Guy Magar (GM): Many moons ago I started out by going to
two film schools, where I fell in love with the art and craft
of filmmaking. Although these schools were top notch in many ways,
I never felt like I totally got what I needed from them. Since
that time, throughout my career, I've come to realize that there
is only one great, fast process to learn directing. That process
is for a working, professional director to open up his intimate
working techniques -- to share what he knows from the page to
the shoot to the finished film. Two years ago, a group of industry
friends encouraged me to design a two-day, 16-hour seminar that
would provide just such a unique and comprehensive learning experience
for filmmakers... and my Action/Cut Directing Film Seminar was
born. It's been difficult to juggle 12 seminars a year with my
production work, but so far it's working and the positive responses
have been amazing. That's what keeps me going. We're now branching
out internationally and have just been invited to Malaysia to
bring the seminar there in January.
Tell me a bit about your personal life. I know you're married
and you live in LA.
I moved to Los Angeles from New York about 25 short years ago
when I was accepted at the American Film Institute. It's been
one wild rollercoaster ride ever since. I am very lucky to have
developed a directing career both in the feature film and television
arenas and I enjoy going back and forth between them. It's not
the end result of the journey that matters, but enjoying the journey
itself, the career, the adventure... and that means balancing
a professional life with a personal one. On that count I completely
lucked out and found my perfect soulmate wife/partner, and that's
made the career ride that much more wonderfully enjoyable and
richer every day.
Can anyone learn to direct? And is there a certain type of person
or personality type which is more suited to a directing career?
This is a yes and no answer... Yes, anyone can learn to direct
from the right pro instructor and in two days they can have all
the basic tools and procedural "know how" they'll need.
However, the job of a director is to visualize material and translate
a scripted story to the screen. How well one develops his or her
visualization skills separates the average director from the great
one. I'm sure only Spielberg was born with this talent, though!
Developing this ability can only come from experience, from doing
it over and over as often as you can, starting with shorts and
moving to longer pieces. How well and how fast each person develops
this skill is subjective and personal to their own abilities and
energies in getting films done.
personalities, being an extrovert helps a lot because social skills
in networking can usually get you farther than talent, at least
in the beginning of a career. But after you get the door open,
you better have the goods to deliver.
So you agree with the late, great Orson Welles, who reportedly
once said 'everything you need to know about directing you can
learn in two days?
Orson would have loved Action/Cut! Yes, you can learn all the
basics in a very structured and detailed two-day course which
is comprehensively designed... but then you have to put it to
practice and develop your own visualization skills by doing it
a lot... just like everything else you want to do well in life.
Tell me about the project you're working on now, as well as a
couple of other memorable directing gigs you've had over the years.
GM: I just finished a fun and exciting picture for Miramax/Dimension
that they're releasing. It is a sequel of a well-known franchise...Children
of the Corn: Revelation, which had a terrific script and started
many years ago with Stephen King's original story. Bob Weinstein
has been a fan of my work and we were looking for a project when
this came up. His vision was "a ghost story in a tenement
building a la The Shining," but of course with a much smaller
budget and an even smaller schedule. What I love about the thriller
genre is that it gives a director a lot of latitude at visualization.
It's all about creating mood and suspenseful storytelling -- using
every visual tool available. For instance, I used a slow, floor-level
steadicam shot that followed a heroine's footsteps on a creaky
floor as she approached a dark, creepy hallway corner. This is
much more fun to visually create than a straight drama or comedy,
which is primarily dependent on dialogue and its delivery.
memorable story? On one of my previous pictures, Showdown, I had
cast Matt LeBlanc in his first feature role and he was terrific
as a dramatic actor. A few months after we wrapped, I remember
him telling me about this audition for a silly show about six
friends in an apartment and how he didn't even feel like going.
I encouraged him not to miss any audition, as you never know when
you're gonna hit the lottery. The lottery for every actor is to
star in a hit series. It's still the fastest way to become a star
in America. He reluctantly went to the audition... it was for
Friends and Matt obviously won the lottery that day.
there is a price to pay as actors and directors in that they can
get pidgeon-holed at whatever they do well. Its tough for
sitcom stars to be taken seriously as dramatic actors. Which is
a shame because everyone who sees Showdown is blown away that
Matt has such dramatic range.
What's the most important thing a director should know?
Well, two things: first, the editing craft -- how all the pieces
come together to create scenes and tell a two-hour film story.
