Harold Becker Chapter 3


INT: Talk about, just for a few minutes about BOOST. [HB: THE BOOST?] Yeah, the THE BOOST, I'm sorry. So that's a James Woods and Sean Young and how did that happen was that--
HB: It was a book called 'LUDES and it was really basically about Quaaludes. We changed it to cocaine. Which was the drug of choice at that time and it was a character in it--like a character out of WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN?, Sammy Glick. And I was fascinated by this story. I formed a partnership with Darryl Ponicsan and James Woods to make this film. And the reason we form the partnership is because we wanted to be able to draw on all three of our talents and make the film for very little money. The budget came in at 7,000,000 and we were able to find a production company that made, let's say low budget films. You know, talking now 7,000,000 is no longer that low a budget even though it is. People are running around making films for three or four. And before, I mentioned we need ONION FIELD [THE ONION FIELD] for two but this is 10 years later. And Hemdale [Hemdale Film Corporation] backed the film. The film was quite an experience making it, but in making the film I had been warned before that the--Hemdale were bad Actors. That there were people, and this is one of the worst thing you can be told, is that someone's going to be cutting behind you and of course that means that unbeknownst to you someone else is cutting your film. And of course, I have final cut on the film and unfortunately it turned out to be true. So it was a very and even experience particularly in post-production, okay? When the film was finished I was so disenchanted with the process, with the people, I had gotten into bed with, that I really closed the door on the film. I went on, was fortunate, six months later I was doing SEA OF LOVE and I put this behind me as sort of my worst experience in filmmaking, okay? About 15 years later, I get a call from MGM [Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer] that they are doing--they think they have the rights to the film and I think they and Canal+ [Canal Plus] had the rights to the film and they were doing a DVD. And they asked me if I would look at it, color correct it, etc. If I had any thoughts. And they also wanted me to run a commentary on it. And at first I refused and then I said, "All right, I'll take a look at it." And lo and behold I liked the film. You know, somehow the 15 years had been kind to it. And while there were thing I had missed, I had sort of forgotten some of the things that I felt before were real pot holes. Not to say that if those scenes had been in the movie, it wouldn't have been a better movie, but it was a good movie, I felt. And so I put my effort behind it to get it out there. And Jimmy Woods and I did the commentary on it. [INT: Right, Steven Hill was really extraordinary in that film.] Wasn't he wonderful? [INT: Yeah.] I'll tell you an amusing anecdote about him. Steven Hill is a very, very orthodox Jew. So when we shot with him, we were shooting down in--what's that area right down by the bridge? [INT: In New York?] Know this is in LA. It's right down by the water there where the port is. Okay. [INT: Oh yeah, right.] And, we knew he had told us he had--this was, I think, Yom Kippur or some a big holiday was coming out and he said, "You have to have me back at the hotel by sundown." And of course, I say of course will be back there by sundown. Well, we're running a little bit late and suddenly the sun is going down, all of a sudden he disappears. He's walking back because he can't take a car anymore. I don't know where he is, maybe he's still walking. [INT: Yeah, quite a story.] The vicissitudes. [INT: That's right. And also you had--there was a wonderful score in there by Stanley Myers.] Oh god, well you know it was Stanley Myers, of course, who did the score for THE DEER HUNTER. [INT: For which one?] THE DEER HUNTER. [INT: THE DEER HUNTER, right.] I used him a lot. He was a--[INT: Right.] He's gone now, but he was the sweetest man. [INT: Yeah.] And he also brought in--I forget the name of the guitarist. Sorry, I forgot his name. He's a famous. He was the same--he did a soliloquy and he had also soliloquy on THE DEER HUNTER. [INT: OH.] Beautiful work. [INT: Yeah, well that was--I just loved that score. You talk about film noir, that was the most film noir score.] Yeah. [INT: Of all of them.] That's interesting. [INT: Yeah, I even thought more than the Goldsmith [Jerry Goldsmith] ones. But anyway.] Yeah.


INT: Okay, so then that was in 1988, I should say, and VISION QUEST was in ’85 [1985]. So also, you said six months later, you were doing SEA OF LOVE so let's--that’s, of course, probably the film you’re most known for. How did you get connected with Pacino [Al Pacino] or did--
HB: All right, well I had met Al. I was supposed to do another film a couple of years earlier and that film was over at Paramount [Paramount Pictures]. And the name of the film was JOHNNY HANDSOME, okay? And he was interested in it, “when are we going to make the film?” That's how I met him, he came out and we were working on the script and--I'll never forget, I brought him out, he did some screen tests with the prosthetics. We had Westmore [Michael Westmore]. [INT: For this film or for--] For JOHNNY HANDSOME. [INT: For JOHNNY HANDSOME.] This film was--didn't exist at that time. [INT: Right.] And, I remember that Al put on them and they did it to him with the prosthetics, we had rented a hotel room to do the work in. And when he had the prosthetics, he stood in front of the mirror and he literally became this grotesque character, which, if you're familiar with JOHNNY HANDSOME, “Johnny Handsome” is an ironic name that's given to this grotesque person. And I'll never forget it. It put chills through me… how he became that character. His arms suddenly got longer, he walked in an awkward way, back hunched over, it was beyond belief, okay? It had such promise. It was very exciting. The rub in it all is that, neither Al nor I was satisfied with the script. It was one of those stories like THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. And it almost had a mandatory third act where he gets revenge on the people when he becomes, when he truly becomes handsome through plastic surgery, “I’m going to use two films like that at one time.” He now takes revenge on the people who did this to him. And we thought that was kind of a B-movie. It was a B-movie. Well, we didn't want to make a B-movie and that was the end of it. Now ultimately it was made with Mickey Rourke, that movie. It was made by Walter Hill. This was after I had done SEA OF LOVE. And believe it or not, it had Ellen Barkin in it. I won't comment on the movie except to say we didn't do it, but that's how I met Al. And then I got a call from Tom Pollock who was the head of Universal [Universal Pictures], the president of Universal, not the head. And he asked me if I wanted to do SEA OF LOVE. There had been a Director involved in SEA OF LOVE, someone who I had never met. I never met him then, because they had let him go are ready. And I stepped in and started running very, very fast, because I had a very short--[INT: Prep] prep period. Maybe before I was finished, I may have--we pushed it back a little bit but it still couldn't have amounted to more than six weeks prep and the rest is history I'd like to say.


