Nathan Juran Chapter 3


INT: Jerry. On 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, which was a, you know, an epic, which you guys did on very little money in Spain, there's a storm at sea. Tell us about that.

NJ: Okay. This was in Barcelona Harbor [Port Vell]. See they had a tourist attraction there, which was a replica of the Santa Maria, of Columbus' time. [INT: Was that Sinbad's ship? Oh that’s…] Yeah, yeah. And, the trouble with shooting there, the ship was fine, but the trouble with shooting there was that there was so much activity in the harbor, you always had a boat moored to each side of you in the harbor, and then there were cables overhead, which carried sort of coal scuttles and things to transport coal to there. A lot of activity. And, we used to just thank the Lord for a little patch of blue sky without another mast in the way, or something that shouldn’t belong in your picture. And, it was all right, we managed for all the scenes that were sort of static scenes. But then we had a storm at sea sequence to do, and I could not see a storm at sea with boats on each side of you sitting there and the cables overhead. It just wouldn't work. So, we made a decision to take the Santa Maria out to sea. And came the day, we all got on board, and with the Spanish commander, and we headed out for the breakwater entrance. Unfortunately, there was a ship coming in through the breakwater, and our little Santa Maria was hit by their bow wave, and we nearly capsized. The Spanish commodore put a hand up, and he said, “This ship will never leave the harbor again.” [LAUGH] [INT: This is the captain?] Captain. And it was too bad, because when you're at sea, or for instance JACK THE GIANT KILLER we had a lot of stuff at sea, and we had a, we rented a barge, a 300 foot long coal barge, and built a set on the coal barge. We built a commissary on the coal barge, dressing rooms; every considerable requirement was accommodated on this coal barge. Even had a track down one side, so you could dolly all the way along and the ship would seem like it was moving. And, now I have to backtrack mentally. Oh yeah.


NJ: Storm at sea. [Describing how a scene from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD was realized.] So we got tied up again at our familiar dock, and now that's where you have to initiate things you've never done before. We got Charles Schneer [Charles H. Schneer] was great for this. We got the Barcelona fire department, to come drive out to our dock, our pier. We got a wind machine, aircraft propeller, and we got all sorts of hoses and things. And, I was not too sure that I was gonna be able to survive this, but anyway I was gonna try. So, I got a long stick like a bamboo, real long, and gave it to this fella. His name was Musumeci Greco [Enzo Musumeci Greco], and I said, Enzo was his first name, “Enzo, this ship has a mast in it. And you've got the mast in your hand. Now you have to in your mind, control this mast as though you were the boss upstairs, and feel it in your mind that this ship is going from one side to the other the way it normally should.” And we mounted the camera on a gimbal, and I said to the gimbal camera operator, “You watch that stick up there with the white flag on it, and you work your gimbal the same as that, same tempo as that ship which is going side to side.” And I talked to the prop boys and I said, “Fellas, you know if this ship really takes a big heel, you gotta throw these props across, on this deck and somebody else will catch them at this end, but you gotta watch that pole to know which way to throw those things.” [INT: So they roll them across…. right?] Right, right. And I said to the wind machine operator, “Now look you can't watch this particular lead for your action, but, you can feel it when the water's coming through, and this wind behind it is gonna go sort of horizontal, and you're in charge of the wind. And by the way… wouldn't you like to have a guard around this propeller, so you don't get hurt?” He said, “No,” says, “I've been doing this for years, and I'm fine.” [INT: It was a Spaniard?] Yeah. So, looked like maybe we were ready to go. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do. [INT: Did you have a dunk tank, or hoses?] No, we had hoses, hoses played when the ship would keel over like this, like there was something hitting the side of the ship, throwing this beam overhead. So, “Everybody ready?” Everybody's ready. Okay, “Roll ‘em.” So the camera's rolling, the wind is blowing the ship this way, and this way, and Kerwin Matthews is fighting the wind, and the water's hitting him, and it's looking pretty good. All of a sudden, the water in the hose is heading for the guy that's' controlling the fan, the wind. And he steps back not to get too wet, and he steps right into the blade of the... [INT: Oh my god.] And you heard [CLAP], like that. Each blade hitting him, and I hollered "Cut!" And he's down on the deck and everybody's starting to run to him, and everything's shut off. And guess what? He has three neat slashes on his leather windbreaker, and the skin is not even torn. It's just a blue mark. [INT: He is a lucky guy.] He's lucky with his life. Well, I'm kinda worn out at this point, but we, I call lunch, first thing, and got the thing built around the wind machine, and the guy in the bus, the fellow that got knocked down, and after lunch, we had the same set up. Roll the camera, everything is perfect, there was, the wind was knocking the sail boat this way, that way, and the rain is hitting everybody, and it looks going pretty good. Get a shot or two. And then we start hearing complaints, from all the extras on board the ship, that the water that's hitting them is full of all sorts of nasty material. [INT: Where is the water coming from?] It's in the bay. [INT: Oh, so it's all the bilge and crap, and trash?] Right. And they don't wanna work in that, so I got a little strike on my hands [LAUGH]. I’ll tell ya, this is a wonderful business. So, we mollified these guys and got clean water in buckets to throw in the closer shots, and we got through the sequence, and I tell ya, it's worth going to see the picture again just to see that one sequence. It worked out great. [INT: And you shot it all in one night?] All in one day. [INT: One day.] Yeah.


