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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steve Jobs on Life..

"When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sam Fuller

Q. What makes a good movie?
SF. A Story.

Q. What makes a good story?
SF. A Story!












Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Great Movie Poster!

For once I really wish the film really lives upto to the promise of the poster. Pulp-Retro-Hindi Cinema. Nothing like it.




Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Native Telugu Cinema Movement - ' Maa Voollo Osari Em Jarigindante..'

A couple of nights ago, I happened to catch a screening of a Telugu film at the Film Chamber theater.
I'll come to that in a minute..

Its obvious by now that independent cinema has a very limited distribution market in Andhra Pradesh.
My definition of 'Independent Telugu Cinema' is: cinema which is self produced, made on very tight budgets and schedules, may or may not have commercial elements and therefore is at the mercy of the distribution market to be picked up for a proper theatrical release. There are more poetic and creative connotations to Independent Cinema... but I think this is a realistic definition.

I've admired and envied the 'parallel' cinema movement in Tamil Nadu. One might also call it a sub-culture, native or new wave Tamil Cinema. These films have been received well by critics and audiences alike. They've also gone onto win National and International awards.

I've wondered, like I'm sure most of you have, will there ever be a 'New Wave Telugu Cinema Movement'? When will it happen? Will the market and the audiences allow it? Is there room at all for it?
In time we'll see, I suppose. But lets not argue that it legitimately exists even. I guess its upto us to make that happen.

Meanwhile...
We did have a legitimate 'sub-culture'/native movement in the few 'Angrez' type films. I thought it was the beginning of a new wave of sorts, but it seems to be diminishing fast. But this got me thinking. If a bunch of guys in Old City were making their very own genre films, crime/comedy, Hyderabadi-Biryani-Nawabi style. What is stopping our folk from other parts of the state?

Forget 'new wave'. A legitimate 'sub-culture' or native cinema movement is welcome and the need of the hour. Authentic, traditional, even commercial, but drenched in the nativity of the land, region and people it comes from. These need to be seen, these need to be theatrically distributed.

One such, charming, un-assuming, sweet, native, funny and really twisted little film is the one I saw a couple of nights ago. 'Maa Voollo Osari Em Jarigindante..'
Written, Produced and Directed by Chandrashekar aka Chendu.You'll hear more of him in the future, I can guarantee that.

Starring absolute amateurs, shot over a few days, on an unbelievable budget and 50 rolls of Kodak stock. This is a true 'sub-culture' Telugu film. Or wait, is 'native' the right word?

At this point some clarity on the word 'sub-culture' and 'native' is important.
The dictionary defines subculture as:  
1. (Sociology) a subdivision of a national culture or an enclave within it with a distinct integrated network of behaviour, beliefs, and attitudes.
and 'native' as
1.(adj)Originating, growing, or produced in a certain place or region; indigenous: 

In the case of ' Maa Voollo Osari Em Jarigindante..' probably native is the right term. Its a film which will remind of you the classic Pedda Vamsi films but without the sheen and without the glamor.

Its been a while since we've seen someone get that absolutely right. Chendu gets it 'bang-on' target.
The film tethers on being Malegoan like (http://bitURL.net/Malegoan) but straightens up to be a truly native and genuine effort.
I'm very confident this film will do well at the box office, if it finds the right kind of distribution, publicity and marketing. Setting the right expectations for the audiences might be crucial. You can see, I'm having a very hard time categorizing it efficiently.

But in a time, where commercial mainstream cinema, while entertaining has become increasingly predictable, 
' Maa Voollo Osari Em Jarigindante..' came as a breath of fresh air for me. And this effort needs to be encouraged and supported. My friends and I are trying to do our bit.. we hope for the best. Meanwhile,

Here's to Chendu and his team. Three cheers mate! You've made an honest, genuine and truly native film.

As I sign off and you look at poster designs; a word of advice: This is a film which must not be judged by its cover-literally. It shouldn't be judged by some of its un-assumed cheesiness. It shouldn't be judged by the amateur acting.
Trust me.. Beneath it all is a very twisted plot and extremely entertaining dialogs and characters.
What more does anyone need?










