Thursday, November 2, 2017

POLTERGEIST

Might as well get to the bottom of this.

Martin Casella, in a panel with Oliver Robins during Days of the Dead Indianapolis: "The thing that was so strange about that scene was there was a long hallway and we had to do this very, very complicated technical dialogue walking down that hallway... and we were all having trouble memorizing that.  And then all of sudden we got to a doorway [...] We opened the door and basically we saw a big giant blue screen that was absolutely blank. [...] What we got, though, was Tobe was behind the camera, directing, and they had the camera pointing at us through the doorway, and Steven was standing on the other side of the camera with a huge pointer, like you'd have in a classroom, and then Beatrice Straight said, 'Well, what exactly are we looking at?'  And Steven said, 'Well, we don't quite know yet.  We just know that all the things in the room are going to fly around and ultimately something is going to fly at you, probably a compass.'  So Steven stood there with a pointer, and Tobe would yell 'Action' sitting up on the crane or the camera, and we would kind of open the door... [...] The three of us had a discussion of what do you think we're looking at... [...] Steven had a pointer and he would literally stand behind the film and, over the dialogue, he would go, 'Look here! Look here! Look here!'  The three of us... we looked like idiots.  Like cats! ... And finally, then the very end, he would say, 'And now the compass is coming at you!' and he would stick this pointer in Beatrice's face.  And she would shriek and go like this.  And we felt like jerks standing there for about six hours shooting this thing over and over and over again."

So Spielberg was an enthusiastic helper/co-conspirator/fun-dad while Hooper stuck to business with the camera.

Casella: "It had been really complicated because that whole sequence [ed: the kitchen scene leading up to the face-ripping scene] took forever, because I had five different lights coming in.  There was a light coming in through the kitchen window, there was a light from the refrigerator, there was a light from over the stove.  And I didn't particularly like chicken legs at the time, and that was Tobe going, 'Oh here, put this chicken leg in your mouth'... And we were all in this kitchen - in a dark, dark kitchen - with certain lights coming through the window, and one camera guy; and Tobe was on one side, and Steven was there as well, and I had to basically... it was hard, it was really hard, because I had all these props.  I had to open doors, and make sure the light hit me the right way.  And I had to juggle a steak in a packet, and put a chicken leg in my mouth.  And put the thing-- it had to go exactly in the right place on the counter when I put it down, because in the grout in the tile, that was where the special effects guy was hiding underneath... [...] It ended up taking 46 takes, because of the lighting, because of the sound equipment, something would always get in the way.  The light would go out, the chicken would fall in the wrong place... [...] the maggot guy yelled 'Cut' once."

Marty in the kitchen is certainly a scene apiece with Hooper.  It merely follows Casella's movements throughout the kitchen, without the need to editorialize it with cuts or exaggerated actions.  It is capturing someone in an environment, raw and unaffected, with an individually aestheticized eye.

Casella: Finally, we did it and got everything right, and Steven was like, 'Okay, pal, it only took 46 takes' and I was, 'At least you got it!'  And he was like, 'Okay, now we gotta move into the bathroom.'  And all I could think about is, 'Oh no, this $100,000 prop that they've made.'  And I finally turned to Tobe and said, 'I have an idea, let's ask Steven to do it.'  And Tobe was like, 'Okay, that's a great idea.'  So we went to Steven and Tobe said, 'Marty's concerned that something's gonna go wrong with the gag,' they called it. He said, 'Why don't you do it?'  And Steven lit up like a 5-year-old, and he actually jumped up and down on the set going, 'Yes yes yes!  That's a great idea!'"

(Regarding the cut scene when Marty goes upstairs and is bit by a behemoth) "We shot the scene.  Tobe was actually working with everybody else, that was actually the scene-- the famous 'Who directed the movie?', it was Tobe.  For us.  (I know for Oliver, too.)  But Steven directed that [scene].  And literally, it was amazing.  I'd open a door and Steven would yell, 'Scream!'  And I'd just let out this blood-curdling scream.  And the guy would just hoist me about 15 feet up into the air. [...] That was fun.  It was fun, and painful.  And it was great, because it was Steven, too.  That was one of the days when it was just Steven and I, and he had a small B-camera crew just shooting us."

Spielberg shot B-unit, in accordance with the special collaboration between a munificent Hooper and the writer/producer Spielberg.  Fitting it would be an entirely Spielberg-directed sequence that wouldn't make it into the picture.

[Answering the question, "How much of it is Hooper's vision?  And how much of it is 'Spielberg as Oz'?"]

Oliver Robins, Days of the Dead in Indianapolis: "You know, it's funny, I thought about that, and that's been a question that I think will haunt us for the rest of the remainder of the history of this movie.  Bottom line, Tobe directed this movie.  But one thing that you really have to think or know about filmmaking is it's a collaborative effort.  And that's something I learned even more so in film school: everyone contributes to the process.  And people forget that Steven was the first writer of the movie.  It was his vision, it was his creation, he was also the producer.  And while Tobe directed me, every conceivable scene on the set, Steven was there always contributing his input, into script, into story.  And that's what every writer would want to do.  I've written things for television and I've wanted to put my two-cents in.  And directors always confer with me on what I wanted to do.  But in terms of who told me what to do on the set, where to stand, how the film was going to be shot, as a kid, I remember Tobe doing everything a director should do and needs to do.  And the DGA even looked into it years later, I guess, and they confirmed everything that I saw on set, too.  But bottom line is, it was a heavy-duty Spielberg film because it was coming from Steven's script.  And the way Steven had written the script, and I reread it a little bit recently, it almost reads like a shot list in such a way.  So if you're a director, and you're following the script to the writer's vision, you're probably gonna achieve something that is a Spielberg movie... Every sequence was very detailed, every line was a shot, pretty much, so if you follow that, you were going to make a Spielberg movie."

