Harold Becker Chapter 2


INT: Okay, so we were in THE ONION FIELD, and I asked you, the question I asked you going out was, how long were you working on the script?
HB: Oh I worked with Joe [Joseph Wambaugh] about I guess three or four months. We would meet and work. And one day he showed up, we were already getting close but I didn't think a movie would get made, but I enjoyed the work. Course where was the money going to come from, for a film like THE ONION FIELD? I knew we couldn't bring it to a studio. They would destroy it if they did anything with it. But Joe was very popular at that time. No way they're going to make a film like this. So dark. Probably want some fucking happy ending on it. Anyway, and one day he came in and he said, "Well are you ready to make the movie?" And I said, "Joe, where's the money?" And he says, "Dee and I," his wife and he, "We've raised $2,000,000." I said, "Oh wow, well I guess we ought to get a budget." Now you have to understand Joe had never had made a film. I had never made a film within this system. And we got a guy, he's very famous, named Charlie Maguire [Charles H. Maguire]. Charlie Maguire was a great Line Producer. He worked for Paramount [Paramount Pictures]. He did Warren Beatty's movies and Joe knew him. Joe knew a lot of people because he had already been very successful in television, done THE BLUE KNIGHT and then he had done THE CHIORBOYS with Bob Altman [Robert Altman]. As an aside here, doesn’t make heads or tail but I'll tell it to you privately. [INT: That was Robert Aldrich though?] Aldrich. I'm sorry. Not Altman, Aldrich. Anyway, and I remember Charlie Maguire came in to pick up the script and meet us, meet me. And as he was leaving he says, "I'll give you a budget" and as he was leaving he turned around just in the doorway and he said, “By the way how much money do you have?" And Joe said, "$2,000,000". He said, "I'll give you a $2,000,000 budget". Okay, which is what he proceeded to do and that's what we made the film for, $2.2. And that was a 43-day shoot of which 23 days were nights. [INT: Wow.] And we worked. We worked roughly 15, 16 hours--but we--everyone involved was dedicated, okay? The crew was so dedicated to the film that I remember they--someone in the crew thought maybe we were rushing too much and we were doing a courtroom scene and I came in one day and they had a piece of Styrofoam board leaning against the wall and it said shoot the script not the budget, okay? That's how much they cared about it. We shot exterior scenes. We didn't have any, you know, of these windy lights or anything like that. We shot--we used PARs laid on the ground to light fields. But we lived within that context. We had the Actors were so involved and I remember and I want to say this, I couldn't of asked for a better person to work with. Because I didn't work for him, I worked with him, then Wambaugh. He said to me before we started he said, "Harold, you may not have enough money to make this film the way you want to but you're going to have more freedom than you're ever going to have again in this town." And it was the truth.


INT: And let's just, now, I want to start talking about process. Let's talk about first of all the casting of the film. What was the process of the casting of that film [referring to THE ONION FIELD]?
HB: Well I--you have to remember first of all, we had different parameters, and there are always different parameters when you make a film, because we had all the money for the film. This not a film that needed names. This film needed the right Actors. Didn't make a difference if they've never been in a feature before. Ted Danson never been in a feature before this one. Franklyn Seales had never been in a feature before this one. James Woods had never had a featured role. He had small roles but not a featured role. John Savage was the only one who had had a feature role before, he'd done HAIR. And so that's a glorious freedom to have and you're just casting people by their talent. And I got a very, very good casting group in. Basically the mainstay was a wo--they were working for--I forget the name of the--it was a casting agent, he was big. And in these two young women worked for him. One was Toni Howard and the other was Nancy Klopper. Nancy Klopper, who cast many pictures for me after that, she did the main work on it. And she just brought in people, I would put them on tape and I would audition them, and they would do scenes for me and I would slowly call it, call it until I found the people I wanted. To give you an example, when Jimmy Woods came in, Greg Powell, the character he was playing, the killer, was Nordic. His family come from Scandinavia. He has blond hair and icy blue eyes, that's how you would describe them, okay? Cold and here comes in, comes Jimmy Woods. Brown hair, brown eyes, pockmarked skin. Absolute opposite of what I'm looking for but he blew me away with his reading, right? The talent was there. The electricity. Another Actor came in who was almost as good and was blonde, I won't talk or mention a name, was blonde, blue-eyed, fit the physical dimension. In fact, when he left my office because I cast in my office, Joe [Joseph Wambaugh] who had an office next to me came running into my office and said, “I just saw Greg Powell.” That's how excited he got about the look of the guy. And I said, “Well I think I have to show you this other fellow, Jimmy Woods.” I showed him Jimmy Woods, he still wouldn't let go of and I--[INT: You can mention the other one if you want.] No, I don't want to. [INT: Okay good.] He's got a career. [INT: Okay.] And it's not important to the story. And I realized even though I had final say and everything because as I said I had total creative freedom. The only thing Joe insisted on is that I don't change anything in the script without him agreeing to it. The script was his, okay? And that was fair enough. And so I realized I better do a screen test. With as little money as we had we still did a screen test on the two Actors and it proved out and we went with Jimmy Woods and we never looked back. And he gave a great performance. [INT: When you worked in the casting sessions who was in the room with you?] My casting lady [Casting Director]. [INT: And so Joe wasn't in the room with you?] Oh no, no, no, no. [INT: Did that holds true for the rest of your career?] No. [INT: Okay.] Often you'd be working with a Producer. [INT: Right.] Sometimes it was valuable, sometimes it wasn't. [INT: Okay well I want to come back to that but when we get to that place. So--] And as few people as possible. [INT: Right]