Tuesday, August 09, 2011

How to Write a Great Novel

PAMUK

970s Istanbul, came out last month.
Mr. Pamuk writes by hand, in graph-paper notebooks, filling a page with prose and leaving the adjacent page blank for revisions, which he inserts with dialogue-like balloons. He sends his notebooks to a speed typist who returns them as typed manuscripts; then he marks the pages up and sends them back to be retyped. The cycle continues three or four times.
Mr. Pamuk says he writes anywhere inspiration strikes—on airplanes, in hotel rooms, on a park bench. He's not given to bursts of spontaneity, though, when it comes to plot and story structure. "I plan everything," Mr. Pamuk says.
HILARY MANTEL
British novelist Hilary Mantel likes to write first thing in the morning, before she has uttered a word or had a sip of coffee. She usually jots down ideas and notes about her dreams. "I get very jangled if I can't do it," she says.
She's an obsessive note taker and always carries a notebook. Odd phrases, bits of dialogue and descriptions that come to her get tacked to a 7-foot-tall bulletin board in her kitchen; they remain there until Ms. Mantel finds a place for them in her narrative.
Ms. Mantel spent five years researching and writing the book, "Wolf Hall," her Booker Prize-winning Tudor drama set in the court of Henry VIII, out in the U.S. this month. The trickiest part was trying to match her version to the historical record. To avoid contradicting history, she created a card catalogue, organized alphabetically by character. Each card contained notes showing where a particular historical figure—such as protagonist Thomas Cromwell, Henry's adviser—was on relevant dates.
"You really need to know, where is the Duke of Suffolk at the moment? You can't have him in London if he's supposed to be somewhere else," she says.
One day, she was in a panic over how she would fit everything she needed to into the novel. She took a shower—her usual head-clearing ritual. "I burst out of the shower crying 'It's two books!'" says Ms. Mantel, who is writing a sequel that will end with Cromwell's beheading in 1540.
KAZUO ISHIGURO
From the time he was a teenager until his mid-20s, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro tried, unsuccessfully, to make it as a songwriter. His early career helped him to develop his style of spare, first-person narration where the narrator seems to know more than he or she lets on at first.
Mr. Ishiguro, author of six novels, including the Booker-prize winning "Remains of the Day,"typically spends two years researching a novel and a year writing it. Since his novels are written in the first person, the voice is crucial, so he "auditions" narrators by writing a few chapters from different characters' points of view. Before he begins a draft, he compiles folders of notes and flow charts that lay out not just the plot but also more subtle aspects of the narrative, such as a character's emotions or memories.
Obsessive preparation "gives me the opportunity to have my narrators suppress meaning and evade meaning when they say one thing and mean something else," says Mr. Ishiguro.
He collects his notes in binders and writes a first draft by hand. He edits with a pencil, then types the revised version into a computer, where he further refines it, sometimes deleting chunks as large as 100 pages.
In spite of all the groundwork, some novels fail to come together, including one that took place in medieval Britain. "I showed my wife a segment that I had honed down and she said, "This is awful. You have to figure out how they speak to each other. They're speaking in a moron language," he says.
MICHAEL ONDAATJE
Booker-prize winner Michael Ondaatje's preferred medium is 8½-by-11-inch Muji brand lined notebooks. He completes the first three or four drafts by hand, sometimes literally cutting and pasting passages and whole chapters with scissors and tape. Some of his notebooks have pages with four layers underneath.
Words come easily for the author—the bulk of the work is arranging and rewriting sentences. "I don't understand this whole concept of writer's block," says Mr. Ondaatje, who says he is working on a novel at the moment but declines to elaborate. "If I get stuck, I work on another scene."
Mr. Ondaatje, who started out as a poet, says plots often come to him as "a glimpse of a small situation." His 1992 novel "The English Patient" started out as two images: one of a patient lying in bed talking to a nurse, and another of a thief stealing a photograph of himself.
Sometimes he goes through an "anarchic" stage, cutting out characters or rearranging scenes. "Some writers know what the last sentence is going to be before they begin—I don't even know what the second sentence is going to be," says Mr. Ondaatje, whose most recent novel, "Divisadero," came out in 2007.
RICHARD POWERS
Richard Powers, whose books are often concept-driven, intricately plotted and stuffed with arcane science, wrote his last three novels while lying in bed, speaking to a lap-top computer with voice-recognition software.
To write "Generosity," his recent novel about the search for a happiness gene, he worked like this for eight or nine hours a day. He uses a stylus pen to edit on a touch screen, rewriting sentences and highlighting words.
"It's recovering storytelling by voice and recovering the use of the hand and all that tactile immediacy," Mr. Powers says of the process. "I like to use different parts of my brain."
DAN CHAON
Dan Chaon writes a first draft on color-coded note cards he buys at Office Max. Ideas for his books come to him as images and phrases rather than plots, characters or settings, he says. He begins by jotting down imagery, with no back story in mind. He keeps turning the images over in his mind until characters and themes emerge.
His most recent novel, "Await Your Reply," which has three interlocking narratives about identity theft, started out as scattered pictures of a lighthouse on a prairie, a car driving into the arctic tundra under a midnight sun and a boy and his father driving to the hospital at night with the boy's severed hand, resting on ice. He described each scene on a card, then began fleshing out the plotlines, alternating among blue, pink and green cards when he moved between narratives.
