By Tim Pelan
There is a long and noble history in Hollywood of submarine war films. The two most recent examples that spring to mind are the Cold war set The Hunt for Red October, based on Tom Clancy’s best-selling debut novel and directed by John McTiernan, and Tony Scott’s post “Evil Empire” break-up, uncertain new world order set Crimson Tide. The latter, whilst an enjoyable yarn, to me suffers from the obviously crowbarred in Quentin Tarantino punched-up dialogue (what professional sailor has to be galvanized into action by a Star Trek analogy, for Chrissakes?) and the histrionic, music swelling every five minutes tone of the piece. No, I prefer Red October, for, as Danny Bowes wrote for RogerEbert.com “the entire force of the narrative is drawn from smart people figuring stuff out.” McTiernan, in a 2014 interview with Empire’s Nick De Semlyen, recalled that initially the script he was given began with CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) rowing down the Potomac at dawn, a cigar clamped in his mouth. (Interestingly this anecdote crops up in a different form elsewhere—see later). Regardless of how many drafts it may have gone through (the script is credited to Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart) McTiernan recoiled from this tough guy approach. “It’s Treasure Island. The story of a boy who has to go off and find the scariest man of the sea on Earth, who turns out to be a sweet old bastard. Once I had that, I had the movie.” After he shot the film he wanted, he was told some studio suit wanted it completely recut. “A director always has a giant target on his back that ambitious junior executives shoot at. One in ten of them are sociopaths. This guy had a theory that he was going to turn Red October into Top Gun. He was going to make it flashy… Fortunately I was working for Frank Mancuso (the then Paramount chief) and Ned Tanen (his President of Production), guys who weren’t going to get conned by some nonsense from a young tyro.” Besides, Mancuso had already presided over the actual Top Gun (directed by Tony Scott, of course). Scott wasn’t averse to giving Crimson Tide more of the same, while McTiernan “sails into history” with a film that intelligently considers notions of duty, honor, trust, and a spot on Sean Connery (Soviet sub captain Ramius) impression from Baldwin’s Ryan.
Although by 1990, the year of the film’s release, the world was well into President Gorbachev’s Perestroika period of policy reform, the mood of the film still cannily holds onto the delicate balance of not so much terror, but mistrust, and almost headlong stubborn weapons development—Sean Connery’s Captain Marko Ramius is engaged with running the fresh out of the box Red October sub through sea trails. The submarine has a startling new development, a “Caterpillar Drive” that, when enabled, allows it to, as Connery might say, run shilent, run deep (sorry!). He goes off-book, and the Soviets initially tell the Americans the sub may be damaged and missing, before turning their entire Northern fleet on him and altering their story that he has gone mad. In fact, he and his senior officers are actually defecting, a stealth ballistic sub a step too far for this man of conscience. The Americans don’t know what to believe, except for a dogged CIA analyst named Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin)…
An alternative title for the film could be Dive Hard. It’s surprising how many characteristics and little nods Ryan and Bruce Willis’ everyman detective John McClane from McTiernan’s earlier film share. Both are nervous fliers (Ryan we discover crashed his helicopter as a young marine in Vietnam); they have trouble convincing the authorities that their suppositions are sound; each end up crawling through the industrial parts of Nakatomi Plaza and the Red October; and of course each buys a teddy bear for their respective daughter. But the real similarities and respect are between Ryan and Ramius, each men of letters. Ramius is known as “The Vilnius Schoolmaster,” which indicates to Ryan that he is intelligent and a considerable adversary—he instructed many Soviet commanders and cites Cortez and Columbus (although the latter quote—“And the sea will grant each man new hope, as sleep brings dreams of home.”—is movie make-believe.). Crucially though, as a Lithuanian, he is an outsider from a satellite state. Going rogue on the anniversary of his wife’s death also suggests to Ryan that he may in fact be defecting, and the race is on to make contact, ascertain his goals (partly via the “Chekov’s sub”, the DSRV minisub being fitted with a universal docking port), and if friendly, escort him to safe shores undetected.
