Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014

Talking to Filmmakers

The Next Generation at the American Film Institute

By David Luhrssen
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The American Film Institute has long organized forums for filmmakers to discuss their work. The results occasionally find their way to print. Edited by George Stevens, Jr. and out now in paperback, Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation from the 1950s to Hollywood Today encompasses discussions that took place from the ’70 through the ‘00s. The time line marks the era in which the speakers came to prominence. The Next Generation is a big tent, covering anyone who helped shape Hollywood after the dissolution of the old studio system.

The contents often go to show that good filmmakers are usually good storytellers. Among them, Peter Bogdanovich probably has the deepest well to draw from. He began as a pioneering film historian in the ‘60s before making his own movies. When he began writing, most of the great figures from Hollywood’s golden age were still alive and working. Imagine picking up a phone and hearing: “Hello, this is Orson Welles”—and it wasn’t a prank call!

With The Last Picture Show (1971), Bogdanovich became a key player in Hollywood’s second golden age and emerged with advice for beginners. Too much freedom for a young director can be a bad thing; learn the craft and history; and don’t ignore silent films, with their enormous capacity for telling stories visually.

Darren Aronofsky describes the torturous money trek behind The Wrestler (2008) by explaining that large scale “indies” usually need at least one big star to draw financial backing. He wanted the lead role for Mickey Rourke, whom no one was interested in gambling on for the longest time. In the industry, the perceived value of Rourke was less than zero. As Aronofsky shows, persistence sometimes wins the battle.

Whether Nora Ephron or William Friedkin, David Lynch or Sydney Pollack, the directors offer useful insights into their own creative working methods, including the always fraught business of moviemaking.

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