You have to have that knowledge to figure out how to shoot, how
to organize your schedule, and make sure you get all the little
pieces that will visually translate the screenplay. Also, editing
teaches you how to transition between scenes, how to pace a story,
how to structure plot, what to show or hear or not show or hear,
and it's a great learning tool for studying an actors performance
and how to maximize it by using the best pieces and making them
a director needs to learn and understand the acting craft. It's
a very complex process and unfortunately a lot of directors don't
know a lot about acting. They never took the time to learn it.
I spent two years in New York studying it before starting to direct
dramatic work. You have to love actors and what they bring to
your story and have the awareness and knowledge of how to communicate
with them. You also have to be able to nurture, inspire and guide
them to give you their best performance in every scene. Young
filmmakers are so absorbed with technical and equipment matters
that they forget that once a camera is loaded and focused and
the set is lit, how are they now going to deal with what's in
front of the lens? So I believe leaning editing and acting is
crucial for any aspiring director.
Who is your favorite director, Guy, and why?
Oliver Stone, because he's the gutsiest American director out
there. His work has tremendous emotional wallop and since I am
from the school that says films should be experienced and not
just watched, Oliver dazzles me every time. He directs from the
gut. His visual interpretation of material is amazing and gut-wrenching
though sometimes overblown at least he's always going for it.
I learned a lot from his work and I am always inspired to put
that cathartic energy into mine. I tried to reach out to him early
on and hoped he could be a mentor but it never happened. Oh well,
his loss. I would have been a great student/assistant and would
have made him laugh a lot!
What are the five or 10 best films to watch if one wants to see
great direction, according to Guy Magar?
Stone's Born on the Fourth of July is one of those amazing films
I learn from and appreciate every time I see it. I'm sure part
of this is that I come from that generation and the film resonates
personally for me. Scorsese is another favorite and it doesn't
get much better than Raging Bull or the first half of Goodfellas.
I also love Wolfgang Petersen's wondrous Das Boot. As you can
see, emotional story wallop and experiencing the reality of a
story is what thrills me. For me, great directors are also about
range of work and Milos Forman is one of the greats. His body
of work is tough to beat. From One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
to Amadeus to People vs. Larry Flynt.
first two films were special, but his recent work didn't compare.
Coppola's first two Godfather films and his Apocalypse Now are
on my fave list, though not the 'Redux' version, which I recently
saw and which ruined it for me.
who says the redux is a better version is full of crap and prey
to the hype of its re-release. Not a minute of added footage helped
the film in any way and I'll debate anyone on this. Sorry, Francis...
you were right the first time.
What directing styles do you admire most? For example, do you
enjoy the work of a Martin Scorsese with his constantly moving
camera more than the work of John Ford, where the camera was much
I enjoy the work of many directors, but not necessarily a particular
style. For me, great directing is adapting a style to a particular
story. A moviemaker must serve the story he is telling and "find"
the right style for each story. Nothing is worse than seeing a
great story directed with the wrong style for it. That's one of
the thrilling things about filmmaking -- no two stories are the
same, so every time you're at bat, it's a whole new ballgame.
That's the challenge of directing. Even more stationary than Ford
was Kurosawa, whose films I very much admire as poetic filmmaking...but
that's a very theatrical style, very deliberate and slow paced.
It's almost framing for a stage play, and very well-adapted to
his own cultural background. But I'd never use that style today
to tell a story because it wouldn't pass any commercial realities.
I live and work in the world of industry features and television
and whatever style a story demands should also fit within those
you want to make obscure arty films for you and your friends,
that's great. But if you want to be a professional director, then
you better deliver great visual storytelling within a commercial
framework. For example, in TV, you would never direct a La Femme
Nikita with the style of a Law & Order...or a Judging Amy
with the style of an ER. It would be all wrong. That's what I
If one intends to become a film director, how should one prepare
and educate oneself? In other words, if I'm a student who wants
to direct later on, what courses would be most valuable? Architecture?
Philosophy? Literature? Photography? Music?
Well, to be roundly educated is very important to a director's
life experience and development of his/her artistic taste. Directors
like Barry Levinson, Larry Kasdan and Ridley Scott are incredibly
intelligent guys. Making movies at a high quality level is very
much an intellectual challenge... and you better have the goods
to meet it. I am a big believer in film schools, but not just
for the traditional reasons. Not just for the experience and knowledge
in filmmaking basics you pick up, but for you to find out if you
truly love the craft. This is crucial! I went to film schools
because I knew what a tough, competitive industry this is and
frankly, I didn't want to throw my hat in the ring unless 1) I
had some promise of talent, and 2) I loved it enough to endure
whatever came my way and muster the energy to break through. If
you don't love it or have potential talent, please find something
else to do with your life, because this is just too tough a way
to make a living. You'll starve and won't be a happy camper. Film
schools are a great place to fall in love with the craft or not,
and to make some short films to see if you do have promise. While
at the London International Film School, I made a 12-minute black
and white documentary that cost $500 and it won a Special Jury
Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I knew
then I could make this work.