INT: And so you--did that casting--do you take a long time [HB: Yeah.] with the casting process?
HB: Casting, I'll just talk about casting little bit. [INT: Yeah.] And I have a saying and I say, “There's two things you will not survive in making a film. One is a bad script and the other is poor choices in casting.” You just won't overcome it. No matter what you do. You won't go around it. So as a Director you realize how essential getting that right is. You're going to face it every day on that set. Now what are you going to do if you made a wrong choice here? So, maybe it's out of your own survival that you--you better get it right. [INT: How do you know when you get it right?] You feel it. You have a sense of it and it's not that there’s always a dead certainty. But you know, you can build a talent. [INT: Have there ever been instances where you've found that you had been mistaken?] Yeah and I'll tell you what happened. It's a very good story and I propose it is because it's the Tom Cruise story. When I cast [INT: TAPS.] TAPS. Now these are all young people, again you have great freedom because we didn't need any names, alright? We had George C. Scott, but we didn't even go for George C. Scott because of the name, he was just a great talent to have in the picture. And I had a very good Producer, Stanley Jaffe [Stanley R. Jaffe]. We were on the same page. And I remember I cast a boy from Tennessee for the part. He came out of Shakespeare, a very strong program in Nashville, a Shakespeare program. And I said, “Very talented Actor.” And I cast him for Tom Cruise's part. Tom Cruise, who had no experience whatsoever, he had been an extra in a couple of things in movies. I had decided that I should have a group. I called them a cadre of people I could throw a line to hear and there, who surrounded my principles. He was one of those people I brought in. And because people in this picture were pretty much untrained even though some of them had worked before, I went--listen, Sean Penn it was his first picture but he I already knew was an Actor. I had seen him in a play on Broadway, off-Broadway play called HEARTLAND. When I say off-Broadway, it was still in a big house. And he just blew me away in the play. He came in, did a reading for me and I would say I wish I had filmed that audition. That's a piece of--that would be a piece of film worth saving. That's how impressed I was with him. So it was an original little piece of performance he did. Timmy Hutton [Timothy Hutton] he was already in ORDINARY PEOPLE so I--even though ORDINARY PEOPLE hadn't come out I had already seen footage on him. Now, I'm doing--I had created, what I called a basic training program. The kids were all up at Valley Forge, it's a military academy. I had them all sleeping in bunks in the--because it was during the summer in there, and you know, off school I should say. And we had basic training. In fact, I called it, for these kids, officer training program because I mixed them in with real kids from the school so that they could become convincing cadets. Remember these were all guys who were supposed to have been in the school four years. I said, “It's got to be real, right?" This other kid, Larson Cunningham [PH], there was a softness about him and this guy was playing this part, the Tom Cruise character, is a war lover. It goes beyond the norm, alright? We see as the story unfolds and the other fellow didn't have the intensity. And I'm watching Tom and he's got intensity. And he's out on the parade field; I'm looking out the window watching him parading, he's already doing better than the head of the cadets from the school, okay? I'm watching a guy who can walk through walls. I mean that. And I told Stanley [Stanley R. Jaffe] that I'm going to have to replace this guy and I've got this young guy here I think can do it, okay? And I said, "I know he can do it.” And we decide to make the change. And I call Tom in, and you've got to remember, he was 18 years old or 19 at this moment, and I say, "Tom, I'm going to have to let X. go he's not measuring up and I'm going to give you the part." And he said “I can't do that, he's my friend.” They had become friends. And I thought to myself, I don't know when I'm going to hear that again, alright? And I explained to him, he was very decent, Tom. And I explained to him that I would respect it if that's the way--if he insists on going that way, I'm going to have to go to New York and cast the part. The part is open now. This fellow is already--[INT: Gone.] gone and then he took the part. So you see, there are times I had the luxury of being able to change. But the change was made during rehearsals. God help you if you already have film on the person. [INT: So okay, so--] That didn't happen too often in my career, that I changed people. [INT: Changed people.] And you know…


