director/editor/cameraman/composer/actor/etc. is the epitome of The Total Film-Maker.   Somebody at the Austin Film Festival, South by Southwest, or the Aloma Drafthouse Cinema in Austin needs to arrange Robert Rodriguez interviewing Jerry Lewis before the 88-year-old Lewis makes his final stage exit.

Related Website: Justin Bozung has a site called The Jerry Lewis Internet Archive; A Research Hub Dedicated to the The Total Film-Maker—Mr. Jerry Lewis.

 

Related Posts:

Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Creative Learning 2.0
Overnight Success
The Path is Gone
A New Kind of Filmmaker
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
The 10-Minute Film School (with Professor Rodriguez)
The Rise of Storyteller with Cameras (It’s okay to create “a thousand layers of garbage”—it’s part of the transformative learning process.)

Scott W.Smith

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