Why are there so few female directors, and do you see that situation
Directing is a tough profession... meaning it is physically exhausting
and intellectually challenging, and women can certainly match
that any day. However, it also demands great leadership qualities,
where you are truly the center of a film project with many, sometimes
hundreds, of people, from cast to crews to teamsters, who take
their cues from you, the director. Traditionally in our culture,
right or wrong, men have been in leadership positions in almost
every industry, and in film, where tons of money is at stake,
the guys have historically been at the forefront of that responsibility.
Also, from the early days of the industry, the movie moguls were
all men -- men who chose other men to direct movies and trust
with their financing.
remember reading recently that less than five percent of DGA members
are women. That's a tough number. The only way that changes is
for more and more women to prove they can do it and at a commercial
level. I recently had a wonderful female director as a guest speaker
at my seminar. I've seen her work and know she's got the talent
and toughness to direct; she's very smart, and I would trust her
to handle any project. Her name is Dennie Gordon and shes
directed everything from The Practice to Ally McBeal to her first
feature, Joe Dirt. She's also a DGA TV Award winner. This is a
woman who will not be denied and when I asked her how she handled
the "chick thing" she simply said she never paid attention
to it and just got on with pursuing her directing dreams. Amen!
I don't have to tell you that directing a film is an all-consuming
task. How do you choose your projects?
It is difficult to choose projects, as you better be in love with
them, since you know going in it's going to be a long haul to
set-it up and get it financed, never mind actually making it.
And it's very seldom you read material you fall in love with.
Why? Because there are few great writers around and fewer original
stories, well-told. And even if you do find a great script, maybe
the story is of no great interest to you or to your sensibilities.
This is why I write my own projects. Because if a story is burning
in me enough to find the time to develop it and write it, then
I know I love it from the start. Except for this last Dimension
picture, I have written or co-written every feature I made. And
by the way, to all writers reading this, there is no greater joy
in life for a director than to direct his/her own material. It
is so difficult to get projects going, that directors have to
constantly push a number of projects forward and hope one finally
gets a green light.
two projects are ever the same or come together the same, so there
is no formula. For example, I was recently starting prep a few
weeks ago on a terrific project that was offered to me, one of
the very few I immediately liked, and I even started scouting
a relentless chase story from start to end; very exciting action
and a cool X-Men type concept. At the last minute some financing
fell through and now were looking to replace that. This
is typical, by the way. Also, Bob Weinstein really liked the picture
I just finished for him and we're looking for more projects for
me to do for Dimension. I am also getting closer on completing
financing on two of my own screenplays. And this is how it goes,
for everyone... pushing projects forward, waiting for that green
light. Even the biggest directors can go a year or two or three
without a picture coming together for them. A star drops out,
a supportive executive gets fired... shit happens. In television,
it works almost exclusively by who knows you. I would love to
direct The West Wing or Sopranos or Six Feet Under, but those
particular showrunners don't know me personally. So you gotta
find a way to meet them and introduce them to your work... which
is not easy, as those guys are busier than hell running their
series and meeting air dates.
Do you believe that directing is an art form, in the way that
painting and playing music are art forms, or do you think directing
is more of an "interpretation" of an art form.
Directing is not an art form for me -- it's a craft. It's an amazingly
complex and challenging craft. For me, true "art" is
something you achieve by yourself... a great writer, a great sculptor,
a great musician... those people are artists. But when you need
hundreds of people to collaborate with, from cast to crews to
post services, then it becomes a craft. Filmmaking is great craftsmanship...
however, if you can manage to write and direct your material,
you're getting closer to the "artist" part. Again, I
encourage every writer to learn to direct and film his own stories.
This is the greatest joy I ever had as a filmmaker. The key here
is to become a great writer first and then make them want your
next piece so badly that you force them to let you direct as a
condition to get your material. Randall Wallace, who is a great
writer first, finally got his chance to direct when his Braveheart
won so much deserved acclaim that they wanted his next script
very badly. There's no secret here, it's that old Stallone thing:
'you want my script, then I do it.' But they better want it bad
enough. That's why I say the fastest way to directing is to become
a good writer first.
What are some of the career goals you've set for yourself that
you have yet to achieve?
