“Even when we know everything about a movie down to its shooting schedule and budget and technical tricks, we believe at some level that the magic trick is real. And of course nothing delighted Hitchcock more than explaining his tricks with the camera, his devices to make it lie. He wanted us to know it all and then still fall for it, and fall in love. Watch his films again, fall in love again, and know that we are falling in love with a mirage, with a lie.” –Dan Callahan (The Camera Lies, 2020)
Alfred Hitchcock is said to have once remarked, “Actors are cattle,” a line that has stuck in the public consciousness ever since. For Hitchcock, acting was a matter of contrast and counterpoint, valuing subtlety and understatement over flashiness. He felt that…
Robert Latham Brown has worked as a producer, line producer, and production manager in feature films for well over thirty years and has accumulated an impressive list of credits that include The Blues Brothers, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Return of the Jedi, Child’s Play 1-3, Spaceballs, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, The Parent Trap (1998), and Starship Troopers. However, not all of his projects were big studio films. He produced The Anarchist Cookbook (2001) and co-produced and production-managed Local Color (2009). This first-hand experience endows his book with an authority that is sometimes lacking in books about film production.
Brown provides expert advice about how one should schedule and budget their independent film, and he does so in an extremely lucid and enjoyable fashion. While many books merely provide vague instruction about this phase of film-making, Planning the Low-Budget Film goes into it in a very detailed manner that should be extremely easy for beginners to understand. The book is used as a textbook at several colleges throughout the United States, and anyone planning their first low budget film needs to read it cover to cover. It couldn’t come more highly recommended.
Cinema Literate was honored to talk with Robert Latham Brown about his book and about some of the unique challenges inherent in planning a film:
CL:First of all, I just want to thank you for writing Planning the Low-Budget Film. You can easily find books about film production in general, screenplay writing, directing, cinematography, lighting, sound production, production design, and countless other topics. However, this may be the only book about the actual planning stages.
What inspired your decision to remedy this oversight?
RLB: I have been teaching Production Planning at the USC School of Cinematic Arts as an adjunct professor since the fall of 1996. After I had been teaching for several years, I realized that I was doing a tremendous amount of photocopying of course materials to handout to the students. One day I was looking at the stack of handouts and thought, “This is practically a book. Why not write a textbook for the course?” As a result, I saved myself a lot of time and expenses for copy paper and toner.
CL:Could you describe Planning the Low-Budget Film? What can readers expect to learn while reading it?
RLB: The book takes you through the process from first reading the script all the way through to a finished budget. Along the way it explores script lining, script breakdown, scheduling, how to use a day-out-of-days, locations, working with minors, working with animals, crew management and ethics, unions, and what you need in each of the subaccounts in a film budget.
CL:Do you wish that such a book existed when you were first getting started in the industry?
RLB: Yes, I do. I learned by trial and error. Perhaps I could have avoided many of the errors I made with a resource like this book.
In 1974 when I first got into the business, it was a very different business than it is now. The first film I worked on (as an assistant director trainee) was The Hindenburg directed by Robert Wise. Howard Kazanjian (Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, etc.) was the first assistant director. Everything was done manually. I had learned how to make a physical production board in film school, but I had no idea what sort of wizardry was involved in creating a budget. For me, it was an arcane mystery, and I was curious how anyone could ever figure out what a movie would cost.
Eventually there were two books written by Ralph Singleton, Film Scheduling (1984) and Film Budgeting (1996) which were fine books, but they were written before personal computers really took hold in the business. He mentions some of the then current production software programs, but the references became quickly dated as the technology changed. I didn’t feel either of the books would fulfill my needs for my USC course.
CL:Did the process of writing the book provide you with any unique challenges? If so, what were they?
RLB:Yes. Growing up, my favorite question was “Why?” When I started writing the book and describing how to do certain things, I could hear the students asking, “Why?” and I wanted to be able to give good reasons for doing what I did. For example, why do we measure script pages in eighths of a page? Like every other production person, I had done it since I first learned how to breakdown a script, but I had never considered why we did it that way. Why did we shoot all the inserts on an insert day after principal photography was wrapped? Does it still make sense to do that? Sometimes it took me awhile to understand the reasons behind things I had always done reflexively. I didn’t think saying “This is how we’ve always done it” was a valid reason. I found some of the practices I questioned didn’t really have good reasons.
CL:I enjoyed reading your anecdotes from the film productions that you have worked on in the past. They are entertaining but also help to make important points more clearly. I especially enjoyed the paragraphs concerning various Mel Brooks productions. I’m a pretty big Mel Brooks fan. What it was like working for him? Is he as funny as his movies?
RLB: It is a delight to work with Mel Brooks. I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to work with him. If there are more than two people in the room with him, he’s on. He can’t help himself. He’s a born performer and a very funny man. He can say “Good morning” and make you laugh.
CL:You have worked in a variety of genres. Is there a certain genre that you enjoy working on more than others, or are they all pretty much the same from a production standpoint? In other words, do certain genres create challenges that other genres don’t?
RLB: I think the film I enjoyed doing the most was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. That was mainly because of the people I was working with. I would say the big budget productions with lots of visual effects are the most challenging. When you’re in the $100 million plus range, there can be a lot of pressure, and mistakes or delays can be very costly.
The genre isn’t as important to me as long as I have a good crew to work with.
CL:Has the switch from film to digital altered the manner in which one plans a production? If so, in what ways has it changed this part of the process?
