Peter Hyams is one of the most talented, under-rated and versatile directors of the last few decades. He has worked in many different genres, making his mark in all of them, and has worked with some of cinema's most brilliant actors and most loved stars: Sean Connery, Elliott Gould, Michael Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Jean-Claude Van Damme, for example. Peter always manages to put a unique spin on any genre he tackles, and his films always emphasise characterisation, action, location work and entertainment value. His impressive filmography includes  BUSTING (1974) with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, one of the earliest examples of the buddy-buddy cop comedy/ thriller; CAPRICORN ONE (1977), a mix of paranoid politics and action/ adventure; the sci-fi thriller OUTLAND (1981), with Sean Connery; 2010 (1984), the sequel to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968); RUNNING SCARED (1986), a buddy-buddy cop comedy thriller with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines; TIMECOP (1994), the first of so far three films with Jean-Claude Van Damme; and END OF DAYS (1999), an apocalyptic sci-fi movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the final part of a two part interview, I spoke with Peter about OUTLAND, and working with Sean Connery; THE STAR CHAMBER (1983) and working with Michael Douglas; the challenges of making 2010; working with actors in general; his approach to remakes; shooting his win films; his feelings about his son John becoming a director; working with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gene Hackman and Jean-Claude Van Damme; producing THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987); and how he views his legacy as a filmmaker.   

Part one of the interview.  

How did OUTLAND come about? 
I very much wanted to make a Western. I was working with a wonderful, extraordinarily bright guy named Richard Roth, and he said ''You can't make a Western. No-one will make it. '' I kept on saying ''It's the longest, most enduring genre in the history of the movies, starting with THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY in 1903. '' I remember waking up in the morning, and a lightbulb had turned on. Like George Lucas before me I had realised that the Western hadn't gone, it was that now it was in outer space. That was the propulsion for OUTLAND. ''What would a Western be like in an environment as hostile as outer space?'' I went off and I did a lot of drawings and paintings showing what the world would look like. 

What did you enjoy the most about working with Sean Connery on OUTLAND and later on THE PRESIDIO (1988)? 
He is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. It was one of the great privileges to work with him. Sean was up to every expectation you could ever have. He is one of the straightest, the biggest, truest, most honest, most un-full of shit, talented people I have ever met. He is a movie star the moment you first meet him and shake his hand, with a wrist that's the size of the Lincoln Tunnel. The only way that you can get into trouble with Sean is if you're not honest. If you're straight, and if he asks you a question and you go ''I don't know'' or ''I don't agree'', you're okay. If you think you can bullshit him, you're making one of the biggest mistakes you'll ever make in your life. My process with Sean was having to prove myself and get his confidence as a filmmaker. It took a while. He used to say ''Hello, boy '' when we first started, and then when our relationship changed it would be ''Hello, cock'' . I love him. To then make another film with him eight years after OUTLAND was a blessing. I've never worked with anybody who had the same effect on 15 year old girls and 65 year old women, and everything in-between. There wasn't a female who wouldn't get moist just seeing him. Sean had such a presence that when we were editing OUTLAND, if we weren't sure if something was working, we'd just cut to a close-up of that face. 

Did you ever have any interaction with Duncan Jones? He has said he was influenced by the film when he made MOON. 
He said some very kind things and I think I sent him a note or called him. I thought MOON (2009) was incredible. He's a talented guy. 

What attracted you to THE STAR CHAMBER? 
I had been sent the script and I thought it was a fascinating idea. But I said to Sherry Lansing, who was the head of Twentieth Century-Fox and is a woman I will love till the day I die, ''I'll make this movie but I gotta re-write it from page one. I have to change it from a Donald Trump Republican script to a left-wing, anti-vigilante movie. '' My idea was to whip everyone up into a vigilante frame of mind and then pull the rug out from under them, and tell them that they're wrong. 

What was it like working with Michael Douglas on this film and the later BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (2009)? 
I love him. Whatever fights Michael and I have ever had , were only ever to do with the movie we were making. It was never to do with movie star crap. It was always about how to make the movie better. He is wonderfully funny, and a really serious, pure, wonderful guy. 

What is your process with actors? 
It's thrilling working with the likes of Michael, and Sean, and Catherine Deneuve (on THE MUSKETEER). I really mean this – I love actors. I don't have the courage or talent to be an actor. I think directing is creating a place where actors feel good and where they feel brave. The braver they feel, the bigger the chances they take, and the bigger the chances they take, the better the work. I tell my actors when I work with them ''I can't make you better than you are, but I can make sure you don't look like a complete asshole. '' Once they know that, they'll take chances.

I remember on CAPRICORN ONE, I was choreographing this very complicated scene involving this very talented actor named Bobby Walden and Elliott Gould playing pool. Firstly, I violated Rule 1. I didn't show the fucking table. I should have put the bottom of the frame above the table so it didn't matter what the balls did, but I was too stupid to have understood that, so the actors had to make all these shots and it all became much too complicated. When we were preparing the scene, Bobby came up to me and said ''What do you think if I put a Band-Aid on my glasses?'' I said ''Terrific. '' As he walked away I thought ''Who the fuck cares if he puts a Band-Aid on his glasses?'' I shot the scene, and I was in the editing room six months later and a shot came up of Bobby with the Band-Aid on his glasses. I realised ''Holy shit. What a great idea.''

