Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A little hump day artistic inspiration

"Theatre is a safe place to do the unsafe things that need to be done. When it’s not a safe place, it’s abusive to actors and to audiences alike. When its safety is used to protect cowards masquerading as heroes, its a boring travesty. An actor who is truly heroic reveals the divine that passes through him, that aspect of himself that he does not own and cannot control. The control and the artistry of the heroic actor is in service to his soul.

We live in an era of enormous cynicism. Do not be fooled.

Don't act for money. You'll start to feel dead and bitter.

Don't act for glory. You'll start to feel dead, fat, and fearful.

We live in an era of enormous cynicism. Do not be fooled.

You can't avoid all the pitfalls. There are lies you must tell. But experience the lie. See it as something dead an unconnected you clutch. And let it go.

Act from the depth of your feeling imagination. Act for celebration, for search, for grieving, for worship, to express that desolate sensation of wandering through the howling wilderness. Don't worry about Art. Do these things and it will be Art."

 - John Patrick Shanley (part of the author's note from The Big Funk)

Playwright John Patrick Shanley

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who Is Ron Hutchinson?

Ron Hutchinson was born in 1947 near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He moved with his family to Coventry where he attended school. He got his start in theatre by attending plays at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre. One of his first plays, Risky City, was produced by the Belgrade Theatre in 1981 where it was directed by a trainee director by the name of Michael Boyd. Michael Boyd later went on to become the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company from 2002-2012, while Ron Hutchinson became a playwright-in-residence with the RSC in the 1980's and eventually left to move to L.A. to write screenplays.

Mr. Hutchinson is a prolific writer who has written more than 2 dozen plays and a number of films and television shows. His plays include Topless Mum, Says I, Says He, Rat In The Skull, an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Flight, and The Master and Margarita.

A winner of the John Whiting Award and other awards including the Dramatist’s Circle Award, he is an Emmy-winning feature and television writer whose credits include Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story, The Josephine Baker Story, The Burning Season, The Ten Commandments, and Traffic.

Moonlight and Magnolias was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and premiered in 2004. Mr. Hutchinson says the following about Moonlight and Magnolias: “The inspiration for Moonlight came when I was visiting my father in England. I was reading Daily, Daily, the autobiography of Ben Hecht’s week rewriting Gone with the Wind, and literally from one footstep to another, it struck me, wow—this is classical farce. Can you imagine? All the elements are there. Three high-powered individuals lock themselves in a room existing on peanuts and bananas, and they are ever mindful that the clock is ticking, in a total pressure cooker situation.” He also says that “Moonlight and Magnolias, was really more of a celebration to correct the image of film’s golden age writers, directors, and producers than an indictment of Hollywood. Though Hecht is the voice in the play, the hero is the producer David Selznick. Too often today, the producer’s image is that of the sleazy, behind the scene guy, who rakes in the money. Selznick had everything on the line: his fortune, reputation, and his marriage. The producers of yesteryear are the ones upon which the industry was built. I’ve had the great fortune to work with some outstanding producers who aren’t afraid to make the tough decisions.”

Mr. Hutchinson lives and works in Los Angeles and teaches screen-writing at the American Film Institute.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fun Facts: Gone With the Wind

Because of its length, the novel sold for $3 a copy, 50 cents higher than most hard-bound books of the day. The book weighed 2 1/2 pounds.

Gone With the Wind is the only book that Margaret Mitchell ever published. With Gone with the Wind she won the National Book Award for Most Distinguished Novel of 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937.

Half a million feet of film were shot. All of it was edited down to only 20,000 feet.

When Victor Fleming came on board in February 1939, he rejected the script. Production was shut down for 17 days while it was rewritten by Ben Hecht. Hecht used Sidney Howard's original script (which he felt was superb) as the basis for his rewrite.

After the opening titles, there is a scene-setting crawl which was originally written by Ben Hecht. Nothing like this appears in the novel and, privately, Margaret Mitchell was none too enthused by it.

One month after the book was published, David O. Selznick purchased the movie rights from Margaret Mitchell for an unprecedented $50,000. At the time it was the highest sum that had ever been paid for an author's first novel. Realizing he had underpaid Mitchell, Selznick gave her an additional $50,000 as a bonus when he dissolved Selznick-International Pictures in 1942.