RLB: It has made a huge difference, most of it for the better. Many things are cheaper and more efficient now: lighting equipment, cameras, sound recording, postproduction sound, editing, deliverables, dailies, communications, distribution, and so on. There is hardly an area that hasn’t been touched.
The main difficulty in the digital age is keeping up with the new technology. Digital effects are evolving so fast in capability that what you did in a film last year is now outdated. You have to continually educate yourself which I find inspiring because I’m always thirsty for knowledge.
CL:Are there any common mistakes that new producers are likely to make during the planning stages? If so, what are they and how can future filmmakers avoid them?
RLB: Not being clear on what you want to see on-screen. I had a student show me the script for his film project and asked for my comments. There was a moment in the script where the main character opened the closet door to. . . “LIMBO.” I asked him what “LIMBO” was. What did it look like? Was it blackness? Was it gauzy gray cloth against a gray backdrop? Was it all white? He hadn’t really thought it out. When you read a script, make sure you understand everything in it. Visualize the movie.
Be sure that you understand what your budget buys you. You probably can’t shoot an avalanche on a $250,000 movie. There are lots of tricks you can use to get more production value but understand your budget limitations. Know how you are going to market your film. You should know this before you get the money. A corollary to this is to have distribution before you start filming.
CL: A lot of low-budget productions are crowdfunding their projects. Would you suggest that a producer have his project budgeted before beginning their campaign? How will they create an accurate-enough budget this early in the game?
RLB: Definitely. You will need to know what your target raise will be. You should keep your budget as low as possible and have your campaign fully planned before you announce. Crowdfunding is a full-time job and cannot be done successfully in a half-hearted manner.
In creating the budget, let the script dictate what you will need. The script needs to be in sync with the budget available. If you’re crowdfunding, keep it low. Budgeting is simply a matter of what do you need, how long do you need it for, and what does it cost.
CL:The book suggests contacting the appropriate state film commission for help concerning locations and various incentives. What might an independent producer do if the film commission isn’t terribly communicative or helpful?
RLB:There is so much competition between states now that I haven’t run into this problem. But if I did, I would try to contact businesses or organizations that might be able to help me in locating appropriate locations. There is a filmmaking community in pretty much every state.
There is an immense amount of information on the Internet regarding state production incentives. Two of the companies that provide information online for free about state incentives are Media Services and Entertainment Partners.
CL: The book contains some very helpful and extremely interesting information concerning the handling of extras. How do scenes with a large group of extras complicate a low-budget production, and how can one efficiently make the best use of them?
RLB: If they are seated or standing in an area and you don’t have to direct them, you can advertise on a local radio station that you’ll be shooting at such and such a place on a specific date and time. Tell them how they should dress and announce that you’ll be randomly giving away some nice prizes during the day such as flat screen TVs, iPads, etc. That and a box lunch will keep them there for hours. We used this very successfully to fill the Pantages Theater for The Blues Brothers. Just check the local labor laws to make sure you aren’t violating them.
On city streets, you can put your actors among the public as long as the public knows there is filming going on and by being there they are giving their consent to being photographed. This is done a lot in New York and it works best when the camera is hidden.
Cardboard cutouts have been used successfully when you don’t need movement.
A bit more expensive would be to put the crowd in digitally. The digital effects houses have gotten good at this, and often have libraries of crowds to choose from.
CL:How can the producer tell if it will be cheaper to build a set for certain scenes rather than shoot these scenes on location? How is budgeting for sets different from budgeting for a location, and how do you go about these two chores?
RLB:The only way to truly know which is cheaper is to budget it both ways, and this can be a complicated analysis, but there are rules of thumb. If you are going to be in a set for only a few days, it is probably cheaper to shoot it on location rather than build it. But if you can do it on a green screen stage and the VFX costs are reasonable, that may be the way to go. On the other hand, if you can repurpose another set you have built, it will probably be cheaper to shoot it on stage, even if you are only on the set for a few days. There are so many permutations and I haven’t even touched on production value and what the control a stage gives you is worth.
The two main differences in costs between stage sets and locations are construction costs and location costs. Stage cost will include stage rental, set construction, studio charges, and set striking. Location costs will include drivers, trucks, base camp expenses, catering (if you haven’t been catering on stage), site rentals, extras holding areas, and crew mileage. Neither of these is an exhaustive list.
CL: Assuming that a set would be the most cost efficient way to go in a given situation, how would the green producer go about finding someone to design and build the set (or sets)?
RLB: If you are making a union film, the union can give you lists of people who are available, and you can simply check their credits and ask the people they have worked with whether they would recommend them.
Another way would be to ask friends and colleagues who they like. An experienced unit production manager or a line producer would also be able to make some recommendations.
You can also check out who the art director or production designer was on films you thought had great art direction.
CL: Would this be any different for someone who was making a non-union film? How would one go about this chore under these circumstances?
RLB: Obviously, the unions would not be a source of assistance, but the other methods listed above would work as long as you stuck to the non-union pool of workers. A production manager or line producer who does mainly non-union films would be a great source of information. The non-union world has talented people at every level.
CL: Hollywood productions are known for making deals with various companies or brands in an effort to a.) raise capital for the production, and b.) obtain various props, set dressing, and other items. However, the low-budget producer won’t have the same contacts, and one would imagine that it might be more difficult to convince the company that a low-budget production is even worth their energy.
How would an independent producer go about obtaining permission from a major company? Let’s say that you want to use Coca-cola or Pepsi paraphernalia or signage in the background of a certain set. How would you go about gaining permission for this on a small budget?
RLB: A lot of both union and non-union prop masters and set decorators have those connections and can make those deals for you. If they don’t, they know of reps who do. Companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi have people who are dedicated to product placement.
