Eleven Directors Who Have Influenced Me

SELFIEMy teacher and mentor Academy Award Nominated director Jerzy Antczak once told me, “Quentin, a good director is a good thief. You steal from here and you steal from there… and then you make it your own! And put your actors bumper to bumper… you cannot waste space on film! You do not act like someone who goes FUCK… you must use velvet gloves!”

Jerzy with Polanski!

Jerzy with Polanski!

By “velvet gloves” I’ve stolen to mean that good directors are calm and prepared on set to inspire the actors and your team to work hard without screaming, yelling or throwing walky-talkies at people.

Here are the ten other directors who have influenced me and I try to steal from.

Sam Mendes’ Rules for Directors

Sam Mendes is an acclaimed director of both stage and screen helming works like the Academy Award-winning American Beauty, Skyfall (the last James Bond outing) and the successful stage revival of Cabaret, which he is remounting on Broadway later this year.

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Medes was recently honored by the Roundabout Theatre Company and used the occasion to share his 25 rules for directors. While some of these were clearly meant to be taken with tongue firmly in cheek (yes, I’m sure I can just call up Dame Judi Dench and she would agree to work with me), the advice doled out does collectively amount to as good an approach to the craft and profession as any.

So since there are a number of aspiring directors reading our blog, here are Sam Mendes’ 25 rules for you to mull over:

1,001 Reasons I Love Movies: (#32) Doody in the Pool

CHIEF

Harold Ramis passed away at the age of 69 and considering how integral his movies were to my youth, it wouldn’t feel right to let this moment pass without a small acknowledgement of his legacy.

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He wrote, directed and/or starred in some of the greatest comedic creations of the past three+ decades including Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Groundhog Day and Analyze This, among many others.

It’s hard to pick one favorite moment from his many wonderful films, but the following scene from Caddyshack (Ramis’ directorial debut) is as brilliant a comedic sequence as any I’ve seen: A ritzy country club swimming pool, a discarded Baby Ruth bar, the theme from Jaws and the perfect tag at the end from Bill Murray who’s never been funnier and you have pure comedic gold.

Watch romantic short film THE GIRL FROM TOMORROW directed by James Lee

AMOUR

I am a big admirer of Malaysian filmmaker James Lee, who has just released his latest short film, entitled THE GIRL FROM TOMORROW. Here’s the official synopsis:

A time-travel themed love story between Joe an ordinary young man and Yen the girl from future. Yen is here to guide Joe into choosing and creating his own path for his own future.

Lee has a solid filmography comprised of award winning indie features that have played at film festivals around the world for over a decade now. I personally like his experimental feature THE BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE and documentary THE BIG DURIAN, which he collaborated with fellow filmmaker Amir Muhammad.

1,001 Reasons I Love Movies: (#28) Tony Scott’s Sicilian Connection

Like a lot of people who love movies, I was shocked to hear of director Tony Scott’s suicide on Sunday. This was a filmmaker who not only helped “invent” the modern action film with movies like Top Gun, but who was still relevant all these years later–his last film 2010’s Unstoppable (starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) was a box office hit and thoroughly entertaining to boot.

My favorite Scott movie is True Romance and my favorite moment in that film is the Sicilian scene. Christopher Walken’s Sicilian mobster confronts Dennis Hopper—to learn the whereabouts of Hopper’s son played By Christian Slater. Hopper knows there’s no way Walken is going to let him live so he decides to get in one last jab by way of writer Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant monologue explaining the heritage of the Sicilian people in…well, let’s say un-P.C. terms.

As great as Scott was with an action sequence, I think this scene represents him at his best. The way he retains the scene’s simplicity—never losing the focus on the actors and the words—yet still bringing his own style and sensibility is a joy to behold. This is what the movies are all about:

1,001 Reasons I Love Movies: (#23) Sidney Lumet on ‘Making Movies’

Woke up this morning to the news that one of my all-time favorite film directors, Sidney Lumet, passed away. In his 50+ year career, he helmed some of our greatest cinematic works including Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express, The Verdict, Running on Empty, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Fail-Safe (my favorite).

I really don’t think I can add much about Lumet’s life and career that hasn’t already been said, but in addition to being a filmmaking giant, he also wrote what I consider to be the best book about directing–1995’s Making Movies. If you want to be a filmmaker and can only read one book on the subject, this is it. Lumet takes you on a practical, hands-on journey through every aspect of the filmmaking process using his own work to illustrate his points—it’s an invaluable resource. So thought it might be fitting on this occasion to share some excerpts from his book below.

ON PREPARATION VS. SPONTANEITY:
  It is in the preparation. Do mountains of preparation kill spontaneity? Absolutely not. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite. When you know what you’re doing, you feel much freer to improvise.

On my second picture, Stage Struck, a scene between Henry Fonda and Christopher Plummer took place in Central Park. I had shot most of the scene by lunchtime…During lunch, snow started to fall. When we came back the park was already covered in white. The snow was so beautiful, I wanted to redo the whole scene. Franz Planner, the cameraman, said it was impossible because we’d be out of light by four o’clock. I quickly restaged the scene, giving Plummer a new entrance so that I could see the snow-covered park; then I placed them on a bench, shot a master and two close-ups…Because the actors were prepared, because the crew knew what it was doing, we just swung with the weather and got a better scene.

Original Offenders: Marion Wong

If you think it’s difficult being an Asian American director today trying to make Asian American-themed projects, imagine what it must have been like 94 years ago. Up until recently, it was, in fact, thought that no Asian American filmmakers existed that far back (Sessue Hayakawa wouldn’t start his own company, becoming the first Asian American producer/actor, until 1918). That is until 2006 when two reels of a 1916 silent feature entitled The Curse of Quon Gwon were discovered. The director and writer of the movie was a Chinese American woman named Marion Wong.

Documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong was researching Hollywood Chinese, his excellent look at the history of Chinese Americans in Hollywood, when he unearthed the two 35 mm reels (about 35 minutes of footage) in an Oakland basement. The film was preserved on highly flammable nitrate stock and had to be carefully handled and restored (among other dangers, old nitrate stock has a tendency to suddenly explode). The Curse of Quon Gwon was the first narrative feature made by a Chinese American and also one of the first films to be directed by a woman.