FITCHBURG -- If you ever wanted to make a movie, there's
never been a better time than the present. With the movie industry
in the midst of a digital revolution, the average person now has
access to the tools necessary to make a good picture.
"It's getting easier and easier to make films," said
noted movie director John Landis, speaking at Kent Recital Hall
on the Fitchburg State College campus Thursday night. "And
that's a good thing."
Landis also cautioned any director wannabes in attendance that
only a few fortunate souls are able to make a living at it.
Landis' address, which followed a screening of his 1986 movie "The
Three Amigos," kicked off the first-ever Free Film Festival
Fitchburg. The festival runs through Saturday and will give audiences
the chance to see 36 independent films, all vying for Fitchy awards.
The films, submitted from across the country and a few from overseas,
range from shorts to full-length features, comedies to documentaries.
Taking questions from an audience that included many current Fitchburg
State film students and alumni, Landis recommended that aspiring
filmmakers do plenty of writing and reading -- particularly books
by authors like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain -- and watch some
very old films.
"If you really look at film history, there was nothing new
after 1929," he said.
The movie that sparked his interest in movie making was "The
Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," a science-fiction picture from the
1950s. He was 8 years old.
"I was up there fighting the Cyclops," he recalled. "I
went home and asked my mom 'Who made that movie?' "
Landis is best known for directing two landmark comedies, "Animal
House" and "The Blues Brothers." Just as actors often
find the range of roles offered to them to be limited, directors
are also stereotyped. Landis said he is generally regarded as a
director of comedies and horror films, but he would love to direct
other genres, such as Westerns.
If given a chance, he would "take a (pair of) scissors"
to some of his movies, particularly "Coming to America."
The problem with that picture was that the producers agreed to a
release date before filming began. As a result, Landis was left
with only three weeks between shooting wrapped and the movie's scheduled
"When I see it now, I think it's fat. I'd like to cut at least
15 minutes out of that picture," he said.
On occasion, a director has to leave some of the best footage on
the cutting room floor. For example, Landis says the funniest scene
shot for "The Three Amigos" had to be cut because Steve
Martin, who wrote and starred in the movie, felt that a minor actor
stole the scene from him.
Festival organizer and Fitchburg State graduate J.C. Bouvier met
Landis while working at the Sundance Film Institute in Park City,
Utah. The pair began corresponding regularly, and when Bouvier asked
Landis to appear at his fledgling festival, the director agreed.
"His being here legitimizes this festival and gives it a presence,"
said an appreciative Bouvier. "I'm thrilled."
After the question-and-answer session Landis signed copies of an
anthology, "The Best American Movie Writing of 2001,"
which he edited.
"Hitchcock called directing constant compromise, because you
have an idea in your head, then the sun doesn't shine that day,
or the car won't start," said Landis.
Contrary to what some might think, action movies are easier to
direct than slow-paced dramas.
"The hardest thing to direct is two people sitting in a room
talking, and making that interesting," he said. "A lot
depends on the skill of your actors."
He has a movie in production at the moment, but declined to give
any details. To fill in the gaps between movies, Landis spends much
of his time shooting commercials. He recently returned from Japan,
where he shot a spot for Pepsi featuring Japanese baseball icon
Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners.
Landis said his last mind-blowing movie-watching experience occurred
when he saw Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey";
he called the movie "revolutionary." But Hollywood is
capable of producing the occasional high-quality picture, such as
"Being John Malkovich" and "Fight Club," he
The reason for the dearth of memorable movies, he says, is the
lack of decent scripts. "That's the most difficult thing to
get," said Landis.