I describe directing as conducting a collective myopia. You want everybody to think that it all centers around them. You have to somehow push it and shove it a little bit so that it goes closer to the way you originally wanted it. I don't care who the director is, 90% of directing is casting. You think you can tell Michael Douglas how to act? I've only ever said two intelligent things to an actor in my life, and I have been directing movies for over forty years. One was early in my career when I was making PEEPER (1975) with Natalie-fucking-Wood. It's late in the day, I'm laying down all this dolly track, people are getting tired and the crew want to go home. Natalie comes out of her trailer and she says ''OK, what are we doing?'' So I say ''Well, we start here and you walk to here, and when you get to here, you turn and you say your line. '' Natalie says to me ''What's my motivation for saying it there?'' And you can see the whole crew go ''Oh, my God. '' I said to her ''That's all the track we have. If you keep on walking, you're out of the shot. '' And she said ''I think I feel it!'' And we went and did it. And the only other smart thing I ever said to anybody was when I was making THE STAR CHAMBER and we were shooting the first scene on the first day, between Hal Holbrook and Michael Douglas in a Chinese restaurant. Hal came to me and said ''I'm having trouble saying this dialogue. What should I do?'' I don't know what possessed me but I said ''Think Jewish. '' He went ''Oh, got it. '' And that was it. You can't tell actors like these how to act. You just have to create a place where they feel safe and then let them work. 

Were you apprehensive about taking on 2010? 
When MGM asked me to do 2010, I didn't want to do it, for the obvious reasons. For me to be compared to Stanley Kubrick, it would be like a midget being compared to Shaquille O'Neal. I read the book, and I told MGM that there were two conditions in which I would undertake the project. The first was that I would have to be approved by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. The second was that, because of my background and the fact the book was about Russians and Americans joining together to make a space voyage, I wanted to make it more about the Cold War. I wanted things to be less happy and less peaceful down on Earth while they were up in space. This was during Reagan's administration. MGM said fine.

I had a long-distance call with Arthur C. Clarke, who was in Sri Lanka, and he was great. He said he agreed with what I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to closely collaborate with him, and that as I wrote the script I would send him the pages and get his comments. This was around the time of nascent computers. K-Pro set up a computer in my office and in Arthur C. Clarke's house. Every day I would write, and then send him binary transmission of what I had written. In the morning I would get his comments.

We set up a time to talk with Stanley Kubrick. I remember I was in my office and my secretary walked in and said ''Stanley Kubrick is on the line. '' I jumped to my phone and literally stood up. I was standing the entire time I talked to him. I said ''Hello, Mr. Kubrick. '' And he immediately said ''In OUTLAND, how did you do that shot where ... '' He started asking me all these technical questions about photography – how I did this, why I did that, what lenses I used, what f-stop, and so on. About an hour and a half into the conversation I said ''Listen, do you approve me doing ...'', and before I could even get the sentence out he said ''Oh, yeah, fine. You'll be great for it. '' And then he went on with his technical questions. Before we got off the phone he said ''Here's what I want to tell you. Make it your movie. '' And then we hung up. I sat down, and my secretary came running in and

asked ''What was it like?'' I said ''Well, we spoke for almost three hours, and I told him everything, and he told me nothing. '' A couple of months later I was working with Arthur C. Clarke, and I said ''Tell me about the first time you were with Stanley. '' He said ''Well, we were in London, in Hyde Park, and we sat on a bench. We talked for two or three hours and I told him everything and he told me nothing. '' The most I can tell you about Stanley Kubrick was that he was as kind, as unpretentious, as supportive, as sweet as a guy could be. He was wonderful. He said some nice things to me afterwards about the movie, and he's not known for bullshitting. 

When you were developing the film, did you ever have any temptation to homage 2001 or attempt doing things in a similar way? 
The opposite was true. From the beginning I said ''I have to make a film that is so completely different in tone, in look, in sound, in everything, so that you can't honestly compare it to 2001 (1968) or compare me to Stanley Kubrick. Because if there is any comparison between me and Stanley Kubrick, it's unfair to me, because he is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. '' If you look at 2001, it's not the most accessible and warm film. When I made 2010, I tried to do the opposite. That's the only defence I have. 

What impressed you the most about Arthur C. Clarke? 
To say that Arthur C. Clarke is smart is like saying a whale is big. He radiates a kind of intelligence. I've dealt with three people in the movie industry who are the brightest people I have ever met. One is Arthur C. Clarke, one is Jim Cameron, and one is Michael Crichton. They're so smart that if you get too close you can get burned. It's the kind of intelligence that makes you realise when you should shut up. 

What prompted you to make the switch to also being the cinematographer on the films you direct, beginning with 2010? 
It was no switch. I had always been the cinematographer on my films from the beginning. The relationship between me and the Cinematographer's Guild turned out to be a very contentious one. What I used to do was hire a guy and have them on standby, and I would do everything. Then they swooped down on the set of THE STAR CHAMBER and sued for, I think, 11 million dollars. They were saying what I could and couldn't do as a director. They said I couldn't have a light meter and I couldn't talk to the DP. It was just bullshit. It was ugly. When it came to 2010, I had sat for over ten years and let others take the credit for shooting my films, and as much as it saddened me, I was okay with it. But I told them ''I'm not going to do that anymore. I'm going to to be the DP. You can tell that to everybody, and while you're at it, you can tell it to the Teamsters. '' The Guild said ''OK. We'll figure it out. '' And that was that.

