Sunday, October 18, 2009

Directing doesn't have to be difficult

Young Ron Howard's adventure with Lassie

Maybe directing isn't so hard after all.

When Ron Howard was 15 or 16, he appeared in a three-part episode of Lassie. He talked about it on an episode of David Letterman.

It was 1970. It turns out that they didn't shoot re-takes on Lassie. They would set the camera up, film the scene in one shot; the director would yell "Cut!" and they'd rush to the next scene.

I saw the episode. It was on The Animal Channel in the middle of the night. I slept through most of it. But that's how it was done---like a Jim Jarmusch movie. Like Stranger Than Paradise. One scene, one shot. In this case filmed in one take.

But poor Ronny (as he was then known) Howard. He had a close-up at the end of the episode. He was supposed to cry, but he couldn't work up the tears. He knew he didn't pull it off, but the director yelled "Cut!" and, to Ronny's horror, moved on to the next shot---a close-up of Lassie with Ronny's hand resting on her shoulder.

Ronny thought he could salvage his dignity with some hand acting. He tried to express the depth of his emotion through his hand on Lassie's mane.

The director yelled "Cut!" He stormed over and shouted, "DON'T YOU EVER FUCK WITH LASSIE'S CLOSE-UP!"

You can't accuse the director of not caring about his art.

They did a re-take of Lassie's close-up. The only re-take in the entire three-part episode.

But that seems pretty easy. Set the camera up. Turn it on for three minutes. Turn it off. Go to the next scene.

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