Tuesday, January 9, 2018


The damage done by statements from Leonetti and Rubinstein cannot be understated.  Retractions must be made for any doubt to be cleared, doubts pointing to Hooper ever only being constantly overwritten on his own set.  The "patsy" rumor seems ever more unlikely without entirely re-characterizing the alleged "agreement" between Hooper and Spielberg as one that would allow the film to become a Tobe Hooper film as much as it would be, simultaneously, Steven Spielberg's baby.  No conspiracy is needed when producers have been wielding as much power for decades on film sets without so much cause for alarm.  Cast accounts are helpful but seem often more self-serving, when in fact crew accounts should be considered most self-serving of all.  They are not considered such, though, because of the sense of closely involved proximity to the technical aspects of the production.  Leonetti's account seems most revelatory because he was concerned with matters of the camera, as is the perceived realm of the director and cinematographer.  The strongest voice against Leonetti, then, is only Hooper himself.  What we do have to fall back on is Hooper's possessory language toward the film, for what even Leonetti couldn't see is Hooper's artistry being contributed even in the manner of a whispered conversation, or a consensus arrived upon between all participants (cinematographer, executive producer, director).  Leonetti's unequivocal statements on the matter at hand point to a failed understanding of the exertions that go into a picture, the levels of preparation and depth of thought - a literal durational length, the time spent, accompanied or alone, in thinking leading up to every day of shooting - that go into planning out a picture and its minutiae, a process here Spielberg himself termed as the "unique creative relationship" he shared with Hooper.  That Hooper would be a patsy on his own picture, appear every day on set and not presume to be a sizeable subverting agent in the execution of whatever may be the imposition of a producer's overall vision, is to assume Hooper spent every day on his set not thinking at all.  Let it also be said that biases and fickleness, changes in wind, occur on a set, and that a filmmaker is as often understood by his or her crew as they are misunderstood.  With an errant and disruptive presence on set such as Spielberg's, it is no doubt that any amount of effort or investment will be negated by the sheer intoxicating factor of a strong-personality producer who happened to also be a filmmaker.  Whether Spielberg proved a giving producer or a selfish one, that is the question to ask, and neither Hooper nor Spielberg's accounts ever give credence to the latter (no matter how many times he insisted on shots or on looking through the viewfinder).  Leonetti's account seems as superficial as it appeared on that first day of its publishing, a crew member's account of a strong director-cum-producer's heavy involvement in the more "general" aspects of the film's production (thus the meaningless turn-of-phrase that the film was "Spielberg's vision"), as well as his (probably more efficacious) involvement during its extensive post special effects shooting, while ignoring a director's subverting, behind-closed-doors, in-private-conversation, or more mildly-mannered on-the-set role - shaping the film, imposing his own will on the extent of its restraints and its excesses - in the wake of the producer's so-called "strong vision" (which is modifiable by nature of the very roles of producers, writers, and directors).  The account is only a scoop insofar as it cannot see the extent of Hooper and Spielberg's relationship on set, and it cannot see Hooper's decision-making while they are tending to the camera lens or getting "Who's directing here?" suspicions stoked by Spielberg's apparently-on-some-occasions moments of "executive decision-making."  I don't know what Leonetti was looking at whenever Hooper was working with the actors, telling them the blocking and camera moves, but it must've been in the blind spots of Spielberg's brilliant glow.  As Drayton Sawyer would say: "The small businessman always gets it in the ass."

It has been floated around that Spielberg's overbearing producer's hand manifested most strongly in the first week of shooting.  It is what would lead crew members to outwardly question who's in the director's seat and newspaper periodicals to run with the story.  Let's then take a look at what was shot in this initial time period when apparently Spielberg did not quite understand the limits of the producer role and so made quite a show to everyone around him.  Hooper was only ever so withdrawing to the idea of acknowledging the slightest feeling of being the least bit overshadowed by Spielberg.  Though, at the time, he may have probably been more motivated by the saving of some professional face in his denial of hurt feelings (quoting him, he didn't become aware of the whole "Who's directing?" gossip until "after he had shot the thing" and "put it together"), while, in his later years, he probably was more willing to address on-set tumult, but also willing to overlook it for the overall success of their "unique creative relationship," in which he had never, in any statement, conceded the idea of his personal directorial control.

