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GUY MAGAR'S Children The Of The Corn: Revelation


Talent and Toughness: Are Great Directors Born or Made?
Working director/writer Guy Magar takes two decades of experience on the road with his take-no-prisoners weekend film school.

by Timothy Rhys

Director Guy Magar's suspense thriller "Children of the Corn: Revelation",
based on Stephen King's original story, was released worldwide by the
Miramax/Dimension label. His 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, Hunter. 
He has received awards from the American Screenwriters Association, the Chicago International Film/TV Fest, and the San Francisco International Film Fest.

Guy founded the Action/Cut Filmmaking Seminars Company in June, 1999, which provides intensive 2-day weekend seminars in 12 major American cities per year and internationally. 

The company gets its name from the two words all directors use to begin and end every shot. His company has just produced a comprehensive 12-hour home film course Deluxe DVD & VHS Pro Collections of the acclaimed seminar that includes scripted scenes and film clip examples that no other course provides.

If you wish more information about the Action/Cut Filmmaking Pro Collections

Timothy Rhys (TR): Guy, you're one of the fortunate few moviemakers who has made a living
as a motion picture and television director for more than two decades. You're obviously a talented
director, and you're presumably well-compensated for your directing work. So what is the attraction
for you in instructing all these neophytes and directing hopefuls all over North America?

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.

TR: Tell me a bit about your personal life. I know you're married and you live in LA.

GM: 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.

TR: Can anyone learn to direct? And is there a certain type of person or personality type which is more suited to a directing career?

GM: 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.

Regarding 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.

TR: 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?

GM: 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.

TR: 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.

A 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.

Unfortunately, there is a price to pay as actors and directors in that they can get pidgeon-holed at whatever they do well. It‚s 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.

TR: What's the most important thing a director should know?

GM: 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 shine.

Second, 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.

TR: Who is your favorite director, Guy, and why?

GM: 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!

TR: What are the five or 10 best films to watch if one wants to see great direction, according to Guy Magar?

GM: 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.

Tarantino's 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.

Anyone 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.

TR: 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 more stationary?

GM: 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 expectations.

If 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 mean.

TR: 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?

GM: 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.

TR: Why are there so few female directors, and do you see that situation changing?

GM: 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.

I 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 she‚s 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!

TR: I don't have to tell you that directing a film is an all-consuming task. How do you choose your projects?

GM: 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.

No 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 for it.

It's 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 we‚re 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.

TR: 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.

GM: 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.

TR: What are some of the career goals you've set for yourself that you have yet to achieve?

GM: 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.

TR: 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?

GM: 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.

TR: 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?

GM: 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 director.

TR: How often do you teach, and where?

GM: 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.

TR: Is there anything you'd like to add about Action/Cut, your career, or the directing process that we haven't covered?

GM: Action/Cut has been really special for me in that it‚s 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 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.

GUY MAGAR'S Children The Of The Corn: Revelation

By Kimberly Shane O'Hara

Guy 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.

Let's talk a bit about your current film, Children Of The Corn: Revelation. What was its evolution from concept to script to screen?

First 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.

What aspects of the Children Of The Corn concept by Stephen King did you consciously stray from?

Stephen 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.

Was 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?

The 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.

How much did you improvise, or, did you mainly stick to the script? How much of the script was lost in the editing process?

During 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.

We like happy writers.

As a director it feels good when the whole creative team, producers, writer, execs are happy, it feels good because you know you achieved everyone's vision.

I liked your use of effects in the film. Reflections, fire, steam, shadows ... all very tastefully done and you are obviously a pro.

On 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.

Making 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.

Once 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.

There 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?

All 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.

For 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.

It 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.

The 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?

The 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.

Claudette 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.

The 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.

I 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 scripted?

When 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.

In 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.

Your choice of art direction as well as music (calypso) really enhanced the bloody BBQ scene. What was your process of constructing this moment?

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.

How has television changed for the director or writer over the last twenty years?

Television 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 episode.

The 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!

The 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.

How about the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) and their evolution over the last twenty years?

The 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.

That sounds very grim...

It 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.

You 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?

When 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.

Any episodes that stand out as particularly satisfying?

I 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.

The "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!

(Guy laughs).

You showed your independent filmmaking roots there. What was the reception of that?

In 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.

Peta 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.

Let's 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?

"Nowhere 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.

You wrote, directed and produced the indie feature, Showdown. I liked the lead characters you created, Vinnie and Anthony.

Vinnie 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.

We 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.

When 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?

This 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 emotional state.

I 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?

I 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.

The 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.

While 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.

My 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 expositional.

As a final note, the seminar is also now on DVD and VHS as a 12-hour learning home study course Pro Collection.

How 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 a while?

Friction 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!

I profusely second that emotion.

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