The celebrated bit of road known as the Sunset Strip has gone through a
lot of changes since I first made its acquaintance by watching 77 Sunset Strip
on television and having customary Sunday brunch with the family at
Scandia or occasionally reserving Scandia's wine cellar for exclusive
dinner parties where one is attended by staff separate from the service
in the restaurant upstairs. In the mid-to-late 60s, I visited the Strip
on weekends--cruising night--in my Ferrari GTO and spent afternoons
having (pre-Starbucks) cappuccinos at the Via Veneto hanging out with
friends and people-watching--much as I do at Caffe Primo today--and
using the Ferrari Breadvan and GTO with Matthew Ettinger to maximum effect, if
you can imagine.
Gazzarri's would later be memorialized in John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
where it was seen as The Crazy Horse West. Nicky Blair's still occupied
a spot near Sunset Plaza Drive and Dino's Lodge, featuring the likeness
of Dean Martin on the front of the restaurant, was a going concern.
Long before it disappeared to be replaced, ultimately, as my favorite
Strip restaurant by Le Petit Four (where I filmed my 'talking heads' for
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!), my dining room on the Strip was Cyrano.
elegant, mahogany paneled brasserie with low-key lighting offered
delicious, continental food and the service was excellent. I always had
the same waiter who, given his accent, might have been French, more
likely he was Belgian but--if you are a betting man or woman--you would
put your money on the probability of his being from Nebraska. He was very
attentive and knew our preferences. More often than not, he could place
our order without being told what we wanted. Furthermore, he never told
us "Enjoy" which is one of the characteristics of a truly great
waiter, if I may say so.
Gio, which everyone seemed to pronounce
as 'Gee-oo' rather than the correct 'Jo', was the maître d' who knew a
thing or two about the restaurant business and hospitality. Many was the
time that I arrived at the peak of their busy hour--alone or in company
with friends--finding myself behind a crowd of people at the door
waiting for a table. Gio would see me and motion us in through the crowd
seating us immediatamente. There's no place like home!
at Cyrano were memorable for the food, the service and the company. I
remember one evening conversing with Matthew Ettinger and Warren Oates
at the bar. You would think we would be talking about movies but it was
more of a philosophical discussion and I'm not sure any of us knew what
we were talking about, which made it no less memorable.
were to ask me what made Cyrano particularly special, I would have to
say that, whenever I dined there with Matthew, it was always a contest
to stick the other with the bill. I don't know that either of us kept
score but we were well matched as competitors in this game. Since we
both knew what was coming, the point was to make our escape in a manner
that was unpredictable.
I believe I scored the last shot before
Cyrano finally closed. Matthew and I were having dinner with our
girlfriends and as the meal was winding down, I advised Judy, my
girlfriend at the time, to excuse herself as though she were headed for
the powder room and wait for me in the car. A moment or two later, I
made the same move but not before letting the waiter know in an aside
that it was Matthew's birthday and would he please bring a cake with
Matthew was making his own plan to sneak out with his
girlfriend before Judy and I returned to the table but before he could
make good his escape, he was met with several waiters singing Happy
Birthday and expecting him to blow out the candles. By this time, I was
down the road wondering where to go for desert. My car phone buzzed
(pre-cellphone) and I confirmed Matthew's suspicions and thanked him for
the meal. Let it be said, though, that Matthew gave as good as he got...
There are all sorts of attributes that make a restaurant special. Cyrano had them all.
I came across David Hockney's iconic photo-collage Pearblossom Highway
the other day and realized that this particular work and the
intersection it interprets is as iconic for a period of my film career
and personal quest as it is for the artist's idiosyncratic creativity
which he refers to as "drawing with a camera".
Back from Paris
where I had established myself as a writer, producer and director, I
found myself making one movie after another being lucky enough to have
investors who wanted to return for second or third projects in which I
employed my unusual style of guerrilla filmmaking with my troupe of
actors writing the scripts as I went along. There were a few 'signature
elements' to all of my productions at the time--shooting in out-of-town
locations and including places like Las Vegas and Mexico for their
poster value--but none more significant than Pearblossom Highway in
making these films what they were.