But let us get to that first week of shooting, which consisted entirely of on-location shooting in Simi Valley, and was not just restricted to domestic or neighborhood-establishing scenes, but also required some extensive landscape shooting (for establishing shots) and some major FX work, such as rigging launching caskets in the house exterior and shooting the light show/car stunts/fiery blow-back/exploding and erupting hydrants of the finale.  I for one recognize a lot of Spielberg in that over-the-top finale, and I am inclined to believe Hooper was more than grateful to have Spielberg's assistance setting up the wild choreography and the managing of many moving and dangerous parts of this sequence.  But it remains just that: assistance.

So we can begin:

Day One: The major scene is Steven and Teague's conversation on top of the hill.  Two establishing shots of the tract housing and one transition shot of an ice cream truck turning onto the Freeling's street were also shot before and after the major Steven/Teague scene.

Day Two: This was the day of the L.A. Times visit.  The scenes shot were: Robbie climbing the tree; Shaw delivering the beer to the Freeling house (so also the RC car prank); Robbie in the tree and Robbie POV; the canary funeral; Diane's POV of Steven driving away with Teague (not existing in the final cut).  We can be sure of the division of duties here: Hooper was shooting in the backyard with the primary cast while Spielberg was shooting 2nd Unit out front with actor Dirk Blocker and the RC cars.  That is how all accounts, from Hooper's to the L.A. Times's, have represented the events.

Day Three: The third day largely involved on-location shooting inside the house.  This would be: 1) The bulldozer behind Steven making a phone call at the kitchen bay windows; 2) Anything with the construction workers (e.g. hitting on Dana, Diane observing through the window, Pugsley helping himself to coffee); 3) A transition shot of Steven driving onto their street (for the ominous storm clouds to be matted in); and 4) In front of the house, Steven being whisked by Diane into the house even as he grips a garbage can.  We are mapping out the first week of filming because it was said that Spielberg overextended his hand in these early days, leading to the rumors.  But none of these scenes in these first three days, save for the hilltop scene, speak much to Spielberg's invasive style.  In fact, they exhibit the opposite.  Yes, Spielberg wrote the screenplay and mapped out many shots such as looking over Steven's shoulder to the bulldozer, the close-ups of the worker's boots and the dozer exhuming the canary coffin, the transitional shot of Steven driving with the storm clouds brewing overhead - but what I see most clearly is Hooper influencing the scenes, even as perhaps Spielberg was there to insist we get this shot, shoot this insert, move on to this set-up.  Spielberg may have been loudly exclaiming the plans, but Hooper was there to insist things be shot in one way and not another, to block actors, to harmonize any Spielberg blueprint with the reality of what was there on the set, in front of the camera.  Hooper's touch is felt and seen throughout these little moments at the bay windows, and it is in the details of camera and blocking.  For every exclamation that showed Spielberg to be micro-managing, there was a quieter and more mild-mannered direction spoken to the actors or cinematographer from Hooper, essentially micro-micro-managing.  Then there's the fact that Hooper's long-time acquaintance and collaborator Lou Perryman was there, playing the role of Pugsley, and, naturally, he claims he only saw Hooper ever directing anything when he was around (Texans are notoriously loyal).

Now there's the more boilerplate shots that do not require a huge amount of thought to determine, such as Steven driving into the driveway, only for Diane to run out and rush him into the house. 

Day Four: 1) Robbie and E-Buzz getting into the taxi cab
2) Steven and Teague in the front of the house, culminating in Teague's line "Want to go for a ride?"
3) Portions of Steven and Tuthill's remote control battle
4) Landscape shot for showing twister moving away from the house and dissipating (Not in film?)
5) The Freelings asking the Tuthill father and son about strange occurrences.