Almost every cinematographer who has one-tenth of my credits is a member of the ASC, the American Society of cinematographers. I wasn't a member and after a few years, Conrad Hall called me and said ''How come you're not in the ASC?'' I said ''They hate me. '' He said ''That's ridiculous. If Haskell Wexler and I sign your application, will you join?'' These two guys are two of the important and celebrated cinematographers in the world. They signed it, and I went down for the interview at the clubhouse. 48 hours later I got a letter saying ''You've been rejected. But you are free to apply again at another time. '' I got my wife to get it framed for me. I remember she told me the framer called her and asked ''Are you sure your husband wants to frame this letter?'' It's on my wall, next to my desk. I have a lot of respect for the profession of cinematography, and no-one has more passion about photography than I do, but I don't have a lot of respect for those organisations. 

Was it difficult to convince Arnold Schwarzenegger to die in END OF DAYS? 
It was the first movie he had done since he had had heart surgery. He was a little cautious, but he was game. I had this idea that his character should die, and it was not in the script. When a major actor says ''I think we should do this'' and I say ''Well, I think we should do that'', my answer has always been to shoot it both ways, then take a look at it. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes I'm right. Arnold agreed after watching my version that it was the right way to go. He was terrific. 

What did you admire the most about working with Schwarzenegger? 
I admired his discipline. He was never unprepared. He was strong-willed but willing to duke it out, and to try both ways. I adored making the film with him and would make another one with him in a flash. 

You've worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme on TIMECOP, SUDDEN DEATH (2005) and ENEMIES CLOSER (2013), and you shot UNIVERSAL SOLDIER; REGENERATION (2009), which your son John Hyams directed. How is working with him? 
I think Jean-Claude respects good writing and good choreography. On the last film I did with him, ENEMIES CLOSER, he was involved with the project before I was. He and the producer asked me to do it. I read the script and I said I would only do it if Jean-Claude agreed to play the bad guy. It took a real deep breath on his part. I told him I wanted him to be this flamboyant villain, an absolute maniac who goes from happy and sweet to lethal at a right angle and then back again. He embraced the nuttiness of it. 

How do you feel about your son John becoming a filmmaker? 
He has all the talent I wish I had. He first exhibited it as an artist and is ten times better than I ever was. He writes and directs. I think he's incredible. 

What do you think is the best advice you have given him? 
One was a quote from Richard Brooks who said ''Get comfortable shoes. '' The other was from me. I said to him ''The only mistakes you will ever regret are the times where you didn't go far enough and you pulled back. You will never regret going too far. The worst that can happen is that you might say ''I took a big swing and I missed.'' The times when you pulled back are the ones where you look back and you want to commit hara-kiri. ''

What is usually your approach with remakes? 
I want to make something that is completely opposite to the original. I also want to remake something that is not that well known. I see people doing remakes of fabulous movies, and I find it strange. If someone offered me $100 million to remake BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969), I'd say no. But when it comes to BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (1956) or NARROW MARGIN (1952), the originals weren't famous films. 

What was it like working with Gene Hackman on NARROW MARGIN (1990)? 
It was a dream. I think he is one of the greatest actors in the history of American cinema. He taught me a lot more than I taught him. I love Gene. He's also a very talented artist, by the way. 

How did you get involved with producing THE MONSTER SQUAD? 
Jon Zimbert, who I first had as my assistant and kept on promoting until he got to be a producer, came to me with this screenplay by Shane Black and Fred Dekker. He said the studio would make it if I signed on to it as a producer. I said ''OK'' and agreed to be there as a kind of godfather. 

It's become a cult classic. 
It's amazing, yes. It's like another film I made called STAY TUNED (1992). People are still talking about that. I guess kids grow up with these films and don't forget them. There is a real lasting relationship that I have because of THE MONSTER SQUAD, and that is with Shane Black. 

Do you feel like your films have themes that you have often returned to? 
I have no way of objectively looking back, other than seeing the things that I want to fix. To be honest with you, I don't think I'm good enough to have anything thematic in my films. 

How do you feel about your legacy? 
You fall madly and passionately in love with a project and you have the excitement and exhilaration of doing what you're doing, and then you have the terrible deflation of ''It's finished, and the film is all mine. '' I had on my wall for almost thirty years a quote from Carol Reed: ''Making a film is all work and all worry and all fear and all heartache. Not making a film is worse. '' So, for me, making a film is a process of failing. But it's true that ''A man's reach must exceed his grasp, lest what's Heaven for?'' You try to make a film better than it can ever be because what's in your head is absolutely a perfect film. But it has to pass through you and it is the vast gulf between you and perfection. I don't find the gulf is closing, in fact, I find it growing, because now I can see better and I know more. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Peter Hyams is one of the most talented, under-rated and versatile directors of the last few decades. He has worked in many different genres, making his mark in all of them, and has worked with some of cinema's most brilliant actors and most loved stars: Sean Connery, Elliott Gould, Michael Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Jean-Claude Van Damme, for example. Peter always manages to put a unique spin on any genre he tackles, and his films always emphasise characterisation, action, location work and entertainment value. His impressive filmography includes  BUSTING (1974) with Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, one of the earliest examples of the buddy-buddy cop comedy/ thriller; CAPRICORN ONE (1977), a mix of paranoid politics and action/ adventure; the sci-fi thriller OUTLAND (1981), with Sean Connery; 2010 (1984), the sequel to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968); RUNNING SCARED (1986), a buddy-buddy cop comedy thriller with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines; TIMECOP (1994), the first of so far three films with Jean-Claude Van Damme; and END OF DAYS (1999), an apocalyptic sci-fi movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the first part of a two part interview, I spoke with Peter about his early years and breaking into the industry, BUSTING, RUNNING SCARED, and the road that led to CAPRICORN ONE. 