As I said earlier, for me it has never been about goals...if it
is, then 99 percent of filmmakers will be disappointed, and who
wants that? For me, the thrill is the journey, wherever it may
go...the thrill is the wild ride. Every director has his/her own
directing career journey. If you love filmmaking and you are committed
to being one on a professional level and making it your career,
then you better enjoy the journey. When things are going my way
and I am directing, you won't find a happier moviemaker alive...when
they are not, my personal life, my friends, my family, my other
interests, my sense of humor, and my positive love of the craft
keep me going and pushing till those damn red and yellow lights
turn green...and I work hard every day running those lights and
tryin' to stay on the green ones.
A director's life can seem unstable at times, with all the traveling
and all the requirements on one's personal life. What are the
benefits and drawbacks of a directing career?
It's a double-edged sword, as all good things are. The good parts
are the traveling to great places and the many people you meet
and work with, and the thrill of getting to do your thing, whether
on a feature or TV show. And needless to say it's tough to beat
the money. The lousy parts are being away from your home, your
loved ones, your friends, your dog, and living in hotels. And
when you're working you focus so intently on the work and pulling
off whatever project challenge that other parts of your life and
personal matters are just put on hold. When you're away for three
to six months, it's really tough to regroup and catch up on everything
else on your plate. But I have yet to learn of a more exciting
or challenging job in life than being a director.
You obviously love it, as I do. Tell me about your philosophy
regarding the Action/Cut Directing course. In other words, how
did you build the curriculum, and why did you construct it the
way you have?
If you "see it" and "hear it" as it actually
happened for the director who created it and if that director
can then share his thoughts with you, you'll simply learn so much
more than in any book or academic lecture or in some course taught
by people who haven't done it on a professional level. I've been
to and enjoyed artsy-fartsy forums and discussions about Fellini
or Godard or Visconte but none of that ever helped me learn how
to actually make a movie. Now, if a pro director is right there
in front of me and gives me his scene pages and then makes me
understand how he reads that scene, what he sees in it, how he
visualized it, and how his directorial mind works in breaking
it all down to a practical plan of shooting that scene, and then
shows me the actual shots and how it was all done and why, and
then shows me the finished scene as it came together with music,
effects, etc... I think I'd learn a hell of a lot real fast! That's
the concept behind the Action/Cut course and it's how I designed
the curriculum. Then I rounded it all out with sessions on how
to raise money for your indie film, how to find distribution,
what festivals are really about, how to build a director's reel
-- I wanted to offer a complete moviemaking experience and provide
filmmakers everywhere with this info that I never had from a pro
How often do you teach, and where?
I can only manage to juggle six seminars in the fall and six in
the spring. Coming up next month we'll be in San Francisco, Cleveland,
Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Miami.
Is there anything you'd like to add about Action/Cut, your career,
or the directing process that we haven't covered?
Action/Cut has been really special for me in that its allowed
me to meet so many filmmakers across the country and in Canada,
and we are planning on taking it to other countries soon. Whoever
can't attend can still learn filmmaking through Action/Cut with
the new video collection. That alone has been very gratifying,
as people have really raved about it. Finally, as important as
it is for every director to work and build credits and make a
living, don't get so caught up in its monumental career challenge
that you forget to have a personal life and do all the things
you want to do outside the film world...like travel, nurturing
a family, enjoying friends. Take the time to be good to you...go
play that round of golf with your buddies, and after you shoot
a lousy score, come back with a vengeance and re-focus and do
whatever it takes to get behind a camera and call Action. Take
no prisoners. That's my motto.
INTERVIEW WITH GUY MAGAR
GUY MAGAR'S Children The Of The Corn: Revelation
By Kimberly Shane O'Hara
Magar welcomed me warmly into his home and offered me a glass
of red wine. As I tend to get chatty on wine, I declined as this
was Guy's time to talk about his extensive and dynamic career.
As a director/writer, Guy Magar just completed the suspense thriller
Children Of The Corn: Revelation for the Miramax/Dimension label.
His additional film directing/writing credits include Showdown,
starring Matt LeBlanc of TV's "Friends," Stepfather
3 (HBO World Premiere), and the cult thrillers Retribution &
Dark Avenger. His extensive television directing credits include
"La Femme Nikita," "Sliders," "Nowhere
Man," "Welcome to Paradox," "The Young Riders,"
and "Hunter." He has received awards from the American
Screenwriters Association, the Chicago International Film/TV Fest,
and the San Francisco International Film Fest.
talk a bit about your current film, Children Of The Corn: Revelation.