INT: All right, now the other question I wanted to ask was, how do you think your background and your education in architecture helped you as a filmmaker, as a film Director?

NJ: Oh well, I think I can answer that. From an architectural point of view... [INT: Well, you were educated as an architect.] Yeah. [INT: And then you became a Director. Do you think that one helped the other?] Yeah, I do. When you read a script, you get certain things formulating in your brain. And, to put that information into three dimensions is kind of an architectural problem. Can be solved with an architectural mind. I mean if you got a couple people sitting there, and you want one of them to get up and cross over to there, so they can talk to another guy there, whatever comes up in the script, you visualize the scene the way it's written. And the architecture comes into play by creating, like an archway, where you wanted light to come through, or something. That would just be one example. Or, any number of variations. [INT: In the composition of the shot?] Yes, right. And also, a past experience of other pictures of things that work well. Like, you don't wanna build too many four-wall sets, it's just too hard to handle, for lighting and everything else. But a two-wall set is rather good, because you can shoot over this person's shoulder, and over this person's shoulder, and get a pretty good dialogue sequence if you have the right geographical, see? And even, not counting Actors, but just counting elements that make up a scene. Like, oh, every script's got a different set of requirements. If you read them, and you're tuned into what you're reading, you get pictures forming up here. And then you can make those pictures happen on three dimensions on the set.


INT: Now here's an interesting one, Jerry. For a young man or a young woman who wanted to be a Director now, what advice do you have?

NJ: [LAUGH] Well, you know these people all have a wonderful… they bring to the workplace enthusiasm and stuff they've gotten out of a script that they've read, or out of other pictures that they've seen. If they're living this movie business, it'll all come together up here somehow. It shouldn't, you don't lose anything that you see or hear or feel. And if you're a devotee of the movies, I think you'll find your way all right.


INT: And I have one question about production. In the process of production, preproduction, going over the script with the Writer, planning the film, you know, building the sets, going location scouting, then you production, where you actually make the, you know, you shoot. And then post production, what was your favorite part of the process? What part did you enjoy the most?

NJ: I think… it's close between the preparation that you make by yourself at a desk for what you're gonna do, what's appropriate, what's timely and everything. Closely behind that or ahead of it is organizing those elements to where they can happen, where they can become reality. I think, like if you wanted to say preparation was the main element, you could do that and you wouldn't find many naysayers. [INT: Well you actually, you enjoy the challenges of production.] Oh, yeah. [INT: Thinking on your feet.] Yeah. [INT: And sometimes when you have something planned out, and the Actor can't do it, or the props won't work, or the sun goes down...] Yeah, that's right. [INT: Or whatever's happening, you know, having to think on your feet, you enjoyed that too?] Oh yeah. I mean, at the moment that it's happening, you're not having bells of joy ringing in your soul, but after it's over they ring loud and clear. [INT: You like problem solving.] Yeah.


