THE TIME MARTIN LANDAU YELLED AT ME
there is a tremendous amount of pressure put on all cinematographers, regardless of a films budget. we are the gate keepers of the line between aesthetics and time and we have to guard this responsibility carefully for the integrity of the project, all while being clear headed and respectful to our co-workers..... we all screw up once in awhile and when i screw up, i try to remember to at least learn something from my mistakes.
this particular "learning experience" involved the ever so common phrase we use in the modern digital film making: "let's shoot the rehearsal". when i started in the pre HD film business, there was no such phrase due to film and developing cost. now it is common to never do any rehearsals after the blocking. it's not just those itchy directors or clock watching a.d.'s that want to eliminate the rehearsal, often its the actors that want to get right into it. in the film days you would often hear after a rehearsal a director say in jest, "it was perfect! why didn't we shoot that", but now when we are lucky enough to do a rehearsal, a director may say the same thing and actually be pissed off that we didn't shoot the rehearsal!
this particular story takes place while i was shooting a very grueling and rushed tv film. we were set up for a large party scene in which the female lead comes down a staircase to meet her older lover, martin landau, in the middle of the room. the scene was blocked out with the 1st team talent, lit, and now it was time to shoot. we would begin with a wide shot from above as an intro to the scene. the director, a.d. and i all agree that the shot would end before the dialogue began and the actors were informed. at the last minute i saw an opportunity for a 2nd camera position to catch some loose coverage on mr. landau.
normally a professional union set is a fairly calm place but since there were so extras and i was operating the 2nd camera, the a.d. had to yell across the room which added to the chaos. so he yells across the room to the director who was near "a" camera, "director do you need a rehearsal?" "lets shoot the rehearsal" she calls out. the a.d. then yells across the room to me, "simmonds do you need a rehearsal". i reply, "no, lets shoot the rehearsal!"..... the a.d. yells out to the tech crew, "we are going to shoot the rehearsal everyone, pictures up!" i then hear a familiar voice yell out, "no we are not going to fucking shoot the rehearsal because i want a mother fucking rehearsal". i looked up from my view finder and see mr. landau looking right at me. i cannot remember exactly what he said after that but it certainly was directed at me and was not pleseant.
apparently nobody heard this outburst but me as the sounds man calls out "speed". while the slates were clapping, i walked across the room to a confused a.d. and explained the situation to him. i made my best attempt to apologize to mr. landau while the director was notified but the apology did not go over well. mr. landau, who started his career in 1950 in north by northwest, did not come from the school of filmmaking of "shooting the rehearsal".
although i am not fully responsible for this misunderstanding and i would love to rightfully put blame on an a.d. whenever i get an opportunity, i take much of the responsibility. the team set up a frame and we explained to the talent the shot and how far we would take the scene and at the last minute i set up another camera and never properly explained this to the actor. and why not do a rehearsal? it takes no time compared to other parts of the shoot day.... god only knows how much of any shoot day goes to the endless debate over which hand a purse should be in (take that script supervisors! if you don't like it, start your own blog)......
the next day i saw mr. landau in the hotel lobby and i told him how embarrassed i was and made another attempt to apologize. he was in a much better mood and chain smoking as usual. he told me about how he was a successful cartoonist and then he caught the acting bug and got into the actors studio to his dismay. him and steve mcqueen were the only people accepted that year and he had to make a difficult decision to leave cartooning. he would would tear up when talking about his buddy, jimmy, who i would later learn was james dean.
i asked him about hitchhock and how certain directors worked. he said something along the lines of, all rehearsals should start with the director and dop saying to the actor(s), "lets find out what this scene is about". he claimed that it's impossible to use this sentence too much, and that it's the basis of the actor / director relationship and it also translates to the photography of a scene. he went as far to say that there is no "direction" but rather the actor / director relationship is one of discovering "what the scene is really about".
i then asked him about working with tim burton on ed wood and he went into a full rendition of his character and even said,
"pull the string!"