INT: So, what about the experience of making that film [referring to SEA OF LOVE]?
HB: It was a tough one to make. I had the--the thing that sustained me through making the film, is I had developed a very strong, very strong partnership with Pacino [Al Pacino] in the making. We both supported each other in terms of the film we wanted to make. I knew the film I wanted to make there. It was a strange time in Al's career because he had had a hiatus of some years prior to which, he had made a group of films, which had not been successful. And so, in a sense, even though I don't believe a star like that ever makes a comeback because they don't have to. And, if you're great, you're great, you know. But in the perception of this town, you make a few films that don't make money and all of a sudden, there is another view of you, all right? But I always said that, “For somebody who's a star on that caliber, the audience isn’t remembering or counting the ones that didn't open. They're remembering THE GODFATHER and they're remembering all the big ones.” Anyway, we made the film and we had a very successful film. But, I want to talk here about a pet subject of mine and that's testing. Of course, we went out and tested the film and there's no way you're making a film for Universal [Universal Pictures] and you're not testing it, and that's normal, you want to test it. As a Director, I want to test the film. By that, I want to show it to an audience. Because when I showed a cut to an audience, I’m going to learn a lot, because I'm very close to the film. Invariably, I find--I haven't seen a film of mine where I didn't feel it was too slow when I saw it with an audience, because there's like a collective intelligence to the audience and somehow that makes it possible for them to sort of catch things faster. I don't know how else to put it, they get it faster than you realize. And you want to get out of there before they get it, before they're chewing it the second time, so to speak, okay? Get on with it. They got it. Get on with it. Don't dwell. So those are the things that you learn in this process. The one thing you don't want to learn of this process is, what the studios are trying to learn is, how do we please them more? “Here, you liked this laugh? We'll give you another laugh.” Okay, “You didn't like this, we'll get rid of it,” even though that moment that they want to get rid of--that the audience as well--because they actually ask the audience is there any of these scenes you don't like. That is cra--if you can imagine anything as crazy as that. Well in the context of the film, there'll probably be things you don't like. You might not like them because something unpleasant happened in the scene but that unpleasant scene is germane through the whole film. I don’t know, I say, “Hey Cybil, cut it. Or reshoot it, make it more pleasant.” Well, we had a screening of the film, I guess I should tell this story. There's a big fight in the film, a fight with him--between him and the killer who comes pouring into the room and almost kills Pacino before he turns the tables on him. Richard Price had written a very original fight. He'd written a fight in which before the fight was over Pacino is able to get the gun, and now he has begun on the guy. Well, he has two choices, he can kill the guy or you can watch him open the window and throw himself out. What are you going to do? He doesn't care how he dies. We thought that was brilliant, very different than a normal fight in which you beat the guy, the winner is the guy who brings down the other guy, right? So this had an originality to it and you saw that scene and he's screaming that he can't do anything, he can't get too close and he can't use the gun because what's he going to do help him commit suicide, okay? And that's the way we shot it. And I run the film and the audience is practically out of their seats watching this fight. Everything has built to this moment and then we do our reverse, and it's like the air went out of the tire. The audience just sat down and the film was over for them. It was a disaster. I reshot the end of that fight in order to satisfy them because they wanted that guy to get what he deserved but they wanted it to be the instrument of that to be Pacino. [INT: But in the original version, when there was that checkmate, it was basically a stalemate, right? Where Pacino couldn't do anything; so how did he get resolved in that?] In that? [INT: Yeah.] The guy threw himself out of the window. [INT: Oh, he threw himself out the window.] Yeah, it was in his hands. [INT: As to how he was going to die?] How he was going to die. [INT: Was that--] Made all the difference in the world to be honest. [INT: Was that Michael Rooker?] Yeah, I know. And Michael Rooker--I had gotten also--well, I think he had done one film HENRY THE SERIAL KILLER [HENREY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER] and I cast him out of that. [INT: Yeah, this was 1988, yeah.] Yeah.


