Most of us enjoy a great movie. Many folks will not miss their favorite actors’ newest movie. We have our favorite directors from Hitchcock to Spielberg. Sometimes a movie will stick with you over the years and you realize it was great direction that gave it that special appeal.
When I was in high school I saw one of those slap-you-upside-the-head movies and it still resonates with me to this day. It was “12 Angry Men” starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall and the rest of the jury. It was directed by Sidney Lumet, his first movie. He averaged more than one movie a year until his last movie in 2007. Every decade he created many masterpieces and I think I saw them all. There were special great ones from each decade. He finished out the ‘50s with “That Kind of Woman” starring Sophia Loren, and “The Fugitive Kind” with Marlon Brando.
In the ‘60s I loved “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” “The Pawnbroker” and “The Deadly Affair.” The ‘70s brought the great “Serpico” “The Anderson Tapes” “Dog Day Afternoon” “Network” and “The Wiz.”
In the ‘80s he made “Prince of the City” “The Verdict” “Power” and “Running on Empty.”
My favorites in the ‘90s were “Q&A” “Night Falls on Manhattan” and “Critical Care.” His last decade of movie making gave us “Strip Search” “Find Me Guilty” and “Before the Devil knows you’re Dead.”
Sidney Lumet’s pictures were nominated for 46 Academy Awards and received 6.
In the mid-90s he wrote a book called “Makin Movies.” His quotes on movie-making are the nuts and bolts of directing.
All of these quotes were taken from Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies.
1. Blue or red may mean totally different things to you and me. But as long as my interpretation of a colour is consistent, eventually you’ll become aware (subconsciously, I hope) of how I’m using that colour, and what I’m using it for.
2. Don’t let the difficulty of actually achieving a shot make you think that the shot is good.
3. There are no small decisions in movie-making. Nowhere does this apply more than in editing.
4. Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score. To start with, music is a quick way to reach people emotionally.
5. Everything becomes creative if the person doing the job is.
6. Commercial success has no relation to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that NO ONE REALLY KNOWS. Through some incredible talent, Walt Disney knew. Today Steven Spielberg seems to.
7. When this magic happens, the best thing you can do is get out of the way of the picture. Let IT tell YOU how to do it from now on.
8. Over-length is one of the things that most often results in the destruction of the movie in the cutting room.
9. Normally I’m not concerned about audience reaction. But when you touch on sex and death, two aspect of life that hit a deep core, there’s no way of knowing what an audience will do.
10. If a picture is edited in the same tempo for its entire length, it will feel much longer. It doesn’t matter if five cuts per minute or five cuts every ten minutes are being used. If the same pace is maintained throughout, it will start to feel slower and slower. In other words, it’s the change in tempo we feel, not the tempo itself.
11. The script must keep you off balance. Keep you surprised, entertained, involved, and yet, when the denouement is reached, still give a sense that the story HAD to turn out that way.
12. If the writer has to state the reasons, something’s wrong in the way the character is written. Dialogue is like anything else in movies. It can be a crutch, or when used well, it can enhance, deepen, and reveal.
13. The way you tell a story should relate somehow to what that story is. Because that’s what style is: the way you tell a particular story.
14. I think inevitability is the key. In a well made drama, I want to feel: “Of course – that’s where it was headed all along.” And yet the inevitability mustn’t eliminate surprise.
15. Edit it for story, but as part of the form of melodrama, edit is as surprisingly, as unexpectedly, as you can. Try to keep the audience off balance, though not to a point where the story gets lost.
16. Don’t let a technical failure destroy the shot for you.
17. Improvisation can be an effective tool in rehearsal as a way of finding what you’re really like when, for example, you’re angry. Knowing your feelings let you know when those feelings are real as opposed to when you’re simulating them.
18. Good camera work is not pretty pictures. It should augment and reveal the theme as fully as the actors and directors do.
19. We’re not out for consensus here. We’re out for communication. And sometimes we even get consensus. And that’s thrilling.
20. There are no minor decisions in movie making. Each decision will either contribute to a good piece of work or bring the whole movie crashing down around my head many months later.