During the early stages of writing, he carries a pocketful of cards with him wherever he goes; as they accumulate, he stores them in a card catalogue that he bought at a library sale. It often takes two years before something resembling a novel takes shape. He eventually transcribes the cards onto the computer and writes furiously from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.
"I used to think my average as a short story writer was one completed story out of every 20," says Mr. Chaon, who adds that his average has improved as he's gained experience . "I have at least two novels that I think are dead—maybe three if the thing I'm working on right now sputters to a stop."
KATE CHRISTENSEN
Kate Christensen was two years and 150 pages into her first novel, "In the Drink," about a boozy ghostwriter, before she discovered what the book was really about—so she dismantled the draft, threw out a bunch of pages and started over. The process repeated itself with her second, third and fourth novels, she says. With her 2009 novel "Trouble," a story about two women who go on a Thelma and Louise-like adventure to Mexico, the opening finally stuck. Ms. Christensen, who works out of her home in Tribeca, says a lot of her writing time is spent "not writing." Most mornings, she does housework, writes emails and talks on the phone to avoid facing her work. In the past, she's played 30 games of solitaire before typing a first sentence.
Last month, she started a new novel, titled "The Astral," about a 57-year-old poet in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, who has been kicked out by his wife and is trying to get his son out of a mind control cult. "At the beginning, which is where I am now, there is always a certain amount of trepidation because the thing doesn't have a life of its own yet," says Ms. Christensen, who won the PEN/Faulkner Award last year.
MARGARET ATWOOD
"Put your left hand on the table. Put your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, you'll get a plot," Margaret Atwood says when asked where her ideas come from. When questioned about whether she's ever used that approach, she adds, "No, I don't have to."
Ms. Atwood, who has written 13 novels, as well as poetry, short stories and nonfiction works, rarely gets writer's block. When ideas hit her, she scribbles phrases and notes on napkins, restaurant menus, in the margins of newspapers. She starts with a rough notion of how the story will develop, "which usually turns out to be wrong," she says. She moves back and forth between writing longhand and on the computer. When a narrative arc starts to take shape, she prints out chapters and arranges them in piles on the floor, and plays with the order by moving piles around.
Twice, she's abandoned books after a couple hundred pages, one in the late 1960s and another in the early 1980s. She was able to salvage a single sentence from one book, and carved two short stories out of the other, including one titled "The Whirlpool Rapids."
During a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Ms. Atwood has gone from cutting and pasting passages with scissors and tape to the communication of the electronic age. Lately, she's been blogging and using Twitter while on tour promoting her recent novel, "The Year of the Flood."
EDWIDGE DANTICAT
Before she begins a novel, Edwidge Danticat creates a collage on a bulletin board in her office, tacking up photos she's taken on trips to her native Haiti and images she clips from magazines ranging from Essence to National Geographic. Ms. Danticat, who works out of her home in Miami, says she adapted the technique from story boarding, which filmmakers use to map out scenes. "I like the tactile process. There's something old-fashioned about it, but what we do is kind of old-fashioned," she says.
Sometimes, the collage grows large enough to fill four bulletin boards. As the plot becomes clearer, she culls pictures and shrinks the visual map to a single board.
Right now, Ms. Danticat has two boards full of images depicting a seaside town in Haiti, the setting for a new novel that takes place in a village based on the one where her mother grew up.
She writes first drafts in flimsy blue exam notebooks that she orders from an online office supply store. She often uses 100 exam books for a draft. "The company I order from must think I'm a high school," she said. She types the draft on the computer and begins revising and cutting.
Finally, she makes a tape recording of herself reading the entire novel aloud—a trick she learned from Walter Mosley—and revises passages that cause her to stumble.
JUNOT DÍAZ
"I think 90% of my ideas evaporate because I have a terrible memory and because I seem to be committed to not scribble anything down," says Junot Díaz. "As soon as I write it down, my mind rejects it."
Juggling everything in his head has drawbacks, one of which is writing very slowly, he says. He threw out two earlier versions of his novel, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"—the equivalent of about 600 pages—before the final version began to take shape. He also researches obsessively. When writing "Oscar Wao," he read J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy half a dozen times to get inside the head of his protagonist, an overweight Dominican teenager who's obsessed with fantasy and science fiction.
He often listens to orchestral movie soundtracks as he writes, because he's easily distracted by lyrics. When he needs to seal himself off from the world, he retreats into the bathroom and sits on the edge of the tub. "It drove my ex crazy," he says. "She would always know I was going to write because I would grab a notebook and run into the bathroom."
AMITAV GOSH
Amitav Ghosh's first novel ended in failure. He was in his mid 20s, doing research on agricultural development at a think tank in Kerala, India. He worked on the first draft for a year. "It was terrible and I had to throw it all away," he says. He's since written six novels, including "Sea of Poppies" and "The Glass Palace," but the process is always fraught.
"It never gets easier; it's always hard, it's always a test," says Mr. Ghosh, who splits his time between Goa, India, and Brooklyn, N.Y. "I've reached a point in my life where if a sentence seems easy, I distrust it."
