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.