Monday, October 18, 2010

An Actor and a Gentleman by Louis Gossett, Jr. and Phyllis Karas

Louis Gossett, Jr. and Phyllis Karas. An Actor and an Gentleman. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2010.

The author, at age 25, was an actor in the Broadway and then movie versions of “A Raisin in the Sun”. While filming the movie, he had to stay in one of the few motels that rented then to African Americans. He returned to Broadway and occasionally did episodic TV at the $2,500 minimum per show. He then performed in NBC’s first Move of the Week, “Companions in Nightmare”. Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal, hired him to be in the TV series “In the Heat of the Night”.

Gossett was enjoying his new wealth and flaunting it in his lower economic class neighborhood. He then recalled something his Great Grandmother told him when he ad acted that way, “God was here before you got here. He is going to be here while you are here. And he is going to be here long after you’ve gone. So you might as well calm down and let Him handle things now.”

Gossett also learned humiliation when he on multiple occasions was pulled over by police because he fit a suspect’s description of being Black. He was verbally abused and once handcuffed to a tree.

Gossett had a role where he had to yell at a character portrayed by Melvyn Douglas, an actor he greatly respected. Douglas told him “Lay it on me. Do your job.”

Gossett performed in a play with Shirley Booth. When the play was performed in Delaware, a local restaurant refused to serve Gosset because he is Black. When Booth learned of this, Booth called influential people in town and told them Gossett must be treated well from then on or else shoe would work to prevent other pre-Broadway shows from appearing in Delaware.

Gossett unofficially studied at the Actors Studio, learning about acting from Lee Strasburg, Frank Silvera, and others. Silvera would use a hair fryer to simulate a camera so actors would learn from its heat where a camera was located. The author states the best student he saw was Marilyn Monroe. Other talented students he saw included Sidney Portier and James Dean.

Gossett learned important acting differences between theater and film. The voice modulation is different for audiences and for microphones. The camera sees more closely, so eye expressions are more important on film.
As the author puts it, “the camera was a magnifying glass, capable of revealing your inner life.”

Gossett writes of a rumor that studio executive did not like that Sammy Davis Jr. was dating actress Kim Novak, and feared the interracial romance would devalue her box office returns. The studio head supposedly had David heated so badly he lost an eye. The rumor has it that Frank Sinatra intervened and stopped the beating from getting worse.

Gossett was troubled by seeing the disgruntled neighborhood youth, some of whom broke his windows. He obtained $18,500 in Federal Harlem Youth Act funds for a youth theater program. The Gossett Academy of Dramatic Arts was created. He always had about 86 students learning acting, dance, set construction, costumes, etc. Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones, and Paul Sorvino taught there. The funds ended during the Nixon Administration.

When Gossett visited Kenya, he discovered a crowd of people staring at him. He was told they had seen him on TV, watched his character die on the operating table, and believed it really happened. He opened his shirt ot show them he was fine.

Gossett filmed a scene in a movie directed by John Trent with a pygmy and a real poisoned arrow. In the script, Gossett overruns the pygmy to the arrow. The pygmy insisted on doing the scene first, for real, and won, holding the arrow that could have killed Gossett between his eyes. In another scene, Trent told a helicopter pilot, but not Gossett, to fly his helicopter straight towards Gossett and the camera operator, forcing them to frantically dive into a ditch, all for a shot.

Gossett learned to relate to camera operators, sound technicians, prop people, stunt people, etc. Mutual respect will develop and each will help each other out. As Gossett believes, “there is no room for ego”.

Gossett worked on episodes of numerous TV shows. He was often called upon when there was a role for a tall bald Black actor.

Gossett once turned down an invitation to a party at Sharon Tate’s house. He thus escaped being there the night everyone in her house was murdered.

Gossett filmed a movie scene where he wore only a loincloth, playing an African native. Chuck Connors was warmly dressed as the temperature was in the 30s. Gossett protesting being cold and that the show wouldn’t look authentic if the native was shown not knowing how to dress properly. The director insisted that shooting proceed. Gossett looked to Connors for help and was disappointed that Connors declined to get in the middle. Years later, though, Gossett came to better know and respect Connors.

