Interview with Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison shares his film journey, from Canadian TV to Hollywood success, emphasizing his personal touch and improvisational style
Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison, whose reputation has reached impressive heights in a very few years, was interviewed beside a ceil­ing-high fireplace in his Brentwood home. The house, com­fortable and informal, reflects Jewison’s personality. Of medium height, dressed casually, and wearing his hair long, Jewison sat at the end of a large coffee table drinking cof­fee as he talked. Norman Jewison spoke in a low voice while his fingers nervously brushed back his hair every few minutes. His children came home from school, interrupting the interview, and he took the time to explain to them that he had to return to the studio to finish the day’s editing of his newest film. For several minutes before the interview he discussed the casting problems of Fiddler on the Roof and for several minutes afterward he discussed the pres­sures brought to bear upon him because he had been an­nounced as the director of the film to be made from Wil­liam Styron’s Nat Turner. He has since given up the proj­ect, and cast Topal, the Israeli actor, to star in Fiddler. A quiet, thoughtful man, Jewison gives the appearance of being tense, nervous, and almost about to take flight. Nevertheless, the self-confidence in both his work and his opinions, which is almost the common denominator among the men interviewed, was not missing.

Jewison: Well, do you want to kick it off?

Question: Let’s start off with, what was your background that led up to your directing pictures?

Jewison: I come from Canada. I’ve been in the United States for nine years now. I was an actor and a writer, and then I went into live television and had some ex­perience in London with the BBC. I was in London for two years. Then I went back to Canada and stayed with the CBC, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, from 1952 until late 1958. And that was in live television. I started as a stage manager in live television. I was fas­cinated with television as a medium, much more than I was attracted to film, actually. I had never really thought too much about film, although like everyone else my age, I had spent a great deal of time at the films. But my real interest at that time was the theater and then live television.

Question: Was your education in the theater?

Jewison: My education? No, I took a general arts degree at the University of Toronto, Victoria College, and ma­jored in English and philosophy. So really, I’ve come to film quite late, and almost by happenstance. It was after I did a number of shows in Canada; and then when I came to the United States, I got a contract with CBS. And I ended up doing a lot of specials, live specials—Belafonte shows, “Fabulous Fifties,” and things like that. And I found them great, very rewarding. I would only do three or four shows a year. And so we’d spend three or four months working on the one show, so it was more like the combination of a Broadway produc­tion and a theatrical experience, although naturally with the use of cameras consistently for all those years, the transition into film was not that difficult. As a matter of fact it was very easy. Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, Bob Mulligan, and every­body else have gone through it. As a matter of fact, film is a luxury.

Question: How did your first film come about? What brought you into it?

Jewison: I was doing Judy Garland’s first special, which was very well received, and I happened to be on the Coast, and I was approached by a producer—Stan Margulies and Tony Curtis—and they asked me if I’d be interested in doing a film. I told them I wasn’t. I’d never exposed a foot of film and I’d stayed away from filmed television because I felt it had nothing to do with tele­vision. Television is not an art form, but perhaps some­day it will be. You know, it’s just sold itself out to the commercial. At the moment, it’s become an extension of the advertising industry, but at that time when I was in it, at its peak in the late fifties and early sixties, it was the form of expression for many people. I think there were many talented people in TV, especially on the East Coast. And then, when it went to film, all film did to television was destroy its quality, because the B movie and the C movie had disappeared; and, somehow, they went into their half-hour situation comedy. I really didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t feel I could do justice to a film in six days. The same as I couldn’t do justice to a good hour on television in less than maybe three months. But when they asked me to do this pic­ture, it was on the basis of the programs I’d done. So I read the script and it was a kind of a remake of Little Miss Marker. It wasn’t that inspiring, but there was a chase sequence in it that was to take place at Disney­land, and I asked them if they would give me ten days at Disneyland, and I could make this a major part of the film, because I was all hung-up on Mack Sennett at that time, and I’d spent most of my time in musicals and in comedy. I’d done some drama in Canada, and I did an hour and a half in New York with Jackie Glea­son, and so on, but most of my work was in comedy.

Question: Did you consider yourself a comedy worker?

Jewison: I think it’s more my milieu, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t make any great difference between comedy and drama. I think essentially a comedy is merely looking at life with a sense of humor. It’s the situation that be­comes humorous. But if you try to be funny, usually it’s disastrous. So I think comedy and drama are completely related. I approach both with the same acting style, al­though naturally in a comedy you reach for the humor­ous situation and possibly the satirical point of view enters in. But I think comedy is much more fragile to direct.

Question: Is your sense of timing from the combination of what is usually called background and comedy?

Jewison: I think the timing goes back to when I was act­ing. Timing is a kind of an innate thing in a way. I think it has a great deal to do with rhythm. You know, I’m always wary of someone who can’t walk in step, that doesn’t have any rhythm. Beware of them, because there’s a certain rhythm. When you tell a joke or some­thing, it happened on Thursday, da da da da da da. There’s a certain rhythm connected with not just com­edy, but also with acting. With life. There’s a certain rhythm connected with editing that is almost essential. In this kind of rhythm, which is commonly referred to as timing, I think it’s something fragile; and I think a lot of people have it. I don’t think it’s a rare gift by any means. I think most people have this built-in timing. Most people can tell a joke pretty well if they relish it, if they like it.

Question: Are you using comedy to say anything in par­ticular?

Jewison: Well, I prefer the comedic field. I think comedy is probably our greatest weapon of satire. I think The Russians Are Coming is a very serious film about war and peace. Actually, it is about the absurdity of interna­tional conflict, but it is a comedy. I didn’t intend for it to be a Pollyanna where we were trying to solve the Cold War.

Question: How closely did you work with Bill Rose on the script?

Jewison: Well, Bill is a great constructionist, and he’s a very serious man, in a way, and I spent a great deal of time with him. I went to visit him on Jersey, in the Channel Islands, spent so many weeks with him, and then he worked here. After he finished the screenplay, he came here. It took over a year and a half for him to do the script, but I must say he had brilliant construc­tion.

Question: You worked with him from the beginning of the concept?