Growing up, what films made an impact on you the most? 
I was certainly influenced by the French New Wave. THE 400 BLOWS (1959) was a picture that really affected me. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) was and is pretty close to the Holy Grail for me. 

How did they affect you? 
My family was involved in the Broadway theater, and I grew up with the theater all around me. I was an art student by the time I could walk, and I was classically trained. When I saw things like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or THE 400 BLOWS as a teenager, I would sit there and think ''You can't paint this. You can't put this on the stage. You can't perform this. You can't do this in Carnegie Hall. This is film. '' It ignited in me a kind of absolute passion for the medium itself, and to me those two films personified different polarities of the medium. As an art student, looking at the paintings of say, Michelangelo or Picasso, they stretched the boundaries of the canvas. Those two films stretched the proscenium that I was used to from the theater. It was submersive and you kind of fell into the screen, or were overwhelmed by it like I was.

How did you get into the film industry? 
I majored in Music and Art when I was much younger. I began writing, self-impressed, completely full of shit stuff that only a kid could do - a lot of lower case poetry with stuff like ''I seek'' – two spaces – ''In my life'' – two spaces – ''Frailty.'' At the High School of Music and Art, that stuff could get you laid.

There was a point in my life where I felt that the amalgam of design, art, photography and music was documentary film. So I went to work for CBS Reports, which was the Cadillac of documentaries. I was the personal gofer for Fred W. Friendly, who alongside Edward Murrow, is one of the gods of television journalism. I was with CBS for almost seven years in various capacities and I reached a point where a photograph being artful was more interesting than a photograph being accurate, and where writing being factual was less important than writing being interesting. So I left and I wanted to make films, where I could write the way I wanted to write and photograph the way I wanted to photograph. The difference between documentary directing and feature film directing is a great documentarian learns how to capture an event and a feature film director creates the event. That became more of what I was looking for than anything else. 

What led to your first film as a director, the TV movie GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE (1972)? 
I loved film noir and I wanted to make a film that was an homage to one of the most underrated writers in America, Raymond Chandler. When I first came out to Hollywood, I had written this script called T.R. BASKIN (1971), and through this odd set of circumstances, it got made. It had a good cast and was done well, and although they wouldn't let me direct it, I did produce it. A very big director at the time, Herbert Ross, was the director. After that I was very sought after to write and produce for other people. I said ''No, I won't write for somebody else again. '' This was the period when television was seen as this vat of sulphuric acid. If you put your foot in it, you'd come out with a stump. But I thought ''Fuck this. I'm going to see Barry Diller at ABC. '' Barry was in charge of the Movie of the Week at the network. ABC used to make one or two of these films a week. Barry is one of the smartest guys I ever met in my life. We sat down and I said to him ''You have all these guys who make these movies for you. And you know, bottom line, that they'll get them done in twelve days. You don't know me. You don't know the bottom line with me, or the top line. But I'll write and direct a film for you in twelve days. '' I knew all the technical things about filmmaking. Barry said ''Well, what are your ideas?'' I told him ''I have two ideas. I'd like to make a movie about an attempt by the United States to fake a space shot. Or I'd like to make a movie about a detective and a dwarf in the 1940s. '' He said ''We're already doing something about space. Why don't you do the detective one?'' And that's what I did.

Do you think your first theatrical feature BUSTING benefited from your documentary and journalistic experience? 
It came in handy in terms of my years of research. Before I wrote BUSTING I spent six months on the road going to L.A., Boston, Chicago and New York, talking to cops, hookers, pimps and the real people. The fact is that every single episode in BUSTING was based on something that actually happened. Whatever training I had as a self-impressed asshole reporter, the most important thing I learned was research. There was a great satirist called Tom Lehrer who wrote very funny and perverse songs. One of his quotes that I always remember was about Nicolai Lobachevsky. He said ''I'll never forget the time I met the great Lobachevsky. It was he who taught me the secret of great writing -plagiarise. Only don't call it 'plagiarise', call it 'research'. '' My approach to a story is always research, and then try to make drama out of it. 

What fascinated you about the world of vice cops to make the film? 
An esoteric and artful thing – I was asked to write a movie about vice cops. The producers were Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who had done a very successful film for Columbia called THE NEW CENTURIONS (1972). They caught me at that point where I was about to break into features. GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE had gotten more attention than it deserved and was incredibly highly praised. Irwin came to me and said ''We would like you to make a movie for us. '' Irwin was spellbinding and terrific, the greatest film school a young filmmaker could ever attend. The charter was to make a movie about vice cops. 

Was it difficult to cast the leads? 
Elliott Gould was at his apogee, and he wanted to do it. He had made MASH (1970) and GETTING STRAIGHT (1970). United Artists was a dream studio. Once they thought the script and the people making the film were good, they really didn't intrude. They were very encouraging, and fabulous for filmmakers. David Picker was head of UA at the time. 

How close did Ron Leibman come to playing the Robert Blake part? 
Pretty close. We weren't sure if it was going to be Ron or somebody else. It turned out the contrast between Ron and Elliott Gould was not the same contrast between Robert Blake and Elliott, so it was suggested we go with Robert and I listened.

Was the shoot-out in the market a learning curve for you? It's one of the great action scenes. 
I spent a lot of time plotting that thing out. This was not the days of Steadicam, where you could run around and do what you wanted. You had bigger cameras and all those movements on dolly tracks where things were upstairs and downstairs. I just drew out the way I wanted to do it. 

How long did you spend filming the scene? 
The whole film was a 35 day schedule. We spent maybe a day or two on the shootout. The more you're prepared and the more everyone else is prepared, the quicker things go. 

