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“Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet

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Chapter 1. The Director

Lumet chooses to shot movies for various reasons. The most obvious reasons are earning money on that and keeping busy. He decides to do a movie if he is impressed with a good script, even though he does not always know in advance what exactly impresses him. Lumet also mentions his desire to get through his “color block” with the help of Carlo Di Palma, a photographer as one of the reasons that moved him towards doing a movie.

It is significant for Lumet to discover the theme of a film he is going to make because the important condition is that this theme should have some personal meaning to him. Otherwise, he would not be stimulated, and it would be much more exhausting to work on it. A theme determines the style, casting, editing, music, how a movie will be mixed, how the titles will look, and how it finally will be released.

The most time-consuming and expensive part of movie-making is lighting. Lumet states that a relighting may take up to two hours; that is why he stresses the importance of planning before shooting scenes. This really helps to save time and money.

When shooting the film 12 Angry Men, Lumet had a very small budget so his first aim was to save on using lighting. They had to shoot a movie using different light conditions: normal light only, light with rain clouds gathering, and overhead light. It was too expensive to change the lighting; that is why it influenced camera set-ups too. They had to shoot all the scenes they had in each direction; as a result, the same episode could be shot with an interval of 7-8 days. It was necessary for Lumet to remember the emotions he wanted to show in each scene; that is where his planning helped most.

Chapter 2. The Script

The phrase “Dialogue is not uncinematic” means that dialogues are not very helpful in making a movie. Lumet does not agree with this idea. He says that good dialogue can help to show the personality better. I believe that both dialogues and monologues can be suitable if they can impress the audience.

Lumet tries to avoid a “rubber-ducky school of drama”. That means a kind of explanation when you give keys to the personality of the main character through the direct information about him/her. Lumet believes that the behavior of the character should speak for itself; if the movie is good, the audience should perceive the character without extra knowledge about him.

Lumet uses improvisation in movie making. He states that improvisation can be helpful if an actor has difficulties with finding the “emotional truth” of the story. However, it is usually used only as an acting technique and cannot influence the actual script. There was only one exception to this rule when Lumet allowed the actors to play themselves and even to wear their own costumes. It was necessary because they were dealing with a script that was sensational for the audience and needed everything to be as natural as possible. In all the other cases, Lumet does not let characters to create the story.

Chapter 3. Style

Casting for the film Prince of the City was unexpected because Lumet chose an unknown actor Treat Williams for the role of Danny Ciello instead of taking famous actors like Robert De Niro or Al Pacino. It was done intentionally. Lumet believes that tragedy must necessarily have an element of awe. If the character is associated with his previous works, the ambivalence will disappear. Therefore, he decided to take someone whom the audience does not have a prejudice.

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For the same reason, Lumet cast 52 “civilians” out of 125 speaking parts. He supposed it would help the movie be more natural; besides, this way he avoided associations with better-known actors.

Chapter 4. Actors

Actors` “instruments” are actors themselves. To play well, an actor needs to have his soul naked in front of the audience; he has to show his own feelings, regrets, and physiognomy. What is more, if he is not fully sincere, no one will believe him. The author provides a few examples of actors who reveal themselves in front of the audience:

  1. Paul Newman, a brilliant actor and a very private man, who opened his soul to play the role of Frank Galvin. It was painful for him, but he succeeded and got excellent results.
  2. Ralph Richardson, who used music to express his feelings.
  3. William Holden, who could not create an emotional scene in Network avoiding to look into his partner`s eyes. After he looked into her eyes, he played brilliantly. Eyes always express the emotions of a personal best and help to be sincere and self-revealing.
  4. An actress who helped to create a terrific take after Lumet slapped her. It was not the right thing to do, but it helped her feel real emotions and let her anger and astonishment pour outside.
  5. Katharine Hepburn who proved that tragedy was for giants. She had to become another person for her role, leave her habits and concentrate on her identification with a tragic and broken character.
  6. Ingrid Bergman understood herself well enough to refuse a leading role and accept the smaller one which was more suitable for her and which reflected her own self better.

All of these actors managed to play brilliantly thanks to the identification with their characters. To play well, they need to express their own emotions, sexuality, and fears. I believe that for an actor, it is quite difficult to identify himself with his role. What is even more difficult is revealing your own troubles and joys in front of the camera. Those who manage to do it, get a reward: they are trusted.

Lumet says that he does not just want life “reproduced up there on the screen”. He means that even when actors need to identify themselves with their characters, they do not have to identify the real world with the imaginary story. Each story has its own life, and actors have to create this new world on their own instead of transferring their life experience into the movie.

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Lumet states that the second reading of the script is usually worse than the first. That is because actors` play is based either on their instincts or emotions. Instincts can be worn out after the first reading, and real emotions cannot appear too quickly. If the actor is not successful during the first reading, Lumet tries to find “emotional triggers” for him. However, the second reading is too early for that, so it is usually less impressive.

Lumet does not generally stage the piece in his head before rehearsals. He has the same reason for this. He wants to see what the actors` instincts are and how they can affect the role.

Lumet always rehearses in sequence, because only at the rehearsals actors have a possibility to understand the interactions between their characters better. If they rehearse in the order of the script, they can also understand their characters better and get a “sense of continuity”.

It is always difficult to make different actors with different experience and acting techniques play together and look like they are making the same movie. That is when talking and listening to each other is important. If the actors manage not only to understand themselves but their partners as well, they can play as a whole.

Lumet`s experience proves that the author`s best take is usually the fourth one. Until this time, they are able to restore their confidence and experience emotions.

Chapter 5. The Camera

There are two points about an actor`s performance that can be affected by the camera. According to Lumet, “it can make up for a deficient performance” and “it can make a good performance better”.

Using a different lens can help to create different illusions. If Lumet wants to create the illusion that an actor is running faster than he or she really is or that an actor is moving from one side of the frame to the other, he uses a long lens. If the actor was running to or away from the camera, the use of a wide-angle lens will make him/her appear faster.

In the movie The Fugitive Kind, Lumet decides to use a long lens on the character of Val, because he needed an area of softness and tenderness created around. The long lens has a shorter focal depth and makes objects around the main character look softer. As the film progresses, Lumet starts using the same lens (long lens) for the character of Lady. This is because these characters become closer and must have the same world around them. The same lens makes characters have more in common.

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