Producer Mace Neufeld had optioned Clancy’s novel in galley form in 1985, and so began a long period of development, doing a fine job of maintaining the smarts whilst making it accessible, novel and film both coining the phrase “techno-thriller.” A brilliant choice to get around the language barrier is to have all the Russians speak Russian in the beginning, then subtly transition. In Ramius’ cabin the oily political officer (Peter Firth), quotes back “subversive” text in one of the Captain’s books, first the Book of Revelation then the words of Robert Oppenheimer, himself quoting an ancient Hindu text:
“Behold, I am coming as a thief… and he gathered them all together in a place called Armageddon… and the Seventh Angel poured forth his bowl into the air, and a voice cried out from Heaven, saying, ‘It is done!’ A man of your responsibilities reading about the end of the world? And what’s this? ‘I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’”
As Firth reads aloud the camera slowly zooms in on his lips forming the word “Armageddon,” the same in Russian and English. All the collective Russians words are in English from there on as the camera zooms out again. John Milius had uncredited input on the script (he worked with Connery in his writer/director capacity on The Wind and the Lion in 1975)—Connery allegedly requested “Make it about me.” Milius told IGN in 2003 that he “wrote all of the Russian stuff—everything that’s Russian in that movie.” That’s the kind of punched-up dialogue I can dig.
Jan de Bont did the photography, and apart from a day for night shot close-up on the conning tower of the Red October (that is often mistaken for a composite matte shot) he did a sterling job. “I love movies like The Hunt for Red October, because it was about submarines and I made the submarine almost an actor. Like the submarine was the star of the movie,” he told The New York Times around the release of his directing debut, Speed. “The same applies to the bus in Speed,” he said. “It’s like a monster that you have to control. And the audience is like a passenger on that bus.”
The DoP dials down the color compared to Crimson Tide, where Tony Scott and his DoP favor high contrast flashiness, as in most of his films. One stand-out use of color though is the amazing wide shot in the missile bay of Red October where Ryan has to track down a saboteur, probably a KGB agent, masquerading as the subs cook. It’s probably a matte background, the giant red tanks or whatever they are stretching each side of a diminutive Ryan to a central point in the distance, suspended walkways above his head. There’s a cool rise in the camera to match the lift in the music on this reveal of scale.
In a sense the lighting of Crimson Tide highlights the psychological tensions between the warring officers over the incomplete order transmission, whereas Red October is all about each side figuring things out and resultant persuasion. The supporting cast do a sterling job—Sam Neill, Richard Jordan, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Joss Ackland, Courtney Vance and Stellan Skarsgard to name a few. Scott Glenn as the Captain of sub USS Dallas got to research in a hands-on capacity by temporarily assuming the identity of a submarine captain on board the USS Houston. Jordan plays the President’s National Security Advisor, Dr Jeffrey Pelt. He has a couple of great exchanges with Joss Ackland’s Soviet Ambassador, and with Ryan after the latter’s briefing on why he believes Ramius may be defecting. He lets Ackland’s character know in no uncertain terms that he isn’t buying his initial story: “Mr. Ambassador, you have nearly a hundred naval vessels operating in the North Atlantic right now. Your aircraft has dropped enough sonar buoys so that a man could walk from Greenland to Iceland to Scotland without getting his feet wet. Now, shall we dispense with the bull?”
To Ryan, he also cuts to the chase: “Listen, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies, I’m stealing their lollipops, but it also means that I keep my options open.”
Ramius also straddles a fine line of stringing his crew along whilst conspiring with his officers on how to make contact with the Americans and get the unsuspecting crew off his boat. He shocks his conspirators when he tells them he left a letter for his chief outlining exactly what he intends to do, putting the fleet on their tails: “When he reached the New World, Cortez burned his ships. As a result his men were well motivated.” There’s no standing toe to toe in a sweatbox atmosphere bellowing in each other’s faces. The story is allowed to breath. Basil Poledouris’s score is less “macho” than Hans Zimmer’s for Crimson Tide. He of course favors a Russian choir for many motifs—Poledouris wrote English lyrics, translated by Herrmann Sinitzin. Finally, that is sung in Russian by an American choir. McTiernan considered that he “saw the piece as a second Russian revolution. To me, the emotional heart of the movie comes when the sailors sing their national anthem.”