INT: So there's a case where you as the Director were really surprised. Where you were sure you had something that--
HB: Oh yeah, it happens. Yeah. [INT: So--] And then of course the chemistry between Pacino [Al Pacino] and Barkin [Ellen Barkin]. [INT: That was the other thing. That was the next thing I wanted to ask you about.] That was terribly important. [INT: Right.] And that chemistry came out--they're both such good Actors. You know? That they're not--when they go into a love scene. They go into it for real. It's the only way I can put it. [INT: Yea, wouldn’t you--] There's no holding back, you know? [INT: When you say that chemistry is not something even the best Actors can fake, that if it's not there between the Actors?] Yeah, I usually think if it's not there, it's because the Actor doesn't want to be there. [INT: Right.] You know what I mean? Do you feel that too? [INT: Yes, yeah, yeah.] Whether it's--they're even conscious of it. [INT: Right.] But you can't fake that. [INT: And the camera--] No, it doesn't lie. [INT: Right, so--] And you watch a--you watch a porno, there's no feeling in it at all. [INT: Right, right.] And yet they're doing everything. [INT: Right.] There's not one--there's nothing convincing or anything else about it. [INT: Right, right.] It's a fucking bore. [INT: Right, so the DP [Cinematographer] on that was Ronnie Taylor, how did you--you hadn't worked with Taylor?] Ronnie Taylor, of course, Ronnie had been there, had already been hired because, remember, I came in six weeks before. [INT: Oh.] And he was a very good Cinematographer. Of course, he had done--he had been a--there were two Photographers; him and Williams [Billy Williams] were the two Photographers on GANDHI, won Academy Awards on it. And he was a very good Cinematographer, the shoot went along and I had to replace him. He left when I got to--I shot over half the picture in New York. And when I got to New York, I say that part of the picture Adam Holender came in and shot. [INT: Oh yeah.] He got--he gets credit in there doesn't he? [INT: I don't think so.] Maybe, he gets a--he probably didn't deserve a full credit but--[INT: Yeah maybe he got an--] Second guess, he probably got it in the crawl. [INT: Right and then and your experience of working with Richard Price?]


INT: I mean this is a case, where the casting is just incredible. This is INT: Working with Richard Price?
HB: What a brilliant Writer. That's where it starts. You wish you can get it for every film, a Richard Price, because finally it's in the characters, the storyline itself isn't what's so unusual about the story. Even selling the idea of classified ads, people missing, you know normally you think about it as well kind of creepy, people advertising in the personal columns. And yet, he gave it such humanity. Remember the scene we have in the bar and that woman who comes in and it just breaks your heart. [INT: Right. I want to ask you about--] She was, the woman who came in, we cast that woman, I forget her name now, but she was a well known actress. [INT: Barbara Baxley was it?] Yeah. [INT: Yeah.] I think it was. [INT: Yeah, I think that's who it was. Yeah, she was wonderful.]


INT: Ellen Barkin--it's where he, where Pacino [Al Pacino] comes back into her life at the end [referring to SEA OF LOVE]. [HB: Yeah.] And in this one, relatively--[HB: Is that the walk where they walked 57th St.?] Yeah, she has to make a complete turnaround for the whole movie. [HB: Right.] Did you consider that a problem?
HB: No, because of Pacino. I knew Pacino would win her over and it had good writing. But that relentless going, continuing, continuing… It was going to break down any reservations. There was already a certain humor already developing into the story. [INT: But had it not been Pacino you might have--] I might have, yeah. [INT: Worried about it?] Yeah, [INT: All right.] Pacino was somebody of that caliber. [INT: Right, right. Okay, let's just use this one to talk a little bit about your work with Editors, in this case it's David Bretherton, who you--] Oh, I'm glad you brought it up, David Bretherton is one of the great Editors. It was a privilege, I did two films with him. And of course, he's passed away but… One of the great Editors. He had such a feel for film. [INT: What was your process with working with Editors?] Well, I know what I--I like to think that when I shot the film, it tells you what to do. And in a sense it does between that and the script but there's still a lot of work for an Editor in terms of the subtleties and knowing exactly the right frame to cut on. And there's a feel. Most of the good Editors--I've worked with some good Editors--they often have musical backgrounds which I find interesting. They have a sense of the rhythm. [INT: Do you print a lot in your films?] Yeah, not a lot, not a little. I print every take I think can work. [INT: Would or could you say what your average is in ratio?] No. [INT: No.] No, no I couldn't. I'm not shy about printing something… [INT: Right.] …if I think it has some value, otherwise you'll never see it. [INT: Right. So you--it's not unusual for you to bring, let's say five or 10 takes printed?] Sure. [INT: Okay.] I'm not a guy who's going to leave and go about 30 takes or something like that. [INT: Right, right. Well, let me—again--how--let's say you are between five and 10 takes and so is your editing process a long process?] Yeah. Well, I mean I ask for the minimum which is 20 weeks. Now things have changed somewhat because of electronic editing. By and large, I still miss the Moviola but the pressures of getting it done have moved me to electronic editing, where I don't think you can get the same rhythms as you get in that Moviola, that sewing machine. [INT: Because?] Well you know you're going frame by frame. You don't have the fluidity that you get in electronic editing. You know what I'm saying. It's more tactile. You see a frame at a time and I also work, I'll be running the film over and over on the flatbed while I’m doing it. And then you get into electronic editing and it moves over more into the--it's not as personal in some ways. I always respect Spielberg [Steven Spielberg], still cuts on a Moviola, you know Kahn [Michael Kahn] still cuts on a Moviola. [INT: Not--the last one he did was SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.] And really after that he went to electronic? [INT: I think that’s when he switched over, but he did say, he agreed, he wanted to keep printing on film, cutting on film, because he liked the time it took. Between the--] That's right. [INT: It allowed him to do some thinking.] I'm, I believe that. [INT: Yeah.] I think that's major, by the way, that was always my answer. People say, you know, I said, “The one thing you can't speed up his thinking.” [INT: Right.] Okay? So with electronic editing you’re finished before you may even have a fully thought out idea. And you know, you say well you go crazy--often they are looking for one piece of film or placement, and I'd say, “Good, it maybe it frustrates you in some ways, but your giving your time to think about things. [INT: Right.] See now they can honestly say to you, “Why can't I see a cut in six weeks?” When I see it. I'm not talking about the Editor’s cut, see a Director’s cut. [INT: Right.] “In six weeks, why do I have to wait 12 weeks?” You know what I'm saying? [INT: Right, right. What about shooting digitally have you done any of that?] No. [INT: Okay.]


