Podcast Episodes

Eric: Hi. Welcome to the backlot. I’m Eric Conner and today we got a really special guest, the fabulous Craig Caton-Largent. Now, Craig started his career doing practical effects including puppetry. And if you’ve seen any movies you’ve seen at least one of his films he’s worked on everything from Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, Ghostbusters, Predator. He’s done it all. He also switched over though he’s one of the guys who was able to go from animatronics and puppetry into more CG work and has recently worked on How to Train Your Dragon 2 amongst many other animated films. So after working on dozens and dozens of films, he came to New York Film Academy about four years ago as an instructor in our animation department and about two years ago he became department chair. And ever since the department’s only grown gotten stronger and better and we are a better school for having him here. So ladies and gentlemen. The fabulous Craig Caton-Largent.

Craig Caton Largent: Thanks for having me on your show. It’s a really cool.

Eric: No problem I’m glad you ventured down to Burbank studios to be with me today. So his career spans I mean it’s decade now. Right. You started in.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah 39 years ago. Yeah.

Eric: So you’re hitting 40 years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah, I’m going coming up on 40 – this next April will be 40 years yeah.

Eric: So if we cut to 40 years ago the slightly younger version of yourself would he imagine you did all this.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh no way. No, not even. I would. It would be like in my dreams to like like have achieved what I got to. Yeah, I was just hoping to work on a couple movies and become like a regular makeup artist for a TV series or movies or something like that and never in my wildest dreams thought I would end up working on some of the most iconic creatures in the 80s and 90s.

Eric: So your first professional gig was what then. What project.

Craig Caton Largent: The very first. Well, the first one that people would recognize would be Metalstorm the destruction of Jared Synn in 3D. 

Eric: In 3D

Craig Caton Largent: yeah it was a Charlie Band a movie.

Eric: What work did you do on that.

Craig Caton Largent: There was a the main work that I did on it were there these sandworms that come out of the ground and have like this fight. And he blows them up with his laser. So that was one of the first puppets I ever built and also the first puppeteering gig that I got to do too. We built a big like it looked like a boxing ring and then we filled it with vermiculite and then we had holes in the bottom of it to stick our hands through and put the puppets up through the vermiculite.

Eric: So you’re working the puppets but you’re also basically building puppets right.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah that was I found out really early. If you were the guy that built the puppets you were usually the guy that puppeteered them. So it wasn’t the people who sculpted them and it wasn’t the people who were making the molds it was the guys who were doing the actual mechanics of the puppets because they kind of figured that if you were doing the mechanics that you already knew how to knew to move the puppet and how to puppeteer it since you were doing that that part as well.

Eric: So it’s almost like you would custom fit it to you.

Craig Caton Largent: Absolutely. For me, though it was. I always had this philosophy of what I wanted to call puppeteer friendly puppets. So I wanted to I wanted to build puppets that would actually do the job for you. So you all you had to do is put your hand or control the puppet and it would literally almost perform for you. So that part of its performance was actually in its design. And so that was important to me because early on I would make these puppets that were so hard to control and so hard to manage that. That by the time I was done puppeteering them on set I would my hands would be a wreck and I would just go. That was a horrible performance because I wasn’t able to control the puppet.

Eric: Kind of like trial and error too.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah there was there was a lot of that in the early days where you realized you’d gotten to set and you made a horrible mistake.

Eric: Do you have anyone in particular you remember?

Craig Caton Largent: Well, there was there was a puppet that I had built in four days. It was a very quick show. The name of this movie was Sorority Babes and the Slimeball Bowl-a-rama. We shot in a bowling alley down near San Diego at a nighttime and. And so I had two weeks and five thousand dollars to make a full on fully articulated speaking main character for a movie. And so I did that but it was like you know 24/7 like sculpting for four days in a row and mold making and running this foam and then I actually I built the puppet but they really didn’t have time to build the controls for it. So when I showed up it was one of those situations where you realized that maybe I should have rethought this.

Eric: What was it supposed to look like?

Craig Caton Largent: So it kind of kind of had a body like imagine a body very similar to gremlins but then the mouth I just replaced with like the muzzle from Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors.

— Feed me Seymore. —

Craig Caton Largent: The reason I did that because because Audrey II is an amazingly articulated plant. I mean the lip syncs and the stuff that they did were amazing.

— Look you’re a plant. An inanimate object. Does this look inanimate to you punk? If I can talk and I can move who’s to say I can’t do anything I want?! —

Craig Caton Largent: And also the secret behind that how they did that was most of the dialogue scenes with Audrey II were shot at 18 frames a second. And slow and so that way it gets speeded up and looks like she’s nailing all of the syllables and all that stuff just hitting all of them. And actually the Slimer ghost on Ghostbusters we did the same thing. A lot of the footage of the slimer ghost was shot at 18 frames a second. So that way when you see it in the film you just got that little more frenetic frantic feel to him because he’s just slightly speeded up. It was actually a really popular technique back in those days because we would we would change film speeds for for shooting miniatures and stuff in order to get the right scale for miniatures. And so it wasn’t for for the camera people who were doing it. It wasn’t that big of a leap for them because they were already used to it like oh we wanted to go this fast we’ll shoot at 18. And the Monster Makers are like sure let’s do that. So yeah.

Eric: Well even like fight scenes chase scenes I mean so much of that was manipulated by camera speed. Yeah you know so that it just makes everything look more dangerous than it is. What are some other ones that you could think of where you know you put all this time energy effort in and all sudden, here’s the moment?

Craig Caton Largent:  There was this one effect that we did on this movie called Fright Night. It was it was a hand transformation. So it was a it was we’re a human hand transforms into a werewolf paw and I decided to do it reverse and film it in reverse and so what we did is I had built this werewolf paw with all these like muscles and tendons and then covered all that with a gelatin covering of a human hand and then we melted it and it took like three months to to engineer this werewolf paw and it’s literally – the first time we shot it, it just didn’t work at all. It just failed. So three months later here I am doing another one. So it’s like the six month gag. Right. So six months later we we film it and it never worked as good as I wanted it to. But the second take is the one you see in the movie and it happens so fast it just kind of like – Blink hand. Oh OK.

Eric: And then you see the film and you’re like I worked on that for how many hours.

Craig Caton Largent: Hours and weeks and months.

Eric: And for yourself then do you and especially like when you work on something that’s cut out of the film does it bruise your ego? Or is just like, well I got paid I did my job?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. Back in the early days like there was like it was like what we thought was a really great shot and they got cut out of the movie. We were kind of like oh well that’s their loss they missed it. But but nowadays like like I I just finished working on an animated feature where we did 31 shots. None of them are being used. And then they decided to go a different route. And but we got paid. And yes you just can’t. After so many years you just don’t worry about the babies getting thrown out with the bathwater.

Eric: It’s like if you treat these things too precious then you’re going to be constantly frustrated.

Craig Caton Largent: Right. Exactly. You need to be really judicious and almost inhuman at some point.

Eric: Right so it’s so I mean I think what’s hysterical is like kind of hearing about. I mean I guess we’ll call it the human factor. I remember 2010.

Craig Caton Largent:  There was that one. Yeah we can talk about that.

Eric: That’s a great story to share, so 2010 the sequel to 2001 if you remember in 2001 the starbaby I’ll just.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. So there is in the end there’s a Starchild and we won’t go into the plotline about it. But again in 2010 the star child makes an appearance. And one of the common materials that we were building puppets at the time and still is as we were using foam latex but when you have you make these foam latex pieces from molds and wherever those mold pieces come together you have a seam. And it was almost impossible to get rid of this on the foam latex so we decided to skip using foam latex and move to using gelatin and it was really easy to get rid of the seam because all you needed was like a hot washcloth and it was dissolved. We took him to set and we filmed him and we decided to break for lunch and the still photographer asked if if he could take a couple of pictures and we said sure. And he asked if we could leave the light on it was these great big hot movie lights and so he did. He took his pictures and then he left for lunch and he forgot to turn off the light. What happened was these lights had caused the left side of the star child’s face to melt. So imagine a baby with a stroke you know with the whole left side of the face sagging down and you know something’s drastically wrong. So the photographer he was also the first one back and he sees this and he panics and he he spins around and he smashes face into a pole. And knocks himself unconscious and literally like a minute later we come walking into this and we see this dead guy on the ground and this stroked out Starchild and, what happened here?! But yeah I was I was a big whoopsie.

Eric: I mean other times you could think of were like I mean it’s a little bit different but like in Terminator 2 with the famed.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh the puppeteering thing.

Eric: Yeah Terminator 2 one of the most iconic moments in the whole film.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah. So there’s. We’re talking about donut head.

Eric:Yeah donut head.

Craig Caton Largent:  So so in Terminator 2 there’s this puppet we called him donut head and it’s the the T 1000. And Linda Hamilton shoots his face with a shotgun and and all of a sudden his right eye is nothing but this giant hole all the way through his head. And so I had I had made this puppet. It was basically a big hand puppet so my hand was up in his head controlling his head. And then we had another puppeteer who was controlling both his shoulders just to bring to get the shoulders to come to life. And then on top of that we also had the actor Robert Patrick. We were using his real left arm to cover up the puppets face so we would do this reveal. So we were all smashed together as close as could be and we do this reveal. But the gag was there is a rotating collision beacon light that needs to show up. Through the hole of this puppet behind him and trying to wrangle this puppet into this position while you’re fighting against two other puppeteers is almost impossible to get it into just the exact micrometer position. We succeeded on take four and in true James Cameron fashion he said that was perfect. Let’s do it again and we couldn’t do it again to save our lives in fact it got so bad that James Cameron was wondering if I even knew what I was doing. At points though he gets up and he’s like four inches away from my face literally it’s like we’re on an old soap opera or something and he’s screaming at me. “Do you know what you did wrong? Do you know what you blankity blank blank blank did wrong?” And I go.” Yeah I didn’t get the eye in the eye light and the collision beacon.” and he went from like raving monster to like totally calm guy just looked at me in the face and said, “okay well don’t do it again or I’ll kill you.” Well we didn’t did it again and we had to break for lunch. Next thing you know there’s James Cameron walking next to me and he’s saying hey you know I really gave it to you back there but don’t worry this is going to be like one of the signature shots in the movie and it’s going to be on the cover of Cinefex. And absolutely true to to James. It made the cover of Cinefex which totally made my day. James Cameron he’s true to his word.

Eric: Except for the part about killing you.

Craig Caton Largent: Well there is that we all had t shirts made saying that we know we’re going to heaven because we worked on a James Cameron movie.

Eric: Speaking of James Cameron who went from like these low budget like Roger Corman. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell Roger Corman is like the ultimate low budget producer. He’s produced 500 or so films.

Craig Caton Largent: At least yeah.

Eric: Maybe even more. But Roger Corman gave Cameron his start and Joe Dante I think Coppola might have worked with him at one point with Jonathan Demme I believe went through Corman Nicholson.

Craig Caton Largent: He taught people how to make movies on a shoestring budget and he can make a viable you know 90 minute movie for ninety thousand dollars and would make money off of it.

Eric: And it would be like sci-fi or horror so like genre that actually might cost a buck or two to get across the visuals.

Craig Caton Largent: And he also showed people how like like he holds the record of number of setups like in a single day. I think he has like 88 camera setups in a day or something like that. And I remember on Jurassic Park we got 44 one day and we were like yeah we were, we were really jazzed that we gotten like halfway to Corman the thing about Jurassic Park is we over planned everything on that movie. I mean like every single shot like we did storyboards we did a little stop motion animatics we did paper cut outs that we ran around with on set and did timing with. And we we did hand puppets and we we put it all together and then we had this amazing shot by shot blueprint to make the movie. But because it was so planned people don’t know this but we finished 15 days ahead of schedule and 20 million dollars under its budget.

Eric: Unbelievable. I think too what’s so interesting about Jurassic Park I mean besides everything is like that was the transformation that was sort of the moment even though we had computer technology before.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah it’s where we moved it’s were they proved the audience once in a while we could seamlessly blend between the two.

Eric: And I know for yourself this was also a transformative moment for your career too.

Craig Caton Largent: Absolutely yeah because that’s where I made the switch from doing the practical stuff over to the digital world.

Eric: Did you still find yourself kind of doing animatronics and puppetry or really did you kind of go all in on animation or was it somewhere in between?

Craig Caton Largent: It was it was an interesting blend for a while because I was still getting calls all the time to do puppets and animatronics. And so as much as I possibly could I would still take those jobs on because I still enjoyed doing them and still do. It got eventually got less and less because I was you know being known for digital stuff and getting more involved with that.

Eric: I mean seems like after Jurassic Park like the budgets went up like what did you take from the low budget world over to the high budget world? You know like what tricks or lessons or?

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah well you know like you know necessity being the mother of invention. So there were there were times like like I was I was working on a fairly you’re going to laugh because it was Star Trek 4 and I’m gonna say it was a low budget movie because.

Eric: The Voyage Home?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah the saving the whales.Yeah the one set in modern day San Francisco. In terms of of the what we did for creatures and stuff it was actually an incredibly low budget movie. Their thoughts were that its star trek. We have a guaranteed audience whether we have monsters or not they’re going to come see this movie. But there were there was a couple of these aliens and I had to make a couple of them and I wanted them to have the same paint jobs and I didn’t want to have to sit there and painstakingly try to duplicate each paint job. So I made these these vacuform shells that would fit over the heads and then I cut holes in them and use those as like friskets or templates for my airbrush. So all I had to do was like slap them up against the rubber mask and spray them with my spray paint and then pull them out an instant pattern. And I didn’t have to sit there for like four or five hours. You know like duplicating each one of them. Then one of the guys I was working with named Shannon Shea he went from there he went over to Stan Winston’s to work on this movie called Alien Nation. And they were forced with like you know you know Mandy Patinkin is going to go through like five of these appliances every week and we need to make those patterns consistent. So Shannon goes I have an idea from Craig we did this. And so they incorporated that idea into this much bigger movie and that was one of the reasons they were able to make the movie work.

Eric: So John Carpenter you worked with him on Big Trouble in Little China, And They Live right?

Craig Caton Largent:  And They Live yeah actually want to know what we did on they live as we had been working on this movie The Return of the Living Dead Part II and in the early days of the Living Dead Part 2 we sculpted a zombie monster appliance a day. So after that we had like over a hundred different zombie masks and stuff that we could choose from. And when they live came out they just went through the living dead collection and said we like that one and we like that one and.

Eric: For the alien faces?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah. And they were modified a little bit and that was they were reuses it wasn’t really a hard show to do. And it’s one of those shows where you think back like, “What did I do on that show? I know I was on it.”

Eric: It seems like every movie I do from this time frame you’ve worked on. You’re one of those guys your IMDb page only tells like part of the story really.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah there’s there’s like I there’s not even half of the movies I worked on are on IMDb. You know there were like little movies where I I just like for like for instance there is a movie called Darkman.

Eric: Of course directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Liam Neeson.

Craig Caton Largent: And it’s just a tiny little deal but they needed a close up of a helicopter instrument panel when the helicopter goes haywire. And they couldn’t do it with a real helicopter you can’t just sit there now make the instruments go crazy. There you go. Cut check gate move on. So I made a miniature helicopter instrument panel for a Bell 206 and it’s only in like three or four seconds like, “oh look the guages are going crazy! OK cut.” You know and so you know you spend like three or four days making something like this. And it’s for three or four frames and then you forget about it and you move on. There was a while in the 80s where I was I was pretty good friends with a lot of the makeup artists who were doing television shows but they were so busy doing the actors and stuff like that that they didn’t have time to do the occasional cuts and bruises and scrapes and the type of stuff that would occur from time to time. And one of these shows was Airwolf and in one episode they just had this guy – they needed to put scrapes and cuts and bruises on his face and then they’re going to put them on the nose of the helicopter and shoot him. And then things moved on and then like maybe two years ago you know Airwolf was like what thirty five years ago. Right? The early 80s. Yeah. So there it is on television on TV Land and I’m watching this episode and I see this guy’s on the nose a helicopter and I see a close up and I’m looking at his face. “Hey you know that’s actually a pretty decent makeup on there. Oh dammit I did that!” and you suddenly realize, “oh that was one of mine.” And you like for some reason I didn’t see interview with a vampire. I worked with worked on Interview With A Vampire. I didn’t see the movie for six years after it came out. And I went I guess I should watch this movie. I went oh the stuff I did on actually worked OK.

Eric: The make up effects in that are pretty great actually and I mean because also that movie like you can’t get away with like you know.

Craig Caton Largent: And we we that was in the early days where we were abusing C.G. in movies like you know why do something that would cost us $15 practically when we can spend $150,000 to do it in CG land and we did a lot of that back in those days before we started coming to our senses.

Eric: I mean I always have this like fondness and respect for the low budget filmmakers because they find solutions. You know.

Craig Caton Largent: Oh yeah you had to be really clever back in those days. One of the cool clever things that we did for the Interview With A Vampire is that there’s this big Southern mansion. It’s like this famous southern mansion with like these giant pillars in the front that has to burn down. Obviously we burned we couldn’t burn down the real one right. But what we did is all we did was we built we built a replica of this building and we painted all black. It was just the shapes. No details. And then we lined it up with a roto mask box we lined it up with the background plate that we shot of the building. So it superimposed the the building and then we lit that on fire. So even like if it’s fire from behind the pillars it ask it’s working as its own mask. So and it’s you know and all you have to do is marry the two pieces of film together and you have an instant fire scene and it looks great. And it did look great and we did everything. You know we’re all by the book. We had fire marshals there because when you do big burns like this you have to have the you know the fire engines and fire marshals there and we lit on fire. And then we could not put it out and it was maybe 15 feet away from the building which was completely covered in black duvetyne. So all of a sudden it went from being this cool effect to a really quick emergency. So yeah the the more fire engine showed up and they put it out and they were going to fine us like ten thousand dollars for this little episode but we pointed out that the whole thing had been approved by their fire marshal and given the stamp approval and like if it’s approved then it should have been good. So we got out of that.

Eric: So if you had lets say one creation you have in terms of like you have the most pride for you know and then also on the flip side.

Craig Caton Largent: The least.

Eric: Well at least like one where you’re like, “Ah. Why did they keep that?”

Craig Caton Largent: Might be the stuff.

–The stuff coming soon for you from New World Pictures.–

Eric: Is that one of the ones that you sort of shake your head at still. And if you don’t know the stuff is a horror movie that it’s like.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s like The Blob. It was like these people discover this stuff in a cave and they think it would be a good yogurt substitute just deal go go with us here yeah. What they don’t know that it’s actually this giant primordial parasite. And once you eat it it takes over your body and you become like a collective hive mind. There are some of the gags we did on that. Yeah because like we were trying to do like an exploding head like they did on Scanners, right? And we knew on Scanners that that when they built the head that like the gelatin that they made the head from was like less than a quarter of an inch thick because it turns out gelatin is really strong! And but we knew this but the director said he wanted like this giant meaty chunks of gelatin splattering about and. And. And so he convinced us wrongly he convinced us to make the gelatin about an inch and a half thick and we had hired one of the most prominent explosive pyro guys in the business his name was Joe Viskocil. He blew up the death star for star wars. That was his big fame. And he’s loading the explosives into this fake head and I’m going. Yeah. How much is that. I’ll never forget he says I’m using 16 times the amount of explosives I used on the death star.

Eric: To blow up this one one head.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah and we’re going cool it’s going to blow up good. And it didn’t. All it did is it got really big like a balloon head for a few frames and then it collapsed on itself. So we couldn’t use that take because they needed an explosion so we took that head and we scored it and then we took these giant two by fours scissors mechanism and we stuck like the short end of the scissors into the head to make it go apart. We broke the two by fours we could even get the gelatin head to come apart and so we abandon those effects for some other ones later.

Eric: The indestructable head. Yeah so on the on the flip side of let’s say the stuff is there one particular puppet effects shot that you just look at with with like pride like, “I can’t believe we pulled that off.”

Craig Caton Largent: There is there is one single shot that I’m most proud of all the shots that I did. It’s in the kitchen scene of Jurassic Park and the Raptors are chasing the kids into the freezer and then the Raptor goes into the freezer and there’s this really great shot of the raptor smashing against this back wall. This this cabinet filled with food and stuff like that. And you see this raptor smashing into this wall. He really looks like he’s just demolishing it that’s because I actually did. They wanted this great shot. And I just thought I found a way where I could just as the Raptors head started to make contact with the cabinet. I slammed my shoulder into the cabinet as hard as I could. I mean it’s it’s like apocalyptic it’s like you really feel like a 600 pound raptor just slammed into this wall.

Eric: Like the part where he slide like he loses his footing.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s just this quick shot you can’t see is the raptor hits it and he turns the head and they cut and it ‘s a really quick shot. But when we did the shot everyone went, “whaaaat?” And Spielberg’s like, “we got that in one.” And it just worked really really well and there’s a lot of really great iconic shots in that movie like the window porthole that I’m really proud of where I copied the movie Alien and stuff. That’s one of my favorite shots. But this particular shot. Every time I see it it just works because it did I smashed into that thing so good and so that’s like my favorite shot of all time I think now. When I was doing the Raptors on Jurassic Park I used Kermit the Frogs voice for the raptors the whole time so it was like so you can imagine the Raptor sitting there going into the kitchen. “All right everybody it’s the raptor and I’m getting ready to come into the kitchen grr alright I’m now in the kitchen” I just kind of like gravitated towards Kermit the Frog voice. It wasn’t like a conscious thing.

Eric: Well in some ways you’re doing the hand right.

Craig Caton Largent: So you’re like hey everybody and it kind of goes when you move your hand you just have to do Kermit with it. “Now everybody welcome to a really big show.” Imagine if I used Yoda’s voice, “my raptor I help you not. But okay. My favorite. I think my favorite movie of all time and the work that I’m really the most proud of might be tremors because Tremors was probably the last pre CG movie.

Eric: Yeah like pure puppetry.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah like we did every puppet trick in the book. We did reverse shots we did marionettes. We did cable controlled puppets. Everything you can imagine we did hand puppets. Everything under the sun was there.

Eric: The part when I don’t remember if it was Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward who punched one of the puppets was that you by chance?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah yeah there’s. There’s. There’s one shot that I’m really proud of where we took one of these really expensive tentacle mechanisms we made and we buried him in the ground and then I forget the name of the person he’s driving the bulldozer right. And he’s coming down the road. And this thing’s sticking out of the ground and the teeth of the bulldozer look like it just mows this thing over right. Well it never even touched it. So I’m sitting there with the controls right at the last second. And it’s a great shot it works really well.

Eric: Yeah that’s what of like. I don’t know. We went over a whole bunch of films but that’s one that’s really especially if you like the genre. It does it so well.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah And when you start looking at the background story of the writers and everybody involved in the movie it just becomes that that even more enchanting and great for you because if you’ve seen tremors I’m going to ruin the ending for you.

Eric: Sorry guys.

Craig Caton Largent: In the end of the movie Kevin Bacon runs towards this cliff and he stops at the last minute and the worm keeps going over the cliff.

–Can you fly you sucker?!–

Craig Caton Largent: So where have we seen this gag before we’ve seen it in a dozen Roadrunner-Coyote movies? And the reason we see it there is the two writers are Tremors. Brent Maddock and Steve Wilson they used to be writers for Chuck Jones on the Roadrunner cartoons and that’s why you’ll see all the same gags like they do the fishing with dynamite gag. Wiley Coyote does that with a fishing pole with the roadrunner right and it gets stuck in the cactus and gets thrown back. So that was all that was you know there was all it was all.

Eric: I had no idea I had one question for you actually about. Because it’s like we’re talking so much about you know sort of animatronics and puppets. How did it prepare you then for your eventual shift in animation?

Craig Caton Largent: The thing that actually I need to even go back before puppets to do this. The thing that prepared me to do puppets was I actually went to school and I became an X-ray technologist. And so I had this great knowledge of how human anatomy worked. I knew exactly how Bones worked against each other because you know you’re taking x rays of them all the all the day long. And so I took that that working physiology knowledge with me into puppet making and all of a sudden when I start making like shoulder joints and you’re having a really hard time getting shoulders to act natural like human shoulders you start thinking hey what if I start making these little poly foam strips like the muscle strips of a shoulder and seeing if it works that way and sure enough it does it. So that carries over to that but then when we go over to into the C.G. world we’re trying to figure out how do we make these puppets move around? And for the longest period of time – so in CG world the puppets they have little skeleton joints and you reach and you grab like an arm bone and then you rotate it to move to animate the arm of this C.G. character. And it became really hard to do because you’re trying to reach in between the skin basically of the character and pick this bone. Sometimes you would get the skin and it’d be really frustrating. So we had this meeting one day and my supervisors said, “Hey Craig you’re from the puppet world. You know how do you control puppets like this? – Well we use cables or we could do like Kermit the Frog where we would use like a rod puppet to control the wrist.” And when I said that this Irish guy named Greg Maguire just belts out this “that’s brilliant!” And he runs off. Right. And about 15 minutes later Greg comes back with this C.G. arm and hand mechanism that has these three little cones under the wrist and each one of these cones is controlling a different aspect of the arm one one cone is controlling the translation and one cones controlling the rotation. The other cone is controlling the scale. Then right then and there this other really brilliant mind a guy named Mark Swain says, “wouldn’t it be better of all those controls were on one?” And Greg goes, “that’s brilliant!” And he runs off. They both run off and they come back 15 minutes later and then they have all the controls on one cone. And that’s how controls got made for the C.G. industry. If you look on any C.G. character now you’re going to see these little spline controls around the wrist and the heads and stuff and we invented that it all came from that meaning and that day of like how you know going back to what we were saying earlier you know necessity being the mother of invention how do we do this.

Eric: So now you’ve been working with New York Film Academy like four years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah about four years now.

Eric: And were you was the first teaching you did like here or did you teach before like has this been.

Craig Caton Largent: I had done a little bit of teaching other places but not formal teaching like I did here and my very first class was teaching digital environments. I did my whole lesson plan. And I looked at the clock and only 20 minutes had gone by and I still had like two hours left for the class like I covered all my material and I’m just looking at my students are looking at me like I’m a crazy man.

Eric: Dense material that you’re covering too I’m sure.

Craig Caton Largent: And I was going like a mile a minute you know two hours and 45 minutes of materials in under 20 minutes. So I just look up and they’re like deers in the headlights like, “what?!”

Eric: What did we just witness??

Craig Caton Largent: So yeah that was where I had to slow things down a bit.

Eric: So now that you’ve been the department chair for almost two years and you’ve taught here for a few years like what’s the shape of the program now at the school in terms of what students are taught what the expectations are when they finish the program.

Craig Caton Largent: Well we retooled pretty much the whole whole program. There were there were some things that I felt were were old fashioned and we didn’t really need to do just kind of getting things little more modernized and stuff. But the great thing was that the team that I got that my instructors and stuff I couldn’t get better instructors they were absolutely fantastic so. So I walked in to like this this wonderful team that that I was learning from them which was great but we’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of growth in our first year. Yeah we’ve we’ve grown over 242 percent. I also think that as we’ve gone along these last four years also that the instructors have become a lot better as well we’ve all matured and figured out better ways to teach this stuff. And that is easily reflected when you look at the quality of our students work now compared to the stuff that you were seeing like four years ago. It’s it’s like night and day with what they’re doing.

Eric: So a student comes here what are some of the specific skills that they’re going to pick up. And also what might be something they’ll learn that might be surprising to them that they’ll learn.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah actually one of the things that constantly surprises my new students is that we don’t actually start out in digital we actually start out in traditional. So we start out with our traditional drawing class with a really great traditional artist and we also start out with a traditional sculpting class where you sculpt stuff in clay. And what this does is it helps give the student it grounds them in the physical world in terms of like in for instance like sculpting it allows them they actually get a real 3D spatial sense in the world before doing it digitally and then in as far as drawing it helps hone their drawing skills and their color. Stuff like that.

Eric: Gives them a real world base.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah yeah. And I think that’s really the best way to go because a lot of this stuff is going to start out with a pencil sketch anyway before it goes into the CG world. That and one of the things that I was actually thinking of getting rid of but it turned out was one of the most popular subjects ever. We teach a class in stop motion in a traditional stop motion animation and I thought that it was kind of a dead field. I was completely wrong. Very much alive and popular and so I decided to keep that class and I’m actually trying to build on it and make it an even more robust and more professional like class that offers even more. So the stop motion stayed and that was because every open house the perspective students would come over and they’d say and I would say yeah we do stop motion they’d go, “you teach stop motion?!” And all of a sudden their eyes light up and you’re like yeah we’re not getting rid of that class maybe we’ll add another one.

Eric: Do they then get into coding like what’s the next steps?

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah actually that’s another interesting thing. Before I became chair a lot of the students were complaining about how hard the coding class was and that was right about the time that I took over that class and was teaching it myself. And then they actually got rid of it. And so the first thing I did when I became chair was I I actually re-instituted that program because you’ll not see a single job out there for CG people where it says you know Python coding skills a plus. Yeah.