And so Hooper often diverges from the script (and storyboards) at specific times.

Hooper, in a Master Class held at MOTELx Festival in Spain, 2013: "I hate storyboards.  I mean, I have to do them sometimes for some special effects shot, so they can budget them, we can talk about how many elements are in them.  But I prefer to walk out onto a set and 'click together' [it]."

Casella: "I basically had the same experience.  On the first day of shooting something happened, and I've talked about it, so even when the DGA looked into it... it was the scene with the special effects on the little teapot again.  That first day, Tobe would whisper something in our ear and then they would yell action and we would do the scene.  Then Steven would yell cut and Steven would come around and whisper something in our ear.  And that went on for about six minutes and Beatrice Straight said: 'One director, please.  This has got to stop.'  And it went on literally for about six or seven minutes - you know, a half an hour at the very most - and she just said, 'That's not how we do this.  We have one director around here.'  And after that, Tobe did everything.  Steven had lots of input.  Like Oliver said, it was his script.  I mean, yeah... it was Tobe.  Other people will say-- You might get different answers if you ask other actors on the movie, interestingly enough."

You ought to watch the video and see how conclusively he puts it, the bolded part.  I like to think that's the last time Spielberg ever said anything to Beatrice Straight (outside of waving a pointer stick in front of her).

At a different Days of the Dead Q&A (Casella and Robins again) in Atlanta:

Robins: "(in media res) As a writer myself, you really want to protect that vision.  And you want to be able to step in and work with the director.  And Steven did that with Tobe.  As a kid, I really wasn't privy to everything that went on, but as far as I know, Tobe directed me, but Steven was there every day, and I know Tobe and Steven worked very closely together to bring alive a vision that Steven had in mind when he actually wrote the original script.  And he basically did what any writer would probably want to do, to make sure that what he sees on the page makes it on the screen.  And at the same time, Tobe was able to compliment it with all his super talents, because, you know, he directed Texas Chain Saw, and he brought something really special to the movie.  And, as an actor, it was wonderful to work with someone like Tobe, because he's the one who let me be free, let me improv, let me just be a kid.  I was so spoiled on that movie, because so many films after that, I didn't really have the opportunity to do improv, make up lines, and a lot of those lines actually did make it into the movie.  And you know, Steven as the writer allowed Tobe to allow me to do that.  That was my experience in terms of that whole controversy that went on."

Casella: "I basically had the same experience as well, which was, the acting notes that you would get mostly came from Tobe.  Steven was more concerned that we were getting the right tone.  Obviously there's certain camera moves in the movie that you watch and you go, 'Oh, that's a Spielberg move.'  When JoBeth runs down the hallway, that's the same camera trick that they do in Jaws... Steven was concerned with things like that.  I actually did a little 2nd Unit shooting for a scene that got cut that Steven actually did, he was in charge of that.  They were shooting the 1st Unit downstairs then there was a little sequence that I had to do upstairs, and Steven was there for that.  But otherwise, Tobe was the one calling the shots, sort of telling us what to do, in terms of acting."

James Karen (25th Anniversary Screening Q&A): "This always comes up... my answer is, Steven was the producer, a very strong producer who was on that set every day, and Tobe Hooper as the director was on that set every day, and it's Tobe Hooper's name up there, it's 'Tobe Hooper Film,' and I think people should just accept that.  We had a great producer and a great director."

Mark Victor (25th Anniversary Screening Q&A): "When they started shooting the movie, as a member of the Writer's Guild, we were on strike.  And while I was walking on the picket line outside, they were shooting the movie inside and I was going, 'OK, keep shooting, keep shooting.'  But I did get to spend a couple days on the set and I think it's like James said, I'd see a take and Tobe would [unintelligible] the scene and set it up and where to go, and Steven would come in and make some comments, which is not unusual."

Zelda Rubinstein (25th Anniversary Screening Q&A): "[I have?] a different view.  During those six days that I worked, I found Tobe set up every shot and Steven came in and made final adjustments.  So I think it's a split decision... I think for the most part, although Tobe was the nominal director, that's a Steven Spielberg movie."

Let's not overlook the fact that the accounts conceding Spielberg always made "comments" or "final adjustments" (and really, what role probably exerted the greater influence over the ultimate outcome of shots, the person who initially set them up and thus conceived the framing, or the person who made some comments afterward?) were there the fewest days.

My theory is she may have intimidated Tobe a little, made him defer communication with her over to Spielberg.  The existence of conspiracy theories baffles me when everyone seems to be in agreement, probably the result of overzealous crew members and small-role players (not meaning Ms. Rubinstein, who was respectfully entitled to her own opinion) thinking they know the whole story.

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