Jewison: Oh, yes. I worked fairly closely from the time that I purchased the novel by Nathaniel Benchley, which was really just the idea. The Russians Are Coming has very little to do actually with the book The Off-Island­ers. But the idea is there. I think Benchley had a mar­velous idea. I think he wrote too fast. It wasn’t the film I saw. And Bill saw it immediately. He saw the poten­tial, the dramatic potential of a confrontation between East and West, between the Russians and the Ameri­cans. And of course, being a Canadian, we always like to feel that we are very objective about Americans, about their institutions and about their life. And we are most like them—we’re North Americans. So we find ourselves interpreting America for the rest of the world, and, of course, we aren’t really anything anyway. You know, we spend half our time trying to convince the English that we’re not Americans, and the other half convincing the Americans we’re not English. So we haven’t time to be Canadians. We’re kind of like Pakis­tanis; we’re the people in the corner at a cocktail party, the people nobody really pays much attention to. But I do think that living next door to America all one’s life and being flooded with American periodicals and radio and film, and yet with a different cultural background, Canadians do essentially look at Americans with pos­sibly a little more objective eye. I don’t know. I just feel that.

Question: But what do you look for when you’re looking for material?

Jewison: Well, this is why I brought up this Canadian thing. It was this. I was fascinated by the Communism syndrome in the United States. This terror that seemed to exist where people were fascinated with the idea of Communism. They seemed to be more frightened of it than possibly other countries. We had Communist mem­bers of Parliament, and we had our spy trials, but here there seemed to be this obsession. And then when you start to analyze, it kind of becomes funny, because really it’s complete lack of communication between one culture and another. And so this is kind of what prompted my interest in The Russians Are Coming. And it was a strange film in many ways, because there was a lot of improvisation in it.

Question: Do you usually work closely with the writer?

Jewison: Yes, I think I work fairly closely. In Cincinnati Kid, we—Terry Southern and myself—literally rewrote every day. I’m not a solo writer. I prefer to collaborate. But I do work fairly closely with the writer until a cer­tain point, and then, of course, a film essentially is an individualistic statement of a director. I do think it’s a director’s medium, and I concur with the auteur theory. Naturally I believe they are my films, in many ways, and while it may sound pompous and egotistical, it is a fact. It’s an indisputable fact. Now this doesn’t mean that a film isn’t a collaboration of many talents. It is. It’s probably more so than almost any other art form that we have. But there still is a point of view, there still is a style, there still is a statement, there still is someone who’s going to choose the writer and work with him, and he’s going to set the camera, and he’s go­ing to shoot it as he sees it through his eyes, and he’s going to supervise the art, design, and the costuming and the props, and then he’s going to supervise the ed­iting, and then he’s going to dub it, and then he’s going to score it, and he’s going to work with the composer, and if it isn’t his film, who the hell’s is it?

Question: Where does the producer fit on this picture, as you see it?

Jewison: Well, I frankly don’t know. I believe that the pro­ducer today is an anachronism. I think in the days when the studio was different, the producer had a place. You know they keep using this word “industry” here. This is an awful word. It’s a terrifying word to apply to film. A film industry, for Christ’s sake. What is it? You know, an industry turns out a product.

Question: But it’s an indication of the attitude here, don’t you think?

Jewison: Yes, well, that’s true. And I think they did turn out a product. And I think that’s when the Hollywood producer, as such, could supervise four or five different films during the course of a year. That meant the direc­tor would assign people, and it was a factory-like situa­tion. Today, where films are not our newest art form, they are a bona fide art form themselves. It is very dif­ficult for a producer to exist in the old way, in the sense the major studios have gone more to independent pro­duction and more selective material. Now it has come to the point where a producer actually produces one film a year. Well, if he produces one film a year, what is there for him to do on this particular film unless he puts together a group of creative people and lets them go? I can understand that.

Question: How did you . . . work with Martin Ransohoff?

Jewison: I worked with Martin Ransohoff on Cincinnati Kid, and I had a very definite agreement with him that I would have complete artistic control of the film. Be­cause I was terrified of—my great terror—what it all comes down to, I guess, is corporate entities. Maybe that’s why I get frightened today when I see General Motors putting up that big building opposite the Plaza. I consider every film an experience. I have a company which consists of three people. I don’t consider that a corporate entity. I don’t own anything. I’m not inter­ested in manufacturing a great number of films. I’m only interested in doing the films I particularly want to do, and in order to do that I form my own organization which allows me to produce the film I direct. This doesn’t mean that I won’t direct a film for another pro­ducer.

Question: What about financing? What do you do? Do you find yourself involved in all of the creative aspects; does it become difficult at times to formulate a budget?

Jewison: Yes, yes. And I think this is where you’ve got to have experienced and knowledgeable production people associated with you. You must have the freedom to cre­ate. Somebody must continually organize things. I really consider myself a director rather than a pro­ducer; but the director or the picture-maker, the film­maker, must have with him and around him the people that can take on all those technical responsibilities. It’s a very expensive medium.

Question: Do you stay within your budget when you work?

Jewison: Sometimes. Usually.

Question: Does it worry you as you are on the stage work­ing?

Jewison: Never. The only reason I think I can possibly say that I haven’t gone enormously over budget on most of my films is because of my own impatience. I’m im­patient. I’m very impatient with film.

Question: You want to get the particular project finished?

Jewison: No, I’m frustrated by the slow process of making film. In other words, I think there’s too much time wasted. There are too many rules and things that Holly­wood people have that they take hours and hours to do something when it’s as simple, if you want to re-create life, to pick up a camera and photograph life as it exists. In other words, there’s a great deal of difference be­tween the way I work with Haskell Wexler than there is the way you would work with an older cameraman. There’s a different style involved and a different ap­proach to film. You see, I don’t think there’s any great secret about capturing reality on film. I think it’s only when you get into capturing what life appears to be to you, when you get into that other world of the indica­tive and the impressionistic, that it becomes exciting.

Question: Is that the most important part of filming to you?

Jewison: I think it will be. I don’t think it is now. I think we still have a tendency to follow along with the neo-realistic Italian school. But I think it may come.

Question: You haven’t shot abroad yet. Or have you?

Jewison: No, I haven’t.

Question: Do you think there’s more freedom there to do things the way you want them to relieve this impatience?

