Case Study in Good Directing Michael Manns Collateral

Michael Mann films cross numerous genres and seem to test the core values of their main characters, whose very existence depends on their behavior in a crisis. The lone thief, Frank, in Thief (1981) Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1994) Neil, the criminal, and Vincent, the detective, in Heat (1996) and Jeffrey, the informer and Lowell, the producer, in The Insider (1998) are all tested, and each gives up a great deal in order to survive, if indeed the character does survive. Director...

Hole in My Heart

A Hole in My Heart is Moodysson's darkest film. There are four characters, and the ostensible plot of the film is the making of a pornographic film in urban Sweden. A father and son live in the apartment where most of the action takes place. The son, Eric (Bj rn Almroth), is long haired and has a birth defect his right hand is claw-like. He seems depressed and escapes into his music. A rope hangs in the foreground of his room and seems to question whether he will continue to live. The father,...

Space Odyssey

We begin with the dawn of man sequence in 2001 A Space Odyssey. The film is presented as a history of mankind from the very beginning and well into the future. The focal point for the dawn of man sequence is the evolution and resulting primacy of the ape due to the development of weaponry. The focus of the balance of the film is on man's struggle for mastery over technology and the mysteries of the spiritual. The plot of the outer space sequence is the journey of astronaut Dave Bowman (Keir...

Acknowledgments

The Director's Idea is a book that comes out of my teaching experience with production students at New York University and with professional producers and editors at the Maurits Binger Institute in Amsterdam. In earlier books I had examined the storytelling tools of the screenwriter as well as of the editor. Now students and professionals have pushed for an articulation of the storytelling tools of the director. Needless to say, a book such as The Director's Idea needs and gets a lot of help...

Adding Value to a Project

The good director moves beyond the choices made by the competent director with regard to 2. Approach to characterization 5. Point of view of the director Whereas the competent director takes a singular approach to camera placement (e.g., romantic, as in the case of Simon Wincer, cited in the previous chapter), the good director utilizes more varied camera placement. Anthony Mann directed film noirs, Westerns, and epics and is well known for his powerful visualization. Mann would enhance the...

Alice Adams

Alice Adams is based on the Booth Tarkington novel of an ambitious but poor young woman in the Midwest who aspires to be more. The film focuses on Alice's (Katharine Hepburn) chance to move ahead. She meets a rich young man (played by Fred MacMurray) who is bored by his socialite opportunities. Alice and her family have tried unsuccessfully to be what they are not part of the establishment. The excerpt I use here is the disastrous dinner when Alice introduces the young man to her family. It is...

America America

The last excerpt is the engagement scene from America, America. To this point, Stavros has endured robbery, the loss of all his family's worldly possessions entrusted to him, the effort to earn the 110 fee for passage from Constantinople to New York, the theft of his earnings, and almost dying in a police raid on a political meeting he was attending. Stavros, not a man to be discouraged, allows his cousin to introduce him to a rich businessman with four unmarried, rather plain daughters. The...

An Aside about Actors as Directors

110 Understanding the character arc is one of the reasons why actors have made good directors. Although undervalued, there is a tradition of actors becoming directors. The tradition goes all the way back to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, who in a sense became great directors who were as well known as directors as they were actors. Although Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen are the most obvious directors whose character persona on screen was reflected by their work as directors, many actors have...

Anatomy of Hell

Finally we will look at the opening of Anatomy of Hell. Anatomy of Hell follows four nights of a sexual encounter between a woman (Amira Casar) and a homosexual (Rocco Siffredi). The end of the scene acknowledges the possibility of sexual intercourse between this man and woman, but their exchange of true feelings occurs in the opening. The woman is at a club. She is alone and seems unhappy in the midst of the sensual noise and dancing. She goes to the bathroom, where she slices her wrists. The...

Art Direction

After lighting, art direction is the most critical area that supports the director's idea as it plays out shot after shot. Art direction refers to the nature and organization of all the physical content of the shot. This includes the artifacts in the shot, their organization, and the look of the room that holds the contents, down to the color of the walls. Art direction also refers to the costumes of the actors. All of these elements contribute not only to the veracity of a shot but also to the...

Barry Lyndon

If a kind of progressive arrogance was at the heart of the dawn of man sequence, pride and its price are the core of the opening sequence of Barry Lyndon. Barry Lyndon is a poor Irishman of noble birth. His father dies in a duel as the film opens, and Barry will become the victim of a duel with his stepson as the film ends. In between, Kubrick chronicles the life of a character whose choices in life, in Ireland and later in a career and marriage on the Continent, are increasingly immoral. In...

Camera Height

There are essentially three camera positions that represent the extreme options in terms of height. Of course, directors can and do choose options somewhere in between the extremes. The first extreme is a low camera position. Using such a camera position, the viewer looks up at the actors and the action in the shot. This heroic placement is a favorite in action-adventure, science fiction, and Western films. The second option is high placement. Extremely high-angle shots might be from the top of...

Camera Movement

Generally speaking, camera movement is one of the most exciting choices available to the director. Movement is dynamic and energizing, but the choices the director makes can make the resulting energy more purposeful, or at least they should. The most significant choice the director faces is whether the movement should be stabilized by putting the camera on a tripod or whether the obvious movement of a handheld camera is preferable. If a sense of stability is needed, a tripod-mounted camera is...