INT: All right so let's just talk about MALICE, which to me, that film was the most film noir of all of them.
HB: Yes, it is. It is, it's a--I liked--I enjoyed making that film. [INT: Yeah.] That was more in the Hitchcock [Alfred Hitchcock] vein--[INT: Right.]--I really enjoyed making it. [INT: Yes, well what was distinguished about--one of the things that distinguished that is that all the character’s motivations were mysterious. You were never sure who was telling you the truth.] Right. [INT: Which was really effective.] Well, did you think that was also true of the husband? [INT: Of of--] Oh yes, I know, of course, you're right we did have the MacGuffin of not knowing whether or not he was involved with the--[Alec Baldwin?] No, not Alec Baldwin. I'm talking about--[INT: Bill Pullman.] Bill Pullman. You're never quite sure whether he was involved in the death of the children or the students. [INT: That's right, yes, but that story--I mean, you basically had two separate stories going in that film.] Yeah, and one I called the MacGuffin, which is the story of the rapes taking place at the school. [INT: Right.] And you're led, and I want to lead the audience into believing that's what this story's about. Who is raping these girls, okay? [INT: Right.] And we build that, but that's really not what the story is about. [INT: Right.] It's a misdirection. [INT: Right.] And again that was an extraordinary cast with Pullman, Baldwin and where--this was ’93 [1993], where was Nicole Kidman in her career at that point?] She was just at the beginning of it. Very much so. [INT: And there you had Jerry Goldsmith's score.] Yes. [INT: And Gordon Willis.] Yeah. [INT: And you had--] It was a great group. Maybe that's why I enjoyed the film so much. [INT: Aaron Sorkin and Scott Franks.] Yeah, a wonderful Writer. Yeah. [INT: So I mean you always--almost always managed to go out and what ever department, including writing, if you want to call it that, you always managed to get the best of the best.] Well yeah, in looking back, of course, that's what you're trying for. You know. [INT: And Anne Bancroft was wonderful.] Oh, I'll never forget it. You know she only did--that scene I did with her, did take me three days to shoot the scene. [INT: Is that right?] Oh yeah, either two or three days but she worked hard on it. She learned how to handle the cards and do--she was terrific. [INT: Yeah, and it's a wonderful scene.] Yeah, it's my favorite scene in the movie. [INT: Yeah it--well, I can see why.] The other great--of course, the audience's favorite scene when the God scene with Alec Baldwin, you know where he says, “I am God.” [INT: Oh right, right yeah. So how did that film come to you?] That was brought to me by the people at Castle Rock [Castle Rock Entertainment]. They had a screenplay. And they had a--and the screenplay, well I wasn’t that happy with the screenplay. None of us were, I should say. And we brought in Aaron Sorkin who had worked with Rob [Rob Reiner], had done A FEW GOOD MEN. [INT: Right, I see.] Right, which was based on Aaron Sorkin's play. [INT: So that's where that God speech came from. It's very similar to--] It's similar in a way. [INT: To A FEW GOOD MEN.] Yeah. [INT: The Nicholson [Jack Nicholson] speech.] Yeah. But it's so profound because that's how doctors, after all anybody says, what makes something powerful is if it has truth in it. [INT: Right.] Of course, after all what he says in this scene is, you put your hands--not your body, your life in the hand and for everybody involved, God is operating. You'd like to believe it's God operating. [INT: Right, right.] And Alec [Alec Baldwin] was so good. [INT: Right and then there was--] And of course, another favorite scene of mine in that movie, is the scene between him, between Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman where--her performance in that scene is, I think breathless, where she realizes he knows. Remember, he accused her and she breaks the glass. [INT: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.] That's the end of the thing. [INT: Yeah.] That was good stuff. [INT: Yeah.] I enjoyed it, it was fun. [INT: Yeah.] That's how--the only way I can describe that. [INT: Yeah]


