Categories
Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema

Book Interview: Dressing Up the Stars — The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Dressing Up The Stars - Cover

Publisher: Beach Lane Books

Release Date: September 20, 2022

Jeanne Walker Harvey

A Conversation with Jeanne Walker Harvey

Beach Lane Books is about to release an unusual new children’s book entitled “Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head.” The book (which is recommended for young people aged 3-8) was written by Jeanne Walker Harvey and illustrated by Diana Toledano.

Harvey studied literature and psychology at Stanford University and has worn many job hats, ranging from being a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney, a middle school language arts teacher, and a long-time docent for school groups at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is the author of several other books for young readers, including the picture book biographies “Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas,” and “Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines.” Jeanne lives in Northern…

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Filmmakers

Book Interview: David Fincher — Mind Games

David Fincher - Mind Games

Publisher: Abrams Books

Release Date: November 23, 2021

A Conversation with Adam Nayman

David Fincher: Mind Games” is the third in a series of three books (The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks are the other two) that focuses on various contemporary auteurs. His latest is the most significant book currently available that offers any sort of “definitive critical and visual survey of the incredible works” of David Fincher. It discusses each of his features — including Alien 3, Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and Mank — but also discusses other works such as various commercials, music videos, and especially House of Cards and Mindhunter. Each chapter weaves production history with original critical analysis and is beautifully illustrated with behind-the-scenes photography, still-frames, and original illustrations. Better yet, Mind Games also features interviews with Fincher’s frequent collaborators — including Jeff Cronenweth, Angus Wall, Laray Mayfield, Holt McCallany, Howard Shore and Erik Messerschmidt. One of the more interesting aspects of this text is that Adam Nayman eschews a chronological approach in favor of grouping Fincher’s films around “themes of procedure, imprisonment, paranoia, prestige, and relationship dynamics.” The marketing materials claim that the book is “styled as an investigation into a filmmaker obsessed with investigation,” and that is a pretty deft way to sum it up. The director’s fanbase is certain to find the book an essential addition to their bookshelves.

In addition to The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together and Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, Adam Nayman is a contributing editor to Cinema Scope. Needless to say, we are honored that he agreed to discuss this excellent new book with us.

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CL: Thanks for taking the time to discuss your new book with us during these busy days! Could you tell us how it all began for you? When did you first become interested in cinema, and how did you begin writing about it?

AN: I grew up in a household filled with books by Pauline Kael. My mother Evelyne is a movie fan and instilled a passion for cinema as well as for cinema appreciation. By the time I was eleven or twelve, I’d inhaled a decade’s worth of Roger Ebert ‘Movie Yearbooks’ and moved on to Danny Peary’s ‘Cult Movies’ guides. I also picked up used copies of ‘Midnight Movies’ and ‘Cronenberg on Cronenberg’ and started trying to write my own reviews, diaristically, but in a similar vein. In seventh grade, I convinced my teacher to let me do a collection of movie reviews as an independent assignment and turned it in with pride. She couldn’t believe how many of the movies in there were things she hadn’t seen or heard of. In high school, I volunteered to review movies for my school paper and did the same in university, after which I bridged into professional work.

CL: You’ve written about so many different directors. Does any particular filmmaker stand out as your favorite of all time? Who has made the biggest impression on you?

AN: I think the answer to that question changes over time, but it’s not as if each new candidate cancels out their predecessor. The first movie to completely hold me in any kind of thoughtful, grown-up way was The Manchurian Candidate, and the way John Frankenheimer synthesized horror and drama with satire made an indelible impression on me. I’m always interested in anything that feels hallucinatory in the same purposeful, deconstructable way. After that, in my teens, I think the filmmakers who captured my imagination most were the ones who went to different kinds of extremes — not only Lynch and Cronenberg (who offered illicit, intellectual stimulation) but also long, slow, spacious minimalism: I cottoned on to Tarkovsky and Tarr. My favorite living, working filmmaker is Claire Denis, for her boldness and refusal of categories, and obviously I’m fond of the directors I’ve written books on as well — the Coens most of all, for some of the same reasons I loved The Manchurian Candidate (and I wish they would remake it).

