The gentleman pictured here is the director William Wyler. He is working on Mrs. Miniver, released in 1942. I love this photo. I love its intensity. Which leads me to today’s excerpt of Hollywood & Mine. I’ve jumped way ahead in the book, Billie, babysitter to the stars, has aged considerably, become a studio head and is coping, the best she can, with a troubled production…
HOLLYWOOD & MINE
“People in the East pretend to be interested in how pictures are made, but if you actually tell them anything, you find they are only interested in Colbert’s clothes or Gable’s private life. They never see the ventriloquist for the doll.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
All through life, instinctually or intellectually, we adapt to survive. Even insects have some boss strategies, for example, the formation of a chitinous exoskeleton, which is the somewhat see-through shell that encapsulates and protects a shrimp or a spider. I have a theory about directors who succeed in the movie industry; they have see-through shells. The shell can be the ability to tune 100 other people out and focus on what’s right in front of you. It can be a tough ego. It can be a calming chemical cocktail that allows all to think they have access to your attention, while your core remains protected. Or, it can be a producer that never leaves your side.
Here I should explain that one of the main things a director does while making a movie is answer questions — hundreds of daily questions, second guesses, dissonance — coming from all departments all the time.
“What lens do you want up?”
“Slim lapel on that jacket or wide?”
“Can we light this so I can see what’s on screen?”
“Where’s the money for that supposed to come from?”
“What kind of sandwiches are they making in this scene?”
“Why is the boom in the shot?”
“If we blow up the bus do you want predominately flames or smoke?”
“Oh, was that door supposed to open?”
“Will somebody tell me what this line is supposed to mean?”
“Did we get clearance on that?”
“Do you want to print that last take?”
“Iced tea? Are you kidding me? Can’t I have real scotch in this glass?”
Which is why I asked Cooper to be Antoine’s wingman. There are directing/producing duos in Hollywood. They are rare, and at the time of this writing they all consist of brothers. There’s a reason for that (besides the gender bias), which is probably pretty obvious but I’ll spell it out. A movie is a singular vision made manifest by the work of hundreds. To share that kind of singular vision is almost impossible, unless you have an affinity that’s knit together right down to your DNA. Antoine and Cooper, one out of loyalty, one on the lookout to deliver a reckoning, did the best they could. Their best, no matter the reason, cleared over five hundred million on its opening weekend, which is how I had come to gauge success. On a personal level, it wasn’t so great. I got the initial impression that Antoine and Cooper didn’t care for each other and at a certain point neither of them would take my calls. Promising myself I wouldn’t cramp their style, or be perceived of as interfering, I never visited the set. What was a gal to do? Why, I suddenly found email irreplaceable.
From: Antoine Benton
To: Billie Taylor
Thanks for asking Billie. I have a new therapist. The first one freaked me out with his Bilbo Baggins meets Martha Stewart office. It was so dark in there that his houseplant had found a crack around the window frame and was growing out looking for sun. Also, I don’t want to see anyone in a home environment, even if it was an office off his garage. Give me clinical any day of the week. The new guy is also CBT, working in a glass and steel building that smells like Windex, and will see me on Saturdays. I keep a daily log of my thoughts, kind of like a shot list, and Jung can kiss my archetypal ass.