Actress Kathryn Hahn, co-writer Louise Stratten, screenwriter/director Peter Bogdanovich, and actor Owen Wilson at the premiere of Bogdanovich’s new film “She’s Funny That Way” last September at the Venice Film Festival.
We’re excited to feature Oscar nominated director and screenwriter Peter Bogdanovich on The Road to Cinema Podcast. In 1972, Bogdanovich received 2 Oscar nominations, “Best Director” and “Best Adapted Screenplay”, for “The Last Picture Show” an adaptation of Larry McMurtry’s acclaimed novel. The film was hailed by audiences and critics including Newsweek magazine who called the film, “The most impressive work by a young American director since ‘Citizen Kane’.” I remember first watching “The Last Picture Show” when I was 16. It struck me as one of the most honest and poignant films I had ever seen on the teenage experience. Bogdanovich creates a humanistic expression of a small town in 1950s Texas, based on author McMurtry’s own childhood, whose inhabitants feel either trapped or blissfully ignorant of their stark surroundings.
On this week’s podcast, Peter Bogdanovich discusses his new film “She’s Funny That Way” starring Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Kathryn Hahn, and Jennifer Aniston. The film, which was written by Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten, received a 10 minute standing ovation following its premiere at last September’s Venice Film Festival. Watch as director Peter Bogdanovich and actor Owen Wilson discuss the making of “She’s Funny That Way” at a Venice Film Festival press conference. The video also includes a few scenes from the film which arrives to theaters in the United States and On-Demand platforms in August. (Watch the latest trailer below.)
We discuss the casting and production of this new comedy and also the importance of Bogdanovich’s early work as an editor. Bogdanovich’s first films as a director, “Targets” and “The Last Picture Show”, were hand edited by the Oscar nominated filmmaker on both a moviola and steenbeck flat-bed editing machine. Bogdanovich is also renowned for a filming method called “cutting in the camera”. This means that Bogdanovich has a clear understanding of how every shot leads to another. “Cutting in the camera” can be achieved by shooting the scene in short pieces knowing precisely where one shot ends and another begins. The other method is by shooting in long takes where the camera remains stationary or moves in on the actors through out the course of the scene. Directors such as John Ford and Orson Welles implemented these “cutting in the camera” techniques on many of their films.
Below, we have two “cutting in the camera” examples from director Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show”. In this scene, Sonny and Duane, played by Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, are arguing over Jacy, the town’s local heart breaker. Notice that after the opening shots of Bottoms and Bridges, a shot or angle is rarely repeated. This is because Bogdanovich had foregone shooting a “master” which means shooting the entire scene, usually from a wide angle, to establish the geography of the actors. Then typical scene coverage would commence, shooting the entire scene from various close-ups and angles. Instead, after one shot was completed which may have only consisted of a few seconds of the scene, Bogdanovich would say, “cut.” He would then move the camera and continue the scene from another angle. This scene was accomplished so brilliantly because a) he rehearsed with the actors to establish the pace, rhythm, and staging of the scene and b) he knew precisely how the scene would cut together. A funny anecdote from the Criterion DVD of “The Last Picture Show” is that the script supervisor could not understand why Bogdanovich was not shooting a master shot and commencing with normal scene coverage. The script supervisor called one of the producers Bob Rafelson, also known as the Oscar nominated director of “Five Easy Pieces”, who looked at Bogdanovich’s footage and admittedly said, “He’s cutting in the camera. It’s brilliant.”
This second scene from “The Last Picture Show” is also an example of “cutting in the camera”. However, it is shot in a totally different style from the previous scene. It features Sam the Lion, Sonny, and Billy, played by Oscar winner Ben Johnson, Timothy Bottoms, and Sam Bottoms. Actor Ben Johnson plays out his poignant monologue in one long take with only a couple cutaways through out the scene as the camera slowly dollies in and dollies out on Johnson. The “typical shooting style” for a scene like this would be to shoot the entire scene in a “master shot”, a wide angle, then to shoot the entire scene in close-ups on the actors. The scene plays out in one, beautifully elegant shot that is both stationary and dynamic in movement from director Peter Bogdanovich and the film’s cinematographer Robert Surtees.
You may also notice the use of deep focus with the young boy, Sam Bottoms, remaining in focus in the background through out the beginning of the shot. This is a signature element of Bogdanovich’s staging and shooting style. Through many of his films, actors and action remain in focus through foreground, mid-ground, and background. It is very much influenced from director Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane” who also insisted upon deep focus. Deep focus is primarily achieved through the use of wide lenses and black and white photography which has a deeper depth of field than color photography. However, Bogdanovich has also achieved deep focus in many of his color films including “Mask” starring Eric Stoltz and Cher.
“The Last Picture Show”, 1971. Notice the incredible staging and composition of this scene using a wide angle lens. All three actors are in focus. Timothy Bottoms in “foreground”, Eileen Brennan in “mid-ground”, and Sam Bottoms in “background”.
“Citizen Kane”, 1941. Directed by Orson Welles. A young Charles Foster Kane is about to be separated from his destitute family. In the “background”, we see the young boy through the window. In the “mid-ground”, we see Kane’s bewildered father. And in the “foreground” we see Kane’s confident mother as well as Kane’s future, wealthy caretaker. The film’s cinematographer was Gregg Toland who also attempted a similar style in director John Ford’s “Stagecoach” a film that was a major influence on “Citizen Kane”.
Listen to episode #11 of The Road to Cinema Podcast with director Peter Bogdanovich where you will also learn about a new book he is currently working on. Follow us on Twitter @JogRoad for the latest updates on Road to Cinema!