INT: Actually, let me talk about--there's one thing that happened in SEA OF LOVE, that just to tell you, I was sitting watching your films on my--a couple of them, on my computer right. [HB: Shame on you.] Well now, so I could stop and start them. I had to really control over to--[HB: Yeah, you know you've got a pause button on your DVD player.] Well, but anyway I had to see 10 movies, so but anyway there was--so but, I had a headset on and my wife would hear me yelling, right, all the time, because I got so hooked on things. But one of the things that made me jump was in this scene in SEA OF LOVE, the scene in the bar where for the first time where Goodman [John Goodman], where they're both waiters? [Yeah.] And that thing with the first glass with the fingerprints. [HB: Oh yeah where he's juggling the glass, with the fingerprints.] Yeah, how many takes did that take?
HB: One. [INT: Really?] Well, and I think he did it, you know he was such a good Actor. [INT: Yeah I mean that--] I mean, he had him do it. [INT: Yeah, it was just amazing. But it jumped for about--] He reminded me a little bit, you know, W.C. Fields? [INT: Oh, of course.] Big heavy guy. [INT: Yeah.] And yet, he was so light on his feet and by the way the same thing with John. [INT: Yeah.] John was wonderful dancer. [INT: Yeah, yeah, yeah. He--John had something in the film that you don't see in a lot of his other films now. I mean, he had that lightness underneath it.] Yeah. Well he went from that to television. [INT: Right, that's right, that's right. So okay, so is there--and then okay what about Jerry Goldsmith in MALICE.] We became very good friends, at that time. And Jerry's gone. [INT: Right.] It's sad. [INT: Great Composer.] Great Composer. And he did CITY HALL for me as well. [INT: Right, right, which is what we're going to on to next. We're going to CITY HALL.]


INT: So, alright. So how did that one happen?
HB: CITY HALL was brought to me by two Producers, Ed Pressman [Edward R. Pressman] and Ken Lipper [Kenneth Lipper]. [INT: Right.] It really was a story that Ken Lipper who was a major financier on Wall Street, knew that story very well because he had also been the deputy mayor of New York for finance. You know, New York has many different deputy mayors. [INT: Right, right.] So they had created--I don't know where this--it was based on a real story. A real story about Manes [Donald Manes], Borough President of Queens [Queens, New York City]. [INT: Right.] And I forget the guy in--in the Bronx who was the Bronx head of the Democratic party, or involved in that scandal with the parking meters. [INT: Right, right. Yeah.] It was a big scandal in New York, of course, the Mafia was involved. These guys were involved with the Mafia as they are in our story, okay? Because remember this is New York politics. Right? And you know, you're hearing about Wall Street and all the rest, this was small potatoes. But and I think they skimmed three or $4,000,000 in this parking meter scam. Putting in these parking meters and of course it did, Manes did commit suicide. He committed suicide. I'm talking about a true story. [INT: Right, right.] And the FBI was watching his house because he was practically under house arrest at that time. And he'd been--had just been visited by two captains; two Mafia captains. They left and right after that he stabbed himself. [INT: He stabbed himself?] He stabbed himself, yeah. We did a little bit more elegantly in the movie. [INT: Yeah.] But that was based on--the Manes character was based on--the Danny Aiello character was based on that, and--I'm trying to remember the other guy’s name. The other guy went jail. [INT: Yeah, it was a Jewish name.] Jewish name--[INT: Yeah.] From the Bronx. [INT: It was something like Bloomberg or something.] No, no, not Bloomberg. That's the mayor. [INT: Yeah, no but it was a Jewish name.] It was a Jewish name, yeah. But the other the guy was a tough guy. [INT: Right.] The reason the Mafia, just as an aside to you, the reason the Mafia didn't ask for his head is they knew Manes would fold, he was a soft guy. [INT: Right.] They knew that he would not be able to do the time. [INT: Right.] Remember when he was begging [INAUDIBLE] [INT: Right, right.] He says, “I can handle it.” He says, “No, you're a singer.” It's a wonderful scene, great scene. [INT: Well the performances saving--] How about Franciosa [Tony Franciosa]. [INT: He was... now that was brilliant casting. Now, how did that happen, I mean that was just brilliant. I mean he was--he probably hadn't done anything in years.] That's right. Hadn't done anything in years. [INT: And he did--you know what, I didn't even recognize him. It wasn't until just before where he comes in asks Danny Aiello, another great performance, to kill himself and which was written so beautifully.] And that was Richard Price that wrote that. I mean Bo Goldman wrote that.


