Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise
March 8, 2002
By Bob Green

 
 

LIGHTS, CAMERA, FITCHBURG - DIRECTOR JOHN LANDIS SPEAKS AT FSC INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL

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 premiere.

"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 noted.

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.

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