INT: They were shooting MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, with Trevor Howard, Marlon Brando. It was directed by... [NJ: Milestone.] And it was a troubled picture. [NJ: It was.] And they were spending millions of dollars, and they hired you to direct and stage a second unit sequence when these barrels get loose below decks. And so that was a challenge, and they, were you involved in--‘cause they built a huge gimbal for the ship?

NJ: Oh yeah. Well, I don't wanna take credit for that. MGM [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer] had the best technicians for figuring that out. Do you know when the barrel fell of the high shelf it was a, onto this man, that the acceleration of gravity was proper for that barrel as it went through space? I mean they were real mechanics at MGM. And Marlon Brando was such a smart guy. [INT: You had no problems with him? You thought he was a pleasure.] None. Yeah. Even to call him out to do his stuff on the stage, most of the assistants around him were afraid to say, "We're ready for you Mr. Brando." They just wouldn't touch him until about 11 in the morning, ‘cause they just had arranged in their mind that he wasn't gonna come out 'til 11. When I got ready for him, I just went up, the assistant wouldn't go. I just went up and knocked on his trailer door, and I said, "We're ready for you Mr. Brando." And he came right out. No problems. It just shows you how one guy, he was a real savvy Actor, and a true Actor. He must've really felt this down the middle of his marrow in the bone. When we rehearsed the scene where they lift the keg off of the sailor to haul the sailor away, right in the middle of the rehearsal, he stops and he says, "How much does this barrel weigh?" And we were trying to figure out, you know, 30 pounds per cubic foot or something, how may cubic feet, and we came to a certain amount, like 400 pounds. [INT: Wow.] He says, "Jeez, I could never lift that." I said, “Well, what'd you do? Here we are, we got a guy that's dying, you wanna get them to a doctor.” He said, "Well I guess I'd bust this damn barrel open, and let the wine flow out, and then I'd carry the guy upstairs." I said that sounds reasonable. So we call lunch again, always the safe thing, call lunch. And during our lunch hour, the fabulous people in that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer mill made not one, but two or three... [INT: Breakaways.] Breakaways out of balsa. Sealed them. [INT: Filled them with the fluid.] With wine colored fluid. [INT: Right.] And had them on the stage when we got back from lunch, I just can't believe that. [INT: That's the old studio system.] Yeah. [INT: That's what you didn't have in Madrid.] That's true. [INT: Or Rome.] Yeah.


INT: And so you found Brando [Marlon Brando] a pleasure, and... [NJ: I did, yeah.] How did you get that [MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY] job? Did you ever do other second unit?

NJ: Yeah. I did whatever I could to keep a job. [INT: You saw yourself as a working Director, and whenever they offered you something to direct...] Yeah. [INT: You would do it.] I did it. [INT: And did the best you could.] That's right. [INT: Very often under difficult circumstances.] [LAUGH] Yeah. And sometimes because the particular Director didn't wanna stick his neck out that far. One time I did a second unit shot with Doris Day in it, and I forget the other guy [on CAPRICE]. But they were skiing down a ski place here, and Doris Day is skiing down. When you opened on the shot, it's just a skyline of a mountain with snow. Then comes Doris Day into the shot, skiing to her fastest pace, and four or five guys in black uniforms with guns trying to pick her off. [INT: Right.] And while she's on the down slope coming towards camera, a helicopter appears and the guy on the helicopter, in the helicopter is coming down a rope ladder to pick up Doris Day and save her from these guys chasing her down the mountain. And they come down and this guy on the rope ladder scoops up Doris Day, the helicopter rises and gets out of the shot, and you save Doris Day. That's all the shot, simple shot, right? [INT: It's all doubles thought, right?] What? [INT: It's all doubles.] Yeah, doubles, true. [INT: Stunt people.] But looking pretty good. So, we get everything organized. The helicopter, pilot and machine belong to Frankie Sinatra [Frank Sinatra]. So here comes Doris Day, here comes five or six guys behind her, trying to get a beat on her. And here comes the helicopter over the top of these guys, and here comes the guy down the ladder, and to pick up Doris Day with one hand, and the helicopter scoops up and goes out of the shot. That's all it is. Well, in the rehearsal, was so perfect, I was an idiot not to have shot it. That's why I say always shoot the rehearsal. And so close they came that the guy in the, who had a hold of Doris Day, and is flying her up, just misses hitting the camera by that much. You know, it was the scariest thing, but it was perfect. So I thought to myself, I'll never, never not shoot a rehearsal in my life again. And we decided to do it the same. So we did it, and it was almost as good as the rehearsal, but not ever as good.