INT: So, we're going to go back, just to finish off ONION FIELD [THE ONION FIELD], but let me ask you now--we're talking about casting. Your background in terms of, as a Director of Actors, I mean, you never had any--
HB: No, I had very little. I’ll jump back to THE RAGMAN’S DAUGHTER. First day on the set, I can't explain that either. I was working with these young men, I said, “This is where I belong.” I just felt at home. [INT: But how did you learn to—where--how did you learn to communicate with the Actors to get the performances that you consistently do?] I didn’t, I just--I think, I was so grounded in the script, I had such a sense of what I needed that I was able to communicate that. [INT: Well do you--] Remember the Actor, let’s be clear, an Actor doesn't come in unformed. By time, I—I'm shooting a film and maybe this is a very important thing that I'm about to bring up, I insist on a rehearsal period. A long the rehearsal period. Lately, it's gotten shorter and shorter and when you have stars, you get into problems whether they want to--but for example on RAGMAN’S DAUGHTER [THE RAGMAN’S DAUGHTER], I had four weeks rehearsal. Four weeks straight through on all of them. I remember when I was doing films and the Actors would say to me "I never had this." Okay? But that's the learning period that's when you do the communicating, okay? [INT: Right, but Actors come in all sorts of backgrounds, trained, untrained… did you begin to use find yourself as you screened Actors that you were going to cast or even read, did you start to feel that you wanted trained Actors or?] Well the more trained the better. Of course. [INT: And did you become more schooled in the different kinds of training that they were in?] No, no I never went into whether they were--considered themselves method [referring to method acting] or how they got there. [INT: So but when you--] Here's the thing, an Actor comes in and you give him a character to play. That Actor if you chose him right, will steep himself in that character. He--before you even get too far into rehearsals, he's going to know more about that character than you do. So you have all those advantages, now it's your job to shape it, okay? To take what he’s bringing you and shape it to what you want. [INT: And do you do that, just to get a little specific, I mean, do you--are you the sort of--let me phrase the question this way. Are you the kind of Director--Directors seem to fall into two categories in regard to performances, there is--there are those Directors who have a very cl--they virtually see the entire film before it’s made including the performances and so they know what they want from each Actor for each performance.] I couldn't imagine a more boring way to work than knowing every--I think one of the most exciting thing is what's going to happen in front of me. [INT: Right.] I think you have to have to be secure enough to say, “I'll get what I'm after.” But you don't know everything you're after. And Actor can bring you something that you haven't seen before. [INT: Right.] Right? And when they interact with other Actors that's the magic. [INT: Right.] You see what I'm saying. [INT: Yeah oh I understand, I just--] The one thing I want to say is you don't want to--you know if somebody raises their hand, you don't want to say, “Well, hold your hand this way.” [INT: Right.] I think it would be destructive to the Actor and to everybody else. [INT: Right, so you--] You want to shape them into where you need them to go. [INT: Right, but you don't want them to be--] You even want them to find the blocking. I don't bring in Actors and say you stand there, you stand here, you stand there. I let them find it, but I often have in my mind where I want them to be and miraculously they always find those places and sometimes they find another place, you say, “Hey that's even better.” [INT: Right. And do you--] It all requires just feeling secure enough that you will get what you are after.


INT: And do you, because you have rehearsed those what is your process as far as the number of take and performances, I mean, I know it varies from film to film, but generally speaking during shooting I mean by the time they're shooting do you like to do a lot of takes or…?
HB: It depends. It depends. I have no rules. I hope I've got a good sense to know when to quit. You have a sense of when a performance peaks and starts to go down. You better--that's the time to quit as far as I'm concerned. It could be seven takes, it could be 12 takes, sometimes three or four. There are Actors, I won't mention them, when you get three takes and you know you're getting the same take every God damn time. Well, unless you've got a technical problem why go on? [INT: Right.] There's no mystery to all this, that's what I'm trying to say. [Right, but what about when you hit situations where you've got Actors who come--you've got an Actor who comes with a method training who wants to have a lot more takes. I mean I don’t know whether Pacino [Al Pacino] was that way so much.] No. I don’t think they do come wanting more takes. I don't think they want more takes. They--I think when you got to a Pacino, he's so creative that he might seven, eight different things to work with. Now that's interesting, okay? Sometimes we go to 12 or 14, sometimes it takes a little while to get warmed up. That's why I say “it doesn't--there's no rules to all of this.” [INT: Right.]