The main hurdle in getting these deals is you have to convince the company that enough people will see your movie to make it worth the cost. I’ve been on low-budget movies that did very well in this area.
CL: Screenplays often have scenes or even lengthy sequences that take place in settings that are impossible to find and seem impossible to create (especially on a limited budget). What would the producer do if a screenplay has an important location that calls for elements that may very well exist but are difficult to locate and purchase?
As an example, let’s say that there are scenes set in a graveyard for old trolley cars. Perhaps wayward individuals or homeless characters have made themselves makeshift homes from these old trolleys. How would the producer find this kind of unusual necessity? You can’t go to a store or a flea market and hope to find a bunch of old trolley cars for sale! What’s more, how could they even begin to budget for such an unusual sequence?
RLB:I am always amazed at what can be found. There are people who collect or sell all kinds of strange things. In a Google search I just did, I found 15,700,000 results in 0.85 seconds including Trolley Brokers LLC in Estes, Colorado. If you’re not in Colorado, I’m sure you can find a broker near you.
The other way to go would be to have construction mockup a few trolley cars. For a resourceful art department, this is less expensive than you may think.
Film crews are incredibly resourceful. They will find a way.
CL:Let’s imagine that a producer decides on a script that takes place in the 1950s. There is a single protagonist, and this person is in every scene. However, each sequence plays out in a different setting, and most of the supporting characters are unique to each of these various settings. How should a producer with very little money approach the planning of such a production? How would a production like this differ from other projects?
RLB: First, I would shoot all the scenes in each setting before moving on to the next setting. That means I would be consolidating the workdays for the cast members in each of the settings, and I would not be carrying site rentals unnecessarily throughout the schedule.
I don’t think it would differ all that much from what I normally do. I always finish a set or location before moving on to a new set or location if it is at all possible. Sometimes you aren’t able to do that, but normally you can.
CL:How would one go about finding the vintage cars needed for such a production? Is it possible to budget for such items without simply guessing?
RLB:Again, there are classic car brokers all over the United States who have an amazing assortment of period vehicles. Another great source would be local vintage car clubs. I’m sure you’ve seen a restored Model T or similar vehicle driving down the street. You can be certain that the driver belongs to a classic car club. These folks are enthusiastic about putting their cars in movies.
CL:Are there any cost efficient ways of obtaining or creating an appropriate period wardrobe without breaking the bank?
RLB:Hire an experienced costume supervisor. I’ve seen a creative costume department take thrift store clothing and turn it into period costumes. As long as you don’t have big crowds, this can be cost effective. Depending on the period, you may be able to rent the costumes. There are costume houses around the country that have racks full of period clothes.
CL:Where would one find or create special props like newspapers containing specific story information, or weird items like a fake brand of cigarettes (like the Red Apple brand in Tarantino movies)? Obviously, studio films will have an art department at their disposal to create these items, but the low-budget independent producer might not have this particular luxury. How would you budget for these items when it is impossible to look up the price?
RLB: Newspapers can be printed at a local printer or mocked up by a graphic designer on a computer. The Red Apple brand cigarettes are a Tarantino trope. He had a graphic designer do the artwork and then printed the labels to put around available cigarette packages. However, if you want to do a low-budget movie, period isn’t the best choice.
Now, the secret of how I budget props and set dressing: I will put a figure in both props and set dressing accounts for purchases and rentals that I can afford based on my budget limitations. It shouldn’t be unreasonable, but it also shouldn’t be overly generous. When I hire the prop master and the set dresser, I ask them to do a budget of what they think the script calls for. They will always come back with a higher figure than I have in the budget. I then tell them what I have in the budget and ask them how they can get us to that figure. They will always step up to the challenge because they are professionals at their jobs. They may come back and say they can’t get it all the way down, but they can get it close. I then ask the director where we might cut to get us on budget. Making everyone part of the solution is usually successful.
CL:Music is another element discussed in the book. In the case of our hypothetical production, what would a producer need to do if they needed on-screen performances of a piece of music? Would it be cheaper to find someone to write new music that sounds like music from the era, or would it be cheaper to license the music? How will the on-screen nature of the music change the planning of a film? How might it complicate a production?
RLB:There are many bands and/or musicians that would really like to get their music on-screen. If you found a local group or performer that could write a piece for the scene, that would be ideal. You should pay them something, and my guess is that a low-budget production would be able to afford it.
Often hiring a talented but little-known composer as your music supervisor can get you a score and songs for the price of your music supervisor. There are no royalties on music written for hire. That same music supervisor might be able to find obscure music that fits the bill which you can license for a few hundred dollars. If you are not looking for well-known music from well-known performers, it can be done.
If the scene is of a person performing the music on-screen, it would be wise to prerecord the piece so that the music will be consistent from take to take. So, a prerecord session would be necessary in the budget. You will also have music playback costs for onset playback. That will entail an operator and a playback deck with speakers and possibly a click track if there is dialogue over the music.
As an example, in the ballroom dancing scene in Dracula: Dead and Loving It, we started each take with the music audible to everyone as the extras and cast members began dancing. Because there was dialogue that needed to be recorded, before the dialogue started, the music would be faded down and replaced by a track that had audible clicks in the tempo of the music to keep all the dancing extras and our principals true to the tempo of the music. The clicks would be filtered out in post, giving us a clean dialogue track. Again, all this must be planned, budgeted, and prepared for in advance.