The intersection that Hockney
depicts is the final, definitive turn into the desert leaving any
semblance of civilization behind and taking one through a series of
small crossroads towns like Little Rock, Llano, Pearblossom and,
finally, onto El Mirage, the dry lake bed I first visited when I worked
on the CBS movie for television Sole Survivor in my teens. Making
the right-hand turn at the stop sign that is the focal point of
Hockney's piece transports one into a Twilight Zone of a sort and it is
quickly understood that the conventions and realities of life as it is
lived in Los Angeles--or any other place, for that matter--have been
left behind. What better place to make a movie?
The desert people
aren't like you and me. They live something of a remote, sun-baked, frontier life
and are content to let you have your freedom as long as it doesn't
impose on their own. Whether or not they realize it, they live per the
common law where there is no such thing as a victimless crime but Heaven
help you if you cause them an injury. We injured no one and they left
us to make our films even pitching in to help out on occasion.
we weren't filming on the dry lake bed, we would find local
establishments along Pearblosom Highway and, without fail, we were
allowed to shoot in those establishments by simply ordering lunch or
dinner if it was a restaurant or drinks in the local pool hall. Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Double Cross, Dead Right and Two the Hard Way were films that benefited from the accommodations offered by the desert and the particular mood it imparts to visual story telling.
Below, I have included an interview wherein David Hockney talks about his work, Pearblossom Highway.
The poster seen here is an advertisement by BP celebrating the victory
(in its first outing) of Ferrari GTO #3987 in the 1962 1000km of Paris
held at the Montlhéry Autodrome. The drivers were the famous brothers
Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez from Mexico. The pair claimed pole position
in qualifying and finished first overall and first in class in the race
winning by a one lap margin. The car was entered by Luigi Chinetti's N.A.R.T.(North American Racing Team).
was an auspicious beginning for one of the GTOs that seemed to own the
racing world in its day winning the International Championship for GT
Manufacturers in 1962, 1963 and 1964. 3987 was one of nine GTOs on the
starting grid at Montlhéry that included fifty-three starters amongst
them the extraordinary Ferrari Breadvan driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti
and Colin Davis entered by Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia. The
Breadvan started from the 15th position on the grid and finished third,
two laps behind GTO 3987.
Years later, my best friend Matthew
Ettinger owned the Breadvan while I owned GTO 3987 and though their
official racing days had passed, their unofficial racing days were in
full swing as Matthew and I made full use of their performance on a
daily basis. Having driven both of these exquisite cars, I can sum them
both up by saying that both seemed to have been made to fit my needs
perfectly. I can't think of any other car about which I can say this
without reservation. I'm sure that I am not the only one to have had
this reaction after taking a turn at the wheel.
This is what the cars looked like when Matthew and I owned them...
Having developed the Action/ReAction technique over twenty-plus years, I
have seen it grow and evolve into a highly technical approach with
component parts each with their own specific function and purpose. I
have applied the technique to actors, of course, and to businessmen
whose careers relied on being able to resonate constituent groups
amongst the audience for their public proclamations. I have generally
avoided politicians and lawyers in this regard though I would make an
exception for a notable few.
In the process of getting my
students to think of themselves as singer/dancers rather than actors or
public speakers, I have never actually instructed the technique to
singers advising that they think of themselves as an actor--until now.
student in question needed no help whatsoever with music--vocal or
instrumental--as he has that down and is very talented. What I started
with, as I do with any student, is the brand and how he wanted the
public to perceive him as an artist. We discussed the personal brands of
well known artists as examples of how a brand can manifest for a
musician. It took only a few minutes for this to become obvious and
helped to formulate his own personal brand. He now understands that the
DNA of his brand must be evident in every public offering whether a
song, a photograph, a PR interview, a personal appearance or blog post.
there, we moved into a discussion of the technique itself. As a singer,
he was already accustomed to singing his songs in phrases, so we moved
into emphasis and then broached the subject of interstitial reactions.
He had never heard of the concept but quickly understood why they are
important in resonating the various groups that comprise an
audience--after all, growing a fan base is as important to a singer as
it is to an actor.
This was only the first session with him but
he took to it easily and it underscored for me how the technique, though
designed for actors, has relevance to any form of communication.
One of the more interesting restaurants I've enjoyed over the years was
located in Paris though the one I am thinking of was not any of those
that 'auditioned' their specialties to my partner and me when we were
preparing The French Chef, as delectable as they were. In my
Skype sessions, I tell actors that audiences remember what they didn't
expect to see. This serves as a reminder that a performance should avoid
predictability and present something new and nuanced that becomes
memorable rather than banal. This also applies to restaurants.