Jewison: Well, possibly. But I do think that there are enough young people coming up in the industry today that are going to be much looser with film and freer with it, and then they will know what they want and be able to attain it in a much less . . . I’m struggling for words here because it’s a strange thing, you know, when you talk about Hollywood technique, or talk about this—these endless budgets and the amount of money that’s spent and the huge crews to attain something that could be attained so easily, and we all know it. And I think, of course, this is all going to change. I think it really will. Well, I think it’s possible now to make a film with­out it being a union film. You know, I just don’t worry about that. I really can’t be concerned about unions and problems like that. I know we have to live with them. Again, I stick my head in the sand and ask my associate producer or the production manager to handle the prob­lems. “Will you? Let’s go and do it.”

Question: Are you looking forward to working abroad at all?

Jewison: Yes. I am making Fiddler on the Roof in Europe. The political situation is difficult at times in Eastern Europe. But I’ve never felt fettered here. I’ve never felt that people blocked my path. The only time that people have stood in my way in making a film is when people have said, “Well, we’ve always done it this way here. What are you doing that for?” Or, “I can’t get a good pickup if you keep using the Eclair camera.” Or some­thing like that. And I have to sit there and explain that I’m going to do a wild track and lay it over, or I’m going to do this, or I’m going to do that. And I don’t think anyone should have to explain continually. And I think these are some of the old hang-ups. But I think it’s all changing.

Question: You have your own company now, and you said you would direct for other people. How do you pick a property that you yourself want to make for your own company?

Jewison: It’s something that just grabs me. It’s something that I find that can turn me on.

Question: Does it have to make some kind of statement necessarily? Or would you use something that’s pure entertainment, for example?

Jewison: Well, I think a film should have a raison d’etre. I think it should have a reason for being there. If its reason is pure entertainment, then you’re making a film for money. Do I have any objection to money? Abso­lutely none.

Question: I mean about that being the purpose of the film per se?

Jewison: Yes, I think so.

Question: Did you find it difficult when you were doing things like Send Me No Flowers with Tony Randall?

Jewison: I found it very difficult, because they were what I thought and took to be innocuous Hollywood com­edies where everybody went to the seashore and they were there for a purely economic and commercial rea­son. And I resented that. When I tried to infuse Thrill of It All with kind of a satirical swipe at American suburban life or the television industry, and I think that Carl Reiner is one of our better satirists, and there are some moments in that film which I know the English responded to very strongly. But essentially those four films I did at Universal were an effort to get out of my contract. Because in order to do that first film and be­cause it is an industry in this country, people will not allow you to do that first film or get that break or make that statement without giving them an option to do a number of films at a very low price and with absolutely nothing to say about it. That is frustrating. And I must confess I was very anxious to get out of that contract, and I did film after film to get out of my contract. I learned a tremendous amount, however. And it was a marvelous experience, and I can’t honestly say that I don’t cherish it and the opportunity. The only thing is, I think Universal is a bad environment for creative peo­ple, and I do think that the product of those films could have been so much better if they’d been turned out un­der a different environment.

Question: After you’ve picked a property and you’ve worked with a writer, what do you expect? And I want to ask four things: What do you expect from your writer? What do you expect from your editors? What do you expect from your actors? What do you expect from people you work with? Let’s take them one at a time.

Jewison: Well, the first thing—I don’t know, I guess I ex­pect dedication. And from a writer, a film writer, I think I get more turned on when he starts to deal with images in a cinematic way than I do, possibly, with words, although the writing is still an important part of any film-making. And I do think writing has to get out of the talk stage. You see, I don’t think film has any­thing to do with theater. I don’t think it has anything to do with literature. It is borrowed from all these older art forms, but it is a qualified art form in itself. And, therefore, it’s difficult when you get down to what is film writing. I guess I expect the writer not only to ex­pand my ideas of the film and what it will be, but to inculcate himself, so to speak, with certain feelings and images which I see in my mind’s eye, and I hope that that turns him on. And I hope he and I will become al­most as one.

Question: With that point of view, would you have taken on Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Jewison: No. And I would say that because, first, I would be intimidated by it. And second, somehow I don’t feel I would be the best interpreter for Mr. Albee. And I don’t want to be an interpreter anyway. But at the same time I want to say that my first obligation is not to the author. My first obligation is to the film. And I think it’s time that we kicked all that theater thing out. Because when I came to Hollywood and when I did my first pic­ture, I said, “Now what is the obligation of this scene?” My first obligation as a director is to the author, to the playright. Well, it wasn’t a play. And it was a film. And the author wasn’t there. And he’d never been there, where I was making the film. And he wasn’t writing about that. He was writing about people in his imagina­tion. And so I realized he didn’t have anything to do with that film. Not really, not when it came down to doing it. And so my obligations were in the wrong place. And so I really feel now that my obligation truly is to the film and to myself. And it’s like a good editor; what’s his obligation? His obligation’s not to the director. I’ve never worked with an editor yet who’s any good who said, “Gee, I hope he likes this,” or, “I know he likes that shot so I better put …” A good editor, a good film editor, allows the film to turn him on. The film should tell him what to do. His obligation is to the film, not to anybody.

Question: Do you give your editor the same freedom?

Jewison: Absolutely. I try.

Question: Your cameraman, also?

Jewison: The cameraman is something else, because I think the director, since he sees it through his eyes, has got to have a great deal to do with the camera. And I like to operate myself with a hand-held camera and so on when I can physically do it. But when a man like Haskell Wexler comes along who is such an artist and probably is one of the great cameramen in the world today—in his use of the zoom lens and in using the camera in an interpretive way—it’s so exciting that I think it’s a mu­tual thing. And I think in The Thomas Crown Affair he had a great deal of freedom, and we really utilized each other to the best of our ability.

Question: Do you do any of your own editing? How closely do you work with the editor?

Jewison: I work fairly closely. I like to work closely while I’m making the film—and before we shoot the film—because I think those are the moments and the time that is best. In other words, I often take the editor to loca­tion and spend a great deal of time talking with him. And I’ve been very lucky in the last two or three films to have a man like Hal Ashby, who is considered one of the more creatively talented editors in America. And so, of course, we’re very close. As a matter of fact, he’s also my associate producer. In other words, that title is not only given to him so he will have more authority in his position over certain departments, but he will be with the film from its inception, right through until it ends. And this doesn’t mean that he will edit all of it himself. In other words, we have often brought in other people to work with Hal and myself in the editing.