INT: Okay, so again let's get back to the--so THE ONION FIELD, that took 43 days, there was 20 some odd nights and then the film was [HB: tough shoot.] Right. And then it was finished, the production was finished and then what happened?
HB: To the film? [INT: Yeah.] Well it was interesting, that's a good story there. Remember we didn't have a Distributor and I showed Joe [Joseph Wambaugh] a rough cut. And he loved it. Without my knowing it, he called up four studios and arranged to show it to them. Two on a Tuesday, two on a Wednesday, money you have no id--and I said, "Joe, you can't do this, we don't have effects in." A car goes around the corner without the effects it looks like it's slow motion. I don't have music, anything. He said, "Harold, it's great. I see it, they'll see it." Well by Friday we got a rejection from all four studios. Alright? This goes under the heading, “Don't show unfinished work.” I wouldn’t have known, they may not have taken us anyway. I was the studio thinking, “What are you going to do with this movie?” And we were lucky, we got at Embassy [Embassy Pictures], Bob Rehme [Robert Rehme]. And they came in, they didn't have--they were going to put $1,000,000 up for prints and advertising; $1,000,000 total. And Joe says, "That's all I want you to spend, and we are going to split 50-50." Well for a million dollars you get maybe a quarter page ad. We were only gonna open in about maybe seven or eight theaters, I don't know. I’ll only tell you, we opened in New York, and these are good stories because they are turned out well. I'm in New York, at the Murray Hill Theater on 34th St.. The film opens that I can't help myself, I go down to the theater for the eight o'clock opening and there's a line around the block. Now, you tell me how did they even know. There's been no real reviews or anything. It's a Friday. So you never know. Okay? And we did very well on the film. When I say very well, I mean put it in a context, in terms of what you're seeing in film today this is--wouldn't even be mentioned. But for a film that cost $2,000,000, we opened and, I mean, Joe gave me a piece of the film, I did very well out of it. And to keep it relative. But it was a very successful movie. [INT: And so then you went--] It did very well critically, as well. It took a while, by the way, before Hollywood saw the movie as anything. There were people out here, I remember, when I got TAPS, Stanley Jaffe [Stanley R. Jaffe] has loved THE ONION FIELD. There were people who loved THE ONION FIELD, but I'd say the commercial-minded people out here, the suits, they wouldn't--they didn't have a clue. [INT: So they work banging your door down after ONION FIELD?] Oh no, THE ONION FIELD open to all doors. [INT: It did?] Because I went directly from THE ONION FIELD, I didn’t, I was still not thinking Hollywood. Joe [Joseph Wambaugh] had another film he wanted me to do with him. I didn't even know about, he'd been working on it, THE BLACK MARBLE, black comedy. I could tell you how… this is going to go on forever. I didn't want to go into all these stories, but when we did THE BLACK MARBLE, the reason Joe wanted to make that film right away is to make back the money he was going to lose on the other. Joe put his--he basically mortgaged his house to get up some of the money for the film, that's how--[INT: ONION FIELD?] ONION FIELD. He went for broke. Now he's got what he thinks is a commercial film. We all think it's commercial. It's a black comedy. We've got Paula Prentiss and Bob Foxworth [Robert Foxworth] and Harry Dean Stanton. Okay? We make the film. We made a good film. It was a good enough film, we got the best--of all my films it got the best critical reaction, you know when they do those box goes--we were in the 95 percent. People gave us double page spreads about the movie. And it opened on Friday and closed on Sunday. So there's your sure thing. Right, it went the opposite way. THE ONION FIELD was still running after the other one left the theaters. [INT: And the--] Be careful of black comedies. [INT: Right. And what was it about BLACK MARBLE that appealed to you?] Well again, it was a story of this alcoholic cop who's paired with this rather prudish female cop and then you got a wonderful Harry Dean Stanton with a dog. It's truly a black comedy because it's about a dognapping. Okay? Anyway, yes it appealed to me. [INT: So--] It also appealed to me working with Joe again and everything. And then right after that I got TAPS. And TAPS I got directly from THE ONION FIELD.