When I was shooting Point of Departure,
I filmed in some of my favorite cities--Paris, Cannes, Milan, Venice
and (though it is not a city, but feels like one) Monaco. The film was
shot 'guerilla-style' filming where ever I saw interesting locations and
using the celebrated French Système D to get things that
ordinarily weren't on offer or easily acquired. My dinner conversations
with Jean Collomb and reading William Friedkin's The Friedkin Connection
informs me that Claude Lelouch and William Friedkin use the same method
in spite of the fact of having larger budgets. If there is a cinematic
syntax in what a filmmaker puts on the screen, perhaps there is also a
cinematic language in the way he or she shoots the footage.
In any case, I found myself shooting a variety of locations around Paris revisiting Montmartre where I made The French Chef and my earlier film Montmartre.
I shot footage in the Cimetière Montmartre where the graves of Edgar
Degas, Jacques Offenbach, Heinrich Heine, Hector Berlioz, Nijinsky,
Stendhal, Francois Truffaut and Emile Zola can be found wherein my
leading lady visits the grave site of someone dear to her--this as the
taxi driver is waiting to take us to the airport (!!).
was the hotel Georges V where I shot scenes in the suite and made daily
trips to various parts of Paris at various times of the day or night to
get interesting backdrops for the action. I remember sitting late at
night in the middle of the Champs-Élysées with cars passing on either
side of me as I filmed the leading lady crossing the grand avenue with
the lighted Arc de Triomphe behind her. On another
occasion, I took two actors on the spur of the moment and booked us onto
the high-speed train from Paris to Montpellier where I shot scenes with
them in the first class compartment on the train and later in the
station at Montpellier working these locations into the story of a woman
on a quest to find her missing husband.
Trains and train
stations figured largely in the story of our heroine's search. I shot in
the magnificent cathedral that is the Stazione Centrale di Milano
originally built in 1864, remembering as I was filming our scenes a bit
of real-life drama that my father and I had witnessed there at four in
the morning decades earlier. It was at a train station in Paris that I
experienced the unexpected, however.
The Gare de Lyon was built for the World Exposition of 1900 and its architecture has not been modernized featuring a clock tower reminiscent of the famous London tower that houses Big Ben. It was there that, after shooting the scenes of my actors in, on and around the trains, I discovered something extraordinary. Le
Train Bleu restaurant.
Imagine a plush and ornate restaurant from the
Belle Epoque looking as though it belonged in a world class hotel or
chateau rather than a train station. It brought forth images from Agatha
Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Not only did I
want to shoot in this amazing restaurant, I wanted to dine there as
well. So, we did. One of the actors received a phone call beckoning him
to some emergency that required his attention, so I had the leading lady
order a most sumptuous dessert as only the French can make and filmed
her as she ate it slowly, in the hope that her husband would join her.
In the story, they had already missed their first connection and this, I
decided, would be the fall-back rendezvous. As she slowly ate this
incredible pastry and sipped her tea served in what looked like fine
bone china, the hope of his coming to meet her begins to fade and,
without a word spoken, she has descended into the despair of knowing
that she is likely never to see him again.
Though unforeseen and
unplanned, the scene in Le Train Bleu was pivotal to the film, as it was
the heroine's rejection of the emotion that came over her as she sat
alone at her table that drove her actions for the rest of the picture.
Not only did I get a good scene for my movie, I had an excellent meal in
the bargain--this thanks to my saying to my actors, "Wait here while I
see what's upstairs."
I wasn't expecting to see such a lavish establishment in a train station which made it all the more memorable.
Today marks the return of master raconteur Stephen Mitchell
to the Stage 32 Blog. Stephen has walked a wide and varied path through
film and television wearing several hats along the way as an actor,
screenwriter, director, and producer.
We're thrilled to have Stephen back to share another tale from his entertaining creative journey.
Enjoy, RB, Stage 32
Being a Producer: Crazy Horse Girls and Wandering the Streets of New York
What does a movie producer do, anyway? According to Richard Corliss,
one of the editors of Time magazine: This is the Hollywood equivalent of
Freud’s “What does a woman want?”
The most popular misconception I run into is that a producer is
someone who funds your movie. If that were true, we wouldn’t need the
term “investor”. It may be that a producer attracts money to a project
but that is only a part of his or her job of attracting anything and
everything a project needs to be viable and get up onto its own legs.