Case Study II The Competent Director Simon Wincer The Lighthorsemen

Simon Wincer's The Lighthorsemen, a war film set in World War I, is about the desert campaign in the Middle East and the role played by the Lighthorsemen, mounted infantry from Australia. At the beginning of the film, Danny, a young man in Australia, expresses an interest in joining the Lighthorsemen, and the film follows him to the British campaign against the Turks to take Jerusalem. The film focuses on one battle in the campaign, the battle for Beersheba. Danny replaces a veteran who has...

Clarity

It is the director's job to provide those crucial shots that keep the story progression clear. Think of complex narratives such as Fred Zinnemann's The Day of the Jackal and Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future. Two principles can help maintain the clarity of a narrative, the first of which is point of view. When a director provides a clear point of view throughout a scene, the audience will know how to interpret that scene. Think of all of those gunfights in Serge...

Contents

How I Came to Write This Book 9 Directors and Competence 27 Case Study I. The Competent Director Antoine Fuqua (King Arthur, 2004) 29 Case Study II. The Competent Director Simon Wincer (The Lighthorseman, 1087) 32 Chapter 4 The Good How the Director's Idea Works 41 Michael Mann's Collateral 47 Adding Value to a Project The Director's Idea Three Contemporary Great Directors in America 57 Three Contemporary Great Directors The Case of Steinbeck's East of Eden 76 Chapter 7 The Chapter 8 The An...

Day for Night

The last excerpt is from Day for Night, Truffaut's film about filmmaking. The film chronicles the production of a film, which is the plot of the film, although it focuses on the relationships of the actors and crew. Old stars and new actors mix with the crew in what can only be described as a soap opera. The handsome older Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) decides after many marriages that he is gay. The great Italian actress Severine (Valentine Cortese) cannot remember her lines. The young actor...

Directing for the Edit

For our discussion of Eisenstein's editing, we will focus on the Odessa Steppes sequence in Potemkin, on the Pskov massacre sequence in Alexander Nevsky, and on the coronation sequence in Ivan the Terrible, Part I. To highlight his editing ideas, we need to review particular editing ideas and the manner in which they shape or can shape ideas. To create intensity, the director can use the following devices 2. Camera placement closer to the visual action 4. Camera movement, particularly...

Directing the Actor

In terms of directing actors, Eisenstein relied heavily on casting. In Potemkin, beyond Vakulinchuk there is no single character whose screen time requires a performance. Even in the case of Vakulinchuk, only frustration, anger, and indignation are required, and then he is killed. Instead of seeking out actors with a range of skills, Eisenstein was casting for a particular look in fact, a stereotypical look, such as the intellectual, the obedient child, the adventurous child, the elegant...

Directing the Actors

John Ford's approach to actors differs considerably from his contemporaries such as Howard Hawks and Henry Hathaway, both of whom were more interested in creating a greater elasticity or character arc in their actors' performances. John Ford had more limited expectations of performance. To understand Ford's approach to directing actors, it is difficult to underestimate his reliance on casting. Essentially, Ford tended to cast for type. For leads, he gravitated to an actor with a particular...

Directing the Camera

To understand how to harness conflict, we turn now to how 128 Eisenstein used the camera to portray conflict. There are numerous dimensions to Eisenstein's visual skill as a director. To understand his work as a director we must look at the compositional qualities of his films and the editing of his films. Because Eisenstein's contributions to the art of editing are so great, we will discuss how the editing contributed to his director's idea after we look at his visual style. In order to frame...

Directors and Competence

Here I would like to qualify what will follow in the rest of the chapter. What do I mean by competence in directing We can have two extremes of directing, with competence lying in between those extremes. At one extreme is directing so bad that it takes on a campy virtue. The films of Ed Wood are a good example of this extreme. At the other extreme are good filmmakers who clearly have added value to their projects but who occasionally lapse. John Frankenheimer, who made the great Manchurian...

Double Indemnity

The last excerpts I will use are the meeting and parting scenes between Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity. The first meeting of Neff and his love interest proceeds as a seduction. Neff arrives to renew Mr. Dietrichson's auto insurance. Dietrichson is not home but his wife is, and she greets Neff wearing only a towel. After she has dressed she comes back downstairs, and a verbal seduction follows. Neff is more interested in her ankle...

East of Eden

Turning to East of Eden, we focus on the opening. The time is 1907 the place is Monterey, California. Cal Trask is following a woman, Kate (Jo Van Fleet) to her bank. Kate is a madam and is making a substantial deposit. He follows her to her home, where she looks out her window and tries to figure out who he is. He is too well dressed and young to be one of her customers. Kate asks the girl cleaning the floor about him. She says she saw the boy there last night, asking about Kate. Cal pitches a...

Emotional Guidelines

The edit of a film is the emotional guideline of a film. A director forgets this at his peril. The director must encourage modulated performances and provide the juxtapositions and compositions necessary to create the context for how the audience should feel. Ridley Scott in Gladiator particularly understood this requirement. Maximus may be the general of all the Roman legions but he is also a husband and a father, roles critical to his identity. Those roles motivate his actions throughout the...

