Summer 2012

You're the Director...You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner
(BearManor Media, 408 pages, $24.95 )
By James Christie

DGA Quarterly Summer 2012 You're the DirectorJames Christie’s You’re the Director … You Figure It Out: The Life and Films of Richard Donner (the title is taken from an on-set spat between Donner and actor Steve McQueen) is a compelling study of an ebullient, ballsy risk-taker who was a director even before he was aware of it. When Donner was starting out as an actor, director Martin Ritt gave the impulsive 20 year old a word of advice: “Your trouble is you can’t take direction. You ought to be a director.” 

One story has Donner determined to get his career off the ground and bluffing his way into the office of the notoriously hot tempered Otto Preminger to pitch his idea. Never mind that it was a property Preminger owned and was going to direct himself! Preminger wasn’t impressed but Donner’s chutzpah became the talk of the industry. 

After learning his craft in episodic TV, Donner had a hit with his first studio feature, The Omen (1976), and followed with an even bigger hit, the comic book fantasy Superman (1978). But it was a hellish production (he was never given a budget or a schedule) and was one of his toughest jobs. 

In addition to Donner’s fight with the studio to preserve his vision on Superman, Christie details his other big budget battles including his heels-to-the-ground decision to turn the high-octane screenplay for Lethal Weapon into a naturalistic film with heart. While Donner is rightly called an actor’s director, spontaneity of performance was always his goal and his admonishment to “just go with it” was an often-repeated Donner-ism. 

As forthright as his style of filmmaking, Donner is refreshingly frank about his critical failures. “I’ve never experienced any great struggle or anguish,” he confesses to Christie, “because I’ve always thought myself to be the luckiest son of a bitch alive to be doing what I’m doing.” You’re the Director … You Figure It Out ably captures Donner’s joy in doing a job he loves.

Review written by Carley Johnson.


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