There is a common misconception that the incomparable Stanley Kubrick was a tyrant and an eccentric on set. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He was a true genius in the purest sense of the word. What a generous, intelligent and overall brilliant human being! I’ll never forget studying him on set. I walked in one early morning and wished him a “Good Morning.” He looked at me with those penetrating, dark eyes without saying a word. At first, I thought I had distracted him from a chess move. Everyone stood silent. And, then, he simply said, “Let’s try that again.” “Excuse me,” I asked? “Please come back in, and do it again,” he said. 75 entrances later, he finally approached me, looked me straight in the eye, gave me the warmest smile I have ever seen, and tapped me on the shoulder, and without saying a word, put on his hat and coat, and left. It was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. It is in large part because of Mr. Kubrick that my creed today is, “Everything is significant."
To study Spielberg, I’d have to pretend to be a studio exec to sneak onto his sets. I’d con my way past the other execs (which was easy since all I had to do was shout expletives into a phone as I pretended to critique some invisible writer how to change their script. “More f***ing explosives!” and the like). Watching him work was invigorating. He has such enthusiasm, such vigor and such positive energy that it is impossible to not want to try to please him. I found myself shining his viewfinder just for the hell of it. He is so meticulous and knows exactly what he wants, but is so open to everyone around him. I'll never forget the day he looked me straight in the eye, and he told me,
“Please get out of the way." Wow... I knew I was going to learn a lot, but never did I ever expect for him to give me a private lesson like that one. “Please get out of the way." Yes... I get it... As a director,
I need to “please get out of the way" of ideas that come from different sources. Genius.
Il Maestro (or Fefe) could be unpredictable with his bombastic temper on set. He was particularly on edge one day while shooting a mechanical elephant dressed in drag standing on the corner of Rome’s red light district (reconstructed, of course, entirely in Cinecittà Studios). Despite all the duress, he somehow caught my eye. He must have known my Italian was not very good and so yelled, "Stronzo!”.
I was sure he was telling me to be "strong"! That’s what it sounded like, at least. Imagine that...
The magnanimous Fellini, who had previously never acknowledged my presence, suddenly implored me to be “stronzo!”. I was floored, of course. All I could do was don my sunglasses to hide my
watering eyes. Message received, Maestro. Message received.
“Bziiiiiip,” was the first thing Marty ever said to me, as his assistant handed me what appeared to be a stack of shooting boards. Luckily, his translator, a NY State-Certified 'Speed Listener', was there to let me in on his eagerly anticipated words, ("Where is the craft service table? I’m really hungry. As you can see, I am supposed to be eating a delicious bagel.”) I looked at the shooting boards which weren’t shooting boards, at all, and there was a frame with Marty at the Craft Service table, eating a bagel with what appeared to be a good deal of strawberry (blueberry?) preserve. Talk about preparation for a shoot!
He not only had the entire film storyboarded, but he had his entire day storyboarded! I pointed him in the right direction. “Bziziii,” he said ("Thanks a lot, kid. Maybe talk to you later about our Film Preservation efforts. Has anyone seen Bobby?")