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February 26th, 2015 5 Comments



Let’s see.


So far, we’ve concluded that directors are control freaks who like to play God—both on the set and in real life.


They are also ruthlessly manipulative, willing to do whatever must be done to get what they want.


What else?


Oh, yes.


They tend to be a bit obsessive.


In reality, it’s a requirement for the job.


A director must live, eat, breathe nothing but the film he’s working on.


Totally immerse himself or herself in the project to the exclusion of everything else.


Lamont Johnson used to tell a story that casts some light upon directorial obsession.


Lamont himself was no slouch in the obsession department—his films took absolute possession of him during the making of them.


But his monomania was dwarfed by that of David Lean.


Here’s his story.


Lamont was making a wonderful film about an attempted escape from a German prisoner of war camp in Scotland. It was called The McKenzie Break, and he decided to shoot it on location with Ireland standing in for Scotland.


As he led his convoy of actors and crew up the coast of Ireland to shoot his movie, he passed David Lean’s company shooting the storm scene for Ryan’s Daughter.


Months later, after completing his own film, he led his people back down the coast, past David Lean and company, still shooting the storm scene for Ryan’s Daughter!


Think of it!


Lamont managed to make an entire movie in less than the time it took Lean to shoot a single sequence.


Was it worth it?


If you’re a Lean fan (and I definitely fall into that catergory), the answer is an easy and immediate YES!


It resulted in one of the greatest sequences in film history.


If, however, you’re a studio executive—say, the head of MGM, which was financing the film—your answer would be a resounding NO!


The film almost bankrupted studio and was a significant factor in the subsequent sale of its legendary lot.




…directors are, almost by definition, obsessed.




But they can’t be too obsessed, or they run the risk of playing Ahab, going down with their ship and taking every one around them with them.


Think of D.W. Griffith and his grand folly, Intolerance.


Erich von Stroheim and Greed.


Francis Ford Coppola and Apocalypse Now!—which ultimately paid off but just about broke him financially and emotionally.


Or to choose a recent, happy example, Iñárritu and Birdman.


I can’t begin to imagine the years of obsessive planning required to make a film in what is essentially a single shot, a feat beyond the reach even of the great Alfred Hitchcock, who attempted it in Rope.


So there you have it.


Directors are ruthlessly manipulative, obsessed, monomaniacal control freaks.


My only question?


Why did I fail in my repeated attempts to direct?


I clearly have all the qualifications for the job.

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  1. Mary D.

    That reminded me of Peter Jackson and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. He was so obsessed with making these movies that he made the first three at the same time. It did pay off though because “Lord of the Rings return of the King” won at the Oscars and at the box office. He also just finished making three Hobbit movies. The man just does not want to let go of Tolkien. The Hobbit movies were very good too.

    1. Dan Bronson Post author

      Jackson is nothing if not obsessed. The fact is, however, that he initially wanted to do the trilogy as two movies, but when he took the project, then in turnaround, to Bob Shaye at New Line Cinema, Shaye not only agreed to take on this very risky venture but insisted that it be done as three separate films!

      1. Mary D

        I can’t even imagine that because “Lord of the Rings” was three hours long.Three hours sitting in a packed movie theater. I had people coming and going and as they went they stepped on my feet. When It got close to the ending there was more then one ending. Several times I thought “Well, this must be the end of the movie, but it wasn’t. They go back to the shire “well, that must be the end.” No, it wasn’t. Sam Wise get married is that the end “No.” Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalof leave middle earth. Is that the end? NO! At this point I thought “Oh my God this movie is never going to end.” It finally did though. To top that off Peter Jackson put out an extended DVD of the movie with all the scenes that were cut out. I am pretty sure that was four hours.

        1. Dan Bronson Post author

          Haven’t seen Jackson’s elongated version and don’t intend to. I find that most “director’s cuts” are less effective than the version the studio initially released. This is often the case even with the greats…like Coppola, who put GODFATHER I AND II together in chronological order and restored many deleted scenes, calling it THE GODFATHER SAGA, and it really diminished two of the masterworks of cinema. On the single occasion that I met the man, I summoned the courage (arrogance) to tell him what a mistake I thought he’d made. He did the same thing with APOCALYPSE NOW! Writers, like directors, often have to toss out scenes that they love for sake of the greater good of the film–pacing, focus, thrust, or simple running time. It almost invariably improves the film.

  2. Mary D

    Richard Linklater just spent twelve years making the movie “Boyhood’. I would call that obsessed. Also, when James Cameron was filming the movie “Titanic” he actually went down to the real Titanic in a titanium submarine called Mur 1. I don’t think you can get any more obsessed then that.


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