Eric: But then also too the craft shifts like technology shifts. So I mean with that in mind like in terms of teaching then how do you teach for a medium that more than any of the other crafts arts that we teach here at the school feels like it’s probably the one that shifts it fastest.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s constantly evolving and there are every day we’re there are new tools out there and stuff like that and so basically I go home and I just I just start looking at I look at tutorials online and constantly seeing what’s the newest greatest thing out there and if we should try to leverage off of that because I know practically everybody in the business a lot of it. It’s calling them up and saying hey you what are you how’s your pipeline different than it was a couple of years ago. And what are you doing differently now. And they’re more than happy to talk about it because they actually want us to train people that can do their jobs. And you know and not just be.

Eric: They don’t have to reteach them.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah there’s there’s there’s a huge amount of reteaching that has to happen anyway because of the proprietary software that they use in these big big places. But that being said if our if our students come in with the knowledge base that they have it makes it much easier.

Eric: So it’s like you keep your ear to the train track.

Craig Caton Largent: You have to. Yeah you really have to. Yeah because even the stuff that was cutting edge four years ago when we started yeah that’s old now like a couple of years ago I can’t remember Hollow Man came out right. So there is a movie Hollow Man and and then around the same time there was a Spider-man movie where Thomas Haden Church becomes Sandman. They spend millions and millions of dollars on these sand simulations right back in those days.

Eric: And it looked gorgeous.

Craig Caton Largent: And it’s really gorgeous right. My students do that as a tutorial. That’s how far things have gone. So from from like five or six years ago or eight years ago whenever that was like the cutting edge thing yeah. It’s now a tutorial for students. We teach like a really rounded set of stuff for both for animation and for visual effects depending on whatever part of the world that you want to head to for your career. I feel that the students that are leaving our school are actually better trained than I am because I have like for instance we have one of the greatest nuke instructors nuke is a program that we use for compositing and we have an amazing instructor here. He’s one of the world’s best and when they’re finished with his class they know more than I do about this. So we’re actually putting out people better trained than we are. And that’s that’s really great.

Eric: In some ways that’s the hope too.

Craig Caton Largent: It’s really neat. Yeah. And it’s been really rewarding on a on a personal level just to to have like these students of yours that graduate from your program and then all of a sudden next thing you know you’re hearing they’re they’re working on Alien Covenant and they’re working on Justice League and the new Harry Potter movie and the new the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie which all of those movies I mentioned have students that came from our program working on those. So for like the last maybe the last year and a half, just about every major movie that’s come out has had work that some of our students have been on and that’s tremendously rewarding. It’s like it’s like seeing yourself kind of live on through them. And that that that’s really cool.

Eric: That’s what you hope they come out of here and they work and they I always say you know at our open houses the goal is not to be a great art student, the goal is to be a trained professional. The goal is to get a job. You know. I think we covered it all. So thank you so much. Beyond being a great teacher a great animator great effects guy you’re also just a great dude. And it’s been so much fun getting to know you over the last few years.

Craig Caton Largent: Yeah I it’s been one of the best experiences of my life. Coming here to teach for one reason it is because I’ve been able to take all of the disciplines I’ve learned over the years and put them all together. And then the other thing is just working with other tremendously talented people and hanging around people with you know people like yourself. That was fun as usual.

Eric: Well thank you to Craig Caton-Largent for joining us here and thanks to all you guys for listening.

This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. To learn more about our programs, check us out at nyfa.edu. If you’d like to see some of our Q&As with the entertainment industries biggest names, check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you may listen. See you next time.

Eric: Hi and welcome to the backlot.

A discussion with the entertainment industry’s top talent.

Aeriel: I’m Aeriel Segard

Eric: and I’m Eric Conner and this episode we are taking a look at CW’s Riverdale with two of the show’s stars.

Aeriel: Yes that’s right. Casey Cott who plays Betty’s BFF Kevin and the frontwoman of Josie and The Pussycats Ashleigh Murray.

— For our characters we get a little more time off than some other ones. Which is sometimes nice but most of the time we’re like put us in the show. – I don’t know why you guys are laughing.–

Eric: Riverdale is an adaptation of the legendary so square it’s hip comic book, Archie.

Aeriel: Actually it was popular but I don’t think it was ever considered hip.

Eric: But the show is the farthest thing from Square it owes so much more of its brooding expressionistic style to shows like Pretty Little Liars than it does the original comic book.

–Our story is about a town and the people who live in the town. You wanted fire? Sorry Cheryl bombshell my specialty’s ice. – Didn’t we have a deal? no, Geraldine we have a secret. you’re a little more dangerous than you look aren’t you? You have no idea. Riverdale wasn’t the same town as before. It was a town of shadows and secrets now. —

Aeriel: To pull off this blend of mystery melodrama romance and murder. Riverdale needed a cast who was not only talented but trained.

Ashleigh Murray: I actually went to a school that is in a similar vein of the Film Academy. I went to a private conservatory. It’s called The New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. It was a two year conservatory and it was Meisner based.

Casey Cott: Hey!

Ashleigh Murray: Hey. Meisner Sanford

Casey Cott: yeah Meisner

Ashleigh Murray: You got to do it from here. Let it do you right? Nightmares this is my favorite. I think for me personally conservatory environments are really great for artists because if you know how to spell you know how to work a calculator you know like you get through all of your GE courses that you do in school and they may be your favorite. But sometimes focusing on just what you want is the best way to go because you can just let your right brain take over you know? Oh, the thing that I remember most from school: don’t be late. Don’t be late. And if you’re late Apologize acknowledge it immediately and let it go. Don’t don’t make excuses. Nobody cares about where you’re coming from. Nobody cares why you’re late. Nobody cares if you learned your lines or not you just better suck it up pretend like you know that s**t if you don’t live in that moment and call it but that – that’s the number one thing that I remember and it’s you know I’m working on it.

Casey Cott: She’s never late.

Ashleigh Murray: I am almost never late. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been late in the last three or four years. That’s how you know that this is what you need to be doing because you’ll never be late to an audition or a job.

Casey Cott: On a different note. I became an actor in high school and I really wanted to pursue that in college. I went to Boston University for a bit and great school great school wasn’t for me. Sorry wasn’t for me so I left and I went to Carnegie Mellon University and I – my my senior year my second semester of college we did a showcase in New York and the Warner Brothers – our show’s a Warner Brothers Show and casting directors came to that and the next day audition for Kevin and then that night I got it. One one – your life can change in two hours. Because I mean literally auditioned was on a flight in the morning. The thing that I’ll say that I carry with this show is that you’re in a unique spot right now to adjust the way you think about art and the way you think about acting and to put your bias aside and whenever you go see a movie or TV show or a play you can think about it unbiased. Don’t think if it’s good or not. Think about what it is and how you can adjust what you do to fit into the style that that thing is, for instance, Riverdale is not Shakespeare or Guillermo del Toro or it’s a super specific style of of of art and it’s good and it’s different. But allow yourself to whatever you do constantly. Go see it unbiased. You can be like I friggin hate this but you can also be like wow that person really dove into that style. I try to keep that with me whenever I see whatever I see or whatever I do.

Aeriel: When it came time to audition for the roles that launched their careers the actors needed to make choices about how to deliver a line or how to wear a backpack. Or even using a set of cat ears.

Ashleigh Murray: I had lunch with a cousin of mine who I’d never met before it was the first time I’d ever met him. He’s also an actor and I found out I had the audition for for Riverdale and I was telling him about it and he said, “The one thing that I do that allows me to book so much.” – He’s very he’s very good. I can’t -anyway, and the thing that he told me to do was most actors who are going to come into an audition, they might make a choice and then a smaller percentage of them will have made one choice. You need to make more than one. You need to make several choices so each time you come to a moment in a script where you feel that something has shifted that the intention has changed or you know the conversation that you’re having you’re not getting what you want so you have to find another way to get it in those moments make a choice. It can be physical. It can be vocal. You know it can be internal whatever that is whatever that works for you. And what’s funny when I made it to the studio and network auditions to test I had to sing Whitney Houston and I had like made an abridged version of “How Will I Know.” And I didn’t know all the words. And I forgot it. Midway through the audition like I was singing and I stopped. And everybody was like Is she gonna. And then I found it again and I kept going. And in order for me to not have that moment my agents and my team they were like, “oh my god please don’t do that again.” So when I had to test for the studio or excuse me for the network I decided I don’t I don’t really feel comfortable you know this note is really high. I don’t know how I’m going to sell it. I don’t want them to see that I’m uncomfortable. So I decided to dance. I just turned the song into an entire performance. I took what I do in my real life when Whitney comes on – god bless – and like I when I’m out with my girlfriends I’ll get up on a table and I’ll dance for anybody who’s watching. I don’t even know them I don’t care I’m just in that moment. So I took that part of myself and a physical choice and was able to execute that moment and booked it. So that’s that’s the way that I work. I hope that that makes sense and translates well enough. It’s more important about making more than one choice. It honestly will set you apart from everyone because most people are going to make one and most of those people are going to make the same one.

Casey Cott: In terms of for me auditioning. I think I got lucky on this one because they were in a time crunch. I’m not kidding. But in terms of what I think about acting in general –

Ashleigh Murray:  he got cast the day before –

Casey Cott: – like within 24 hours of us shooting we started shooting the next day. But to answer your question I learned. Do you guys do like a text analysis kind of thing. Yeah. So that to me is is the number one thing. Because the writers hopefully give you enough about your character that you don’t have to do as much work as you think you know everything that’s said about your character. All those things are specifically written by the writer obviously. And then on top of that I like and some of these things come later but with TV they don’t you know the second I put a costume on I’m like. All right. This is what this person wears. The second I get a prop I’m like Kevin has this this backpack that it’s this little like weird backpack. And whenever I put that on for some reason that’s my thing I clutch it. I’m like, “This is Kevin!” But I want to take everything outside of here. That’s given to me because if I go into here it’s not going to work for me. I like to take props costume text and from there – exactly what Ashleigh said. Make as many choices and I like to make it as active as possible which is a very buzzy actor word but it’s true if you’re actively trying to get something from that person you’re going to come across as much more engaging than if you’re just you know. And you can use your body to do that and you can put those actions on a page. And that’s what I do. Granted not with Kevin I don’t really I’m not going to lie and say like I still write down my actions. I just clutch the bag and I’m good but I like I like props costumes and what people have said about your character in the text and then try to make the most active choice after knowing those four things.

Ashleigh Murray: You know it’s funny you say that about costumes because I was never that person. I was like I’ve never been that actor where it’s like oh I’ve got the clothes on like and because this role honestly is the only one where I’ve felt connected to the characters through a costume piece. And it was the cat ears and I actually wore cat ears to my audition. I had a tank top that I bought from H&M like five years prior that just had a giant cat face on it and I had these little $1.99 like cat ears that my roommate let me borrow from her cheap, cheap Halloween costume and it gave me this like extra level of sass and it also allowed me and informed other physicality because once I put those cat ears on and I was getting all in Archie’s business I was like, “you don’t understand.”

— The Pussycats are building a brand. Creating a signature look  -OK – we’re telling a story it’s just my glossed lips Justin Gingerlake. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Ashleigh Murray: It just came out of nowhere. And I was like Oh that’s a moment. And so it’s. There are certain things that will bring you to those moments.

Eric: Once they got the roles the reality and the stress of having these roles on this massive TV show began to sink in.

Casey Cott: The biggest thing I had done was. Was a play for 65 people in Pittsburgh and our crew’s probably 85 people so you you – I walk in the first scene of the entire show we shot was me and Veronica and Betty walking down the hallway the first time we meet Veronica.

— So what’s the social scene like here any nightclubs?

A strip club called the ho zone. And a tragic gay bar called innuendo Friday night’s football games and then tailgate parties at the mall Mart parking lot Saturday night is movie night regardless of who’s playing at the Bijou. And you better get there early because we don’t have reserve seating in Riverdale and Sunday nights. Thank God for HBO.

Veronica Lodge, Kevin Keller Veronica’s new here Kevin is gay, thank God. Let’s be best friends. —

Casey Cott: And I walk into this school and I see all of this crew and I’m like what are these people doing why are they all here. And I see the Warner Brothers executive producers and I see the CW producers and there’s a moment where you’re like why did they choose. I should not be here. I don’t deserve this. I’m not good enough for this. And then you instead of going there you go. All right. Like let’s just get in the driver’s seat. Let’s do it. And if you take that approach and if you take all the passion you have if you take all the training you’ve done and you just think it’s a simple scene and the cool part about TV is that you shoot scenes like that are like this big. So you have like at most like six lights right. You’re like I’m going to get through these six lines and I remember the first three takes – after the third take this door like flew open down the hallway and this Warner Brothers producer leaned out and like gave me the thumbs up. And I was like, “I’m not getting fired today.” But it’s it’s freaky but you get it and you have good you’re going to have good people with you that show you how to do it. Lily my first day. One time I felt her kind of like this on my shoulder and I was like I’m trying to say my line. But she was moving me over to my mark. And it was Camille’s first day on set too. You know you just get it. You get it. It’s the same, it’s all the same! It’s different but it’s so similar. You just you just do it that.

Ashleigh Murray:  That’s yes that’s exactly what it is. And you know if you if you know what everybody’s job is you know if you’re used to pretending like you’re on an active set and in class at school it honestly won’t be any different. If anything you’ll just be you know kind of overcome by all the really cool things about it rather than, “oh my god I can’t do this.” You know, that that fear will turn into excitement once you get comfortable when you realize everybody is here for the same thing y’all all are here to make the same show work. So you know you’re there for a reason. So you know just embrace that –

Casey Cott: – and then you learn and then you’re like Ah like that camera’s here this camera’s here. They’re on that lens They’re on that lens. If I go like this far this way I’m going to be out. And then you start to learn that craft and a whole new style of acting. It’s super cool. It is.

Aerial: Being a series regular on a popular TV show is like every actor’s dream. You don’t need to audition every day and you know when and where your next paycheck is coming from.

Eric: But it’s a lot of work. A lot of hours and the job itself doesn’t stop just because your scenes are wrapped.

Casey Cott: This was my first time ever on a set so I didn’t know what was happening. But basically, we work Monday through Friday and then actually this year we got pretty backed up so the past eight – like eight/nine weeks. We had a Saturday. So we were working Monday through Saturday which is crazy but Monday mornings you start super super early so a call time will be like 5 am 5:00a.m.

Ashleigh Murray: It will be like 5:11. Yeah no yeah 5:04.

Casey Cott: So you get there at 5:04 and they do your hair and makeup and then it just depends on how many scenes are in it can be anywhere from a normal day shooting wise. For us is about 14 hours. Yeah. Now I would be exaggerating if I said That’s everyday because there are certain days where I’m in the first scene or Ashleigh’s in the first scene and we’re done and it’s a you know it’s a six hour day.

Ashleigh Murray: Deuces. Just leave the sun’s still up I can go grocery shopping. It’s great.

Casey Cott: Yeah. And then there’s you know on top of that there’s there’s days we have a lot.

We do a lot of press for our show. So we have what we call EPK which you know like MTV is here today so you’re going to go do an interview. We do a lot of that. So it’s you have to love it. But for our characters we get a little more time off than some other ones. We do. Which is sometimes nice. But most of the time we’re like put us in the show.

Ashleigh Murray: I don’t know why you guys are laughing. He’s right. And you know what the other thing about being on set which you’ll have to get used to is oftentimes sometimes the schedule is you’re at the top of the day and then you’re at the bottom of the day. So you have five six scenes in between when you work. So I would suggest getting a hobby that isn’t this. You know bring some knitting needles bring your laptop. It’s like a 10 hour break. You know it’s like you just like whatever you can’t do because you’re on set. I would try to find a way to do it there because sometimes you’re just you know you’re getting paid to wait essentially and then you know make friends with the people at crafty. Crafty’s great. Cause they’ll makes you smoothies they’ll make you anything like she made like a Chia seed cup that was vegan and gluten free and like wasn’t too sweet. Like I’m super picky

Casey Cott: I’m like do you make buffalo wings? And do you like ranch?

Aeriel: Just like how the actors have to keep up with their healthy or sometimes unhealthy diets. They also continue refining their training and their craft even after getting on Riverdale, Miss Murray and Mr. Cott never stop learning.

Ashleigh Murray:  I have a few coaches that I go between. You know I’ve found people that I know I work very well with. And funnily enough they don’t all have the same like technique. But they give me certain things that I need. So I know whatever the audition is. Oh I can reach out to Ted Sluberski because you know he knows the game. He watches everything all the time and oftentimes he has the script but they’re not sending out. And you know then if I know that you know Anthony Abeson is really great with doing like cold reads or working with dummy scripts for bigger projects that are unnamed. So I definitely have people that. I reach out to when I know and then like my Meisner teacher’s husband still works at the college that I went to so I just hit him up and I’m trying to take some classes just while I’m here just to keep you know the machine oiled. You know sometimes I find that I lose touch with my instrument and it’s always good to revisit that however is best for you. That’s what I do.

Casey Cott: You know yes and no I’ve had some auditions recently and I did an indie movie real quick after we wrapped which was which was a big learning experience. And it was great. I worked with some really cool people but you know when you go from such a big budgeted show to a low budgeted indie it’s a whole new thing. But I loved the indie world. But yeah I’ve been auditioning. It’s fun. I’ve never had a coach in New York because I have never really lived lived here I’m only here for three or four months a year and since my brother is an actor. I often times just shoot him a text and be like, “hey man can you check this out?” But I – Can you give me those the numbers of those people?

Ashleigh Murray: Yes!

Casey Cott: I think having a coach is great and specifically with theatre auditions to me when you get to that point that callback point when you’re like this might happen because those auditions are so much more thorough and they’re so much longer and a lot more dialogue and you can really take an entire room and set it up the way you want. That’s when I seek help to make sure I’m not doing too much or whatever.

Aeriel: In the episode a night to remember the Riverdale gang put on a production of Carrie the musical.

— Every day I just pray every move I make is right where I go. Who I know will I be alone on Saturday night.

The world according to Chris is better to strike than get struck. Better to screw than get screwed you’d probably think it’s bizarre. And that’s the way things are.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna be a night we’ll never forget. You ain’t seen nothing yet. It’s gonna be a night we’ll never forget.

You can never win. There’s no doubt that life just doesn’t begin until you’re in.

Welcome to Carrie the musical.–

Ashleigh Murray: You know, putting on a musical as you guys know is not easy. You know it takes a lot of time rehearsal. All that stuff costumes everything. Now imagine trying to shove all of that with a camera crew with like giant cranes and stuff in eight days like we have eight days to shoot our episodes.

And we’re also because we were behind we were shooting other episodes at the same time while we’re trying to get this one done. So we were doing dance rehearsals in like two hour chunks by ourselves it was just like us and the background dancers and our choreographer and then that whole chair scene where we’re night we’ll never. That was the first time the day we shot that was the first time we were all together doing the choreo as a unit and you see it’s a unit dance. So it was kind of hard to do that when nobody else was there and then you just add in everything else like you saw how it was. It was really intense. So many elements.

Eric: When you watch the episode and we recommend you do it’s great. It feels like Carrie The Musical was always meant to be part of Riverdale the mood the style. It’s like they’re tonal cousins all they had to do was sing.

Casey Cott: It’s a cool musical. It’s a culty musical and it’s trippy and. It’s. Flashy. And yet it’s super dark which is literally Riverdale. So those two blend together make a perfect combo. And I hope that hope that paid off.

Ashleigh Murray: I didn’t know the musical. I still don’t know the musical. I know the few lines that we sang like I learned Madelaine and our duet in the studio as I was singing it.

And I also sang it out of context. We hadn’t really like Roberto and the writers hadn’t really solidified what type of story we were going to tell through doing Carrie The Musical. So when we were going in and recording the songs I didn’t even know what the scene was between Ma- between Cheryl and Josie. I didn’t realize that it was going to be what it was. So I just made the choice to sing it like well it’s Josie she’s playing like you know a 40 something you know gym teacher she’s probably going to sound a little bit more mature so let’s throw some of that 40-year-old on there it came out great. And it’s funny because I also got to listen to like everybody everybody has such wonderful voices on the show. Can you imagine like it’s just crazy.

Casey Cott: Also don’t worry, that’s autotune. They’re great they’re great but like. It’s autotune. It’s autotuned.

Ashleigh Murray: I am not nor have I ever been autotuned on the show. It’s the scariest thing. Like legit. In the last episode, like in the in the finale, and the scene in the season finale I have to sing this song and I broke down again like we’ve been making this show for two years and I was in the in the studio and I was just like crying like it’s very it’s still very uncomfortable for me to hear my voice through speakers. I can’t explain it to you. It’s just like a weird audio dysmorphia thing like I just

Casey Cott: and if you get a note wrong, they’re like we’re going to play this back for you so you know the note you got wrong and you’re like dude seriously just tell me just feed me the note.

Eric: So Riverdale does an adaptation of a musical which is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel on a TV show that’s an adaptation of Archie Comics. You got all that. Now it is a far cry from the original source material.

— Archie’s here. Betty’s here. Veronica too. —

Eric: Back in the day Betty Jughead and Veronica’s adventures had like no sex and even less murder

Aeriel: And that might be why both actors have very different points of view about even reading the original comic books.

Casey Cott: I get this question every time someone asks me questions about the show. And at first I was like ah yeah like yeah but no I’ve never read them I. I didn’t know what it was. I’ve never read one. I auditioned for Archie and the first time I read this pilot, all these random people had red hair and I was like, “What is this like so weird like demonic hair town where like anyone with red hair as is some sort of it’s some sort of cult?”

Ashleigh Murray: Are they all natural redheads? I –

Casey Cott: Well, it said like Archie: red hair; Cheryl Blossom: red hair; Natalie or Penelope: red hair. And I was like “this is really weird.” I didn’t have to to go red. I didn’t get Archie but I eventually learned that they weren’t in a cult. They were just it was just strange to me I was like “What does this weird thing-?” But long story short, no, no, no.

Ashleigh Murray: Yes, I did. She’s a nerd. I am a nerd. Archie nerd. I am a comic book nerd. I love comic books. I love cartoons. It’s the best Scooby Doo. All right that’s my jam a pup named Scooby Doo friggin Dragonball Z. I’m like a big I love any of that animated stuff so I was a big Archie Comics fan growing up.

Aeriel: The comics may have been around for years but when it comes to learning TV scripts the name of the game is speed. The actors were asked how far in advance they got their lines well Miss Murray’s reaction told the entire tale.

Peter Stone (moderator): When do you get the script like how far in advance how much time do you have?

Ashleigh Murray laughs —

Casey Cott:  You get them when you get them. No you know what. It’s tough. You know. They have a tough job.

Ashleigh Murray: So it is it’s At the beginning of the season you’re like oh my gosh this is great. I mean you see what we’re dealing with there is so much story there’s so much plot and stuff and sometimes things change sometimes people are sick or you know somebody gets hurt or whatever the case is so you know adjustments have to be made but sometimes like you get the script as we’re shooting the episode or you know like I think the soonest that we’ve probably gotten one was what like three days.

Casey Cott: You know in the beginning of the season they I remember this year we had the first three before we started shooting and that was awesome. Yeah but as time goes along and they’re so busy and they’re they’re also shooting with us sometimes and it kind of compiles so towards the end you get them each episodes eight days you probably get them the day before day one of the episodes

Ashleigh Murray: Yeah. So really –

Peter Stone (moderator): Do they let you improvise at all or is it like a very strict?

Casey Cott: No, we are word perfect.

Peter Stone (moderator): I was hoping you would say that.

Casey Cott: We’re a word perfect show. Yeah, learn how to do that because they’ll get you. We have we have scripts supervisors whose sole job is to make sure that we are. I mean every once in a while. They’ll come up to me and go it’s it’s not, “Did you go to the beach?” It’s, “Did you guys go to the beach?” And I’m like, “OK yeah.” And I will continue to say, “did you go to the beach?” Like no matter what. But we are a word we are. We are a word perfect show. Yeah, it’s I’ve never said that line. By the way, it’s really good to There’s no beaches in Riverdale. Really. Not yet. No, it’s really good to like. Riverdale takes Miami. Season 15 season 14.

Ashleigh Murray: Oh my God. I’ll be like 50. No, I think it’s really important to have like whatever is your way of learning a script memorizing words whether it’s visual audio whatever is great. It’s a very good tool to have. I would also say that it’s very good to be able to improvise if you know your character well enough and the circumstances and where they’re living – if for some reason you may not know you know the words or whatever it is if you’re so grounded in that moment and who they are whatever comes out of your mouth is going to be right. So just you know let that marinate.

Casey Cott: And when you shoot network TV it’s one thing but if you’re developing a new play. Yeah. Or you’re shooting an indie movie. They’re going to be like you do your thing you know. But on network TV usually it’s pretty pretty word perfect.

Ashleigh Murray: Get your lines right yeah.

Eric: After 40 plus episodes the actors know their characters better than pretty much anyone including at times their various directors.

Casey Cott: We have a new director every episode and some we have some repeats but there comes a point when always with gratitude the director and the notes they give there comes a point when you’re like – totally hearing what they say and adjusting to what they say and hearing what they say. And there’s always a gracious way of doing that and the wrong way of doing that which I’m sure you’ve all seen someone do the wrong way. But there’s a way of being like, “oh on episode four like this happened and I’m thinking about this.” And they’re like “oh yeah I didn’t think about that. But in that way yes.” But in certain ways you’re always learning. I mean you don’t know what’s happening in Chapter 36.

Ashleigh Murray: Yeah right it’s that’s kind of what my sentiment was is that you know our the environment of Riverdale so ever changing that you know I wake up one day and like you know Josie and Veronica. Like you know besties and then all of a sudden you know she’s snatching people’s groups then like it’s like you never you wake up and you’re friends and you’re not.

Casey Cott: She’s a group snatcher.

Ashleigh Murray: She is. She’s a little group snatcher. But Casey is right because we do have different directors all the time which I didn’t know is customary in like network or in television that it’s very rare that a television show has the same director for every episode. So oftentimes you do have to be very comfortable with your character to be able to direct whomever that is new to the set to let them know hey this doesn’t actually work. Like I wouldn’t be sitting next to you know Casey or Kevin because such and such happened and you know most times they’re like oh yeah got it. Sure. We’ll move you over here.

Aeriel: Mr. Cott and Ms. Murray have exceedingly busy TV schedules. And despite that they still find time to go on audition during hiatus which both admit would be very difficult without representation.

Casey Cott: I’m going, to be honest, I’ve never had an audition in this city personally without an agent. And that’s just because I was very fortunate to get one a long time ago when I was in college. So I can’t speak to that. I have most of my friends don’t have agents. But I’ll let you take that one.

Ashleigh Murray: I – you know I’m trying to remember I don’t think I did. To be honest with you it’s different here on the East Coast on the West Coast. They don’t agents don’t freelance. You’re either signed or you’re not. And I think it may be the same with managers there I’m not sure but here in New York it is a bit of a privilege to be able to freelance with an agency so they can see if you actually are willing to do this and can show up to auditions on time and know your material and things like that. On time on time it’s so important. It’s so important. But having an agent is going to open up an agent and a manager is going to open up so much more opportunity for you because they’re the ones who get the breakdowns. They’re the ones who have casting directors reaching out to them being like, “Hey can you send 0 I’m looking for this type of person for this role.” So it’s it’s very hard if not all impossible to do that on your own without any representation.

Casey Cott: It’s hard you know I have friends of book Broadway from no agents though. There’s a there’s –

Ashleigh Murray: Well I don’t know nothing about no theater I’m just saying like commercials and TV.

Casey Cott: There’s so many avenues you know just if you don’t have an agent Just put yourself the more you put yourself out there the more possibilities are to find one. You know agents aren’t going to come knocking on your door.

Ashleigh Murray: They’re not. And you know because you’re in New York. I’m a New York fan all the way OK. I feel like if you want to go to L.A. do it and if it’s your jam do it. I am hardcore about the East Coast mostly because I feel like there’s so much more opportunity to get proper training here and here like I’m sure you all curse all the time. New York is not about the bulls**t. You can’t bulls**t a bulls**tter. You know what I mean you can get by pretending to be pretty and all this other stuff in L.A. and you might book a few things because you cute to look at but if you show up saying you know somebody you don’t. This world is very small and you will get up on that wall real quick and they’ll be like yeah she sent me glitter in her like press pack. I’m not messing with her no more.

You know

Casey Cott: Is that like a term what “she sent glitter?”

Ashleigh Murray: Oh yeah. There have been people don’t inundate casting directors with mailers aren’t really a thing anymore. If you’re a mailer – anything like – if you’re going to send a mailer it’s it’s only if you’re in something but don’t put glitter in it don’t like, don’t be weird because they will not they will not mess with you anymore but being why are you laughing I’m serious. Being in New York I feel like you have a better opportunity of of meeting the right people who are going to help curate who you are as opposed to what they think you should be. I just feel like if you can make it here you can make it in New York. You can make it in Georgia. You can make it you know wherever else the work is. I think this is a really great place to start. And knowing that, don’t ever pay anybody to represent you.  And if somebody comes to you and it’s like oh we should like, “change your hair and like get rid of the bangs and just the blonde!” Don’t. Don’t do it. You know you know who you are. Be authentic to who you are. Unless you feel like whatever. Like different haircut or hair color or whatever the case is is just going to elevate. Your essence do that. But you know just kind of I could be here all night you know what I’m trying to say.