INT: How important, we all know the answer to this, but how important was your Assistant Director on a film, and were there any AD's that you particularly liked, and how did you work closely with your assistant directing staff?

NJ: I probably should've been working closer than I did, and more appreciative of the Assistant Director. But mostly I was so intent on getting the work done, that I think I was a little arbitrary with them. [INT: That they were running and following you.] Yeah. [INT: The first movie, the first studio picture I ever made, ANIMAL HOUSE, I had an Assistant Director named Cliff Coleman, who I, well he was the AD on the Wild Bunch. And he was a big cowboy kind of guy. And I didn't realize until years later, how instrumental he was in helping me get that picture finished.] Yeah. [INT: I didn't realize 'til looking back. I like to move very quickly so, very often I'm looking at the AD going, where are we shooting?] Yeah. [INT: You know, but... It was interesting, that was the case where the AD really helped me.] Oh yeah. [INT: Tremendously, not just organizing crowds, but getting the day organized, and getting things shot.] You know, every once in a while you run into a person that's sort of becomes so important to you to getting work done, that you're, you're leased out to the sky, and you can't help it. I had a guy like that. He was a swordsman; he had a studio in Rome. His name was Enzo Musumeci [Enzo Musumeci Greco]. [INT: He did THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD swordfight?] He did, he did, yeah. Enzo was so good. He also did the scene where we were out, nearly got capsized. Yeah, he was the one that held the flag, see. You get to lean on a guy like that, and usually, they're awfully good. [INT: It's someone you can rely on.] Exactly. I liked Enzo, we used to correspond after my Italian picture, and I was responsible for bringing him onto THE 7TH VOYAGE. But, he and I were very good friends. [INT: Did he later do JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the sword fight?] Probably. You know, Charles Schneer [Charles H. Schneer], sometimes I think he deserves the reputation that someone else gave him. I think he's wonderful. But Charles Schneer, when we were getting ready to do the Sinbad picture, I said, “Charles, there's a great guy in Italy, that helped me out so well on that picture that I did, I think you'd like him to have here to lean on, he's very good. Good swordsman, good on all sorts of things.” So he said, "Well, if he wants to come out here and be interviewed, I'll have a, I'll interview him." So I said, “Jeez Charles, that's way over from Italy to Spain.” And, he says, "Well I can't guarantee him anything." So I said, “Okay.” And I wrote to Enzo, and I said, “Come on over here, I'm doing a picture with a friend of mine, Charles Schneer, and I think you would like the assignment.” So he came over on his own money, and he saw Charles, and he couldn't make the deal he felt he ought to have. So he called me, and he said, "Gee, I can't afford to take that job." So I went to Charles, and I said Charles, whatever the difference is, you two can't resolve, I'll pay it. I feel I owe it to Enzo because I brought him over here at his expense, and I don't wanna leave it like that. So, why don't you hire him, and I'll pay the difference.” And Charles said, "I'll hire him, but you're not paying any difference." That's the kind of guy he was. [INT: You had a good relationship.] Oh, yeah. [INT: How many pictures did you do with him, three or four?] Oh, maybe more than that. [INT: So you, often, you know, you were hired by Producers, and you very often worked…] Yeah, lots of pictures. Once I started with them, I stayed with them. Except, scheduling doesn't allow that sometimes.


NJ: I wanna say I really enjoyed talking to you today. [INT: Oh, thank you.] Yeah, you bring something out in people. I like that. [INT: Well good, and we thank you on behalf of the DGA, and I thank you for all the good movies you gave us.] [LAUGH] Okay.