With the recent passing of legendary film director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon), I was turned onto his behind-the-scenes book Making Movies by the Screened guys. Lumet was known as an actor’s director, one that everyone got along with and produced some of their best work with. Here, we get a glimpse into what it was like as he set upon each new cinematic effort.
The book’s arranged logically enough: from pre-production to release, Lumet guides us on a typical journey from table read to focus test. He uses anecdotes from his individual films to highlight how different things went right or wrong, which only has much weight if you’ve seen any of his films. He provides call sheets and breaks them down: who’s supposed to be on set, when the union folk are supposed to be driving people back, how much time they have at a particular location, so on and so forth. I’ve studied a lot about film production in the past decade, but it was great to see little tips here and there, like how the standalone production office kept tabs on things, or his preference in leading actors into performances. This isn’t a celebrity gossip book, he explains early on, this is a book about making the art.
Published in 1996, the book’s got plenty of dated references, on the precipice of the digital revolution, so there’s plenty of talk about film loaders, the sound guy getting his recorder up to speed, and big magnetic tapes used in the final mixes. Lumet also didn’t have much faith the studios that employed him, which becomes obvious in a rather dour last chapter when he talks about having final cut, the focus tests they put the film through, or the execs themselves. Still, if you’ve seen a film by Lumet – and you should – or you’re passionate about filmmaking, then you owe it to yourself to give this one a look over.