Amazingly, Sean Connery wasn’t first choice for the role of Ramius. Two weeks into production original choice Klaus Maria Brandauer discovered, according to what source your read, that he was either tied up for the production schedule with another job, or had broken his leg, so the producers faxed a copy of the script to Sean Connery. Initially, he turned it down because the script “didn’t make sense.” It turned out it was missing the first page which explained that the drama was set during the Cold War. He was granted a day’s rehearsal when he arrived in Los Angeles, but how long did it take to create and fit that amazing hairpiece? Wig-makers Keith and Margaret Shorte of Hornsey Rise, Upper Holloway, North London, have been making wigs for Sir Sean Connery since he first played James Bond. Mrs Short told The Islington Gazette (information via MI6) that “I think the best one we did for him was in The Hunt for Red October when he had a short crew cut.” There is great further detail in “20 years on” piece with McTiernan for Entertainment Weekly.
“The big thing to getting Connery was assuring him that I could get people to buy him as a Russian, and that I wasn’t going to make him pretend to talk in a silly accent,” says McTiernan. He also pushed for the wig. “Sean had made a thing of going bald nearly 10 years before to prove himself as an actor and that he wasn’t going to do anything phony in front of the camera. I convinced him to go ahead and come up with a specific look, and he said, ‘I want to be Samuel Beckett,’ [who had] very skinny and long, spikey, straight-up hair. So we just went for it.” No confirmation on the rumored extravagant cost though ($20,000.00)!
Connery went sort of method on set, barking at the AD, who soon twigged what he was up to. “In the first five minutes of his first day on the set, Sean just excoriated the assistant director and it terrorized all these Russian kids [who were playing the sub’s sailors],” recalls McTiernan. “The AD figured out what Sean was doing because from then on, anytime Sean did anything, anytime he stepped past one of [the sailors], they were like, ‘Whhoooaaa! He’s a big scary guy.’ Which was perfect for his character.” Connery’s imposing presence also rattled Baldwin, on the cusp of a potential leading man franchise. He shouted at his make-up artist fixing his hair and retreated off set, eventually confiding his fears to his director. Baldwin confirmed to EW, “I just said to myself, ‘I am so screwed. I am invisible in this movie now. This guy looks like $10 million just stacked end to end. No one’s even going to see me in this movie.’” McTiernan smoothed things over and “once he started to work with him, he realized that Sean was very generous to other actors and that Sean respected him. Alec was fine—and there was never a problem with his hair for the rest of the shoot.”
Remember that McTiernan quote at the top of the piece about Ryan, a cigar and the Potomac? Baldwin recalls in that EW anniversary piece that McTiernan told him, “At the time, John said, ‘This is a really great opportunity for you because if you play all three films”—which was presumed back then that I would—“then you will have that rare opportunity to develop a character over that arc.” His line was, “By the time we do the third one, I’m going to have you rowing a scull down the Potomac with a cigar in your mouth.” Ah, Hollywood types and their ever varying anecdotes! In the end, Paramount simply went with a bigger name when Baldwin indicated he wanted to play in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway—no way were they going to hold up production for this kid. Alec Baldwin sailed into history as the action franchisee who could have been, the Lazenby to Harrison Ford’s Connery. Jack Ryan will return (in ever differing forms)…
Tim Pelan was born in 1968, the year of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (possibly his favorite film), ‘Planet of the Apes,’ ‘The Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Barbarella.’ That also made him the perfect age for when ‘Star Wars’ came out. Some would say this explains a lot. Read more »
Screenwriter must-read: Larry Ferguson & Donald Stewart’s screenplay for The Hunt for Red October [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.
This article, John McTiernan: The Hollywood Interview, originally appeared in the August 1999 issue of Venice Magazine.
John McTiernan was born January 8, 1951 in Albany, New York. The son of an attorney, the family moved to a rural farm community in upstate New York after his father became ill. McTiernan attended Exeter prep school during his high school years, and was admitted to Julliard with the intention of studying theater directing. While there, McTiernan quickly discovered that his true love was film and enrolled in an experimental film program at the State University of New York, later moving on to the American Film Institute for graduate school, where he studied under the tutelage of the great Czech director Jan Kadar.