INT: Right. Now, just using those three films, a little bit about your shooting technique. Two things that really--well there are a number of things. So many of your films are urban and high energy, lots of jeopardy in the stories and very powerful performances and--but there's also, in so many of your films, including these three, the setting is the first character that you introduce. Either there is a high crane shot that moves slowly, takes you slowly, eases you into the story or I can't remember which one of the three in which there is a very long dolly shot where you set up the community or the environment, the setting of the story and is that something you're very conscious of?
HB: I have to be honest with you I don't remember how I begun these films. Of course, you're conscious of the setting for the film, but I wouldn't say that I would have done anything that would I just dwelled on that. Introducing characters are one thing. I'm trying to remember THE ONION FIELD, how it started. Didn't it start with him going for shoeshine with the guys walking, with Franklyn Seales walking down the street? [INT: Yeah but it does introduce the setting and I just I’d have to really have to either look at it to refresh my memory but for the longest time of your films, they all--I mean, they're always a very interesting shots but there's no question that the first character you're being introduced to--] That's interesting. [INT: Is the location.] Right, it's very important. I can tell you a story about that. [INT: Go ahead.] What I did, THE RAGMAN’S DAUGHTER, I was in London [London, United Kingdom]. Now, for somebody coming out of New York is going to another big city is no big deal. We are easy travelers. Right? [INT: Uh-hmm.] But where we really felt foreign, or I felt foreign, was when I went down to meet Silletoe [Alan Silletoe] I was working with him. I first met him in London. He lived in a place called Wittersham [Wittersham, England] which was right on the coast, on the Channel [referring to the English Channel]. And I went down to see him there and that's real English. There I felt outside. And I remember saying to him, "You know, when I got down here I thought to myself, ‘I don't know what I'm doing here, doing an English movie,’” I said, “’the only thing that's holding me to this thing is that image of the girl on a horse riding down at cobblestone street with the terrace houses in Nottingham.’” He said, "That's interesting," Cause he said, "That's the image that made me write the story." But you see what I mean, and that's how we opened the movie. [INT: Right. But also don't you think you're influenced by the fact that, I mean, the predilection that you were an artist and there is this, for lack of better terms, of a painterly quality in terms of composition and that that's something of second nature to you that you?] Probably second nature, that's probably why I'm not thinking about it, yeah. [INT: And then the other things just mentioning--] Otherwise, no, I don't go out and say hey that would be a great shot. [INT: Right.] Okay. Those kind of things come with the territory. [INT: Right. And the other part of that is the elements that you put into that, and that rain is a very strong element in your films. Rain and snow.] I love ‘em. I love ‘em, yeah. [INT: Do you ever get--Did they ever try to discourage you about that in your--] Well, the budget will discourage you. [INT: That's what I'm talking about, yeah.] Yeah. [INT: So is that always a fight?] No. [INT: No?] No, I did one--and when I did CITY HALL I had a snow scene, [INT: Right.] to end all snow scenes. Half of it never ended up in the movie. I still feel guilty about it. I probably left a million dollars on the--on the, maybe that's exaggerated, but close to it, on the cutting room floor. [INT: But your rain is real. There are usually rain storms.] I like rain, yeah. I like the texture of the things. Toughest thing working out in LA [Los Angeles, California] and these things is the--that sunshine that--[INT: Right, right.] Tough, it's tough on photography and everything. [INT: Right, yeah it's the worst place for--] Yeah. [INT: For light, for aesthetics right.] It's tough. [INT: Right.]


INT: So okay. Is there anything more you want to say about BLACK MARBLE [THE BLACK MARBLE]; I mean that was a Wambaugh [Joseph Wambaugh] film and so he was sort of like your rabbi [Yiddish word for teacher or religious teacher] into the film business and--
HB: Well I don't know about a rabbi? Uh, he was a--By Rabbi, it would imply that--he was not a filmmaker. [INT: Right, no, I didn't mean that. I meant, he seemed to have taken care of you in a sense.] Well, we took care of each other. [INT: Yeah, but as a Producer he gave you freedom which--] He really wanted, yeah. He wanted--we brought in a Producer. [INT: Right.] You follow me? [INT: Right.] I said to him "Joe," this was naïve but I said, “Well, you'll be the Producer, I'll be the--” He said, “I don't want to be the Producer, all I want to be is to have the writing.” I said, “Then, I guess we've got to get ourselves a Producer.” [INT: Right.] We got a Producer in there. I won’t talk about it. [INT: On--you're talking about BLACK MARBLE?] No, on ONION FIELD [THE ONION FIELD]. [INT: Well you did mention the Producer.] No, I didn't mention the Producer, I mentioned the Producer on--Stanley Jaffe [Stanley R. Jaffe] on what's that other one. We had a fellow Walter Coblenz, who was a very experienced Line Producer. [INT: Right.] He was the Producer on and THE ONION FIELD. [INT: Right. So, okay. So then how did TAPS happen?] Stanley Jaffe called me. That's all. And offered me the picture. There had been a Director hanging on it. He had gone around it, six months earlier, being clever, he had sent this Director out to do second unit because--this is before the picture got started even before we even cast it. I mean my guy came on we didn't even have a script we liked. But we sent out a--he sent him out to do second unit, the parade. You know, bring in four or five cameras and he tried to--that fellow--I won't refer to his talent but he dropped the ball and he was off the picture. This was long before I got involved. And when I got involved we brought another Writer, Darryl Ponicsan, who I also did THE BOOST with. Terrific Writer. I did also with him VISION QUEST. [INT: Right.] Great picture though. Very talented Writer and we worked on the script, and we had a long--there was a strike. That was a big Actors strike. I think it was like what '81 [1981], '82 [1982]? '81 probably, and we couldn't shoot because of the Actors strike and we had to lay the whole picture off, we came back six months later. In the meantime, it was very valuable, we had time to really work on the script.