(See annotated addendum for Day Four near the bottom of this post for further thoughts about the scenes shot this day.  None of these scenes speak too decisively of either Hooper or Spielberg for getting into in the main body of this post.  Imagining Spielberg being overbearing in these rather small, simple scenes and shots is not too flattering an image of him, albeit I can see him taking over the remote control battle scene.)

Day Five: 1) Tuthill looking from his house to the Freelings house and seeing strange lights in the children's bedroom window (not present in the existing film)
2) Dana driving up to house with boyfriends during the climax, seeing the house glowing and flashing
3) Steven and Teague driving up during the climax, coffin blooms out of front step separating Steven from Diane and the kids (In the initial script, Steven, Teague, and Dana were supposed to arrive simultaneously)
4) Reaction shots from neighbors as coffins bloom from Freeling yard (Jeff Shaw, Dirk Blocker's character, is listed in the shooting schedule, suggesting he was to play a large part as one of the Freelings' gaping neighbors)

The differences between script and screen are readily apparent here.  Whether it is Hooper or Spielberg's modifications is anyone's guess, but both Spielberg and Hooper must have been present mapping out the chaos that is ensuing in these shots.  Did you know that once the Freelings drive away from the house, there is supposed to be an extended sequence of the Freeling car being harangued by numerous obstacles, such as a corpse popping out of the middle of the cracking road, and that the vision of the house imploding was supposed to be seen from Steven's POV further down the street?  Whose decision it was to streamline the sequence and remove this identification with Steven is, again, only up for speculation, but anonymizing characters rather than insisting on an abundance of POV and audience identification techniques is much more aligned with Hooper than it is to Spielberg.  Spielberg surely was present to make sure the intensive corpse-launching stunts were up to snuff, but the overall direction this scene eventually took points to Hooper's influence.  There is some hints of Spielberg's sense of staging being utilized to map out Teague and Steven's spatial relationship, such as when they converge so that Steven could scream at Teague about the headstones, and a BTS photo exists of Spielberg directing Craig T. Nelson as he holds James Karen by the lapels, but one can interpret this as Spielberg merely assisting on a chaotic and heavy-loaded day on the set while Hooper was off actually determining how the scene was to play out.  Perhaps Spielberg was merely making a suggestion about Nelson and Karen's tete-a-tete while Hooper was just outside the frame of the photo, having just determined all the factors that go against Spielberg's initial vision of the scene.  The differences are that consequential to the ultimate tone of the scene.  The framing of each shot is that Hooperian, while the only Spielbergian tic slipping in is Karen axially sliding into the frame just as Nelson spots him and grabs him.  But Nelson and Karen were never supposed to even touch each other, according to the shooting script.  Regardless of who determined these alterations, the Hooper-style framing gives it a particularly matter-of-fact intensity that Spielberg would probably dilute with grandiose orchestrations (especially if Dana was to be present earlier in the scene).

Anyway, the point of this post is that this sequence was shot in the first week, the supposed week when Spielberg was more hands on than Hooper probably might have wanted.  Thus the sneaking in of the Spielbergian tic every now and then.  But it makes sense, as the integral nature of mechanical and pyrotechnical stunts in a practical location would make the experienced heavyweight producer's presence required with the admitted FX neophyte Hooper as the director.  Thus, more misconceptions could be made, Spielberg's intense focus on the pulling off of the sequence's expensive effects making it seem like a set that was his rather than Hooper's.  But the conversation between the two filmmakers was surely happening, evidenced in the streamlining and making more intimately intense the construction of the scene - a Hooperian trait.  Whatever point Spielberg may have approached an actor and commandeered the set-up of one of the scene's exploding rigs, the sequence construction itself shows Hooper's uniquely simple yet vivid style determining the direction the scene ultimately takes, further evinced by the stark differences from the script and the tone of the script.

A weekend break is taken before they returned on Monday to shoot more of the chaotic destruction of the suburban neighborhood.