Mr. Ghosh writes by hand, then types a manuscript onto his laptop. Every morning, he revises what he wrote the day before. Every sentence that appears in his books has been through at least 20 revisions, he says.
Mr. Ghosh, who is now working on the sequel to "Sea of Poppies," which is part of a trilogy, is particular about everything from his pen to the type of paper he writes on. He insists black ink Pelikan pens are the best, and buys white, lined paper from a French manufacturer. "If you work on paper so much, you get obsessive about even the spacing of the lines," he says. "I need them to be fairly widely spaced."
RUSSELL BANKS
Russell Banks, a novelist who lives in upstate New York, writes nonfiction essays and reviews on his computer, but "gets blocked" if he tries to write fiction that way. He scribbles out his first drafts in longhand, working from 8 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon in a small writing studio. His studio, a converted sugar shack that was once used for boiling maple syrup, sits in a wooded area about 1,000 yards from his house.
His novels sometimes start out as a single sentence or phrase. As the story unfolds, he types up a rough outline that encompasses the whole plot, and a shorter, more detailed outline that maps out what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 pages. "It keeps me from falling off a cliff," says Mr. Banks, whose books include "Affliction" and "The Sweet Hereafter," both novels.
He types his manuscripts onto the computer once he has a full draft, and goes through countless revisions.
Currently, Mr. Banks is about halfway through a novel set in Miami.
COLUM MCCANN
When he's in the middle of a novel, Colum McCann sometimes prints out a chapter or two in large font, staples it together like a book, and takes it to Central Park. He finds a quiet bench and pretends he's reading a book by someone else.
Other times, when he's re-reading a bit of dialogue or trying to tweak a character's voice, he'll reduce the computer font to eight-point Times New Roman. "It forces me to peer at the words and examine why they're there," Mr. McCann wrote in an email message.
Changing the way the words look physically gives him more critical distance, he says.
To research his 2009 novel "Let the Great World Spin," which is set in New York in the 1970s and is a finalist for the National Book Award, Mr. McCann went on rounds with homicide and housing cops, read oral histories of prostitutes from the era and watched archival film footage.
The hardest moment often comes at the end of the project, when he's emotionally spent and terrified that he'll never be able to write another novel, he says. At such moments, he reminds himself of Samuel Beckett's advice: "No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
ANNE RICE
When she was working on her first novel, "Interview With a Vampire," in the early 1970s, Anne Rice revised each typed page before moving on to the next. These days, she writes on a computer rather than a typewriter, and revisions are constant and more fluid. She writes a chapter a day to make sure each section is consistent in its tone and style, and often works for eight or nine hours straight when she's in the middle of a novel. Sometimes, she'll spend a year or two researching a book before she begins a full first draft.
She sets her font to 14 point Courier and double spaces the text on her 30-inch Mac computer monitor so that her field of vision is filled with words. "I find the bigger the monitor, the better the concentration," says Ms. Rice, who is writing the third book in her trilogy about angels. She edits her work continuously, down to tiny copy-editing changes at the end. "Even after you've done all that, somebody out there will find a typo and think you're a slob," she says.
JOHN WRAY
To write "Lowboy," which takes place in the New York City subway, Brooklyn-based novelist John Wray rode trains all over the city while pecking out a first draft on his laptop computer. He mainly rode the F, C and B trains, though "there was a time when I was really into the G," he says. He often sat in a corner near the conductor's booth with his headphones on. He worked like this, often for six hours a day, for nearly a year.
Initially, he wrote on the train not for research purposes, but to cut himself off from distractions like email and phone calls. Then the people and conversations he observed on the subway began to creep into the book, a novel about a paranoid schizophrenic teenager. One of the characters, a heavy-set homeless woman, is based on a woman Mr. Wray used to see at the Stillwell Avenue stop in Brooklyn. Bits of dialogue he overheard appear verbatim in the novel, including a strange conversation about how prospective homeowners should spend the night in a house before buying it in order to check the property for paranormal activity.
Writing on a noisy, crowded train was hard at times, but it was pleasant compared to the conditions under which he wrote his first novel, he says. In 1996, after losing his job in an art gallery, Mr. Wray lived in a tent in a rat-infested basement in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood. He wrote in the tent on an old 1940s typewriter. "I tried to approximate every cliché of the struggling novelist possible," he says.
LAURA LIPPMAN
Mystery writer Laura Lippman, who writes a popular series featuring detective Tess Monaghan, creates elaborate, color-coded plot charts, using index cards, sketchbook pages, colored ribbon and magic markers.
The diagrams vary from book to book, but Ms. Lippman says she can tell a novel is off-track if her chart lacks symmetry.
She first used the technique on her ninth book, "By A Spider's Thread," which had two lines of action. She assigned a color to each point of view and made a chart with alternating blocks of color. For her novel "To The Power of Three," which had seven different points of view, she bought seven different colors of ribbon and assigned a color to each character. Then she created a grid and strung colored ribbon representing each character between chapters where that character appeared, creating an intricate colored lattice.
Ms. Lippman says she becomes "somewhat obsessive" about her charts.
"Every time I show people these things they seem to find them mildly disturbing," she says