Et

The third excerpt is from E.T., which begins with the extraterrestrial being left on Earth by accident. The arrival of a group of trucks forces the mother ship to leave without E.T. A wayward, intelligent ten-year-old named Elliott (Henry Thomas) is the middle of three children being raised by their mother (the father has abandoned the family). Elliott finds E.T., befriends E.T., and eventually helps E.T. return to his home. The trucks at the beginning of the film are in fact government...

Eyes Wide Shut

The final excerpt I will use is the opening sequence of Eyes Wide Shut (2000). Screenwriter Frederic Raphael wrote an intriguing memoir on his work with Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Open, Ballantine Books, New York, 1999). It offers insights into the Kubrick process and is especially meaningful as Kubrick died just as the film was released in North America in 2000. The film, provocative as any of Kubrick's works, is a cautionary fable about the limits of narcissism. William Harford (Tom Cruise)...

Fucking Amal

Fucking Amal refers to the exclamation of the main character, Elin (Alexandra Dahlstrom), who makes the statement to her sister, Jessica Why do we have to live in fucking piss and shit Amal (Amal is a small town in Sweden.) Elin is a beautiful 14 year old. She is popular with a bad reputation for being easy with the boys nevertheless, Johan (Mathias Rust) is obsessed with her and thinks he is in love. Elin thinks she will be Miss Sweden but her older sister tells her she is too short. Elin is...

Full Metal Jacket

The third excerpt we focus on is the sniper attack from Full Metal Jacket that occurs in the latter part of the film. The film breaks down into two phases basic training and combat. In basic training, we watch Joker (Matthew Modine) and his fellow recruits become a unit of killing machines, as the master sergeant characterizes them. The sequence ends with the most continually humiliated recruit (Vincent D'Onofrio) killing the master sergeant and 237 himself. Basic training is over. The film...

Giant

Giant tells the two-generation story of the relationship between Leslie Litton (Elizabeth Taylor) of Maryland and Jordan Benedict (Rock Hudson) of Texas. The story of their marriage, their life in Texas, and their disagreements about race and the role of women in society makes Giant more than a regional story. The differences between their two individual sets of values come to a head in the lives of their children. The more liberal Leslie succeeds in changing her husband from a man who sides...

How Did We Get Here

Directors were not always the central figures they are today. As Hollywood developed into an industry, stars and producers were far more important than directors. David Selznick, a studio executive, became an important producer consequently, he is the central creative figure associated with Gone with the Wind. No one remembers the four directors and as many writers on the film. When one speaks about Casablanca, it is Bogart and the Epstein brothers, the writers, who are remembered rather than...

How I Came to Write This Book

I have already pointed out that this book presents a hierarchy of directing. Understanding the genesis of my biases will allow readers to either give in to my views or to temper their views with mine. First and foremost, I hope that the reader will come to share my excitement for great directing and to appreciate how to reach for those stars. Second, I must say that I have always been smitten with the directing bug. From the very first time I made a film I knew that I had experienced a singular...

How the Directors Idea Works

Two versions of The Manchurian Candidate offer us the opportunity to look at two directors applying two different director's ideas to essentially the same story. Both versions are based on George Axelrod's screenplay of the Richard Condon novel, and both focus on the plot of creating an assassin via brainwashing an assassin who is trained to kill a presidential candidate at a political convention. The killing would allow the antagonists and their backers (the Communists in the 1962 version, a...

Interior Exterior

The first decision directors must make is whether to approach a story as an interior, psychological story or as an exterior story relying on a series of events out in the world. Interior stories are preoccupied by psychological aspects of their characters, such as their inner life, spiritual values, or search for deeper values or meaning. When Somerset Maugham wrote The Razor's Edge in 1935, he really wanted to explore the loss of meaning resulting from World War I. The main character, Larry...

Introduction

Sergei Eisenstein, together with his colleagues Vassili Pudovkin, Dziga Vertov, and Alexander Dovshenko, revolutionized film directing. Building on the work of D.W. Griffith, each set out on a different path for creating films, but each did so out of a conviction that the power of film should be harnessed for a public purpose to change society. Each of these directors had a different aesthetic. Pudovkin embraced the theatrical, Vertov embraced the documentary in its most orthodox form, and...

Lighting

Of the various components of a shot that add to the overall character of the shot, the most critical is lighting. What does a director 94 have to know about lighting The best cinematographers are well acquainted with lighting issues. In fact, the director should have both macro and micro ideas about the mood he is looking for in his film. At the macro level, the decision is essentially natural versus dramatic. Film stock, lab instructions, and lighting design decisions can all emanate from this...

Love on the

The third Antoine Doinel film, Bed and Board, chronicled Antoine's marriage to Christine, the birth of their child, and the result of Antoine's infidelity on their marriage (it dissolves). Love on the Run begins with Antoine's divorce from Christine. His son is now 10 years old. Antoine has published an autobiographical novel. His first girlfriend, Colette, a character Truffaut highlighted in his short Antoine and Colette, reappears. Colette is now a lawyer and also having trouble in a...