Day Six: Just take a look at the description of this day's scenes as planned in the shooting schedule:

Look at the number of "ATMOS" extras: neighborhood kids, the Tuthills, Shaw included.  This spectacle is deliberately denuded in the final film, as if a greater vision was put into play rather than the spectacle of animated extras that is such a Spielberg trope.  Sure, this week and a half of filming may have displayed more a pattern of Spielberg jumping in to impose his creative ideas, but other than those shows of invested creative interest, Hooper must have been just as involved, no matter how heavy-handedly the PR team decided to release only BTS photos of Spielberg.  It's quite a crock.

Why is there no Tuthill in the climax?  Why is there no overturning of the Tuthill VW?  Why is there no Teague being blocked by caskets?  Why is there none of the quirky featuring of side characters that Spielberg was so sure of when he drafted the shooting schedule?  Why is Hooper so inclined to remove sense and narrative involvement and simply focus on the intensity of emotion and the viscera of aesthetics?  What is happening here is the denial of the spectacle and humongous orchestration Spielberg so excels at in the climaxes of Close Encounters and 1941, and rather focusing on the concise excavating of the idea of escape: that is, the Freelings' escape, and Teague's comeuppance, not by random corpses, but by the reckoning of his imploding property.  There need not be any Tuthill slapstick, for the suggestion is already there, the underlining not needed, the relegating them to a punchline deemed unworthy as the suburban excoriation need no straw men, in Hooper's vision of things.

I am aware we have passed the first week, but we are working up to a particular point in the shooting in which things may have come to a head.  So it may have been the first week to week and a half that Spielberg was over-flexing his producer-capacity role.

Day Seven/Eight: More effects and stunt shots for the climax: 1) Diane and the kids racing through rocketing corpses in the side yard; 2) The family (entire family in script, sans Dana in film) rushes into their station wagon and they drive off; 3) Two ILM shots, "Steven's POV of beginning 'implosion'" and a shot holding on the house as Freelings drive off, "hold for consuming implosion."

If Spielberg was throwing around his weight disproportionately in these first days of shooting, it could be because these are effects-heavy shots that were to be shot in a mostly programmatic way, and Hooper did not mind letting Spielberg take charge, so long as he got the basic shots they/he wanted/planned for.  This is to discount the fact the entire idea of the implosion seen from Steven's POV is scrapped entirely, that the two ILM shots (item 3 above) are rethought to concern only Karen's Teague, and Karen is a loyal backer of Hooper in terms of who directed him.  There is also the family's piling into the station wagon, reshuffled so as not to include Dana, and Steven's bit trying with difficulty to find his keys in his pants pockets, paired with an uncannily wry and psychologically unprovoked dolly-in of the camera, not in script, pointing to Hooper's influence as a filmmaker of intensity and inexplicable uncanniness.

Day Nine: And so concludes the location Simi Valley shooting, and Day 9 ushers in the first day of sound stage shooting.  The scenes shot this day were all the Lesh/UC Irvine scenes, meaning Steven meeting with Lesh, Ryan, and Marty in their office and the famous deleted scene (that was shot, visual evidence confirms) of Lesh talking with a colleague, Anthony Farrow.  I believe these two very simple sound stage scenes would have lightened the stranglehold Spielberg may have had on production in that first, logistics-heavy week at the practical location.  I can only imagine Hooper being given free rein on these relatively simple scenes, and the first scene - that which actually exists in the film - certainly feels like Hooper, even with the idea of a "reveal" on Steven's dissipated face originating from the screenplay.  Hooper must have decided the slow track-in shot (and not the pan from the ceiling fluorescents over equipment and shelves that is in the screenplay) and the booming shot that descends onto Steven's face.

