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Directors Close Up

Though at times not the easiest narrative to wade through, Kagan's excerpts of interviews with directors nominated for best film by the Directors Guild of America is an invaluable reference book.

Though at times not the easiest narrative to wade through, Kagan’s excerpts of interviews with directors nominated for best film by the Directors Guild of America is an invaluable reference book.

The volume is filled with intriguing insights into the process of filmmaking by many of the world’s most acclaimed directors, including Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Oliver Stone, Peter Weir, Quentin Tarantino and some 14 others.

Like a carefully assembled documentary film, book introduces each director in a brief section (“How I Got Here”), then weaves excerpts from their interviews into sections about the script development process, pre-production, production and post-production. Directors’ approaches to each phase of production create a mosaic, a cacophony of opinions that are both anecdotal and informative.

One stumbles across such gems as this from Mike Leigh (“Secrets & Lies”): “My job as writer-director of a potential film is to push and pull and bully and cajole and massage and generally direct the whole thing into existence.” Or Roberto Benigni (“Life Is Beautiful”), speaking about the script development process, quoting Rene Clair: “There are three important things to make a good movie. The script, the script, the script.”

Of casting, Weir notes: “You’re like a detective trying to find this person that exists on paper and you’re meeting people who claim to be the person.”

Directing is at core the amalgam of an insane number of choices the helmer makes along the treacherous trek from script to completed pic. Kagan’s book gives the reader battlefield accounts of that journey, often juxtaposing contrasting approaches to highlight their differences.

“I don’t like to over-rehearse,” says Cameron. “You must give the actors a sense that they are gonna be able to explore on the day.” Several pages later, Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”) says: “Rehearsal to me is invaluable. I use it: I don’t think of it as rehearsal for performance as much as I do rehearsal for content.”

“Rehearsal? No, I don’t at all,” says Weir. “It doesn’t all happen until everyone’s in costume and props. The invented world, the magic world, it comes alive.”

And on storyboarding: “I don’t storyboard, because I can’t draw and I don’t like anyone else’s drawings,” says Tarantino. It’s a stark contrast to the excessive “pre-visualization” phase Cameron says he employed on “Titanic.”

To a degree, Kagan’s own “voice” does emerge by books’ end, simply in the way he has structured and edited the interviews. But however compelling the directors’ insights are, something is missing.

Subtitled “edited and moderated by Jeremy Kagan,” the book includes only a two-and-a-half page intro. One is left wondering what the author/publisher means by the word “moderated.” If it had meant chapter intros framing the central issues and questions addressed in each part of the book, “Directors Close Up” would have been a little less cumbersome read.

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