the godfather
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  • Iconic Actor Al Pacino Speaks at New York Film Academy

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    Al Pacino New York Film Academy

    New York Film Academy students received the rare opportunity to participate in an intimate Q&A with one of the greatest actors in film history Al Pacino this past Thursday, December 4th at the Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles, CA. The discussion took place after a special advanced screening of Pacino’s new film The Humbling. In this, funny, observant, erotic comedy, Pacino plays an aging actor who feels he is losing his craft and after a breakdown becomes involved with a much younger woman but soon finds that it’s difficult to keep pace with her and makes the ultimate performance. The film was highly received by the students for its content and Mr. Pacino’s amazing performance in it. Producer Tova Laiter moderated the Q&A.

    Oscar, Emmy, and Tony winning Al Pacino took the stage to an uproar of applause and a standing ovation from students. The legendary actor, who’s entertained and inspired us with iconic performances in The Godfather, Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon, Scent of a Woman, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Heat, to name just a few, was tremendously gracious for the warm reception. Pacino was all smiles and full of life, emanating that vivacious energy we’ve come to love him for.

    In a profound statement about the actor’s process, and artistic process in general, Pacino stated, “I love the line that Michelangelo said in a poem when he was doing the Sistine Chapel, he said, ‘Lord, free me of myself that I may please you.’ Meaning, get to that place in us where we’re not censoring ourselves or trying to do it good or right but rather connect with whatever it is we’re trying to say in our work. Become. Become it, absorb it and let it come out and let the unconscious free. And I strive for that. And I rarely, rarely get it. If I do it’s for a moment or two… Sometimes I’m given a role… Then I have to look at the empty canvas and I say, ‘Wow, I don’t know anything about acting. I don’t know anything about anything. What am I gonna do?’ And you start. And the hope is that instead of figuring it out, you find it.”

    But it wasn’t all serious talk. Pacino revealed the origins of his “Hoo-ah!” line in Scent of a Woman in an amusing story: “That came because I was learning to assemble and disassemble a .45 in forty-five seconds. And that ain’t easy. And I worked literally weeks on that, months, just with this Lieutenant Col. who would say to me every once in a while when I did it well, he would just say to me (pointing) ‘Hoo-ha!’ And I finally said to him, ‘What is that?’ And he said, ‘Well, you see that’s the way I talk to the troops. If they get in line and their suits are straight and their metals are straight, I just go up and I say ‘Hoo-ha!’ And that got into the movie. That wasn’t written.”

    In closing, to the question of what the most important thing acting has taught him, Pacino answered, “It taught me to love people more. I feel more a part of the world. And that we’re all actors. Only some of us can really do it. Some of us have the ability to do it…and the desire to do it. And it taught me that desire can sometimes trump talent. Think about that. So that you may not have as much talent as you think you have, but if you have the desire, your talent will find you.”

    When the Q&A ended, Al Pacino thanked and waved goodbye to students as they all stood and cheered once again. It was a wildly entertaining and inspiring night that was a special gift to NYFA. In a cosmic coincidence, Pacino’s daughter Julie Pacino, an alumna of NYFA, showed her movie to NYFA students at our Union Square square campus the same day!

    We thank Al Pacino for sharing his time with us and look forward to the success of The Humbling (which Mr. Pacino also produced), directed by Barry Levinson. The film opens in theaters in limited release for a week on December 5th and wide release January 23rd, 2015.

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    December 8, 2014 • Acting, Guest Speakers • Views: 15823

  • Remembering Cinematography’s Prince of Darkness

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    Cinematographer Gordon Willis on set preparing a shot

    A cinematographer occupies a unique position in the creation of a film in that he or she must translate a director’s vision into shots that are both in service to the story while injecting his or her own vision into the film. Renowned cinematographer Gordon Willis, who died on Monday at the age of 82, perfectly captured this tension when he said a director of photography’s (DP) duty is to “fit the punishment to the crime,” meaning that a DP should render the material in an aesthetic manner that marries his or her own unique perspective in service of the film. To say that Willis accomplished this goal is an understatement as he was responsible for pioneering a style of 35mm cinematography that became synonymous with the golden era of Hollywood film in the 70s, working closely with three of that decade’s most notable auteurs—Alan J. Pakula, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen.

    Donald Sutherland stares out the window in Klute

    Starting his career as a DP with 1970’s End of the Road, Willis first came to prominence in Pakula’s neo-noir thriller Klute in 1971. Throughout the film, Willis makes use of long shots and unusual zooms and angles to essentially estrange the viewer, creating an unsettling mood through his imagery. In addition, Willis started to flex his more innovative and ambitious muscles. For example, in one scene the film’s protagonist Peter Kable stares outside his window upon the city when the camera effortlessly moves forward and appears to almost drop out of the window to create a dizzying shot that uses the building’s massive height, leaving viewers scratching their head at how such an impressive shot could be made to look so effortless.

    Having served as the cinematographer on Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, The Godfather was a watershed moment not just in Willis’s own career, but for cinematography as a whole. The film’s opening scene is famous for its reserved use of light as the film’s bright wedding scene contrasts with Vito Corleone’s dimly lit office in which Marlon Brando’s eyes are almost completely obscured. It was this film that earned him the nickname of the Prince of Darkness as he parted with many of Hollywood’s conventional lighting techniques in favor of heavy underexposure and an orange palette that would become a hallmark of subsequent period films.