It is estimated that if David Selznick included all the dialogue from the book in the movie, Gone With The Wind would be about 168 hours long. And that is just the dialogue... they would still have to add all the dances and so on.

Mitchell told friends she considered Basil Rathbone perfect casting for Rhett (this was before he had played Sherlock Holmes on screen). When the press asked her for her choice, she threw them off by suggesting Groucho Marx or Donald Duck.

Vivien Leigh worked for 125 days and received about $25,000. Clark Gable worked for 71 days and received over $120,000.

After a few requests for background information from producer David O. Selznick's researchers, Mitchell refused to have anything to do with the film. She did not consider herself an expert on Southern history and did not want to be held responsible for any historical inaccuracies that might make it to the screen. Instead she suggested they hire Atlanta historian Wilbur Kurtz and writer Susan Myrick, who made numerous contributions to the production.

Gone with the Wind was the first color film to win the Best Picture Oscar. It is the longest movie ever to win a Best Picture Award, being almost 4 hours long.

 Melanie’s blue dress had the hoops removed and was only shot from the waist up since aspect ratio of the time couldn’t accommodate two dresses built with hoops in the same shot.

The biggest star to come out of the talent search was a New York hat model named Edythe Marrener. After testing her in Hollywood, Selznick told her she didn't have what it took to be a movie star. She decided to stay on anyway and changed her name to Susan Hayward.

When nobody could figure out how to shoot the camera movement at the end of Scarlett's first scene with her father -- which involved synching film of the actors, a sunset effect and two different matte paintings, all shot at different times -- production manager Ray Klune turned to the UCLA math department, which calculated the effect using advanced calculus.

Scarlett's retching in the "I'll never be hungry again" scene had to be post-dubbed, but the ladylike Leigh could not produce a believable sound, so de Havilland dubbed it in for her.

At the Oscar ceremonies, host Bob Hope quipped, "It's a great thing -- this benefit for David O. Selznick."

Margaret Mitchell did not approve of the text at the introduction that reads: "There was once a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind..."

There were more people in that section in Atlanta during the premier than there were at the height of the Civil War, when the soldiers were defending the city.

For the premier in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, the governor of Georgia declared a state holiday. Ticket prices for the premier were going 40 times the usual rate.

Selznick's first choice for Rhett was actor Gary Cooper. But he passionately rejected the role. He said "Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I'm glad it's going to be Clark Gable falling flat on his feet, and not Gary Cooper."

In August 1936, six weeks after publication, Macmillan estimated that if all copies of Gone With The Wind that were sold were piled on top of each other, the stack would rise 50 times higher than the empire state building.

Gone With The Wind stayed the #1 best selling book in America for 2 whole years (1936-1937).

The first scene to be shot was the burning of the Atlanta Depot, filmed on 10 December 1938. If there was a major mistake during the filming, the entire film might have been scrapped. They actually burned many old sets that needed to be cleared from the studio backlot, including sets from The Garden of Allah (1936) and the "Great Wall" set from King Kong (1933). The fire cost over $25,000, and yielded 113 minutes of footage. It was so intense that Culver City residents jammed the telephones lines, thinking MGM was burning down.

Mitchell wrote the end of the book first. She knew Rhett and Scarlett weren't going to make it. The first chapter is the one she wrote last, and it is also the one that she liked the least.

If ticket prices are adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind is the highest grossing film of all time. Behind Gone With the Wind comes, in order, Star Wars, The Sound of Music, E.T The Extra Terrestrial, and finally Titanic.

The horse that Thomas Mitchell rode was later Silver of The Lone Ranger (1949) fame.

There are more than 50 speaking roles and 2,400 extras in the film. 1,100 horses were used in this film.

Gone With The Wind is the 34th best selling book of all time.

1,400 actresses were interviewed for the part of Scarlett O'Hara. 400 were asked to do readings.

Prominent Atlanta preacher Martin Luther King, Sr. (father of Martin Luther King) was invited to the cotillion ball held in Atlanta at the film's premiere. King, Sr. had been urged to boycott the festivities by other community leaders because none of the black actors in the film were allowed to attend. A forward thinker, King, Sr. attended because he was invited - and brought along his famous son with him.

