Sidney Lumet Making Movies Pdf

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About Sidney Lumet Making Movies Pdf

From one of America’s most acclaimed directors comes a book that is both a professional memoir and a definitive guide to the art, craft, and business of the motion picture. Drawing on 40 years of experience on movies ranging from Long Day’s Journey Into Night to The Verdict, Lumet explains the painstaking labor that results in two hours of screen magic.

Sidney Lumet has always been one of my favorite directors and a big filmmaking inspiration to me. He’s always enjoyable to listen to when he speaks about the craft and I’ve learned so much from him over the years, even from simply watching his movies, which includes numerous classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict, 12 Angry Men, and Serpico.

And this book is a great summary of everything that makes Lumet awesome. You get a sense of his theories on filmmaking and working with actors, as well as great on-set anecdotes. And it’s all told in his trademark pragmatic tone that’s easy to read, non-technical, totally relatable, and completely unpretentious.

When people ask me about required reading for filmmakers, I always include this on my lists. 

I grew up with the conception that movies were art. The media would commonly refer to it as the 7th form of artistic expression. I had my doubts. In my young mind, it was easy to assemble a film together. All people had to do was bring actors to their sets. Then the camera would roll, and another motion picture was made. It was now waiting in the cinema, and you could by a ticket for a reasonable price.

I was wrong. There is much more to it.

Creating film is a complex process. The struggles are immense. There are benefits in all of it, and the fact that it is a complex system gives extreme importance to the figure of the director – a person I thought had it easy, after all, his role was to hire people to do it for him. But this is not how it works. Sidney Lumet, one of the industry’s most revered directors, proves it.

Lumet not only writes a comprehensive success-guide to his aspiring colleagues, he also informs the layman about every concealed aspect of his process. To do this, he writes in a fluent, candid prose, that any person can understand., debunking and destroying various myths and misconceptions about his craft. His wisdom, derived from yeas of experience, shines a new light on the herculean process of movie-making. It will transform your views, and make you appreciate the art even more. 

Sidney Lumet has directed several outstanding films over a long career including – my favorites: “Murder On the Orient Express” (1974), “The Verdict”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, and “Network”. So I selected this book to read this summer in order to get some insight into his process and methodology in filmmaking. I was glad that I did – although in some ways the technology described is fairly outdated being the book was written in 1996. Nevertheless, my impression as I read this book is that it is an excellent “introduction” to filmmaking for someone who wants to know the basics. It would fit well in a college syllabus for a 101-type course. The work is divided by chapters into the elements of making a movie. My favorite chapters included those that dealt with use of the camera and art direction – Sydney explains in simple and clear terminology how he uses the camera to increase tension – during 12 Angry Men, the camera slowly used close-up shots of the jury members as the decision process became more tense, so that the backgrounds became smaller. In addition, when planning the locations and scenery for ‘The Verdict’, it was decided that “autumnal colors” would be utilized in each scene to show that Paul Newman’s character was making a comeback from a shaded and difficult past. Very cool. I also found the chapter on “rushes” very unique – Sydney and crew – along with some of the actors – would all behave/react differently during watching the daily filming and in some cases, would change how the editing process would take begin take shape. Finally, another takeaway from this unique work is how Sydney, as director, would spend days/weeks developing a “thesis” as what his film was “trying to say” well before he got together with his staff and actors to have initial meetings and read-throughs. It is a long and detailed process that the reader gets a chance to look into, think about, and understand.

Beautifully executed examination of filmmaking. Lumet’s generous sharing of his attention to detail from conception to final product explains the richness and care that went into his films even those that didn’t work out. Not gossipy, but does provide insights into the entire process.

Veteran film director Sidney Lumet (Prince Of The City, Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, Night Falls On Manhattan, Q & A, etc.) goes through a detailed outline of how movies are made from ideas, to scripts, from rehearsal, to shooting, editing to sound, music, publicity and release. It’s as good a primer on how movies are made as anything this reader has ever read. True, it doesn’t reach into the digital age but most of the concepts are the same. – BH.

I recently opened an old box which had been packed years back with books. It is wonderful when we pack a box and leave it to gather dust and then open it after many years. We are surprised by some of the treasures that we find inside. Sometimes we don’t know how a particular treasure got into the box and why it has been lurking there for many years. That is exactly what happened when I opened this box. I was surprised by some of the treasures I found and I was very excited. One of these was Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’. I vaguely remember the time around which I had bought this book – I remember buying a few books on movies. But I also clearly remember that I hadn’t seen a single Sidney Lumet movie at that time. So either I had heard his name and picked the book, or I picked the book after reading the blurb and browsing inside. I am glad I picked it up. It has taken me years to read it, but I am glad that I did – I am glad I packed it in a box all those years ago, I am glad the book was in good condition and I am glad I opened the box at the right time when my movie taste was reasonably sophisticated and picked it up and read it.