Male Female

I have already mentioned Jane Smiley-Jocelyn Moorhouse's A Thousand Acres as an example of a shift in perspective in this case, the daughters of the Lear character are the point of view rather than the father, as in the original presentation of King Lear. Because the male female struggle for power is one of the most sig- 81 nificant social psychological political issues of the day (at least since the sexual revolution of the 1960s), the issue of a male or female reading of a text has taken on a...

Marianne and Juliane

Marianne and Juliane is the story of two German sisters. The film begins with the son of Marianne (Barbara Sukowa) being delivered to her sister Juliane (Jutta Lampe) for safekeeping. The film ends with Juliane trying to take care of Marianne's son. By now his father, Wolfgang, has committed suicide, as has his terrorist mother. And the child has been immolated, a cruel prank, because he is his mother's son. Between the narrative bookends provided by the son, we focus on the story of the two...

Movement from Movement

To move the camera physically, thereby capturing movement while the camera is moving, often requires that a track be built so the movement is smooth. The mounted camera is then moved along the track. Such tracks can be quite elaborate, such as the one used to film an attack on a train in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Another means of recording movement is to put the camera on a truck or car. A truck with a hoist will give the camera lateral as well as vertical mobility. Orson Welles used...

Moving Toward Interpretation

Think of this round as the application of text interpretation. A useful approach here is to speculate about the story's potential in the following dimensions 333 Each dimension spins the story differently. Let's look at a film such as Lost in Translation. On a political level we could say the film has a Japanese-American dimension. Films such as Billy Wilder's One Two Three put politics and political differences right up front, but in Lost in Translation Sofia Coppola does not seem that...

My Darling Clementine

My Darling Clementine tells the story of Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda). When he and his brothers drive a herd of cattle to California, the cattle are stolen and his brother James is killed outside of the town of Tombstone. Earp becomes the town marshal to apprehend the killers of his brother. He is aided by his two brothers, Morgan and Virgil, and by Doc Holliday. He and his brothers meet the rustler killers at the OK Corral and justice is done. The clip focuses on Wyatt's relationship (or desired...

New Ideas

New ideas are introduced in a scene by the use of cutaways. Cutaways can be used to foreshadow what is to come, to introduce a new character into the story, or to introduce a new possibility into a character's life. Think of the shot of a hatted Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral or the first murderous dream of the Annette Bening character in Neil Jordan's In Dreams. In both cases, a new person or new reality is being introduced in the narrative. The cutaway is a classic shot that...

Ninotchka

The plot to sell Countess Swana's jewels is under way, but the three trade commissioners from the U.S.S.R. are already intoxicated by capitalist Paris and have failed in their mission. A new trade representative, Ninotchka, has been sent to take over the negotiations. She is appalled by what she has found (the opulent quarters, the penchant of the trade commissioners for scantily clad cigarette girls). The scene opens with the austere Ninotchka stepping out...

On the Waterfront

The hiring scene in On the Waterfront is also filmed documentary style and brings together various narrative strands. Earlier, Terry Malloy has betrayed a friend, Joey Doyle. Prompted by his brother Charlie, Terry tells Joey that he found one of his pigeons. Joey reluctantly agrees to meet Terry on the roof, where gangsters are waiting for him. They push him off the roof and he falls to his death. Terry 195 feels bad but is rewarded by the head of the union, Johnny Friendly. Joey's family,...

Outside In

There is an informal school of acting that coalesces around actors such as Lawrence Olivier. Proponents believe that technique begins with the outside, what Stanislavsky called verisimilitude. If the actor wears the clothes of his character, adopts his manner of walking, and has his hair cut as that character would, then that actor can begin to work with that exterior to become the character. Other British actors such as Michael Caine and Anthony Hopkins have found this approach meaningful.

Panic in the Streets

The murder scene from Panic in the Streets, set near the port of New Orleans at night, introduces the victim as a sick man who has left a card game when he was winning. Blackie, a petty hoodlum, and his two associates, Raymond and Poldi, follow the victim outside. Blackie wants the sick man's money. The victim pulls a knife but is killed by Blackie. He takes the money and orders his associates to get rid of the body. This scene proceeds in an expres-sionistic fashion with highly dramatic...

Parallel Action

The use of parallel action has been around as an editing idea since Porter and Griffith over a hundred years. The best way to explain it is to suggest that separate strands of a narrative will eventually come together. Think of Yuri and Lara in David Lean's Doctor Zhivago and the outlaw gang known as the Wild Bunch and the vigilantes who are hunting them down in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. To provide some hint that these disparate characters will come together, some directors use screen...

Philosophies of Acting

Philosophies of acting have generally arisen from theater performance rather than film or the media. Ideas about acting revolutionized by a Russian, Konstantin Stanislavsky, have been adapted in, for example, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Before discussing these ideas, however, it must be noted that their underpinnings are the 19th- and 20th-century advances made in our understanding of human behavior, principally cognitive psychology and psychoanalysis, fields that are...

Political SociologicalPsychological

Every story has political, sociological, and psychological overtones, but the filter the director uses determines whether the audience views the narrative as an international, national, local, or personal story. It all depends on the director's choice of emphasis. We have already discussed the various ways in which Hamlet has been interpreted. The same choices face each storyteller. Few storytellers have been able to incorporate all three of the political, sociological, and psychological...