Question: Do the critics influence your work or bother you in any way? You’ve gotten a lot of criticism, especially of late, both good and bad. Do you bother with critics, in that sense? Do they help you?

Jewison: Only sometimes. Like everyone. We’re all vulner­able to a certain extent. I think maybe it depends on who the critic is. There arc some critics who really don’t bother me at all, because I really don’t pay much atten­tion to them, nor do I feel that they have anything valid to say. There are some that know something about film; and when they hit a weak spot, I often think it’s very good. I say, “Gee, isn’t that marvelous. They knew.” And, of course, we are all worried about that. We knew that was wrong. I don’t know how other directors feel, but I’m always quite aware of the weaknesses. I think we know the film, and I think when an author writes a book, he knows what he’s written. And since I don’t want to write a book that no one’s going to read or paint a picture that no one’s going to see, I like to feel that people will see my film. Therefore, it encourages me and excites me when people come to see the film, in other words, when the film is popular. And I think this comes from television, because my fascination with television was that it was a mass medium of communication, and it was the excitement of being involved in this greatest medium of communication ever devised by man. More people can see—could have seen—one of my television shows than possibly will ever see my films. So, therefore, when you talk about contact with your audience and you talk about communication, I think I’m hung up on that a little bit.

Question: I wanted to ask you who you might think the bad critics are? Who do you think the good ones are? Would you care to mention?

Jewison: Well, you know, I don’t know how you feel, but …

Question: What about Tynan, what about the English critics?

Jewison: I think Tynan is a brilliant critic of the theater, but I really don’t think he has a feel for film. Or nose for it.

Question: What about Agee?

Jewison: Well, all the people have a tendency to intellectualize on film. Actually, they have done it a great deal of good. We used to think that. I think a lot of people in Hollywood, especially in America, always considered that wrong, and they used to call that kind of highbrow. And what it really was, was the critic taking film seri­ously, which I don’t think enough American film-mak­ers have done.

Question: Well, we’ve never had many critics turn film­maker as in other countries.

Jewison: No, but there have been some brilliant people involved in the film industry. I mean, the United States probably has a greater history of film-making than any country in the world. But there are so many talents that were corseted, that were not allowed to take film seri­ously.

Question: Well, don’t you think that’s a reflection of Amer­ican so-called allergy toward intellectualism?

Jewison: Yes. Well, there seems to be a kind of anti-intellectualism. But I don’t know. I’ve always felt that there were so many brilliant Americans who have excelled in the arts over the years that I’ve never looked at it that way. But possibly it’s true. I think I would say that is true of the film industry in this country. Essentially it’s one of economics. It’s one that’s based on shares on the market. And I’m not a spoon-fed idealist. I honestly and absolutely believe that the criterion for success in America is the dollar. And unfortunately, I think this is what Kennedy was talking about when he talked about changing the values. That’s a very basic value. It exists. It seems to exist in the American home and in the school, and I think this is probably the greatest prob­lem. I don’t think it has to be because I believe . . . well, what is commercial? If people really knew what was commercial, then everyone would make a great deal of money. And so it’s much more ephemeral than that, and I think it’s ridiculous for people to continue to lead us down the garden path, like the advertising agencies and studios and polls, which are going to tell us really what is commercial. What is good is often commercial, which is kind of exciting. There’s a thought, therefore, which is why I think many good films have over the period of years found a great audience in spite of the fact that they were not commercial according to the Hollywood terms. So I’m not afraid of commercialism from that standpoint, because I know that if any film I make doesn’t make money, it’s going to be more difficult for me to obtain the money to make the next film. But I don’t think it has to make that much. I think as long as it can make back what was invested everyone seems to be happy. As a matter of fact, you know, when Truf­faut said he was embarrassed by the success of 400 Blows, it was a kind of a snobbish statement, but I don’t think he meant it that way. What he was really trying to say . .. Well, he might have felt that he doesn’t know why he was communicating to so many people when he always thought he was communicating just to a few. But I think what embarrassed him even more was the fact that it made a great deal of money. And I think anybody who feels that they’re artistic or are working in an art form, which I really believe I do, are embarrassed by money.

Question: That’s an American attitude, don’t you think?

Jewison: It’s very American.

Question: I don’t think Robert Wise is embarrassed about the amount of money The Sound of Music made for him.

Jewison: He’s not? Well, he should be. . . . No, I’m em­barrassed by the amount of money it costs. Do you realize I can feed half the Navajo nation on what a film will cost in this country, and for no reason I can give you except some sort of ridiculous union agreements, and well, that’s the way it’s always been done, and, well, we need forty people to do four people’s work. A film should be an experience. It should be made by very few people. The Thomas Crown Affair, much of Thomas Crown, literally was not only shot in the streets of Bos­ton but at times was made with, I would say, six and seven people, day after day after day.

Question: What’s your feeling about working on real lo­cation, actually, as opposed to a studio? Do you prefer the realism of the streets?

Jewison: Oh, yeah. However, shooting a film in the back yard I think again is an anachronism. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the true art of film, or maybe the definitive artfulness of film-making, is not a re-crea­tion of life, because I believe that maybe that is where we should go with film in the future. But at the moment, to put your actors, to put yourself close to life and to find certain truths, you must be in an atmosphere, in the mood of where the story takes place, or as close to it as you can find. And I think this really does help tre­mendously.

Question: May I ask you to clarify something? You used the word “reality” a couple of times, and you’ve used the phrase “the photographing or re-creation of life,” and then you’ve mentioned that one of the most impor­tant things was a kind of impressionistic viewpoint that the director and actor puts on the screen. I’m not quite clear about these two. The statements seem in conflict.