As for the deleted scene, it is a very Spielberg scene on paper: think of the Indy and Denholm scenes that begin every Indiana Jones film, two chummy academics being fond and wistful in a lecture hall while establishing the rules of the imminent adventure.  One wonders how Hooper would have augmented such a Spielbergian scene.  Well, for starters, he and Spielberg would decide to rethink the scene so as to take place in Lesh's office again (the same location as the Steven scene) instead of a just-letting out lecture hall (so exactly like an Indiana Jones scene), as the one existing photo of the scene proves (it shows Lesh and actor Edward Ashley sitting at the same table Steven and Lesh and co. sit at in the earlier scene).

So with the evolution of the production from large effects scenes to small, intimate scenes, I can only imagine Hooper would begin to show fruitfulness in his position while Spielberg would naturally have to take a back seat.  Let us continue on for one more day, though.

Day Ten: Shot on this day was Teague's remaining scenes, meaning a wrap for James Karen, and the "ghostbusters" (Lesh, Marty, Ryan) sitting at the dining room table with the Freelings just after they are shown the possessed children's bedroom (Lesh shakes as she drinks tea, explains the nature of "hauntings," as small supernatural phenomena happen around them).  The remaining Teague shot for this day is essentially just one: Steven and Teague in the foyer area of the Freeling home, a small piano moving by itself prompting Steven to usher Teague out to the porch where a porch light turns on to a brilliant intensity.  The scene was supposed to take place entirely at the front porch, with Teague eyeing past Steven into the house.  The scene is markedly more elegant as it exists now, and it certainly feels like Hooper, with James Karen's presence being further support for Hooper's directorial primacy as he has vouched for Hooper.

This was the day, though, that apparently Spielberg was being too invasive a presence, according to actor Martin Casella, during the scene at the dining room table.  The following is an apocryphal story, but one that was seemingly confirmed by Casella on record: during this scene, which is shockingly detailed on page (with character beats, the ghostly magic tricks, and the angles on characters pretty much taken verbatim from the script), Casella recalls that Hooper and Spielberg were there, both giving directions to actors.  One can imagine Spielberg taking an extra interest in the cool ghostly happenings that pop up during the scene, such as a moving tea kettle and flashing bulbs.  One can imagine Spielberg being quite particular about the scene, seeing as he wrote it with such detail (noting angles on Lesh, the potent reveal of a surprisingly fresh-looking, post-trauma Diane).  But the story goes, Hooper would "whisper" one thing in their (the actors') ears, then Spielberg would yell "Cut" and whisper something else in their ears, and perhaps that would go on back and forth.  It got to such a point that Beatrice Straight grew tiresome and demanded "Enough," reported having said, "One director only, please."  Casella finishes his story with the finality: "And that was Hooper.  He did everything after that."

And so with that eventful turning point, one can perhaps place a final marker to Spielberg's oblivious overreach during the initial week or so that may have led to the whispering and rumors that whipped up the news reporters and probably the crew itself.  A strong show of power from one and the deference from the other, in first impression, will go a long way in alienating a crew from its director, establishing preconceived notions and biases that could persist even when things show themselves not to be exactly that way.  Considering Spielberg never made himself scarce, putting it upon himself to be present for such an intense and detailed production, would make it even harder to see the trees from the forest, to see that Hooper was there putting his all into it, even as Spielberg perhaps lorded over certain facets.


And so, that is the first week and a half to two weeks of production, up to the point at which the idea of Spielberg's overreach may have finally come to a head, resulting in his backing off a bit.  This first week was filled with FX shots, heavily planned shots, shots predetermined by the script, etc., but not negligible are divergences and tonal and aesthetic surprises that point singularly to Hooper and his influential presence.  Spielberg may have made a show of it, but Hooper was undoubtedly there to do the job he came there to do.

