a nice follow up to my anti advice post might be a series of insightful and funny things people have said to me over the years that have effected the way i work.
The first in the series, mikey likes it, will about the great gordon willis:
while i was at school of visual arts in nyc i was gordon willis' teacher's assistant. all i did was get him tea (he likes it with lemon) and hail him a cab at the end of the day. while my duties were minimal, i did get to listen to him talk quit a bit. he was a man of few words but they had a bite. they were at once thought out, passionate, insightful and funny. it was a 3 day workshop open to anyone willing to pay, so people outside of SVA were there as well. here are three moments i can honestly say i think about daily and have effected my behavior for the better, and still make me smile:
the first question anyone in the class asked was, "why are you teaching at SVA?", in other words, why are you not teaching somewhere more prestigious like nyu or columbia university? While you could sense the sva staff cringing in the room, it still was probably the most relevant question at that moment--"why are you here mr. greatest cinematographer in the world?". i like to think sva's reputation has improved over the years, but back then it was mostly known for have an aggressive subway add campaign with obnoxious slogans. gordon willis responded to the question with the most beautiful and eloquent response i could have imagined.... "they were the only people to ask me" he said. always ask!
i asked him about how he would go about reading a script for the first time (script reading for me is by far the worst part of my job due to my dyslexia. it takes me 5 hours to read a script and i have to basically rewrite it by hand as i read it). he said, "i make myself a fresh pot of coffee if it's morning or i open a nice bottle of wine and i sit in the most comfortable spot in the house. i set the lighting to a nice level and sit back and i enjoy that script. i enjoy it as much as i can, because if i take that job, it will be the last time i ever enjoy that script again."
around the same time he did this lecture, gordon had shot a feature that would be his last, "the devil's own" for alan j pakula. as you may know these two had a brilliant collaboration on "klute", "parallax view" and "all the president's men".... all perfect films that cinematographers have been making directors watch for the last 30 years. well, their last collaboration, "the devil's own", was certainly not considered brilliant at the time of its release. so one wisenheimer asks out loud, "what the heck happened with 'the devils own'"? gordon takes a moment and looks around the room, which was decorated in movie posters, most of which he had dp'd himself. he looked to his left which happened to have a giant "godfather" poster on the wall and said, "listen kids, you see this film right here? this was supposed to be a piece of shit, this was a bullshit gangster b-film. making movies is hard. it's really really hard, but making a good one is just a little bit harder..... so you might as well try to make a good one." there are two great lessons in there, the obvious one is: "try harder to make a good film" and then there is the less obvious lesson: avoid the question that was origionally asked if you don't have a good answer and say something unrelated but brilliant.
next in the "mikey likes it" series, the time martin landau yelled at me and what i learned from it.