Pic history: Directors of yore paid their dues

Helmers from diverse backgrounds honed their craft

HOLLYWOOD — In terms of cost-saving, the trend toward tyro directors makes sense, but artistically it raises questions.

Directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and William Friedkin, who are often cited as classic examples of young hotshot directors, all honed their skills on B-pictures before hitting their stride.

They were part of a long Hollywood tradition of learning, and improving, by doing.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Clarence Brown labored through some 40 films, including “Don’t Marry for Money” and “Navy Blues,” before directing “The Yearling.” Michael Curtiz was assigned to the likes of “Tenderloin” and “The Desired Woman” before “Casablanca.”

Victor Fleming made the likes of “Red Hot Romance” before David O. Selznick anointed him to direct “Gone With the Wind.”

Sam Wood worked on scores of ordinary films like “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” before “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and Robert Aldrich made films like “Sodom and Gomorrah” before emerging from the pack with “The Dirty Dozen.”

Film directors have always come from a variety of sources, but no matter what their background, they had to learn the nuts and bolts somewhere.

When the film biz was getting started, studios tapped into the theater world to find directors like George Cukor, Rouben Mamoulian and James Whale, or else promoted those who’d risen from the ranks of silent-film workers: Michael Curtiz, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Raoul Walsh.

Those fields continued to supply helmers until the ’50s, when live TV suddenly provided new fodder, with a particularly strong roster of directors: John Frankenheimer, William Friedkin, George Roy Hill, Arthur Penn, Sidney Lumet, Franklin J. Schaffner, etc.

In the 1970s, the favorite source was film schools (Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, John Milius, Martin Scorsese). In the late 1980s and ’90s it became directors of commercials (Ridley and Tony Scott, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker) and musicvideos (Michael Bay, David Fincher, Spike Jonze).

In each case, the rule of thumb was: Make film directors earn their keep before giving them the stellar properties.

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