INT: Well, I want to talk to you about the Writers, because there are five of them on that. [HB: Huh?] There are five Writers on that film.
HB: Bo Goldman wrote it. [INT: Bo Goldman wrote it?] Yeah, I can tell you the story. [INT: Go ahead.] It's a story about the Writer’s Guild [Writers Guild Of America]. [INT: Right.] And that's one of those stories that should live in infamy. When they came to me with this project, they had a screenplay by good Writers, two good Writers, Schrader [Paul Schrader] and Pileggi [Nicholas Pileggi]. [INT: Right, Pileggi.] Huh? [INT: Pileggi.] Pileggi, I'm sorry. [INT: Right.] They had a screenplay by them. I liked the story, I didn't like the screenplay. We discarded the screenplay. I brought Bo in and we started from scratch. We went to New York, we spent three months in New York, Bo and I. [INT: Three months?] Interviewing everything, everyone, from the mayor to this guy whose still--the guy he was out of jail then. Oh, I could tell you a story about him. [INT: Um, hmm.] When we met him we met him at the Regency Hotel. You know the Regency? [INT: Um, hmm.] The Power Breakfast room? He arrived in a Cadillac convertible. He had a job on Staten Island running a hotel. Well, you know who set them up, the Mafia. He spent four years in jail, in a maximum-security prison. He had been treated badly, but he was a tough guy and they knew, they had an expression, they knew he could do the four years standing on his head, okay? That's the reason he was alive. As we say, with Manes, they knew he couldn't, he'd fold, he'd give up names. And he's sitting there with us and he said, “You know, I used to sit at this table and there'd be a line. All those guys walking past me, where were looking through me, they would be stopping to shake my hand. And he's the one who came up with the line, “There's black and there's a white and then there's the gray in between.” That was his line, than Bo picked up from it, you know. Anyway, getting back to the writing, see he wrote the complete screenplay. Ken Lipper [Kenneth Lipper], in the meantime, because of his god damn ego, he's not a Writer. He's writing behind us and claiming that he wrote the screenplay that he had written and he's got--he's being advised by some Hollywood lawyer. He's got money, of how to handle it. But see, this lawyer understood very well what the arbitration process was. And I get a call from Bo and he says you know they're contesting my credit. He was willing to accept the Pileggi-Schrader as being prior to his, okay? And I don't know why you said five, that would have been four credits against it. It has four credits. [INT: Four, I beg your pardon, good.] Four. And he says, “But where's Ken Lipper come in?” I said, “Is Ken Lipper asking for a writing credit?” I said, “I was there.” I said, “Don't worry, I'll--just have me talk to the arbitrations group at the Guild [Writers Guild Of America].” Like, they wouldn't let me speak to them. [INT: No.] Can you imagine that? I'm the--I'm on the ground and Ken Lipper won the arbitrations. But Bo wrote that screenplay every word, and Paul Schrader and Pileggi will not argue that. [INT: So but on the ba--well the way the Guild, the Writers Guild [Writers Guild Of America, WGA] does it, they read all the screenplays. So they read Ken Lipper's [Kenneth Lipper] and--] They read Ken Lipper’s, what claim, Ken Lipper said is he wrote the original. If you write the original, all you have to do is write the names of the original and you're already in. [INT: Oh, right.] You know how that works. [INT: Right, right, right.] It's a corrupt system. [INT: Right, right.] I'm outraged, just talking about it I'm outraged. [INT: Okay, we'll get off it. but what--] Those speeches that Bo wrote for--my God, that speech over the kid--that speech at the end, that soliloquy at the end. [INT: Right.] Man ,Bo's a dear friend, but he's one of the great, great, great Writers. [INT: Yeah. No, he is.]


INT: So that was Michael Seresin to [referring to CITY HALL]?
HB: Yeah. [INT: And Jerry Goldsmith.] Yeah. [INT: And there was, again there was a real use of weather in that film. You had rain and snow.] Snow. Yeah. [INT: And again all of the casting was impeccable. You had David Paymer, you had Roberta Peters, and as I said, Danny Aiello's performance was incredible. And then--] There's a great scene in that movie that to me has such a--gets right to the heart of politics and that's the scene when the carousel is on and they go sit down in the little banquette, that’s Danny Aiello and Pacino [Al Pacino] [INT: Right.] And they're horse-trading. [INT: Right.] You know? [INT: Yeah, no that's--] I'll give you this, you give me that. [INT: Yeah, that was a terrific scene. Yeah. And John Cusak who I'm just a huge fan of.] Yeah. [INT: He was--so there again was shifting point of view.] Well, of course. [INT: Lots of it actually.] Right. It does have a lot of it in that one [INT: Yeah, yeah.] Because, you had all the different--because it was a film that was made up of so many disparate parts that come together. [INT: Yeah.] And we even had Landau. [INT: Oh, Martin Landau--we didn't even talk about Martin Landau right, yeah.] Playing the judge. [INT: Yeah.] Yeah. [INT: Yeah, this was an amazing cast. So did this film do well?] No. [INT: It didn't?] No, it was too--well, first of all it was about New York. Okay? It did well in New York. [INT: Right.] Ironically, it played 10 weeks at the Ziegfeld. Okay, it didn't do well outside. It's a film that comes back to me in various, different ways. People--Lady Byrd the, you know from the, Justice Byrd out here. [INT: Right, yeah.] Her favorite film. You had all kinds of different people, but it never caught a mass audience. [INT: This was too inside baseball.] Too mu--it was too--it was too complicated for them. It didn't have a good--you know what it was? I'll sum it up in that line, “It's not black and white, it was grey.” It was a film of ambiguities. Nobody was good and nobody was really bad. Everyone--it was a film that addressed the one thing that I really believe is such a truth. That Renoir [Jean Renoir] line, “Everyone has his reasons.” Well, here's the story, you can add it as a subtitle.