Eric: Through all the hard work the actors remind themselves that they are lucky

Aeriel: and try not to lose sight of why they chose this career in the first place.

Casey Cott: We’ve been shooting for about two years so we’ve done two seasons but we’ve only been shooting for two years. But there’s a lot that goes into it. What we do are doing right what we’re doing right now. There’s a lot of contract stuff there’s a lot of business stuff there’s a lot of social stuff a lot of press stuff and then some shooting stuff

Ashleigh Murray: and then there’s free stuff

Casey Cott: and then there’s free stuff. And and it becomes stagnant Yeah. Like simple yeah like are there days many days on set where I’m like I don’t want to be here. I do not want to be doing this. Of course. Are there days where Chris Pratt feels that on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 set. Yeah. What I will say is I think of that feeling to me right now and I’m biased because this is all I’ve done I think TV is the hardest when it comes that because you are contractually obligated to do this thing for many many many years and it’s a daunting task and you it’s exactly what you want to do you want to do movies you want to do all the things that I just said I wanted to do and that’s that right. So let’s say my contract right now is X amount of years. You have X amount of break, you have X amount of time while you’re doing what you’re doing to set yourself up to do all the things you want to do. But it’s it’s a business and it’s important to remember that and it’s important keep yourself inspired when you are doing a show like we’re doing because you can get very uninspired very quickly and we all feel that. But luckily too we have such a great young cast and adult cast too. Because we call ourselves the kids and adults even though like I’m 25 and

Ashleigh Murray: I’m not.

Casey Cott: So we all whenever I’m down I’m like, “yo I am feeling rough right now. This sucks”. And they’re like “yeah.” Like well. Like, let’s talk about it let’s figure out together let’s make this story good. This is our job. Let’s get passionate. Why do you like acting. Or I’ll call the people in my life that are not on the show. “Why do you -why are you doing this? Why don’t you go be on Wall Street or something? Do you want to do that? No, alright. Are you blessed to have a job? Yeah. So let’s figure this out and power through it.” You know it’s the same with that intimidation factor. It’s like instead of moping dig deep. And figure out why we like to act. And be thankful for the opportunity to do it.

Aeriel: We’re thankful to Casey Cott and Ashleigh Murray for having such a candid conversation with our students and thankful to all of you for listening.

Eric: I’m Eric Conner

Aeriel: and I’m Aeriel Segard. And this episode was written by Eric Conner hi based on a Q&A moderated by Peter Allen Stone. This episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden

Eric: Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself Executive produced by Jean Sherlock, Dan Mackler, and Tova Laiter with a special thanks to the staff and the crew at our New York City campus for making this all possible.

Aeriel: To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple podcasts or you know wherever you listen.

Aeriel and Eric: See you next time!


Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy, and in this episode, we bring you one of Hollywood’s greatest and most proficient casting directors, Jane Jenkins.

— When an actor comes in and has really thought about. Who is this character? Where do they fit in the script? And you bring a life into the room. I go thank you very much and I cancel 10 appointments.–

Jane Jenkins: Her credits over four decades. Makes you wonder is there a movie she didn’t cast with her partner Janet Hirshenson The Princess Bride. Jurassic Park. Ferris Bueller. A Beautiful Mind. When Harry Met Sally. Harry Potter. Plus another 50 or so movies for John Hughes Ron Howard and Rob Reiner.

–You’re a Wizard Harry.


You can’t handle the truth.

Houston we have a problem.

Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice.

Bueller. Bueller.

Welcome to Jurassic Park.

Keep the change you filthy animal.–

Eric: But none of this would have happened if her career went as initially planned in front of the camera.

Jane Jenkins: I was not a successful actress. And I loved being in the business. I worked as an assistant to a number of people and one of the – two of the people that I worked for were John Peters and Barbra Streisand when they were making a movie called A Star Is Born, a remake of the original. And I sort of watched the whole casting process and then I went to work for a man named Frank Pierson. Frank Pierson was a terrific writer who wrote a movie called Cool Hand Luke. He – a lot of fabulous fabulous movies- and he wrote Dog Day Afternoon. He was a really fabulous Academy Award-winning writer and he wrote and directed, A Star Is Born. And after we finished shooting the film he asked me if I would come and work for him on a film called King of the Gypsies. And so I did a lot of research for him and then I watched them casting it and I kept saying no these people are wrong they’re not gypsies because I knew a great deal about more than I ever needed to know about gypsies. And literally a lightbulb went off in my head and I went, “casting! What a great job that could be could really incorporate my acting and my production and all of that.” And then all I needed to do was find a job because I didn’t know how to actually, cast anything. There are rules and regulations and an actor by the name of Ralph Waite who was on a very successful TV show called The Waltons. Way back when before all of you were born it was an old boyfriend of mine and I asked him if he could help me get a job at Lorimar the country. The company that produced the Waltons and he said, “you know, I’m going to do a movie and you can cast it for me.” And I went, “I don’t know how to actually.” He said, “go to the screen actors guild and get the rulebook.” And I did. And I read it. And I figured out how to hire people. And I was just it was the perfect culmination for me of my love of acting and my love of the movies and literally the minute I said casting one door after another opened and early on in my career I hooked up with a wonderful woman named Jennifer Shull and she had worked for Francis Coppola and then we all went over to Zoetrope and worked for Francis for a couple of years until the studio fell apart but because we had been Frances’s casting people Rob Reiner called and said I need a casting director. And so I cast Rob’s very first movie after Spinal Tap, a film called The Sure Thing. And we just finished a film that he hasn’t started shooting yet but we just finished a film called Shock and Awe. And it’s the 18th movie that I’ve done with Rob Reiner. So I mean and I’ve worked and the same the same is true for Ron Howard. You know Ron called the studio and said I need a casting director and Fred Roos who was Francis Coppola’s producer. Said oh just hire Jane and Janet. And so he did. And I’ve done I don’t know 16/17 movies for Ron as well. And it’s just been truly the right – I was in the right place at the right time.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins credits acting background for giving her the skills needed to be a successful casting director.

Jane Jenkins: I come to everything that I do from an actors point of view. I read a script from an actors point of view because that’s my training I went to the High School of Performing Arts, I studied acting after performing arts with people like Bill Hickey and Uta Hagen at a HP studios. So I read the script and interpret it and then I sit down with the director and talk about what it is. You know all of the fine – It’s very easy to come up with a whole list of names – What are the financial ramification? How much money do we have for the film? How much money do we have for all of these people? And I think because I understood it from an acting point of view it made it easier for me to make the leap into the production part of it. And I think it was just a very – you know casting is not a job that you go to school for it’s not like becoming a costume designer or an editor it’s a very intuitive job and I think I just had a natural sense of how to do it and what the parts required, who is going to bring it to life.

Eric: An old expression about acting is that there are no small parts only small actors. A lesson that Ms. Jenkins continues to live by when looking for the perfect actor, be it a lead role or the pizza boy.

Jane Jenkins: I think that not being really prepared not thinking that just because it’s a couple of lines anybody can do this. But every human being has some unique characteristics and I’m looking for what kind of interesting life you’re bringing into the room with you that’s going to add to this movie. It’s sort of like you know, weaving a tapestry in a way. And even though there are small parts I’m looking for that little gold thread that you go oh what was that. That’s. So for me. There really are no small parts. They’re all important. Years ago Janet and I both cast I don’t know about 14 movies for John Hughes who paid us really one of the greatest compliments saying that he loves working with us because even the pizza guy brings something to the whole movie. And that’s what I’m looking for.

Eric: Today’s pizza boy could wind up being tomorrow’s star or in the case of Mystic Pizza the blink and you miss it roll of a boyfriend’s brother could be the next Matt Damon.

Jane Jenkins: When I go back and look at actors that were in movies that I did early on who have become successful actors. You know when – when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won their academy award some reporter called me up because the very first – if you look at Matt Damon’s IMDb – the first movie that he’s in is a movie called Mystic Pizza. And this reporter called me up and said, “Did you have a sense when you hired him for Mystic Pizza that he had this in him?” And I went, “Is this like a joke question?” I said, “No, of course not what I knew was he was the best 16-year-old kid who lived in Boston who looked like the guy who was playing Julia Roberts’ boyfriend.” And he was his younger brother you know because Ben Affleck came in and auditioned for the same part. But Ben didn’t fit into the family. So it’s not that I had you know any ESP that he was going to turn into anything. He was was he was the perfect kid who looked like he fit into this you know, family. And when you go back and you look at all of these people who have gone on to successful careers it’s incredibly satisfying from the casting but I’m looking for somebody who brings an authenticity and preparation and hopefully fits into the family that I’m casting.

Eric: Matt Damon went on from Mystic Pizza to an Oscar-winning career as did another then little-known actress named Julia Roberts. Yet Ms. Jenkins will not take credit for discovering her.

Jane Jenkins: You know that somebody else would argue that somebody else gave her her SAG card. So I did not give her SAG. She had done a couple of small things. Has anybody here ever seen or heard of Mystic Pizza? Probably not a whole handful of people. It’s an interesting film because when you look at it now it’s a very different Julia Roberts than the Julia Roberts that you see now. She was also I think 18 or 19 years old. You know there was a time, back in the 80s when all these movies were being made that they were all made on very small budgets. I think Princess Bride was maybe 10 million dollars. Mystic Pizza was certainly nowhere near that. It was probably six or seven million dollars and we had the ability to find because they were all so many of them were teenage actors. We had the ability to find new young actors. Now, even when you’re doing a teen movie they want you to find that person who has some television presence and maybe a couple of the other people can be new people. But it’s much more difficult now because the movies are more expensive and the competition to get them produced and out on a screen is much more difficult.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins also helped launch the career of another beloved movie star Meg Ryan. But in her case, it took several years and quite a few tries before locking down the right part.

Jane Jenkins:  I first met Meg Ryan when she was 18 years old and I was casting Rob’s first film called The Sure Thing. The Sure Thing was John Cusack’s first big breakout movie and that was about a young college bunch of kids. Meg Ryan was hysterically funny, absolutely adorable, really talented, really terrific. I brought her back in for Rob. He said “She’s terrific. Not the right girl. But she is terrific.” And we did not hire her. And then two years later we’re doing The Princess Bride and Meg comes in and she reads for The Princess Bride. And Rob says to me, “God, if Bill Goldman wrote that Buttercup should be the most adorable girl in the world, I would hire her right now but I need the most beautiful girl in the world. Keep looking.” And Meg was not ugly by any means. And then two years after that we were doing this movie called When Harry Met Sally and Meg Ryan was the second girl that came in to audition and Rob said, “It’s her part. Cancel everybody else.” So in that six or seven year period Meg auditioned for a bajillion things. There were two jobs that we gave her in movies that were not enormously successful movies nor did they catapult her career but the point is that she was absolutely fabulous the very first time I met her when she was 18 years old and that’s why I remembered her and kept bringing her in, and bringing her in and whether I cast her in something like When Harry Met Sally that catapulted her career or somebody else did, it was clear to me that at some point this girl – the opportunity and this actress were going to meet up  – ’cause that’s what it takes it takes the opportunity and the right actress for that explosion to happen.

–Marriage. Marriage is what brings us together today.

You’re The Dread Pirate Roberts admit it! – With Pride.

Bow to the Queen of slime, the Queen of filth, the Queen of putrescence.

The Cliffs of Insanity.

Bye bye boys. Have fun storming the castle.

Hello my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.

Inconceivable. – You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Eric: Thirty years after its initial release The Princess Bride still resonates with audiences of every age largely due to its wonderful collection of performers including a very young Robin Wright.

Jane Jenkins: We made it in 1987, and Robin was 19 years old when she came into my office and we hired her. She was so beautiful. Well that was that was the thing! You know we needed  -William Goldman wrote that Buttercup was the most beautiful girl in the world. So I needed to find not just a beautiful actress but an actress who incorporated all of that fairytale stuff. And one of the things that we discovered when we were casting was a lot of very pretty young models came in and then I started seeing some European girls and suddenly it just sounded better even though their acting wasn’t all that great, but not having an American accent sort of brought the fairy tale thing to life because America wasn’t discovered yet in the time of fairy tales. It’s just hard to – and we started just asking actors to do this with any kind of an accent make up an accent. Any kind of an accent, you know, an English accent or French accent. And when I met Robin I said, “Can you do some kind of accent?” And she said, “My stepfather is British I do a pretty good British accent.” I said, “Great! Do that.” And she read the lines and Buttercup came to life. She was the last girl that we saw after seeing almost 200 girls. She walked in, she said the lines, I went, “oh my god! Yeah.”

Eric: I could gush about The Princess Bride’s cast all day. Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Peter Falk. But I’ll reserve my fanboying for the casting of the famed eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant.

— So what happens now? We face each other as god intended. – Sportsman-like.

Fezzik are there rocks ahead. If there are we’ll all be dead. No more rhymes now I mean it. Anybody want a peanut.

Why are you wearing a mask? Were you burned by acid or something like that?

Hello lady.

The dread pirate Roberts is here for your soul.–

Tova Laiter: Andre the Giant, you had to go to some giant land to cast him?

Jane Jenkins: You know that was the hardest part. Needless to say when I first sat down with Rob. And Bill Goldman and I said, “so this giant guy how how how big a giant? Like how what are we talking about?” And Bill Goldman said, “You know like Andre the Giant.” I didn’t, I didn’t have a clue as to who Andre the Giant was and Bill Goldman says Andre the Giant like I should like what- do I follow wrestling? But he was in a, pardon the pun, but he was an enormous wrestler at the time. So he still has a presence and there are posters and everything. And so I came back to my office and my partner’s husband Janet ran the company for us and I said, “who’s Andre the giant?” He said, “he’s like the biggest wrestler out there.” I said, “well how would I know this?” So we tracked him down through the World Wide Wrestling Federation – say that three times fast. And when I said that we were interested in him acting in the film and I gave them the dates they said, “oh no no no he’s going to be wrestling in Japan for millions of dollars and we’re not canceling that. So then I started meeting giants. Now that’s a movie in itself because you meet all these enormously large people but you know most people who are giants. It’s a disease and they’re not necessarily graceful and they’re not necessarily healthy and they’re not necessarily the strongest people. They’re just very large. And so I met an array of very interesting people and we sort of didn’t know what we were going to do. I mean we went to London I met this Scottish guy who was like the strongest man in the world who could pull you know tractor trailers with his teeth, and it was crazy. And at the very last minute we were in a casting session in London and I got a phone call from my office in L.A. saying that Andre’s dates in Japan were canceled. And if Rob wanted to meet him he’s flying from Brussels which is where he lived to Paris and then going someplace else and maybe Rob could meet him at the Paris airport. And Rob we dropped everything we said excuse me to the actor who was auditioning Rob and Andy Scheinman got in a taxi cab went to Heathrow got on a plane flew to Paris met Andre and Rob had tape recorded all of Andre’s dialogue and he met him in the in the lounge and he said you have the job. Learn it exactly like that. So all of those Hello lady. This is all Rob Reiner’s interpretation as translated by Andre the Giant. And it was truly a miracle that at the last minute because. Giants are hard to come by. It was an amazing thing that he was available at the last minute.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins’ relationship with director Rob Reiner has spanned from 1985’s the sure thing to 2018’s shock and awe. Likewise she has continually worked with Ron Howard and Chris Columbus on dozens of projects including Apollo 13 The Da Vinci Code and Home Alone.

Jane Jenkins:  I was in a very very very very very I can’t stress it enough fortunate position in that I hooked up with two young guys who were not famous filmmakers. When I first worked with them Rob between Rob Reiner and Ron Howard and my partner Janet did a young Chris Columbus’s early movies so that we worked with these guys when they were starting out on their first films. We clicked. We did a good job. They hired us again and again and again. And I was very fortunate and because I had that sort of to count on that you know nothing is guaranteed but pretty much they were going to do a movie every year year and a half. It gave us the ability to say no to pictures that we found. You know we were two women running a company and there were scripts that I went I’m sorry this is just degrading and I’m not going to do it. Somebody else did it. But you know I think that and I think that’s true as actors you know there are scripts that involve you know sexual activity and rape and the victim and the if it’s something that you feel that you can’t do in good conscience just say thank you very much but it’s not for me. Nobody’s going to you know not ever see you again. You can’t do things that you have to live with this stuff for the rest of your life. And so I feel that I’m very very fortunate in that I worked with some really good guys on some really terrific movies. It was just I just got lucky.

Eric: Jane Jenkins bases her casting on two key components the screenplay and the director’s vision. Though sometimes that means she needs to push back against the director’s wishes in order to help them realize their own vision. Such was the case with Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.

Jane Jenkins:  There have been times when I thought the director was making a mistake. And you know I said Are you sure that this is what you want to do. But ultimately my job. Is to fulfill a director’s point of view. Not my point of view. I can sort of wrestle a director to the ground a little bit to say come on You know when we were casting the movie. Ghost you know the movie Ghost literally when I read the script I said oh they must have hired Whoopi Goldberg already. I don’t know who anybody else says. But this part seems to have been written with Whoopi Goldberg in mind. And so Janet and I you know because the casting director kind of has to audition for the job as well you go in you have a meeting about blah blah blah blah blah. And I said So did you write this with Whoopi and Jerry said No we thought about Whoopi Goldberg but I’d like to see who else is out there and I went. Why. That’s like the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. And. I literally saw something like 230 people. You name a black actress from Tina Turner to Nell Carter to Alfre Woodard. I mean hundreds of actors came in to read for the part that Whoopi ultimately played and after every single person Jerry would say no it’s not them. I would say so. What about Whoopi Goldberg. I mean I think she was like Born to play this part. And at some point early on in the whole proceeding Whoopi came in to meet with Jerry and she said I would love a shot at this part. Jerry said well we know she’s there but you keep looking. And I kept looking and I’d bring in actors and eventually what happened was when Patrick got hired they turned to Patrick and they say what do you think about Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick says she’d be great. And. He even though he said she’d be great. They got on a plane and they went to North Carolina the two of them Patrick and Jerry and Patrick and Whoopi did the scene in the first class lounge at the at the airport. And then Patrick and Jerry came back on the next flight and Jerry said well she was great. I don’t know what I was thinking she’s perfect but it took me months. I was very thin though I lost a lot of weight on that movie. But I mean sometimes you can persist with a director and at some point if Jerry said finally no no no no no Whoopi Goldberg I’d have to come up with another actress. But fortunately he caved and she won an Academy Award. You know there’s just no way of knowing.

Eric: Ultimately the script led Jerry Zucker and Jane Jenkins to find the perfect actor. In fact, her first stop in casting is what the screenplay says about a character though sometimes going against that description is needed to find the best performer.

Jane Jenkins: It depends on the script you know in LBJ, all of the people are all of the real people. This movie that I just finished with. Rob is also based on real people it’s a film called Shock and Awe and it’s about the lead up to the invasion of Iraq and a group of real reporters who wrote for a news organization called Knight-Ridder who kept writing articles about how there were no WMDs. And stop this stop this. Stop this. And they were largely ignored. The only minority and ethnic casting are of a couple of fictitious parts that the writer wrote into the script. So from a casting point of view it’s usually what’s on the page what the writer has created. Unless there’s an opportunity for me to say just because the doctor was written as a 50 year old white guy. What about if the doctor were a 40 year old black woman or whatever you know so the casting director can take that liberty and suggest but ultimately it’s the writer who has created this. And you know the whole thing about Oscars so white it isn’t actors in the academy works like this. Every branch does its own nomination. So the actors nominate other actors the costume designers nominate costume designers the editors nominate editors. There is not an Oscar for casting yet. So we don’t get to nominate anybody but we do get to nominate the films. And when each branch has culled it down to their five top choices for actors editing music whatever the the the department is then the entire membership votes on all of it. So it was the actors. You know everybody was hysterical at the academy but the Academy doesn’t nominate the actors the Academy votes on the actors but it is the actor branch that nominates the actors. And there’s I have no control over who they nominate. You know I thought that they were people every year I go through this. You know the same thing about people that I would nominate and people who get nominated and the two don’t always mesh. But I think that we live in a diverse world and I think it’s a great thing that people are opening up their eyes to the world that we live in. Part of the problem I think has always been that the majority of scripts are written by white men and so women are not always included in positions of authority as doctors as lawyers as whatever ethnic minorities are not always included and that’s not the world that we live in. So I think that all of this hubbub has been very fruitful in casting a wider shadow across the spectrum that is the United States of America and the world that we live in. So I think it’s all it’s ultimately a really good thing.

Eric: Ms Jenkins made a point of giving our students some great frontline advice for their own careers. The days of a star being discovered at the pool or bar or a soda shop are long gone. Even soda shops are long gone. Nowadays agents are looking at YouTube videos and reels so you better make sure yours looks professional.

Jane Jenkins: It’s important because it’s very hard to get an agent without a reel. But it’s also very hard to get a real good a real reel. I don’t want to see. I’d rather see little snippets of stuff that you’ve done professionally or a student film so that it’s not just avideo camera shooting your monologue in sort of dead space. I think that you know we all live in this era of everybody’s got a video camera with them at all times. And in terms of their phone you have to learn how to be a bit of a filmmaker and if you’re going to do a video because you don’t have professional footage then you really have to learn how to light yourself or have somebody light you and do this in a way that I can see you in a movie not just a blank background shot from a distance. I want to see a close up I want to see the intimacy that film offers and what kind what you’re bringing to it. So a reel is very important. But there are ways to accomplish putting a reel together when you haven’t gotten a whole body of work that you have professional quality stuff on it. I mean you’re in a film school all you should all be making films of each other. I want to see some variety of parts that you can play and keep it simple and honest. I just want to see good work. That’s all I want to see. Doesn’t have to be 15 different scenes. I want to see a couple of things that are simple and honest and real I want to see that there is a real actor showing me what they can do. You know I always tell actors go to documentaries watch documentaries watch newsreel footage watch how real people really behave. You know there have been all these horrible fires and you watch people with some you know crazy reporters saying and how do you feel that you’ve just lost your house. Actors go oh my god. Well, people don’t act like that. People are in such a state of shock. They just stand there say I just I. I’ve lost everything. There’s nothing there’s nothing and the honesty and the simplicity of how the depth of how they feel they don’t have to be hysterical. I know that they must be hysterical inside but the shock of what they’ve just lost you know on NPR the other day I was listening to a woman. She had horses and somebody rescued the horse and the vet called her and said the horse is not injured but he’s not going to recover. And she had to give the vet permission to put the horse down. I mean just listening to her explain was heartbreaking. I mean you could hear it in her voice because there was no acting she was talking from her heart. And that’s all that acting is if you make it honest and simple and real. It’s so much more effective than histrionics even when people are playing over-the-top parts. It has to come from a real place otherwise it’s all just bulls**t. You know and that’s never effective.

When you get a chance to, audition. Don’t go when they’re desperate for work.

Here’s the most important thing that you need to know about an audition an audition is not about getting a job. An audition is about. Presenting yourself. To the people that you hope will hire you in the future. If you can get the final result you know just like in acting. You don’t you can’t he can’t act the final result. You have to be in the moment. You have to be in the moment when you come in for an audition and that’ll take away all those nerves that make you hyperventilate so that you can’t think and you can’t speak just be there. Just come in and let somebody know who you are. What do you have to offer. You’re either going to be right for the part in which case you’ll get a call back that you may not get the job. Well you’re not going to be right for the part in which case I make a little note going very interesting and I keep it in the back of my mind for the next time I’m working on something and I go Oh remember that kid that came in and blah blah. I mean casting directors keep all these ridiculous notes. And you remember we remember the people who really made a deep impression on us not because they got the job just because they were terrific and that’s all you have to worry about when you come in come in prepared and come in and be who you are don’t come in trying to be something that you’re not.

Eric: For filmmakers, Ms. Jenkins stressed that they need to look for actors who can elevate the story and their directing. Just like Robin Wright did for Rob Reiner all those years ago.

Jane Jenkins: You’re looking for somebody as a filmmaker you are looking for the best possible actor that you can find that embodies the character that is in the script that you’ve either written or you’re filming or you’re directing or whatever you’re doing with it and you have to go through that same process. I mean I meet a whole bunch of actors I meet 40 50 60 people who are not really perfect and then I meet five. That I go Wow. Any one of these people could be sensational. And then fortunately it’s up to the director to pick the one. So I do the same thing. I mean literally when we did the Princess Bride I met at least 200 very pretty young actresses. And then Robin and a number of them were pretty good. And then Robin Wright walked into my office and brought this whole. I mean it was just like oh my god oh my god. Oh my God. So that’s. You’re looking for the person that really encapsulates what you want that is going to spark your creativity and bring the whole movie together. And you may have to see a lot of people to find the one that brings with them what you need. And as a director and as a filmmaker what you can help them achieve because the quality that they have some essence of who they are is right for the project. There’s not an easy way. I see dozens and dozens and dozens of actors before I select the couple that I bring back to the director. And that’s up you know you can also. Cast a little further afield outside. I would imagine that if you put an ad in backstage as a student filmmaker there are always young actors looking to get a reel together. So I don’t know that you have to be limited to just you know. So if you need a 50 year old principal of a school you may not find it among your student body. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you put an ad in backstage if you couldn’t. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that here but you might be able to find somebody more appropriate than from the student body.

Eric: Ms. Jenkins also made a point that for an actor branding yourself is only necessary when you don’t bring talent or training to the table.

Jane Jenkins: You’ve become an actor so that you can become different personas. What is the brand. Are you planning on selling perfume or. I don’t even understand this question makes me crazy. I think that you have to be the best you that you can be. When I meet. Young actors or any actor who know who they are so that they have the ability to be 15 other people. That’s what I’m looking for. You know when you watch Meryl Streep she always brings some portion of Meryl Streep to the party with her. But she has the ability to be 150 other people and plays them all. So what is her brand. Talent is her brand. I think that’s the only brand that you need. I don’t understand this concept. Maybe you know if you’re involved in reality television or. I it’s really beyond my comprehension this whole conversation about branding. I think your brand is your talent and what you. Your ability to interpret the script that you’ve been given and bring something interesting into the room.

Eric: Well Jane Jenkins most definitely brings talent into the room in more ways than one and has done so for almost 200 movies so far to learn more about Jane Jenkins adventures in the screen trade read her book. A star is found co-written with her casting partner Janet Hirshenson. We want to thank Ms. Jenkins for speaking with our students and thanks to all of you for listening.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at youtube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

You’re still here. It’s over. Go home. Go.

–This 6 year old child with this. blank pale emotionless face and. The blackest eyes. The devils eyes. I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply.

Evil. You see what we’re talking about here is an organism that imitates other life forms and it imitates them perfectly. You people sit tight hold the fort and keep the home fires burning and if we’re not back by dawn call the president You see I take these glasses off.

She looks like a regular person doesn’t she. Put them back on. Formaldehyde face.

The president is dead you got that somebody’s had him for dinner.

Nothing scared off. Killed him. You can’t kill the boogie man.

We’re not getting out of here alive. But neither is that thing.

Death has come to your own little town. Sheriff.

You can either ignore it or you can help me to stop it.–

Eric: Hello and welcome to the Backlot. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. This episode we bring you the man who gave us Michael Meyers Snake Plissken and an invisible Chevy Chase.

–Writer, director, composer, John Carpenter.

Eric: John Carpenter’s work covers a number of genres from the Sci-Fi romance of starman to the fantastical Big Trouble in Little China but he’s mostly considered a master of modern horror even if that was not his original plan.

John Carpenter: Well you have to understand that horror found me I didn’t find it. I got typecast into this. I got in this business to make Westerns Westerns died Westerns went away and horror found me with Halloween. What happens in Hollywood you get typecast. Oh he made that but let’s off him this it’s the same thing. They want you to do the same thing again and again and make money at it. But I made a career out of it. I’ve got to become John Carpenter. What’s wrong with that. I’m happy about it. My influences were science fiction and horror movies and westerns musicals everything. When I was growing up back in the 50s I loved movies and then I went to film school I got to watch the work of the American classic directors Orson Welles Howard Hawks John Ford and then world directors.

That’s where I really deepened my love for cinema

Eric: Mr Carpenter’s influences can be seen throughout his work including his 1976 thriller assault on Precinct 13 a spiritual homage to Howard Hawks as Rio Bravo.

–We’re out of time out of ammunition just like wells we’re out of luck and never had too much faith in anyone coming to my rescue. Maybe you’ve been associating with the wrong people I’ve been with policemen for five years. That’s enough to grow hair on a rock.

You’re going to get out of town like your boy here with you going can tell Burdett you got Wheeler you can tell him anybody else he sends he better pay him more cause they’re going to earn it.

You want that gun pick it up.

I wish you would.

Eric: Howard Hawks the thing from another world provided even more inspiration for Mr. Carpenter. He remade the film itself in 1982 but even before that. Shades of Hawk’s unstoppable boogie man can be found in Mr. Carpenter’s most famous film. Mr. Carpenter created the slasher genre with one film and teenagers have never been safe since.