Jewison: Well, the statements are in conflict because of this: The film audience today, which is part of this cine­matic form—because a film without an audience I think is a cold thing—the film audience today is conditioned to reality, whereas the audience possibly of tomorrow will be conditioned less to reality and more to impres­sion. In other words, on television, if I wanted to paint poverty I would take a broken table, a single bulb hang­ing, and a tattered window with a blind. There wouldn’t be any walls, wouldn’t be any house, it wouldn’t be any place. This would be in what we used to call limbo. It could be white, black, yellow, green, red—whatever color that possibly would also add to the emotional ap­peal for the actor. But of course, in those days it was all in black and white. So it was either white or black. If I wanted to create elegance, there was a chandelier and a beautiful stairway and a very tall window in limbo. You put that on the film screen, and they say, “Where are the walls?” On television, without knowing it, the American public accepts stylization, impressionism, in­dicative things, real things, set into an open area of thought. Now very few films have followed this, and very few films have been successful at this. To me, to build the yellow brick road that goes forever is a far more delightful, imaginative thing than taking a camera out into a field of hay and shooting people running through it. The field of hay exists. The yellow brick road is in one’s imagination and in the technique of do­ing it. And I think very few films have done this; but possibly more films will do it in the future. Antonioni discovered color quite late in his film career. I have never shot anything in black and white. There is no ref­erence in my mind to the gray scale when I look at life. Life to me has always been red, and so on. Also, I find color emotional, and I think theater has used color for thousands of years. Most successfully. When have you ever seen a black-and-white stage play? How many ar­tists paint in black and white outside of Charles White and a couple of others? Yet in films, you have a great many purists who say, “Oh my God, it just can’t be. You just can’t do that in color. It’s got to be in black and white.” Why? When you really get down to reasoning why, you will find that black-and-white films were made because there was no color film, first of all. Second, they were made because color film is more expensive and harder to light; and third, in an effort to find reality, the amount of light that was needed for the very slow color film meant it always had an artificial look. This is not true any more. Not with our fast film today.

Question: You get some who theorize that if the film is in black and white, since it’s not real, you can be more symbolic than you can be in color.

Jewison: Yes. Now Bergman is getting closer to what we’re talking about. And I think it’s going to be marvelous when this kind of approach to film is more universally accepted.

Question: Would you go impressionistic in television again today?

Jewison: Oh, yes. The commercials are doing it. They take all reality out of life. And I think the musical forms still exist on television where it takes it out. If you will ex­amine musical form on television, you will find that they are working without any form of reality, and yet they will evoke a terribly real mood.

Question: Would you try the abstract form film?

Jewison: I don’t know. I really don’t know. At the mo­ment, the closest thing I’ve gotten to what I really want to do was Cincinnati Kid. I took out all the primaries. There were no reds, greens, yellows, whites, or blues in the film outside of the red cards and blood of the cock fight. Now, in Gaily, Gaily, we sat down with Robert Boyle, the art director, and with the costume designer, and we all sat down and we looked at film for about three or four days, various films on periods. This is why I threw out the panavision lens, because I firmly be­lieve that period is not as clear to us as our contem­porary world. I think our life, or the life about us, when one just looks with one’s eye, is very clearly focused. I think when you look back into a period, things become slightly fuzzy. And possibly this is because all our ref­erences to a period are from old daguerreotypes. This is 1910 in America. And I wanted to capture the mood of America in 1910 much as maybe Tony Richardson captured Hogarthian London in Tom Jones. Therefore, I thought it was going to have a great deal to do with color, and when we finally decided that we would shoot the whole film through fog filters, in varying degrees, and Dick Kline has been very courageous I think as a cameraman in agreeing to do this, because it means it’s going on the negative. Then on top of that we decided this is a story of a boy coming from a small town. It’s a loss of innocence. It’s the Horatio Alger story—the American dream. It’s a morality play. That’s what it really is. It’s snatches of Ben Hecht. Now, therefore, we decided, well, Chicago should be dark in blacks and browns and grays and earth tones and sooty, and there­fore, all of our scenes in Chicago must look like that, even if we have to paint the streets. The small town of Galena, where he comes from, should be all pastoral and soft—whites and beiges and soft tones. But there should be no stark white, and there should be no bright red except for the flags in the film. There should be no bright yellows. There should be no bright blues, except the opening on July the Fourth in Galena. And so we’ve tried desperately to use color in a certain way. And we’ll see if we’re successful. At the same time, there’s a very real quality to the film, and so far I haven’t got away from that because I’m not as courageous as most. I’m afraid that maybe the audience won’t go with it. Because even Bergman, although he is probably one of the most exciting directors at the moment in this area, still uses the real world to achieve it in many ways. It’s when he gets On the stage that he becomes truly excit­ing, because then he really starts to manufacture and design life and his impression of it. But once you get outside, it’s much more difficult. I don’t know when we’re going to get out of this whole realism. You know all of a sudden, it was like when La Strada and all of The Bicycle Thief and the whole Italian school after World War II came out. And everyone said, “My God, yes, they’re bringing us back to reality, because we were getting away from it. That is really life.” You only have to go back to Nanook of the North if you really want to see realism. I mean, it was nothing new. There was noth­ing new about that. And to tell you the truth, the more I see of television documentaries and news broadcasts and so on, the more I realize that possibly reality isn’t the most difficult thing to capture. It goes beyond that.

Question: I think there are changes in the neo-realistic school. The Italian realistic film is one thing that we don’t do, and I’d like to know what you think. Do you think that most of the content—emotional, intellectual —in American films has been realistic?

Jewison: Well, I think there are those films that had a rea­son for being there, where the film-maker has wanted to make a statement of life. I think those have been al­most as successful as European films, because I believe that Americans, strangely enough, are the one group in film today who have the courage to be self-critical. And in these areas I think that American films are second to none. I think that this is why the French directors in many of their films are so preoccupied with sex and the relationship between men and women. It is simply be­cause they have a tendency not to want to tread into the waters of the public arena of open thought. Battle for Algiers is banned in France, as we all know, which is a terrifying thing when you think of it. Americans constantly, I think, are openly self-critical. They display all their weaknesses for the world to see. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re weak. I think exactly the contrary. And when I try to explain Americans to peo­ple, I often say, “Don’t think they’re weak because they flagellate themselves. They are probably much more healthy than you who for years have been living in this European dream where you really don’t want to face the realities of life in your own society and your own problems, and the problems of humanity.” And I think it’s in this area that many important American films are going to be made in the next ten years. If the young people are any indication now—they are going to be the film-makers of tomorrow—my God, this country’s in for ten or fifteen years of the most exciting film-making we can possibly hope for. They will get over all these union problems. They will film without the problems we face. They will make a film, that’s all, because the equipment is becoming much more obtainable and rent­als are much easier and less light is needed in film that’s faster. And so it’s going to be wonderful. The tools are much more available. Jiri Menzel, the young Czech di­rector who did Closely Watched Trains, came out here and I had an opportunity to meet him at lunch, and be­cause I speak a little bad French-Canadian we went off together. I took him back to the office because he had no place to go. And we spent a few hours together. And we sat down at the movieola and looked at some film and exchanged thoughts because I was such an admirer of his. He’s only twenty-nine or thirty years old, and I felt Closely Watched Trains was a brilliant piece of film. I said, “It must be so exciting to be living and working in Prague at this moment when there is a kind of renais­sance in film there.” It kind of jumps around, you know, as most things do. One moment, for a few years, it was Italy, and then it kind of moved to France and then it kind of moved to Prague, and to England, it seems to be people feed upon one another and stimulate one another; therefore, there’s a small group that eventually springs up and starts to make some groovy things. And he said to me, “Yes, it is exciting to be in Prague at this moment because we have a great number of young peo­ple involved in film and we know we’re doing some good things, and we are kind of turning out good work.” He added, “But it must be even more exciting to be working in America where the most important films are going to come from.” I think he felt it, and I hope it happens. I know it will happen. I think films are getting better and better.