“Hitchcock’s California: Vista Visions from the Camera Eye” celebrates (and re-creates) images that evoke scenes from many of the great director’s most famous films—including Notorious, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and a great many more classics. It was a labor of love for Robert Jones (the book’s primary creator) and a treat for Alfred Hitchcock’s fans. Jones’s excellent location photography is supplemented by photographs created by Aimee Sinclair that re-create memorable scenes from “Hitch’s” greatest movies and commentary by Dan Auiler (author of “Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic” and “Hitchcock’s Notebooks“).
Alfred Hitchcock Master is honored to have had the opportunity to talk to Robert Jones, Aimee Sinclair, and Dan Auiler about their incredible new book:
John Billheimer has written a book that seems long overdue. In Hitchcock and the Censors, he “traces the forces that led to the Production Code and describes Hitchcock’s interactions with code officials on a film-by-film basis as he fought to protect his creations, bargaining with code reviewers, and sidestepping censorship to produce a lifetime of memorable films. By examining Hitchcock’s priorities in dealing with the censors, this work highlights the director’s theories of suspense as well as his magician-like touch when negotiating with code officials.”
Billheimer has graciously agreed to discuss both his book and Alfred Hitchcock’s battle with censorship in this exclusive interview.
Joseph Breen headed the Production Code Administration until his failing health forced him to step down in 1954.
An analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s methodical use of comedy in his films is past due, and Hitchcock and Humor: Modes of Comedy in Twelve Defining Films helps to fill this void. The book examines what should be obvious: Hitchcock systematically incorporated assorted types of comedy—black humor, farce/screwball comedy, and romantic comedy—in his films to entertain his audience.
Alfred Hitchcock Master is honored to have had the opportunity to interview Wes Gehring about his work on the book, and we are proud to present it here for your reading enjoyment.
AHM: Could you describe Hitchcock and Humor for our readers? What makes this book stand out amongst the others in your opinion?
WG: As the back cover blurb suggests, in preparing for TCM’s 2017 online Hitchcock class, as one of the resident scholars, I was shocked…
Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II is the culmination of years of painstaking research by Robert Matzen. He conducted new interviews with people who knew Audrey Hepburn in the Netherlands, unearthed secret diaries, gained access to previously classified archives, and combed through decades of her own infrequent but revealing reminiscences in interviews. The resulting text contains a wealth of substantive proof of holes, errors, and inventions in every previous Audrey Hepburn biography that’s touched on her life during the war years.
Hepburn’s younger son, Luca Dotti, has given the book his enthusiastic endorsement and even wrote the book’s forward:
“When my mother talked about herself and what life taught her, Hollywood was the missing guest. Instead of naming famed Beverly Hills locations, she gave us obscure and sometimes unpronounceable Dutch ones. Red carpet recollections were replaced by Second World War episodes that she was able to transform into children’s tales. We knew we were missing the complete story of her life in the war—until Robert Matzen wrote to me introducing himself and his book, Dutch Girl. I now understand why the words Good and Evil, and Love and Mercy were so fundamental in her own narrative. Why she was open about certain facts and why she kept so many others in a secluded area of her being. Thank you, Robert Matzen.” –Luca Dotti (Forward, Dutch Girl)
It is no wonder that he has granted the book his blessing as it paints the vivid picture of a shy but brave young ballerina who overcame loss and survived starvation even as wartime violence surrounded her and her family. Her active (if modest) role in the Dutch Resistance only adds to one’s admiration of the actress who seemed to radiate kindness and sophistication in equal measure.
Robert Matzen has graciously agreed to sit down to discuss his new book and the immense impact that the Second World War had on one of the most beloved film icons of all time.
CL: Could you describe Dutch Girl for our readers and what your intentions were in writing such a book? It obviously has a radically different focus than other books about the actress’s life. What can readers expect?
RM: Great first question because it gives me a platform! When I started to get a sense of what Audrey had experienced in the war, I realized this would need to be a book about World War II, and about Audrey inside that global drama. It’s subtitled Audrey Hepburn and World War II for a reason. Readers can expect a war book as much as a biography because she was one small figure on a big stage. I guess in general I would advise any prospective reader to also be prepared for surprises in terms of narrative structure. I like to take some chances and keep readers on their toes, and I managed some of that in Dutch Girl.
CL:Dutch Girl is the third book in a trilogy of books that you have written about Hollywood legends during the Second World War. Was it always your intention to write three books, or did it simply happen to work out this way? How did you come upon the idea?
RM:Fireball, about Carole Lombard, started out as a one-off, and it was after Fireball’s release that a friend recommended that I write a book about Jimmy Stewart’s combat experiences in the war—something Stewart would never talk about. While researching what became Mission, I was in Arnhem in the Netherlands. I learned that Audrey had spent the war there and I thought that was interesting. I wanted to know what the war was like for her and tried to read up on it, but there was surprisingly little documentation about this angle anywhere, including in previous biographies. It seemed that if ever there was a topic for a book, this was it. And here we are. So no, I didn’t start out with a plan to create a “Hollywood in World War II” trilogy. It evolved.
CL: How was researching and writing Dutch Girl different from your experience developing Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe and Fireball: Carole Lombard & The Mystery of Flight 3?