INT: I want to talk about something that I find is a distinguishing characteristic or quality or technique that is almost uniquely yours as a Director. At least in terms of my consciousness and even it applies to both ONION FIELD [THE ONION FIELD], BLACK MARBLE [THE BLACK MARBLE], and TAPS, and the others, but I'm going to use these three and that is what I call a shifting point of view in your storytelling. In THE ONION FIELD, the first half is weighted towards Woods' [James Woods]. You're basically--it's not, I don't mean, in a subjective camera a point of view, but you’re in his point of view. And then, by the time the film is over, you've shifted the point of view to John Savage's character. In BLACK MARBLE there is an interesting transition from the point of view of Foxworth [Robert Foxworth] in which you're--he is comic, you know, and so you have a more objective view of him and then the film shifts again and then you're in his point of view, rather that than an objectified point of view. And then in TAPS, you're pretty much in Timothy Hutton's point of view through the film. You even see George C. Scott from you know the innocent eyes of—[HB: Yeah, I do, I--] but and you invested him. But in the end you have--you make the shift to Ronny Cox's point of view. And when I say make the shift, it’s not so much visual as it is the way you weight it emotionally. Suddenly, you just--this is a very difficult thing to do and you seem to do it over and over again and that is that you take the emotional weight, where the audience is invested and it's almost like you lift them and move them over here, and they don't even know it's being done and the result is it makes your films always emotionally powerful because you're not trapped into where you started in terms of investment.
HB: Right, I would say it's a little like, what I said before, knowing where to put the camera. And it's knowing where to put the camera in terms of the emotional weight of the film. Before the films over we have to see these boys from the point of view of the rest of us. These boys who have lived in this here claustrophobic world where they really have had such a distorted view of reality that they are able to create this drama that would never could have taken place except if it had not been for this walled community. The outsider is Ronny Cox and it's like when they're seeing it through his eyes at the end it’s, "God, what have we wrought." And I think that's where it has to land of course. It's as simple as that. You see what I'm saying? [INT: Yeah, but are you conscious of the fact that you're doing this?] Of course. I'm saying that--I'm saying the script tells you where you want to be. [INT: So--] That's the storytelling, that's what I mean when I say knowing where to put a camera. I don't mean knowing where to put the camera compositionally. That goes--that's something--you can put the camera someplace and get a great composition but it doesn't tell you a story. [INT Right.] Knowing where to put the camera for your story. See, so the script dictates where to put the camera. [INT: So you're the omniscient storyteller in your films?] Yeah, of course. [INT: Right.] Yeah. [INT: I mean just so that we're clear you take a film like CHINATOWN, just another example, okay. The point of view of never shifts or it's Nicholson [Jack Nicholson] from first frame to last frame. Right?] Yeah that's, that is also that genre film. [INT: Right.] The private eye always had that as its focus. [INT: Right.] You can almost say it's one of the things that distinguishes it as a genre film. [INT: Right.] That point of view. Oh so it's a mystery, so you want to tell the story from the point of view of the guy who is going to solve the mystery, get the criminal, so to speak. You see what I'm saying? [INT: Yes, but when you get to someone like Hitchcock [Alfred Hitchcock], he'll only do that for the first three quarters of the film.] Oh, I agree. Yes, Hitchcock--[INT: And then he puts the audience ahead of the protagonist.] I said--but it's always an issue. Do you want to let the audience know? [INT: Yeah.] That, as you walk down the alley, do you want the audience to see--know that there's somebody waiting? Those are big decisions to make. [INT: Right.] Or do you want to shock them? If you walk down that alley with the principal and have someone leap out at them that's a shock of one sort. Now, the other shock is to load the gun. Have somebody in the shadows and now you're the outsider who almost wants to scream. You see what I'm saying? [INT: Yes, and that's the Hitchcock technique.] Yeah. [INT: Right, that's what he'll do three quarters of the way through.]