Question: How do you select your actors? How do you work with them? And what do you expect of them? Do you do your own casting?

Jewison: Yes, I work with a casting director, but essen­tially I like to feel I do my own casting. I find this, and you know, most actors hate the term of type-casting. They really think that’s a terrible thing to say because it puts everyone into a slot. And I don’t think it’s essen­tially true in film, because I think in film—unless you can cast someone for that role who in their very nature, in their own personality, and in their own being, has something very closely aligned with the role—it makes it much easier for them, and it makes it much easier for me as a film-maker to draw that out of them. So I have a tendency to put people into a role which I think I see in them or in their performance. But it is more impor­tant in them as people, as creative people, as artists that they have an ability, an aura, a mood or a look, a feel that has a great deal to do with the role. I think that most films should be fairly easy for the actor. I think that he should fall into the role fairly easily, or there’s something wrong. Therefore, you see, I don’t believe that the techniques of the theater apply to film. Because a man has great technique doesn’t mean that he can handle any role in a film. A film is a much different form. It’s going to get closer to him as a person. The camera is going to probe much deeper. All the little things that he believes in and does and feels and thinks are going to be more self-evident in film than they are in the theater.

Question: Am I to understand that you’re saying that you don’t select the actor for his own personal range? In short, Olivier, who has incredible range, isn’t a neces­sity to you in film?

Jewison: No. I think the more creative the actor, the more creative he is, the more exciting he is to work with. I enjoy a fair amount of improvisation in film, because I think it is the perfect medium and art form for improvi­sation. You improvise in the theater, and the greatest gift that American theater has made to the theater world is the whole form of improvisation. I think improvisa­tion in the theater can be simply deadly. If it doesn’t work, you can’t go back, and so it lays there. I think when you improvise on film, you can take it out if it doesn’t work, or you can use it in another form, or it can extend the idea of the writer that one extra step and that only comes with actors who are free to improvise, and I find most of them are American.

Question: To what extent did you allow Steiger and Poitier to improvise in Heat of the Night?

Jewison: We had a fairly important scene between the two men in the house that we felt should exist because there was at this point no relationship between them. That scene was worked out as improvisation between Sidney and Rod and myself. The whole chase sequence at the railway maintenance yard and so on at the round house was improvised. The chase of the boy was improvised. The bridge shot is one of the most splendid shots of the film which the French cinemateque group have really taken to their bosom. The bridge scene was actually a moment when we were rigging an outrigger on Steiger’s car, because I don’t like to shoot with any rear screen, and I looked down, and I said “Let’s go down there while we’re waiting, and take the 250 mm. zoom, and see what it looks like.” And when we got down there, the three of us, Haskell, the operator, myself realized that we had something, and that’s when we called up and had the boy run, and we tried three or four different variations of this. To me this symbolized his freedom, his escape, and him etched against a very harsh reality of the fact that he was being chased by an automobile on the bridge, and all of those things kind of fit in to­gether. But I must say that there are certain things that aren’t planned. There are other images that exist a year before you shoot the film.

Question: What about Cincinnati Kid?

Jewison: That was fairly carefully planned. The only thing that I felt that is kind of exciting about the card game was the moment when you were pulled out of the card game and suspended on a last card. That to me was a kind of a good use of film. Where all of a sudden voices started to talk, and it was possible for us to build dra­matically and cinematically with the use of sound and close-ups, something that everyone knew was happen­ing in everyone’s mind. That was exciting. The card game itself was an excruciating thing to shoot because of the five people. It was like a ballet in a way, and a lot of it was carefully worked out. On some films I will sit and do a lot of sketching with a sketch artist, and then on other films I won’t. On other films I spend a great deal of time just in the streets, improvising. The whole first two reels of The Thomas Crown Affair is pure improvisation.

Question: What do you normally do each night you’re go­ing to shoot? What kind of preparation do you do when you’re actually in production? Do you think about any­thing, make notes to yourself?

Jewison: No. There are a couple of notes written in the script with comments made usually weeks ago—months ago possibly—that are still there, but essentially I’m very lazy. I expect the scene, the place, and the actors to in­spire me. And when it doesn’t happen, that’s when I really get in trouble, because I’ve found that I can’t ap­proach film the way I did television, where everything was very carefully worked out according to angles and editing, because in live television the director is essen­tially an editor. He has four or five cameras, and he cuts as he is on the air. And he can’t go back. So therefore everything has to be very carefully worked out. But even then, since I am the vascillator of all times, and I can’t make up my mind whether to catch a streetcar or a bus, I used to find myself in the booth while I was literally on the air holding on shots and changing moves that threw everybody into a panic simply because I thought of it at that moment. With “No, stay on him, stay on him—push in, no, he’s got something going here… In other words, you must allow the thing to tell you what to do. You must allow yourself to be bom­barded by many different things. Hitchcock, I think, works in a much different way. And I think possibly my films are not as successful as his, not as concise, not as well-constructed pieces of film. Mine have a tendency to breathe and change and grow and dip and flounder and pop up again. And I’m afraid that’s just me as a person, and I can’t change my style.

Question: Let me ask you something unrelated, but very topical: your feelings about censorship. We have a new Code with an X film that no one under seventeen can ever see, even with their parents. In making your earlier comedies, did you feel restrained by the Code in any way? Or were they so conceived that you couldn’t have broken the Code?

