For the recently released film Goya’s Ghosts, Michael Hausman, who helped stage key battle scenes and prep the film in Spain, jokingly asked for a new job title: “Friend of the Production.” A more accurate designation for him might be “Friend of the Director.” Since joining the DGA as Milos Forman’s 1st AD on Hair in 1978, Hausman has been, in his own words, “a repeat customer” for the likes of Forman, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Sydney Pollack and David Mamet. As someone who has moved between UPM/AD and producing for more than four decades, he has straddled the front and back office worlds of films as few others have.
“The AD’s job is to serve the director,” Hausman says, “and the UPM’s job is to serve the production as well. One gets the train to the station and the other moves the train down the tracks, and sometimes the roles conflict. I think one advantage I have is the crew sees me executing the director’s battle plan as well as signing all the checks, and it gives them confidence.”
Humor is a key to winning the hearts and minds of fellow filmmakers. For instance, working as a 1st AD on the Prague location of Amadeus, Hausman was told the generator operator would be quitting at 7 p.m. “Five minutes later, the lights went out. So I asked our American gaffer what happened and he said, ‘In Czechoslovakia, the operator takes the generator home when he leaves.’ Fortunately, Milos never eats lunch, so I went up to him and said, ‘You must be starving. Let’s wrap for dinner.’”
Hausman says he runs his sets according to his director’s personality. For Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he became Michel Gondry’s Siamese twin, riding in with the director every morning to keep pace with his fertile, creative mind. “I had great seconds on that film, and they waited for me to call down to the set, knowing everything we planned the day before would be changed,” he chuckles.
Creating a calm, orderly set for directors who value total control is a Hausman trademark. However, sometimes it backfires. “David Mamet is in love with what his characters say, and the locations are less important,” Hausman notes. “So there’s a scene in House of Games where Joe Mantegna walks across the street to a pool hall late at night. I sent two extras through the background and after the take David said, ‘Mike, who are those people?’ I said, ‘David, they’re two people coming out of a bar. It’s not like an atomic bomb has just hit.’ He just shook his head, ‘No way. Lose ’em.’”
A one-time Merrill Lynch stockbroker who owns a buffalo ranch in Montana, Hausman credits his first career on Wall Street for his financial savvy. He’s taught graduate film students at Columbia University for 30 years and his biggest advice to aspiring ADs and UPMs is to know everybody else’s job on the show as well as or better than your own. “I’m like a construction foreman realizing the architect’s plan,” he concludes. “You don’t bring the cement in until the forms are in place, and you don’t put up the doors without the frames.”