07-15-12 : Director’s Guild of America Q&A
The latest issue of the DGA Quarterly has a really well done, in-depth Q&A with Mel Brooks conducted by Robert Weide. I love the little story about Barack Obama. A brief synopsis follows below. You can find the complete interview at DGA Quarterly.
Mel Brooks Spills the Beans DGA Quarterly Cover Story Los Angeles – In a frank and hilarious interview in the summer issue of the DGA Quarterly, Mel Brooks reveals the secrets of directing comedy (get a good night’s sleep), how he was influenced by Frankenstein and Fred Astaire, and why Blazing Saddles is “infinitely better in every way” than Battleship Potemkin. Brooks discusses the craft of directing comedy and reflects on why his reputation as a funnyman kept him from working in other genres. “It cost me being a George Stevens or Billy Wilder,” he says. “It cost me being a serious director.” Here are some fascinating excerpts from the DGA Quarterly Q&A with comedy master Mel Brooks. The complete interview is available at www.dgaquarterly.org.
The DGA Interview: Mel Brooks
· Why he became a director: “I just couldn’t sit by as a writer saying, ‘Don’t you think he should have been louder?’ Or, ‘Don’t you think that scene is playing a little longer than it should?’ That’s why I was on my feet as a director. I would just know. What was working, what was entertaining, what was interesting, what was boring. I would simply know. My skin would tell me.”
· Why comedy is superior to drama: “Comedy is a much braver thing to do than drama, and much more difficult. And you don’t get regarded for it. And you don’t get the Legion of Honor for it. You get the medals and the statues for the serious stuff. Because no matter how great [comedy] is, it seems to the others who don’t do it, that it’s just frivolous. You’re not serious; it doesn’t count. And of course, comedy is much more monumentally important than drama. Take Battleship Potemkin, a great movie. Take Blazing Saddles – infinitely better in every way.”
· How he kept his crew from laughing: “[On The Twelve Chairs] I went out and I bought 15 handkerchiefs for everybody in the crew. I said, ‘if you feel like laughing, stick the handkerchief in your mouth.’ And every once in a while, when I knew something was very funny, I would turn and there would be a sea of white handkerchiefs. I said, ‘We’ve got a hit!’ And I always did that with white handkerchiefs on the set.”
· Why he never directed drama: “I was always afraid that part of my baggage would be, ‘Oh, crazy Mel Brooks, funny Mel Brooks.’ And if I were going to do the Francis Farmer story, they wouldn’t buy it. I’m sure they would see The Elephant Man and wait for the big laughs. ‘Wait’ll he shows his trunk,’ you know? So it cost me a lot. It cost me being a George Stevens or Billy Wilder. It cost me being a serious director . . . I would have been a good serious director.”
· The best advice he ever got about directing: “It was from Slim Pickens on the set of Blazing Saddles. I said, ‘Slim, you’ve made a hundred pictures, I’ve made three. What do I do? Give me some help.’ He said, ‘Mel, I’ll tell you. Any time you get a chance… sit down.’ ”
· On the studio’s initial response to Blazing Saddles: “We screened Blazing Saddles for the Warner Bros. executives. There were no laughs. I had flop sweat. And this guy got up and said, ‘I’ve worked here a long time, and I’ve never told the studio that a picture was so bad we should eat it. But this picture is very embarrassing, and I don’t think I can sell it.’ ”
Other Highlights from the Summer Issue of the DGA Quarterly: S
ummer Olympics – The upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics is a marathon, not a sprint, for the directors covering the action. And with new platforms and expanded coverage, the job is more demanding – and exhilarating – than ever. Directors talk about the challenges of capturing the drama of the most-covered Games ever.
Breaking Bad – As the cult hit returns for its fifth and final season, the Quarterly takes a behind-the-scenes look at how the show is made in the desert and backstreets of Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a distinctive visual style, action-packed sequences and lots of location moves through the deserts of Albuquerque, Breaking Bad is a uniquely challenging show for directors. Fortunately, a talented team is in place to help them put the pieces together.
Original Content on the Web – Directors Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia explain why WIGS, their Internet channel featuring series for a female audience, could help change how content is made—and watched.
Crossing Cultures – For more than 40 years, Warsaw-born Agnieszka Holland has been making politically and culturally charged films. And in recent years, with ambitious series like Treme and The Killing, she has brought her unique vision to American TV.
Nicolas Winding Refn – The Danish auteur of Drive talks about directing movies that arouse him and his first studio picture, Logan’s Run.
Grimm Business – Director/producer Norberto Barba gives the fantasy TV series Grimm the naturalistic look of a police procedural.
About the DGA Quarterly: The DGA Quarterly is the craft journal of the Directors Guild of America and features contemporary and historical stories about film and television directors and their teams. It offers in-depth interviews with directors; articles about the issues and interests of Guild members; discussions of new technologies; and coverage of trends that affect directors, and the film community at large.