The film had its first preview on 9 September 1939 at the Fox Theatre in Riverside, California. In attendance were David O. Selznick, his wife Irene Mayer Selznick, investor John Hay Whitney and editor Hal C. Kern. Kern called for the manager and explained that his theater had been chosen for the first public screening of Gone with the Wind (1939) though the identity of the film was to remain undisclosed to the audience until the very moment it began. People were permitted to leave only if they didn't want to hang around for a film that they didn't know the name of, but after they'd gone, the theater was to be sealed with no re-admissions and no phone calls. The manager was reluctant but eventually agreed. His one request was to call his wife to come to the theater immediately, although he was forbidden to tell her what film she was about to see. Indeed, Kern stood by him while he made his phone call to ensure he maintained the secret. When the film began, the audience started yelling with excitement. They had been reading about this film for nearly 2 years, so were naturally thrilled to see it for themselves.

In 1939, the Hollywood Production Code dictated what could and could not be shown or said on screen, and Rhett Butler's memorable last line presented a serious problem. A few of the suggested alternatives were "Frankly my dear... I just don't care," "... it makes my gorge rise," "... my indifference is boundless," "... I don't give a hoot," and "... nothing could interest me less." Although legend persists that the Hays Office fined Selznick $5,000 for using the word "damn", in fact the Motion Picture Association board passed an amendment to the Production Code on November 1, 1939, to insure that Selznick would be in compliance with the code. Henceforth, the words "hell" and "damn" would be banned except when their use "shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore ... or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste." With that amendment, the Production Code Administration had no further objection to Rhett's closing line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Clark Gable was so stressed out for the requirement that he cry when Scarlett has her miscarriage, he almost quit. Olivia de Havilland convinced him to stay, and cry. After watching a clip of him crying and one without crying, Gable admitted that when he cried, the clip was better.

Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was the first African-American to be nominated for an Oscar. She also won. She would remain the only African American actor to win an award until 1964 when Sidney Poitier won the Best Actor Award.

None of the African American cast were allowed to attend the movie’s premiere. The fact that Hattie McDaniel would be unable to attend the premiere in racially segregated Atlanta annoyed Clark Gable so much that he threatened to boycott the premiere unless she could attend. He later relented when she convinced him to go.

Olivia de Havilland always meticulously researched her roles. As she had not yet had a baby in real life, she visited a maternity hospital to study how various women coped with the stresses of childbirth for the scene where Melanie has her baby. Off-camera, the scene's director, George Cukor, would occasionally pinch her toes to make her feel pain.

Although he was dismissed from the production, George Cukor continued to privately coach both Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland at their request on weekends.

The character of Ashley Wilkes was based on Margaret Mitchell's cousin by marriage John "Doc" Holliday. Melanie was based on Mitchell's third-cousin, and Doc's first cousin and close friend, Mattie "Sister Melanie" Holliday. Doc moved West and became the gambler and gunfighter we know. Mattie joined a convent and became a nun, but maintained a correspondence with Doc.

The film has never been cut. Recent releases are longer because of the added Overture, intermission, and exit music, not because any deleted scenes have been restored.

The four principals were billed on the film's posters in this order: Clark Gable, followed by Leslie Howard and Olivia de Havilland and then "presenting" Vivien Leigh. This changed when Leigh won the Oscar.

David O. Selznick bought the rights to the best selling novel for $50,000. Louis B. Mayer, Selznick's father-in-law and head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, was determined to make Gone with the Wind an MGM film. Mayer initially offered to buy Selznick out at a handsome profit. Warner Bros. offered Bette Davis, Errol Flynn and advantageous financing. Selznick's own distributor United Artists showed interest in providing a production financing package. However, none of them had an actor capable of portraying Rhett Butler except MGM, which offered a deal that included Clark Gable. After much vacillating on Selznick's part, a deal was struck with MGM on January 19, 1938 that gave Selznick Clark Gable and $1.25 million toward production costs, in return for giving MGM distribution rights and 50% of the profits, which were further reduced by Loew's Inc.'s 15% interest and a requirement to pay Gable's $4,500 per week salary and one-third of Gable's $50,000 loan-out bonus. Gone with the Wind was, of course, a box office triumph, grossing over $20 million during its initial release alone. Selznick eventually earned $4 million on the picture. Unfortunately, a few years later he sold his rights to John Hay Whitney for a paltry $400,000 to keep his independent production company afloat. John Hay Whitney later sold the rights to Gone with the Wind back to MGM for a $2.4 million.