After spending the next decade making a name for himself as a talented TV commercial director, McTiernan landed his feature debut with Nomads in 1986. The eerie supernatural thriller, his first collaboration with a young television actor named Pierce Brosnan, received mixed reviews and didn’t burn up the box office, but McTiernan was singled out for his sure hand and distinctive directorial eye, enough so that producer Joel Silver recruited McTiernan to direct the blockbuster Predator (1987), the high-octane Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller that combined The Most Dangerous Game (1932) with Alien (1979), to create a box office smash that also helped solidify Schwarzenegger as a major box office draw. McTiernan became one of the hottest directors in Hollywood after his next feature, Die Hard (1988), reinvented the action-adventure genre and went on to become one of the most-imitated films in history, and helped to establish another action hero screen icon in Bruce Willis. McTiernan flexed his intellectual muscles and kept the explosions and gunfire to a minimum with his taut adaptation of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October (1990). The Alec Baldwin-Sean Connery starrer, was a box office champ the year of its release and, many feel, remains the best of the three big screen Clancy adaptations. McTiernan made a more personal picture with Medicine Man (1992), again teaming with Connery in the tale of a scientist in the Latin American rain forest. Although many regard The Last Action Hero (1993) as a major stumbling block in McTiernan’s brilliant career, the film went on to gross over $100 million worldwide. McTiernan re-teamed with Bruce Willis for the third Die Hard installment, Die Hard: With a Vengeance in 1995, and re-established his box office clout in doing so.
McTiernan’s latest film will undoubtedly be regarded as his finest work thus far. There are so many good things to say about McTiernan’s remake of 1968’s Steve McQueen classic The Thomas Crown Affair, that an entire sonnet could be composed to extol its virtues. Here’s just a few: 1) It’s made with intelligent adults in mind, not 15 year-old boys. 2) Rene Russo is living proof that a woman need not be a 22 year-old refugee from the WB network to burn up the screen with her sexuality 3) It’s the only remake I can think of (since John Huston made the third, and definitive version of The Maltese Falcon in 1941) that is better than the original. Pierce Brosnan ably fills McQueen’s shoes as the super cool, ultra rich Thomas Crown, who gets his kicks pulling daring heists in his spare time. Russo, in one of the most free-spirited displays of healthy sexuality in screen history, assumes Faye Dunaway’s former role as insurance investigator Catherine Banning, who intends to catch Crown in the act, and instead finds herself caught up in an act all their own. Leave the kiddies at home and don’t miss this smart, sexy winner. The MGM release is currently playing all over southern California.
In person, John McTiernan doesn’t come across as a director of action heroes, or a man who has blown up glass skyscrapers to thrill the masses. McTiernan is a man who almost resembles a character out of Hemingway, a man’s man whose speech style is both verbose and lean. Lean back and dig some of his verbosity.
Your version of The Thomas Crown Affair is one of the only remakes I’ve seen that surpasses the original.
That’s very kind, but part of making movies is the ability to capture the time in which they were made. I think the original was a product of its time (1968), so it’s not fair to say that the original doesn’t hold up by today’s standards. The more something is a piece of its time, the it’s going to date afterwards. So I think that to say the original is dated is almost a compliment to it. It says that it really captured the era in which it was made, which I think it did. It’s funny, if you remade a movie in 1968 that was originally made in 1938, nobody would think twice, because you’d be spanning this chasm that made it another world. Maybe it’s because there’s such a huge population of baby boomers that still think of 1968 as being a fairly recent time that we don’t feel that distance now. When you look at the original now, at the time it was so cutting-edge, and now that sort of high-style cinema verite, which today looks quite theatrical trying to give the illusion that it’s real. I wanted to do a remake that wasn’t quite a remake, but a compliment to the original, a bookend, a sequel… I don’t know what the hell you’d call it. (laughs) I wanted to give a sense that this movie respected that one.
I think the best remakes are the ones that are re-imagined. Literal remakes have never worked.