One of the benefits of being on Facebook is that you find yourself catching up with old friends and contacts who have drifted away owing to changing circumstances. One such for me is Dave Soroka.
Dave is a singer/songwriter who I knew back in the 80s. At the time, I had returned from France and fell into a pattern of making very independent, guerrilla-style films using actors I was training in my repertory company. Dave was not only a friend, but I was also helping him with some management and PR advice. Friday nights became something of a fixture as a group of us would congregate in Westwood Village for dinner before going to see a newly released film.
One day, Dave and his wife called to tell me that they would like to have dinner with me. No problem, I told him, as I always enjoyed their company. But there was more to it. "There's someone we want you to meet." Oh, I see. "Her name is Marie-Dominique and..." I don't remember the rest of what he said. A date was set for dinner for four.
For reasons I don't recall, Dave came to my apartment the day we were all to have dinner. Perhaps he had been there for his business meeting with me but it seems he and I were to drive together to the restaurant where we would meet his wife and Marie-Dominique. Last week on Facebook, Dave posted this as a comment on my wall. I had forgotten this aspect of that day:
was at your place one day, in Hollywood, when one of your (Interview)s
aired on cable. You were in the shower. When the program ended the phone
rang. You weren't out of the shower yet, so I picked up. It was some
guy asking for Stephen. I said he's in the
shower, who's calling? He said T Bone Burnett. I laughed. I said,
"Somebody named their kid T Bone?" You walked into the living room, and
still laughing, I handed you the phone."
That night I met Marie-Dominique who looked like Anne-Marie Deschodt from the William Friedkin film Sorcerer and enjoyed dinner with her and the Sorokas. It was immediately evident that Marie-Do and I were not a match; she looked like a French diplomat's wife and I looked entirely undiplomatic, a libertine artist of the worst sort. In spite of initial first impressions, it wasn't long before Marie-Do fell in with our Friday night group and soon we were meeting for midnight pizzas and long talks à deux.
Reconnecting with Dave on Facebook brought back more than a few pleasant memories and gave me the opportunity to reacquaint myself with him as a singer and songwriter. What could be better than that?
This review is from: Action/ReAction: A unique and innovative technique for actors and the history of its origins... (Paperback)
I just purchased your book... And had only read
the first 15 or so pages when I got a last minute booking for a role the
next day. Even though I was struggling just to get off book with my
lines on set, I was still able to give what I think was a stellar
delivery! If I had not started reading your book, my performance would
not have been even close! Thank you so much!
Your book has made a
light bulb go off in my head! Now I have better personal insight into
how I can continue my journey on the road to learning the craft of
acting! This has been a breakthrough moment for me that I will never
forget! Can't wait to get back to the next page! Thanks, Stephen
Mitchell! You rock!
P.S. I first purchased the Kindle version. But after the first few
pages, I quickly realized I also needed a hardcopy version to carry
around like the Book of Eli! So yep, got both now!
Today I spent the morning on Mulholland with Kenny Lombino, Randall Burg, Peter Helm and Tom Gurnee enjoying Kenny's Ferrari 16M Scuderia. What we did today will be seen in a pilot that Randall and I are cooking up via the YouTube studios. Those who know me are aware that Ferrari drives on Mulholland are something that I've been doing since the late 60s when Peter Helm and I got together in my GTO and his California spider and shot some very memorable footage.
The most important aspect of an actor's performance is likely the least
discussed--that of subliminal communication. Subliminal simply means
something that is below the level of sensation or consciousness.
The dialogue in a script is performed and received by the audience at a
conscious level as are the stage directions and actions the script
There is no limit to the subliminal messages you can
convey and imply as an actor and very few limits on how you can deliver
them. In a recent blog post, I told the story of a janitor at a
high school who was complaining that the
teachers at the school had no regard for him and often ignored him as
though he didn't exist. "Do you want them to talk to you?" I asked. Yes,
he answered. I told him to go to the newsstand and buy a copy of The
Atlantic Monthly and roll it up so the magazine's name could be seen and
stick it into his back pocket while he was at work. The next time I saw
him, he was stunned that some of the teachers had
noticed the magazine and began saying hello to him for the first time
and conversations developed. The sublimated message conveyed by the
presence of the magazine on his person was that this individual was
educated, likely intelligent beyond the stereotype of his job
description and worthy of attention.