–No reason no conscience no understanding and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death of good or evil right or wrong.

We had no clue we were just a bunch of kids.–

John Carpenter: Making a movie you know and make it an exploitation horror film back in those days. Indies were not arthouse films. They were really exploitation films action or horror or science fiction. They were little movies that a company could bicycle around the country from one city to another and they could actually make some money on it. No we had no idea nobody did. We were just having a good time making movies we were young had hair it was great.

Eric: Once his budgets became bigger so did his stress.

John Carpenter: The minute you move out of a small project that you control everything gets compounded if you write it and you direct it and maybe you produce it you hit up your friends and your family for the budget and you get something because you want to make a Hollywood movie or you want to make a feature film.

The minute that you start dealing with Hollywood or I say the movie business is the minute you start learning what its all about because people are putting up money to make money. So the pressure on you is to deliver some bucks for it. And I went to USC film school way back when they didn’t teach us how to deal with stress. They just assumed that you kind of bring that along with you. And nowadays when you guys get your first feature unless its a big hit. I worry for you because they don’t give you any time to mature as a filmmaker. Its one time and out its really ruthless these days. Every decision you make gets questioned unless you kind of maneuver your way through that and try to gouge out a space for yourself or make them afraid of you where they are afraid to ask you to do anything they’re afraid to come down on you. And that’s real hard to do it’s very tricky. Everybody faces this. And when you get into a cast member who wants to control your movie tell you what to do. Two weeks into a shoot because you can’t fire him because you’ve shot all of his friends and you’re —-.

— TBig Big time but it’s all fine. Don’t worry about a thing.

Somebody in this camp ain’t what he appears to be right now that maybe one or two of us by spring it could be all of us.

This thing doesn’t want to show itself it wants to hide inside an imitation you see when a man bleeds it’s just tissue. And blood from one of you things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive. It’ll fight if it has to. But it’s vulnerable out in the open. If takes us over then it has no more enemies nobody left to kill it.

And then it’s won. —

Eric:30 years one reboot and even a videogame later the thing has withstood the test of time and is now viewed as a modern horror classic but it didn’t start out that way.

John Carpenter: The thing was not a commercial nor critical success when it was released it was released the summer of 82 when this same studio released E.T. and everybody wanted it up cry. They didn’t want a downbeat end of the world type deal. I think the fans turned on the film pretty severely because they thought I raped a classic the original Christian Nyby Howard Hawks picture. Anyway I didn’t recover from the disaster of that movie for quite a while. The movie’s can last. They can last beyond their initial box office release now you guys may not be aware of how many classic American films came out were bombs. Nobody liked them. And then they grew. You know. Citizen Kane wasn’t a great hit. Vertigo was condemned and was a failure. Upon its release it’s a wonderful life. That movie they show on Christmas and it tanked. Nobody wanted to see it. It was only later that it was shown on television and home video that it became popular.

So it’s really it’s really odd what happens.

Eric: The things use of practical effects continues to impress even in the modern age of green screens and CGI.

John Carpenter: In the case of the thing the creature was very ill defined in the screenplay and everybody is thinking nobody knew what to do with it. And there is an old fashioned idea I guess it goes back to Val Lewton that if you’re going to make a movie about a monster you never want to really see it. You want to keep it in the dark because it’s more effective that way.

At least that’s the thinking in kind of rich liberal middle brow Hollywood. And I made the mistake of trying something different which is to bring this thing out into the light and show it and show it going through its gyrations in front of you because of this story see the story’s about this creature this alien who can imitate anything and has throughout his travels or her travels in the universe. So when it starts imitating to survive it’s going to start looking like the other creatures that it’s imitated. And also he has no respect for the human form or body. So it’s going to rip apart. Which I thought was in the 1980s there was a big huge body culture going on in America at least maybe the world. There’s a lot of the Jane Fonda workout. Everybody got concerned about how they looked their bodies and how thin they were. It was huge. And I thought well this is a great time to be just kind of take that go —- you.

Let me let me disturb you on a basic level here about the way you look and about your body because really nobody gives a —-.

That was the thought Rob Bottin was my special effects coordinator and creator and he said it could look like anything. So let’s make stuff that looks amazing. So I had a whole raft of designers just designing art and it went from everything there was one scene it looks like a flower. Another thing of course this guy’s head comes off which is my favorite scene in the film. But we did it and the audiences went and hated it. And years later everybody is going ooh and aah but that’s the way it goes.

Eric: Though the tools have changed the process of making movies remains almost dogmatically the same.

John Carpenter: You know that’s one thing I wish had changed about the movie business that has never changed. It is a grind to make a film to make a big film. It’s a real grind in terms of technology of movie making that constantly changes and it’s a tool. You guys got to look at it like a tool.

It’s something that can further your vision of whatever you’re doing whether it’s a match shot or whether you’re imagining some creature that’s impossible. Or whether you’re imagining some world that you want to explore. The technology at your disposal now is unlike anything that’s ever been before it’s great you guys are lucky you’re also lucky that you can buy or rent or get a hold of inexpensive equipment and you could do it on digital and make your own damn movie. So we didn’t have that when I was young. And you guys can watch movies and you can watch old films you can watch them on DVD or you can watch them on whatever you can watch them on your telephone your iPhone. So you guys are really lucky and I’m envious of where you are and the time you’ve come along. But they’ve never improved they’ve never streamlined the motion picture technique. They still do it on a board. They still figure out the shooting days on a board whether it’s a virtual board or actually they make one with strips and an eighth of a page and half a page you shoot three and a half pages in a day. Can I get that done in the afternoon. They make you get up you know and show up at 7:00 in the morning when no one’s ready to do creative —- at 7:00 in the morning. I haven’t even had coffee at it. So it’s always the same. Then in television and some low budget films.

They start the workweek on Monday 7:00 in the morning and then during the week they move the call time back. So on Friday you’re shooting nights. They do that because they can cheat you because you don’t have the time on the weekend to catch up on your rest to start again Monday. It’s a grind. No one has fixed that no one has made it better. And I don’t understand why the Directors Guild try to show the studios that if you work three or four days a week you can get more done because the crew wouldn’t be so tired.

We’ve actually had deaths of people driving home after working 17 18 hour days they get into a car accident.

And they didn’t want to hear about because they’re geared to punish the filmmaker. No they’re not. But I’m saying that because. It’s awful. I don’t know maybe you guys love to get up in the morning. I never did. I was always so anyway. That would be if one of you could design a system of shooting a movie that wasn’t this same old factory setup that we’ve had since the beginning of studios and make it work and make it easier on people you’d make millions of dollars. OK. And if you could figure out how to light a scene quicker. This is what I hoped would digital came in. I hope that we wouldn’t have to spend all the time we do on film lighting a scene. Why can’t these cameraman come up with some simple techniques. Why do they have to have top light and backlight and sidelight.

What is all that —-.

That’s the other thing that really has it changed some of the lighting schemes. There was a big change in the 70s when they did overhead lighting on the Godfather movies. They just use tarps and shoot the bedsheets and stuff like that make it all come from overhead with shadows and faces. And nowadays you can work the contrast or the color or the exposure on the computer. So it’s a lot simpler that way and you can kind of get the effect of that.

But the basics of cinematography haven’t changed. One of John Carpenter’s most recognizable tools is his use of music. It only takes a few notes to know. You’re watching a John Carpenter film. He scored almost all his own movies with one notable exception.

The nature of music what it does for films is enhance the scene.

And for the thing the music was done by Ennio Morricone he’s a rather famous composer the spaghetti Westerns with Clint Eastwood and once upon a time in the West were scored by him he’s an incredible artist and composer. And we had a chance to work with him on this and he was just brilliant his job is to narrate and characterize and provide a sensuality to the film through music that’s his whole job. And anytime I do the music myself all I do is accentuate the scenes and make them work. Try to cover up the —- ups that I do as a director through music.

Eric: Directors will often talk lovingly or not so lovingly about their stars. Mr. Carpenter raved about one cast member in the thing who was both remarkably instinctual and dangerously volatile.

John Carpenter: The main dog in this was a wolf and they’re smarter. But they’re a little dangerous on the set. He would come in and we’d have minimal crew we’d have the operator focus puller myself and the dolly grip and the actors and for about 15 or 20 minutes he would wander around us and get used to our smell they said Don’t pet him don’t touch him don’t necessarily look at him. Just sit here don’t talk loud. Let him be with you a little bit and he did something in one shot I’ve never seen an animal do his job as actor was to come down a hallway look in a room on the left. Look in a room on the right. Look back in a room on the left stand there and then go in. And we put a camera right in front of it. We’re tracking with him down the hallway. And his job also is not to look at the camera.

And by God this dog is seven or eight times just like that. It was jaw dropped. Now he’s not with us anymore. Jeb is his name. He was a great great dog and a great actor. We didn’t use him in every shot we use stand in dogs but the trainer brought a unique performing animal to the movie. And had I not had that dog. The movie wouldn’t be as good. He was unbelievable. So yeah animals can be really tough. Horses don’t stop where you want them to they take a —- in the middle of the scene. You know if you watch westerns you see all sorts of things go on that you took for granted we were watching them but you see actors kind of they’re out of control. I watch a scene in the original True Grit nowadays where somebody is about to fire a shot and you see John Wayne reach up and grab the horse he’s on before the shots fired so he knows the horse is going to bolt. So he’s just thinking ahead just trying to control it for the shot kids. Boy there’s some great kid actors. They just come and do it. So you don’t have to really worry too much. Then there’s some that are troubled. It all depends man. But generally speaking you know you just don’t know with kids and animals. You get the right ones and you’re all set.

Eric: His praise for frequent leading man Kurt Russell was equally as effusive.

John Carpenter: He’s a great great performer and great actor. He’s you know he thinks he is old now. He doesn’t want to do any more action movies. He believes some strange things sometimes. I don’t know if you know about Kurt Russell. He is to the right of Attila the Hun I mean he is extreme right and I’m extreme left. But it’s love of cinema and love of the craft of movies that keeps us together. So it just shows you what the important things are in life. If you love something the movie making process in our case then you can get along. You never know. That’s one thing you say in this business. Never say never about anything. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. But no he’s been a friend for many years many years. Kurt’s a great guy. And he can imitate. Like the thing he could do an imitation of anybody. Any actor. He does an imitation of me. It’s unbelievable. He’s a born mimic. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a great actor is he mimics people it’s really astonishing.

Eric: Though he’s known for slicing and dicing his cast onscreen. Mr. Carpenter always shows his actors the utmost respect.

John Carpenter: I want to see several things at once I want to see first and foremost what do they look like you know in person. Is there a bad angle. And secondly the personality. Are they open are they guarded about being directed or authority figures. What do you think of the screenplay and the material. How much do they want to change. You’re trying to assess all these different things real quickly. But directors are all different in how they deal with casting Clint Eastwood for instance casts off of tapes that are submitted to him. He doesn’t read anybody. He gets a list a bunch of actors put their performances on tape and he pops it in the machine. That one not that one that one. That’s how he casts. So it’s different for everyone depends on what you’re comfortable with. I want to sit down with somebody and see if we can have a connection because that’s what acting directing is all about my job as a director is to be there to help you give the performance whatever you need as an actor. Is what my job is to provide if you need a bad father I can be mean all the time. If you need a good father I can be that a psychiatrist. It all depends on the person. That’s the whole secret of all of it is to everybody get comfortable. Get comfortable with the guy who’s directing you as an actor and the director getting comfortable that you have the ability to do it even if it means running afoul of the screenwriters.

From personal experience the two experiences that I’ve had with screenwriters. One was on big trouble little china and one was on this movie I made called Memoirs of an invisible man was my Chevy Chase movie. And both times my choice of leading lady the writer and writers were not very happy with it and they wanted to rewrite the scenes. And in the case of big trouble will China. Kim Cattrall came to me and said Please get this guy away from me because it makes me feel like —- he’s tearing me down. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t think I can play this part. And everybody thought of Kim Cattrall at that time as sort of the girl from Porky’s who could do an orgasm. They didn’t take her seriously. She just a terrific comedienne just terrific. So I had to throwing him off the set and he was a friend of mine and then the same thing with Daryl Hannah. She comes to play this part and the writers start writing her like like some stupid girl and she says What are they doing. I signed on to do this and I just had to get rid of them. The writers want to be on the set. The writers guild wants the same contract that writers have in plays where you can’t change a word. And that’s what they’ve always wanted. And they hate directors hate directors and they hate people changing their words. And I don’t blame them I’m a writer I didn’t like it either but that’s the way it is. You know actors will come in and say no I’m going to change that.

They say whatever they want to.

So it’s a mixed thing. You know that famous story cautionary tale about a movie called I can’t remember the name of it altered states a movie I particularly like Paddy Chayefsky was the writer of that was on the set and just gave them hell because it wasn’t the way he wanted it and ended up taking his name off and changing it. And you get that sometimes it’s not pleasant. Well after we started working. If we get the actors say anything close to what you write you’re happy.

Eric: Almost all of Mr. Carpenter’s biggest films have been rebooted or remade or given a whole bunch of sequels which is not the least bit surprising to him.

John Carpenter: First of all remakes in general are popular now because of the amount of money a company has to spend advertising to get people in the theaters. And one way to cut through the clutter of advertising that’s out there is to come with a title in recent memory that they’ve heard of. So for instance all the horror remakes. The thinking is maybe you saw it with your brother when you were young on home video or you’ve seen it on television. We’re going to update it. So it has a built in awareness which is the number that they’re trying to reach to get the audience the customer out there aware that your movie is in the theaters. It’s called show business. It’s not called show art unless you’re very lucky or very successful like Jim Cameron can write his own movies and have final cut and get them in theaters. Unlike the rest of us peons. You have to compete with other films that are out there and one way of driving through to the audiences that your movie is going to be playing is to do a remake because the title is familiar. The title has awareness. I mean look at the number of movies that open every weekend and people it’s all a blur to them. Maybe I want to see the Adam Sandler movie but I don’t care about this other one. So are you trying to penetrate this advertising fog. And that’s one way of doing it but there are still really fine really creative movies being made now don’t subscribe to that idea. It’s all bull—-. There’s no even remakes.

They’ll just do a new take on something completely different. And that tends to be why they remake horror horror has been with cinema since the very beginning. It grew up part and parcel with cinema and it will always be with us it’s one of the most popular genres of all time and it’s an all purpose genre because it keeps changing every culture every few years it morphs it changes into something else it brings the sensibilities of the age in which it’s made. That’s what’s so fabulous. If you look at Frankenstein or Dracula or the Bride of Frankenstein the Karloff films. They are very much of the thirties and the depression their depression era movies they’re speaking to those audiences but if you look at modern horror films or speaking to you guys and they bring the sensibility that you’ve become used to seeing and you demand seeing in film

Eric: these remakes have enabled Mr. Carpenter to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams.

John Carpenter: My absolute favorite part of this business is that when somebody wants to remake one of my films what I do is if I’ve written it or originated the idea I extend my hand like this and they put a check right there. And I don’t have to do anything. My entire life I’ve been trying to figure out how to make money at doing nothing.

Eric: As a student raised on classic cinema John Carpenter is now the one influencing others. Escape from New York. The thing Halloween and his other films continue to resonate with audiences and inspire filmmakers even decades after they first hit the big screen. John Carpenter has truly earned the title master of horror. This episode was written by me. Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden produced by David Andrew Nelson Kristian Hayden and and myself executive produced by Jean Sherlock. Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter associate produced by Vinny Sisson big special thanks goes out to Sajja Johnson Chris Devane and the staff and crew who made this possible. This is a production of New York film Academy’s media content department and always magical Los Angeles. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you the director of The Orphanage, A Monster Calls, and most recently a little film called Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, J.A. Bayona.

J. A. Bayona: I mean for me everything comes from my childhood. The first memory in my life is a shot from Superman. So that tells you a lot about me. I don’t have a memory where I was deciding I want to be a filmmaker. I want to be a director it was always there.

Eric: Before directing. T-Rexes and raptors Mr. Bayona helmed the gut-wrenching drama The Impossible. It’s based on one family’s story of survival during the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. After screening the film for our students Mr. Bayona focused much of his conversation on this remarkable and powerful film. So you might want to familiarize yourself with it before listening.

— Do you know the most scary bit for me? – When the water hit.

If another wave catches us down here we will die.

The scariest part, when I came up and I was all on my own.

I won’t stop looking until I find them I’ll look in all the hospitals and I’ll look in all the shelters I will find them. I promise you that. —

Eric: Mr. Bayona’s story is fascinating tracing how he went from film school student to eventually helming a billion dollar grossing film. Though he admits he actually learned a lot more as a teacher.

J. A. Bayona: I’ve been a student in film school for four years and then I was six years more teaching. I learned much more teaching then as a student, as a student I spent too much time on the bar. You learn a lot of things on the bar. I mean but the truth is that I really learned a lot in teaching probably because it’s kind of like you need to be thinking all the time about why are you doing what you are. What are you doing? And as a director I never – I always follow my instinct when choosing the script in working the script and working with the actors. For me, it’s all about instinct. This is how you really find your voice and there’s a lot of, also of intellectualization after that. But the first thing is instinct. What was the question.

Eric:  Mr. Bayona’s instinct and talent helped quickly launch his career as a music video and commercial director. Meanwhile, he continued his film education the same way a lot of us do by watching DVD and their extras.

J. A. Bayona: When I finished school I immediately started to work in commercial and music videos and it was me with all these people in the bar, working doing music videos. And the truth is that we had a great school in there because we do everything ourselves. So I learned a lot of visual effects in working in commercials and music videos. So when I got to the moment of doing this film I was very involved in the preparation and also I used to watch a lot of extras on DVD so you can more or less have a sense of how does it work. Watching that I think it’s very useful to know how it works the Photoshop you know because when you work in post-production everything is made on layers also. So at the end it’s a question of having this knowledge of how could a shot be composed in layers. And also I really like the fact of using as much real as possible. The way James Cameron always says he does so I think one good trick is to use all the time different techniques. Don’t rely only in CGI or in miniatures. So there is a moment where the eyes gets confused and the audience doesn’t know what they’re watching. And I think that’s very interesting.

Eric: In 2007 J.A. Bayona directed chilling Spanish language horror film The Orphanage produced by the legendary Guillermo Del Toro. It’s terrifying and you should watch it. You know if you’re not too scared. The Orphanage went on to become one of Spain’s biggest blockbusters which meant Mr Bayona that his pick of the litter from more horror films but he didn’t want to be pigeonholed.

J. A. Bayona: After I finish The Orphanage I was offered all the. Horror remakes and sequels you could imagine. But you need to find something exciting and sometimes and not sometimes but very often, you need to find something different. I mean this is why even though I I I feel that Impossible is very close to the orphanage it doesn’t have nothing to do at the same time. So so you need to find something new something challenging. I would love to do another horror movie for example but I’m kind of sometimes – you don’t find enough excitement in doing another horror movie so you really need to, I don’t know, I mean I don’t like to think about genre, for example, what genre would you like to work? You go to your agent tells you, what genre would you like to do? I don’t know. I mean I don’t think about genre I mean for me a film is about the story and especially what lies beyond the story and what lies behind the story. It’s always you you need to find yourself in there. I mean I’m kind of like Polanski. He – you can notice that he is a film lover because if you take a look at his filmography he can do a pirate movie a horror movie drama from the Holocaust, I mean he can do everything. I mean he could do a comedy. I mean he loves movies and he likes to tell the stories from from his point of view and this is what I’m looking for.

Eric: The success of The Orphanage eventually enabled Mr. Bayona to direct his 2012 follow up feature The Impossible.

J. A. Bayona: I was very lucky the fact that The Orphanage was a huge success in Spain it was the biggest Spanish film ever. In Spanish. So so that helped me in having the trust of the producers in in doing this film. I remember. I was working on a film with also, with Sergio. It didn’t I mean I don’t know why but at the end we we it was a director doing that after work been working on a script for nine months. So the day after the story appeared by coincidence and producer heard the story in a radio show and she came to me and she tried to explain, “tries” because she couldn’t get to the end she was too emotional and I found myself exactly the same. So I realized that there was something very brutal and primal and that talks about something that goes beyond the fact of the tsunami or the context of the tsunami. And I wanted to explore what was that because it definitely was making this story something that goes beyond the context to make it something more universal and I wanted to figure it out what was that and then we had the script ready. We were working on the script for maybe. Yeah, nine months six-nine months. And we went to the actors and they loved it. They loved the script they loved The Orphanage so everything happened very easily surprisingly.

Eric: Even a movie like The Impossible with its built-in real life drama needs stars to get off the ground. Fortunately, Mr. Bayona was able to cast the talented Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.

J. A. Bayona: I always was a huge fan of Naomi and Ewan and it’s a question of instinct and I could see them doing these characters probably because I see them not as Hollywood actors because they’ve been doing lots of different stuff with European movies independent movies. So I felt them very close to me. And I think that Naomi is very good in portraying dark sides of life. She’s very good at getting close to a tragic sense of storytelling. And I think Ewan’s is a guy who is very easy to get a sense of empathy and intimacy with with him. So I felt them right. The main challenge was to work in a different language. I mean I talk English now better than before but it’s not my first language. So so that was definitely the main challenge. And I mean right now even doing Q&As you want to talk about life and death and you find yourself having some problems in going into specifics, so can you imagine how I felt in the set with the actors sometimes? But the truth is that we had a very good relationship. We trust a lot to each other from the very beginning I wanted to have a long time of rehearsals and we created a strong bond there and it went really well in fact because Ewan had to shoot another movie. He was shooting Salmon Fishing in Yemen. So he came I was surprised. I thought people in Hollywood they do more rehearsal than what they do really. I mean to to talk to the agents about having a time for rehearsals. I was surprised about that because it seems that they didn’t rehearse that much. I mean I’m talking about my experience so I really maybe I’m saying that and I don’t know but probably every director is different. I know that Naomi has been working with directors where she did a lot of rehearsals but I was surprised how tough it was to find time to do rehearsals. But the truth is that with Naomi we spent three weeks – with Naomi and Tom doing rehearsals with Ewan we had the chance of working some days before the shooting of the Salmon Fishing. After finishing the Salmon Fishing he came join us and we were doing rehearsal for an extra week so we had a good preparation.

Eric: The Impossible is not your average disaster film. The film focuses not only on the tsunami’s deadly destruction but the humans who banded together to survive. So this story needed to rely on more than special effects alone.

J. A. Bayona: First of all you need to choose the best actor possible and also the one who fits in the characters. So the cast is a very important part in creating the character in creating the performance in this film. I remember there was a lot of work in the set to get to this level of exhaustion. So I remember there was a moment that I didn’t cut between takes. Especially because you need to waste so much time between takes. You realize that you’re not helping the actors that they they are loosing the moment. So even though we’re shooting on film I was all the time shooting take after take with no pauses in the middle. So I remember instead of saying cut, going back to first position all the time. It’s a very interesting story because as a filmmaker I realized that you never had a thought of what are they doing. I mean because these characters they didn’t have time to stop and think about that. So there is no moment in the story where they stop and think about what is happening except for the moment where you can see this old lady in the mountains with the kid, Geraldine Chaplin. She really has some thoughts about life and death in that moment.

— You like looking at stars don’t you. Some of those stars have been burned out for a long long time.

How can you tell which one’s are dead and which ones are not?

Oh you can’t. It’s impossible. It’s a beautiful mystery isn’t it? —

J. A. Bayona: But the rest of the film it’s not. There’s not a pause. It’s all about getting a sense of urgency but we talk a lot with the actors about the moments about what was the meaning every specific situation. For example, I’ll tell you that I had these emails very long email from Maria the real Maria telling me about the connection that she had with this old Thai man who rescues her. And even in that moment there were no lines. There were no dialogues it was just about this man dragging her in the muck. So I got to the set that day thinking all the time how can I do that? I mean I – I don’t have space in there. I mean I don’t have dialogues. I was thinking all day about that and right before lunch I decided to shoot that shot of Naomi’s eyes and I came to her and I, of course, she read the four pages of the email and I found a moment, ten minutes before we stop shooting that day to prepare the shot so we put the camera on her and I really like to work with music on the set all the time because it helps not just the actors but the whole crew to get into the mood. So I remember I put the camera on her eyes and it was a long piece of music around seven minutes. So we were shooting her eyes for seven minutes with this music that goes higher and higher and higher. And there was a moment that Naomi’s eyes were going to explode from her camera. She knew what she was doing, she knew the meaning of that scene because she read that four-page email. So putting them together the shot of the old Thai man and Naomi’s eyes everything was there.

Eric: Before he became our newest web-slinger and joined the Avengers. Tom Holland came to international acclaim playing Naomi Watt’s 13-year-old son. To be honest I am still baffled how he did not get an Oscar nomination for this film. Mr. Bayona explained how the future Spider-Man showed a maturity well beyond his years.

J. A. Bayona: I would never consider Tom Holland as a child actor. Because he even though he was 13 when we were shooting the film. He was already working in West London playing Billy Elliot for three years. So he was the central piece of a stage play with 100 actors more so. So he had a strong sense of responsibility. So I treat him exactly the same than Naomi or Ewan for me it was like working with an adult. And he’s an extraordinary actor extraordinary. So I never treat him as a kid. And talking about working with kids, I think you need to find a balance between create a sense of responsibility in them because they’re working so going to a set is going to school. So I treat them like the teacher. I mean they need to behave, they need to understand they have their responsibilities but at the same time you need to make them enjoy all the time because they’re kids so if they get bored. It’s a problem. So I mean they could lose focus on the scene or so. So it’s a balance of make them enjoy at the same time being responsible. Also there was a huge commitment from the actors I mean from the rehearsals we set the tone of the film and it was clear that we had a responsibility in telling the story of not just this family but all the people who was there. So we felt that not just me but the crew and the actors. We shot exactly in the same places where this story happened in the same pool, in the same hospital in the same hotel. I mean and we were living everyday with the Thai crew, dealing with them, knowing stories from survivors who were extras in the set or people who we were talking everyday. When you finished shooting you go to a restaurant and the owner has a story about the tsunami and you want to know that they want to tell you. And so there is a moment that you’re very surrounded by reality and that gives you a strong sense of responsibility.

Eric: Considering this film was based on the all too real events surrounding the tsunami Mr. Bayona felt that much more pressure to ensure the movie was accurate. During production, he collaborated closely with Maria Belón the brave woman whose family was the inspiration for the impossible.

J. A. Bayona: From the moment I knew I needed I was going to do a film about the tsunami of course. You. Tried to get in contact with as much people as possible. So we met some people in Europe and then we went to Thailand we met some people in there. There’s a lot of stories on the Internet also. And of course we work very close with the family especially with Maria she worked with Sergio very close in the script. And at the end I mean I was telling about the authority of doing the film I mean you need to feel the Authority I found the authority not in things related to the tragedy but in related in human nature. I mean I felt how emotional it was for me how these people found their dignity in those moments and how important was the legacy between the mother and the kid. If you think about The Orphanage it’s also a story about a mother and a kid in extreme context. I mean so this is where I found the authority. This is why I say that the film goes beyond the context of the tragedy to talk in a more universal way but the truth is that at the end you’re doing a portrait of what it was to be there. So we met a lot of people and wanted to create a big picture of what was the experience of being a foreigner in there. And also we wanted to tell a story from all the points of view but we wanted to be very attached to the point of view of the family because it’s the kind of – I like to work the stories from the point of view of one character in this movie was five characters but it’s for me it’s like one character. But these people had to be in contact with the rest of the people I remember the first conversation we had with Maria. It was obvious that this has to be the story of this family but also many many people who was there. Also the Thai people from the very beginning I never wanted to separate Thai people from foreign people. This is not a film about nationalities. This is why we didn’t say where the family is coming from. They are coming from the outside and when they went back home they feel that the world has changed they don’t feel secure anymore but we don’t talk about nationalities so so I never wanted to portray the Thai people as only as victims and one of the things I got in talking to survivors and talking to people who lost people there is that no matter if they lose people or not no matter if they survive all the people were talking about the Thai people with wonderful words. So I want them to portray also especially from the point of view of the gratitude of the people who was there because this was a movie made from the point of view of someone from the outside who goes there. So all these arguments all these things you find in talking to the people who was there talking to the family especially. Talking to a lot of Thai people, volunteers. Yeah that’s it.

Eric: He also found inspiration in documentary and home video footage of the events though not always in the ways he expected.

J. A. Bayona: I remember watching a documentary called tsunami caught on camera and in fact there were a couple of moments in that documentary that we share on this script. I mean we had these moments in the script so I was surprised when I. When I saw the documentary. And it’s all based on real footage and I was surprised to see those moments in real footage in that documentary. There was a moment in the documentary where you can see kids opening their Christmas presents and if you have the face of a kid really opening a present and you can catch that moment. I mean the sense of empathy with just one shot is immediate.

— It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas morning.–

J. A. Bayona: So we prepared that scene like a it was real footage. So we did it for real. We didn’t tell the kids that the presents were there. So they were surprised they found the presents and you can see the faces of the kids and you create a sense of intimacy and empathy.

Eric: Mr. Bayona gives much of the credit for the film to its writer Sergio Sanchez who also collaborated with him on The Orphanage.