RM:Fireball and Mission were largely the results of archival research—federal government files and other sets of files in the U.S. were supplemented by interviews and with boots-on-the-ground events like climbing a mountain or riding in WWII bombers. Dutch Girl involved a total effort in the Netherlands, primarily interviewing Audrey’s contemporaries in Arnhem and Velp—people who had survived the war with her as children or young people. Without the oral histories they provided, there would be no book. Another problem was that the documents I accessed in various archives were all written in Dutch so I took a crash course in the language and also hired a Dutch researcher named Maddie van Leenders. Why an enterprising Dutch writer didn’t tackle this topic 20 or 30 years ago I’ll never know. I feel crazy-lucky that I got to be the one. I should mention that I just learned of the passing of one of the people who helped with the book, Ben van Griethuysen, which saddens me deeply. Ben and the others provided oral histories of the war in Velp that would have been lost if they hadn’t been asked the right questions—the Dutch just don’t go around volunteering information. You have to almost pry it out of them.
CL: Are there any other challenges that you had to overcome in the process of writing the book? Could you discuss your process?
RM: Another big challenge beyond the location, language, and nature of the Dutch people was the fact that Audrey’s mother, Ella van Heemstra, had covered her tracks about pro-Nazi activities after the war, obscuring attempts to define her character. Because she was so central to Audrey’s life, that was a challenge that I had to overcome—and did, with the help of Luca Dotti, Audrey’s son.
Phase 1 involved tracking down everything Audrey said about the war, which gave me a framework of about 5,000 words. Phase 2 included many interviews with the Dutch and repeated visits to the city of Arnhem and village of Velp, walking in Audrey’s footsteps. I saw the places she lived, explored inside of the theater where she danced as Arnhem’s most famous ballerina, and walked the streets of Velp that were once her streets. Phase 3 was the writing, about ten months of it, and phase 4 was working with Audrey’s son Luca Dotti, who reviewed the rough manuscript and made corrections, provided total access to his family historical archives, and sat for interviews with me where he related stories his mother had told him about the war.
Finally the manuscript was vetted to a panel that included top historians and Dutch people I had interviewed. I feel the result is pretty water-tight in terms of accuracy.
CL: It was interesting (and surprising) to learn that Hepburn’s parents were both Nazi sympathizers before war broke out in Europe. How did this influence Hepburn, and what problems did this create for her?
RM: Her father Joseph Ruston was much more than a Nazi sympathizer—he was a full-fledged Nazi agent who spent the latter half of the 1930s gathering information and intelligence for the Germans in Western Europe and England. Audrey’s mother Ella was the true “sympathizer” and remained one for the first 18 months that Germany occupied the Netherlands. After the war when it came time for retribution against anything Nazi, Ella had a tough time during a long police investigation of her activities. Audrey never forgave her parents for their actions and it became a tremendous burden for her to keep her mother’s secrets about the war at a time when everyone wanted to know everything about Audrey Hepburn.
CL:Do you have a favorite Audrey Hepburn’s film?
RM: Full disclosure: I did not start out as an Audrey Hepburn fan, so I hadn’t seen many of her pictures. That said, Roman Holiday, no question. Audrey is so young and so fresh and natural, using those instincts she would always talk about because she hadn’t developed her acting career on the stage and learned classical style. She had survived the war by her wits and instincts and kept right on surviving in her Hollywood career. In Roman Holiday she’s just plain charming, with this innocence and goofy sense of humor she would always have. I could watch that sequence where she wakes up in Joe’s bed any time, and the conclusion where the princess has to give up the commoner of her dreams. It’s beautiful and heartfelt. I usually gravitate to upbeat pictures anyway, and Roman Holiday radiates pure charm and pure romance. My runner up would be her most important British picture from the pre-Hollywood days, Secret People. Her role is big and she also performs ballet. She looks so young in that picture, which was shot at the beginning of 1951, that it’s easy to imagine her on the stage in Arnhem during the war.
CL: The book discusses how the war left its mark on Hepburn. Do you feel like these experiences had any effect on her film performances?
RM: Wow, that’s another great question, and one I’ve been asked about Stewart but not about Hepburn. You look at the impact of the war on Jim and it directly translates to his rage-roles in It’s a Wonderful Life, Winchester 73, The Naked Spur, The Man from Laramie, and others. But Audrey didn’t channel energy the same way. I know she experienced deep sadness in the war and afterward but I believe she kept it locked away. I think her rawest performance was in the one closest to the war chronologically—Secret People, the one I just mentioned. It’s a tense, dark picture anyway and she’s excellent in it and it’s possible that she used her memories as motivation. I think some of the sadness can be seen in The Nun’s Story from 1959 and Robin and Marian, her comeback picture in 1976. But with Audrey, private was private and she refused to let anyone in to see what was locked away.
CL: Which of Hepburn’s unique qualities do you feel was the result of her experiences the war?
RM: Color-blind compassion. The war gave her a child’s-eye-view of things like suffering and hopelessness, and how to combat them. She saw refugees up close and the idea of a refugee didn’t harden her heart—it opened her heart. Up until the very end, that horrific Somalia trip, she felt there was nothing she couldn’t beat. She could find a silver lining in the blackest of clouds and rejoice in the smallest victories because she knew how important it was to maintain hope no matter how bad things were. That frail body kept moving forward until her dying day to combat the evils of war and its devastating impact on children.
CL:Dutch Girl discusses Hepburn’s deep personal reaction to Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Is it a coincidence that the cover of Dutch Girl reminds me of some of the covers that I have seen of Anne Frank? They don’t physically resemble one another, but there is something undefinable that is quite similar.