INT: Yeah, but I'll tell you--see there was, as I think about it, there was a very difficult transition again when Pacino [Al Pacino] grabs Cusack [John Cusack] and basically gives up, and it's not even clear that he’s giving up [referring to CITY HALL]. And then he whispers in Cusack's ear--I had to replay that two or three times to hear what he was saying. [Really?] Yeah, and it was, he made the transition, almost off-camera. And I mean, you were looking at him, he was far away, he was fighting, fighting, and fighting and then suddenly he grabs Cusack--
HB: Well, I think by the time he sits down in that chair. He's given up the ghost. [INT: But you don't know what is going to do, because he's never given in before and so I didn't--I was waiting to find out what he was going to do. It was clear that he had very few choices.] He had no choices. [INT: But he was a very unpredictable character and the movie had been, you had so clearly on his side, for so long, and then he just he disappears from the film.] But that soliloquy is a soliloquy of resignation. In his soliloquy, he basically said, he had... “I had it all in my hands.” [INT: Yes, he does say that.] You know what I mean? [INT: Yeah, he does say that.] “I could've gone all the distance.” [INT: Yeah.] It's a speech, it's a heartbreaking speech. [INT: Yeah.] But it is a speech of acceptance. [INT: Yeah.] Because you see basically into that room--I haven't seen the film in a while--but Cusack comes in to basically say, “I can't cut you anymore slack.” [INT: Right, right.] It's over. [INT: Yeah.] You know what I mean? [INT: Yeah.] Remember, he said, “Oh, I just started to fight.” [INT: Yeah.] And Cusack can't, can't back up off of it. [INT: Right.] On it. Anyway. [INT: Anyway, it was terrific. So okay and--] See I want to say, I’d like this say, in the problem. You should--I wanted it to be that you're left with a feeling not a resolution. And what an audience is looking for is a resolution. [INT: Right.] You're going to resign and maybe even the headlines. Mayor takes the fall. Right? [INT: Yes.] See that's the kind of thing. Who knows?


INT: Well did you want--do you want to just talk about for a minute, of course the kind of thing we were talking about outside, because I think it's useful to filmmakers about what you just said and how, where you started when you talked about Antonioni [Michelangelo Antonioni] and that kind of sensibility versus what you were talking about now and the need for an American audience.
HB: For a mass audience. [INT: American.] Whether--not just American. [INT: Right.] Even European, because remember the Antonioni films or Renoir [Jean Renoir] films, they were done for a small--the audience for those films, even in Europe, were small. [INT: Right, that's right.] Ironically, the big films in Europe were American movies. And big audiences, they were looking for action movies. Even in that time. Charles Bronson was the biggest movie star in Europe. Okay, not Mastroianni [Marcelo Mastroianni] even though you and I might say--[INT: Right.] “How can we even talk about it?” But the mass audience is looking for mass sensibility. I don't care whether you're talking about books, Jacqueline Susann, that's what they--you want to talk about of the bestseller's are? It's not even John Updike. I should even say whose got a more popular bend. But you see what I'm saying? [INT: Yes.]


INT: So how did you, as a filmmaker, looking back on your career--
HB: That’s been a struggle all along, trying to find material that could somehow bridge it, because you're not going to get to make the other stuff, if you can't bridge it. If you can't get an audience that they find, you're not going to be making movies. [INT: Did you look at--] Too expensive. [INT: Your films became more and more driving as they pro--] I think my last couple of films were commercial. [INT: Hmm.] Okay? And even though when I did, for example MERCURY RISING, which is supposedly built around a star, Bruce Willis asked me to do the film. But I did that film because I was fascinated with one thing, sometimes maybe you're blinded by other things when you do that--[INT: Right.]--and that was a autistic child. [INT: Oh.] And I think I did a very good job of honestly creating that autistic child. But maybe that was the fig leaf. As an action movie and I thought I did it very wel, but I would say the film didn't do badly but it would've been twice as much business if that autistic child became well. By the end of the movie, he became a normal kid. You understand me? [INT: Yes.] I made a film about a kid who has a terminal illness. I didn't see it that way. [INT: Right.] I only saw it that way in retrospect. [INT: Right, right.] And even though I was using an autistic child who has, I think they call it, Asperger's, they're high intelligence. [INT: Right.] Because the majority of autistic children don't have that. In fact an awful lot of autistic children are also retarded. That's truly heartbreaking and unbearable. You can't make a film about it. [INT: Right.] You could, but it would be unwatchable. [INT: Right.]


INT: There's one other thing that flows through your films thematically. The one I mentioned the outsider. The other is for, the lack of a better word, is magic. [HB: Well, I like that.] Yeah, I mean the inex--You make references in your film, the characters do it. It's very often, it's in the text about the inexplicable. It's like when you said the Renoir [Jean Renoir] quote, “Everybody has their reasons.” Are you conscious of that?
HB: No. I just think that's are part of my sensibility. You notice things get into things. You don't consciously, you can't--in fact, in fact, so much of--you work on a screenplay with a Writer. And his sensibilities get involved and the reason you're working with that Writer is because you liked those sensibilities. Maybe you helped to point them up but I can't say that I--there's nothing programmatic about it. Even some of the things you said to me surprised me or made me think twice. Because I never thought of them that way. You said to me my films have a consistency, I can say, “Oh, yeah there's a consistency I did them all. [INT: Right.] That's the only thing that's consistent. And you're a certain kind of person and that's who we are. And the closer you are to being personal in the work, the closer they are to being consistent in that persona, right? [INT: Right, right. But just--] And you can see where the more--as films to get bigger and sometimes get more homogenized you start--and that's a terrible thing you can't get lost in the film. [INT: Right.] And then you're not there anymore. [INT: Right.] Or you're done--you become after a while, you're a mechanic.[INT: Right.]