INT: Okay, but getting back to you. So, okay. So, in TAPS, you use--the other thing about TAPS that--we're doing this in 2010, and the film was made in 1981 and there is something so contemporary about it because it was--it really is a brilliant metaphor of what happens and what is even happening today when a group or a leader believes justice is on his side.
HB: Yeah, like THE MILITIA MAN and all that. Do you know that they're actually talking about, and I'm not happy about it, they're actually talking about doing a remake of TAPS right now. [INT: Is that right?] Sequel, Sequel, Sequels. That's what Hollywood makes. They're also talking about making a sequel to, not a sequel, another version of VISION QUEST. [INT: Okay, so but TAPS, again now the other thing about TAPS is the remarkable casting. I mean you mentioned before about Tom Cruise was $20--20 pounds heavier in that film then he has ever been in his life.] He had been a wrestler, a high school wrestler and everything. [INT: Oh, is that right?] Yeah, he was a body builder and I got him off of that. [INT: So you--who--do you remember who cast that film for you?] Yeah. Oh yeah, Shirley Rich. [INT: Right.] Wonderful casting woman [Casting Director] from New York. I was in New York casting pictures. She did most of her work on the stage. [INT: Right. And all of these with the exception of Timothy Hutton, all of these young Actors were totally unknown at that point right?] Yeah. [INT: And you mentioned that--] Yeah, absolutely. [INT: Sean Penn, was his first film?] Yeah. [INT: So did you--was casting a very long process?] Yeah. Yeah, it was a long laborious process because we have a lot of people to cast in the picture. You know there were a lot of kids in that picture. [INT: Right. And how long was the shoot on that, do you remember?] It could've been 50 days that time. It was a difficult shoot. A tough shoot. It could've been 50, 50. I don't think it was more than 50. 50, 55 days. [INT: And the DP [Cinematographer]--] But I'm not sure. And my DP on that one was a wonderful Cinematographer; a great Cinematographer Owen Roizman but he had also done BLACK MARBLE [THE BLACK MARBLE] for me. [INT: Right, and then he went on to do VISION QUEST after that?] That's correct. [INT: Right, yeah.] I'm very involved with Cinematographers as you can imagine. [INT: Yes, well we're going to get to that.] Because... [INT: Yeah, Gordon Willis even.] Oh, yeah another great one. The one thing, because I was myself--because I'm a Photographer myself for one, I certainly need to have such a high regard for the Cinematographer that I didn't even dream of second-guessing them. If I had to second-guess the Cinematographer I was in trouble. So I made sure I got people I respected for what they did. [INT: And then you just gave them their...?] Well know it was always collaborative, of course, yeah. [INT: Right, right. What about working with--this was at the end of George C. Scott's career wasn't it?] No, I actually use him again in MALICE. [INT: Right.] That was near the end of his career, yeah. [INT: Right yeah that's right that was--] And when I used him in, it was ironic, when I used him in TAPS I think he was like 54 years old, 53 or 54. He was old for that because he had so abused himself. [INT: Right.] You know. [INT: Was it--did you have any difficulty with him because of his prob--] No, he was great.


INT: And another thing that I found interesting on TAPS is your restraint on music in that film. There are--
HB: Yeah, we didn’t have as much as we wanted. Yeah, I know. [INT: Well but it seemed to work for the film.] Oh, it worked very well. [INT: Yeah.] And they used a wonderful Composer. [INT: Composer.] Good old, what's his name again? Oh God, why do I forget his name now. He did all--he did BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI [THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI], he did LAWRENCE OF ARABIA [INT: Oh, Maurice Jarre.] Maurice Jarre. [INT: Maurice Jarre. Yes. And you did a couple of films with him, yeah. Yeah, but when you say you didn't have it, you mean budgeted?] There was some places where I could’ve used and we never--sometimes you don't get the piece you need. I missed some tension music some places in it. [INT: I you know having just seen it...] Yeah. [INT: I thought it was intentional.] Yeah. [INT: And it--] I have to tell you something. Often, you are very--I'm critical of my work obviously and there are things that leave me unsatisfied and then I'll see them years later and I was thinking they were much better than I thought they were originally. [INT: Right, yeah. Well it gave the absence of scoring there, made it more frightening.] Yeah, we're in a time now we are they just pour in songs and things like that. [INT: Right.] It's become a form of storytelling. [INT: Right, right.] I'm not a fan of it. [INT: Yeah.] Okay? [INT: Yeah.] I think it's cheap, a cheap crutch. [INT: Right.] Yeah, Directors who do pictures like SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE and those kind of movies. [INT: Yeah.] And they literally tell the story with--[INT: A song.] And it's so facile. [INT: Right.] And I know it's commercially successful, people like to hear songs. [INT: Right, yeah.] I had some problems with VISION QUEST that way. I had an endless seesaw battle with my Producer Jon Peters who wanted to shove more music in. I think half the time he may have been thinking about the--and he was thinking about it. And he didn't mean it in a negative way, it was commercial. He was thinking about the soundtrack and he can--and he did go platinum on, you know we had Madonna in it. [INT: Right, right.] But I was--Madonna was okay with me because she was--first of all she was unknown and she was playing a singer in a roadside. It wasn't that I was shoving music in that way. [INT: Right.] But we shoved some music in yeah. [INT: That wasn't her first film it was--] Yeah, it was. [INT: It was?] Yeah. [INT: She made another one in Brooklyn but I--maybe it was after yours.] Yeah, it was the first thing she did. [INT: So, I mean that would take us--] When you say, “made her films,” she's only done a performance. [INT: Right, yeah.] You know. [INT: But you--] The first film she was in.


INT: You have a lot of a whole history of discovering.
HB: Yeah I do, it's amazing. [INT: Yeah.] And Linda Fiorentino, it was first time. [INT: Oh, that was her first film?] First thing. I remember Bruce Willis telling me when I worked with him, he had been--there was a place in New York called Café Central were all the Actors hung out up on the Westside. He was a bartender there. She came in from Philadelphia [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]. [INT: Gordon Willis you taught?] Yeah, not Gordon Willis it was--[INT: Oh, Bruce Willis.] Bruce Willis. Did I say Gordon Willis? [INT: No, you just said Willis, that's it okay.] I'm sorry. He was a bartender there, he was trying to break in. He told me stories how he used to have to go out and use the telephone outside, they had a public telephone outside to call his agent and she came to work at the bar from Philadelphia. He put her up, he had let her stay at his place. There was nothing romantic, he let her stay at his place. She comes in one day and says “I got a feature role in a movie.” He said, "Here I am tending bar, banging on doors and this girl comes in and she's here six weeks and she says she has a feature role in--” it was-- [INT: Your movie, VISION QUEST.] VISION QUEST. Of course, I worked with him later and that's when he told me the story. [INT: Right, right.]