Raiders of the Lost

Raiders of the Lost Ark follows the efforts of Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford), a youthful archeologist, to recover for the American government an ancient artifact, the Lost Ark of Solomon's temple, last housed in Jerusalem. Also in pursuit of the Ark is the Nazi government of Germany who is interested in harnessing the power of the Ark for their own purposes. The time is the 1930s. The search takes Indiana Jones from the United States to a Greek island where the fate of the Ark is resolved....

Romance

Romance is the story of Marie (Caroline Ducey), a young teacher who has a boyfriend who is a male model. Since they have been living together he has backed away from having sexual relations. Although she craves sex he is turned off by the thought and abstention is their current sexual status. She seeks out sexual encounters while remaining in the relationship with her boyfriend. She picks up someone in a club and they plan an encounter the next day. Her headmaster seems supportive, but that...

Rosemarys Baby

In Rosemary's Baby, a young couple looks at an apartment near Central Park. They love the apartment and take it. The young woman, Rosemary (Mia Farrow), is keen to have a baby, and her husband, Guy (John Cassavetes), is intent on advancing his career as an actor. Rosemary and Guy meet their eccentric neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer). The elderly couple is taking care of a young woman who shortly after meeting Rosemary commits suicide. As the Castevets become...

Rosenstrasse

The last film we will focus on is Rosenstrasse. Earlier in the chapter I described the narrative, the story of three women the contemporary story of Hannah Weinstein (Maria Schrader) the 1943 story of Ruth Weinstein (Jutta Lampe), Hannah's mother and the 1943 story of Lena Fischer (Katja Riemann), the gentile woman who rescues Ruth. Each of these women suffers a loss that ruptures her life. That historical loss is directly embedded in the historical plot, the war against the Jews. Can a gentile...

Sex Is Comedy

Sex Is Comedy is a film about making a film. The film director is a woman (Anne Parillaud) and her focus seems to be on the sex scene where the two actors will consummate their relationship. The film begins on the beach. The two actors, young and clearly stars, seem to hate each other. The young woman (Roxane Mesquida) is agreeable and vapid, and the young man (Gr goire Colin) is disagreeable and utterly neurotic. It is cold and about to rain but the actors and extras have to pretend it is a...

Stolen Kisses

Stolen Kisses, the second feature film, opens with Antoine being dishonorably discharged from the army. The narrative then follows Antoine's early work history and his love life. The film ends with the growing seriousness of his relationship with his girlfriend, Christine. The first scene we will discuss begins with his first work experience as a night clerk in a small hotel. He is na ve when two men lie to him to gain access to a woman's hotel room. Antoine believes their story and upon...

Story Form

Finally, shooting with a distinct sense of genre is important to the final edit. Every story form has a particular character who serves as a signpost for the audience. The stylized quality of film noir, the romanticism of the Western, the dark expressionism that chokes off hope in the horror film all of these characteristics identify and breathe life into a film. By understanding story forms, the director can provide signposts of the chosen genre for the audience. I am not suggesting that these...

Strategy for Reading the Script

Three crucial questions should emerge from the first reading 1. What is the genre or story form Each story form has a different dramatic shape and presentation of character and deployment 2. Who is the main character and his or her goal There should be a distinct main character with a clear goal. 3. What is the character arc, or, to put it another way, how will the experience of the story change the main character You should be able to identify the state of the character at the beginning of the...

Subjective Camera Placement

More often directors choose sides and vest our emotions in one character over another. This means using a subjective camera placement. As already mentioned, Spielberg, Hitchcock, and Polanski have used the subjective camera placement to establish identification and, in the case of Polanski, a sense of the inner feelings of the character, which are vital to building the audience's relationship with the story. Other examples where subjective placement of the camera is crucial to how we experience...

Sunset Boulevard

The next excerpt we will explore takes place at the end of Sunset Boulevard. In a fit of jealousy and rage, Norma Desmond has shot and killed Joe Gillis (nobody leaves Norma Desmond). The police attempt to talk to Norma but she is mute. Her manservant (Erich Von Stroheim) is aware of the large gathering of media downstairs, waiting to shoot lurid footage for the evening news. He suggests that Norma will respond to the cameras, and the police agree to take Norma downstairs. When he tells Norma...

Tess

The third excerpt is from Tess, which is the story of a poor girl from an old but noble family in England during the Industrial Revolution. When Tess' father, an alcoholic with a large family, discovers that his name, d'Urberville, is a noble name, he sends his eldest child Tess (Nastassja Kinski) off to find the rich relatives. Perhaps they will buy his title or at least help their family. Reluctantly, Tess seeks out the d'Urbervilles and finds that they are, indeed, rich but are not really...

Text Interpretation

Eisenstein directed fewer than ten films from 1925 to 1945. When he fell out of favor, he would teach and write. At the invitation of Charlie Chaplin, he tried Hollywood in the early 1930s and developed a script for Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy at Paramount. He also directed a film for Sinclair Lewis in Mexico, but his North American interlude was not successful. Eisenstein is best known for his films Potemkin (1925), Alexander Nevsky (1938), and Ivan the Terrible (Part I, 1943...