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stephen King On Writing....A few gems.



Stephen King On Wrting is essential reading for any writer. Its been my favorite and one of the few books I've re-read. Here are a few gems...


"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness,
excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you
can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind
and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched
and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down
names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry
you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any
way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to
the blank page."

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all
others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around
these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut."

"“I’ll never be able to write anything that good, not if I live to be a thousand”—
but such feelings can also serve as a spur, goading the writer
to work harder and aim higher. Being swept away by a combination
of great story and great writing—of being flattened,
in fact—is part of every writer’s necessary formation. You cannot
hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your
writing until it has been done to you."

"If I write rapidly, putting down my story exactly as it
comes into my mind, only looking back to check the names of
my characters and the relevant parts of their back stories, I
find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at
the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to
settle in."

"The most important things to remember about back story
are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very
interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don’t get carried
away with the rest. Long life stories are best received in bars,
and only then an hour or so before closing time, and if you
are buying."

"I’m often asked if I think the beginning writer of fiction can
benefit from writing classes or seminars. The people who ask
are, all too often, looking for a magic bullet or a secret ingredient
or possibly Dumbo’s magic feather, none of which can
be found in classrooms or at writing retreats, no matter how
enticing the brochures may be. As for myself, I’m doubtful
about writing classes, but not entirely against them."

--Stephen King







Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Few Coppola Gems. A Must Read

Francis Ford Coppola: On Risk, Money, Craft & Collaboration

by Ariston Anderson
Photo via Grazia Magazine. 
 
Over the course of 45 years in the film business, Francis Ford Coppola has refined a singular code of ethics that govern his filmmaking. There are three rules: 1) Write and direct original screenplays,  2) make them with the most modern technology available,  and 3) self-finance them. But Coppola didn’t develop this formula overnight. Though he found Hollywood success at the young age of 30, he admits that the early “Godfather” fame pulled him off course from his dream of writing and directing personal stories. Like Bergman, Coppola wanted to wake up and make movies based on his dreams and nightmares.

Thanks in no small part to his booming wine business, Coppola now does just that. He recently wrapped his latest picture,  “Twixt Now and Sunrise,” based on an alcohol-induced dream he had in Turkey. The film even features the latest 3-D technology – but as a brief dramatic segment that serves the story, rather than the typical two-hour, multiplex gimmick.