Gossett had the role of Isak Poole for 15 episodes of the TV series “Young
Rebels”. He complained that his character was the only one who hadn’t had the hero role in any episode. In the next episode, his character was placed in a coma, as retribution. He also notes his pay was less than his costars.

Gossett worked with the same double and stand-in for 25 years, Bobby Angelle. Angelle was also his personal assistant and good friend. Angelle would speak up for Gossett if they felt a production was abusing him, since they knew Angelle had less to lose. They protected each other.

Tony Brubaker was his stunt double in about 15 films.

Gossett pays tribute to African Americans who helped pave the way for him and other African American actors, such as Hattie McDaniel, the first Blak to star in a TV series “Beulah” in the 1950s and Diahann Carroll, who starred in a popular TV seires “Claudine” in the 1960s. He noted many whites were not used to working with Blacks, often did not regard Blacks as well as others, and often Blacks were exploited. Yet, if the Blacks complained, they were regarded as being difficult. Gossett was placed in difficult situations, such as filming in a real Mexican bug and possibly disease infected jail cell and at a location with scorpions and DDT spray that choked him.

Gossett won an Emmy for his role in the TV series “Roots”. Still, he continued observing that his white co-stars were paid more than he was.

Gossett filmed the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman”. To learn the role of a drill instructor sergeant (DI), he spent 30 days at Camp Pendleton. A DI was on the set to see that Gossett’s uniform was always correct. Gossett observed that Richard Gere and Debra Winder had great chemistry on film but bad chemistry off camera. Gossett won an Oscar, People’s Choice Awards, and Golden Globe for his portrayal.

Despite winning an Oscar, Gossett found his roles continued being supporting roles.

The author believes studios allow actors using drugs to work. Insurance companies that insure these actors during their shoots often pay personnel to inform them when an actor uses drugs.

Gossett filmed several movies in ill health. It was eventually discovered he was suffering from toxic mold poisoning.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Growing Up Laughing by Marlo Thomas

Marlo Thomas. Growing Up Laughing: My Story and Story of Funny. New York: Hyperion Books, Harper Collins, 2010.

The author was taught by her father actor Danny Thomas, when she was a child, to always respect the audience. He advised her to never lie to the audience, for “once you go off that road, you’ve lost them.”

At 8 years old, Marlo Thomas watched her father filming on Warner Brothers sets. She watched as the directed yelled “Cut! Print it! Very good! We try again!” She used those very lines on her father in getting out of trouble once when her father was mad at her.

Jerry Seinfeld told the author that the nervousness of his first doing “The Tonight Show” was like a full body flu.

At age 12, Marlo Thomas wrote a school essay. When she read it to her touring father, he was so moved he decided to stop touring and decided to stay home and do a TV series instead. When her father returned, her mother would tell her to leave the bed because “we have to make room for daddy”. The name of the Danny Thomas TV series was be “Make Room for Daddy”.

The author grew up near where gossip columnist Louella Parsons lived. People were afraid to be seen by her for fear of what she would write. Children would not go to her house on Halloween for trick or treat.

Danny Thomas would tell stories on TV interview programs about his family. When he humorously told about Marlo getting her first bra, she didn’t leave the house for a week afterwards.

The author, lacking oval eyes, was cast in the role of a Chinese woman on “Bonanza”. She filmed the movie “Jenny” with Alan Alda. She then starred in her own TV series “That Girl”. Danny Arnold was a workaholic producer on that series who knew writing, directing, and editing. The work day would begin at 5 am and he’d still be at work when she left at 9:30 pm. Groucho Marx read for the role of her father on the series. Lew Hunter was given the role.

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Fortyfive Years in Hollywood...and How I Escaped Alive by Michael B. Druxman

Michael B. Druxman. My Fortyfive Years in Hollywood…and How I Escaped Alive. Albany, Ga.: BearManor Media, 2010.

The author is a screenwriter and director. He wrote several screenplays for Roger Corman. He was a Sociology major at the University of Washington who graduated in 1963. He did not major in Drama, which interested him, because there was a negative stigma that Drama majors were gay. In 1963, being gay meant social isolation. The actor isn’t gay but he was interested in writing for Drama.

While in college, Druxman directed university theater presentations. He had acted in high school and college and realized he was more interested in directing. A controversy over the university not allowing “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” be performed led the author and many cast members to form their own theater group.