How much was BUSTING on your mind when you were developing RUNNING SCARED, another buddy-buddy cop movie? 
Both were products of their times. My consciousness in 1985 was different from the way I was thinking in 1974, and they are different kinds of movies. One was literally supposed to be a comedic movie, and one was more of a film that just had a sense of humor. When I was asked to do RUNNING SCARED, I wanted to make sure it was unlike anything I had ever done before. I thought one way, among other things, to do that was to cast it completely differently. When I said Billy Crystal, you could hear the 'thud' as the guys in MGM fainted. Billy had to do a screen test in order to do it. When Billy and I suggested Gregory Hines, we didn't get the friendliest reception in the world. The script was originally about two elderly New York cops who retire and I said ''No, I want to make it about two young cops in Chicago who don't retire.'' Alan Ladd Jr became the head of MGM when we were putting together the film and he was ultimately the guy who said 'yes' to what I wanted.

I've never gotten an Oscar. I've never been nominated. I have never been given, nor do I deserve, a Lifetime Achievement Award. However, there are two things that place me different from any other directors in the world. Number one is that I am the only director to have two leading men tried for the first degree murder of their wives – Bobby Blake and O.J. Simpson, who was in CAPRICORN ONE. And I am also the only person who made Alan Ladd Jr's first film for two different companies. His first film for the Ladd Company was OUTLAND. And his first film for MGM was RUNNING SCARED. Laddy and I had a good relationship. It was bumpy in the start and great towards the end. He forged a career by nurturing people who made film. In the end, he was my saving grace. 

What is the background behind your use of 'Spota' in your films? 
It's my wife's maiden name. It's just a bouquet, really, a way of saying ''I love you. '' It's nothing more important than that, other than my father-in-law and his brother Nick, who I used a couple of times in my films, are the two nicest, sweetest, most specific people in the world. My father-in-law passed away and I delivered the eulogy. It made Mahatma Gandhi look like a mugger. Using their names as murderers was funny to me. 

You wrote the Charles Bronson film TELEFON (1977). How come you didn't end up directing it? 
To be totally honest, people's careers are like the sea. They've got waves and troughs, and waves and troughs, and I was at my absolute bottom after PEEPER (1976). The guy who was head of MGM at the time, Dan Melnick, told me he wanted me to write and direct TELEFON, but he knew there was no way he was going to let me direct it. I wrote the script, and they seemed to love it, but then they said ''Richard Lester is going to direct the film. '' I was used to getting to direct my own scripts, but I had to go through a period of rejection. I had written CAPRICORN ONE, and the response wasn't ''Wow!'' It was ''Can you get your car out of the parking lot?'' It was the most abject and direct rejection you could ever get. So I put that script aside and wrote HANOVER STREET (1979). That was a script that got a lot of attention and people wanted. I was offered an absolute fortune to sell the script but not direct it. I was running out of money and I had a wife and two babies. I came home and said to my wife ''All our troubles are over. We have enough to move out of our house. We're going to be okay. I've just been offered a lot of money for the script. '' She said ''They don't want you to direct it, huh?'' I said ''No.'' She said ''Oh, OK. '' She walked out of my little study, and came back about twenty minutes later and said ''I just thought you should know that if you sell that script I'm going to leave you. '' Then she walked out, closing the door. That's my wife. I didn't sell the script. This was during the time I was writing TELEFON and after all this, I had to go through the agony of doing a rewrite for Richard Lester. Lester left, and then Don Siegel came on board. I met with him, but I thought ''I can't do this anymore. '' Then, out of the blue, the sky cleared. A producer named Paul Lazarus said to me ''Whatever happened to that CAPRICORN ONE script?'' I told him ''Nothing.'' He said ''If I put it together, can I produce it?'' I said ''Sure. '' Right around the time that all this shit was going on, Paul called me and said ''I think we've got a deal to make the film. ''

CAPRICORN ONE is one of your most loved films. 
It was a movie made under the radar. Jim Brolin, Sam Waterston, Hal Holbrook and O.J. Simpson, who I didn't want but they wanted. Somehow or other that movie and the times, which was the late 70s, combined. There's a certain moment at the end of the movie where the audience would stand up and cheer, and it wasn't because it was a particularly great movie. There are better movies. It just happened with that movie at that particular time. My buddy told me that people were watching it on an airplane and he came out of the bathroom and everyone was cheering. He immediately looked to see if his flies were open!

I was at a screening of the film in L.A., and when people got up to cheer at the ending, I realised that horrible trough I had been in was over. There's that brilliant line by Hemingway from For Whom the Bell Tolls, after the couple make love: ''The earth moved. '' Somehow or other, things were different. I remember sitting on the film cans outside of Room 12 at Warner Brothers, my cheeks totally wet with tears. David Picker put his arm on my shoulder and said ''Kid, tomorrow you're gonna have a whole lot of new best friends. You'd better learn how to handle it. '' Literally, the next morning, a guy who wouldn't return my phone calls for two years suddenly called me and started talking to me like we had been talking the whole time. Nevertheless, Ted Ashley, who was the head of Warner Brothers, said to my friend Andrew Fogelson, who was Head of Marketing, ''Hyams has a lot of friends in L.A. Maybe that's why people are standing up and cheering. '' So they tested it in Seattle, and the same thing happened. Andy called me from a payphone and I overheard him saying ''I don't think Hyams has this many friends in Seattle. '' We previewed it around the country and the same thing would happen every time. 

