Gods of Filmmaking

I recently read Ms. Films’ post on  “What Makes a Good Movie” and I was inspired to write about some of my favorite directors, what I call the “Gods of Filmmaking”. In no particular order, here are my top picks.

I know that this is a Jack Grinnage website and I don’t intend to turn our Gazette into an endless supply of rants, but I’ve got something I would like to bring up. I promise that my next post will be JG-related. Cross my heart.

Alfred Hitchcock

The master filmmaker himself. No one has ever done as much for film as Hitchcock did in his extended career. Many of the techniques and manipulations used in film today were created by Hitchcock. His stories are deep and rich, he commanded nothing less than the best from his actors, and camera work was at a level where no one else even comes close. He will forever be analyzed and studied as the greatest filmmaker of all time. Note: some of Hitchcock’s very early films are very difficult to find. The synopses and facts that we have written about these few pictures are based on reference literature and relevant internet findings.

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.

Terry Gilliam

One of the original Monty Python cast and responsible for their strange brand of cut-out animation sequences, Terry Gilliam is lately showing impressive diversity from off-hand comedy. While still making bizarre films with over-the-top characters, his more recent projects have been darker and more dramatic. Even an anti-Python activist can enjoy his new projects.

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola was born on April 7th, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan. At a very young age he moved with his family to New York. As a child he was a mediocre student but was very much interested in technology and engineering; so much, in fact, that his friends nicknamed him “Science”.

At the age of fifteen he earned a scholarship to the New York Military Academy based on his ability to play the tuba. He didn’t ever feel comfortable in the Academy and ran away after a year and a half to wander the streets of Manhattan for a few days. Coppola later earned another scholarship to Hofstra University at Hempstead, Long Island for his amazing ability to write plays. There he excelled in the drama department, writing various plays and musicals for the students to perform.

In 1960 Coppola enrolled in the University of California at Los Angeles Film School. At UCLA, Coppola directed a short horror film called “The Two Christophers” inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s William Wilson. He also directed “Ayamonn the Terrible”, a film about a sculptor’s nightmares coming to life. But his first significant film experience came from an apprenticeship with “Z-movie” filmmaker, Roger Corman.

He served various roles on Corman projects until the day he was allowed his own project, Dementia 13. He later graduated up to the big leagues on a brief stint with Warner Brothers, and then spent a few years working as a screenwriter.

While thriving in the Hollywood filmmaking factory, Coppola begun to dream about creating a utopia for young filmmakers yearning for creative freedom. Along with his friend George Lucas, Coppola created American Zoetrope in San Francisco, California. But he was to suffer a massive blow when their first major production, THX 1138, turned out to be a disaster.

Needing employment, Coppola took a job directing Paramount Picture’s gangster picture, The Godfather. The balance of the 1970’s was a magical time for him as he produced such classics as The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now. In the 80’s his luck would turn on him as experimental projects like One from the Heart, The Cotton Club, and Rumble Fish would financially destroy him. He has spent the years since regaining his former greatness with films like The Godfather: Part III, Dracula and The Rainmaker.

Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel Coen was born on November 29th, 1954 and Ethan Coen was born on September 21st, 1957. They were raised along with their younger sister Deborah in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. The cold climate drove the brothers inside Where they would watch movies all day long. They spent hours with Doris Day movies like Pillow Talk and The Thrill of It All!, and live action Disney movies like That Darn Cat and The Love Bug. Trying to remedy boredom they decided to shoot some home movies so along with friend Ron Neter, now a commercial producer, they mowed lawns until they had enough money to buy a Super 8 camera and some film. Their first project was a steady shot of their television playing Tarzan and the She-Devil. They followed that up with a remake of The Naked Prey called “Zeimers in Zambia” and their own original story “The Lumberjacks of the North”; all starring friends in the neighborhood.

“We don’t generally worry about repeating ourselves. Being original and always doing the new thing is incredibly overrated.” Playboy Interview, November 2001

In the later years of high school, both brothers were set away to Simon’s Rock College of Bard located just west of Boston, Massachusetts. From there they moved on to universities: Joel to the Tisch School of Arts at New York University where he studied film and Ethan to Princeton University where he studied philosophy. Joel then went on to graduate school at the University of Texas, but dropped out after one semester. They both found jobs in the entertainment industry with Joel working as assistant editor on Fear No Evil and The Evil Dead, and Ethan as a writer on television’s “Cagney & Lacey”. With a technique learned from their friend and peer Sam Raimi, the Coen brothers were able to scrape together enough money to independently produce their first film, Blood Simple.

Blood Simple was released on the cusp of a great indie film movement in the in early eighties. Along with filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Sam Raimi, and David Cronenberg, the Coen’s were a major influence on the evolution of independent film. Over the past three decades, the Coens have continued to produce incredible films outside of the Hollywood system like Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and Barton Fink.

Stanley Kubrick

The name is synonymous with masterful filmmaking. With an arsenal of some of the world’s most recognized and beloved films, Kubrick has shaped many of the ways movies have been done and will be done forever. As writer, director, and producer he eventually learned to never compromise his complete control over a film.