I'll just end with expanded or more detailed thoughts about these first ten or so days of the production, these days when Hooper was just beginning to get his sea legs on a major set and when the Spielberg-Hooper dynamic must have been most unpredictable and capricious:

Extended Notes
Day 1 (Steven/Teague on Hill)
There are a number of things that point to Spielberg in this scene, and a number of things that point to Hooper.  As they were both just freshly establishing their bearing on the set, a give and take must have been palpable, with Hooper's proclivity being to give while Spielberg's to take.  One cannot deny the similarity of this scene to Brody and [Matt] Hooper's walk with Murray Hamilton to the defaced billboard in Jaws, from the low-angle camera placement peering up at receding and foregrounding figures to the general pop tonality of the scene, which can be attributed to Spielberg's very drafting of the scenario.  But while Spielberg's dramaturgical weight might be felt, we cannot overlook the power of Hooper to modify the scene down to its details, to adjust it according to his liking.  While Spielberg was wont to jump onto the camera rig and take a look at a shot, especially on this first day of shooting in which parameters were yet to be set, Hooper was indeed on the set as well, and we cannot deny the fact of the scene's divergences from the script as written, which are not negligible in the least.  While Spielberg may have suggested to shoot it from a low-angle, with Steven popping in the foreground while Teague beckons him like a devil on his shoulder in the background, Hooper probably decided the scene's most evocative element (not as scripted): the gradual and casual revealing of the cemetery, culminating in a push-in past a totemic stone cross; while in the script, a simplistic 180º pan to the cemetery is suggested for a shock reveal.

The point being for this post is that, if a power dynamic was yet to be established for the crew, any number of misunderstandings could have resulted from a producer who was not shy to make known his capacity and inclination for the filmmaking shooting process.  If Spielberg was suggesting things left and right, and perhaps making a decision or two, Hooper likely also showed all the signs of a director trying to not leave without making his mark, as well.  This also neglects to mention James Karen in the part of the venal representative of power, Karen being, again, a marked advocate of Hooper as dominant directorial figure on the set.

Day 2 (Spielberg - Shaw with beer; RC cars; Hooper - Robbie in tree; canary funeral)
This can serve as a primary example for how misperception or bias can occur: Spielberg was out there flexing some sort of muscle in whatever capacity - producer, technical manager, 2nd Unit director - while Hooper minded his own business, shooting scenes without Spielberg's excesses.  In this sense, and, by all respects, the true sense, Spielberg was the journeyman while Hooper was the overriding artistic voice on the set.  Spielberg can only do so much and go so far without Hooper nixing a cartoonish dolly motion, goofy whip-pan, or overthought comic book image.

Day 4 (Robbie being sent away in taxi; Steven and Teague in front of house, "Wanna go for a ride?"; Remote control battle; Freelings talk to Tuthills)
One can imagine lots of moving parts on set, especially when shooting on-location.  This was a day for many small scenes, and its hard to determine how Spielberg and Hooper managed the division of duties on a day like this, especially when these small scenes point to neither filmmakers' stylistic characteristics explicitly.  We can only assume Spielberg was on set, probably being more intrusive than he realized.  Any differences from the script, though, automatically make me want to imagine Hooper taking full control, and there are a number of subtle - yet totally redirecting - differences (Robbie's exit in the cab was supposed to be from the parents' POV, part of a larger, excised passage where they fuss over Robbie as he makes his way to the front door with his baggage; Steven and Teague's conversation was supposed to happen mostly on the front doorstep - the lines of movement in this short scene speak heavily of Hooper).

Yes, an entire side plot developing Robbie's character as a precocious young boy who is both scared and willful is mostly done away with.  Whether this scene of extended Robbie development was filmed at all - it was to be filmed at a later point on the sound stage, the shot for this fourth day being only the on-location exterior of Robbie and the dog getting into the taxi - is a hanging question, though this scene consists of a number of differences from the scripted version that point to a culling of its more comedic and cloying aspects, to be replaced by more dramatic, less jokey, elements (such as Lesh and Diane's tearful comforting session in the kitchen, aka the "Marty won't be coming back" scene).  It was to begin with Steven sweeping up debris in the kitchen, leftover from the previous night's supernatural "wind storm."  There is no hint of this in the existing film.  This makes me think Hooper decided to forgo things in advance, thus his almost completely opposite characterization of Robbie.