It was a huge hit. 
I was filming HANOVER STREET in London, and Andy called me and said ''How does it feel to be the luckiest Jew in London?'' I said ''What are you talking about?'' Andy said ''Dick Donner suddenly told Warner Brothers he can't deliver SUPERMAN for summer. It's going to be Christmas. CAPRICORN ONE is going to be the summer release for Warner Brothers. '' I said ''What does that mean?'' He said ''You're going to get all the advertising budget and all the theaters that were booked for SUPERMAN. '' I said ''What was going to happen if Dick Donner and SUPERMAN had not been late?'' He said ''You would have opened in two theaters in Atlanta. ''

Did you ever get to shake Dick Donner's hand and say thanks? 
Oh, I know him. He's one of the dearest and most wonderful guys in the world. I owe whatever success I have gained to Dick Donner and also H.R. Alderman and Richard Nixon! 

Was it a strong reaction to Watergate that inspired the script? 
I come from a generation of people who believed that if you read it in a newspaper, it was true. And then we found out that newspapers didn't always tell the truth. My generation thought that if it's on television, it's true. I was sitting there one day watching TV and CBS News was covering the space shots. They would cut to a simulation in St. Louis, Missouri of what was going on with the Apollo missions. I realised that the whole story was being fed to America by one camera. That's kind of how I got the idea for CAPRICORN ONE. If one camera can lie, then just because you're seeing it on television, it doesn't mean it's true. 

The film presents NASA as the bad guys. How did you get them to help you with the film?

We did the film in spite of them. I wouldn't say they were helpful in making the film. I had the actual mission books. These huge, multi-hundred loose leaf books. I had saved them from my time as a reporter. NASA was helpful in giving us the plans to build what was the most accurate reproduction of the lunar ascent and descent stages in the world. It was an amazing thing. The photographs had come in, so we knew exactly what the Martian surface looked like. I can't think of a more impressive day of my life than the first day we were going to shoot on this stage where we had reproduced everything. The NASA guys came to see it because it was quite a sight. It was correct to a quarter of an inch. It was as close to the photographs as anything could ever be.

The production designer was a wonderful ally named Albert Brenner. We walked around the stage for an hour and a half or two hours before the crew were called. We turned the stage lights on, and there was Mars. In front of us were the ascent and descent stages of the space shot on the Martian surface. My chest filled with pride and I was tearful, and then Albert motioned to me and said ''Come here. '' I walked over to him, and in the middle of me congratulating myself, I looked down and saw paw prints on the Martian surface. We followed the paw prints over to the ascent and descent stage and there by the ladder was a turd. That was my lesson and introduction to my importance. A cat had taken one look at the stage and thought ''I am gonna take a dump right here. '' 

Did NASA read the script at all? 
I don't think I sent it to them. A couple of guys from NASA did visit the set. They looked at what we had built and they were just swooning. We were going to donate the set to the Smithsonian but we couldn't get it out of the door.

One of the NASA guys taught me a great lesson. If you watch the real ascents and ascent stages, on the descent stage the bottom part of the spacesuit is gold milar and its very billowy. Its not form-fitting or anything. In the ascent stage its silver milar, and it stretches perfectly over the skin. I asked one of the guys from NASA why this was. He said ''In the ascent stage, that's where the people are. In the descent stage, that's where there are no people. Gold milar is much cheaper. '' It makes sense. That's the mentality of the United States Space Program. One of the greatest quotes ever was from the astronaut John Young. They asked him ''What were you thinking before the launch?'' He said ''Well, you're on your back, 360ft in the air, above 6 million lbs of parts of fuel, all submitted by the lowest bidder. '' I remember crawling around the gantries and it was all pipes that just looked human and nothing like Star Trek. 

Part 2 of the interview.  

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.


Craig McKay is the Oscar-nominated editor of REDS (1981) and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), and the Emmy and ACE-winning editor of the TV mini-series HOLOCAUST (1978). As one of the most respected, talented and in-demand editors in Hollywood he worked with the likes of William Friedkin, Jerry Schatzberg, Warren Beatty, John McNaughton, James Mangold, George Armitage, and on multiple occasions, Jonathan Demme. In the final part of the two-part interview, I spoke to Craig about working with Jonathan Demme, his approach to and views on editing, his directing work, and his experiences editing THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, MIAMI BLUES (1990), MAD DOG AND GLORY (1993), COP LAND (1997), SIN NOMBRE (2009) and AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (2013).    

Part one of the interview.   

You have worked numerous times with Jonathan Demme. Why do you think you collaborate so well? 
It's a very close relationship.We are like brothers. Barry Malkin had edited Jonathan's LAST EMBRACE (1979), and Jonathan asked him to do MELVIN AND HOWARD (1980), but he couldn't do it. Barry happened to be one of my mentors, and when Jonathan asked him who he would recommend, he said me. I read the script and had lunch with Jonathan, and when he asked me what I thought of it, I was pretty ballsy and admitted I didn't like it. I found it pretty conventional. I told him that I had seen HANDLE WITH CARE (1977) and that I loved his take on American culture and the distortion of the American Dream. I said ''I'm really excited about what you can bring to it. I think it will make an extraordinary piece. '' He hired me, but I couldn't start the film right away, because I still had six weeks to go on another picture. Jonathan said ''Hmmm, let me call you later. '' He called Barry, and Barry said ''Whatever you do, hire him. '' Jonathan told the studio that I had to start six weeks later and they said ''Who the hell is Craig McKay?'' He told them I had just won the Emmy for HOLOCAUST (1978), and that was it, the argument was over. 