The author worked as an extra for a day in “It Happened at the World’s Fair”. He received $10 and a box lunch. In the movie, he walked behind Elvis Presley when Kurt Russell kicks Elvis.

The author made a short movie for his signature card. While actors would work for free, they still had to be fed. There were also production costs. He hired Ted V. Mikels, a master of low budget movies, for acting, handling cinematography, and editing for under $700. John Carradine spent 15 minutes for $300 narrating the film. The film, though, could not find a place to be shown, as few theaters showed short movies.

The author got commitments from same name actors to be in a film he would make. He figured it would need a $150,000 budget. He tried to raise the money, only to discover he couldn’t raise any money.

While learning about acting, Druxman learned the importance of eye contact. He also learned that actors and directors must “serve the play”.

Druxman once appeared in a play as an emergency substitute without knowing his lines. His character stayed in a bunker while reading a hidden script.

Droxman were into publicity. Since he had no overhead, he advertised his services for $25. He had a few takers including Charles Nelson Reilly and Deanna Lund. He also offered his services as a screenwriter. Sal Mineo was his first client in asking a script from his storyline.

Druxman represented producer Stanley Rubin. When Rubin produced the movie “The President’s Analyst”, which co-starred Druxman publicity representee Pat Harrington, the CIA and FBI contacted him wishing to see the script. In postproduction, these agencies were redubbed the FBR and the CEA.

Druxman represented director Edward Dmyrtryk. Dmyrtyk for years researched the life of Christopher Columbus and planned an $8 million movie on Columbus, who was a poor scientist (which is why he accidentally found America), con artist, and liar. Most scientists then knew the world was round and that China was about 11,000 miles away from Europe. Columbus misfigured that China was 3,500 miles away. Dmyrtryk read Columbus’s journal and found many mistakes and lies. Word of this movie drew negative reactions from some Italian American organizations. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno spoke out against the movie and urged Italy to ban the movies. The movie failed to raise the money to be made.

Druxman created a campaign for a Sammy Fain song that was nominated for an Oscar. He placed ads where people could call answering machines that played the song. The song didn’t win but the campaign was noticed.

Druxman represented Steve Kanaly, who was on the TV show “Dallas”. He also represented Howard Keel, who resisted appearing on TV as he feared it would diminish his image as a movie star. When Kell was convinced to join the cast of “Dallas”, his career rebounded. Kanaly even convinced Draxman to write some episodes of “Dallas”. Draxman didn’t like the formula style of writing, yet the producers liked his scripts.

Abe Vigoda was also a client of Draxman’s. His character on “Barney Miller” attracted much press attention.

The author sold the idea of writing a biography of Paul Muni to a publisher. He researched the book and interviewed many of Muni’s associates. After that, he wrote a biography of Basil Rathbone.

Druxman learned the job of studio’s Story Department was to reject scripts. No movie had ever been produced at Columbia Pictures that came from the Story Department. The key to getting scripts produced is to get a producer sold on the script.

Druxman offers this advice based on his life experiences: “Take every reasonable opportunity that comes your way, because you never know where it leads.”

Druxman wrote a one woman play on the life of Carole Lombard. He directed Carol Lynley in presenting the play.

Producers and directors add material to scripts so, under Writer Guild rules, they can be listed as co-screenwriters and qualify for residuals. These additions often confuse the script rather than improve it.

It is hard for screenwriters older than their mid-40s to be hired. Young producers are resistant to hiring “their fathers”.

Druxman sold his screenplay “Dillinger and Capone”. He was fully paid but the movie was later made with major revisions. He sold his script “Cheyenne Warrior” which was produced. It starred Kelly Preston, Dan Haggerty, Bo Hopkins, Clint Howard, among others. It went straight to home video release yet it is one of Concorde-New Horizons three most successful movies.

Druxman was so unhappy with “Dillinger and Capone” he considered asking for his name to be removed from the screenplay credit. He learned doing so would prevent him from getting any residuals.

