Making Movies


After a short hiatus last week I return with my weekly reading on movies. To make up for last week’s sojourn I will quote two passages from the iconic director Sidney Lumet’s book Making Movies. It reads like a behind-the-scenes featurette on a Criterion Collection DVD, only for more first-rate movies than you can imagine (not just one)!

When I first started trying to make movies myself (fairly recently), after having produced theatre for many years, I lamented the lack of what I referred to as “happy accidents,” where something happens during a show in front of an audience that as a director or producer you may not necessarily have specifically intended and yet is a magical moment. Starting out in film I naively thought that the ability to re-shoot and control so much more precluded these wonderful moments of chance – but alas you can not control everything as Lumet points out:

Because the truth is that nobody knows what that magic combination is that produces a first-rate piece of work. I’m not being modest. There’s a reason some directors can make first-rate movies and others never will. But all we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the “lucky accidents” that make a first-rate movie happen. Whether or not it will happen is something we never know. There are too many intangibles, as the following chapters will reveal.

How exciting (and sometimes frustrating) those intangibles can be!

My second quote from this wonderful book is from the introduction where Lumet acknowledges the reality that I have spent the past few years studying (the lack of female representation in Hollywood):

Finally, I must ask for an indulgence from the reader. When I began making movies, the only crew jobs available to women were as script girls and in the editing department. As a result, I still think of movie crews as male. And in fact, they still predominantly are. I’ve therefore developed the lifetime habit of using male pronouns. The word “actress” or “authoress” always struck me as condescending. A doctor’s a doctor, right? So I’ve always referred to “actors” and “writers,” regardless of their sex. So many movies that I’ve made involved police before women played any significant role on the force, so even my casts have been heavily dominated by men. After all, my first movie was called 12 Angry Men. In those days, women could be excused from jury duty simply because they were women. The male pronouns I use almost always refer to both men and women. Most people working in the movies today have been brought up in a far more equally balanced world than I was. Hopefully, such indulgences won’t have to be asked for again.

Hopefully there is some truth to Lumet’s conclusion but alas even though there are more women in the workforce (and pursuing careers in film) the ideas of masculinity being a necessary skill set for certain work still prevail (simply ask the production professor at my current University who refers to directing as “a masculine role).  Thank you for the preface though Mr. Lumet – it makes me appreciate your book and your sensitivity all the more.

– Jennifer Dean


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