I sat down with Mr. Coppola at La Mamounia, the legendary Moroccan palace-turned-hotel, during the Marrakech International Film Festival, where he shared insights on the filmmaking craft with local students. Rejecting the popular “master class” format, Coppola preferred a simple “conversation,” where he spoke candidly with students and shared his advice generously. What follows are excerpts from both conversations. 

Why did you choose not to teach a master class?
For me in cinema there are few masters. I have met some masters – Kurosawa, Polanski – but I am a student.

I just finished a film a few days ago, and I came home and said I learned so much today. So if I can come home from working on a little film after doing it for 45 years and say, “I learned so much today,” that shows something about the cinema. Because the cinema is very young. It’s only 100 years old.

Even in the early days of the movies, they didn’t know how to make movies. They had an image and it moved and the audience loved it. You saw a train coming into the station, and just to see motion was beautiful.

The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do. But unfortunately, after 15-20 years, it became a commercial industry. People made money in the cinema, and then they began to say to the pioneers, “Don’t experiment. We want to make money. We don’t want to take chances.”
 
The cinema language happened by experimentation – by people not knowing what to do.
 
 
An essential element of any art is risk. If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before? I always like to say that cinema without risk is like having no sex and expecting to have a baby. You have to take a risk.

You try to go to a producer today and say you want to make a film that hasn’t been made before; they will throw you out because they want the same film that works, that makes money. That tells me that although the cinema in the next 100 years is going to change a lot, it will slow down because they don’t want you to risk anymore. They don’t want you to take chances. So I feel like [I’m] part of the cinema as it was 100 years ago, when you didn't know how to make it. You have to discover how to make it.
 
 
conversation_550
Gene Hackman in The Conversation.
 
 
Do you feel like you’re more of a risk-taker now?
I was always a good adventurer. I was never afraid of risks. I always had a good philosophy about risks. The only risk is to waste your life, so that when you die, you say, “Oh, I wish I had done this.” I did everything I wanted to do, and I continue to.

What’s the most useful piece of advice you’d give a student?
The first thing you do when you take a piece of paper is always put the date on it, the month, the day, and where it is. Because every idea that you put on paper is useful to you. By putting the date on it as a habit, when you look for what you wrote down in your notes, you will be desperate to know that it happened in April in 1972 and it was in Paris and already it begins to be useful. One of the most important tools that a filmmaker has are his/her notes.
 
If you don’t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?
 
 
Is it important to veer away from the masters to develop one’s own style?
I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep,  he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.

And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?
We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.
 
You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money.
 
 
What’s the greatest challenge of a screenwriter?
A screenplay has to be like a haiku. It has to be very concise and very clear, minimal. When you go to make it as a film, you have the suggestions of the actors, which are going to be available to you, right? You’re going to listen to the actors because they have great ideas. You’re going to listen to the photographer because he will have a great idea.
 
You must never be the kind of director, I think maybe I was when I was 18, “No, no, no, I know best.” That’s not good. You can make the decision that you feel is best, but listen to everyone, because cinema is collaboration. I always like to say that collaboration is the sex of art because you take from everyone you’re working with.
 
What is the one thing to keep in mind when making a film?
When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In “The Godfather,” it was succession. In “The Conversation,” it was privacy. In “Apocalypse,” it was morality.

The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
 
I remember in “The Conversation,” they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.
 
 
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Marlon Brando in The Godfather.
 
 
What’s the secret to working with great actors?
I’m going to tell you the story of how I prepared the actors of “The Godfather.” Of course, we were all nervous about Marlon Brando. As theatre students in the ‘50s, we looked at him as the greatest. And there was going to be the first time when all the actors were going to meet. Of course, Al Pacino, Jimmy Caan, Bobby Duvall, Johnny Cazale – everyone just admired Marlon. He was the Godfather. I knew that, and I said, “I can use this.” Napoleon once said, “Use the weapons at hand,” and this is what a film director has to do everyday. So what I did is I arranged for the first meeting as an improvisation.

I said, “I want you to come and be hungry.” And they came to a restaurant that I had arranged, the back room of the restaurant, just a table that looked like a home. Marlon, I had sit at the head of the table, and to his right I put Al Pacino, and to his left I put Jimmy Caan. I put Bobby Duvall, and I put Johnny Cazale, and I had my sister Talia, who played Connie, serve the food.