CL: Is there a single film that is of special importance for you?

AN: The answer to this question will always be Jaws. The reasons are pretty much self-evident, but one bit of context I’ll offer is that it was the first time I remember my mother hesitating before letting me watch something; that little hesitation, and the excitement of her going through with it as the cassette slid into the VCR, is one of the great memories of my childhood.

CL: Those paying attention might notice that this new book about David Fincher follows two similar volumes about the work of various auteurs. How was this series born — or were these books even conceived of as a series? How do you choose which filmmakers to cover?

AN: The Coens book came out of a very spontaneous and fortunate series of circumstances made possible by my connection to the UK film magazine “Little White Lies.” The series was born out of a relationship between LWL and the US publisher Abrams, specifically between two guys in London — David Jenkins and Clive Wilson — and an editor in New York named Eric Klopfer. The concept was always a kind of thorough, essayistic “auteurist” overview that melded big-format pictorial criticism. While it took a while to figure out the flow, the layout, and the relationships between images and text, it came together really well, and did really well. The Anderson book was a logical sequel that constituted a challenge insofar as I’m more ambivalent about the filmmaker — a fan, for sure, but with reservations that I don’t have about the Coens. Fincher represents an even deeper level of ambivalence, which means that the books keep getting harder even though certain features of the format — and the workflow — are the same.

CL:  That’s interesting because each of the books inspire an enthusiastic appreciation for the filmmakers and their work. How do these volumes differ from similar books?

AN: That’s not for me to say, although if you read them carefully, you’ll see how much I try to acknowledge, cite and build upon existing criticism and reception. I always read a lot of books — and articles, and press kits, and blog posts, and so on — before I write, and also as I’m writing, and as I’m editing.

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CL: How does David Fincher stand apart from his contemporaries, and what are the qualities that define him as an artist?

AN: He’s a brilliant technician, and I think there’s a tension between his adroitness with a certain kind of imagery — sleek, cool, edgy, seductiveness—and the cautionary themes of the scripts he works with. So many of his movies are about iconcolastic confidence men in a marketplace of ideas: his serial killers and cult figureheads are all trying to promote ideology through mass media forms. Given Fincher’s background in advertising, these narratives can’t help but feel double-edged, and trying to locate the relationship between his showmanship and his worldview — where they align, where they diverge, and whether they contradict one another in helpless or productive ways — is what the book is about.

CL: Do you have a favorite David Fincher film?

AN: I think Zodiac is an almost perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, and edited movie that is then somehow more than the sum of its parts — more than almost perfect, I guess, and probably better even than a “perfect” movie insofar as its little flaws and frustrations place the brilliant bits in context. I think it’s one of the richest, densest, and most re-watchable American movies ever made.

CL: I agree completely. It might be my Fincher-favorite as well. I find that my appreciation for it only grows with each viewing, and I always see something new. I experience it differently every time that I watch it.

This new volume is structured differently than a lot of similar career-spanning volumes as most tend to discuss films in a chronological manner. Could you discuss the structure of “Mind Games,” and tell us why you decided to present the information in this manner?

AN: I experimented with a non-chronological approach in my PTA book, and thought Fincher lent himself well to a dossier approach: different tendencies and themes, enumerated and filed like a psychological profile. So those themes/topics were: procedural structure; entrapment; paranoia; an existential relationship to history and time; a satirical relationship to gender and romance. The connections go in other directions as well, of course, but this arrangement seemed to make sense and helped me elide clichés about his career. The exception to the structure was Mank, which got stuck in at the end as a kind of bookend — a way of beginning and ending in a present tense.

CL: Have any aspects of Fincher’s work changed or evolved throughout his career?

AN: He’s somehow become simultaneously speedier and more contemplative: notwithstanding the odd ricketiness of Mank, he’s a filmmaker who locates clarity in momentum. I don’t think of the early films as being especially fast no matter how intricately they were edited. Now, he just powers through everything – narrative, character development, world-building, set-ups payoffs. The sheer amount of information (and data) that is still conveyed — lucidly — by this approach strikes me as remarkable. In other ways, he’s very much the same director he was at the beginning, and the juvenile or playful elements of the first movies still work in the context of his style, but they’re also more purposeful and refined. Seven is a movie that works brilliantly in a pulp-fiction context; Gone Girl is sort of about that pulp fiction context, without sacrificing entertainment value or craftsmanship.