How proud are you of your work on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS? 
It's one of the few films that I have edited where I got to do everything that I wanted to do. It's so precisely done. We had the time to work on it. It took 13, painstaking months to edit that film. We went after it and found it. Jonathan and I, after SOMETHING WILD (1986), had developed this key phrase to work off, which was ''Never let the audience get ahead of your story. '' That was the basis of our attack on THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Any piece of exposition was on the cutting room floor before you could count to 1. One of the first cuts of the film was working pretty well, but at one point in the story, Clarice gets fired by Crawford because she has tried to sell Lecter a fake vacation, and they take her off the case. We had this cut working, and the narrative force was so extraordinary, it just kept pushing itself forward and forward until we got to that part of the movie. Because she got fired, we had to start the movie up again and the narrative stopped. We screened the movie for Bill Goldman and discussed the problems we had been having. Goldman just said ''Take out all the stuff about her getting fired. '' Sometimes when you're in the trenches, clarity gets fogged over and you can't see what you need to see. We took the footage out, and the result was amazing. The film moves like a forest fire. 

Did you have much interaction with Anthony Hopkins? 
I don't really like actors coming into the cutting room, because they always want to talk about their close-ups. We working in part of the Brill Building when we were cutting LAMBS, and I looked down the hallway and I saw Jonathan coming towards me with Anthony Hopkins. I'm thinking ''Oh, shit. '' They came in and they were both very cordial, and then Jonathan told me Tony wanted to ask me something. He said ''You know that part where I did this, and the time where I did that ... I don't why I did those things. '' I said ''Tony, they're not in the movie. '' He said a very quick ''Thank you!'' And that was the end of it!

I usually don't go to the set much but one day I was on set and Tony was sitting in one of these high director's chairs, in his white uniform with blood all over his mouth and on his uniform, reading Eudora Welty. He turned to me and said ''I'm totally mad, Craig. I'm totally mad!'' And then he went back to his book! 

What was the shoot like? 
It was fun, but it was hard. There were long days, and it was cold. Some of the sets were built in a warehouse in Pittsburgh. The last day of shooting was like a 23 hour day or something. The work was extraordinary. Everybody delivered. When I started cutting it, I said to Jonathan ''Give me something to key off of, so while I'm putting it together I can always have something in my head. '' He thought for a minute and then he said something which was brilliant. He said ''Craig, this is a very sad story. '' I thought about what he had said and realised what he meant. We weren't doing a supernatural story or a horror story. We were doing a story about the darker parts of our own humanity. It was extremely helpful and something I followed all the way through. Not only did I have to go to this dark place to make the movie, but everybody had to in order to represent it the way it should be. And I think we all did that. Jodie said to me one day ''We all did the best we could do, and it shows. '' 

How much work was put in to achieve the surprise reveal that Clarice is actually in Jame Gumb's house? 
That's become a classic scene. Whenever I get called to do a lecture or a panel, everyone wants to talk about that scene. When I first got the scene, it was shot in a linear fashion. I looked at it and I thought I should parallel it, so I put it together that way. But it had been shot in line, so I decided to check if Jonathan really wanted it that way. I called Jonathan on set and spoke to his script supervisor, who told me that, yes, it needed to be in line. So I cut it back that way, and when I showed it to Jonathan about three weeks later in the screening room, he leaned over and whispered in my ear ''How come you didn't parallel that?'' So I went back and set about making it parallel again! Directors shoot the scenes and you have to break them up and open them up, and I spent a good three days doing that on the scene. I was really careful in how I built the scene and I had a lot of difficulty in getting it to a point to where I was satisfied. I almost had it, and I was on the third day and frustrated. I looked over at the film bin and there was a piece of film hanging by itself. I went over to pick it up and I realised it was the one shot I needed. It was like it was calling to me. I put it in and that was the scene. Serendipity was at play. I'm usually fussy about the work I do but I am fairly satisfied with what I did on the film. In truth though, I do think there is one shot that is framed too long in that scene! 

Would you have liked to have done the sequel, HANNIBAL (2001)? 
As part of his deal when he made MANHUNTER (1986), Dino De Laurentiis owned the rights to the characters' names, so when we did THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS we had to pay him for using some of the same characters. He wanted to make HANNIBAL, after passing on LAMBS, and he sent Jonathan the script. I met Jonathan and he said ''I don't want to have anything to do with it. '' Jodie looked at it and said the same, and I felt the same way too after reading the script. It was a quick decision. We just didn't think it measured up to the standards our movie had set. 

How was your experience editing MIAMI BLUES? 
George Armitage was an old friend of Jonathan's. When I first read the script it seemed to me that it was great but too long and in need of some more work, but they never did anything to fix it and they went in and started shooting it. My first cut ended up being almost three hours. I ended up taking an hour and a half out of the movie. I always say it's the one movie where I took a movie out of a movie to make it work! It was one of the most challenging jobs I had, to bring the time down and still make it play in an intersting way. It's very lean, which is my tendency on anything I work on. 

How did you come to work on MAD DOG AND GLORY? 
Martin Scorsese and Barbara De Fina called me in to help shape it up. I wasn't the original editor but I came in and did the final cut. It needed some pacing because it played rather slow. John McNaughton and I worked on it together and I think we got it to a good place. It was hard playing the comedy in that. When I cut a scene that is comedic I try to cut it as straight as possible and if there is comedy there it will come out. There was a big issue about one of the actors in the movie. In fact the cut I saw, he was practically out of it. Somebody didn't like his performance. One of the first things I told them was that his character was important and that they had to use him in a different way. So we put him back in the movie and found a way to make his character work. 