J. A. Bayona: Sergio is a brilliant screenwriter I mean you can you can feel reading his lines. I mean it’s not just the description of what is happening it’s he’s also a filmmaker he has shot a couple of short films and some from for Jovito. So he really is able to capture emotion when he’s writing. And that’s very helpful not just. For me but also of course for the actors. The truth is that he was a very very emotional story from the very beginning. As I told you the first time. I was telling the story to my friends there were moments that had to stop because I was overwhelmed by emotion. And I wanted to figure out where that was coming from. It’s a disaster movie. I mean you can call it a disaster movie. It’s a film that talks about survival in an unconventional way. It’s not just about if you live or you die. There’s a lot of suffering also in survival. I mean there’s a reality of emotion. I like the fact that that you tell the story from the point of view of a foreign family. So it talks not just about a survival story it talks about this kind of like a coming of age story not just for Lucas, the character played by Tom Holland, but but for the whole family because it tells about the ending of a world of a world of innocence for world of materialistic things that they don’t use they don’t have a use anymore. I mean I like the fact at the end how you can see this guy from insurance company appears this guy who looks like a guy from another planet, wearing a suit.

— You have nothing to worry about now.–

J. A. Bayona: This guy represents the real world for them but the world is not the same anymore for them. And I thought that that was very interesting. And of course I am a foreigner in Thailand so it was the most honest way to approach to the tragedy also. And I liked the fact that the heroism in the story in the characters doesn’t rely in what they do for survive I mean the heroism relies in what they do for the other ones. There is a moment in the story where the mother who was a doctor she knew that she was bleeding to death but even though that she wanted to go and help this little boy that was asking for help.

— Wait. Did you hear that. There’s nothing we can do wait we are almost there we have to get to safety. No we have to help that boy. —

J. A. Bayona: So she was choosing in that moment what might be the last act in her life. I mean if you talk about life in story that is a moment you realise that you can not control life but you can control your own decisions. And what this woman was doing was choosing her last act. And she chose a lesson of what was the right thing to do. So the heroism relies not in what they do for survival but what they do for keep their dignity as human beings. And I thought that was very emotional.

Eric: On a technical scale, this movie had its work cut out for it. It needed to convince us that we were seeing the same tsunami that we all witnessed on TV back in 2004. You throw in working with young actors filming on water and a multilingual crew, it’s no wonder this movie was called The Impossible.

J. A. Bayona: Everything looks like impossible when we started to work on this in fact the title was kind of like a joke at the beginning. We were saying we are going to do the impossible because everything. I mean we were dealing with kids very young kids we were dealing with water. In a shooting in another country in another language with Hollywood stars. I mean everything felt like challenging. The logistics were very difficult. I mean to go everyday to the set and to have all the people in there it was an epic shooting. I mean there was thousands of extras. There was 100 people that fly to Thailand from the crew and there was a next. There was 100 people more from the Thai crew. So everything was kind of difficult. So I don’t know probably the difficult thing was to put all the pieces together especially as a director to balance the emotions in the story. I mean first of all to be close to the people who was there, trying to be respectful and then to balance. I mean it was a very emotional shooting just be there every moment. We don’t have a limit and then we measure all these emotions in the editing room. The truth is that it was very challenging because the emotions doesn’t work in a conventional way in a situation like that. I mean you can see in that scene when Ewan McGregor in the bus station you can see how the guy goes from zero to 100. That’s the way emotions work.

— Maria and Lucas are not here the ocean came and swept everyone away. —

J. A. Bayona: You can see the moment when the kids come together and it’s pure joy. I remember talking to Lucas and he was telling me to cry was a privilege. We didn’t have time to cry and we cried when we had a moment of release. So for him, he was telling me the moment I met my brothers it was the happiest moment in my life. It’s very simple. There’s no more explanation. And the whole idea of the film was to create an emotional journey in the audience, to put them into a theater and to send them back home with no explanation because this is what these people lived. These people they went to Thailand. They were expecting to have a happy holidays. What they what they had was a horrible experience and then at the end someone put them into a empty plane and send them back home with no explanation. So I wanted to create the same feeling in the audience to to live the moments of anguish the moments of fear, the moments of relief, of happiness, of joy. Of course not at the same level but try to make an emotional journey in the audience and then send them back home with no explanation so that so you leave the audience a chance of having their own interpretation on the story.

Eric:  J.A. Bayona’s done some truly magical work taming raptors in Jurassic World bringing a talking tree to life in A Monster Calls and capturing the real-life horrors of a tsunami. But his initial inspiration as a storyteller like most of ours came from his own life.

J. A. Bayona: I think my childhood I mean it’s your own personality. I mean you need to follow that and then you start to meet people you go to film school you have a lot of references. I mean you like Speilberg movies for example but there is a moment that that is only useful to put your personality. And it’s a question of instinct it’s not, it’s not a plan. Prepare. I mean it’s just follow your instinct follow what moves you. What makes you laugh. Truffaut used to say that movies are a mix of what you would like to live when you had lived and what would you be scared of living. I mean for me everything comes from my childhood. The first memory in my life is a shot from Superman so that tells you a lot about me. I mean it’s I don’t have a memory where I was deciding I want to be a filmmaker I want to be a director. I don’t have that memory. It was always there. But there is a moment that that you. Use that. All the references all your knowledge that you had in school. To just follow your instinct and this is where you find your voice. This is very important. I remember when I was a teacher at film school the first thing I used to say to students was listen to everybody and don’t listen to anybody. I mean it’s like just follow your instinct just try to get as much information as possible. And then follow your instinct. This is for me what storytelling is about when you want to. Tell a story from your point of view.

Eric: We want to thank J.A. Bayona for making the impossible possible and sharing his film and his experiences with our students. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&A’s. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner; edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible to learn more about our programs. Check us out at nyfa.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy, and in this episode, we’re taking a look at film editing.

— There is a freedom to be able to cut to coverage. I mean there’s a freedom to be able to say I can cut to the other side. I can cheat a line over somebody’s back.

I would work on his scenes and he would work on my scenes. It’s kind of a different way of editing.

The interesting thing about Claudia and I is that one of us is the ying and one is the yang. I mean we are opposites. —

Eric: While the work of directors cinematographers and writers might contain cinema’s most visible style. Editors have a very different goal for their work: to be invisible. Most audience members are so drawn into storytelling that we don’t even realize how much work goes into cutting to make accurate pop, shape performances, and create emotion. But show even the least trained eye a bad cut, they’ll notice. For our look at the invisible but crucial art of editing. We’re exploring two different Q&As Douglas Crise the OOscar-nominated editor of Babel spring breakers and Birdman and the editing team of Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver who worked together on Creed, Fruitvale Station, and most recently, Black Panther.

— I’ve been fighting. My whole life every punch I’ve ever thrown has been on my own. Nobody showed me how to do this.

You are Apollo Creed’s son.

I’m afraid of taking on the name and losing.

You’re scared to death that you don’t matter and you know what you’re right you don’t.

You’re Birdman you are a god —

Eric: All three editors initially honed their craft in film school. In Douglas Crise’s case, he needed this education to figure out his true calling in the entertainment industry.

Douglas Crise: I would say you know when I went to film school I didn’t know I was going to end up in editing and I initially thought I wanted to do photography or something else like that. But when I got out here and started interning I ended up in a cutting room and I found that that’s where I belong. And I was doing film. Editors that I – you know, I admire – I don’t know a lot about film history of great editors – I mean you could certainly say people like Walter Murch. Who directed Sound of Music? Bob Wise, he was the director, you know he edited Citizen Kane. He started out as an editor. So you know I would say Jerry Greenberg who cut French Connection. You know Michael Khan’s a great editor. I think Dylan Tichenor is one of the better editors around. I think I’ve worked with one of the greatest editors that exist right now, Stephen Mirrione. And I think Stephen is probably the biggest influence on me, completely because he’s the one who pushed me to start cutting and even from our very first film together. He would say, “can you cut this scene for me?” And, “can you do this scene”? You know? And working on Traffic, he would give me a lot of scenes to cut. “Say, can you cut? Can you do it or you want to cut this or you want to do this?” And the more we worked together like even on 21 Grams he would basically say, “Can you get the last half of the movie edited?” Because he would be so busy polishing the part he’s working on you. He’d say, “can you just get that together?” I sometimes struggle through an assembly because in some respect I don’t want to change it after I’ve done it. So I struggle through the assembly to get it the way I want it to begin with but I find recutting actually easy to some extent because it’s like, you know, then you play with it.

Eric: Meanwhile Claudia and Michael’s time in film school introduced them to the work of fellow student Ryan Coogler the man who’d eventually direct the Black Panther to his billion dollar reign.

Michael P. Shawver: You know I was like most film students you think directing is it like you want to be a director you want to be that Scorsese you want to be that Speilberg. And so I went and I took a directing class and there’s this guy making these two three minute short films. That were just incredible that make me feel something that would change my mind about things and you know I’m the guy that’ll sit in the back I’ll take everything in from there. But there’s something that just compelled me and my gut said you need to talk to this guy. And I just went up to him I said, “Hey man like I don’t know how but I need to work with you. You’re making all this stuff that I want to make.” And he’s like, “alright.” He’s like, “for sure man!” And that’s how I met Ryan Coogler. You know that that kicked off you know everything and Ryan had basically already you couldn’t choose before but he was like, “Iwant Claudia.” I don’t know if he ever told you this but he was like, “I want Claudia Claudia Claudia.” And I kind of came in and he had already kinda decided on this other guy but I threw my name in. And he liked the work that I was doing. But I think the thing that really sort of got me that job which got me this career and kicked it off was was he was shooting this short. The next morning the day before Thanksgiving everybody was going home and he was like, didn’t really know what to do for production design he was like, “Hey man do you know how to production design” I was like, “yeah yeah.” Again fake it till you make it. So, like that was like 10:00 at night I woke up at 4 am like, “oh my god I don’t know what I’m doing,” but that day I was a production designer, set dresser, first AC gaffer, just – I got lunch, like every every little thing and what I learned was you know, find opportunity and you know, meet the people and follow your gut. But then once you get the opportunity just work your ass off you know, give give give what you have and be a good person.

Eric: Michael and Claudia soon learned that their different approaches, as well as their backgrounds, made them ideal editing partners in crime.

Michael P. Shawver: The interesting thing about about Claudia and I is that we are one of us is the Ying one of us is the yang like we are opposites. Like I’m kind of a like intense dude from the northeast and she’s a super laid back former professional surfer from Brazil. So you know we kind of attack things a little bit differently and kinda what she was saying on Fruitvale. We came on after they had already shot so the whole movie was already shot and we kinda got to divvy up what it was and she edits very organically and with feeling and I’m I’m a little more of like why is this cut like this why is this like this so kinda when we both have our take. They’re different enough that they work and we get we get in our creative discussions and heated heated debates about this frame or that frame or this shot that shot. This is what it says about the character and whatever and Ryan jokes he says when she and I actually agree on something that he knows to use it in the movie. But yeah a big thing of it too is the passion. We still have that because Ryan is such a great human being and a great filmmaker and makes such compelling stuff. It’s our first opportunity to say ok we’re the editors of this this is going to be ours we have ownership over it. And I think that’s something you never want to want to lose you know. I mean even if I’m doing a project I’m not super super thrilled about or in love with you find a reason to love it. You find a reason to love these characters to care about this because if you’re working such long hours and we never you know if Claudia is going I want to cut the scene like I’m feeling it like she wakes up she comes in like ready to beat somebody up I’m like whoa take the scene and do your thing you know so so we kind of let each other be who we are you know in the editing room and I think that diversity can create some amazing things.

Eric: So much of editing hinges on the ability to collaborate both with others in post-production and most importantly with the director each of whom has their own approach to working with their editors. While cutting Spring Breakers Douglas Crise found that Harmony Corinne gave him a lot of freedom possibly too much.

Douglas Crise: You know I would almost say maybe Harmony’s a little too relaxed because you know you want that director who will push you. I don’t like a guy who hovers all the time. You know the brilliant thing about harmony is he inspires you to do stuff without hovering. He inspires you to try things and do things. But I work with like Nick Jarecki on arbitrage and he’ll certainly give you your own time but then you have the hours that he’s with you that you’re trying this and trying this and trying this and trying you know it’s tiring because I think Nick described it to me the first time I never even realized that how hard your job is sometimes where you have to use the mechanical sense of the software and putting things together. But then you got to think creatively at the same time and when you’ve got a director feeding you creative ideas from behind my creative end starts to shut off because I have to keep up with the mechanics while he’s throwing fast. Creative ideas at me and directors who just do that to you. It’s hard to keep up and you can’t give them the input back. So I think if they give you the breathing room then you’re like they’ll tell you to do something and then they leave and then you say well I did what you wanted. But I now I came up with this idea that I think works even better or this let’s try this. So I think you need a little bit of both.

Eric: After working with Alejandro Iñarritu on babel and birdman Douglas Crise feels the director is the perfect collaborator supportive of the editor’s vision while still pushing them to do their best work.

Douglas Crise: He never wants to compromise Alejandro’s a very particular guy an has his idea how to do it. He doesn’t want to change if he can. I mean you know he wanted to make a movie that took away the safety of cutting because Alejandro is a he’s a genius editor himself I mean he doesn’t actually physically ever touch the computer but he knows all the possibilities of an editing room and that’s where he even pushed me like you know he knew I could do something with this if I tried if there was something that we thought we couldn’t you know I’m like it’s one shot what am I going to do with it. No no no. There’s a way to make this work. And he wanted to make a film where he wasn’t relying on the editing room as much and he he said to me when I did one of my many visits to set he was so stressed and he was like saying that he’s like I got to get it right getting it right. I can’t fix this later. It’s got to be I got to keep all those ideas in the head. You know there’s the pacing there’s everything. You know he would script edit on set. He would shoot the scene then shoot it again with less dialogue and shoot it with less dialogue and shoot it again with. So he’d have because he knew we couldn’t cut the tape so we’d be like you know we got it we got to have our option of what what we’re gonna do here.

Eric: When Claudia and Michael collaborated with Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station. The director was so involved with the editing process that he all but moved in with them.

Claudia Castello: I went to Brazil. I took some time. I was like, “Okay I’m done with film school and now I’m going to rest.” And then I got a call like, “we need you guys to work with me. There’s basically no pay. You’re going to live in the same house. Michael lived in the closet”

Michael P. Shawver: For a while, for Fruitvale I lived in a closet. It was a one bedroom apartment they put us in an I’m obviously going to let Claudia have the room.

Claudia Castello: It was very nice to have.

Michael P. Shawver:The only other little enclave was it was a closet no door had a had a curtain and it fit an air mattress fit perfectly like a twin air mattress just fir perfectly right inside it that was it. That was that was I mean we were working like seven days a week. Also if anybody was doing laundry my light had to be on. So that’s just that’s so no naps

Claudia Castello: No laundry after 10 and we didn’t stop working it was like work work work work and then little sleep and then work work work. It was it was massive. It was a lot of work but we were really passionate about the subject about what we were doing. So in the end it definitely paid off. There were days where Ryan didn’t go home. He slept right there in this sofa. And then there was one day that he went to the bathroom…

Michael P. Shawver: Let’s just say you know you you know you when you’re up for hours and hours and hours and everybody gets loopy like you think something’s been said or done and you just start cracking up. We’re going to leave it at that and lets

Claudia Castello: There are funny things that happened because we are so tired

Eric: Fruitvale Station starring Michael B Jordan focused on the true story of Oscar Grant, an unarmed young man who was shot and killed by a transit police officer in Oakland. Michael and Claudia were proud to put in the time to help share such an important personal story to a mass audience.

Claudia Castello: We have a serious problem with the media in the whole world nowadays that everything’s so polarized. Then you have to read so much to kind of start understanding what’s going on in the world and human rights issues is not a priority for the media. And I found in film a very powerful tool to touch those subjects without people turning their face away. You know, I think when you go to the movies you kind of let the guards down and you’re there for how many you know an hour and 20 minutes and you open yourself to see what’s on the screen. So whatever the filmmaker puts there on the screen it’s really really really powerful. So I think it’s important for all of us to have the awareness of what we can do. You know as communicators because film is an art form but it’s also a very powerful form of educating people or raising awareness. And that’s I think what we’re dealing Fruitvale Station. We had an opportunity to humanize a victim and a victim by the eyes of the media is never humanized. And I think every one of us here have that opportunity to use for the best. And that’s that’s why I I make movies actually.

Eric: The biggest pressure the filmmakers felt was when Fruitvale Station premiered at Sundance not because of the festival’s prestige or even its A list audience but because of one important family in attendance

Michael P. Shawver: Specifically with Fruitvale. So Oscar Grant’s family was going to see this movie for the first time at Sundance so we didn’t even care about Sundance we that was whatever we were done with the movie just happy. But his family was a big thing and the first cut of the movie Oscar was the nicest human being you’ve ever met in your life. And it was good. It worked. But there’s something that we weren’t we weren’t being true because nobody is the nicest person ever all the time. And there’s a scene in the movie where where he goes to get his job back and they did one take where he threatens his boss like you want to see me outside I’m gonna wait till you’re done I gotta feed my daughter. It’s amazing. That was the one take that he got mad everything else he was just kind of like begging.

— I hired somebody else for me to bring you back that means I have to let someone else go. I’m sorry. I like you man but I can’t – I need this f*****g job breh. You want me selling dope breh? You need me outside waiting for you to get done breh? —

Michael P. Shawver: It was towards the end we went in and just cut this. And it changed the movie completely because it made him a more complex character and through his interactions with his family and his daughter and his mother and his girlfriend we all have and having this like he could be nice he can be he can be all these things to all these different people. I think that actually brought people closer to him and saw like we could relate so that we could relate to getting frustrated. We can relate to having our mom say you don’t be driving with you know whatever. So there’s sort of this addage I guess it’s. When you make things more specific to a character they become more universal. And so you know and in those those specific moments those specific relationships and the textures of those are what make people feel and cry for Oscar you know which they wouldn’t have watching a news report.

Eric: One of the editor’s most time-consuming responsibilities is combing through a productions dailies that’s the daily footage that’s captured on set depending on the director. This could be an hour of material or so many feet of film. It stretches a hundred football fields. Douglas Crise experienced this dichotomy first hand when working with Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh and Alejandro Iñarritu.

Douglas Crise: They’re both very committed and very good filmmakers I mean Iñarritu’s more I would say. You see his passion on his sleeve more and you see his emotion more and until maybe Birdman again he went to a comedy if you can call it a comedy because you know to him movies where you’re having a good time are a waste of time. You know you have to be feeling something you have to feel anger you have to feel you know despair. And Soderbergh is more of a cool cat. I mean he’s very quiet and doesn’t really talk a lot but he’s very sure of himself you know and shoots a lot less. He has a pretty good idea what he wants and once he gets it he’s done. I mean there were I, especially on the like the Ocean’s Eleven movie you know there was days we got 500 feet of film. He got what he wanted he was done and that’s not a small movie. I mean we had a nice big long schedule but the only day we got a lot of film was the day they had all 11 characters in the same room and they had to shoot coverage on all of them. That was the day we got I don’t know 30,000 feet. I think in film back then days because we were still getting film and winding it. And even though we cut it on the Avid we were still thinking dailies on film but they definitely work differently. The two of them but you know both talented in their own way.

Eric: A quick definition here. The first assembly is the first cut of the film usually done when it just wraps production. It’s a chance for the filmmakers to see the basics of what they captured. Douglas Crise adores this part of the process because it gives him the opportunity to show the director how he initially sees the film.

Douglas Crise: My biggest influence initially is the assembly because I’m assembling the movie and they have no input. So I cut the film together. And by the time they show up I’ve got a cut of the movie. Now it’s usually too long and it’s usually boring and it’s usually you know and it’s got all kind of problems and story things don’t make sense. And then I give the director his moment right. I don’t say anything hardly. I’m like Okay we’re gonna work the next couple weeks and I want to hear everything you want to do I’ll even tell a director what I love to do and I do this to harmony too is we won’t watch the whole movie when they come in for the first time this is what I prefer and this is what I always try to talk them into. They’ll come in and I’ll say let’s watch 20 minutes. You tell me what you hate about this 20 minutes what I got completely wrong. What performance I put in that you absolutely hate or this or that or or you know you want to try some music and then let me work on that 20 minutes and then tomorrow we’ll watch the next 20 minutes or whatever and then you would do the same thing and then like a week or so now we’ll watch the whole movie at least then they’ve put their stamp on it a little bit and then we will go through it again and I’ll work on their cut. But then after we were in that stage after you know a few weeks where I let them just tell me what they want. I try to give my perspective of saying OK now this is what I think or this is what this is working and then we’ll watch the movie with other people and then it becomes a back and forth hopefully. But I always usually take my feed from the director as much as possible.

Eric: When working on Creed a continuation of the Rocky saga. Michael and Claudia had to do a tremendous amount of work before a frame of the movie was even shot in a way much of their first Assembly occurred prior to the first day of filming.

Michael P. Shawver: We want to make this movie for everybody so people who’ve never seen a Rocky movie in their life can watch this pick it up. Not miss a beat you know but there were some previz work pre-visualization. A lot of big movies do it. Marvel does it like crazy like just just for money and stuff like that like they plan every single shot as much as they possibly can. So before creed even shot they had Claudia cut together storyboards and animatics from the final fight so Ryan and the producers can see like okay this is going to work out if we cover it you know this way and then I had the task two tasks one of which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as an editor but it was cool because Michael B Jordan came over to my house and watched boxing. Ryan had me break down the script and find every single line of action boxing action. Find it on the Internet, real boxing fights. Download that stuff, and cut it all together into a timeline. It’s like editing something when you don’t even know if the footage actually exists. So it was terrible so that was the realistic aspect that Ryan always goes for. You know the real the punches feel like they hurt you know I mean like Ryan was always like if the punch doesn’t look like it hits take it out movie I don’t care if I wrote it I don’t care if I love it like take it out if it doesn’t feel real. The other thing that we do that Ryan had me do was basically think of every single fight of every single movie I could ever think of and basically cut together these sequences of every fight from every movie. Like everything from Play It To The Bone that Woody Harrelson boxing movie to Girlfight you know all the Rockys so. So we saw what it would do. Now if you go back and watch the Rocky fights. They’re terrible boxing. They’re this far away you know.

Claudia Castello: So special effects weren’t that good.

Eric: As someone who grew up around Philadelphia I do not condone any negativity against Mr. Balboa. But as Claudia and Michael pointed out special effects have advanced so much since the 70s and helped make Creed’s punches land both figuratively and literally.

Michael P. Shawver: Now VFX I don’t tell a lot of people this but VFX did some amazing stuff. They could actually make punches hit if they didn’t hit so and they would ripple the face and put like sweat coming off and blood coming out and stuff like that. So. So if we had this scene that we loved there’s that awesome shot that actually passed through the ropes and back in the ring and out of the ropes when they’re just wailing on each other. And there was one that that was just missed completely but they were able to fix that to kind of keep that. But yeah I mean there’s you know when you when you do a Rocky movie like you’ve got to be…I’m actually more worried now doing the Dirty Dancing remake so I’m more terrified of all the girls that are texting me like you better get this right. I’m going to this is my favorite movie I’m having the time of my life. But what we wanted to do with the fights and I honestly think this is this is why it’s so effective. I mean obviously the set up for the fight you care about the characters and it’s funny when we first cut the fight together, we just cut the boxing and it wasn’t until we started adding the reaction shots of the mom and the girlfriend and Rocky that you actually like oh my guy. Like I’m feeling emotion for these people. It’s what the other people who care about this character are feeling just as much if not more than than that guy. So the thing with the fight is it’s not just punching. It’s an emotional journey it’s rocky coaching him it’s him. It’s that father-son relationship it’s getting your ass kicked and then coming back and showing you got a little something and then going to the depths of hell in those awesome Raging Bull homage shot. And it’s an emotional fight an emotional journey where if you watch a lot of these other fights it was just punch punch punch punch punch punch punch oh my god like that hard punch look at this blood look at whatever we tried to bring as much emotion humanity story you know and always goes back to story. Montages, fast cuts, lots stuff happening but there’s a story there’s Adonis not getting it. He gets in a fight with the other dude. Rocky tells him to shut up and listen. And then he starts to get it. That’s the story of that montage. You know it’s really story. It’s always it’s going back to story and above the action the hard hits all that.

Eric: The Oscar-winning Birdman was made to feel like it was one continuous take. The irony is making a film look like had no cuts. Actually takes a tremendous amount of cutting and special effects wizardry.

Douglas Crise: I’ll be a little bit more open because you know Alejandro didn’t want a lot of the magic given away but there’s been several articles contradicting coming out in Hollywood Reporter. One says there’s 15 minute take in the movie one says there’s this one says there’s that edits can be done surprisingly places you never thought of before. I mean we had the planned ones where you know there’d be a dark alley or a whip pan or the pans aren’t even – you can do a an edit when the camera’s not even panning fast because you just start wiping the frame and you find an edge or whatever. And that’s where a lot were done. But I mean there’s rotos that we did in different things like that like one of I’m probably the most proud of is one I came up with because like I said he wanted this performance and he wanted this performance and there was where are – we going to put it? And it’s a scene where Michael Keaton is on stage performing for the audience and the cameras coming around him. And Ed Norton’s getting drunk in the background.

— I’m drunk Yes I’m drunk I’m supposed to be drunk. This is Carver He left a piece of his liver on the table every time he wrote a f*****g page. If I need to be… —

Douglas Crise: We roto’d around Michael Keaton and it’s almost like a 40 second edit happening because we’re changing the background to a different performance of Ed Norton. So then once Michael finishes he steps out of frame and we’ve wiped completely across. So there’s an edit there that wasn’t planned. What it was is basically split screen is the easiest way to describe it because it starts on Michael but you know as he’s talking I did it in the avid first where I just did an animat around him and we figured out we could do it because we thought oh we could do the cut. Later when there’s a whip pan but that wasn’t going to work because then we wouldn’t get the moment we want to with Ed. You know there’s so many things you can do with the visual effects once you’ve figured out it’s possible. I mean there’s ones we all came up with when Michael Keaton shoots himself and he falls out of frame we switched the audience because the gun goes off his arm wipes the frame and he falls because Michael Keaton’s best performance was his last one but the audience had been there all night, they’re tired they’re not professionals their best performance was take four not not you know, and that’s the best audience he wanted. So when he falls out of frame there’s a cut there. You know there’s 100 cuts in the film. There was no 15 minute takes the longest takes every the standard day of shooting was it would be a set up of like three to four minutes long. And that’s how long that takes were and the longest take I think they ever shot was close to five minutes. And probably the longest take in the movie’s five minutes. But most of them are way shorter and there’s cuts in within those even in those four minute takes we’d put two or three edits that we didn’t plan on having. I mean there were like I said they had the planned spots and we did a lot of other stuff like you know on every film you do speed ramps and you do dialogue replacement people’s mouths. You do all kinds of stuff but here you had to really work it because you couldn’t play anybody’s over the shoulder too much. And you know if you wanted to find you know someone flubbed a line a little bit you had to sneak the word in their mouth or we would ramp the speed up to get the pacing a little faster. There’s one scene I won’t give it away but there’s a scene that you know it was one of the scenes we feel where the movie slowed down a lot. And I was ramping the speed up between every line of dialogue. So when somebody wasn’t talking we’d ramp it 30 percent faster and then bring it back down and still probably run their dialogue 5 percent faster. So we would be running ramps up and down. I never did so many speed ramps in a movie. And sometimes we actually slowed down. sometimes we actually wanted the moment to last a little longer. And what was I think ingenious about Alejandro is he knew to build in some of these moments in the film where. OK. We’re going to take a break here. You know it’s like one of my favorite scenes that I didn’t understand when he shot it was the corridor. And that of course we had the mobility of once and there’s actually a cut when the cameras panning over to the empty hallway. It’s actually wiping and you didn’t see it. But anyway you know we I think we slowed that footage down so it even plays slower because he knew we could go faster or slower with it until he wanted Michael to step in. And you know and I think we’re even digitally zooming in a little bit before the camera actually starts to zoom.

Eric: One of the editors many challenges is dealing with the sometimes tricky landscape of the film’s final cut and potentially then having too many cooks in their kitchen. But Douglas Crise never loses sight of who’s the head chef.

Douglas Crise: I think this is probably true for most editors and I hope it is. I definitely took this from Steven is when I’m working on a movie. I work for the director for anybody else. Nobody else tells me what to do or what to change or how they want it. We’ll have producers in the room when when the producer is allowed to come in and they’ll give their notes and their notes. They don’t give me notes separately their notes go to the director and director gives me the notes and they fight it out. They fight out the politics and if they’re arguing about things I’ll usually agree now when I say work for my director I will agree with my director if I agree with him if I don’t I will say I will take the producer’s side if I agree with the producer on something. But I I try to stay out of that political nonsense that will happen. And those choices that are made I would say as a director you should get final cut as quickly as you can in your career and you hold on to it and never give it up. I mean harmony when he was shooting Spring Breakers the producers came to him and said they wanted they want to have final cut. And he says you know give me ten million dollars right now. You’re not getting it. That’s that’s his standpoint and he’s had final cut from the day he started and he won’t ever give it up. And Soderbergh has final edit or if you’re going to hopefully align yourself with a producer who is strong and someone you trust immensely they might have final cut over you on your first couple movies but they’ll have your back and you know and I know George Clooney’s first movie he didn’t have final cut but Soderbergh did and Soderbergh was a producer on it. So they are as tight as they get those two guys. So that’s the way you start out before you get your final edit.

