Helmers kidding around

Top directors say they had celluloid dreams as kids

HOLLYWOOD — Even as kids, they wanted to direct.

A quintet of top directors all traced the roots of their desire to make films back to the passions of their boyhood days Saturday during a panel discussion at Directors Guild of America headquarters. The event drew all five nominees for the DGA’s feature directing award, though Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”) attended by videoconference from New Zealand.

Jackson, who is editing “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” recalled that he had started using a Super 8 camera at the age of 5 and began using stop-action filming, inspired by the techniques of Ray Harryhausen, to record such events as Boy Scout hikes. He also cited “Jaws” and “Star Wars.”

“I am a child of commercial cinema,” Jackson declared. “I love moviemaking.”

Christopher Nolan (“Memento”) took a similar tack of using stop-action to make war movies when he was 8. “Then I saw ‘Star Wars,’ and everything changed.”

“I was so passionate about Westerns,” said Ridley Scott to an overflow crowd of 500. “I wanted to be a cowboy until I was 18.”

Ron Howard, who won the award on Saturday night for “A Beautiful Mind,” said he began asking camera crews how their cameras worked while still a boy on the set of “The Andy Griffith Show.” He added that he didn’t really study but Iearned “by osmosis” simply be being constantly around TV production.

“I wanted to an actor-writer-producer-baseball player,” Howard continued, adding that he re-evaluated those plans once the pitchers began throwing breaking balls.

And Howard cited Henry Fonda as offering key early advice in response to his multiple questions as a teenager. “He said, ‘If you love movies, you should become a director.’ ”

Baz Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge”) credited his father with providing him with a rich fantasy world, partly through American films, in a remote corner of Australia. “It was absolutely nowhere,” he added. At one point, the family took over the local movie house and booked “Paint Your Wagon.” “When I saw my second Western, I was wondering ‘Where’s the singing?’ ” Luhrmann recalled.

As for current techniques, Jackson asserted he combines intensive prior planning with occasionally flying by the seat of his pants to deal with the unexpected. Early on, he shot scenes using dolls to show cast and crew “the film that was floating around in my mind.” When bad weather precluded going to a planned location, Jackson’s crew built a set on a hotel squash court that remained in place for a year.

Scott told the audience that he copes by not looking back, enabling a significant speed-up in his pace of filmmaking. But he admitted the decision to actual commit to a film remains tough.

“You’re sure that something better is around the corner,” Scott noted.

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