Directors: Life Behind the Camera (First Run Features, NR)

Listening to directors, not a group noted for their modesty, talk about themselves for two hours could have been excruciating. Instead, thanks to astute editing and a gift for storytelling shared by those interviewed, it’s delightful as well as enlightening.

 

If you have any interest at all in the process of filmmaking, you should check out the new DVD set, Directors: Life Behind the Camera. The set includes about 4 hours of interviews (culled from over 300 recorded hours) with 33 noted directors from Robert Altman to David Zucker. The source of these interviews is not entirely clear. They feel like clips from a television program intercut with footage of some of the directors at work. Robert J. Emery is credited as the director and editor, Suzanna Cimato as the producer. The material on the 2-disc set obviously isn’t current, because several of the directors interviewed are now deceased. The packaging also carries a 2006 copyright, despite being a new release.

I’m willing to overlook the lack of identifying details, however, because the material is so interesting. It’s like having these eminences over to your house to chat about how they became interested in directing and offer advice on topics like “The Art of Writing and Choosing Scripts” and “The Care and Feeding of Actors” (unlike Alfred Hitchcock, no one included here suggests they should be treated like cattle). They also discuss which of their films were their favorites, their views on the future of the industry, how they want to be remembered by posterity and much more.
Listening to directors, not a group noted for their modesty, talk about themselves for two hours could have been excruciating. Instead, thanks to astute editing and a gift for storytelling shared by those interviewed, it’s delightful as well as enlightening.
Garry Marshall offers his bottom line on his craft: “There’s three things you’ve got to combine to be a filmmaker—art, parking and lunch. With those three things you can make a hit movie.” His sister Penny has a more sober take on the subject, saying that as a director, “Your job is to compromise every day of your life.” In her view, the film director is actually the least powerful person on set, but the one who must work the longest.
Sydney Pollack offers his embittered take on the current state of the film industry, “Every single studio is now owned by a large conglomerate…that in all of their product lines manufactures a disposable, repeatable product whether it’s a car of a soft drink or an electronic device. Everyone knows that what [a Hollywood film] is designed for is two hours of entertainment, and then it can be disposed of and never thought of again.”
Tim Burton has more hope for the future because digital filmmaking allows people to make films independent of the studios. In his words, this means there are “more interesting things going on now than there have been in the past.”
The technical package for this DVD set is minimal: just menus where you can pick a topic and either play all of the directors’ responses or choose the one you want to hear. But that’s beside the point. If you’re interested in a first-hand take on filmmaking straight the masters of the craft, Directors: Life Behind the Camera is a must-have. It will be available on September 21, and can be preordered from the distributor, First Run Features. | Sarah Boslaugh

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