Eric: For Michael and Claudia on Creed. The path to the film’s final cut was made even more complicated since one of the producers was Rocky Balboa himself.

Claudia Castello: We had to fight until the last minute because the studio wanted Adonis to win and we strongly believed that he had to lose because he’ll win something much more than that which was the humanity which was more important than him being a winner you know. And then we had discussions Stallone was a big help for us because he had a lot of weight on that movie. He’s responsible for the whole series and that was one point that he actually went to the other side and we were like, “oh we’re done. Oh my god.”

Michael P. Shawver: He came in and he was like, “we’re going to do this we’re going to do this we have no time we have no time we’re doing it.” And Ryan was out of the room and I’m just sitting.

Claudia Castello: He was sitting on the –

Michael P. Shawver: Claudia gets up and leaves.

Claudia Castello: I look at him like I’m going to the bathroom.

Michael P. Shawver: And I’m sitting there and he was like. And then he goes he goes, “where’s Ryan? I don’t say this twice.” And I’m like, “I don’t know,” and I like slow turn around and then Ryan came in and kind of talked him down a little bit.

Claudia Castello: And he totally changed.

Michael P. Shawver: Yeah well the thing about Sly is that he listens and he listens to us. He didn’t have to listen to us he can come in and. Do this do that change this. But you know he respected Ryan so much because at the beginning Ryan said. Look I know you’re a director. I know you’re a producer just let me direct like you’re a great actor. Do what you do. Let me worry about everything else but he would come in. And he he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life and would come in with very specific notes and but also like this timecode on this scene this tape this frame like “I really like the delivery here I really like this reaction here,” and he would come with all that stuff and I’ve never seen a producer do that let alone one of the biggest icons in the history of movies.

Claudia Castello: And good notes like he was not a crazy producer.

Michael P. Shawver: Yeah because a lot of other producers are like well you know we don’t think the character would really do that and the story whatever a lot of producers would be like, “I don’t care do it. Cause I said so,” he would actually stop and think and if he agreed with us and a lot of times he did he would say you know, “yeah you’re right. Let’s keep this and move on.

Claudia Castello: Yeah he cared. He really cared and he knew what he was doing. He was not doing that for ego because sometimes you see some producers that come with the money but they have no idea what they’re talking about. But they have to have their print.

Michael P. Shawver: So they inject they inject.

Claudia Castello: Yeah they force you to do things that are not good for the project. And it’s really hard to deal with them because yeah we were very passionate.

Michael P. Shawver: Half of editing is politics anyway you know.

Claudia Castello: And then you have to deal with that situation as best as you can and it doesn’t always turn out for the best of the project. And then you remember it’s just a movie. Yeah. And you move on.

Eric: Maybe the most magical thing about editing is how much hard work goes into a part of cinema. You tend not to notice but editors are the first ones who transform what could be a mountain of footage into a cohesive story. And they provide the last rewrite the screenplay if you want to learn more about the invisible art of editing. Walter Murch’s book, In the Blink of an Eye is like an editor’s Bible. And Wendy Apple’s documentary, The Cutting Edge shows the many amazing tricks editors have up their sleeves. We want to thank Douglas Crise, Claudia Castello, and Michael P Shawver for speaking with our students. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on two Q&As. Douglas Crise was moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. Claudia Costello and Michael P Shawver were moderated by Kelly Gardner and Josh Eiserike. To watch these interviews or to see our other Q&A’s check out our YouTube channel. That’s YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me, Eric Conner. Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department, Sajja Johnson, and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See you next time.

This projector at the end it’s I just don’t think it’s very accurate. I mean it’s an audio broadcast on a digital medium involving no film. I have an idea. Why don’t we put in there an air siren from World War II because it’s just as relevant or the sound of a frickin dinosaur.

Eric: Hi! I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you writer J. Michael Straczynski.

J. Michael Straczynski: I write 10-12 hours a day every day except New Year’s Day, my birthday, and Christmas Day.

Eric: He’s such a prolific talent. His work spans pretty much every form of media there is: film, TV, comic books, novels. He’s even branching into web series. Mr. Straczynski created the beloved syfy show Babylon 5 as well as Sense8 for Netflix and the comic books. He reinvented Spider-Man Thor and Superman amongst many many others and on the big screen, he wrote Clint Eastwood’s the Changeling and he helped adapt World War Z.

— I am Thor Odinson.

The Old ways are done You’d stand giving speeches while Asgard falls.

What worries me is that you have stopped looking for my son.

Why would we be looking for someone we’ve already found?

You are an old man and a fool.

Humans and aliens wrapped in two million five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal all alone in the night.

You’re a liar and a troublemaker and if you ask me you’ve got no business walking the streets of Los Angeles.

This drink I like it. – I know it’s great right? – Another! —

Eric: He’s done all this despite admitting to almost sabotaging his own career multiple times.

Tova Laiter: How did you start in the business?

J. Michael Straczynski: I’ve actually started numerous times that I have a tendency to firebomb my own career on a regular basis. I think it’s important to do that from time to time. I started off as a – writing plays that were produced locally when I was 17 years old. I always knew I was going to be a writer and began preparing from the moment I could actually read a book like age four or five. So my first four years were wasted but after that I began preparing to become a writer. I knew just coming into it. And the thing about it is I come from ridiculously poor roots no connections to the business at all. We moved my first 17 years 21 times. Because my father had a unique economic philosophy blow into town run up a lot of bills and split. So we’d be in a different city. You know guys would show up at the door with badges and bills and that night the U-Haul backs up and we go somewhere else New Jersey to Illinois to Texas to California. And guys who were in my neighborhood the guys who I grew up with were never expected to do anything and we were considered dead-enders. Either you’d end up working in a mechanics shop when you got older or you end up in jail. Those are your options. So when I said I want to be a writer they all kind of laughed you know, as would I have done. But after studying and studying and studying when I was 17 the engine turned over in my head. What had happened was I was I had gotten most of what writing involved but voice and style the difference between voice and style was eluding me and I couldn’t figure out what the distinction was. I was reading a book by H.P. Lovecraft whose style is way over the top and it was so big that I understood something of what that was. I realized that voice is who you are and style is the clothes you wear so you could adopt a different style but your voice within that style’s always the same. And when I realized how that worked the engine of my head turned over and suddenly I that day I wrote two short stories couple of poems The next day I wrote two more short stories and began having them sold locally as little articles for magazines and newspapers and began working in plays and getting those produced and was a reporter about 10 years I actually did pretty well at that and ended up going from L.A. Times to L.A. reader to time Incorporated which is what got me out of journalism it’s a whole different story a different time. But I left that firebombed my career in reporting went into television animation where I worked on shows like pardon the expression he man the masters of the universe. She-ra Real Ghostbusters and others and then. And then firebombed my career in animation went from there to live action and was on that up through Jeremiah for Showtime which was a hideous experience then I firebombed my career in television. I went from there to films and did that now I circled back to television again so I failed upward is the answer to the question. Embrace your inner failure.

Eric: The seeds for Mr. Straczinski’s comic book work started years back as an unhappy child who found solace and connection in the pages of Superman. And as he explains he might have even received some of Superman’s bravery.

J. Michael Straczynski: I grew up being the geek of the schools that I went to. But for me in all the comics I read as a kid. Superman was kind of it for me because coming from a background of poor and no opportunities and the horrific family Superman could do anything he could fly and he could you know. And nothing could hurt him. And I learned my ethics from comic books and Superman in particular. So for me it became not just a fun thing to read it became a survival mechanism. A few years ago I was at a comic book convention in Chicago and you ever been to comic cons like the big ones like San Diego or whatever else the dealer’s rooms are like you know from here to New Jersey. They just really really long. And the guys selling at booths art work and tchotchkes and expensive stuff and cheap stuff and just general garden variety crap and I’m in this row of booths in Chicago dealers room the convention. I hear someone yell stop him and I looked down the row. And then there’s a guy like in his 20s who just grabbed a bunch of expensive artwork like tens of thousands of dollars worth of art. And was making a run for it and the crowd like the Red Sea they parted you know and I brought him down tackled him like a gazelle brought him down. The guy who caught up with me who’s booth it was we held him for the cops to show up and afterward they’re taking him away and the guy who runs the convention Mike walks up and says. Why did you do that. You could have been seriously hurt. I took him back to where I’d been standing under a ten foot tall cutout of Superman. I said How could I stand in front of that and do nothing. And Spider-Man would be even better given the mythology of that but it was Superman.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski doesn’t shy away from potentially alienating hardcore comic fans for the sake of an original emotion based tale. He boldly gave Thor a makeover by bringing the Norse god and his entire kingdom of Asgard to the fantastical world of Oklahoma now if this sounds familiar it’s because he also helped write the first Thor movie.

J. Michael Straczynski: I had been writing for Marvel Comics for a while and wanted to bring back Thor who had been gone for a few years and nobody wanted to get near the character. They offered it to Neil Gaiman he ran like hell they offered it to Mark Mallar. He ran like hell and I wanted it. I want to give it I want it and so alright give it to Joe. And the problem was that no one knew what to do with the character because he doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. He comes from this tradition a very faux Shakespearean dialogue.

— You have no idea what you are dealing with.

Shakespeare in the park doth mother know you weareth her drapes? —

J. Michael Straczynski: And what do you do with Asgard and so they give it to me and say what you want to do. I said first off main thing is I want to move Asgard to Oklahoma. And they looked at me as if I had three heads and feathers which I was wearing that day but that’s a different story. And they said why. And I said Iron Man next to Thor. Not much of a power difference. Thor next an ordinary person makes him more godlike but also makes him more human. Plus visually it’s really cool to go to Oklahoma to the flatlands it’s like flat flat flat Asgard flat and I’m all about contrasts and so they said. None of them wanted it anyway. Sure go out and have fun. We’ll see you on the way down on the Titanic. So I did it and really focused strongly on the characters I reimagined How Thor spoke I made it more not Shakespearean. But formalized you think who it is not for burning. Christopher Fry that sort of thing and more accessible to a modern audience was still formalized and created relationships with the local townsfolk and often in very funny ways. I mean they want to send him some letters and there’s no address for Asgard so you have one of the folks from the town comes out with a mailbox you know by Asgard one Asgard road you know and the cops tell them you can’t just put Asgard in the middle of this on this land. So with the incantation he raised it for at above the ground. It’s not on the ground anymore it’s 4 feet above the ground just to mess with them and what to their surprise happened was that the book became one of the top five sellers for Marvel and stayed that way for the entire time that I worked on it. There wasn’t a lot of action in it. There wasn’t a lot of big huge events. It was just a strong character story and people reacted to that. And they responded to it. That’s what makes the character work because of those small moments. One of the things I did in the book was as Asgard is now by this small Oklahoma town. We see how they interact and at one point the Town Council asked do you have indoor plumbing and they said no we throw it over the wall. But my favorite scene there is a guy who’s a chef cook in a diner who begins falling in love with this Asgardian woman who is a goddess and she likes him a lot also and he keeps thinking how is this ever going to work. And he’s in the diner and Donald Blake was the alter for Thor is there. He’s lamenting this and his dad used to say to him you know a fish can love a bird but where would they build a house together. And Don Don says by the edge of the river. Ah and that’s when the guy decides to pursue it. And that set the template for the movie. They wanted to put that setting into a small town. The outfit that he wears here is based on the outfit I and the artist came together and put together. So they said we want you to be involved with the film. I had a outstanding obligation to another film so I said I could do the outline for you but I can’t do the entire script so I came onboard did the outline for them and they proceeded to go off from there. And of course the great irony is that Ken Ken Branagh who directed this wanted me to do a cameo in this really bad idea. So I show up just to be one of a bunch of guys in line. And he said I want you to actually act in the scene. No you don’t trust me you don’t He said I want you to. So there’s a scene where a red truck after the hammer’s been thrown out of Asgard it craters in the ground a red truck drives up and a guy gets out and tries to pick it up and yeah I said you know despite all evidence to the contrary Ken decided that I could act. So there you are.

Eric: The fans’ reaction to Thor pales in comparison to how they responded to what he did to Spider-Man during the storyline one more day. Mr. Straczynski not only broke up Peter and Mary-Jane he erased their marriage and their entire backstory from existence. That one still hurts. But like with all his work he used the fictional web slinger as a response to what’s happening in the real world.

J. Michael Straczynski: The difference between creating your own characters and working for in-house established like Thor Superman whoever else is that when you’re writing your own characters you can go as far as you want to go. You can make them terrible people you can have terrible things happen to them. I did Spider-Man for seven years and during that time you know that you go from here to there but you really can’t go much further because you will you know break the equipment and they hand you these characters as a trust they think you’ll serve the character well don’t hurt it. You know. So you really do have I wouldn’t say mittens on. But certainly the fingerless gloves you know just partial mittens and you also realize that you have a much larger responsibility with that character because they’re a known icon. So for instance I was writing Spider-Man when 9/11 hit and Marvel called me up and said we need to respond to this and Peter Parker is the obvious choice because he lives there he’s a New Yorker it’s how we identify him. We need you to write an issue that somehow addresses 9/11. Swell you know. And for days I kept trying and I’d call them and said I know the words are in the dictionary somewhere but what order to put them in and which ones to use is eluding me they said well give it one more day and think about it some more. And we were shooting Jeremiah TV series for Showtime in Vancouver and I was in the producer’s trailer on location and I had this note pad in front of me and I wrote down. There are no words and another sentence unfurled itself to me. And in 45 minutes this prose poem meditation. A style I’ve never written before emerged that I can’t even take credit for. And I sent it off exactly as written to Marvel and Axel Alonzo was the editor at The Marvel closed his door and read it and was in tears for the right reasons for a change. And when that book came out the New York Times covered it and firemen shared it at fire stations. It was used in schools as a teaching device about 9/11. And I got letters from guys who were there and firemen who were there who said what your book captured was the emotion of that moment. He said people understand that what we needed the most as we were working in the ruins was shoes because the heat from below was so strong that our soles kept melting. I thought what a metaphor that is. You know and when you have a character like Spider-Man you can address those kinds of important things because he is an icon. Whereas your individual characters that are not going to be as well known probably can’t do that.

Eric: His writing on the Superman comic was equally as bold making Clark Kent more human in an attempt to relate to the majority of us who just can’t solve our problems with superpowers.

Tova Laiter: How is your approach towards Earth one? Superman?

J. Michael Straczynski: Comes from a number of different things but probably the seminal image that guided me in that book the first one in particular it was on the New York Times bestsellers for like half a year. Again this happened while I was still working up in Vancouver on Jeremiah and every Wednesday I would go down to my comics sticks downtown anybody been to Vancouver anybody know Vancouver at all. There is a street called Granville which is where folks of your tribe know guys and gals in their 20s tend to congregate. You know and younger you know 15 18. It’s that age 15 to 20 and you see them sitting on the curbs. They’re panhandling asking for money. Hanging out drinking. My favorite guy there had this sign he had held in front of them said you know need money for weed. I thought that was really honest of him. And when I went to get my copy books. What I discovered was every once in a while one of those guys would come into the comic book store and walk down the row of garishly colored books his eyes hungry for something he could relate to. And he got to the end that you saw the light in his eyes go out and he would go to leave and I would follow him out and said what happened just now what’s going on and he said there’s nothing there that is like the world I live in you know. And when time came to do Superman I thought let me create a character for that tribe who don’t know where they fit in. Don’t know where they’re going. Clark Kent early 20s fresh out of college come into metropolis what does he want to do with his life. Not sure he wants to be Superman so he can do anything he wanted to do and be found profoundly successful at it. But he has to figure that process out. Let’s focus on that and that became a large part of it. I’ve introduced a character to a second volume who is next door neighbor who works as an escort. And people were at first you know horrified by the fact that Superman that Clark Kent was friends with a hooker and he wasn’t trying to get her out of the life. He knew she wanted to get out. That wasn’t an issue question is do I respect you for who you are while you’re trying to do this you know. And they became really good friends. And there were a lot folks were up in arms about that. But in the third book we make that work pretty well. So I try to look at this from a different point of view and addressing the concerns of economics of direction of sexuality things that you can just not hit too hard because you’re still writing for a certain audience but enough to make it a fresher approach to the character. But it all started with the image of this guy in a hoodie which is the Superman in the first issue first book book wearing the hoodie which also freaked everybody out. Walk into that store and not seeing somebody he could relate to and filling what that need was.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski has been a TV writer for over 30 years from He man to the reboot of Twilight Zone to Walker Texas Ranger starring the one and only Chuck Norris but his work as a creator and executive producer of the sci fi series Babylon 5 truly showed his mettle as he wound up writing almost every episode of the show. No small feat particularly for a program that had over 100 episodes.

J. Michael Straczynski: Babylon 5 was really kind of a one man show to its large extent for the first two years we had freelance writers for half of it. Then it got so convoluted that I had to do all the writing myself because I couldn’t separate it out by saying this episode ends here and that one begins here. There’s your assignment. It was the first series to do a five year arc we were the first ones to do that. And because I needed to figure it out as I did it it was hard to assign episodes so I ended up writing out of 110 episodes 92 as well as showrunning the darn thing so I was kind of a one man show. Whereas Sense8 was the three of us sitting in a room and just chewing through all the details and all the background of where these characters come from. Who are they. And we ended up covering the walls with these boards a metallic magnetized boards that had three by five cards on them with it going this way with who the characters were then the backgrounds who they were where they came from fathers parents. And this way across was their individual arcs. And we did over a period of like a couple of months we finally worked this thing out that everything laid out day by day and time by time what the whole thing was. And I’m looking at this construction one day and I went oh crap. And Lana said What I said time zones. Because they’re all connected telepathically. And if one of our characters in San Francisco is in trouble the character who is in Seoul can’t help them because they’re asleep. So we now have to redo the entire thing to incorporate time zones and they kind of hated me from that point on for you know for obvious reasons. And there was a lot more travel involved in doing doing sense8. We went to we shot the show on location. As opposed to if that was all done onstage in San Francisco Chicago London Mexico City Berlin Iceland Mumbai Nairobi and Seoul. No stage work at all. It was it was quite an experience so it was pretty much as different as you can get from each other on every possible level.

Eric: Mr. Straczynski’s current Netflix shows Sense8 is a collaboration with the Wachowskis the innovators behind the Matrix trilogy. Despite the show’s massive scope and globetrotting locations the show spawned from an intimate and emotional central theme.

J. Michael Straczynski: We worked on what the story was going to be and what the first three episodes on spec took it out and our first meeting was at Netflix and figured okay fine that went well lets book the next meeting and they called to take it off the market and said we’re going to give you the budget to make the show. Do you all know what the concept the premise of sense8 what the idea is Lana and I particularly are big believers in the notion of community. The problem we have as a culture right now is that we have been marginalized and tribalized and factionalized to within an inch of our lives. If the country were divided geographically as it is politically right now you’d be hearing gunfire in the distance. And we wanted to talk about the fact that whatever your gender identity is or your sexuality or your ethnic background that the common coin of our shared humanity is stronger than all of it stronger than what divides us. And we wanted to do a story on a global scale that was about community and one of things that entered into discussion was I have friends three dubious words but I do have friends who will when they’re in different parts of the world they’ll all queue up a DVD at the same time of a movie and as the movie plays they will text back and forth with each other about what they’re seeing and they’re sharing that experience even though they’re in different parts of the world. So I said what about you know characters who become telepathically linked to each other and suddenly there’s someone in your head who knows everything that you know about yourself and only you can see them but no one else can. And that person knows your secrets your background your skills your abilities and theres eight characters who share this hive mind and to me as a writer what’s appealing about that is I have a theory that there are five kinds of truth the truth you tell the casual strangers the people you meet the truth you tell to your friends and to your family. The truth you tell to only a few people in your entire life. The truth you tell to yourself the truth you won’t even admit to yourself. And we wanted to do a story about truth number five because suddenly someone’s in your head and has access to your secrets and our secrets are what define us. In many respects so that became the core of it. And then we built out the universe from there.

Eric:Despite years of success in television. When he went out with his feature screenplay Changeling he was considered a newer writer. Fortunately he won over two titans of the industry which ensured the true story would reach the big screen.

J. Michael Straczynski: Ron Howard bought the script to direct initially for himself. He couldn’t do it brought in Clint and how the town works is that the director comes on they give you notes and you come back with a draft. So they finally said Clint wants to meet you so I went down to his office at Warner Brother on the lot and comes in we’re sitting on the couch and the funny thing is Clint doesn’t really look at you a whole lot. So we’re sitting like this he’s looking that way the entire time I’m talking to him he’s talking to me and finally we’re done with the meeting. I say you know do you want any revisions because obviously he has some thoughts that I can change a few things and suddenly he looks at me and it’s Clint Eastwood And you remember what your colon is there for and he says you know how many movies I’ve made a lot. A lot. That’s I thought point is he said. I’ve got more phone calls about this script than any other script I’ve ever produced saying Don’t screw it up. My job is to not screw it up. Don’t change a word. The ultimate irony of Changeling was that we went to Cannes and we missed winning the Palme d’Or by one vote. We discovered from a French critic who didn’t believe the story was true he said police would not handle someone in this fashion. Obviously not from here. And Clint called me because then the story had based on a true story in the credit and and he said half of what he said was unrepeatable. But what the gist of it was. Sit down with the universal attorneys go through all your notes with them. Show them where every single scene of the script comes from to get a true story not based on a true story. On the screen from now on. So I sat down with universal attorneys and I had done a year’s worth plus of research. I had like 25 hundred pages of documentation about that story and I show them every single case where every single line came from a transcript or a hearing document or a court record or a hospital record. And we got a true story which is very rarely ever been awarded to anyone. He’s still pissed off about it.

Eric: After working as a writer for over 20 years the changing turned Mr. Straczynski into a Hollywood big shot a role he was less than thrilled to portray.

J. Michael Straczynski: After being in television for 15 years I wrote Changeling which got all of this attention and suddenly I was invited to all these studio meetings and most of them didn’t know that I had been in television before they thought this is my first script and again this up and coming screenwriter. So I’m at this reception with like eight guys in their 20s and me the best part of it was after Changeling became Changeling. I ended up going to all the different studios they all want to meet me and see who this Yeti was who had just done this. And I walk into this studio visualize if you will a long conference table and along the sides of the conference table. There’s the presidents vice presidents of production development. Yes Men flunkeys plenipotentiaries toadies the whole catastrophe and at the end of the table is Mr. Big who runs the studio and he begins giving me his background I ran Paramount for two years. I was in charge of Fox for three years I was head of production for this studio for two years. I ran this studio for three years. Give me the whole litany and then sat back to see my reaction. I said what you’re saying is you can’t hold a job and the president vice president of production the development people the flunkeys the yes men the toadies went white Mr. Big took a moment to realize what I just said and started laughing. And could not stop laughing because most people who walked into that room did so from a position of fear. The most important thing you can do as writers is never ever ever be afraid. There’s nothing they can do to you. And because I was not afraid of him he respected me and actually I walked out the door with an assignment. So never ever ever ever let him see you being afraid.

Eric: Before they work together on Sense8 J. Michael Straczynski and the Wachowskis were mutual fans of each other. This led to perhaps his hardest gig ever doing a page one rewrite of a feature film in one week for all your non-writers out there. That is literally impossible.

J. Michael Straczynski: They actually were fans of mine. They were Babylon 5 fans and like my comics work. I didn’t know that till I got the invitation to see the last Matrix movie at the Disney center downtown. And I didn’t. My lawyer said we got this invitation do you know anybody involved with matrix I said No but I’m happy to go I love the movies. So I go up to the Disney theater and up the balcony and this couple sits next to me and the woman says What did you do with this. I said nothing. I’m just here to see the movie and this is who I am. She leaned over said Lana it’s the Babylon 5 guy and Lana came over and began talking Spider-Man and Babylon 5 and all the stuff and they were trying to run the movie and they’re like we’re talking Babylon 5 and comic books and so we became friends after that and we worked a few years later together on Ninja Assassin which not a terribly deep movie because it’s well Ninja Assassin. But what’s funny about that is this is kind of again where the effortless approach to writing pays off. I didn’t know they were working on Ninja Assassin until I got a phone call from Lana saying we’re in a bind. Can you come see us this is on a Monday. I come the next day on Tuesday and they said we are six weeks from camera on this movie and the script doesn’t work. We need to have a complete rewrite fade into fade out. Can you do it for us. I said you’re my friends whatever you want me to do I’m happy to do it. When do you have to have it. They said it has to go out to actors’ agents on Friday. This is Tuesday. So they said we know how fast you are. Can you can you pull this off. And I said I’ll have it on Friday. Went home. Fired up the coffee maker. I did the math. How many pages per hour that would have to be and how many hours I could sleep each day which is three. And I just made sure that every hour I hit that number and I didn’t go to sleep until I hit that page count for the day. And would doze at the desk I would put my pillow on the keyboard and nap get up have a cup of coffee. Keep on going. And on Friday morning I emailed off the script which Warners had no notes on which scared the hell out of me. Because if Warner would have like something you’ve got to worry so then they shot it

Eric: Mr. Straczynski gave our students some great advice about writing for one read a lot of screenplays or TV scripts. The good news there. So many of them are available online legally. So you literally have no excuse for not reading them.

J. Michael Straczynski: The best thing you can do seriously is to read scripts read because when you’re watching the film what works is often invisible but you can see it on the page but you can’t always see it on the screen and particularly look at I wouldn’t say read the scripts for but look at really really bad films because what works in a good film is often invisible. But what is crappy in a bad film is pretty obvious sometimes and you can learn more from seeing a bad film sometimes than a good film because like the magician how the hell I can see what they did wrong over there and just write every day. What you have to become is transparent as a writer and write all the crap out of your system. It’s like writing is like digging for oil you have to pump out the mud the yuck the dinosaur bones the water and then you get to the good stuff. The more you write whatever it is that you’re writing do it because what you want to get down to is your authentic voice. Writing is nothing more than talking on the page in your own natural voice. When you hang out with the writers a lot you learn that they write the way they talk and talk the way they write. There is this notion. Somehow writing should sound literary and sound a certain way. No writing is your natural voice. What you have to sell what all of you have to sell each of you stands on a piece of turf piece of ground that no one else stands on. No one else has your background your experience your knowledge your information no one else has that lens in the middle of your head that was formed by your experiences. If a diamond has value because there are few of them how much more rare and valuable is your particular perspective when you hire a writer you’re hiring them for their point of view. You’re hiring them for how they see the world and how that story will come through that filter. As a result you can give 10 writers the same basic idea you’ll get 10 very different stories. So whatever you can do to write just your brains out nonstop to get out of your own way and become transparent which only can happen by every day. Writing writing writing writing writing. I started writing nonstop when I was 17 years old. I’ve never stopped every day and the first three or four years my stuff sucked. It wasn’t the smell it was the burning of the eyes. It was that bad. And eventually I wrote out the crap and got to the good stuff. I’m still writing out some crap in my system there’s still some left over there. To this day I’m still working on it but the more you can get those words out of your system and learn to just be transparent and just here’s what it is there’s trying to write and there’s writing effortless joyful fun that’s where you have to get no matter what material he approaches be it thor a ninja assassin or the changeling’s harrowing tale of a mother losing her son. Mr. Straczynski comes at the story from the exact same place to me writing it’s all about emotion. That’s ultimately what it comes down to I don’t care how good your plot is or your effects or your action sequences if you don’t care about the characters you have got nothing. People may not remember you know all the whaling technology that was discussed in Moby Dick but you rember Ahab. For me it all starts and ends with character and my writing process is built around that in a kind of a weird way that you want the secret to write the real the real deal. Don’t tell anyone I told you this it’s you know imagine your best friend for a second if they haven’t got a best friend borrow one from the person next to you walking across the living room at night lights are off and they bang their shin on the coffee table. Now you know your friend. You know exactly what your friends gonna say when that happens. You didn’t have to work at it. Have to think about it. You just know and you can write it down. Writing is exactly the same. It is getting to know the characters so well that whatever you drop them into you lay back and you write down what they do. It’s very zenlike that way. It’s not supposed to be homework it’s not supposed to be hard it’s supposed to be fun. And by focusing on the characters. Let them do the work for you. It becomes effortless and keeps the character always at the center of the story. I worked with Jim Cameron awhile back working on a Forbidden Planet remake and he said one of the smartest things I’ve ever heard. He said he used to think that writing science fiction was about writing familiar characters in unfamiliar settings. It took me ten years to realize I was wrong. It’s about familiar relationships in unfamiliar settings. So. Terminator 2 is a father son relationship even though it’s not aliens is a mother daughter story even though it’s not. You may not be able to buy into you know alien civilizations or strange futuristic events but the emotion of what a father son or mother daughter relationship is will bring you in every time. So I always believe in going through the emotions first and foremost as the gateway drug and pulling back from there into what the plot is another piece of advice from J Michael Straczynski. Learn how to take feedback without letting your ego get in the way of ideas that can help develop the material.