CL: Were there any unique challenges to covering the career of David Fincher that you didn’t face when writing about other artists?

AN: Just trying to find a language to describe such a clean, precise, lucid aesthetic, and to sidestep the clichés around his reputation — to say something that’s not simply about perfectionism, or control, or confidence, etc.

CL:  Do you have a favorite out of the books that you have written so far?

AN: I’ve never been happier than I was after finishing my first book for ECW Press, about Showgirls: that felt like a victory over something.

CL: Can readers expect similar volumes on other auteurs in the future?

AN: One can only hope.

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Categories
"Making of" Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Interview: Guillermo Del Toro — The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work

Guillermo del Toro - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work - Cover Artwork

Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: November 09, 2021

A Conversation with Ian Nathan

Ian Nathan’s wonderful “Iconic Filmmakers” series is continued with this lovely coffee table-style book about the work of Guillermo Del Toro. Those who have already discovered this wonderful series of coffee table books know that they can expect a “complete and intimate study of the life and work of one of modern cinema’s most truly unique directors, whose distinct aesthetic and imagination are unmatched in contemporary film” as Nathan “charts the progression of a career that has produced some of contemporary cinema’s most revered scenes and idiosyncratic characters. This detailed examination looks at how the strands of Del Toro’s career have woven together to create one of modern cinema’s most ground-breaking bodies of work.” The book is an excellent blend of career biography, production information, and analysis that attempts to delve into the director’s psyche. “The book starts by examining his beginnings in Mexico, the creative but isolated child surrounded by ornate Catholicism and monster magazines, filming stop motion battles between his toys on a Super-8 film camera” before following him through film school and eventually into the productions of some of cinemas most unique films.  The book is illustrated with rich and alluring production photographs, and thematic illustrations that enhance Nathan’s text. There is even an eight-page “gatefold section” that offers a career timeline.

The books author, Ian Nathan, lives and works in London as one of the UK’s best-known film writers. He is the author of nine previous books — including Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth, Alien VaultTerminator Vault, and the other books in his “Iconic Filmmakers” series (which includes volumes on Tim Burton, The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson). He is the former editor and executive editor of Empire, the world’s biggest movie magazine, where he remains a contributing editor. He also regularly contributes to The TimesThe IndependentThe Mail on SundayCahiers Du Cinema, and the Discovering Film documentary series on Sky Arts. Needless to say, we are honored to have an opportunity to discuss this new volume with the author.

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CL: First of all, I would just like to thank you for sitting down to answer a few questions about this excellent series of volumes about contemporary “Iconic Filmmakers.” Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first begin your career as a writer?

IN: This is a long story. The key moment really came as a student, when I was given the entertainment desk on the university newspaper. I had always loved film, almost to an obsessive level, but the chance to express my opinion about what I had seen was transformative – it was a real road to Damascus event, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Then a montage: local newspapers, freelance writing, getting into magazines, joining the staff of Empire (Europe’s biggest film magazine), rising within the ranks to editor. And then, years later, books…

CL: I’m curious as to who you would choose as your favorite filmmaker of all time. Who has made the biggest impression on you as a cinephile?

IN: This is so hard. I’m married to the sheer variety that cinema offers, but I’ll cheat and pick two (out of the multitudes). Billy Wilder managed to squeeze such darkness into his comedies and such life into his dramas. The Apartment is a masterpiece. And the films of the Coen brothers endlessly intrigue me. Every time I return to the likes of Miller’s Crossing or Barton Fink or Fargo, they offer something new.

CL: If the world was burning and you had a chance to save one single film, which film would you rescue from destruction?

IN: One film? Out of all of them? You are cruel. But the world is burning, so I’m going to grab Blade Runner. It has haunted me since the day I saw it in the cinema, aged 12, and I couldn’t imagine not returning to its dystopian embrace.

CL: How was the “Iconic Filmmakers” series was born, and how do you choose which filmmakers to cover for the series?