Roger Corman hired Druxman to write a screenplay adaptation of “Far From the Maddening Crowd”. Druxman noted this had already been done and convinced Corman to film an adaptation of the novel “The Aspern Papers”. Corman bought the script buy shelved the project. They then collaborated on “Battle Queen 2020” starring Julie Strain. Druxman was going to direct the movie in Ireland but costs required it be shot in Canada instead. Corman dealt with a Canadian company that required a Canadian director and that the script rewriter also be Canadian. Corman then had Druxman direct “The Doorway”.

Steve Kanaly gave Druxman some important advice. He advised being close the the cinematographer who will then check that no film mistakes are made. Druxman also learned the importance of editing and how it can change a film. Druxman then worked on “Raptor”.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Art of Storytelling by Michael B. Druxman

Michael B. Druxman. The Art of Storytelling: How to Write a Story…Any Story. Westlake Vilage, Ca.: The Center Press, 1957.

The author observes it is important for a writer to effectively write a story. To do this, some essential techniques must ob observed. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story must have a three act structure. Without that three act structure, the story will not work.

There are critical parts to a story: a set up, a catalyst, a turning point, a climax, a final confrontation, and a resolution. The set up introduces the main characters, sets the mood, and describes their purpose in the story. In screenplays, this takes the first 15 pages. The catalyst motivates the story into a direction. It should be something that allows viewers to develop empathy with the main character. Complications change the plot in the first turning point. The main character learns an important lesson in the climax. This climax leads to a final confrontation. The outcome is the resolution.

It is important to create good characters with have wants and drawbacks. Dialogue should be real. Avoid repeating information, long dialogue, and stilted language. Give all characters their own voices. Conflict makes scenes interesting. An interesting plot should be presented. Exposition provides useful background information. Plan an opening that creates an interesting tone. Foreshadowing can be useful in making an audience think. Resolutions should occur near the end or else the story then drags along.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Cinematography for Directors by Jacqueline B. Frost

Jacqueline B. Frost. Cinematography for Directors: A Guide for Creative Collaboration. Studio City, Ca.: Michael Wise Productions, 2009.

The Director and Director of Photography, or Cinematographer, should cooperate in conveying a desired fell to their movie. The cinematographer chooses the lighting during production and the digital intermediate or color timing in postproduction to create the movie’s visual appearance. Directors and cinematographers usually share their concepts, examine other works to realize what fits their needs, and then create accordingly.

There are many nuances that make filming each movie different. The director controls the pace of shooting. The cinematographer works to produce the director’s cinematic vision. Some directors, especially ones from theater or writers who turn directors, are less skilled in the technical aspects of filmmaking. The cinematographer may need to provide more advice on such technical aspects as what mm of film, filter, etc, to use.

The genre of a film may help determine its’ cinematography. For instance, a comedy is usually filmed brightly without shadows. Science fiction often uses wide angle lenses and a de-saturated color palette. A romantic comedy often uses soft and practical lighting.

Decisions have to be made for each shot as to whether it will be a long, medium, or close up shot, the type camera used, how the cameras moves (i.e. handheld, dolly, Steadicam, crane, or tracking), whether the visual palette should be warm or cool and amber or blue, as well as hue and gradient , whether lighting should be high key or low key, soft or hard.

There are about 340 who belong to the American Society of Cinematographers.

The cinematographer determines the set lighting, calculates exposure, and determines camera placement, lighting, and focal length. This is usually planned in advance, often with the storyboard. These decisions are flexible, especially if the cinematography makes an observation during shoots that will improve a film.

Cinematographer Daniel Pearl is known for top light, warm sepia hues, and low light images that are used in his horror films.

Since directors and cinematographers work closely together over the shooting period, it is usually important they work compatibly with each other.

Directors often share their cinematographic visions with cinematographers by showing photographs indicating a desired look.

The Director of Photography or cinematographer (DP) controls the camera and lighting crew. The camera operator is second in charge.

The cinematographer/DP often observes the actor and the action for lighting and framing issues. The DP can operate the camera, but usually does not and instead concentrates on the overall situation.

The DP usually knows in advance what an actor will do. The lighting thus is determined prior as to what is best in each situation.

The director sends the DP a final shooting script, meets and discusses a vision, determines style of filming, determines who will operate cameras and who the crew will be, goes over storyboards or similar visuals, discusses vision concerning scenes and color with the production designer, shoots tests, visits and consider locations and what lighting works best at each, considers recommendations, and decides what to do.