That’s why when you watch a Stanley Kubrick movie, you are seeing exactly what he wanted you to see. Thank you for what you’ve given to us Mr. Kubrick, and may you rest in peace.

George Lucas

George Walton Lucas, Jr. was born on May 14th, 1944 in Modesto, California. He grew up in the small town reading comic book and watching hours of television. As a teenager he spent his time listening to rock and roll and developing photographs in his spare bathroom. Lucas went to Downey High School where his struggled with his grades.

This is also about the time that he discovered one of the more significant influences in his life; racing cars. His first car was a light weight, two-cylinder Fiat Bianchina. Lucas modified it for increased horsepower began racing at the local track. He dreamed of one day becoming a professional race car driver. When he wasn’t at the track he was cruising up and down the streets of Modesto with his friends. But Lucas’ life was changed forever on June 12th, 1962 when an automobile accident nearly took his life.

After the incident Lucas spent two weeks in the hospital, followed by three or four more months of bed rest at his home. It was during this time that he really started to reflect on his aimless life and search for direction. He knew that his racing career was over and grades in high school were not good enough to get him into a university, so he applied to Modesto Junior College where he studied hard and earned his associate in arts degree. He applied for his junior year at San Fransisco State, but when his friend John Plummer told him about the film program at the University of Southern California, he applied and was accepted.

Lucas produced many award-winning short films at USC including “Herbie”, “Freiheit”, and “Look at Life”. Later, Lucas won a spot among three other filmmakers to produce short promotional films about the Columbia Pictures project McKenna’s Gold. After graduation, he took a job teaching film to military personnel at his alma mater. With these students, he produced his short film “THX 1138:4EB”, which he would later flesh out into his first full-length feature film with his friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola.

Lucas went on to create some of the most critically celebrated and financially successful films of all time. His film American Graffiti became the most profitable investment in film, his Star Wars saga has earned profits that are measured in the billions, and his collaboration with Steven Spielberg in the Indiana Jones franchise has resulted in some of the finest action and adventure saw on film. But George Lucas’ contribution to film and filmmaking extends far beyond his own projects.

His effects companies Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound has proven to be forerunners in filmmaking technology. With THX Ltd. Lucas created a hi-fi sound reproduction system which has virtually changed the way that movie theaters present their films. He has donated millions of dollars to the USC film department and has set up Skywalker Ranch to become a think tank for filmmakers. George Lucas is without question one of the most powerful and influential members in the film community.

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese doesn’t rely on special effects or commercialism to tell his tales; just brilliant storytelling. Few have been around as long and few have been as hailed as he has in his career. While typically he chooses to focus on the mob and gangster-related stories and characters, he definitely hasn’t stereo cast himself. Instead, he has proven himself to be awe-inspiring in just about every genre available.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Allen Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 18th, 1946. His family moved around the country until finally settling in Scottsdale, Arizona where Spielberg would spend most of his adolescent and teenage years. Like many children of his generation, most of his free hours were spent watching television. At the age of twelve, he began to show an interest in filmmaking, shooting his own 8mm shorts.

His World War II film “Escape from Nowhere” won him first prize in a state amateur filmmaking contest. With the prize money, he would fund his first full-length film, an ambitious sci-fi project he called Firelight. Meanwhile, his family troubles had reached a breaking point and his parents separated. Spielberg moved with his father to California’s Silicon Valley where he would graduate from Saratoga High School.

The summer vacations before and after graduation would be spent in Los Angeles serving an internship at Universal Studios. Spielberg used this time to obtain valuable insight to filmmaking processes and make many contacts that would help him later in his career. In an effort to add academic credentials to his resume, Spielberg enrolled at the California State College in Long Beach, but he would not end up completing his English major.

Instead, he would spend more and more time at Universal gaining practical experience. It was around this time that he would make his first professional film project, Amblin’, a short road movie that would ultimately earn him a seven-year contract at Universal directing television.

During these seven years Spielberg would direct episodes of “Night Gallery”, “Marcus Welby, M.D.”, and “Columbo” and made-for-TV movies like Something Evil and Savage. His first real critical recognition would come from his adaptation of Richard Matheson’s “Duel” for ABC’s “movie of the week” series. Duel was such a success that it was released in theaters overseas and even played at the Cannes Film Festival.

When his contract with Universal was up, Spielberg turned to a project that he had been considering for four years called The Sugarland Express. The film was a critical success but financial disappointment, but this would be the end of his box office obscurity. Jaws, his next feature, would become the first “summer blockbuster” and the highest-grossing film of all time. Two years later he would own the box office again with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Spielberg continued his winning streak into the eighties with movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. He would also start tackling more serious issues in films like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun. He also established himself as an executive producer by lending his hand to projects like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Gremlins, and the Back to the Future trilogy.

After disappointments with Always and Hook, Spielberg blew critics and audiences away in 1993 with both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. He continues his domination of the filmmaking community today with films like Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, and Catch Me If You Can.