1 - Filmmaking is a lot like writing.
Perfection doesn’t often happen in one take.
Imagine working with the same dozen or so words; making the same movements with your body; fighting fatigue, doubt, and frustration over and over again for hours.
Sounds like writing to me—only with a crew of dozens, movie stars, and eager assistants ready and willing to bring you hot drinks. (I really want an assistant now.)
After arriving on set, I watched Bradley Cooper, John Ortiz and Julia Stiles film the same two scenes over and over again. The scenes they shot used dialogue directly from my book, and included one of my jokes.
David O. Russell had them film it one way, he experimented with another take, and then tried something completely different—again and again—all in an effort to make the ninety seconds the audience will see seem like effortless magic.
What impressed me most was how concerned David was with every beat the actors pronounced. He’d often make the actors say the lines over and over—having them emphasize different words. They’d say a line, he’d interrupt the scene and say the line the way he wanted it, and then they’d repeat it. (It was almost like the actors were his musical instruments—he was sounding them—getting the best out of each.) I watched him do this for a long time and never once did he hit a wrong note. Each tweak improved the scene, heightened the comedy, upped the tension. He was a master at work.
I was given headphones and David gave me a handheld monitor that showed the whole shot with the sound equipment visible. A white rectangle blocked off what would be seen on screen.
I watched them shoot the shots over and over—from Pat’s point of view, from Ronnie’s point of view, from Veronica’s point of view, emphasizing this or that word, making different facial expressions, employing different camera angles. This reminded me of editing manuscripts.
Then David and I had a chat about the differences between my work and his—the book and the movie. It was my baby that I had brought up and he was now raising it through the teen years—that was the general metaphorical thrust of our conversation.
2 - According to my observations, David O. Russell is really nice!
At one point, when the sun was setting, David was making sure everyone had a hat on. “The heat escapes through your head. You need a hat!” he kept telling people as an assistant handed out Eagles caps to those whose heads were not covered. It was a surprisingly kind moment. David O. Russell didn’t want anyone to be cold.