What was its evolution from concept to script to screen?
off, when you take on a picture that is a sequel, especially one
based on Stephen King material, you are walking a fine line between
staying true to the original concept and making it fresh for the
new audience of the picture. Sally Smith, the writer, and I focused
as much as we could on keeping that very fine balance. The picture
used to have a much larger opening before the girl arrives to
find her missing grandmother -- and when we were editing the picture,
we found that we had given away too much information in the beginning
and not kept enough of a mystery, yet we couldn't get rid of all
of it because the story was based on the grandmother, what happens
to her and the history behind it. The cool concept that Bob Weinstein
originally gave me for the film was "The Shining as a low
budget film in a tenement building." So I thought, "Oh,
he wants a ghost story"... so this is much more a spooky/suspense
ghost story than a horror film.
aspects of the Children Of The Corn concept by Stephen King did
you consciously stray from?
King is always able to create situations and characters where
evil forces might be lurking. The original concept that King wrote
was about children overtaken by evil forces. Where I went my own
course was in the casting of the kids. The original kids from
the first Children Of The Corn were hardened kids. I decided to
go against type, and therefore cast the most cute, adorable children
I could find in Vancouver whom the audience would find hard to
believe could be involved in anything evil and sinister. The two
lead children we cast (Taylor Hobbs and Jeff Ballard) understood
their characters' thinking. When you first meet them, you wouldn't
think for a second that they could be evil ... but they also don't
seem to be quite right.
there a table reading of the script after the cast came aboard,
and if so, how much was changed from this process? Did you collaborate
with the writer?
writer was in L.A. so we prepared the script there, but we shot
in Vancouver (cost factor). The entire cast had to come from Canada
due to the financial breaks. The table reading was the day before
shooting! We got a green light 3 weeks prior to the film. This
was the shortest prep I have ever had. We also had to wait for
Bob Weinstein to look at the casting tapes to approve the lead
actress, Claudette Mink. We then did a table reading where the
writer was not present as she was in L.A. Any script changes or
notes I made quickly that evening myself with my producer's approval
because they were minor and we were under the gun.
much did you improvise, or, did you mainly stick to the script?
How much of the script was lost in the editing process?
the 6 weeks in L.A. doing revisions, the writer and I got along
fabulously and our vision of the film was the same. So there was
a great trust factor between writer and director. So when the
time came to make dialogue or location changes to make the scenes
work, there was an inherent trust in me from the writer that I
was going to take care of her material. We had worked so well
together, that was not a problem. When the movie was completed,
and it was shown to the writer, she was thrilled.
like happy writers.
a director it feels good when the whole creative team, producers,
writer, execs are happy, it feels good because you know you achieved
liked your use of effects in the film. Reflections, fire, steam,
shadows ... all very tastefully done and you are obviously a pro.
a picture like this which has a budget of under $2 million dollars,
you have to be real careful about how you plan on doing effects.
You have to sit down with your production manager and budget it
out. What is best for the story? What can be eliminated or changed?
What can be done physically if that is cheaper than CGI.
those decisions, you almost need as a director to have a producing
background to know what things cost, and the quickest and faster
way to execute. I have an advantage in doing so for two reasons:
first, I come from television and in TV you have to think very
quickly on your feet and on set. Second, I have also produced
my previous films, so I come from an indie producing background,
and therefore I have worked on my own budgets and know how to
juggle and what things cost.
you have made those decisions of what will be done on set or not,
you sit down with your DP. I am very camera oriented, so I have
a visual feel for the picture. What is the mood I am looking for
here? Do we want shadows? Do we want backlight? There is a lot
of communication involved and I guide the DP in what directions
to go including the moody visual effects you mentioned.
were chilling and clever moments in the film like the blood on
the gallon of milk before panning up to the severed shopkeeper's
head in the freezer, and the presence of the train. Were these
moments scripted or was it a directorial choice?
of those things were my choice and here is why. First off, for
the reveal of the head in the freezer ... in the script it says
she leaves the store, and we move to the freezer and find the
head of the guy who ran the convenience store. Now this is a very
interesting question in how a director interprets the writer.