DPs find the most difficult directors are those who don’t collaborate with them and are too controlling without considering the DP’s advice.

Directors should keep updated on new camera technology, know cinematographic fundamentals, have visual references available, collaborate with DPs, prepare storyboards, and make other necessary preparations, observe locations prior to shootings, determine importance of shots, consider blocking, prepare postproduction procedures, and manage well.

Super 16 mm is often used for High Definition.

The t stop is true light and the f stop concerns exposure.

Lens should always be clean with no smudges.

Cooke lenses are often sued for soft images. An Arri master prime or Zeiss high speed prime is for sharper images when opened at 1.4 stop instead of the slower 2.8, which lets less light in.

The zoon lens varies its focal length while a prime lens is fixed in its focal length.

32 mm prime is better for close shots.

Zoom changes the background focus. Changing the camera position and the lens create the same size shot with a different look. A prime lens can shoot close up and keep the background in focus.

The zoom lens emerged in the late 1960s.

Panavision zooms and Zeiss ultraspeed zooms offer sharper images.

Normal vision is approximately 180 degrees. To approximate normal vision in film, use 35 mm file with a normal or 55 mm lens, with a SI16/16 mm film with a 25 mm lens. A large imaging device area requires longer focal lengths when using a normal lens. A 123” DDC would use a 15 mm lens. A 1/3” CCD would use a 11 mm lens. A Super 16 mm formal would use a 22 mm focal length. Wide angle lenses would be 16 mm, 10 mm, and 8 mm. Wide angles in 35 mm format would use lenses such as 32 mm, 27 mm, or 14 mm. The normal lens offers more clarity and less distortion than the zoom lens. Zoom lens are good for moving shots and particular views.

A beauty shot usually will not work as well with a wide angle lens.

Combining a long field depth with a wide angle lens can underscore certain kinds of scenes. Wide angle lenses keep backgrounds in focus and can be good in shooting scenes with motion.

A Steadiman with a short lens keeps focus. A Steadicam, dolly, or handheld keeps better focus and dept of field with a wide angle lens.

Fish eye lens create horizontal frame edge distortion.

A telephone lens distorts the background behind the image it focuses on. A telephone is an 85 mm, 150 mm, and 200 mm lens in 35 mm, 1:85 aspect ratio.

The focal length of a lens is often found on the inside lens ring beside the glass. Often, white numbers tell feet and red numbers tell meters.

F/1.4 is about what the dilated pupil sees. F/22 is what a constricted pupil often sees. F and t stops occur, from widest opening to least amount of light let in, occur at 1.4, 2.0, 2,8, 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 16, and 22..

F stop is used to calculate field depth. T stop is used to determine exposure.

An anamorphic lens usually opens at f and t stops from 3 to 22. It allows less lgith to enter and thus requires more light for scene lighting.

The most light enters at f aperture open at 1.4. The least light enters at f of 22. “Stepping down” is defined as switching to the next lowest f stop. “Opening up” is defined as switching to the next highest f stop.

More light reduces depth of field. Less light induces background detail.

Overexposure can be handled with a neutral density filter. The neutral density filler ND.09 reduces the f stops. The ND 0.6 reduces two f stops, and the ND .03 combo filter can turn tungsten film to appearing as daylight.

A cloudy outdoor light might require f/5.6.

“Hitcock’s Rule is how much space things appear in should be equivalent to their importance in the scene.

Many Westerns used wide angle lens when showing scenery. Many horror/suspense films use wide angle lens as the surroundings, at times including a hidden villain, are important to the scene.

A wide angle lens on a Steadicam or handheld is used to show what a character is viewing.

“Chiaroscuro lighting” involves wide difference of light and shadow at the same time.

Light at down has cooler light. Late afternoon light has more amber hues.

Surrealism has a dreamy imagery.

Impressionism uses changing light qualities.

Film relates to light differently than does the eye. HM 1 lights color balance as natural daylight at 550 K. HM1 lights thus are used for many daytime shoots.

The amber appearing Tungster films color balances at 3200 k.

The “cooler colors” are blue, green, cyan, and violet. Yellow, orange, and red are dominant next to cooler colors. The eye is drawn to yellow with blue surroundings and thus a dominant sight could be established this way.