Jewison: Well, I think that they were conceived so that they were innocuous in any event. You know, you were desperately trying to get over the script. I think censor­ship in any form is an evil, and I must say that I don’t relish anyone telling me what I should put in a film, be­cause I believe a film-maker should be today as free and unfettered as an author. Why is the novelist allowed complete freedom of expression, and the painter, and the playwright, and not the film-maker? To me that’s just ludicrous, and I think it’s this puritan hang-up that the country has. Maybe we’ll get over it. I don’t know.

Question: Did you feel restricted in any way?

Jewison: Yes.

Question: Have you wanted to do things that you feel you couldn’t have done?

Jewison: Yes.

Question: What’s your feeling about government subsidies for film, incidentally?

Jewison: I agree with it. I think any form of subsidy for film is exciting. I don’t care where the money comes from. As long as there are no strings attached. We are the only country in the world, the United States is the only country in the world, that really doesn’t have any sort of national film board and to me this is appalling, and I think it’s being rectified to some extent by AFI.

Question: The industry isn’t supporting the American Film Institute.

Jewison: Well the industry, I think, won’t ever support anything that doesn’t make them some money.

Question: Have they the right to support anything that doesn’t make money?

Jewison: They have a stockbroker obligation. It’s all tied up with the American economic scene.

Question: What kind of new developments do you see com­ing in film now? Multiple image, for example. Do you see anything new coming in the way of developments in film, technical or artistic?

Jewison: Well, as we touched on before, I think there’s going to be a certain amount of experimentation in color which is just starting.

Question: Yes, we’ve never had much.

Jewison: And you know Fellini’s discovered color, and everybody’s trying to use color now a little bit more excitingly than they ever did before. I think there’s a much more judicious use of the camera, because as it gets smaller, and as we develop the reflex camera, it’s possible now for the operator to see exactly what he’s getting. Therefore, if you pick up a camera and operate it, you know what you’ve got. And then, of course, there are many of these new techniques. Jerry Lewis uses one with tremendous advantage—this tape on tele­vised film situations. Since I spent so many years in television, however, it wasn’t particularly exciting to me.

Question: He’s saved himself a lot of time, he says.

Jewison: Yes. I have an idea, however, that its value is one of economics rather than artistic, and so I’ve stayed away from it. Also, because I feel maybe it will inhibit the actor, and I’m terribly worried about that. I’m afraid when the actor sits down and looks at the scene just after he’s done it. I found this problem on television, when sometimes the actors would wonder why I wouldn’t rerun the tape immediately on the floor, so that they could see it.

Question: Do you allow all of the actors to come to rushes?

Jewison: No, I don’t. And you see, that’s one of my prob­lems. And that was one of my problems in television. I used to feed the tape into the booth, and then we used to have all kinds of technical breakdowns and things. Sometimes it was very difficult when you’re working with someone like Richard Burton or Rex Harrison, or Jackie Gleason, or Garland. But Garland was very good. She had a certain amount of faith. I don’t know what it is that we want to do. I really don’t want the actor to become all concerned. And you know so many actors don’t care. For instance, Steiger and Poitier, I never had any problem with them. And occasionally I would say, “Gee, you should see this because I think we’ve got something exciting.” But you know, I really do think it depends on the actor, because some films I do show the actors.

Question: You mean they don’t care? They feel confident of themselves?

Jewison: Yes, but then you see, no matter how you slice it, when you show an actor rushes, he will only look at himself. I would. I was an actor and I used to adore to watch my own performance and look at myself. I didn’t see anybody else on the screen. And I don’t think this is wrong. The only thing is, I don’t think actors under­stand what you will possibly be using of the film that they are watching. Steve McQueen was one of the more difficult actors as far as wanting to watch rushes, but I got around it in Cincinnati Kid and in The Thomas Crown Affair by promising to show him at a certain point some assembled footage. I said, “Look at the sec­tions which will give you a much more clear idea of where the character’s going.”

Question: Are you doing anything about trying to main­tain any control of your films when they may eventually be sold to television and cut up in one way or another or deleted?

Jewison: So far, as you know, in all the court battles that have taken place, the director or the film-maker has kind of fallen by the wayside. I don’t know whether there’s anything that we can control. I think we should, and I think a film should be put on uncut. They were never made to be interrupted, and I don’t know why it’s done. I watched Becket the other night, and there were something like twenty-eight commercials in the first hour and fifteen minutes, and I thought that was shocking. How can we control it? You see, we go back to this whole industry thing again. We don’t own it. We do not own the film.

Question: To what extent, if at all, does knowing that your film is going to go on television influence the way that you make it?

Jewison: Not at all.

Question: What directors, American, European, have had any influence on you?

Jewison: Truffaut, Fred Zinnemann—I feel that Zinnemann has a dedication in his films that to me shows through. I think his films have an honesty and a purity. I think he and William Wyler are two of the more im­portant American film-makers. They truly have inspired me. I can’t tell you any particular thing that you pick up or that you use, because when you’re influenced by someone, it somehow just happens. You find yourself doing the things that they do, or repeating things, or being influenced by what they’ve done without. When I sat down to talk to Mr. Zinnemann for the first time, I was almost speechless with complete admiration. I didn’t know what to tell him or what to ask him or what par­ticular scene to discuss. But I found that we really talked about film—period. We talked about life, and we talked about what was important that should be ex­pressed at the moment or how it could be expressed and the joy of creating films.

Question: You have said that Hemingway influenced you. In what way?

Jewison: Because I believe implicitly that Hemingway es­sentially was talking about something and writing about something that I believe was very noble in man.

Question: Grace under pressure?