The American School

The American School of acting arose out of the Group Theater in the 1930s and was very much influenced by Stanislavsky. American School acting teachers created the famous method style of acting, but within the school some acting teachers focused on memory specifically, to readers of this book, the recall of feelings associated with specific events in their lives. These memories were the basis for creating an actor's character, both behaviorally and physically. As in the work of Stanislavsky,...

The Apartment

The third excerpt I will use occurs early in The Apartment. The scene establishes how much C.C. Baxter is willing to sacrifice for his ambition. The sequence has four parts. The first establishes how Baxter's apartment is used. Mr. Kirkaby is trying to hurry his mistress home while outside Baxter waits for his apartment to be free. Kirkaby's heightened self-interest knows no bounds, and he suggests that Baxter update his liquor supplies. The second scene focuses on Baxter's loneliness warming...

The Blows

The 400 Blows, Truffaut's first feature film, was the first film in the Antoine Doinel series, which starred the same actor, Jean-Pierre Leaud, over a 20-year period. Through four films and a short, 206 Truffaut followed Antoine from troubled adolescent to confused adult. Through parenthood and sundry relations, the boy in the man defeats adult concerns and Antoine remains difficult and eccentric and boyish to the last. In The 400 Blows, we meet the adolescent Antoine. The film chronicles his...

The Character

Characters all have particular physical and behavioral qualities. Beyond these qualities, deeper into a character's psyche, is what can best be described as the character's core. This core affects the narrative goal through its mix of desires and inhibitions. This character lava is what makes the character pulsate with life and above all credibility. It is important for the director and the actor to create a character arc and maintain it throughout the film. A main character must have the...

The Competent Director

The competent director has a straightforward interpretation of the text. Character and narrative fall under that interpretation. There is no subtext. Directing the actors and camera choices support that interpretation. Competent directors often have a vigorous camera style, but that style does not deepen meaning. Here comes that loaded term again, the competent director. In these next three chapters I will chart the roadmap from competence in directing to value (the good director) to...

The Directors Idea

The director's idea is a deep subtextual interpretation that unifies the production. Using an aspect of the main character and his goal, the director finds an existential, relational, or physical dimension that relates to the main character in the deepest fashion. Using the subtextual idea, the director articulates a complementary approach to the performances and to the camera. It is the quality of the director's idea that differentiates the competent from the good and great director. The...

The European School

The European school of acting was not really a reaction to the American acting style rather, it was fueled by a passion for new experiences that are more startling, even shocking. The kind of experimentation associated with Antonin Artaud and Jerzy Grotowski and most powerfully with Peter Brook is most aligned to the third Stanislavsky requisite in performance the spiritual one. The work is focused on visceral expressions and reactions to the material world (realism). Indeed, directors such as...

The Good Director

The good director uses text interpretation to find a layered interpretation of the story. The interpretation makes the narrative more complex. The interpretation may generate from the director's approach to characterization for example, the goal of the character may differ from expectations or the director can use the surprise of plot to promote the transformation of the character in the character arc. The director can also use a specific subtext to alter the meaning of the narrative. The point...

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, who had to abandon their share-cropped land in Oklahoma to migrate to California to seek a new life. Muley's story focuses on the displacement of the Joads' neighbor. Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) has returned from prison only to find his parents gone, preparing to leave for California. His neighbor Muley tells him of their eviction by the bank in Tulsa. Foreclosures and displacement have accompanied the drought in the region, a drought that...

The Great Director

The great director looks for a deep subtextual interpretation of the text. The great director is passionate about character and narrative. The great director prefers a direct approach to the material, a simple approach, an economical approach. The subtextual interpretation drives performance and camera choices. The audacity of the interpretation transforms the experience from simple to surprising. The great director is very assertive about expressing his voice. The same can be said about the...

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

In The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, the main character, Katharina Blum (Angela Winkler), is a decent working-class woman of high moral character and a rather shy woman, as well. She is seen 264 fraternizing with a known terrorist and is considered an accomplice in helping him elude police. The police collude with a tabloid journalist to destroy her reputation. As they proceed to systematically destroy her, Katharina (the most decent person they know, say her employers) is forced to act to...

The Main Character

It is important for the director to realize that the audience experiences the narrative through a main character. That means the director must decide how he wants us to feel about that character. It may be ambivalence such as for George Clooney's character in O Brother, Where Art Thou or it may be understanding and 101 compassion such as for the two main characters in Alexander Payne's Sideways. In both cases, the characters are mischievous, manipulative, mopey, even dopey, but in each case the...

The More the Merrier

The More the Merrier (1943) is a situation comedy set in Washington, D.C. during World War II. There is a housing shortage, and, doing her patriotic duty, Connie Mulligan (Jean Arthur) decides to sublet half of her apartment. Her ad draws many people but one of them, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), pretends to be the apartment's proprietor and tells all the others to leave because the apartment has been rented. When Connie arrives home from work, Dingle presents himself and talks her into the...