INT: Well, just to get back to the magic. In case of Bruce Willis and both Pacino [Al Pacino] parts and even Matthew Modine, they all recognize that there is something elusive in life and inexplicable and it's almost--It's almost like a kite in a wind stream. They move on that--[HB: They're reaching.] Yeah and they move on--but it's not anything you can see. But they--[HB: They're driven by something. Yeah. [HB: Yeah.] So, it's probably going back to you--
HB: But even, because even when Bruce Willis is in there, I think, plays the maverick. The character who is in trouble from the beginning to the end of it. [INT: Right.] You know, who can't be restrained, so to speak. Who smashes his supervisor in the face for the stupid things he caused the death of. You know the kind of whacko kind of decision that killed all those people there. [INT: But it's like you said when you were talking about your own life which is that you mentioned in passing that if you can see something in your mind you can make it happen.] No question about it. [INT: Will that's where these... but that's very consistent with these characters wouldn't you say?] Right. [INT: They do, in each case, they see something that the audience can't see yet.] Right. [INT: And then they make it--] Well of course. [INT: And they make it happen.] Yeah, or try to make it happen. [INT: Yeah, right.] Yeah, they try to make it happen and fail along the way, that's amazing too. [INT: Right.] You know. [INT: Right.] I mean making it happen is simplistic because what it is is the struggle and the contradictions because nobody's that clear minded about anything to begin with, unless you're doing cartoons. [INT: Right.] You know, you're going to see pictures--I haven't seen it--you go to see pictures like IRON MAN, they're making things happen. All the time. [INT: Right.] With superhuman, with superhuman powers, of course he can make things happen. [INT: Right, right.]


INT: So okay do you want to talk about this DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE at all?
HB: No, the only thing I want to say about it is that it's a perfect example of a film being, I felt, a film that was diminished by endless testing which so homogenized, so took the spirit or the life out of the film, that it became--with each test screening and each set of cuts became more and more a product. Which, of course, had many times the studio says they're looking for product. [INT: Right.] Tests well, sells well, goes down well. All right? [INT: Was there more story there in that?] Of course, there was more story. I would say, “We used to have a film which should of had a natural length of about 100, about two hours and 10 minutes, and it came in about 87 minutes. Where do you think it all went? [INT: So it was more complex obviously.] Of course, more complex, had more subtlety. [INT: Yes.] I'm not saying it was going to be a masterpiece no matter what--[INT: Right.]--but it was going to be a better movie than it was. [INT: One other thing I want to mention, that maybe you want to talk about is--] It was that pursuit of an audience. “We're going to get a bigger audience,” “get a bigger audience,” “keep raising the scores,” “we've got a hit.” Madness. Madness. You know like--like Alec Guinness says in--when the doctor sees it--you talk about shifting point of view, when you watches that bridge and he says madness [referring to THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI]. [INT: Yeah.]


INT: Another thing that's very distinctive is that in all of your films your Actors all get lots of private moments. There were a lot of--there are a lot of scenes in all of your films where the--and obviously they're all male leads, where you get to be with them alone.
HB: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense to me. [INT: Where they have, you know, what an Actor would call a private moment where they're--] Where you're getting inside them. [INT: Right.] Yeah. [INT: It's throughout--] Well, I feel good if you see that, yeah. [INT: Oh, it's in all of your films.] There's always those moments where you have so-called moments of truth where people--and then you know when we refer to that scene at the end of CITY HALL, I call that a private moment. Even though Cusack [John Cusack] is there as the, you know, as the immovable force… It's a man going inside of himself. Basically saying, “Where did I go wrong?” [INT: Right.] He equivocated, equivocated. Slid here, slid there. And finally, it slipped through his fingers. He was doing it in his mind for the greater good. [INT: Right.] It was trading. Trading this to get that. But then what does it all become--[INT: Gone.] Yeah.


INT: So do you want--the last thing is, you're working on a film now? [HB: Yeah.] Which is?
HB: We're doing a film based on a book by Joyce Carol Oates. It's called RAPE: A LOVE STORY. It's now titled VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY. I won’t go into the reasons for that. [INT: Right.] The problem with Distributors using the word rape. [INT: Right.] Because people confused it as though it was an endorsement of rape. [INT: Right.] RAPE: A LOVE STORY, rather than what it was in literary terms, a ironic comment. Right, it was two separate things. And I have Samuel Jackson. Abigail Breslin, the young girl. And Heather Graham. And Diane Weist. [INT: Oh.] Yeah, so I've got a very nice cast. We are still climbing the mountain. We're very close to the top, we hope to be shooting this picture by June. [INT: Oh, wow.] June or July. I've already got--I mean--I've had pre-production on it already. But like a lot of independent movies we were four weeks from the starting line and the last bag of gold didn't come in. And now, hopefully I've been promised the last bag of gold. [INT: Well great and who wrote it?] This was written by John Mankiewicz. [INT: Oh.] A very good Writer. I mean the genes are holding up. And it remains to be seen. [INT: Well, good luck.] Thank you so much. I can't believe we're finished but I'm happy. [INT: Well, okay good.] You were a very good person to spend some time with. [INT: Well thank you very much, it was my pleasure.]