Wednesday, March 3, 2010

James Garner, The Rockford Files, firing people

I watched a fairly long interview on YouTube with James Garner, talking about The Rockford Files, which is coming back, by the way. Steve Correll is producing a new version.

Garner talked about behind the scenes stuff. He mentioned at one point that he always kept his distance from the studio people---the brass. He didn't want to be friends with them so he could tell them what he thought without worrying about hurting their friendships.

And there were a lot of conflicts, both with the people above him and below him.

It sounded like he fired people freely. He mentioned that filming on the show always went smoothly, they had a good crew, and they got rid of "bad apples" very quickly.

Once incident he mentioned...I didn't see the previous interviews, or I would have had a better idea who he was talking about...he said that when they set out to make the show, Garner insisted that Stephen Cannell be writer-producer because he wanted him there. He needed him as a writer. He had someone else to be executive producer. He turned to a guy named Roy and said, Now what are you going to do?

Roy said he was good at touching up scripts and editing.

Garner said he didn't want the guy too closely involved or there would be conflicts.

But one day, they got some yellow sheets for the scripts---pages that had been rewritten. Okay. Garner read them. He could tell they wouldn't work. They started filming the scene. It wasn't working. He called Cannell. Told him the new pages weren't working.

Cannell came down. He looked at the pages. He'd never seen them before. Roy had rewritten the scene without telling anyone.

Garner announced that Roy wouldn't touch the scripts anymore.

Firing people

I guess if you're making a movie or a TV show and you're spending millions of dollars, at least hundreds of thousands of dollars per day, you really can't worry too much about people's feelings.

Mel Brooks seems like a nice guy. But there was a discussion on TV about Young Frankenstein. He hadn't told the fellow doing the lighting that he wanted it to look like the original Frankenstein, so it was lit all wrong.

"You didn't TELL me!"

"It's true," somebody said. "You didn't tell him."

So Mel didn't fire him.

The guy redid the lighting.

After the movie was done, Brooks told him how glad he was that he didn't fire him.

The guy said he didn't tell Brooks how lucky he was that he didn't quit.

Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman

There were stories about them firing stars on the spot. Hitchcock said actors should be treated like cattle, and that's what he did.

Corman fired the guy he cast to star in Wild Angels when he asked for a stuntman to do the motorcycle scenes.

On the other hand, it's good to ask for a stuntman when you need one. Charles Grodin told about a role he got on a TV western. They asked him if he could ride a horse. He couldn't. Bur he wanted the job so he told them he could.

He couldn't.

As they were filming, it became obvious he couldn't.

"Why didn't you tell us? We could have gotten you a double!"

So he had to go galloping off into the distance desperately clinging to the horse.

Constant conflict

Garner made it sound like it was constant conflict, in a way. But he said that it was all an effort to make things go smoothly. He got rid of conflict on the set by getting rid of people when they didn't work.

And they were working 14 or 15 hours a day, six days a week. He was suffering serious health problems because of it. He had repeated surgery on his knees because of damage he was doing walking and running on concrete, doing action scenes, and, he said, after six years, he was drained physically and emotionally.

He said that by getting rid of "bad apples", they kept conflict to a minimum. They managed to stay on schedule.

He commented on TV directing. You never had time to do what you wanted. You had to follow the script. TV is a writer's medium, he said, but then, he though all media were writer's media. Movies were, too. And that always made sense to me.

How exactly could you be an auteur if you didn't write the thing? Why do directors get credit for stuff writers put in the script?

Gore Vidal argued this in an essay somewhere.

Vidal told the story about the gay theme in Ben Hur. He told the story----he was hired to work on the script. He looked at the story and it didn't make any sense. A Roman was friends with Ben Hur, then he gets into a two minute political debate with him and spends the rest of his life persecuting Ben Hur and his family.

Vidal decided that, when they were running around together as teenagers, Ben Hur and the Roman were lovers. When the Roman guy returns to Palestine, he wants to continue the relationship and Ben Hur isn't interested. That's why he wants revenge.

They talked about this with the actor who played the Roman guy. I don't remember who it was. He said, okay. That's how he would play the scene.

They didn't tell Charelton Heston this, and they didn't tell the director.

And yet, Vidal said, the director would get credit for putting gay themes in the movie, if anyone noticed.

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