Jewison: Yes, the whole grace under pressure. This was what I clung to desperately in Cincinnati Kid. When we rewrote Cincinnati Kid, I felt that that was what the film was about. And it’s when a man is down and he’s lost everything that he wanted, when life has carved him up and kicked him, and all of us as individuals and people are right down on the ground. It’s when we stand up again, that possibly is our most noble moment. That man is capable of great grace, and I think this is why Hemingway has appealed to me. I think Bergman is probably one of the most exciting directors in film today, anywhere. Although I do think there’s a Scandinavian cool thing that he has that separates me a little bit from his work. But I think he’s probably one of the most tal­ented. Welles is without a doubt the greatest film-maker this country ever produced. Though why he had such a short period of creativity, I’ll never know. There was the classic example of when you said “Why haven’t more worked free?” more in a freer form. Here’s a classic example of a man being completely surrounded by the economic forces. I do believe Citizen Kane is one of the best American films. You know it’s still terribly dif­ficult. He was trying to raise $400,000 some weeks ago to make a film in San Diego, and I think the film is only budgeted at a million and a half. However, they’re afraid because he’s willing to take them on on their own ground. And they frighten him, too.

Question: What do you feel the responsibilities of a direc­tor are? One to your audience and two to yourself? In short, what do you owe the viewer?

Jewison: The viewer? The audience? Well, I really don’t think of the audience as much as I think of the film. My first obligation is to the film and to myself. That in turn is to the audience. I would be disappointed if the audience wasn’t excited, moved, turned on, stimulated. I would be disappointed if it didn’t capture their imag­ination. But I don’t constantly think of them as an entity; therefore, I can honestly say my obligation is to the film.

Question: You feel an obligation to communicate?

Jewison: Absolutely. A very strong one, but the way you communicate has to be yourself. I don’t see how you can have any predetermined idea of how you want to. You say it the best way you can say it. And as I grope for words in an interview with you, I grope for ideas and words and images in a film. And sometimes I don’t say it well. And sometimes I do. And those moments, I can honestly say, they must just happen with me. There are certain things that I want to say that I have had in my mind for many years. Why I toured, why I hitchhiked to the American south in 1946. I just got out of the Canadian navy, and it was one of my first long stays in America. I went through Arkansas and Alabama and Louisiana and Mississippi and Tennessee. I went to Missouri, where the last lynching was held. Many of the images that stayed with me through all those years ended up in Heat of the Night. How can they not? We are all the sum total of our experience and environment and so on. And that is somehow re­flected in one’s films. And I think that is why people who are going to make films should try to experience as much of life as they possibly can. With an eye. Be­cause there’s something about an eye. It’s the most selective organ in your body. It’s not the only one, but it’s the most selective. Therefore, it is all-important. Essen­tially that’s the difference between film and theater, and film and literature.

Question: You don’t think that a novelist reflects in the same way?

Jewison: Not really. Because I think many people see many different things when they read a book. In film you see only one thing—you see it as it is. The novelist stimulates you by descriptive passages. But you always see that place in your own way, and if I were to ask you to draw a picture of a descriptive passage out of a book, I think it’s completely different from the one the author was describing. In a film you see it as it is. It is a much more directed thing.

Question: What is your feeling currently on our star sys­tem and the tremendous salaries that are being asked? Does this hurt productions?

Jewison: It hurts the making of a film insofar as it takes money away from the actual physical making of the picture. And anything that takes money away from that film, from putting something up on that screen, is a detriment to the film. On the other hand, people will be paid in a competitive society according to what their agents can demand, and that has a great deal to do, un­fortunately, with publicity and public relations. And this is unfortunate because many times the most crea­tive actor is not the one that obtains the most money. On the other hand, films themselves somehow—because they capture the personality of an actor as well as his characterization—have a tendency to manufacture stars. In other words, I’ve worked with many actors who did their first film and who, after the film was released, be­came part of the star system. They didn’t necessarily want to be, but it happened only because their person­ality was so strong that they projected themselves, or were allowed to project through that role, into the minds of the people, and therefore the people responded to that character. An Alan Arkin. The film itself, by its very nature, does this. And, of course, in a capitalistic system, and in the competitive economic system, it fol­lows hand-in-hand. Although, we all know the star sys­tem is nothing to what it was twenty years ago. And the films today seem to be much more important than the people in them.

Question: But you’re still seeing million-dollar salaries?

Jewison: There are still plenty of million-dollar salaries, and obviously as long as they continue to make money with that kind of investment, the people will be secure.

Question: Secure is a nice word.

Jewison: I don’t know how long that will last.

Question: Does the Oscar serve a useful function? Is it a stimulus to anybody?

Jewison: It’s the only important award we have from a publicity standpoint. I think we have a tendency in the film industry to give more awards to ourselves than any other group in the world. I think we pass out awards and self-congratulatory expressions more frequently than anyone else. But I always feel that they could pos­sibly hurt people because, maybe, they’re so grossly exaggerated in their importance, but, of course, they do have great economic effect upon films, and I certainly am not going to say that I wasn’t excited and delighted by the fact that Heat of the Night won some Oscars. On the other hand, it doesn’t make a film any better or any less of a film than what it really is. And the only thing is, more people will go to see it and that pleases me.

Question: Then you are concerned about that—you want people to see the films?

Jewison: Absolutely.

Question: But you’re not concerned about the audience?

Jewison: Oh, well, no, not in the making. But I must say I’m terribly disappointed if people don’t come to see the film. Because then I’ve made a film that’s not a film. Film only works when people sit down and watch it.

Question: Please repeat that.

Jewison: You know what I mean.

Question: I do. You have no idea what a problem it is with young students who want to make films for them­selves.

Jewison: Well, that’s a self-indulgence that is not without admiration, but it’s . . .

Question: Everybody just has to have their first love affair.

Jewison: That’s right.

Question: Would you care to make any kind of general statement?

Jewison: No, the only thing I would like to say is—as far as the simplicity of approaching life goes and people are always looking at you and saying, “What is the most important thing in life?” and so on—the most important thing in life is understanding. Because without under­standing there can be no love. There can be very little communication. There can be no respect, for one an­other. And so I think that is the key word. Respect. And I’ll never forget Edward R. Murrow sitting down with Carl Sandburg on a stump somewhere, out in the woods, and Carl was sitting there with a guitar playing a silly song about a pig, or something, and Edward R. Mur­row said, “What are the three most important things in life?” Murrow laid a heavy one on him. And Carl looked at him, and he said, “Well, there are three, maybe four.” And Murrow said, “Well, what are they?” And Carl said, “To have enough to eat, to be out of jail, to have a lot of love at home and maybe a little on the outside.” That’ll do for me.

Bernard R. Kantor, Irwin R. Blacker, Anne Kramer, Directors at work; interviews with American film-makers, New York, Funk & Wagnalls, 1970


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