Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cyrano on the Sunset Strip

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.

The 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!

Evenings 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.

If one 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 candles.

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.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pearblossom Highway: Hockney's and my own

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.

When 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.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ferrari 250GTO at the 1000km of Paris (1962)

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).

This 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...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Action/ReAction for singers

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.

The 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.

From 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.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Audiences remember what they didn't expect to see...

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 (!!).

Our base 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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Being a Producer: Crazy Horse Girls and Wandering the Streets of New York

                                             Richard 'RB' Botto

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.

Stephen has written two enormously popular blogs for Stage 32, Marlon Brando Calling.. and The New Hollywood Studio System and has hosted one of our most highly attended Stage 32 Next Level Webinars (some may say fireside chat), How to Shoot a Film in 15 Days and Survive to See Profits.

We're thrilled to have Stephen back to share another tale from his entertaining creative journey.

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.

Read the rest of the story at:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dave Soroka and T Bone Burnett

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:

"I 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."

The story of the call from T Bone can be read here:

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?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Another review on Amazon for Action/ReAction

5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Blown away! This is what I was looking for!, May 27, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
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!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The cast of Ferrari 16M on Mulholland

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.

Nothing has changed.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

The subliminal aspect of an actor's performance

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 demands.

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.

An 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 tell.

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'.

To 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 dialogue.