The Ku Klux Klan was written out of the screenplay as the organization to which Frank Kennedy turns after Scarlett is attacked in Shantytown. Producer David O. Selznick said that he had no desire to remake The Birth of a Nation, telling screenwriter Sidney Howard in 1937, "I do hope you will agree with me on this omission of what might come out as an unintentional advertisement for intolerant societies in these fascist-ridden times. . . ."

Judy Garland was the leading contender for the role of Scarlett's sister Carreen before her Andy Hardy series co-star Ann Rutherford was cast, but she was tied up with commitments to another film directed by Victor Fleming: The Wizard of Oz. Ironically, Fleming would replace George Cukor on both The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind.

The only four actors David O. Selznick ever seriously considered for the role Rhett Butler were Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Ronald Colman. The chief impediment to Gable's casting was his MGM contract. Gable was not drawn to the material; he didn't see himself in a period production, and didn't believe that he could live up to the public's anticipation of the character. Eventually, he was persuaded by a $50,000 bonus which would enable him to divorce his second wife Maria ("Ria") and marry Carole Lombard.

Nothing in the internal memos of David O. Selznick indicates or suggests that Clark Gable played any role in the dismissal of director George Cukor. Rather, they show Selznick's mounting dissatisfaction with Cukor's slow pace and quality of work. Almost half of Cukor's scenes were scrapped or later re-shot by others. From a private letter from journalist Susan Myrick to Margaret Mitchell in February 1939: "George [Cukor] finally told me all about it. He hated [leaving the production] very much he said but he could not do otherwise. In effect he said he is an honest craftsman and he cannot do a job unless he knows it is a good job and he feels the present job is not right. For days, he told me he has looked at the rushes and felt he was failing... the things did not click as it should. Gradually he became convinced that the script was the trouble... So George just told David he would not work any longer if the script was not better and he wanted the [Sidney] Howard script back... he would not let his name go out over a lousy picture... And bull-headed David said 'OK get out!'" Selznick had already been unhappy with Cukor ("a very expensive luxury") for not being more receptive to directing other Selznick assignments, even though Cukor had remained on salary since early 1937; and in a confidential memo written in September 1938, four months before principal photography began, Selznick flirted with the idea of replacing him with Victor Fleming. "I think the biggest black mark against our management to date is the Cukor situation and we can no longer be sentimental about it.... We are a business concern and not patrons of the arts... ."

Writer Sidney Howard was paid $2,000 a week to do the screenplay. Many other writers contributed to the final script, with the final sum paid to every one of them being $126,000. Sidney Howard received sole screen credit. David O. Selznick also wrote much of the screenplay.

Even though he played Brent Tarleton in the movie, the opening credits mistakenly say that Fred Crane played Stuart and that George Reeves played Brent.

Margaret Mitchell's nickname was "Peggy."

Micheal Jackson paid $1,542,500 for David Selznick's best picture Oscar from Gone with the Wind.

Margaret Mitchell hated the sets for Tara and Twelve Oaks. She said, "I grieve to hear that Tara has columns. Of course, it didn't and looked nice and ugly like Alex Stephens' Liberty Hall in Crawfordville, Georgia.' And, "I had feared, of course that Twelve Oaks would end up looking like the Grand Central Station, and your description confirms my worst apprehensions. I did not know whether to laugh or throw up at the TWO staircases... God help me when the reporters get me after I've seen the picture. I will have to tell the truth, and if Tara has columns and Twelve Oaks is such an elegant affair I will have to say that nothing like that was ever seen in Clayton County, or, for that matter, on land or sea... When I think of the healthy, hardy country and somewhat crude civilization I depicted and then of the elegance that is going to be presented, I cannot help yelping with laughter..."

David Selznick used all 7 Technicolor cameras in existence for the filming of Gone with the Wind.

There were a total of 5 directors for Gone with the Wind. First was George Cukor, who was fired because Clark Gable didn't like him. Then, Sam Wood was hired to fill in. The director came in next, and got all the credit, was Victor Fleming. During the filming, Fleming collapsed from exhaustion, so Selznick called in two second-unit men to direct temporarily.