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Old November 22nd, 2004, 12:41 PM   #1
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Norman Jewison talk

Thanks to the Praxis Center for Screenwriters I was able to attend a Master Class with legendary director Norman Jewison held at Emily Carr. The format was a question and answer 'moderated' by Mina Shum (director of Double Happiness) and in part was meant to promote the Canadian Film Center, a graduate school of sorts that has had an impressive pedigree of Canadian film alumni (Shum among them). Jewison, of course, has had a career that has spanned many decades of film. A short list of his accomplishments include In the Heat of the Night, The Russians are coming! The Russians are Coming!, Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler on the Roof, and recently, the Oscar nominated Hurricane. Chances are you've probably seen one of his films, especially if you are a student of film. Clips of In the Heat of the Night and The Russians are Coming!... were shown.

Although I would have liked to have asked Jewison some questions of my own, Shum did a capable job of coaxing some stories from Jewison who had worked with actors as diverse as Sidney Poitier and Doris Day, filmed dramas, musicals and live television. Of his films, Jewison said that much of his success was due to the timing of his content. In the Heat of the Night struck a cord in the middle of the civil rights battles. The Russians are Coming!... was topical at the height of the Cold War.

I was more interested to hear about Jewison's lessons for creativity. Jewison emphasized the importance of owning the material, which explains why he has been the producer for nearly all of his films. From the opening clip of In the Heat of the Night, in which Poitier's character, the black cop from Illinois, is arrested by the hick deputy and is brought before Rod Steiger's cracker sheriff before finally revealing that he is also a cop, Jewison showed how effective the long reveal was (though I would have liked to ask him how he could sell such a slow opening today).

To the artsy Emily Carr audience, Jewison emphasized how their primary job as filmmakers is entertainment and not only should they tell stories that interest them, that they need to make films that interest others. "The worst thing you can do is bore somebody," he said. Harkening back to his beginnings in theatre, (an origin he shared with contemporaries John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet), Jewison said that character and plot had given way to visuals. He said that of directors today, he considers Quentin Tarantino a theatrical director. See Jewison's IMDB filmography >>
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Old November 24th, 2004, 09:55 PM   #2
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Interesting... I wonder if he considers himself a actor's director.
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Old November 25th, 2004, 03:03 AM   #3
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I had the opportunity to work with Norman for a couple of days on the movie "Dinner with Friends". I had very little interaction with him, except for on Steadicam walk-and-talk I did with Dennis Quaid and Greg Kinnear on a downtown LA street doubling for NYC. Norman came up to me and gently explained that he couldn't walk along with us take after take, bless him, and asked which direction the background artists (aka extras) were looking. I was entirely focusing my energy on the foreground (aka "the money") so I didn't have much info to give him in that regard!

Intriguing, his statement about "the worse thing you can do is bore somebody". Of course, one man's entertainment is another's tedium. Many thought "Dinner with Friends" was boring.
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Old November 25th, 2004, 12:09 PM   #4
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Charles, Jewison also seemed to make a distinction between projects that he 'owned' creatively and ones where he was brought on for hire. Looking up this film I see that he is also listed as Executive Director so I don't know if this was one of those that he felt close to?

A director with his history must have made some stinkers that wouldn't compare well with the jewels in his filmography. He compared himself to Frankenheimer and boy were there mediocre films in Frankenheimer's list.
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