IN: Well, I had written a couple of books for the publisher, and we got into a discussion about potential books on directors. At that stage, it was picking a director I might want to write about and what might be appealing to a potential readership. Out of that came Tim Burton, and the series was underway. Each choice comes via a mix of things: my passion, a director with a cult following, and a fitting visual palate so the book will look good. (I always joke that you should be able to hang an “esque” on the end of their names: Burtonesque or Tarantinoesque.) Market forces come into play. It is always a discussion with the publisher about what might sell. If the chosen subject has a forthcoming project, so much the better.

CL:  How do the volumes in this series differ from similar books that focus on a particular filmmaker’s work?

IN: Well, the “Iconic” element of the title is important. As I mentioned, the director has to have a personality that inspires a following. It isn’t simply about successful directors. It’s about those who have reshaped the world of film, who have the capacity to surprise us, while having a very distinctive style, ready to be deciphered. You know when you’re watching a film by Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, or Wes Anderson.

CL:  Do you have a favorite out of the books that you have written so far — particularly out of those in the series?

IN: You’re asking me to choose between my children. In terms of the series, each has brought its own pleasures and challenges. It’s never easy to sum up the work of iconic directors. Out of them all, both the Wes Anderson and the Del Toro books feel like I have cracked something of the mystery. Outside of the Iconic Filmmakers series, I’m very proud of a book I wrote on Ridley Scott, plus a more recent tome, The Coppolas: A Movie Dynasty.

CL: How does Guillermo Del Toro stand apart from his contemporaries, and what are the qualities that define him as an artist?

IN: Wow, you could say I’ve written an entire book on this very subject! I’ll try and boil it down. What I love about his work is that he has become a hugely successful Hollywood filmmaker without ever relinquishing his Mexican heart. In fact, that passion and exoticism is what has allowed him to thrive. He is tuned to a more primal part of storytelling — the myths and legends on which the world turn. Fairy-tales are his medium, and he understands how they convey great meaning about the human heart. No one has used fantasy quite as he has done. While he has only made one film on home soil, he still draws deep on the Mexican mix of religion and mysticism. He is also one of the last great physical filmmakers, building sets and props and mechanical creatures to maintain that tactile richness to his creations.

CL: Do you have a favorite Del Toro film?

IN: It’s interesting. Before I begin these books, I write out my order of preference for the films of the director in question. Then once I’ve finished, I do it again to see if the order has changed. And it always does. Hellboy and Cronos moved up in my estimation, but my favourites remained the same. Depending on how I’m feeling it’s either Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. I think Del Toro might agree.

CL: Were there any unique challenges to covering the career of Guillermo Del Toro that you didn’t face when writing about other artists?

IN: The biggest challenge was sifting through the sheer volume of material that Del Toro presents to the movie archeologist. He is an extraordinary voice on his own work – like a living biography, which is thrilling. Indeed, he has discussed his films in such depth, noting the many references, that the book could have been three times the length. I say it in the book, he could have been a great critic. Interviewing him is like standing in a waterfall, but that can feel overwhelming at times. Wrestling the story into shape was tough.

CL: The book discusses a number of “unborn films” — or projects that Del Toro was forced to abandon. Which of these films would you most like to see receive a future greenlight?

IN: I know that most would opt for the curiosity of what Del Toro’s Hobbit films might have been like or the icy magnitude of his beloved Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness, but I would choose The Left Hand of Darkness. This was Del Toro’s Mexican spin on The Count of Monte Cristo — a  hugely important book to him — that in his hands would have been transformed into a gothic Western. I’ve read the script, and while there are bizarre and wonderful steampunk elements, it stays true to the roots of its genre. And being set in the country of his birth, it would have been both epic and personal.

CL:  Do you believe that the director’s approach to creature design is different from other filmmakers? What sets his creations apart from those found in other films?

IN: I do, very much so. Given his process of storytelling begins with design, sketching out his creatures and annotating them in his fabulous, leather-bound notebooks (themselves a trove of del Toro lore), there is something highly individual about the look and feel of his creatures. They are rarely there simply to frighten us (though often they do). They possess a physicality — he avoids CGI if possible — and embody the themes of his stories. You can tell his heart is with the beasts, maybe he sees himself in them. The aquatic man of The Shape of Water is his leading man! It is the humans who are more often the true monsters.