The writer here in L.A. may not have had a very specific location
in mind, and one of the problems a director has is to visually
interpret that location. Where is the camera? How can we build
up the suspense? I decided to take something as innocent as a
gallon of milk, show blood on it, and then reveal the man's head
above it on the freezer. This is an example of directing and interpreting
the visual story as the milk was not scripted.
the train, in the beginning of the screenplay, it says the grandmother
(Hattie Sommes played by Louise Grant) comes out looking for the
whispering children. She gets run over by a truck. Location scouting
in a new city like Vancouver, this Gothic sinister-looking building
(which was the primary location) was not easy to find. So when
we found one that would set the mood for evil forces lurking inside,
we had to make the decision to deal with train tracks twenty feet
from the building (trains would go by every hour, and sometimes
twice an hour) or keep our three location scouts looking.
became a big decision to put up with this incredible problem that
could cost us a lot of money if we don't make our days. Finally
the decision was made by my producers (Michael Leahy and Lauren
Feige) and myself that it was worth it. Then I thought, why can't
Hattie get hit by a train versus a truck? The train ended up adding
production value and weirdness that this apartment building was
so close to the tracks. In reality, it is a storage house, no
one lives there. The train became part of the story and part of
the geographic mood of the movie. So no, it wasn't scripted.
lead (Claudette Mink) got quite a workout making this film from
screaming to fleeing explosions. How do you persuade an actress
to scream, take after take after take? When they read the script
do they understand the energy level they will have to maintain?
first scene in the movie, she gets dropped off by a taxi cab driver
who happens to be me (I play the same cabdriver in every one of
my features. Why should actors have all the fun?) I look at the
tenement building and say "Lots of luck" to her. As
an inside joke, as the director, I am saying lots of luck to the
actress for what she's about to go through.
Mink is an unusual actress I met in a "Welcome to Paradox"
episode and then she guest-starred for me in a "Sliders"
episode. She has such a wide range as an actress. She brings to
the table no fear, and is very rugged. So I was not worried about
going through the paces with her. As I knew she would, she rolled
up her sleeves and pushed through nailing a lot of emotional scenes,
and uncomfortable action sequences. It is part of the director's
job to nurture and inspire the actor at any moment in any scene
to give their best performance. If she had to do ten takes of
screaming, then it was important for me to make her comfortable
enough during the day and remind her 'what this was about', to
keep her focused. The rest is her great talent and concentration.
great part about working with actors the second and third time
is that you build a bond there, a trust, and a lot of what happens
on the set between an actor and a director is based on that trust.
If you say "That was really great ... but I need it three
times bigger," you get it. The actor trusts that you do need
it three times bigger and you are not pushing them for no reason.
liked the wacky supporting characters of film; the paranoid gun-toting
Stan (Michael Rogers), Jerry, the pothead (Troy Yorke), the cranky
man in the wheelchair (John Destry), and Tiffany the stripper
(Crystal Lowe). Did you alter any characters from how they were
I came aboard, there were a lot more characters living in the
building in the script and that was one of the reasons I liked
the screenplay. But we got rid of some characters in the last
revisions and then in the editing process as the storytelling
focused to the few you mentioned who all were wonderful. The great
thing about filmmaking is, you start with a screenplay, the writer's
vision, but the translation of that vision to the screen becomes
a different process. Some of the moments that worked on paper
didn't work on film, or some of the moments not emphasized on
paper become vital to the film. There is a big difference between
enriching the story with a lot of details, and staying "on
story." Usually, if you don't catch it at the screenwriting
stage, you are going to catch it at the editing stage.
the world of independent filmmaking, where budgets and schedules
are so crucial, you try and streamline the screenplay as close
as humanly possible to what scenes and characters are absolutely
necessary and will focus and pace the story. Try to answer these
questions in the script stage because by the editorial stage it
will have cost you a lot more money.
choice of art direction as well as music (calypso) really enhanced
the bloody BBQ scene. What was your process of constructing this
is one of the moments where you think about pacing the picture
as it can't be scary the whole time. Your story won't have any
depth and it will become boring. The first thing is to humanize
the characters and you do that so people really freak out when
they are disposed. In this BBQ scene, pothead Jerry is relaxing,
drinking, smoking a joint, listening to music, and waiting for
this beautiful girl he invited (Claudette Mink) to come up for
a BBQ. The mood and the setting had to be in such a way where
you had no idea what the scene was going to develop into. The
more you do that as a visual director, the more interesting your
movie twists are and the more interested the audience is going
to be getting sucked into the story.
has television changed for the director or writer over the last
is still ruled and run by producer/writers as it was 20 years
ago, but their power has waned as the networks have a much bigger
say these days. The Show Runner started as a staff writer because
someone liked a spec script they wrote, and then they gradually
became story editor, executive story editor, series consultant,
etc. ... making network contacts along the way. They then either
come up with a great idea for a series or are entrusted by a network
to run a new show. Here is where they get their stripes as Show
Runner ... a TV writer's dream. Here is lots of money and all
the power. The Show Runner hires all the writers, producers, directors
and you need to serve him/her for what they want to do in each
relationship with runners and directors is almost 100% political.