RM: Actually, I could write a book about that cover design and what it took to arrive at it. What a soap opera! I was told early on as merely the author to stay the heck out of the design process and that was a good move. The final design still blows me away when I see it and it wasn’t until you brought up the similarity with Anne Frank photos and cover designs that I stopped and thought, boy, yeah, there are similarities in look and feel. Audrey and Anne really were two peas in a pod in some ways, which is why I maintain Audrey felt no small amount of survivor’s guilt where Anne was concerned. The Green Police captured both of them during the war, but Audrey managed to escape, so one died in horrendous conditions, and the other lived to raise two sons and experience a glamorous and luxury-filled life. But then I wonder if that survivor’s guilt Audrey felt is what drove her to a dozen impoverished countries and war zones in the last five years of her life.
CL: Is there any chance that you might make your Hollywood in World War II trilogy into a tetralogy? For example, Alfred Hitchcock left Hollywood during the war to produce a pair of French propaganda shorts for the British Ministry of Information and also had a hand in a documentary about the concentration camps. Frank Capra also made a series of celebrated propaganda documentaries. I’m sure that the possibilities are endless. Are there more of these books gestating in your mind? If so, could you tell us about them?
RM: I had to go look up “tetralogy.” I know there are other stories I could tell with a Hollywood war theme. Leslie Howard, Glenn Miller, Ty Power in the Pacific, or I could explore the flip side and talk about the ones who didn’t serve. I guess anything’s possible. I do have one idea for a next book that would be dynamite—so much so that it’d be an easy idea to steal so I better keep it quiet. And this one, if it comes to fruition, would have little to do with World War II.
“Little Book of Audrey Hepburn” might be best described as a coffee table book in miniature. It would make a great end table book as it is perfect for casual browsing as it has plenty of attractive photos of the legend that is Audrey Hepburn. The text zeroes in on the iconic style of the actress and is a tribute to her timeless appeal.
Caroline Jones graciously agreed to sit down for an exclusive discussion about her book and Audrey Hepburn’s immortal appeal.
CL: Could you describe “The Little Book of Audrey Hepburn” for our readers? When and how did the idea for the book arise?
CJ: It’s really a style biography that takes you through the evolution of her unique look—from her early days as a ballet dancer to her iconic film roles. Although there have been many books on Audrey, I felt that no one had written about the way her life experiences and events had influenced her sartorial style in a chronological way.
CL: Were there any challenges in making it a reality?
CJ: Finding and getting permission to use some of the rarer pictures was sometimes a challenge.
CL: There are so many beautiful pictures of Hepburn throughout the pages of your book, but there were also thousands of photos available. How did you choose which photos should be included?
CJ: It was hard, as there are so many! But I tried to pick the ones that best told her style evolution—from chorus girl to leading lady.
CL: How did you first become interested in Audrey Hepburn?
CJ: When I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the first time at age 13. I was transfixed. She was the most stylish women I’d ever seen and I immediately wanted to be like her.
CL: What made her different from other legendary actresses of the era, and why do you feel that it is so timeless?
CJ: Today the Audrey ‘look’ is so sewn into the fabric of our consciousness that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary it was when she starred in 1953’s Roman Holiday. Audrey arrived with her elfin features, willowy frame, and preppy clothes at a time when being a star meant having exaggerated womanly curves—the sort of shapely figure belonging to the pin-ups Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. Audrey’s signature look was boyish yet feminine, independent yet sexy, and modern yet somehow timeless. As a result it still looks fresh today.
To quote Billy Wilder (who directed the breakout star in Sabrina): “After so many drive-in waitresses becoming movie stars, there has been this real drought, when along comes class. She may be a wispy, thin little thing, but when you see that girl, you know you’re really in the presence of something. It’s a rare quality, but boy do you know when you’ve found it.”
CL: The book discusses Hepburn’s legendary association with Hubert de Givenchy. What was it about his designs that made this such a fruitful collaboration?
CJ: Givenchy instinctively understood Audrey’s body shape and what suited her willowy frame—the measurements of which he often stated stayed the same throughout her life: 32-20-35. Givenchy’s structured gowns and coats perfectly showed off these tiny proportions, directing your eyes to her narrow waist and slim upper torso. But it was a symbiotic relationship, and he understood the unique quality she could add to his designs while elevating the good to the fabulous. Givenchy described this thus: “She gave a life to the clothes—she had a way of installing herself in them that I have seen in no one else since… Something magic happened. Suddenly she felt good. You could feel her excitement, her joy.”
CL: Which of her films best captures her fashion sensibilities?
CJ: Breakfast at Tiffanys, My Fair Lady, and Charade are my three favorite movies when it comes to the outfits. Each is very different in feel and style, but all demonstrate a key phase of her fashion life—and her ability to evolve.
CL: Are these films your favorites or do you prefer one of the others? Which film stands as your personal favorite, and why does this film win out over the others?
CJ: Sabrina is actually my favorite, as it was one of the first times I saw her wear ballet flat with capri pants. Such a classic look that people still want to copy now.
CL: I subscribe to a number of fashion magazines, and it is difficult to distinguish one cover from the next. The photography simply doesn’t seem nearly as iconic as those which graced the pages of periodicals in Hepburn’s heyday. It seems to me that a truly iconic cover is extremely rare. What do you think changed? Why are images of the stars of yesteryear more expressive and memorable than those today?
CJ: Fashion was a slower and more thoughtful process in those days. Dresses and outfits were more carefully planned and created. Things move so quickly in today’s ‘fast fashion’ society. Fabrics are cheap, throw away, and not intended to last as long as they were back then. Although Audrey’s style evolved, it didn’t change fundamentally. She had her own unique look that didn’t take into account the current fashions of the day. That’s what made her an icon.
As her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer said: “If there was timelessness, it was because she believed in quality. And if she is still an icon of style today, it’s because once she found her look, she stayed with it throughout her life.”
Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series meticulously examines John Carpenter’s original classic in an effort to determine the qualities that made the film an enduring classic. He then dissects each of the film’s sequels comparing their various elements to those in the original film to determine why these films never quite lived up to the original. As a result, the resulting text is an illuminating read that should be required reading for anyone who works on any of the following sequels from this point forward. It should literally be a contractual obligation. Fans of the series will also want to add it to their collections as the pages are packed with information and plenty of visual stimulation (there are over 200 full-color photos throughout the length of the book).
Ernie Magnotta (the book’s author) kindly agreed to give us his thoughts on the iconic Halloween series and fills us in on what can be expected from his new book.
CL: It is somewhat difficult to believe that a book about this immensely popular film series hadn’t been published before your book was released in October. There isn’t even a book about the making of the original film available. What gave you the idea for this comprehensive dissection of the series?
EM: In 2013, I was writing for a handful of retro film magazines and, one day, I made a list of ideas for future articles. I hate rehashing what has already been written/said, which is why I didn’t do a “making of the Halloween series” book. This material has been covered on all the DVD/Blu-ray releases. Comparing Halloween’s filmmaking techniques to those of the sequels seemed like something that hadn’t been done before. However, I quickly realized that this idea was too big for an article and would have to be done as a book. I felt qualified to write it because I’ve studied filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts in New York and have spent decades trying to figure out exactly what made that great film the classic that it is.
CL: Could you describe “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series” for our readers and what your intentions were in writing such a book?
EM: The book goes into great detail about each major filmmaking technique of the original Halloween—cinematography, direction & composition, story, characters music, suspense, theme, etc.—and then each sequel is given its own chapter where I discuss how these techniques were used incorrectly (as well as correctly) in order to show why the sequels have never been able to match the original film. In the concluding chapter, I talk about the elements that I believe would make a solid sequel to the original. Besides wanting to create an interesting read, I was honestly hoping that my book might help to make future sequels even better than the sequels we already have.
CL: What were the biggest challenges in making it a reality?
EM: There was just a lot of material to cover. I mean a lot. I knew it wouldn’t be a breeze, but I didn’t think it would take me five years to write. I had planned on releasing it no later than 2016, and actually thought I might have it out in 2015. (Laughs) Silly me.
CL: John Carpenter’s original Halloween is one of my favorite horror films and is unquestionably the ultimate film of its kind. What set this film apart from those that came before it?
EM: At the time of Halloween’s release, many horror films were either somewhat shoddy, low-budget jobs which were quickly forgotten by most or big-budget Hollywood films with major stars and stunning special effects like The Exorcist, Jaws, and The Omen.
Halloween proved that you didn’t need a large budget, big-name stars, or elaborate special effects to make an effective and beautiful-looking horror film. Amongst other things, the low budget wonder contained a simple, engaging premise, solid (but mostly unknown) actors, and an extremely talented writer/director familiar with the filmmaking techniques from the golden age of Hollywood.
CL: You mentioned before that the sequels never lived up to the original. Have any of them come close?
EM: In my opinion, the only sequel that comes close to the original film is 1981’s Halloween II. It has its problems, but it’s the closest in style and scares to the ’78 classic mainly due to most of the original cast and crew returning; especially cinematographer Dean Cundey and, of course, John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Director Rick Rosenthal’s mimicking of Carpenter’s directorial style also helps quite a bit.
CL: How does the Halloween series differ from other popular horror franchises?
EM: Although some of the sequels have their fair share of gore, the Halloween series is thought of, first and foremost, as films of suspense and scares unlike, say, the Friday the 13th series which has become synonymous with bloody special effects. I believe that suspense, fun scares, suggestion, and mood separate the series from other horror franchises that go for more in-your-face violence and gore.
CL: You decided not to include a chapter about Halloween III and chose instead to focus only on the films that focus on Michael Myers. What was your reasoning behind this choice and what are your thoughts and opinions about that film?
EM: The only things that Halloween and Halloween III share are their titles and that their stories take place on Halloween night. They are two completely different films, so it would make no sense to compare them. That being said, I love Halloween III. I think it’s a terrific film and that Tommy Lee Wallace did a superb job directing it. If it wasn’t for the title everyone would love this movie and it would be considered a classic today. I actually believe that it’s better than all the Myers sequels that followed it.
CL: It is interesting that the films in this particular franchise actually offers fans a choice of timelines (or continuing stories). What are your thoughts and preferences as to the various timelines offered?
EM: I don’t like that the series keeps starting over. It annoys me and I think that it annoys a lot of viewers. It’s no secret that I love the first two films. I liked Halloween 4, but they had complicated the simplicity of the original way too much by H6. H20 and Resurrection were a little too Hollywood/Dawson’s Creek for my tastes. I actually like Rob Zombie’s remake, but would have preferred that he had changed the names, locations, etc. and made that film as his own original slasher movie rather than as a Halloween remake.
CL: I actually had those very same thoughts about the Zombie remake, although I didn’t really love it as I’m not a fan of most of Rob Zombie’s work. Your annoyance with the various timelines makes me wonder what you thought of the recent sequel reboot by David Gordon Green. What did you think of the title? Did you enjoy the new score by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies? How does it differ from John Carpenter’s original classic?