If you were to watch John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,
a quick glance at the hats worn by the three stars of the
film--Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt--pretty much define
them at a glance and without a word being spoken. Bogart, a slightly
nefarious city dweller, Huston an inveterate prospector and Holt, the
good guy in a white cowboy hat. The same could be said of Marlon
Brando's torn t-shirt in A Streetcar Named Desire. Yes, Marlon
was obviously earthy and dangerous but the t-shirt gave us a sense of
how far he would go with it. These are subliminal messages but,
admittedly, they have more to do with wardrobe than performance.
important part of the Action/ReAction technique is the performance of
'interstitial' reactions. These are reactions that are performed in
between the phrases of dialogue spoken by the actor. Though their
primary intent is to resonate constituent groups in the audience so as
to grow an actor's fan base within the audience during a performance,
they also serve to tell a subliminal story that goes beyond what the
dialogue recounts and can create irony or tell a tale that adds layers
of back story to what the spoken words are conveying.
In the film Morituri,
Marlon Brando's character is offered a cigarette. The script merely has
Brando's character saying "No". What Brando did was to string four
different interstitial reactions together that told the story that, yes,
he did want the cigarette but, no, he'd made the decision to quit and
that he was going to reluctantly stick to the decision but that he was
thankful for the offer. That's a lot of subliminal story to tell but
Brando was the best there was. When he was finished telling his
non-verbal story, he said "No" thus telling the story the script had to
It is rare for an actor to begin his or her career with a
significant role in a major motion picture. Therefore, every actor with a
serious intent to have a professional career must know how to transform
a small, insignificant role into something that deserves an Oscar. With
this in mind, it becomes obvious that merely speaking the dialogue with
conviction is almost tantamount to playing the script 'on the nose'.
make a lasting impression on an audience and bootstrap up into larger
roles, one has to deliver a performance wherein the unspoken, subliminal
aspect of the scene is the most memorable and far more fascinating than
the words spoken by the actor. As we look back and study the best
actors in the history of cinema, we find that this is the mark of a
great actor and you can display that quality in less than two lines of
They say you can fool some of the people all of the time. Accordingly, I think we should concentrate on this group initially. We can move on to the people you can only fool some of the time at a later date if we deem it necessary. I hope to hear back from my agent about this as soon as he's out of rehab, as I don't think my messages have been getting through."
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!, Episode 1
Ignorance is Bliss by Stephen Mitchell
Kindle or Paperback versions
Exerpt from Ignorance is Bliss
"Out of the corner of his eye, Martin saw Martha shift in her seat. She leaned forward, as though something was about to be decided. This caused her breasts to push up against the neckline of her dress in a way that couldn't be fully appreciated out of the corner of one’s eye. So, Martin turned his head to look directly into the abyss of her cleavage. He was vaguely aware that Murray was talking again."
Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)
Click on poster to buy the poster and DVD
Ferrari GTO 3987
Elysée Wednesday TV
Elysée Wednesday: Drive!
“You ought to meet Steve. The two of you have the same kind of Ferrari.”
Ferrari Berlinetta Lusso
One evening, I was enjoying a John le Carré novel and a glass of Bordeaux...
L'art de l'automobile
My first Lusso prior to restoration
It was only after Sinatra was gone...
Once upon a time...
Meeting Enzo Ferrari
I came across this on a late night stroll in Paris near the Louvre.
Simone Kussatz interviews Stephen Mitchell
(Click on photo)
(Interview) version française
Natasha Loizeau (Interview) version française
Stevie Williams (Interview)
David Gritten reviews (Interview)
At Cannes with Priscilla Lingenheim who taped a segment of (Interview) version française
Rebel, Rebel by Marc Sonnery
Ferrari 'Breadvan' trivia
Stephen interviews Marc Sonnery
Ferrari 250GTO by Stephen Mitchell
Ferraris on Mulholland
Ferrari GTOs at Willow Springs &...
Ferrari GTO in Paris
Kenny Lombino's 16M Scuderia
Stephen Mitchell talks with General Richard Wilmot (part 1)
In 1980, Stephen founded an entertainment industry think tank in the guise of a repertory company for film and
television labeled The New Hollywood Studio System. In 1985, Stephen pioneered a unique application of product integration in branded entertainment with his cable TV series (Interview). In 2006, Stephen authored a protocol for the management and marketing of business executives. He is currently producing a documentary on the Ferrari GTO, one of which he owned for several years.