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Arts in Review

In His Own Words:

California Typewriter Director Doug Nichol on Independent Documentary Filmmaking

March 16, 2018

To get a film out into the world so that audiences can see it, you need to get other people involved, and other companies. It isn’t financially smart to make your own film; it’s better to find somebody who wants to fund the film. But then you lose control.

The key is finding people who understand what you want to do and are supportive of the thing you’re trying to make, and you’re all going in the same direction. The problem is when people aren’t clear at the beginning, and have different goals. That’s when trouble starts.

There are certain times when everybody is focused on the same end goal. And then it’s a really great experience to collaborate with people who all have the same desire for the film.

I’ve always wanted to do things that interest me. I’ve never been into just milking something for a living. I’ve always tried to move into new things that interest and challenge me—like making this film, for instance. I had to learn how to edit. I also had to learn how to be a sound man. I learned these different crafts because they interest me, just as I had learned by moving from genre to genre in different types of work.

I shot the movie on a Canon 5D digital single-lens reflex camera. It’s a $3,000 camera. I bought a couple of them and owned all my own equipment, my sound equipment, lights, cameras. That’s what was great about the film. Anytime I wanted to shoot something I could just pick up and start. I didn’t have to hire equipment or call people to come help me.

The Canon 5D is a great camera, but you have no latitude. There’s only one stop. So if you don’t expose the film properly, it’s not going to look good. With my background as a cinematographer I knew how to shoot it properly. But I spent a lot of time grading the film after I shot it. It looks great when it’s projected on the big screen.

People like to pigeon-hole you, to put you in little categories, whatever you do. They say, “Oh, I understand that person—he does that.” It’s happened to cameramen I know. They direct their first little film, and then they never get camera work again.

But in San Francisco there’s a great community of eclectic filmmakers and really talented people. There’s a lot of support: You can watch either other’s cuts or talk about your script ideas. I really love being up here.

Related: Doug Nichol’s Passion Project in Making California Typewriter

With His New Novel Chicago,
David Mamet Comes Home

March 1, 2018

“ANYBODY CAN WRITE A NOVEL, as anyone who’s ever been in an airport bookstore can see,” David Mamet says.
“But can they write a sentence that’s so good it’s poetry?”

Mamet, 70, was back in his hometown of Chicago today, discussing his enviable and prolific career as a playwright, screenwriter, movie director and author, and promoting his new novel (his first in more than 20 years), a story of Prohibition-era gangsters called Chicago.

If a good novel requires not just an absorbing story but beautiful sentences, “Writing a movie is like doing sketches for a comic book,” he told Chicago Tribune writer Rick Kogan during a luncheon at the Union League Club. “You’re describing pictures.”

Writing a play, on the other hand, “is like writing a poem,” he says. “You’re conveying what the characters want, not what they say. It’s a process of removing words, down to the syllables.”

Does Mamet have a favorite kind of writing? “I like them all,” he tells Moresby Press. Asked how long it took him to write the new novel, he says “I have no idea.”

David Mamet (left) in conversation with Chicago Tribune writer
Rick Kogan, Chicago, March 1, 2018

Mamet, an affable, unpretentious man, has written 23 plays, eight collections of essays, two novels, five children’s books, two books of poetry, and eighteen films. He first found acclaim as a playwright in 1976, at the age of 28, with his trio The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and American Buffalo. In 1984, when he was 39, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his searing play Glengarry Glen Ross, about desperate salesmen trying to dupe suckers into buying worthless swampland in Florida. He also penned the screenplay for the powerful movie adaptation released in 1992, starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin.

Mamet broke into the movie business at the age of 36, when his screenplay for the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice (based on the novel by James M. Cain) was produced in a film directed by Bob Rafelson.

“In show business, you have to fight your way in,” Mamet says. “I told Rafelson: ‘If you don’t hire me for this, you’re crazy.’ His response was, ‘If that’s your attitude, then you’re hired.’”

Mamet was determined to succeed. “I told myself, ‘I’m not giving up,’” he says. “I never doubted my own abilities.”

A year after Postman, director Sidney Lumet’s film The Verdict was released (starring Paul Newman as an alcoholic, ambulance-chasing lawyer who tries to redeem himself with a malpractice case), and Mamet received an Academy Award nomination for adapting the screenplay from the novel by Barry Reed.

Mamet went on to write and direct a long list of movies made from his own scripts, starting with the conman story House of Games (1987), followed by Things Change (1988), Homicide (1991), Oleanna (1994), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Winslow Boy (1999), State and Main (2000), Heist (2001), and Spartan (2004).

His other screenwriting credits include the Chicago gangster tale The Untouchables (1987), American Buffalo (1996, based on his play), the political satire Wag the Dog (1997) and Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal (2001).

Remarkably, given his fame and success, he had a hard time finding a literary agent and publisher for his new book, before eventually signing with David Vigliano, who sold Chicago to Custom House, an imprint of William Morrow.

In the novel, which he says is about newspaper reporters, “cops, crooks and smuggling Tommy guns,” and which mixes fictional characters with real-life figures like Al Capone, Mamet says “I got to imagine myself back in the ’20s in Chicago. I would ask myself questions and then give myself answers.”

A romantic noir thriller set in
Spain, Morocco, Amsterdam
and Chicago

—William Friedkin,
director of "The French Connection"
and "The Exorcist"


—WGN Radio


—Inside Publications



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