EM: I was pretty excited about seeing this film, but I have to admit that I was let down. I expected a lot more from it. I would have preferred a different title. This wasn’t a remake. It was a sequel to the original film, so it shouldn’t have been titled Halloween. I did enjoy the score. I loved hearing the “Halloween Theme” as well as “The Shape Stalks.” My only complaint is that we didn’t get some of the other classic Carpenter themes from the original film; mainly “Laurie’s Theme.” The main way that the film differs from Carpenter’s original is that it wasn’t very scary. Carpenter’s Halloween was terrifying, and the new film had very few scares. Also, although the Shape went back to being a random killer and a force of evil, some of his other traits were either missing or were changed. For example, when he first arrives in Haddonfield he kills a few people in a matter of minutes. The Shape of the original film took his time and watched and played with his victims for quite a while before the kill.
CL: The title annoys me beyond words. I did think that Jamie Lee Curtis gave a wonderful performance, and this brings me to my next question. Which is your favorite of the slasher films that Jamie Lee Curtis starred in following Halloween (not counting Halloween II or H20)? Why do you prefer this one over the other?
That’s not an easy question to answer. I dearly love the original slasher cycle of the early 80s. Not counting Halloween and Halloween II, there are really only two slasher films which feature Jamie Lee; Prom Night and Terror Train. I don’t count The Fog or Road Games because, although both are excellent, they aren’t really slasher films. The Fog is a ghost story and Road Games is a Hitchcockian thriller. (By the way, if anyone reading this hasn’t seen Road Games, I highly recommend it.) Of the two, I’d have to pick Prom Night. I honestly don’t know the reason why, because I also love Terror Train. Maybe it’s the familiar school setting or the wonderful soundtrack (created in only a few days by Paul Zaza). It could be the killer’s eerie whispering voice which reminds me of Italian gialli films. Of course, there’s the always likable Jamie Lee. I don’t know the exact reason, but I seem to like Prom Night more than Terror Train. Not by much, though.
CL: You discussed Halloween II as the best sequel of the series. Are there any others that you admire more than the others? Which is your least favorite?
EM: After Halloween II, I consider Halloween 4 to be the best sequel involving Michael. Like H2, it has its problems, but director Dwight Little really tried to be respectful to the original and he succeeded quite a bit; most notably by going for pure suspense and scares over gore. Also, the writing was extremely solid; especially the characters of Jamie Lloyd and Rachel Carruthers. Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell were excellent in these roles. And we have the return of the great Donald Pleasence as our beloved Dr. Sam Loomis.
My least favorite Halloween film would probably be Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. The reason for this is because it seems like the writer/director went out of his way to not make a Halloween film. Michael is barely in costume, Laurie and Loomis both die, there is no Halloween music (until the end credits), etc. Although extremely interesting, it’s also a very depressing film which, again, is the exact opposite of the fun original as well as the rest of the series.
CL: What do you think the future holds for the iconic series?
EM: That’s hard to say. I think a huge problem is that for the past twenty years the series has been distributed by major Hollywood studios Dimension and Miramax. These studios seem like they want to make each Halloween sequel a big budget blockbuster event mainly by having big name stars attached to them. In 1998, H20 ignored the previous three sequels in order to bring Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie Strode. The original film was remade in 2007 with superstar Rob Zombie directing.
None of the sequels are not supposed to exist in the newest film. [It] continues on from the classic original with John Carpenter as executive producer and Jamie Lee returning as Laurie once again. Although exciting, I think this is a mistake. The studios are concentrating too much on star power. They forget that even though the original Halloween became a phenomenon, it was still a low budget film with only Donald Pleasence as its “name” value. (Donald was certainly well-known, but he wasn’t a “hot” [and] “in demand” star in 1978.) A huge part of Halloween’s success came from intelligent and masterful filmmaking techniques.
I love Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode but I honestly think that the actress and the character should not appear in any more Halloween films, because there’s nowhere left to go with Laurie. To be honest, she shouldn’t have come back for the 2018 film. Think about it. Didn’t we pretty much see most of this twenty years earlier in H20? The only reason I am glad that Jamie/Laurie came back for the new sequel is that the character was much better written in this film than she was in H20. Jamie was excellent in the role (which is no big shock to anyone).
But to answer your question, I’m not sure what the future holds for the Halloween series. If it were up to me, I would concentrate less on hype [and] adding name stars and more on making an effectively scary film using the excellent filmmaking techniques of John Carpenter’s original.
Interview by: Devon Powell
Autographed copies of “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series” can be purchased at the book’s Official Website and normal copies are available on Amazon.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve read or what you may have heard about the importance of Alfred Hitchcock’s collaboration with Grace Kelly. Ingrid Bergman’s place in the master’s legacy is every bit as important and possibly even more interesting. Needless to say, any book examining her work is worth reading for fans of the director as well as for those who admire this incredible actress.
In “The Essential Films of Ingrid Bergman,” Constantine Santas and James Wilson look at what they consider her most notable performances (and they had plenty to choose from). Her career began in Sweden in the 1930s and lasted until the year of her death in 1982, but this text focuses on the 21 films that they consider her most noteworthy. Special attention is paid to those aspects of her acting that made her stand…
From his early days as a director in the 1920s to his heyday as the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock had a complicated and controversial relationship with his leading ladies. He supervised their hair, their makeup, their wardrobe, and pushed them to create his perfect vision onscreen. These women were often style icons in their own right, and the clothes that they wore imbued the films with contemporary glamor.
Quite a lot has been written over the past few decades regarding Alfred Hitchcock’s use of women in his films—some of it from a scholarly or theoretical standpoint and some of it from a sensationalized tabloid angle that only serves to muddy the waters of responsible scholarship. However, it must be said that this new Insight Editions release of Caroline Young’s Hitchcock’s Heroines doesn’t quite fall into either…