INT: So, okay. Now VISION QUEST is another film that has--that does have the very long dolly crane shot and it is the place that you used the zoom for the first time that I saw.
HB: God, then I wish I remembered it. [INT: You well, you'll scan it. You'll take a look at it.] No, I'll take your word for it. [INT: So now that was--was that Forrest Whitaker's first film as well?] I don't know that was his first, but pretty close to it. [INT: Yeah, and so why don't you talk a little bit about the history of that--] You spotted him there huh? [INT: What?] You spotted him? [INT: Oh yeah, you have in one of your films and I'll come to it you have Sam Ja--Not Sam.] Sam had--[INT: Samuel Jackson.] Yeah, who I'm going to make a movie with now. [INT: Oh, is that right?] Yeah. [INT: Yeah, I mean he--] At his first he came in--[INT: He did three lines.] Three lines, two minutes, electrifying. And he tells me that he got a call from me, I remember this, his Agent got a call saying, "I'm looking for somebody, a black Actor, young, who can have the energy to electrify the moment." And he sent Sam Jackson now. He walked in he did that first thing, remember when he says--[INT: Which film was this now were talking about?] We're talking about SEA OF LOVE. [INT: SEA OF LOVE. Okay. Right. That’s what it is, SEA OF LOVE. Okay.] Yea, in the first couple of minutes. He made such an impression that when--at the AFI [American Film Institute] thing for Al [Al Pacino], he gets up to speak and they're wondering, “What's Sam Jackson? He's never been in a film with-- [INT: Pacino.] Pacino. So, “what could he--what is he doing here?” And he says that, he says, “You're probably wondering what I'm doing here. And then from the balcony there you know they have a balcony there at the AFI, everybody started yelling, “SEA OF LOVE!” So people remembered him from it. [INT: Oh yeah, yeah.] Even if it--first couple of minutes.


INT: I wanted to know about VISION QUEST in terms how that came together?
HB: Oh yeah, that was sent to me. [INT: Right.] That was sent to me, a book. I didn’t even know that other people had worked on it before and had come up with a screenplay and been thrown--they didn't tell me. I might not have even taken it if they had. The book was sent to me. I had a lot of heat at the time with the success of TAPS. You know this business, you do one thing with kids you get another thing with kids. But, I liked the story and I brought in Darryl Ponicsan; this was for Guber Peters [Peter Guber]. Really Warner Bros.. Warner Bros., after TAPS, Warner Bros. invited me in and gave me a production deal over there. So I had offices, suddenly I'm in Hollywood. I've got offices in the studio, dot dot dot. Making development deals. Heady stuff. And this came along and we developed a screenplay and went and made a movie. And then I saw Matthew Modine. Now, Matthew hadn't done anything really, but he'd done one film before. He had done a film with Altman [Robert Altman] and it was about basic training [referring to the film, STREAMERS]. It was really almost a forerunner to what he did in FULL METAL JACKET. But I hadn't seen it. I--he came in and I was looking for a kid with hay in his hair. Alright? And he was the kid. And Linda, wanted somebody who was sort of like, “I've been around the block.” It was her first film. Ronnie Cox, well he was like, you know, my lucky penny. I had used him in a couple of films already. Of course, he had done TAPS for me, he did this and he did another film. And he was in THE ONION FIELD [INT: Right.] Remember. Okay.


INT: So and you had, Tangerine Dream you used for scoring that?
HB: Yeah. [INT: And--] A German group. [INT: Yeah, were you the first to bring them in as far as film, I mean they...] I don't remember. [INT: I mean, they did become popular for a while.] They did. [INT: Yeah.] But I think we may have been the first. I had a sophisticated group who I was working with. Of course, Guber Peters [Peter Guber] were part of like Casablanca and on one of this record company. [INT: Right.] So they--for example, they are the ones who came up with Madonna. They had two girls. [INT: Right.] One in Chicago and one in New York and I chose the one in New York, Madonna. [INT: And working with Guber Peters I mean where were you in terms of the amount of control you had. Was it--] I had a lot of control because my Jon [Jon Peters], Jon could be a--Jon, Jon was very good to me. We had a good relationship, but he could be a contentious person, you know. But I didn't have a problem. In fact, I had no creative problems at all on the film. My basic creative problem came in when we were doing the score for the movie were they wanted to put more and more songs in. I thought they were probably one too many songs in it to begin with.