Thursday, June 22, 2006

Billy Wilder's Rules

The LA Times Calendar noted that legendary filmaker Billy Wilder would be 100 years old today, with a great Sunday reminiscence by Volker Schlöndorff.
Wilder's First Commandment: Never bore anyone! He had been inspired by German director Ernst Lubitsch. (As the sign written in large calligraphic letters on the wall of Wilder's office asked, "How would Lubitsch do it?") He had rules for every situation in life, in a script and on the set: how something should be done, and what should not be done under any circumstances. What shoes you should buy and where. What you should eat. What cut you should never make, and what camera angle you should never use (worm's-eye view or from a chandelier). What an actor cannot express without looking stupid (a sudden realization). What is indecent to show (a close-up of a person who has just learned of a friend's or relative's death). I had always wanted to make a compilation of all these rules, to put together a little handbook of "Filmmaking According to Billy Wilder." But when I would suggest bringing along a camera, he would talk me out of it.Until one morning in January 1988, at around 9:30 a.m., I met Mr. Wilder, then 81, on the way to his small office on Santa Monica Boulevard, which was really more of a writer's studio. At the time, Wilder was working on a book with German writer Hellmuth Karasek. I asked if I could join them with a little camera, and he finally agreed. Just as he had wished, my conversations with Wilder remained under lock and key during his lifetime. He gave me permission to show them in the United States only after his death: "Who cares what people think of me then?" he had said.

Sounds like this is one book well worth reading for not just one, but seven very good reasons. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear YOUR personal rules for success.

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