They had a dinner improvisation together, and after awhile everyone is relating to Marlon as the father, and Jimmy Caan is trying to impress him with jokes, and Al Pacino is trying to impress him by being intense and quiet, and my sister was so frightened – she was serving the food. And after that dinner they were the characters. So one tip I give you is, with improvisations, they really stick if there’s something sensual connected with them, like food or eating or making something with their hands.
 
Napoleon once said, ‘Use the weapons at hand,’ and this is what a film director has to do everyday.
 
 
How do you adapt a novel into a script?
Well, usually it’s the novel that’s adapted. The novel, unfortunately, is not a good form to adapt to film because the question of the novel is it’s usually much, much, much too long with too many characters, too many parts. The short story is the natural narrative, linear narrative to become a film. Many, many short stories have become films.

With a novel, what I can recommend is when you first read the novel, put good notes in it the first time, right on the book, write down everything you feel, underline every sensation that you felt was strong. Those first notes are very valuable. Then, when you finish the book, you will see that some pages are filled with underlined notes and some are blank.

In theatre, there’s something called a prompt book. The prompt book is what the stage manager has, usually a loose-leaf book with all the lighting cues. I make a prompt book out of the novel. In other words, I break the novel, and I glue the pages in a loose-leaf, usually with the square cutout so I can see both sides.

I have that big book with the notes I took, and then I go and I put lots more observations and notes. Then I begin to go through that and summarize the part that I thought was useful. And quite naturally you’ll see that the parts fall away, or that you have too many characters, so you know that you have to eliminate some or combine some. Working on it this way, from the outside in, being more specific as to what you think… then when you finish that, you are qualified perhaps to try to write a draft based on that notebook.

In the case of “The Godfather” I did that, and although I had a screenplay, I never used it. I always used to take that big notebook around with me, and I made the movie from that notebook. In the case of “Apocalypse,” there was a script written by the great John Milius, but, I must say, what I really made the film from was the little green copy of Heart of Darkness that I had done all those lines in. Whenever I would do a scene, I would check that and see what can I give the movie from Conrad.
 
 
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Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.
 
 
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve given to your children, inside and outside of the industry?
Always make your work be personal.

And, you never have to lie. If you lie, you will only trip yourself up. You will always get caught in a lie. It is very important for an artist not to lie, and most important is not to lie to yourself. There are some questions that are inappropriate to ask, and rather than lie, I will not answer them because it’s not a question I accept. So many times we are asked things in our work or in life that you want to lie, and all you have to do is say, “No, that is an improper question.”

So when you get into a habit of not lying when you are writing, directing, or making a film, that will carry your personal conviction into your work. And, in a society where you say you are very free but you’re not entirely free, you have to try. There is something we know that’s connected with beauty and truth. There is something ancient. We know that art is about beauty, and therefore it has to be about truth.

You now have all the resources to do your own production, writing, directing. What’s the biggest barrier to being an artist?
Self-confidence always. The artist always battles his own/her own feeling of inadequacy.

How do you overcome that?
I’ve learned an interesting thing. When I was young on a movie set, I would try to stage the scene and the actors would read it, and I said, “Well, you stand here and you sit there, and blah, blah, blah.” They would say, “Well, I don’t think I should sit there, I should stand there. And I don’t think this line is right.” And they would begin to challenge the text.

What I learned, which is a simple idea, is that if you hold out with your vision a little bit, it’s like a cake being put in the oven. The scene doesn’t work immediately, you have to bake it a little bit. It’s unfair, when you begin to create a shot, say, or a scene, that it’s going to immediately be like those beautiful scenes in the movies. It needs a little bit of time to mature. It’s like taking the cake out without letting it be in the oven for more than a minute. Like, oh no, it’s terrible. So you have to be patient, and then slowly everyone starts to see that the ideas are right, or make the corrections. You have to battle the lack of confidence by giving the scene the chance to solidify.

Do you use that approach in life as well?
Yes, I think. We are very insecure. People are insecure, not just young people. Everyone is insecure. They say that Barbara Streisand, when she goes on, she has a panic attack. She feels she can’t sing. Of course, she can sing. I believe that when you write something, when I write something, I turn it over and I don’t look at it. Because I believe the writer, the young writer, has a hormone that makes them hate what they’ve written. And yet, the next morning, when you look at it, you say, “Oh that’s not bad.” But the first second you hate it.

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Ariston Anderson is a writer and strategist based in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Twitter @Aristonian.