The Path to Great Directing

Ken Dancyger New York University Tisch School of the Arts New York, New York AMSTERDAM BOSTON HEIDELBERG LONDON NEW YORK OXFORD PARIS SAN DIEGO SAN FRANCISCO SINGAPORE SYDNEY TOKYO Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier Acquisitions Editor Elinor Actipis Project Manager Paul Gottehrer Associate Editor Becky Golden-Harrell Marketing Manager Christine Degon Veroulis Cover Design Alisa Andreola Focal Press is an imprint of Elsevier 30 Corporate Drive, Suite 400, Burlington, MA 01803, USA Linacre...

The Pianist

The last excerpt is from The Pianist, which begins with the German invasion of Poland and ends when the war ends. The Pianist is Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a world-famous pianist, a Jew who survives the war because Jews, Poles, and Germans, at different points through the war, have acted to save his life. The film is about Szpilman's survival, but it is also about all the losses he sustains. The sequence we will focus on is his effort in 1942 to secure work papers for his father. The...

The Searchers

Ethan Edwards returns to his home in Texas after the Civil War. In short order, Indians massacre his brother, his brother's wife, and their son. They take the two surviving daughters hostage. Ethan is determined to rescue them and spends the next five years looking for the single surviving young niece (the older niece is killed by the Indians). He is aided by the adoptive son of the family, Martin. The sequence 138 I will focus on takes place early in the film. When their cattle are stolen,...

The Second Awakening of Christa Klages

In The Second Awakening of Christa Klages, Christa (Tina Engel), a childcare worker, robs a bank. Acting with two male accomplices, she takes a bank employee hostage (Katharina Thalbach) and holds the woman while the men take the money. The hostage, Lena, becomes more important in the story as she begins to obsess about Christa. One of the robbers, Wolfgang (Friedrich Kaiser), is quickly captured by the police while Christa and the other robber, Werner (Marius Muller-Westernhagen), escape by...

The Shop Around the Corner

The Shop Around the Corner begins with the introduction of the main character, Alfred Kralik, at his workplace, Matuschek and Company, in Budapest. Kralik is a conscientious employee and popular with his boss, Mr. Matuschek, who invited him to dinner at his home the night before. He is the envy of his fellow workers. Matuschek arrives at the store, and it is clear that he is admiring and perhaps envious of Kralik. And here our excerpt begins. Matuschek asks for Kralik's opinion of a cigarette...

The Shot

The first decision a director needs to make is whether to use a long shot or a close-up, although the possible range of shots is even broader for example, the director could use an extreme long shot. Think of the desert shots in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia or the battle between the Romans and their slaves in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus. The extreme long shot is used to locate action and tends to be primarily informational. The long shot can include one person or many. The opening extreme...

The Structure of the Book

The first focuses on the question What is directing and discusses how a director arrives at the director's idea. The first half of Part I defines the director's idea and differentiates competent or technical directing, good directing, and great directing. I realize that competent, good, and great are loaded, subjective words. They are hierarchical, and my use of such terminology and my taste may not match those of the reader nevertheless, I am going to use...

The Unity of the Production

It is critical for the viewer that the film be experienced whole. By that I mean that the text interpretation, the performances of the actors, and the shot selection act together to build the viewer's experience. Imagine a jokey, superficial performance in a film such as Ordinary People, where the realism and emotional credibility of the characters are key to the experience of the film. Unity means the tools of directing are working together, and this is the purpose of a clear and strong...

They Were Expendable

They Were Expendable begins just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ends just before the American loss of the Philippines to the Japanese. The focus of the film is on two PT boat commanders, John Brinkley (Robert Montgomery) and Rusty Ryan (John Wayne). They are advocates of the small mobile boats but the Navy and the Army are not. For the military, PT boats and their men are marginal, expendable. The film focuses on these two commanders and their crews, who want to feel that they...

Three Contemporary Great Directors in America

Although this section is about American directors, I must say I struggled with my choices. What is one to do with Peter Weir, the Australian who has been making films in America since Dead Poet's Society and Witness And what of Sam Mendes, the British theater director who is responsible for two great American films American Beauty and The Road to Perdition What needs to be said is that Hollywood has always been the creative home for immigrants and even temporary visitors. The first Academy...

To Be or Not To Be

The focus of To Be or Not To Be is slightly different. The romantic couple is a narcissistic wife and a would-be young lover. The scene opens in the theater where Hamlet is being performed. Joseph Tura, who is playing Hamlet, is backstage ordering a sandwich from a nearby delicatessen. His wife, Maria Tura, who is playing Ophelia, exits the stage and solicits opinions about her performance. She also offers support to her obviously insecure husband and assures him that he has never been better....

Tone

Although tone tends to be genre specific, it is possible to reinterpret the tone for a particular purpose. What I mean by this is that Eugene O'Neill's work may be classic tragic melodrama, but that has not prevented particular directors from expanding the humor in Act I to give the tragedy of the last act more impact. Writers and directors can and do use humor and irony to shift or intensify our experience. A useful example here is the work of the Coen brothers. In most cases, the Coens use a...

Trouble in Paradise

At the outset, a robbery occurs in a luxury hotel. The scene we are focusing on occurs after the robbery. An elegant nobleman (Herbert Marshall) awaits a woman whom he has invited to dine with him in his rooms. He is distracted by the preparations and directs the waiter to make sure the champagne is perfect and the food enticing, but he also wants the waiter to disappear as quickly as possible. When the woman (Miriam Hopkins) arrives, the two joust with one...