You have to be honest. You have to step outside your own ego and say does the note make sense. If it does do it there’s nothing wrong with doing it. You get to bask in the reflected glow of the smartness of that note. If the note is wrong because your heart says it is wrong because your logic says it is wrong you don’t do it and you tell them that or you lie. I used to do this. Here’s how I wouldn’t say not bright but less in tune. Sometimes executives are at studios where the example would be someone says to you okay in your script. We have them coming in the door I think they should come in the window because that’s more dramatic. It doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Fine. You wait 6 weeks turn in the script and you tell them you know that note you had where instead of having them come in the window you have them come in the door. You were absolutely right with that. It works every time. They just want to be heard. They just want to earn their salary. And lying is a completely moral point of view when you’re working with some of these guys. But other times if you disagree with it and your heart says this is wrong you have to fight. You have to be a pain in the ass I cultivated that from a very early age to just say no if I thought it was wrong. But just be honest with yourself. Oftentimes it’s getting more to the spirit of the note and the heart than the actual letter of the note. Something in you was bothering and this is bothering you. You’re saying cut this sequence. Well are you actually saying that the sequence is too long because if that’s actually the concern I can take out this part over here which is not essential. Opposed to the point you want to take out which is the whole core of the scene. Yeah and lastly don’t worry about what the audience will think belief in your material is what will see you through this industry.

I think that the moment you begin thinking too much about the audience you’re doomed. It has to interest you because we all containe within us as I mentioned before the same basic elements we all want happiness. Love you know better future for our kids If you write something that’s true for you. The odds are it will be true for everybody else. At some level the moment you think what you should be writing about then you lost that and you what you write will be driven by the market driven by outside forces rather than your own heart. And again as I mentioned earlier the only thing you have of value to sell. Is your point of view. The audience changes you can write to a trend right now but that trend started four years ago when the developing process began on those films you’re now four years behind the times. Where as your. Your heart will always be on time. Because your heart’s writing to the culture right now. Yeah. Never. The worst that will happen is it won’t sell write the next one. That’s what a writer does. You write it you put it on the market it sells or doesn’t sell you write the next one and the next one and the next one I know a lot of aspiring writers who work for 10 years on a script. And the problem is you only learn the lesson that one script had to teach you. The more you write the more tools you acquire for your toolbox we all start in the same place with a pair of rusty pliers and a screwdriver that’s all you got. You only make so much with that. The more you write the more scripts you write the more tools you get for your toolbox so you can make more interesting things with that. But that box only opens up with your own heart. The moment you come from the outside of it and say I think I should be writing about this because that’s what the audience wants the box won’t open. So write your heart. The audience if they believe in you will find you Sense8 is that that kind of a show. It’s a show driven not by plot or by gimmick a lot of science fiction show’s about the gimic the gadget the mission the team. It’s about what William Faulkner called the human heart in conflict with itself. It’s the only thing that’s worth writing about in the long run. Only thing worth the sweat and the blood and the grief. And we sat there for days asking ourselves the most intimate questions Lana Wachowski who worked on this project with me is transgendered and one of our characters is transgendered so we get into some into the tall grass in some of our conversations. There were times he said Do we really risk going there do we want to go that far with this. Because it’s really intimate stuff. You’ve seen a bunch of it and it works and it has galvanized the Internet in ways that no other Netflix show has ever done. For those of you who don’t know the show we were logging 200 tweets a minute at one point people were just like oh my god look at this show by staying true to the human heart. If you’re going to be a writer what are you selling. Are you selling your point of view or are you selling what you think people want. If it’s the latter. Get the hell out. It was the former stay in

Eric: Mr. Straczynski’s Q&A showed he’s as great a teacher as he is a writer. So thank you to novelist TV writer producer comic book writer publisher and screenwriter J Michael Straczynski. And thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter co-moderated by Crickett Rumley to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As. Check out our youtube channel at YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple’s podcasts or wherever you listen see you next time

No, Kristian. It’s not just a comic book it’s Spider-Man. Mary Jane Peter their marriage was perfect and you know what they did. You know what he did. He ended it and it wasn’t just oh they got divorced. No none of that he erased their marriage and their entire backstory from existence. It doesn’t make sense.

Kathleen Turner on “Body Heat” & Typecasting

The Backlot Podcast: Kathleen Turner

  • Kathleen Turner Introduction & Background
  • Body Heat & Overcoming Typecast
  • 40 Years of Acting Experience
  • Being a Film Director
  • Theater Inspiration Overseas
  • Having a Life Outside of Work
  • Conclusion & Goodbye

Kathleen Turner Introduction & Background

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy and in this episode, we bring you the Oscar and Tony-nominated actress Kathleen Turner.

Kathleen Turner: I hoped and was determined never to be typecast certainly not as a femme fatale because there is a real age limit to that sucker.

Eric: Her list of credits and the directors she’s worked with is well impressive barely even covers it Francis Ford Coppola in Peggy Sue Got Married, John Huston in Prizzi’s Honor, and Robert Zemeckis in Romancing the Stone, just to name a few.

— You’re not too smart are you. I like that in a man.

When I watch you eat –

– scram, split, let’s make a run for it –

– when I see you sleep.

You’re a Mondo Dizmo.

When I look at you lately.

Some men when they get a whiff of it they trail you like a hound

I just want to smash your face in.

I’m not bad I’m just drawn that way–

Eric: Unlike most actors, Miss Turner was only briefly at a school before finding consistent acting work though she may be the only actress to go back to waiting tables after she got her big break in Lawrence Kasdan’s steamy film noir, Body Heat.

Body Heat & Overcoming Typecast

Kathleen Turner: My first year in New York, when I got out of university and moved to New York I had an off-off-Broadway play you know around six months, and then around 9 months I got a soap opera called The Doctors, and then around 11 months I got a Broadway show – a Broadway play. So there I was doing both. So within the first year, I was supporting myself as well as an actor which is not very common frankly what you call the big break I suppose would be Body Heat. But in truth, I was supporting myself by my acting always. Yes, there were stints when of course I’m waitressing and stuff. Even after we completed filming Body Heat I came back to New York and they didn’t pay me hardly anything but I was paying rent in New York and I was paying rent in Los Angeles. So there went my salary pretty much. So well we completed shooting Body Heat and it’s six months until the release you know I went back to waitressing for a couple months just to pay the rent in New York. It seems weird but that’s what you’ve got to do.

Eric: Body Heat ensured that Miss Turner would not be waiting tables anymore. And as with all her work, she looks back on the project fondly knowing she had left it all in the field.

Kathleen Turner: The first time I saw Body Heat. I remember my first thought truly was oh my God there’s a record you know there will be this piece of film long past my lifetime and it was kind of thrilling but it was also extremely frightening the thought that I would be open to anyone’s judgment till the end of time. I mean come on it’s scary. People are going to be judging this for as long as they wish to whether I’m there or not. But it was also quite exciting the thought that I would have left this record which also then brings me to my ethic which is never cop out, never f*****g cop out. I want to be able to look at myself and know that that was a very very best I could do that day. That I never said “it’s good enough” or “I don’t want to do another take.” We got what we need. You know I want to be sure that every time I see a frame of film I mean that that was the best I could do. Even if I look at that film a year later and go I should have done it that way or why didn’t I add that doesn’t matter. I did the best I could. The day I did it and that I can be true to

Eric: Body Heat could have made Miss Turner the go-to performer for femme fatale roles. But Miss Turner chose her next project carefully taking great pains to push herself as an actress and not get boxed in by one type of role.

Kathleen Turner: I hoped and was determined never to be typecast certainly not as a femme fatale because there is a real age limit to that sucker. You know that you only last a few years and then you start to look foolish. Probably my first job after Body Heat was on the stage to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then I decided I’m very funny. But of course, no one in the film industry knew that. So then I wondered when I read The Man with Two Brains and I thought, “OK now this I can do. We’ll still have the femme fatale nonsense but I will also be extremely funny.” But of course Carl Reiner and yes they’re willing to have me come in and meet. But you know is she really funny so I have to throw myself around and crawl up Steve’s leg and do all of these things. So after that after a man with two brains came romancing okay she’s sexy and she’s funny but can she be dowdy and insecure. OK. Let’s wipe off all the makeup cut up some sweat clothes go and stagger bump into furniture. Be clumsy oh look. She can do that. So after romancing then I went to crimes of passion because that was fascinating. The idea of working with Ken Russell you know was something that I I always felt that he was a genius and a rather self-destructive shooting himself in the foot. Genius but a genius. So the idea being that if you look at the list of films and in their progression, you will see that each one has a contrasting factor to the one before that. I have never consciously repeated the work that I have just done partly because it’s boring. Just did it did it well thank you very much. Want to explore something else. I mean to my mind if I do not try things that I may not be able to do if I don’t take the risk of failure then I’ll never be as good I’ll never know how good I can be or get better. You know you have to be willing to risk to fail in order to test how you grow. It’s a simple formula to me. So if you look at my films with that thought in mind it’s also a reason why many people have not been able to put together my body of work. It’s like constantly running into people and they’ll say, “Oh yeah. Oh, Prizzi’s Honor. Oh course Virgin Suicides!” And they’re all hopefully, such different kinds of films that that’s why people are sometimes surprised that I was in them all. It’s fun isn’t it?

Eric: The romantic comedy Romancing the Stone directed by Robert Zemeckis who also did back to the Future and Forrest Gump began a terrific pairing up Kathleen Turner with Michael Douglas.

Your chemistry with Michael Douglas is so strong and obviously, it carried on to two more movies.

Kathleen Turner: Yeah we had a good time together but you know you have to remember that people forget sometimes it wasn’t just Michael or me it’s also Danny DeVito. It’s the three of us in those films and because Danny and Michael have an extraordinary friendship it goes back to when they were roommates you know starting out in New York and the two of them together are just you know a terrible threat actually. So it was more the three of us than just Michael and me certainly you do your best to get along with and to create a friendship with whoever you are acting opposite of and hope that that’s a true friendship that it will truly even though you know it is a necessity a little artificial you know that you are only going to be together four months or something you know. And you know there’s a definite end and I myself I’ve always lived in New York so you know and for me when a film ended I’d get on the next plane. So it was kind of like you know School just ended you do try very hard to find common ground to find an attraction toward each other and hope that that develops through the working

Eric: Miss Turner collaborated again with Robert Zemeckis on the live action animated hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her voice work as a sultry almost obscenely curvy Jessica Rabbit. Turn up the heat on that family comedy

–You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do.

My honey bunny was never very good behind the wheel. – A better lover than a driver. – You better believe it.

Roger darling I want you to know I love you. I’ve loved you more than any woman’s ever loved a rabbit.

I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.–

Kathleen Turner: You know I have a lot of fun with my voice. And he knew I could do that. I mean the fun that I have when I see or think about Jessica Rabbit is that the truth is that I was tremendously pregnant throughout that. So I would waddle into the studio and in fact the last day I was supposed to record. I went into labor. So I’m in NYU hospital I say call the studio. Tell them I’m not coming in today. I think that you know Bob said he’d never thought of anyone else. He just said you know call Kathleen see if she’s available.

Eric:  Prizzi’s Honor proved to be a unique challenge. The Oscar-nominated gangster dramedy was helmed by John Huston the auteur behind the Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But because of the director’s health issues Ms. Turner and her co-star Jack Nicholson had to carry their weight as performers even more than usual.

Kathleen Turner: We did Prizzi’s honor and it was his second to last film when we worked together. He was already extremely ill with emphysema you know could not function without constant oxygen. So this may have affected his directing because essentially he would say you know to Jack and me do something you like and then show it to me. So in fact I felt like I had much much more input than I had ever before in a film. I mean the whole scene in the bed when they’re rolling. Who’s on top who’s on top. They hit the hardwood and then they roll off the thing with Jack going my f*****g back anyway. That was mine. It took 19 takes I think which is a lot more than I’m used to because to time the camera move with the rolling over was extremely difficult. You didn’t quite know how far you were going to go. You know and as you can see in that shot it’s really quite close. You know so I got to block that one and Jack got to block the scene that starts with having me draped over the side of the sofa. You know and he gets up that obviously was Jack. Anyway that was really quite exciting. And then Huston would watch us run through the scene and tweak it you know make it more make it less. Only one day did he really take over. It was the scene where Jack’s character comes to find her and confront her about her ex husband about this scam that she’s pulled with him. And John kept setting up the shot and we were in a small room and there were no movable walls or anything like that. So we would be ready to go and he’d say No I don’t like it. We’re going to turn this another way. And so we spent I don’t know eight hours probably re lighting and and changing the angle on that scene on that shot. And finally I was I was so frustrated I was so. You know could you just can I just do it you know. And I hear John saying to the cinematographer. Oh I think she’s ready now. I said you s**t. But that was the only time he played me like that.

40 Years of Acting Experience

Eric: Miss Turner credits the longevity of her career. Now approaching 40 years to repeatedly jumping from theater to film and back again.

Kathleen Turner: I always knew that as a woman my starring life in film would be much shorter than my time as a theatrical lead So I never went more than two and a half years without going back to stage because first of all I love it. I love theater more than anything. You can have a lot of fun with the camera you can you can achieve things with the camera that you cannot possibly achieve on stage. On the other hand being onstage and doing a continual arc of acting without interruption is so incredibly alive. And the other side is that as women get older we get more complex and more interesting and filmmakers really don’t write very complex and interesting older women they tend like you know either you’re the love interest for you’re the grandmother or you’re the bitter professional woman you know who had a bad love life. Now on stage they actually tend to write a full character. But I do truly suggest keeping your skills on stage just for the quality of your work whether it be on stage or on film.

Eric: She’s also managed to thrive in Hollywood for so long because she does not let her representatives ever paint her into a corner. She controls her career. Not them

Kathleen Turner: No one makes a decision about what work I do except for me ever no they try that they’re fired. Simple as that. It’s like no I’ll tell you the reason for this. Because when I first when Body Heat for example they came to New York. Larry Kasdan to audition actresses obviously for Manny Walker. I was not allowed to audition for Larry at that point because the casting directors in New York you know said she has no film experience whatsoever. Waste of time. So I went out to L.A. four months later to test on a different film and the casting director around here said you know I want you to come in and read but after I got the film and everything. Larry Kasdan told me later that he had actually first thought of Anne Archer but her agent said to him that she would not audition that either it was an offer or he could walk away. And Anne when I asked her never knew about this could you imagine would kill the asshole. You know No no no no no no no no no no no no no. Nobody decides what I should or should not read or what work I may or may not do

Eric: and to keep herself on her toes as an artist. She has even gotten into directing.

Being a Film Director

Kathleen Turner: I directed a play in New York a couple of years ago Crimes of the Heart and it went very very well. It was very successful. And so I am considering more directing work at this point. It’s a balance I’m still loving acting too much to give it up for directing. So the idea this offer I have to direct and star in the piece is really very enticing. That way I get to do both and I love. I actually love directing. I thought that it might be difficult for me you know to direct my leading ladies because I’d be wanting to say oh no no don’t do it that way do it this way you know. But in fact what I found was there are six characters in the play. Not only was I fascinated by working with the designers you know to create the costume the sets the lights all of these elements when it came to the actors. It wasn’t like directing six actors it was like knowing six characters that I was doing. I mean I felt as though I would act each one of them even though a few of them were men never stopped me before. So I found that quite fascinating. I got to explore each character instead of the individual viewpoint that one usually has as an actor to only be responsible for your own exploration. So I I think directing is really intriguing. I will continue to do that.

Eric: Some performers prefer method acting a technique that involves throwing yourself so fully into character that you feel everything they’re feeling from the inside out. Kathleen Turner is not one of those performers.

Kathleen Turner: I hate the word method. I teach a course at NYU when I have when I’m home. In New York for a semester. It’s called Practical acting. Shut up and do it. Which is basically how I approach acting. Yes you do. Of course you break down the script in terms of the arc of the role because in film unlike stage you’re going to take all these pieces out and shoot them out of sequence so in your own mind you must know where you end this one scene so that when you come back to it you can start on the same level of energy intensity or emotion as you move through that scene where are you going to leave that scene because you already shot the scene that follows that so you must keep in mind. I call them bases if you looked at it like a baseball field or something like this you have to make sure that you touch the emotional and intentional bases that you set the markers you’ve set for yourself as the shooting goes on and that’s your job to find a consistent and I mean you’ll have somebody watching the continuity of when you lit a cigarette or when you lifted that glass fine and dandy. But it is your job to find the consistency of the characters thought intention and emotion. So yes you plot that out in your mind and try and when you get a shooting script you have the right to ask to see a shooting schedule and see what sequence the scenes are gonna be shot and then you can prepare for them in that way as well.

Eric: And by this point just in case you’re not impressed enough. She’s also fluent in Spanish.

Kathleen Turner: Yo viví en Cuba y cinco años en Venezuela. Un en Cali. Mi papá trabajó para en el servicio diplomático y por eso vivimos en much partes del mundo.

Eric: Yeah French and Italian too guys. I know no one expects a gringa to be fluent in another language right. Well actually they don’t expect Americans to be fluent in another language which really we should take personally. Guys do something about. If you have only one language you have only one way of thinking.

Kathleen Turner moved around quite a bit as a child and it was overseas that she first fell in love with the theater.

Theater Inspiration Overseas

Kathleen Turner: In junior high school. I moved to London from Venezuela from Caracas. So I went to high school in London which is also obviously where I had access to such extraordinary theatre. And it was in those days when I was in high school a theatre ticket was cheaper than a film ticket which is why I never went to movies. I just went to plays had lot to do with it actually. And I had started to audit classes at this British acting school the Central School of Speech and Drama. I’d intended after high school to stay another couple of years at this school in London. But my father died very suddenly and I had to take my mother back to the United States. And so then I ended up at Southwest Missouri State University. And I’m talking about culture shock you know I lived in the United States for 12 years and suddenly I’m in Springfield Missouri cause I had a strong British accent. At that point and I held on to it because I was afraid I suppose more than anything but I could remember my first boyfriend said that the first contact he had with me in Missouri was. He said Well you know how do you like it here. And I said well it’s all right. I said but everyone’s rather stupid aren’t they. So you can imagine how popular I was on the other hand I got all the Shakespearean leads anyway. I learned I learned it you know in hindsight he was excellent because it made me an American actress rather than a fake British one. So I mean it’s a pity that we learn the most when We’re so unhappy that being happy doesn’t we just don’t get. We just don’t learn as much do we. When we’re happy however longasand you learn quite honestly. It’s all I ever wanted from the time I was around 12 and which was rather silly because no one in my family had ever been connected to the arts in any way. And at that time I was living in Venezuela so I never saw theatre. I rarely ever saw movies. I just thought that this would be my ideal job would be to be an actress. Then when I was 13 we moved to London and the first night I was there I went to the theatre. I snuck out of the hotel and went to the theatre and I saw Angela Lansbury doing Mame and then he hit me for the first time I could earn a living this way. And of course in England there’s a tremendous respect for acting as a profession as a serious legitimate profession not something that happened to you because you were sitting on a stool in a drugstore. Get over those stupid stories that you were discovered. You know know that it is an art profession you can be trained and you could be paid for. Well as soon as I figured out that they would pay me for that was that that was all I wanted to do.

Eric: Ms. Turner stressed the importance that in the craziness of the entertainment industry it’s crucial to have a normal life.

Having a Life Outside of Work

Kathleen Turner: I think that it is very important to have a life outside of the work I think you have to have friends outside the industry. I think it’s good to have family. I had a 22 year marriage which was almost all good I have a 24 year old daughter who is wonderful. Most of my best friends are not in the business at all. My very best friend is an accountant. I would like people outside my world so that we don’t talk about acting all the time that this is boring. I just did it all day. Do I have to talk about it all night. No thank you. I think it’s important to have a much fuller life than just acting just the work. Explore go to museums man read books about history. Learn as much as you can acting is really very narrow and don’t let it define your life.

Conclusion & Goodbye

Eric: After watching her on screen for decades and even getting to see her on stage as Maggie in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof it was a real pleasure to hear how Kathleen Turner never let the industry dictate her career. So thank you to miss Turner for speaking to our students. And of course thanks to all of you for listening.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter to watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As go to our YouTube channel YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me. Eric Conner edited and mixed by. Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter Jean Sherlock and Dan Mackler. Special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen see you next time

You don’t know how hard it is being a man looking at a woman looking the way you do.

I’m not bad. I’m just drawn that way.

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Connor senior instructor at New York Film Academy and in this episode, we bring you a legend in the film industry the Oscar-nominated producer, Frank Marshall.

— The difference between the producer and the director is the producer asks the questions on the director as an answer and there are a thousand everyday at least.

I promise that if you love films you love his work. If you doubt me check out his IMDb page. The Warriors, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Gremlins, Seabiscuit, Benjamin Button and over a hundred other movies that helped shape modern cinema.

— I see dead people. They’re everywhere

Are you telling me that you built a time machine out of a Delorean?!

I’m setting booty traps! – You mean booby traps. – That’s what I said booty traps.

Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?

Great scott! 1.21 gigawatts!

Goonies never say die.

I’m not bad I’m just drawn that way.

We’re sending you back to the future.

Hey you guys —

Eric: Before his multiple Oscar nominations and his movies made billions of dollars. He began his career as a location manager where he never lost sight of the two most important parts of any movie: the director’s vision and the story.

Frank Marshall: I don’t think there’s any magic way to get there. You just do it. I actually was the location manager after her several movies but the key for me was I was working with the director and the production designer and I was understanding what they needed creatively what the vision of the movie was and I was learning the production side because I was working in production but I was also understanding as a location manager, I learned quickly not to show the director something I couldn’t get. Something that was fabulous and he’d say okay get it and then you go and you couldn’t get it. So I’d make sure that I could get it first and then I would show the director the location. But I also understood that if he found something that he liked and said we got to have that and then I found out we couldn’t get it I would then present them with an option that was equally helpful to the story. “I understood why we were having this one but how about this one? I know it’s a little different but I think it still works for the story.” So I guess when I look back I’ve always been driven by the story and what-what the story of the movie is and what the vision of the director is and there are things that you learn as you know simple things like don’t pick a location that’s right next to an airport, you know? Or something that’s far away from a place you can put the crew to have lunch, or – oh! I remember What’s Up Doc? 150 years ago. We were in the center of San Francisco and I had forgotten to find a place for lunch and I went to a school and I got permission to put our tables inside the schoolyard. It was on a Saturday and the school was locked. Somehow we got in and then we signed the papers later. But that’s what I love about making movies as you’re constantly solving problems or challenges. But it’s that balance of you’re not only solving problems, you’re also creating something and that’s what is exciting. When I get to sit here and see that shot of that boat and know that it was the second time we went there – the first time we only have one day and it rained. And it was a big problem and we had to go back four weeks later talking to the studio and who are saying the shot’s good enough. And my director saying, “no, it’s the last shot of the movie and it needs to be sunny and it wasn’t sunny.” And it’s the audience – has you know,  – all the creative arguments against the monetary financial arguments. It’s a give and take. And what battles do you fight for the director? You know that was one last shot of the movie. If it had happened earlier in that sequence back of the dock or something I wouldn’t have fought for it but it was the last shot in the movie. I understood why it needed to be that way and I was able to convince the studio that it was the right thing to do.

Eric: Mr. Marshall prides himself on a strong work ethic and doing the best work possible no matter the job. Years ago this caught the attention of a young up and coming filmmaker named Steven Spielberg.

Frank Marshall:  I think what I’ve learned most and I’ll tell you a little story of how I learned it, it’s always do your best no matter what you’re doing. Are you making the coffee? Make the best coffee. If you’re collating the pages of a script don’t put them out of order. I was doing a picture, I was an associate producer of a movie called Daisy Miller in 1972, Peter Bogdanovich. We were shooting in a little studio in Rome and I got a call on the set. There was a publicity fellow and he was a bit homesick and he said he wanted to see some Americans working and could he come by. I said sure absolutely. And it was Steven. And Steven was – Duel was being released. Duel, which is his famous TV movie with Dennis Weaver. So the next day we always had lunch in the cafeteria there. And I always had a bowl of pasta at the end of the table. And so Steven and this fellow Jerry came by and they were sitting there eating and I came up and I asked Peter a question and I said, “Oh! Nice to meet you.” And I went down, I had two bites of pasta and I went back to the set and Verna Fields later told me that Steven turned to her and said that’s the kind of guy I need. A guy who’s more interested in the next shot than lunch. Five years later when Steven was sitting on the beach in Hawaii the infamous story with George Lucas and they were talking about   and George said, “Who do you want to get to produce this movie?” Steven said, “let’s see if we can find that guy, Frank Marshall.” So you-you never know who’s looking or where they’re going to go, or what’s going to happen. And I got that call you know, the-the one I always remember from George’s office saying, “are you that Frank Marshall that worked with Peter Bogdanovich?” And they said, “could you come for a meeting?” I said, “Well, let me check my schedule.”

Eric: This began a decades-long collaboration which spawned dozens of Hollywood’s greatest movies. It also led to his meeting future CEO of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy, the woman behind all the latest Star Wars films. She actually started out as Spielberg’s assistant when she met Frank Marshall and the two of them quickly joined forces as producers, not to mention they’ve also been married for 30 years. Decades after Mr. Spielberg indirectly played Cupid he continues to collaborate with Frank Marshall, most recently, on the Jurassic World franchise. Our moderator, Tova Laiter, asked Mr. Marshall what it’s like to work for cinema’s most famous storyteller.

Tova Laiter: Spielberg, what kind of a boss is he?

Frank Marshall:  Oh he’s incredible. I mean he’s so demanding it’s unbelievable. It’s really incredible. You know he just knows the craft so well that it’s sort of second nature to him to direct these movies. And he puts so much into it. And he’s ahead of you. And he knows so much that you’re trying to keep up with him all the time, you know. So it’s very exciting to be around him. We sort of grew up together so it’s kind of fun because people kind of go like that when I’ll say something to him that’s you know, sort of not appropriate but it’s-you’re like friends I mean we’ve known each 30 years now. Yeah I like to be outside. I like to be on the set. I like to shoot like these kinds of adventures. And you know I think for me as a director, I have to be incredibly passionate about the story. It’s really hard. I’m not like Steven. Steven can direct and produce nine other things same time. I can’t do that. If I’m directing and that’s where I am 24/7 in the tunnel. I’m not very fun to be around because I’m – maybe because I’m a producer too that I feel responsible for taking care of the production and using the money in a way that’s so productive. So I want to be prepared and I want to know because there’s a thousand questions a day. And the difference between the producer and the directors is the producer asks the questions and the director has an answer and there are a thousand every day at least. So I really need to be passionate about whatever story I’m telling as a director.

Eric: After working with Spielberg and several of Hollywood’s greatest Mr. Marshall has become adept at recognizing talented storytellers which led him to a little script that wound up being one of the biggest hits of his career, The Sixth Sense.

— I want to tell you my secret now. I see dead people. Do you ever feel the prickly things on the back of your neck? That’s them. When they get mad it gets cold. Please make them leave. —

Frank Marshall: I think the work kept me motivated. I loved making the movies and it became like my family and I love going to work every day. You know often I get asked well how do I get there. I don’t know. I tell a story about about a young man who-who lives in Philadelphia. He was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters his parents were doctors. The other brothers and sisters were doctors. He was the youngest he went to NYU to film school for a semester and dropped out because he wasn’t doing too well and he wanted to be a filmmaker and somehow his script landed on our desks. And that script was The Sixth Sense. And I don’t know how but the bottom line is he wrote a fantastic script in Philadelphia and somehow it got past this person and this person. And it came out here and there it was. And we read it and we bought it and the rest is history. So I don’t know how he did it but he did it and he you know he tried to go to film school but you know film schools give you a lot of things that you can’t get on the outside and one of them is, see a lot of movies, see a lot of old movies. You know there is a language that exists in filmmaking and sometimes you can break it. You got to know what it is before you can break it. So go look at the masters go look at Hawks and Ford and Welles and you know Renoir and study these movies and you’ll be amazed, you know. There is great things to learn in them and those movies should inspire you then to go do what you want to do.

Eric: Frank Marshall was so taken by M. Night Shyamalan screenplay that he risked going with the newer director, but he knew that the story would bring in the necessary talent. Spoiler alert! If miraculously you don’t know the ending of Sixth Sense, well, Frank Marshall is about to ruin it for you.