If you've delivered, and by the way, delivered in television means
on budget and on schedule not necessarily a great show, you are
probably coming back. If you pissed someone off, was "difficult"
to work with, the star doesn't like you, or especially if you
didn't meet the grueling schedule, you are probably not coming
back even if you did a great show. Sad facts of life!
one thing which is different these days from when I started out
was Show Runners were more open to looking at director reels and
meeting new directors and writers and hiring who they wanted.
I have worked on 25 different series for many of those guys, but
it is no longer the case for a director. Now, if you know or have
worked for one or two Show Runners, then they will hire you. But
it has become an extremely tough business, because if they don't
know you, you aren't working no matter what you've accomplished.
The politics of directing episodic television has changed and
now it is based on previous relationships.
about the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) and their evolution over
the last twenty years?
networks have been steadily losing viewers for the last 20 years
due to the amazing growth of cable, Internet, etc. The fear factor
based on the large amounts of money invested in a series makes
the executives in charge of each show extremely paranoid, and
again, they only want to hire the people they know and trust.
So even if the Show Runner does have a relationship with a writer
or director, if they can't talk the network into approving you,
and the network gets final approval, then you aren't directing
or writing on that show.
sounds very grim...
is a big political problem meeting Show Runners and difficult
for you or your agent to show them your work, and then when you
do, you better hope you are on the "hire" list for the
network executives of that show. If you aren't on that list, it's
real tough and competitive. If you can find a way to get to an
Aaron Sorkin ("The West Wing"), or Dick Wolf ("Law
And Order"), or David Chase ("The Sopranos"), in
my opinion those guys are doing the best dramatic writing today
and directing or writing for them is as good as it gets in TV.
have worked as a director on a variety of television shows. What
have you enjoyed most about your television experiences and the
scripts you have directed for TV?
you work on a show, it's a 15 day job. You prepare for 7 days,
shoot in 7 days, edit for one and move on. Therefore, the variety
of work and experience in television is unmatchable. If you are
working a lot, you could do 8-10 different shows a year, all with
a different set of priorities, writers, and visual styles. If
you are doing "ER," you better love Steadicam work because
most of those shots are on a Steadicam. In the end, each show
has its own set of demands, and you obtain an incredible amount
of experience adapting to that particular show's formula. It's
a highly pressurized 15 days but a lot of fun if you love filmmaking.
episodes that stand out as particularly satisfying?
worked with Producer Frank Lupo, Stephen Cannell's old partner,
on an episode of "Hunter." I was handed a script that
was not very good, and so I said to Frank, "We are going
to kill ourselves over the next 15 days to make this ... can I
ask you not to sleep tonight and fix this script?" He not
only agreed, but rewrote the script from A-Z into a whole new
story, and it turned into a wonderful script and a special episode.
"La Femme Nikita" clip I viewed on your reel was very
daring, and exemplified a personal choice. You hold on an expression
of the lead, Peta Wilson, in a very tight close up, then dissolve
into flashback, back on her again, back into a flashback, and
then you come back and stay on her for quite a long time. I find
that very interesting that you were allowed to do that on an action
show. It was a very independent "dogma" style!
showed your independent filmmaking roots there. What was the reception
the screenplay, there was no flashback. She was just watching
the girlfriend sleeping, whom she hadn't seen since they were
kids. Nikita was a very edgy show and run by a very cool producer,
Joel Surnow. The relationship between Nikita and her friend needed
resonance, and I got the idea to shoot the flashback of when they
were kids and add it to the scene's moment to enlighten it. When
I ran it by Joel he thought it was just what the scene needed
and approved it, so we shot it. The rest was done in the editing
room ... superimposing slow motion shots (with Vaseline on the
lens) of two kids with the same hair color as the two adult actresses
playing together over Peta's face.
is one of the best actresses in television and with the expression
on her face, she was able to give so much emotional backstory
to the moment. In the editing room, I was able to hold on her
as long as I did, and when you have a great, sensitive producer
like Joel who agreed, we kept it in the show.
talk a little bit about the process of directing the television
show "Nowhere Man" with Bruce Greenwood. This show had
a very experimental (like Barbarella) look and tone. Did you make
the stylistic decisions or did they come from the executive level?
