Film Directing


Film Directing

Direction—the be-all {and end-all sometimes) of film 'production. One of the most famous directors writes on his work, which has reached considerable ' success in Paramount productions.

by Ernst Lubitsch

T AM constantly asked : “ How do you decide on those touches that stamp a film ? Do you think of them as you go along ? Do the players sometimes insert them ? Or are they all decided before the production is started ? "

When I have answered and settled those little problems I shall have given you a very good idea of my side of this wonderful business of making pictures.

For it is a wonderful business ; a fascinating, romantic profession that becomes more and more intriguing with each film.

Always one must be thinking of fresh ideas ; new ways to keep an audience interested ; different methods of conveying a meaning to them. In the Maurice Chevalier picture One Hour With You, I allowed Maurice to take the audience into his confidence, by facing them and, in a typical Chevalier manner, blandly ask what he shall do next ! At the beginning of the film, too, he tells the audience that, contrary to their belief, he really is married. There you get a different touch that all directors strive to insert into their films.

How is that “ different " touch found ?

I am given a story. Let us say, for example, as I have already mentioned Chevalier, that it is to have Maurice and Jeanette MacDonald as the ■ stars. With this fact before me and being in possession of the main theme of the story, I practically lock myself away from the rest of the world, with my script writer and technical staff. For two or three months we will pore over the work. Every detail is worked out. Perhaps for days I think round a particular scene. Nothing is decided hastily. After a good deal of anxiety and thought, someone perhaps hits on a happy solution. We believe we are ready for further development.

The very next week I may visualize quite differently the way that scene should be done. Back we go, retracing our steps, scrapping ideas* and whole scenes, if necessarjq just to fit in with this new angle. Gradually the whole production is built up. In my mind’s eye I can see exactly how (that film will appear on the screen. I may revolve an idea round my mind for days, thinking it out first this way and then that. Would a song be

better inserted in such and such a place ? Is it likely to hold up the action if it is put in ?

Here is why it is essential to view the film as a whole before starting on production. The story is divided into many little scenes—each photographed separately. It is possible that scene 40 may be the first to be “ shot.” The 39 earlier scenes may even be kept until the very end before the camera records them. Thus, one’s mind’s eye must have a very clear view of the whole production if one is to tackle the problems connected with it.

Why ar£ scenes " shot ” out of order ? There can be a variety of reasons* The players needed for these scenes may be engaged on ^another picture, they may be ill. There may be scenes that are needed away from the studio altogether ; there may have been a hitch in the construction of the set through some unavoidable mishap. All sorts of accidents or delays may arise to throw the best laid plans temporarily out of gear. And all the time there is a schedule laid down which strictly limits the time allowed for the whole of the shooting. So it is that the scenes are made in what looks like the most haphazard order.

How vital it is, then, for every scene, every action, to be detailed down to the very last raising of an eyelid. If I were to go into the studio with only a hazy idea of how I was going to treat the subject, muddle and chaos would result. At least it would in my case, although different directors have different ways of working.

Sometimes, of course, even after months of labour and careful preparation, a sudden flash of inspiration when the story has started may alter things a little. It would be foolish, in these circumstances, to adhere rigidly to the fixed schedule of the story. One must have a rather “ elastic ” mind ; be able to see how this new idea is going to affect the rest of the production. Few producers would be thanked by their companies, for instance, if, after the film was half-way through, a completely different complexion were put on the story through a flash of inspiration, and all the film was scrapped, for work to start again on the new way.

The Importance of Thoroughness

That is why I stress the importance of thoroughness. That is why I do insist on my players knowing their scenes several days before they are " shot.” It is useless to expect an artiste to come on the set, give him his scene, push him in a corner to “ run it over,” and then imagine that he will act it as it should be acted. An artiste must be given time to know every word perfectly ; to understand exactly what he has to do, and to have a chance to " get into the skin of the part.” In some films you may have noticed a disjointed effect. They fail to reproduce the harmonious whole that all of us strive to obtain.

A film should appear, when it is completed, to have been “ shot ” from beginning to end in one complete piece. That, as you will understand, can seldom be achieved in fact; but careful preparation can give the impression of a complete whole. It would be useless for me to begin shooting on scene 35, for instance, following scene 67, if I had not a complete idea in my mind of what I wanted. Preparation, then, is everything.

That is why I spend so long on the preparation of a story and, once I have begun “ shooting,” am able to get that completed in eight weeks or less.

What so many people forget when they criticize the work of a film director is that he has to cater for varying tastes, all over the world. When a play is produced on the New York stage, for instance, the producer can stress certain points, introduce definite “ business ” which he knows will appeal to the New York audience. If he were to produce the same play in London, he might change his method drastically, because he knows that London would appreciate certain situations that a New York audience would miss ; and vice versa. , Imagine, then, the enormous difficulties that face a film maker. He has to produce a screen play that will appeal, not only to New York and London, but also to the Middle West towns of America, the Irish and Scottish peasants, the Australian sheep farmer and the South African business man. This will give you some slight idea of the difficulties with which a film director has to contend and why so much time and thought are necessary if a worldwide reputation is to be secured. 1

Sometimes, of course, scenes are made twice for different countries. I can give you an example of this. In The Smiling Lieutenant, I had all those scenes where the word “ lieutenant ” was pronounced “ lootenant ” done again for Britain, with the players saying “ leftenant.” That was a definite case where it was impossible to cater for both countries with the one picture. American people would have been shocked to have heard *“ leftenant.” Britons would have laughed at “ lootenant.”



The world film encyclopedia, 1933




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