In ‘Making Movies’, Sidney Lumet shares his thoughts on movie making and the movie business based on his own experiences. Lumet started making movies in the ‘50s, when Sidney was a boy’s name and continued making movies well into the 2000s, when Sidney had firmly became a girl’s name. His first movie featured Henry Fonda and his last one had Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei. In between there were a galaxy of stars who worked with him (Sean Connery seems to have worked with him in a lot of movies) and Lumet writes about them all in his book. My favourite parts of the book were those in which he describes his interactions with Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway and some of his wonderfully talented cinematographers and an absolutely fascinating lady called Margaret Booth who worked as the Chief Editor for MGM. While sharing his thoughts on movie making and on the fascinating personalities he worked with, Lumet also takes us on a guided tour on movie making. Each chapter discusses a different aspect of movie making and Lumet takes us from the time the movie is a concept till the time it is released. There are some parts of movie making that he loves and there are other parts which he is frustrated with. Lumet talks about them all – both the good parts and the not-so-good ones. This book was published in the middle of the ‘90s and so some of the things that Lumet says might probably feel a little dated now – for example, how the limitations of photographic film influenced many decisions in film making. Since the book was published the world has gone digital and many of the limitations of photographic film no longer apply to today’s world. (Scott Adams said in his introduction to ‘The Dilbert Principle’, all those years back, that today any idiot with a laptop can write a book. We can modify that slightly now and say that today any idiot with a smartphone can make a movie J) But even with that caveat, Lumet’s book is a wonderful education in filmmaking. Reading it was like sitting in the class of our favourite teacher and listening to him sharing his wisdom on the practice of his art.

Reading the book inspired me to watch more of Lumet’s movies. Lumet started with a bang with ’12 Angry Men’ (a movie which has been imitated an infinite number of times but has never been equalled), and after an indifferent decade during the ‘90s, ended with a bang with ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. I have watched ’12 Angry Men’ and five of his other movies – ‘Network’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ – and three of his ‘90s movies – ‘A Stranger Among Us’, ‘Guilty as Sin’ and ‘Gloria’. These last three were all panned by the critics, but I still liked them (who cares about the critics anyway?), especially ‘A Stranger Among Us’, which I really loved. (I adored Melanie Griffith those days and she was wonderful in this movie.) I also think I have seen half of ‘Serpico’. There are countless other great Lumet movies out there which I have not seen. I want to watch them all. And then read this book again while watching them.

There is one more thing I want to mention before ending this review. It is a shameful thing that the Academy never gave Sidney Lumet an Academy award for Best Director. He is one of the greatest directors of the 20th century and though his movies were nominated a countless number of times for the Best Director award, it is sad that the Academy ignored him, though they grudgingly gave him a Honorary award in the end. (Another great Martin Scorsese was ignored by the academy for many years before they grudgingly gave him the award for ‘The Departed’). It sticks out like a sore thing in an otherwise brilliant film making career in which Lumet brought delightful pleasure to generations of moviegoers.

Here are some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the truth is that nobody knows what this magic combination is that produces a first-rate of work. I’m not being modest. There’s a reason some directors can make first-rate movies and others never will. But all we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the “lucky accidents” that make a first-rate movie happen. Whether or not it will happen is something we never know. There are too many intangibles…”

Commercial success has no relationship to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that no one really knows. If anyone did know, he’d be able to write his own ticket. And there have been two who have. Through some incredible talent, Walt Disney knew. Today Steven Spielberg seems to.

I’ve also been accused of being all over the place, of lacking an overwhelming theme that applies to all my work. I don’t know if that’s true or not. The reason I don’t know is that when I open to the first page of a script, I’m a willing captive. I have no preconceived notion that I want the body of my work to be about one particular idea. No script has to fit into an overall theme of my life. I don’t have one. Sometimes I’ll look back on the work over some years and say to myself, “Oh, that’s what I was interested in then.”

I don’t know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the them is something I care about at that moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.

When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same questions I’ve asked myself. What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater?

We are two different people trying to combine our talents, so it’s critical that we agree on the intention of the screenplay. Under the best of circumstances, what will emerge is a third intention, which neither of us saw at the beginning.

Making a movie has always been about telling a story. Some movies tell a story and leave you with a feeling. Some tell a story and leave you with a feeling and give you an idea. Some tell a story, leave you with a feeling, give you and idea, and reveal something about yourself and others. And surely the way you tell that story should relate somehow to what that story is.

Someone once asked me what making a movie was like. I said it was like a making a mosaic. Each setup is like a tiny tile. You color it, shape it, polish it as best you can. You’ll do six or seven hundred of these, maybe a thousand. Then you literally paste them together and hope it’s what you set out to do. But if you expect the final mosaic to look like anything, you’d better know what you’re going for as you work on each tiny tile.

If the cliché about pictures being made in the cutting room is false, that other cliché, ‘It’ll play better when we add the music,” is true. Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score.

Life has a cruel way of balancing pleasure and pain. To make for the joy of seeing Sophia Loren every morning, God punishes the director with the mix.

I know that all over the world there are young people borrowing from relatives and saving their allowances to buy their first cameras and put together their first student movies, some of them dreaming of becoming famous and making a fortune. But a few are dreaming of finding out what matters to them, of saying to themselves and to anyone who will listen, “I care.” A few of them want to make good movies.

Have you read Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’? Have you seen movies directed by Sidney Lumet? Which one is your favourite?

About Making Movies Author

Sidney Lumet was an Academy Award-winning American film director, with over 50 films to his name, including the critically acclaimed 12 Angry Men (1957), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976) and The Verdict (1982), all of which earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director. He won an Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005, for his “brilliant services to screenwriters, performers, and the art of the motion picture”.