How was your experience on COPLAND? 
I was one of the creative advisors at the Directors Lab at Sundance. They brought in ten young filmmakers a year to work with the creative advisors. One of the projects that came in was James Mangold and COPLAND, and I advised him on it. I had seen a short he had directed and I recognised where it had been shot. It turned out we lived one town away from each other in the Hudson Valley. When I came back to New York, he had already made a low-budget film called HEAVY (1995). Jim asked me to take a look at it, and I gave him some notes. He was very grateful. A little bit later he called me and told me that COPLAND was being made, and wanted to know if I would edit it. I asked him what the budget was, and he said ''About $4 million. '' I told him ''I'd love to work with you, Jim, but I don't think you can afford me right now. '' I passed on it. And then the next thing that happened was that De Niro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta came in. Stallone was always in place. The budget increased, and Jim called me up and said ''I think I can afford you now!''

We went through several versions of the edit. Stallone was absolutely magnificent as an actor in that. The biggest problem we had when we were previewing it was that the audience wouldn't buy Stallone as the character. It was so far from what people expected that they rejected his performance. We had to do a lot of editing to make him more acceptable to the audience. It was tricky to find a balance that pleased everyone. There was stuff that I wish was still in the movie. I'm sorry that the world didn't get to see the brilliant job he did.

When I was working on COPLAND I went out and I bought a Fender Telecaster guitar. I didn't tell my wife about it and I hid it in the cutting room. One day I was playing it in the cutting room and Jim walked in. We started messing around playing music and Jim asked me to play some Johnny Cash. The Fender Telecaster was the guitar that Johnny Cash's guitarist, Luther Perkins, used on all the early famous records. Every time we had a little lapse during editing, we'd be playing Johnny Cash on guitar. Jim talked about how he wanted to make a movie about Johnny Cash and how he was moving towards doing it. Later he of course made WALK THE LINE (2005). 

How was working with new, young filmmakers on SIN NOMBRE (Cary Fukunaga) and AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS (David Lowery)? 
Cary is one of the most brilliant filmmakers I have ever met. I've always expected huge things from him. I got a call from his producer, Amy Kaufman. We had mutual friends and they had heard about me. They had a cut of SIN NOMBRE that wasn't playing, and they wanted to know if I was interested in helping out. They flew me out to Toronto and I met with Cary and his editor. I supervised the recutting of the film into the final edit. We paced it out a little better, built some performances and added some subtitles. We finally got to where the movie was working and played really well. Cary gave me all the footage I needed. I'm very proud of the film. It's extraordinary.

I had less to do with AIN'T THEM BODIES SAINTS. I came in only for a while to work with David and straighten some stuff out as the film was playing very long. David is an editor himself. I feel I made contributions, but not major ones. We did steer it in a better direction. 

How do you feel about some of the modern styles of editing? 
A lot of things are going on, and a lot of things have changed. The worst thing I feel is that actors are not being allowed to have their performances shine. A lot of new directors, in truth, aren't spending a lot of time on getting performances. They're spending more time on action and on moving the narrative as fast as they can. That doesn't let moments happen for actors. It's an old Roger Corman trick that if you don't know how a scene is going to work, just cover it from as many angles as you can. I see a lot of that. I finally got around to watching JURASSIC WORLD (2015). It had such a thin plot, and there was no exploration of any deep emotionality at all. Fear wasn't even explored. I feel it's embematic of what is happening today. A lot of directors don't have experience of performance and they find ways to get around it, and of course editing is one way to get around it. I think quick editing can be done well. Tom Cross's WHIPLASH (2014) is a beautiful example of incredibly fast editing. After I saw the film I wrote to Tom and said ''Man, loved your work!'' Digital has made everything much easier. Theres a lot of great editing going on but unfortunately there's a lot more bad editing. There's not the training there used to be. The apprenticeship has all gone. 

In an age of very fast editing periods, do you think, for example, the long process of editing something like REDS, can make for a better movie? 
It certainly did with REDS, in terms of performance, and in the size of the story. I think it depends on the nature of the story and the landscape you're trying to create. REDS certainly wouldn't have worked using today's editing styles. We had to spend time to sink into that story. I'm Mr. Invisible. I hate jump cuts, especially in the middle of a scene, where you are asking the audience to make an adjustment, even though they're in the same physical space, because of something the editor is doing. I realise jump cuts are convenient but if everything was shot correctly you wouldn't need to use them. They've become cliche. 

When you're editing, do you see yourself as a kind of director, given that both mediums focus on storytelling? 
Definitely. In the digital age, the editor has really become the orchestrator of all the elements. With the Avid, it's all been centralised into one point, and the editor is making decisions about everything, which is very akin to directing. 

Is editing now much easier to understand for the layman in this age? 
With the advent of digital technology, everybody thinks that they can do it, but it's not the truth, unless you have the natural facility for editing. It takes years of learning to be able to do it well. When you consider how mnay balls you have in the air and everything you have to deal with, it can take a good eight years to become a really proficient editor. 

Did you enjoy the experiences you've had directing? 
Yes, very much. I did SUBWAY STORIES: TALES FROM THE UNDERGROUND (1997) for HBO, and I also did a PBS special called BUBBE MEISES: BUBBE STORIES (1994). I did a comic segment for Saturday Night Live too. I started off making short films with my camera, so I have always had a strong sense of camera, and that combined with the editing made the experiences pretty strong. I'm hoping to be doing some more producing and directing. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2016. All rights reserved.