    Library of Congress in All The President's Men

    Willis was never afraid of using inventive and new techniques to create the right tone for the films he worked on. One incredible example of this was his re-teaming with Pakula for All The President’s Men in which he placed a winch he placed in the dome of the Library of Congress, allowing a remote-controlled camera to film a full view of the library in a single shot. Throughout the film, his mastery of light is seen as the above shot, showing the library cast in natural light, with the shadowy world of darkness, as exemplified in the under-lit scene in which Robert Redford meets with Deep Throat in a menacing parking garage.

    Having first hooked up with Allen in 1977’s classic Annie Hall, his camera work in 1979’s Manhattan served as a love letter to his hometown. Filmed in a 2:35:1 anamorphic black and white format, Willis managed to help make a modern tale of romance look positively timeless; just take the film’s opening sequence in which iconic sights of the city are fantastically shot and paired with George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” But if one is to call to mind one particularly memorable shot from the film, it would undoubtedly be the scene in which Allen’s and Diane Keaton’s characters sit on a park bench and gaze at the Queensboro Bridge cast against a foggy dawn. Willis chose to emphasize the gigantic nature of the city, which can often make its inhabitants feel like ants, as the viewer only sees the backs of Allen and Keaton, creating a definitive statement on the beauty of both the city and love.

    Remarkably enough, Willis was never nominated by the Academy for any of his work in the above films—although he did receive an honorary Oscar in 2009—but in the hearts of cinephiles and cinematographers alike, his work will continue to inspire and evoke awe for the foreseeable future.

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    May 20, 2014 • Cinematography • Views: 9437

  • Whatever Happened to Francis Ford Coppola?

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    Francis Ford CoppolaLast week was the 40th Anniversary of The Godfather. I don’t know if you saw it but the AMC channel aired it repeatedly during the week. Watching those films again, it made me wonder…

    Whatever happened to Francis Ford Coppola?

    The Godfather was a huge influence. I mean everyone went to see it. I remember I had a friend who was ushering at the movie theater and would sneak me in. It didn’t even matter what part of the movie you came in at, you’d just watch it from there to the end. Sometimes I’d even stay to watch the beginning of the next show. We used to refer to the film as, “the Beast.” That’s how much respect we had for it. A few years later, as a film student, Scorsese became my guy (he was the filmmaker that made me want to be a filmmaker.) The Godfather was still the benchmark and with all due respect and deference to good ol’ Marty, he never made “The Beast”.

    Coppola followed up with Apocalypse Now. The stories about making that film are legendary—the enormous amounts of money, equipment, and insanity that went on in the jungles. But whether you like the film or not, you can’t help but be impressed by the enormity of the undertaking and the execution. It is unquestionably the work of a master filmmaker. And then… What? What happened? He never again fulfilled the promise of his early films. It makes me sad. What went wrong? Where did Francis Ford Coppola jump the shark?

    It started with a film called One From the Heart. You’ve probably never seen it. Few people have. It was a musical fantasy set in Vegas, and even though it pioneered some video-editing techniques, it was a disaster with audiences. Then there were The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. It seemed to us as young directors as the work of a desperate filmmaker who lost one audience and was trying everything he could to connect with a new one. Next he tried a Godfather knockoff, The Cotton Club. An epic crime drama, it even had the same sort of violent montage at the end. A pale imitation and another box office disaster. And finally, Godfather 3, the last ditch effort to recapture past glory. I don’t even have to tell you what a disappointment that film was.

    How did such a great filmmaker lose his way? Was it the disappointing loss of Zoetrope Studios? In 1969, Coppola decided to buck the studio system, which he felt had stifled his artistic vision. He created Zoetrope to fund off-beat films by first time directors. It didn’t work. Was it the pressure of paying off the huge financial debt in which he found himself? Coppola has declared bankruptcy three times. It’s not easy holding onto a personal vision while digging yourself out of a financial hole. Or was it the tragic death of his son? Personal tragedy has a way of putting ambitions of glory in perspective. In the end, perhaps it was just the unimaginable pressure of having to equal something as great as The Godfather.

    The Godfather

    It’s hard not to reflect on the somewhat tragic trajectory of his life. Early success does have its pitfalls. Compare the careers of directors like Spielberg and Scorsese. They all started out at the same time. They were part of an avant-garde group of filmmakers that were revolutionizing Hollywood. But where Spielberg and Scorsese are viable, influential, Academy Award nominated filmmakers to this day, Francis Ford Coppola has sadly vanished from the scene. I can easily imagine him filled with deep satisfaction and appreciation of what he’s accomplished. I can also imagine him with deep regret at what could’ve been. Ultimately, I’d like to think that with age comes perspective, if not wisdom, and maybe even acceptance. What do you think? Every filmmaker has to come to grips at some point with this issue of art and commerce. How have you handled it? Or how do you envision handling it? I’d like to know.

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    March 16, 2012 • Filmmaking • Views: 14712