- Paperback: 218 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 19, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780679756606
- ISBN-13: 978-0679756606
- ASIN: 0679756604
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 163 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,704 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Making Movies Paperback – March 19, 1996
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It's well known that a vast number of people work on any given movie in roles as varied as writing scripts, choosing locations, dressing sets, costuming the players, lighting scenes, manipulating the camera, directing actors, editing film, working on sound, advertising the finished product, and screening it to an audience. Have you ever thought about how these components are collated? Or why the director is most often considered the author of a film? Wonder no more, because Sidney Lumet's Making Movies is a terrific journey through each stage of filmmaking that is overseen by the director. Lumet, the veteran director of Twelve Angry Men, The Pawnbroker, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict, and many other fine movies, knows the ins and outs of American filmmaking as well as anyone. In this excellent, personable account, Lumet tells what he's learned about making movies in the course of the last 40 years. He shows why fine directors need to have strong imaginations, extraordinary adaptability, and skill in many different fields. His enthusiasm for his life's work, particularly his love of actors, is evident on every page of this book. As Herculean as the labors of film directing are, Lumet takes great pleasure in his work, almost guiltily admitting that the film director's job is "the best in the world."
From Publishers Weekly
Lumet, the acclaimed director of such films as Dog Day Afternoon and Network, presents an anecdotal insider's account of the key elements in filmmaking.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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That said, Lumet's overall approach is not historical but topical, from selecting a writer to making the final cut. In Chapter Three, he raises a point I often try to impress upon my students: The way you tell a story should relate somehow to what that story is about. That gets to the whole question of the importance of style, which he terms "the most misused word since love." (pg. 49)
Good, practical advice can be found on every page. Here's how he can tell if something is off when watching a scene during rushes: "If my concentration breaks, something is wrong." (pg. 141) This, I might add, applies equally well to reading as to watching – if our attention drifts, there may be something wrong with the book we are reading, or the text of the speech we are delivering.
Here's something that may seem counter-intuitive: The audience's perception of the length of a film depends not on the tempo of the movie itself so much as the presence or absence of changes in tempo. The fewer the changes, even if the tempo is fast, the longer the movie will seem. Most melodramas accelerate speed towards the end. Inexperienced directors adopt an up-tempo from the start, then believe they have left themselves nowhere to go except even faster, thus exhausting the audience long before the final credits.
Lumet candidly confesses he doesn't know what makes a hit, and doubts that anyone really does. It is certainly not the stars alone. He talks about those he has worked with (including Paul Newman and Al Pacino) without indulging in gossip, and when he has something negative to say, he does so without naming names. One movie of his, which he refuses to identify, suffered from the limited range of one of its stars. "On the second day of shooting, I began to realize that the leading actress lacked the tenderness her part called for. She simply didn't have it in her as an actress or a person. She was superb with anger; she had humor. But if she was asked to show the simplest affection for the person playing opposite her, a falseness crept into her acting that was readily apparent, particularly since her acting was otherwise so real and true…. Since the movie was fundamentally a love story, I knew that we were in trouble." (pp. 143-144) I wonder if the movie in question might not have been "The Morning After." The only hint he provides is that the film "had three very high-powered stars in it." "Morning After" featured Jane Fonda, Jeff Bridges and Raul Julia. On the other hand, Fonda did receive an Oscar nomination for her performance here, so I can't be certain.
Though most (but not all) of the examples are taken from movies he himself directed, the book is most definitely not a survey of his career. While "Murder on the Orient Express," for example, gets mentioned at least a dozen times, "Fail Safe" rates only a single one, early on. Incidentally, what he has to say about "Murder…" gives me a higher opinion of that movie than I ever had before; now I am tempted go back and take another look at it. The chapter on the "lens plot" in "12 Angry Men" – how he used differing lenses to create an increasing sense of claustrophobia – is justly famous.
On the whole, Making Movies is an enlightening introduction to the craft, presented by an insider. If you are like me, you will be amazed at what you hadn't noticed in movies you thought you knew.
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Although the information pre-dates the digital era (printed 1995), almost everything in it still applies today as it's more about production process than the actual technology (although there is some of that too). In short, this book is a brisk and valuable read, and I will never sell my copy.
I knocked off 1 star only because some of the technical processes of filmmaking described in the book are no longer used, and it made the book feel very dated. The writing is still great and it's nice to hear about how films used to be made. The techniques of working with actors still hold up, as well as the detailed descriptions of the director's role within the larger company of talent and executives.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to advance their cinema education and gain deep appreciation for the art form.