CL: Which of the director’s iconic monsters is your personal favorite?

IN: Wow, there are so many: the insects in Mimic, the great kaiju of Pacific Rim, half the cast of Hellboy. Since you’ve cornered me, I will opt for a creature that has so much presence, he’s truly unforgettable. The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth leans toward the terrifying, with his eyeballs on the plate in front of him, ready to be inserted into the palms of his hands, but del Toro also saw him as a vision of the rich and corrupt in Spain doing nothing as the masses starve. Note how he lords it over the feast, and we cross cut with the dinner table of the wealthy locals and the fascist captain.

CL: The Pale Man is my personal favorite as well. Can readers expect future volumes in the series?

IN: They certainly can. I’m not permitted to reveal too much at this stage, suffice to say that I am well underway on the next book in the series. The director in question presents very different challenges to previous subjects. I’ll give you a single word: “cerebral.” It’s always interesting how much the personality and films of the individual shapes the book in question. This book will look and feel very different to previous entries, but, boy, will it be gorgeous. Let the guessing game commence.

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Categories
Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema Directing

Book Interview: The Camera Lies – Acting For Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock Master

TCL - Cover

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Release Date: September 01, 2020

A Conversation with Dan Callahan

“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…

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Categories
Low Budget Filmmaking Producing

Book Interview: Planning the Low-Budget Film (Second Edition)

Planning the Low-Budget Film - Cover

Publisher: Chalk Hill Books

Release Date: August 01, 2013

Robin Hood Men In Tights - RLB + Camera cropped
Robert Latham Brown sets up a shot for Robin Hood: Men in Tights: “I was setting up the foreground miniature shot of the cliffs of Dover (actually Paradise Cove in Malibu) with ‘England’ displayed along the top of the cliff.”

A Conversation with Robert Latham Brown

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.

Chucky and Me
This photograph finds Robert Latham Brown on the set of Child’s Play 3: “It was taken on a set we had built on the ‘Phantom Stage’ (stage 27) at Universal Studios.”

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.

THE THING Ice Block CROPPED
“This was a photo from The Thing was taken to use as the prop photo that Kurt Russell finds in the burned out Norwegian camp. It was taken on a stage at Universal Studios. The people from left to right are Dick Warlock (stunt coordinator), an unknown special effects tech, Larry Franco (1st assistant director), David Foster (producer), me [Robert Latham Brown], and another unknown special effects tech.”
Categories
Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Interview: Hitchcock’s California – Vista Visions from the Camera Eye

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Hitchcock's California (Small Cropped)

Publisher: Middlebrow Books

Release Date: March 29, 2020 (Tentative)

Robert Jones (Small) Robert Jones

A Conversation with Robert Jones

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:

AHM: How…

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Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema Directing Filmmakers

Book Interview: Hitchcock and the Censors

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Hitchcock and the Censors - Cover

Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky

Release Date: June 14, 2019

A Conversation with John Billheimer

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 Joseph Breen headed the Production Code Administration until his failing health forced him to step down in 1954.

AHM: Would you tell us about your new book? How…

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Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema

Book Interview: Hitchcock and Humor

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Hitchcock and Humor Cover.jpg

Publisher: McFarland

Release Date: April 23, 2019

A Conversation with Wes D. Gehring

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.

Alfred Hitchock Being A Big Goof (18)

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…

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Categories
Classic Cinema

Book Interview: Dutch Girl – Audrey Hepburn and World War II

Dutch Girl Cover.jpg

Publisher: GoodKnight Books

Release Date: April 15, 2019

A Conversation with Robert Matzen

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.

Young Audrey Hepburn (14).jpg

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.

Interview by: Devon Powell

Categories
Classic Cinema

Book Interview: Little Book of Audrey Hepburn

03. Cover

Publisher: Carlton Publishing Group

Release Date: April 01, 2019

A Conversation with Caroline Jones

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.

Interview by: Devon Powell