Frank Marshall: It’s one of the few spec scripts we’ve made. We usually make books and magazine articles but his script read like the movie you didn’t know Bruce Willis was dead until the last two pages. It was unbelievable! I’m reading, it’s really interesting, “Oh my God!” When the ring hits the floor in the script is when it hit in the movie. And he was very clever about that. So he had kept the secret all the way through somehow. It’s really if you get a chance you should look at the script and that’s when I knew who – “This is – this is great we’ve got to have this.” And there’s a little bit of luck there too and a little bit of history in that he had a poster of E.T. and a poster of Raiders on the wall in his office and our offer was lower than a couple of other people. But those two movies – he wanted to work with us. So we brought him out here and the studio said, “OK we’re going to give you 10 million dollars to make this movie. All in, everything.” And that was a lot of money for him because he had just made this little teeny movie, Wide Awake. And I said to Night, I said, “OK, well when you wrote this I bet you wrote this for somebody. And who’d you have in mind when you wrote it?” He said, “Well, Bruce Willis.” I said, “really?” And, “I know Bruce. Do you want Bruce?” – “Well I can’t get Bruce we only got 10 million.” I said, “well, there’s ways to do this. Let me call him.” So this is what a producer does. So Bruce was shooting Armageddon at Disney which was lucky for us and he had a deal at Disney. So I called his agent I said I got the script for Bruce and he loved it and then became the sort of dance about how do we get him in the movie. And he was nervous about a first time director and so he asked me to be on the set every day. And that was sort of his security blanket. So he said yes, and we got Bruce Willis and we got a little more money to make the script.

Eric: As good as the screenplay was. It needed a test screening to really nail the landing and convince Disney they had a massive hit on their hands as long as the audiences kept its secret.

Frank Marshall: They still didn’t believe in the movie until we went to Woodland Hills. But the first Sixth Sense screening when that ring hit for the entire audience just turned to each other – “Oh my God! He’s dead. Oh god.” Yeah and there’s all this and they didn’t see the end of the movie at all. The whole end of the movie was completely lost. So Night was really upset. I said, “no, no, this is good. Let me tell you, this is a good reaction.” And I said to Night, “Well, what’s wrong?” – “Well, you know they’re not getting the catharsis of him letting her go.” – “OK. You’re right about that. So what do we do?” Night is very stubborn. And, “I just want to recut.” And so what he did, if you look at the movie again is – once the ring drops and there’s this realization that Bruce’s character is dead we cut back to three or four moments that are reminding the audience like when he goes to dinner and he sits down and nothing moves and she’s sitting there and you think he’s having a conversation with her and now you’re going, “oh look he’s dead there. Oh look!” And so you’re reminding the audience and giving them a chance to collect themselves before he then goes over and lets her go. So the value of previews. By the way you should always preview your movie. And the other great thing was the audience kept the secret. I don’t know if you guys remember but nobody told – they wanted their friends to go to the movie and have the same experience. A lot of people that, “I knew but I knew.” So it was really a great great experience.

Eric: Frank Marshall is no stranger to franchises, Back to the Future, Jurassic World, And of course Indiana Jones just to name a few. But bringing the Jason Bourne series to the big screen proved extremely challenging especially because they had an indie director at the helm.

Frank Marshall: The studio was pretty aware of Doug Liman coming in from a very very independent background he made two very small independent movies that were very good and coming onto this really big studio action driven movie on foreign locations in Paris and all these different places. And so they hired two producers. One more of a production nuts and bolts kind of line producer and then a creative producer. And at the last moment, the creative producer had to leave. They were already shooting they were shooting the scene, if you remember, on the boat in the water where Bourne is found floating in off the coast of Italy. They were already shooting and I got the call and they said, “would you like to go to Paris for six weeks?” I said, “sure!” And they had an apartment already and everything. So I read the script and I loved the script. Tony Gilroy wrote the script who as you know, did all of the movies wrote all of the movies and directed the last one. And so I went and the one thing that I can say is that if you’re coming from an independent background and you step up into the big leagues you have to then play by the big league rules. And that took Doug a long time to understand. He understands it now. He’s making these kind of movies now and he’s on budget and he’s doing fine. But he still had a bit of the rebel in him and he still thought that he could just grab his camera and put it in the trunk of his car and take his friends and go shoot, you know, – and it would be fine. But you can’t do that in Paris. You can’t take Matt Damon and Franka and go down in the subway and shoot. You-you will get arrested. That’s a simple example but it’s really about, you have to then take the talent that you have and the artistry that you have – and Doug really is responsible for creating this series. I mean it was his idea to go get the books. It was his idea to you know sort of update the character and you know there are all these stories. Brad Pitt was supposed to play Bourne for a while and then he went to do something else Matt was kind of a fallback guy. So there are all these – a lot of luck, there’s a lot of chance involved in these things. And then just what happened is we got off track and the story itself started to change. The script. Don’t change the script. Get your script right before you go to shoot. Big, big, big error that a lot of first time independent directors make because if you’re making a small budget movie you can be real flexible and there’s not a lot at stake. But if you shut down while you’re shooting on a big movie it costs a lot of money. And every day is very valuable so you want to know what you’re after.

Eric: Even when working on an action blockbuster like The Bourne series Frank Marshall still keeps his focus on what matters most. The story.

Frank Marshall: One of the things that we have tried to do in the series of movies is take on these kind of challenges and go to places nobody’s ever shot before. And there are not a lot left. But that makes that kind of fun. Manila was one of those, but we were there for six weeks with the main unit another three with the second unit. So we were there a long time and it’s a hard place to work. And they’re not used to shooting people shooting and closing down the streets and you know just having lunch becomes a big deal. You have all these extras and you know just myriads of people everywhere. It’s hard to control and there are a lot of stunts and we tried to do as many of them as we could without C.G. You know we have a couple of rules that we would like to say. One is, “no action without being driven by the story”. And also that it has to be real and it has to be believable. And I think that what happens in a lot of these movies when they get bigger than life you don’t believe you have fun they’re fun. But they’re bigger than life and you don’t feel the kind of grounded reality that you do in this series. It’s making filmmakers lazy because in the old days – a simple example is when you’re setting up a shot and it’s a period movie and there’s a modern building in it. You would have to accommodate it by sliding the camera or putting something in the way or you had to get a little creative. Now you just go, “we’ll paint it out,” and you it makes you not as inspired in things as you should be. I think so sometimes we get a little lazy.

Eric: A student asked Mr. Marshall to discuss his biggest mistake in his career. With all the amazing projects he’s been part of it’s always the one that got away.

Frank Marshall: The biggest mistake, wow. You know I’m always a positive thinker. So I you know well maybe not sticking with The Lion Witch and The Wardrobe. We owned the option to The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe for seven years which was the length of the option and we couldn’t get it made mainly because it was too expensive every time we would do a budget. That world Narnia was too expensive. And so we abandoned the project in the 90s. And then two years later C.G. had really happened and all of that was possible. And so Kathy and I always look at that one and say, “that one. We miss that one.” And I think what I do now is I keep going. And where we have a perfect example of that we’re developing a project called Snow Crash. I don’t know if any of you know that book by Neal Stephenson. We’ve had that when we had lion witch and we didn’t give that one up and now it’s getting made. Joe Cornish is going to direct and he’s a really wonderful writer and director. So we’re getting that one up. So you know, we hung onto it. So that’s the lesson we learned.

Eric: One important message that Mr. Marshall wanted to convey to our students becoming a producer or director. It’s just one of the jobs on a film set. There’s still a lot of amazing work to go around.

Frank Marshall: I know you know everybody wants to be a director, writer, producer, actor but there are about 150 great jobs on a movie. You know there’s a person who spends a whole day just taking stills. That’s all they do. There’s the costume designer. There’s wardrobe people. There’s a guy who’s called “craft service.” You know don’t just try and hit that home run try and get on a movie. We’re all gypsies we’re a big family and there are really enjoyable careers to have. And you don’t have to have the big one. There’s a lot of ways to have a wonderful career, and artistic and really rewarding career and other departments than the above the line one. So volunteer to go on commercials and little shoots and things and get experience because that’s where you learn what not to do. That’s where you learn about you know, what you can do and what you can’t do and how a movie gets made. The more practical experience you have a movie or shooting your own film – that’s when you learn that there’s screen direction. You know when you’re making your own film you say oh those people look like they’re not talking to each other. They’re both looking away. Well, you shot that one wrong. So that’s how you find that out. So do a lot of experimenting. You know everybody can shoot on your phone now and cut it together. So do that.

Eric: I’ve always been a massive fan of Frank Marshall’s work. I actually tried to count how many of his films I’ve seen and I lost track around 60 to hear him speak with such humility about his career made me even more impressed. So thank you to Mr. Marshall for speaking to our students. And of course thanks to all of you for listening.

This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Laiter. To watch the full interview or to see our other Q&As go to our youtube channel. YouTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner, edited and Mixed by Kristian Hayden our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and myself. Executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. See next time.

One final note Frank Marshall would be proud to know that this entire episode was done without any CGI. And I even did all of my own stunts.


The Backlot Podcast: Cindy Williams

  • Cindy Williams
  • How to Get into the Film Industry
  • Francis Ford Coppola
  • Limited by the “Best Friend” Role
  • Switching from Television to Film
  • Laverne and Shirley
  • Importance of a Studio Audience
  • Owning Your Role
  • Williams’ True Love: Being on Stage
  • Williams’ Best Advice: Pursue It
  • Conclusion & Goodbye

Cindy Williams

Eric: Hi I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And in this episode, we bring you Cindy Williams the star of the famed sitcom Laverne and Shirley

— and she’d say, “do know your lines?” and I go, “No.” Do you know yours?” She said, “No.” And so, “action!” And we’d just go out.–

Eric: She also acted for two of the best directors of all time on two of the best films of the 70s. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. And George Lucas’ American Graffiti if that’s not enough for you. She even helped produce the remake of Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin.

— I’m quitting Mr. Slotnik I’m the brains behind that basket.

I’m telling you it’s a jungle out there. We oughta take a cage and just put it around this place. These people are ugly!

Those hills do not make her perky they make her junky!

Boy, you just stepped straight off the bus right into filth town didn’t you?

I don’t approve of this hitting I find it inhuman and only mildly exciting —

Eric: Ms. Williams actually got her start the same way most actors do, by performing for her family.

Cindy Williams: I always could mimic. My grandma was the first one on the block when we lived in Texas to get a television and I was mesmerized by it. And I would watch anything and everything and I would mimic commercials like Lucky Strike commercials. They had a girl dancing you didn’t see – you just saw her legs and arms and there was a hat on top of a lucky strike box and she danced and they sing the little commercial song. And I would sing the song and mimic. And I always put on with my sister shows in the garage. I’m sure all you guys did things like that or made little movies. So, I always had a love for it but I never ever thought of it seriously as oh this is going to be my career this is going to be my life. I wanted to be an E.R. nurse actually but I didn’t have the academic wherewithal. I was a C student all the way through school because I’m dyslexic. And in my drama class was this wonderful actress and her name was Sally Field. And at 15 she was brilliant. And so I did plays that Sally and I were in and we’d do A cast B cast because there were too many students to put you know so you do two performances. I was always B cast and she was always A cast. And A cast got to do like four performances and B cast, three.

So a lot of the students who were in the class were going to this wonderful school called Los Angeles City College which has an incredible theater arts department and I thought, “OK I’ll go there.” And so I did. And very tough curriculum. In fact during orientation day one of the professors said there are two hundred thirty six of you here today. By the end of two and a half years there will be 12 of you. And that’s how they weeded people out. I mean you-you were tardy three times out! You didn’t get your – you didn’t have your scene work done out, goodbye, gone! But they did incredible theater, incredible productions. So that was a big deal. But by the time we finished there I just garnered incredible love for theater. I love being on stage but I thought I was going to go on to teach except one day I was in a class and professor and we were in the main theater and the stage was there and the curtains and we were sitting in the you know in the seats in the auditorium. And he was talking about theater being bigger than life and up to this point I had thought you know, I’ll go and I’ll get my B.A. and I’ll teach theater. And then I had this vision of myself, my students rehearsing the production and me walking down the center aisle crawling up onto the apron pushing them all out of the way and saying, “Let me show you how to do this.” And I thought I could never teach I could never ever teach because I love doing it. And so that was the end of my of my teaching career.

Eric: For everything that Ms. Williams learned in school, there were still two things that she was not taught: the intricacies of breaking into the film industry and that sometimes you need a bit of luck.

How to Get into the Film Industry

Cindy Williams: In Los Angeles City College. They do not teach you. You know they put you out the back door and they did not prepare you for film. They didn’t prepare you how to get an agent, or how to even work. They prepared you to go and audition for regional theater or Broadway. And that was it. And so you just live on your youthful enthusiasm knowing you can do it and so that was kind of it. And I also thought well lightening better strike because I don’t know what I’m doing so I just went on this journey. But you have youthful optimism and you know you feel as though the world -it’s all in front of you. And it is. Believe me. And there’s nothing you can’t do. And I felt that way. And you know you get knocked down to the ground you just pick yourself up dust yourself off, start all over again. And that’s kind of how that aspect of my life played itself out. And as far as getting a job I had this roommate she was in this program for AFI. It was called young filmmakers or something. And I was waiting tables and she said, “hey Cindy, you know maybe you could go and get in this program.” So I went there and I met with them and they said, “you know, this is really a program for filmmakers and you’re an actress.” And I said, “yes, but you know I think I could write, and I could direct, and put myself in it.” And they said, “no, no, this isn’t for you what we have.” And this is how things work. You’re just – one day something’s plopped down in your lap – and it’s just that magical thing. And so they said, “we’re going to set up an interview for you.” These two men are starting a management company and the names were Fred Roos and Garry Marshall. And so I went to meet them. And I remember Garry said to Fred Roos who produced the Godfather and many many many other things he said. “I like her she’s like a pudgy Barbara Harris.” And I loved Barbara Harris! So I took it as a great compliment. And so then it sort of spun from there.

Eric: It didn’t take long before Ms. Williams found herself working for the likes of Coppola and Lucas. And there was one time she even had to put in a good word to help none other than Harrison Ford land the role that made him a star.

Cindy Williams: Harrison Ford in American Graffiti made four hundred dollars a week for four weeks and he was working as a carpenter and that’s a real success story. And for Han Solo, we begged George to cast him. Because he was such a bad boy on American Graffiti that George was a little reluctant about Harry because he just, you know – I screen tested for it. It was miserable because it was all looking to the right of the camera. That’s what George said. He said, “you’re looking at the universe. You’re steering the ship.” I go, “the ship. OK where’s the wheel?” And it was like all this dialogue about you know, galactic dialogue. And nobody could get it. And George is not exactly a people person. I believe if George could have robots playing, you know, and I think he’s discussed this with Steven Spielberg actually, and he’s very shy and retiring and his genius is all in his whole perception of what he wants on screen. And so you can say, “you know can I try it this way? – Absolutely”! Like the scene in American Graffiti where Ron and I had to make out and go and and we were both so nervous. And I said, “George, how about if we just go out of camera down onto the seat?” and he said, “Yeah.” And that’s how we did it. But George will never tell you anything. It was a joke which Ron and myself we’d say, “George, how was it?” And he’d say, “terrific!” And if you ever ask Ron Howard what George Lucas says the most, it’s “terrific, terrific.”

Eric: Despite being frequent collaborators. Ms. Williams explained that George Lucas’s directing style was vastly different from Francis Ford Coppola’s

Francis Ford Coppola

Cindy Williams: Francis is your quintessential director and he’s operatic. you know. I mean. you know. you’re in a movie with Francis and he loves actors loves them and admires them reveres them and he’s so intelligent. He’ll ask his actors what they think of this scene for the conversation he said, “Who do you think did it?” And all of us said, “you haven’t written the end yet?” and he goes, “No, I haven’t.” And we said, “Holy crap!” But he is just so much bigger than life. He’s like – I don’t know – somebody like Michelangelo or somebody. He’s just a great great artist and he will direct you. And I had this tough thing he asked me to do in the conversation. And I said, “I don’t know how to do this.” And it was a turn. He wanted me to turn and look at Gene Hackman with a look of “if you come toward me any closer I’ll disappear into this fog and you’ll never find me.” And I thought, “OK how do I?” It goes back to interpreting that through your body. And I said, “Francis I don’t know how to do this. I just don’t know.” And he thought for a minute and he said, “when he’s chasing you take every step except the last one. And then when you take the last step turn to him.” And that body movement propelled me into that look. It just gave that indication of “I will be gone if you come any closer to me.” And he just turned it like that. And the other thing he did in the beginning of the conversation – it’s the scene in Union Square. He went to each and every one of them and took them aside and gave them each characters to play. And that’s why when you see the opening of this movie it is so rich. And that’s how he is he just rich with just creation.

Eric: Even though she was working on some incredible projects, Ms. Williams felt limited by the best friend role that she kept getting. A trend which finally changed when she was cast as Shirley.

Cindy Williams: I was always cast, in the beginning, as a lead’s best friend. “Oh, don’t worry Monica. Johnny’ll be coming back to ya. You’ll see.” And it was always stuff like that and I never got to play comedy which I loved and like in American Graffiti I said, “Oh please Fred, this girl cries the entire time. There’s no fun. I want to play Debbie, the bad girl.” And he said, “already cast” and I said, “Well then, what about Carol?” He said, “The 12-year-old?” And I said, “I could put braces on my teeth.” He said, “I’m actually casting a 12-year-old in that part.” So I know I could do physical comedy. I knew I could do comedy and I wanted to play it so badly. I mean we did the Imaginary Invalid in college but that’s not really comedy. It’s like restoration humor. But no, I never got to. And even when we did Laverne and Shirley I had to beg Garry because he let me do humor but he kept saying, “No, you’re a nice one, you’re the solid one. You know, you have your head screwed on straight. You keep Laverne, you know, steady.” And I said, “Yeah but you know that physical comedy, I can do that.” And he wouldn’t let me do it; wouldn’t let me do it. And finally I must have dogged him so much that he said, “all right I’m going to write you something. We’ll see how you do and that’ll be the measuring point.” So he wrote me this little thing where we’re cleaning house. I believe that’s it. And she gets the vacuum cleaner stuck on her mouth and she can’t – and I come to the room and it was just written, “Shirley gets vacuum cleaner off of Laverne’s mouth.” So he just wanted to see what I ‘d invent to get it off of her mouth and I think I finally just put my foot up to her chest and pulled then he started writing physical comedy for me. Yeah, so, Laverne and Shirley was just such a blessing for me.

Eric: Though we’re in a golden age of television right now. TV used to be viewed as a step down from the glamour of film. So Ms Williams was initially unsure about taking a TV role even after she was offered a part in the original Charlie’s Angels.

Cindy Williams: This sounds silly but I never even thought about television – well before – before Laverne and Shirley I was offered Charlie’s Angels the part they wanted me to play was – I remember there was this one scene where the character rides to a vineyard on a horse and shoots a guy and it was the most ridiculous thing in the world to me. I mean I’m very bad at reading scripts and you know seeing their potential I just am. And I said oh I could never do that so I turned it down. And the next thing was Laverne and Shirley after, after that. But I mean could I have done that? I guess I could have, you know? But it wasn’t my cup of tea. But also the dramas on television, it’s serious. I mean it’s really well done and it’s done like film. The creative aspect of it on all levels is just so superior to what we had. It’s so different than what it is now.

Eirc: When Ms. Williams was cast in Laverne and Shirley she assumed it’d be easy to jump back into film. But it took a shot with the Fonz himself. Henry Winkler to realize that switching to television might be a one way street.

Switching from Television to Film

Cindy Williams:  When Laverne and Shirley came about and I had done films I thought well I’ll do this and then I’ll go back to films. And I think it was Henry Winkler or someone said to me you know, once you’re in this they don’t want to go and you’re constantly likened to that character. And I didn’t believe that. I thought I could trump that but I couldn’t. And I’m so blessed with what I have. I remember going in for a movie while I was doing Laverne and Shirley Warren Beatty was directing it. And I went in to meet him and he recognized me immediately said, “Oh no no no.” And that was when it hit me and he said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He said, “it’s just I can’t have a person as recognizable in the film.” And I said, “it’s OK it’s all right.” I went home I was so upset and he was so nice he called me and apologized. That’s when it hit me that it was for real that you in those days there was no crossing. Especially something as big as Laverne and Shirley.

Laverne and Shirley

Eric: Laverne and Shirley was quite modern by focusing on a friendship between women. Yet it also harkened back to classic screwball comedy like I love Lucy and other famous sitcoms filmed live in front of a studio audience

Laverne and Shirley is filmed before a studio audience. —

Cindy Williams:  The way we did like Laverne and Shirley is – it was done like a little stage play but with cameras right. You did the three cameras and the camera’s between the audience and the stage. So you still had the feeling a proscenium but it was on film and you could be a lot bigger film is a whole other deal. I find it absolutely different than doing a sitcom. You go out and you say one line or they call you at 6:00 in the morning and you’re on camera during a crying scene at 7:00 in the morning. It’s a very very different ballgame. I never could figure it out. I couldn’t figure it out. I never did it long enough to learn the technique and it’s a totally different technique. And I’ve studied it on other actresses and actors and it’s about moves attitude but you have to keep yourself within the lens of the camera. It’s just a different play. Francis Coppola used to say that when he would bring his actors in onto the set he would have them go through the scene and he’d stand there with the DP because he said your actors will show you where the camera should go. And that is just so brilliant because the actors intuitively go to where their bodies send them.

Eric: Nowadays the vast majority of half-hour comedies are single cam shows like Modern Family and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. No studio audience, no laugh track. I said no laugh track. See! Better. But in the time of Laverne and Shirley, it was a very different story.

Importance of a Studio Audience

Cindy Williams:  We would get the script and we’d say, “Oh this isn’t going to work. This is thin here and it’s not funny doesn’t start off funny. It isn’t dynamic enough.” And so we just work on it and we work on it on our feet the first day maybe we try and block one seeing a scene that might have been full that might work. And then we come in the next day there’s new pages and you go through that and you see what they’ve changed and you add that into the mix and then because our show was very physical as was Happy Days we would walk it and try and just through body language and attitude and pacing just lift it just make it funny. And that would be the second day and then they come back on Wednesday and there’d be a new script and on Laverne and Shirley we always aim toward. There was always a big physical scene at the end so it was all moving toward that. And we blocked that and that was just that was so exhausting and so Penny and I would mark that and then there’d be a run through were you know everybody’s down there. And then on Thursday the camera crew would come in and they would be on wheels so they’d follow us around so because they had to learn the show. So that day was stop-and-go. And we’d still be creating and trying to make things you know funnier props funnier costumes funnier. And we tried to get it so that it would make us laugh out loud because we figured what we laughed at an audience would laugh out loud at. And then Friday you run through once, then you know scripts are out of your hand and you run through again. But we’d still get rewrites that was like death-defying work. I mean sometimes I’d say to Penny, “if Jesus walked the earth he could make this work but he’d be the only one who could make this work.” And then sometimes we’d be standing behind the door before they yell, “Action!” And she’d say, “you know your lines?” And I go, “No. Do you know yours?” She said, “No.” And so, “Action!” And we just go out because it was so tiring and just so much stress but so gratifying and especially when you heard the audience react. It was just. And that’s the other thing in comedy you don’t know what the timing is going to be because you have to hope for the laughs and you have to you know keep the rhythm going. It was very different in those days. But it was so gratifying when that audience came in and they reacted the way you were hoping and praying they would react.

Eric: Part of what made Laverne and Shirley such a successful and beloved sitcom was how Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall fully owned the roles they played.

Owning Your Role

Cindy Williams:  The actual act of acting. It’s every element of your being interpreting filtering the words in the script through all your elements and assigning certain feelings you have that you feel are correct to that character and then you have to forget about it. You’ve done all the work and then you go out there and you play it and you own it. But it’s going through you it’s your interpretation of it you put it all together and that’s the character I mean because you’re given the map and you just interpret that map. It’s going to be individual for everybody. How they go about it and you can study people and see how they go about it. Like Meryl Streep – the first movie she was ever in I remember critics saying, “watch this little move this wonderful actress.” She only has three lines and she did this little thing before she said the line where she adjusts a brooch and I said, “whoa! She added that. She flavored it with that.” So it’s also a little bit of your own flavoring and so – it’s just a myriad of things.

Eric: Similar to Penny Marshall who went on to direct films like Big, Awakenings. Cindy Williams also expanded her career behind the camera.

Cindy Williams:  You know I took time off had my children but I produced, well I got co-producer credit on Father of the Bride. And the way that came about was I my son woke me up one morning he was three years old and he wanted to go downstairs and play. So I took him downstairs to the den and Turner Classic Movies had just started. And Father of the Bride was on with Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. I loved that movie as a kid and I thought this is like a big old sitcom and there’s something for everybody. What about an updated remake with Jack Nicholson? And so it evolved and it became Steve Martin, brilliant in it. And it turned out to be this marvelous marvelous remake. And I was just so fortunate. But when you get an idea and you know that it’s something special you can feel it your body will tell you everything will tell you and you got to just follow that instinct because you’re your own litmus paper for that. You’ve got follow that instinct. When you get an idea and it takes your breath away it’s correct.

Eric: Despite being on a hit TV show and acting for Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas one of Ms. Williams favorite roles was when she returned to her first love the stage.

Williams’ True Love: Being on Stage

Cindy Williams:  Being on Broadway and doing The Drowsy Chaperone and I don’t know if any of you have seen it but it’s a marvelous musical about musicals and theater. And just getting to run on stage, and when the orchestra came, it was just I’m getting goosebumps right now. It was just thrilling. And I was the first character onstage except for the narrator in the beginning and then he says, “Don’t you love theater?” That’s how it begins. And it is a marvelous musical. So don’t – you just love it. Sitting there in the dark and wondering when the lights are going to come up. Anyway, it’s this marvelous monologue before the lights come up and when the lights I got to play the character of when the lights came up and that and the music starts I run on stage and that for me. Of course, the show was canceled three weeks into my run of the show. But I call that my three weeks on Broadway. But those were the most thrilling moments onstage for me.

Eric: And part of what still makes the stage so thrilling for her is that sometimes it can go so wrong.

Cindy Williams:  You know that’s happened to me where I’ve gone up on stage more times than I’d like to admit to. But you’ve got to stay in the play. I’ve watched myself on Laverne and Shirley where I’m like drifting off. And I’m like not in it – I’m just not present and I don’t know why. I was tired or something but I caught myself a few times. So you just have to make that note you’re here listen to what’s going on even if you’re standing back or you’re sitting back peeling an apple while the scenes going on. Listen to what’s going on and you’ve got to stay present there. I’m talking to myself here too giving myself some notes right now. I once actually I had this play and I cut to the end. I only had 10 days rehearsal we were doing it was Jo Anne Worley and myself and we were doing female odd couple to try and save this theater and we had like nine days rehearsal. And there were two lines that were similar at the end of two of the scenes and one was in the third scene and one was at the end of the play and I just I started the speech she gave me the line and I’m still to this day not sure if she didn’t say the wrong line. But anyway I found myself going into the monologue for the end of the play but I wasn’t aware of it and I thought this is going well and she’s supposed to exit. And I said, “and don’t come back!” And she turns, Jo Anne Worley turns in the wings and she goes, “don’t you want to ask me about dating men?” And I go, “oh my god! Yes! yes I do.” And then I like my mind rolled back and I improvised for a while and then we got back on script. But now we had done the end of the play. So when I go off stage the stage manager, gosh it was like noise is off he said, “oh my god. Jo Anne says he wants to know what you want to cut to when we come-?” And somehow some way and we got through it – and it was Neil Simon and I felt awful. I mean he wasn’t there, thank god, but I’m sure he heard about it – but oh my god. Talk about sweating through your suit jacket. I was mortified but you can’t be – I mean you know, I had to finish the play and we did.

Eric: When asked about the best advice for a new performer Ms. Williams’ answer was simple direct and profound

Williams’ Best Advice: Pursue It

Cindy Williams:  Pursue it. You know. I mean pursue it and and think outside the box and you’ve got to put your rhinoceros skin suit on. I had a publicist tell me this. You know it’s like not being invited to a party most of the time. You can’t take it personally although we all do. Because you-you know you’ve opened yourself up to these people and then you know you don’t get the part but you just have to pick yourself up dust yourself off and start all over again and and be done with that day and it’s on to the next and the next thing will happen. And you have to keep that attitude but you just keep pursuing it don’t take any prisoners don’t take no for an answer. Just keep going and always think outside the box. Like if there’s an audition that you might not be able to get in on. You can figure out a way to get in there. You’ve heard all those stories about people going after a part. Also keep studying keep. Keep doing like, scene work and what you’re doing here.

Conclusion & Goodbye

Eric: Keep doing your thing and things can happen to learn more about Cindy Williams’ storied career pick up her book, “Shirley, I Jest!” We want to thank Ms. Williams for speaking to our students and we want to thank all of you for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated and produced by Tova Lyter and co-moderated with Lynda Goodfriend. If you’d like to watch the full interview you can find it on our YouTube channel at youTube.com/NewYorkFilmAcademy. This episode was written by me Eric Conner edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden produced by David Andrew Nelson Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Tova Laiter, Jean Sherlock, and Dan Mackler. A special thanks to our events department Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about her programs check us out at NYFA.edu. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen see you next time. And now the theme to Laverne and Shirley as read by me Eric Conner: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 schlemiel shemozzle Hossen Pfeffer incorporated. We’re going to do it. Give us any chance we’ll take it. Read us any rule, we’ll break it. We’re going to make our dreams come true. Doing it our way.