Man" was a very on-the-edge dramatic series where the style
existed before I came on. Executive Producer Larry Herzog explained
he basically wanted two types of shots for every scene: get as
wide as possible and get as tight as possible. He didn't want
any middle-sized shots. It was brilliant on his part to do that,
as the real wide shots with one character created a great sense
of loneliness and separation from reality. The tight close ups
exposed the great paranoia that the character was experiencing.
It worked, as that was what the show was about.
wrote, directed and produced the indie feature, Showdown. I liked
the lead characters you created, Vinnie and Anthony.
was played by a wonderful actor, Jay Acovone ... Matt LeBlanc
played Anthony, and the chemistry between them was terrific. Matt,
at the time, was not very fond of the business and had a lot of
disappointments, and was kind of not going anywhere quickly.
became close friends, and two months after the movie, he called
me to say he had an audition for this silly concept of 6 people
living in an apartment in N.Y. I reminded him, that as an actor,
it is his job to go to every possible audition, because you never
know when you are going to hit the lottery ticket. The fastest
way to stardom is to star in a television series that's a hit.
This audition turned out to be for "Friends." Now Matt
is a star, and is also a very special dramatic actor, when properly
inspired, which most people do not know.
Vinnie is in the church and you flashback to the "good days,"
I was very impressed with the style and execution of these flashbacks;
the pink tone, the Coney Island feel and the snappy jazz music.
When you come back to Vinnie each time, he is then crying in the
church. What was the goal?
is a story about redemption. I asked myself, 'what could be one
of the worst thing that you could possibly do', and what came
to mind was killing your best friend. So, when Vinnie was a mobster
in New York, in a shoot out, he accidentally kills his best friend.
He then retires from the mob and moves to California. He is a
very depressed man and very guilt ridden. These scenes juxtapose
the parallel between the good times back then and his present
am very interested in your Action/Cut Filmmaking Seminars. You
do 12 seminars a year, even with your busy schedule. What inspired
you to start it?
went to two top film schools and loved both but I wasn't taught
filmmaking the way I wish I had been taught. Shooting a 5-minute
film is great and all, but just to learn from experience is a
much longer process than to quickly learn from somebody in the
trenches. That somebody can only be a professional working director
who opens his work process to people who want to learn, and that's
why I founded Action/Cut, to do just that.
seminar is structured around various scene studies. Everyone reads
a scene (Action/Cut always starts on the written page) and then
we talk about how we are going to take this writing and interpret
it to film. Maybe the scene would play better or be more effective
if shot at night? In other words, how are we going to visually
translate the scene? Then after we do a shot list, I turn off
the lights and show them the dailies (edited for the class) of
all the shots off that list. When people see and hear how it all
happened, it is a lot more effective as a learning process than
just being spoken to. I then play the completed scene so they
fully understand how to get from the page to the screen.
a screenwriting seminar talks about a three act structure, character
development and arcs, which is all well and good, the one missing
element is how to visually interpret the material. Once a writer
understands that, their writing is reflected in a different way
with a different choice of words. For example, we talk about how
to open a movie visually. I have had writers take my seminar and
race home and change the opening of their script. They realize
they are not opening their movie properly.
seminar makes writers realize how directors interpret words on
paper and how they then turn this around into a visual film. The
more visually a writer can write achieves two things: one, it
makes your visual story intentions more apparent for a director
or anyone who reads the script to get it the way the writer wants
them to. Second, the screenplay will be more marketable. People
can "see" the film as they read the screenplay. "Bob
arrives breathlessly at the store" is a much more visual
picture than "Bob runs to the store" which is strictly
a final note, the seminar is also now on DVD and VHS as a 12-hour
learning home study course Pro Collection.
do you deal with friction in this business-on set or with producers,
investors, writers, executives-and what insight can you provide
for newcomers and also for people who have been in the business
occurs when a lot of money is involved mixed with egos. Friction
is part of the ballgame in this business. This is a people "power"
business. As a writer, you can lock yourself in a room and not
deal with people and write tremendous stories with great characters
and make a great living, and not have to deal with the world ...
you let your agent do that. If you are a producer or a director,
how you deal with people can be more important than talent. Networking,
which is what we open the seminar with, is probably the most important
thing that anyone in the business needs to do well. The ability
to get along, handle friction, because it is a very highly pressurized
world that we live in, especially in production or raising money.
Someone who gets into this crazy business, needs to remember two
things: one, have a great sense of humor about it; and two, remember,
it's only a film!
profusely second that emotion.
all our Action/Cut Graduates and Web Visitors, we highly
recommend The Writers Store website for the best prices,
service, and latest software, books, and supplies for writers