Voice

I dealt extensively with the issue of voice in my book Global Scriptwriting (2001, Focal Press). Essentially, voice can be genre specific, or the director can use genres that enable his voice. Genres such as satire, docudramas, fables, experimental narratives, and nonlinear films require a distancing from character and structure so the voice is clear rather than embedded in a character. Irony is a favorite distancing device. When the voice is genre specific (for example, Joseph Mankiewicz in...

What Does the Director Do

The director is responsible for translating a script (words) into visuals (shots) that will be turned over to an editor to pull together into a film. Start and finish points, however, may well blur, as the director joins the project in the writing or pre-production phase and does not leave the project until post-production. Thus, the director may well be involved in all aspects of the editing phase, such as sound design, music composition, recording, and mixing into the overall sound, until the...

What the Audience Wants

Whether audiences visit movie theaters to be reassured or challenged, whether they seek the familiar or desire the unfamiliar, we know that when they see a film they want more than the Dragnet mantra of just the facts, ma'am. Whatever the genre, surprise, subversion, subtext, and style all enhance the film experience for the film audience. We can formulate a set of guiding expectations that go beyond the too general escape from their own lives for two hours. First, I would suggest that...

Where Are We Today

Film today is one of the most important global industries. For many Hollywood films, most of the revenue can come from outside of the United States. A tentpole film such as Troy can expect to earn two thirds of its revenue offshore. In the United States, film and television are key export industries. In so fluid and lucrative a milieu, it is no wonder that directors are superstars the world over. Wong Kar-wai of Hong Kong, Tom Tykwer of Germany, Luc Besson of France, and Steven Soderbergh of...

Who Is the Director

Directors, as with every other profession, come in all different shapes and sizes. Whether they are male or female, Western, Eastern, Spanish, or American, their uniqueness is a result of the mix of each director's beliefs, experiences, interests, and character. Some directors are playful (think of Federico Fellini). Some are deadly serious (think of Ingmar Bergman). Some prefer particular genres (think of Clint Eastwood). Some seem to thrive on a diversity of genres (think of Howard Hawks)....

Young Old

Age has often been used to set a tone for a reading. Conventionally, youth implies enthusiasm or optimism, and old age represents regret or reflection. This is the expected reading, but using the expected in unexpected ways has long yielded fresh results. Su Friedrich uses an adolescent narrator to communicate how arrested her character is in the autobiographical film Sink or Swim. This experimental narrative examination of a daughter father relationship challenges the convention of expecting...

Movement from a Fixed Point

Camera movement from a fixed point takes three forms tilt, pan, or zoom. The tilt shot is a vertical movement, up-down or down-up. Generally, the tilt shot is used to follow action or to transition from one location to another. The tilt shot can also simulate the eye 92 movement of a character as that character looks up or down. The tilt shot is rarely used for dramatic emphasis. The pan, or panning, shot follows movement along a horizontal axis, left to right or right to left. As in the case...

The Lost Weekend

The first excerpt we will explore is the opening of The Lost Weekend. We see New Yorker Don Birnam hide a bottle outside of his window while he packs to go to Connecticut with his brother (Phillip Terry) for the weekend. In Connecticut, Don will write, and his brother will make sure he does not drink. Helen, Don's fianc e, comes over to wish him well. She is going to a concert that afternoon. Don convinces his brother to accompany her, and suggests that they meet for the later night train. The...

Place in the

A Place in the Sun is a remake of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy. Set in upstate New York, the film tells the story of George Eastman Montgomery Clift , an ambitious young man who travels east to accept the job offer of a rich uncle. He is given a job at the Eastman plant, first in the shipping area and later in a more managerial position. In shipping, he meets Alice Shelley Winters and begins a relationship with her, although he has been warned against having any relationships with the...

American Psycho

American Psycho opens on an elegant meal in an elegant restaurant. The food is shown being prepared, arriving at the table, and being eaten. The preparations are elegant and beautiful but somehow violent. So, too, is the consumption of the meal. Patrick Bateman Christian Bale and his colleagues are elegant but aggressive. They talk, the conversation is elevated in its sophistication, but it doesn't go anywhere. We are aware mainly of the aggression each hurls at the other. They continue on to...

Together

Together is also a multiple-character narrative. It takes place on a commune in November 1975. The film opens with the news that Franco is dead. All the members of the Swedish commune celebrate as if it is New Year's Eve. The film follows Elisabeth Lisa Lindgren , who is not a commune member. Elisabeth decides to leave her husband, Rolf Michael Nyqvist , who has beaten her while drunk. She and her children, Eva and Stefan, will find refuge at Together, her brother Goran's commune. The commune...

Case Study I The Competent Director Antoine Fuqua King Arthur

Antoine Fuqua is best known for his 2001 film Training Day, featuring Denzel Washington's Oscar-winning performance. King Arthur 2004 followed the Bruce Willis film, Tears of the Sun 2003 . King Arthur is in scale and budget Fuqua's largest film. The King Arthur legend of early England and the knights of the Round Table has been a frequently used basis for films. Cornell Wilde's The Sword of Lancelot 1963 tells the story as Action Adventure. John Boorman's Excalibur 1981 tells the story as...