Cool colors can highlight feelings of isolation.

Ektachrome film presents a blue hue.

Orange, yellow, and red usually exert warmth.

The light amount required for correct exposure is the film’s speed rating or exposure index.

Kodak and Fuji are the only manufacturers of movie film. Only Kodak makes black and white film.

The three point lighting set up uses a key light as the main light source, a source light that can be seen in the scene, and a fill large for balancing shadows.

Dramas usually are lit to show realism with faces evenly lit and shadowy areas.

A tracking shot is filmed with in a car and is shot following or moving away from the action.

Handheld shots are often shaky as operators usually shake while filming. The shot usually brings an audience more emotionally into the scene.

There should be reasons as to what message a scene tells by a camera that moves or stops moving.

Crane shots are for views from high angles. A crane uses a zoom.

A dolly moves a camera and has less of a depth of field shift as does a crane.

A Steadicam is worn with a harness which reduces the movements faced with a handheld camera. Theya re good when filming where a Dolly can’t be placed.

The frame height and weight ratio is called its aspect ratio. Regular 16 mm has a 1.33 aspect ratio, which fits digital video’s 4:3 aspect ratio. Super 16 mm has a 1:66 aspect ratio, High Definition a 1:78 aspect ratio, regular 35 mm as 1:85 aspect ratio, super 35 mm a 2:35 aspect ratio, anamorphic a 2:40 aspect ratio, and 70 mm a 2:65 aspect ratio.

HD Super 35 mm, anamorphic, and 70 mm are for wide screens.

U.S. theaters mostly use 35 mm or anamorphic. Wide screen theaters use 70 mm.

Some films are shot on Super 16 mm and transferred to 1:85 for theaters.

The lifespan of film is 100 years. A film stored on HD will need to be rebooted periodically to restore its data, which is more expensive than archiving film.

Filming on 35 mm film with a 1:85 aspect ratio is most common and often the least expensive method. This is for theater and will appear letter boxed on television.

Frame is normally 2:40. Some prefer framing at 1:85 to show scenes more intimately. Many don’t wish to first shoot in 1:85 in order to get a sharper looking scene. A 35 mm shot in 1:85 can be developed into 2:40 and this is commonly done.

Super 18 mm film is about half the cost of 35 mm film and runs about twice as long. Yet is has higher postproduction costs as it has to be converted for theater use. It can be used directly for DVD release.

Super 18 mm is used by smaller and lighter cameras. It is thus often used by lower cost productions.

The super 16 mm aspect ratio of 1:66 is similar enough to HDs 1:75 ratio and thus can be converted to HD.

Anamorphic lenses compress images during wide screen shots.

IMAX uses 70 mm film.

Super 16 mm is generally better quality than digital. Digital can allow more diversity.

It is becoming more common for directors and DPs to view dailies on HD or DVD.

When processing a film photochemically, the first print is the answer print, which is processed three times adding two rolls and the soundtrack. The answer print is corrected for colors, dissolves, optimal effects, title checks, etc.

Films with a large distribution may need over 1500 prints. Foreign distribution often causes subtitles using the title interpositive.

The photochemical developing process can be used to deliberately alter colors. Using less or no bleach bypass sharpens contrast between dark and light, lowers color saturation, and yields a more monochromatic color palette. Doing this to the print results in darker shadow areas and darkens the color black.

Neutral flashing is when the color is desaturated to reduce contrast, improve shadows, and show more detail. Color flashing reduces contrast according to specific goals.

Forced processing involves under exposing film to increase grain and increase darkness. It often is done to balance by overexposing film that was shot when underexposed.

Cross processing uses a different chemical process that removes orange mask.

Most studio movies use digital intermediate then convert film to a computer hard drive. It scans more slowly than other systems as it requires correction at a different resolution than the resolution at viewing.

Billy Bitzer was one of the first notable cinematographers, working with D.W. Griffith. They first used tracking shots.

GregToland was a noted cinematographer in both silent and talking films. He worked on “Citizen Kane”.

Robert Burks was a cinematographer on a number of Alfred Hitchcock films. Russell MEtty worked on a number of Douglas Sirk films. Januse Kaminski has worked on several Stephen Spielberg films.