No, they don’t. You take a portion of the story and go with that, then it can work. No one thinks twice of doing Shakespeare productions every year. It’s not “We’re re-doing MacBeth,” because (Shakespeare) is part of our landscape, so the idea that those plays keep getting renewed is perfectly normal. And I think that eventually, people will start doing that with movies, because there’s enough of a history of movies now.
The other thing I liked about your film was the fact that it was made with adults in mind.
Yeah, but interestingly enough, we scored just as high with young men as we did with adults, and we figured out that it was the whole Mrs. Robinson thing, with young men having the hots for Rene.
Another great thing about this movie: it shows a woman who’s in her 40’s, who still incredibly sexy and very comfortable with it. It’s not a 22 year-old lead actress with a 50 year-old leading man. That was very refreshing to see.
I didn’t know that Rene was in her 40’s until she started doing interviews about it, bragging about it! Her age is never an issue in the film, but she’s making an issue of it now. I’d better stop her! (laughs)
But that’s what 40-50 looks like nowadays. It’s not like it was 20-30 years ago. People are staying youthful longer.
Yeah, that whole dynamic has changed. Now that time period of 45-50 is when a woman is at her hottest, I agree. There’s a great line about that: “The most important sexual organ is the eight inches from here (indicates his ears) to here.” It takes a while for that to develop. (laughs)
It was also nice to see Rene Russo playing a sexy, elegant woman, as opposed to a tomboy who happens to be sexy.
Yeah, that’s true. Her whole persona prior to this was of a gorgeous woman who didn’t care that she was gorgeous and just wanted to be one of the guys. Because I wanted to make a love story, and not a caper film, the audience had to fall in love with the characters, too. Both Rene and Pierce have this quality. Even when they’ve played bad guys, the audience can sense that somewhere in there is a good person, because they can see it in their eyes. You can’t lie about that. There are many great actors, who are great-looking who can never play a lead because there’s something in their eyes that makes they audience go “Well… I don’t know if I trust him. I don’t know that he represents me.” That’s one of the few aspects of this craft that’s God-given and can’t be learned. So I was looking for two people with whom the audience could have a secret with. For the first half of the film, they’re both real crocodiles, very difficult to sidle up with. They’re both dangerous people, but the audience has a secret where they just know “You know what, underneath that there’s a really great guy, and underneath Rene’s front there’s a really sweet girl.”
This is the second film you’ve done with Pierce. I’ve always felt that he was an underused actor, in the sense that many filmmakers rarely let him act, but just wanted him to stand there and look pretty.
They never knew how good he is, how smart he is. He’s changed very little since I worked with him before, which is good. I think in many ways some of the (hardships and tragedies) he’s endured over the past decade have helped to season him in a good way. He’s not so boyish anymore, and I think as he gets older, he’ll just become even more impressive. I kept beating up his make-up man on this saying ‘Leave him alone! Quit trying to make him pretty. Let me see the age on his face. Let me see the hard edge around him.’ He’s just getting on the cusp of that now, just getting enough steel in his face, enough grit.
Remember how scary he was in his first role (The Long Good Friday, 1981)? It was his boyishness that made him scary (playing an IRA assassin).
God, he was great in that! Remember that last scene with him just staring at Bob Hoskins in that car?! He was brilliant in that film, and it was his the sweetness and boyishness of his face that made him so scary. There were people in my family who worked for Michael Collins back during the Troubles. One of my relatives had to disappear and come to the States. This man was the most deferential, wonderful man who had the warmest smile, and the reason he fled to the States is he dropped an egg basket full of hand grenades into the lap of a British General. I knew him as a very old man, but he was so sweet, and so polite… it was as if he wouldn’t have stepped on a crack in the sidewalk, he led such a straight and narrow life. But that was where he came from.
Let’s talk about where you came from.
My dad was a lawyer and became ill for quite some time, so my mother, sister and I moved back with her parents on a farm in upstate New York. I still live on a farm today, in Wyoming. I went to Exeter for prep school, which was quite terrifying for me. Here I was, this middle class kid, not very cosmopolitan, in this upper crust place, and it terrified me. I did well academically, but didn’t fit in at all socially. I became intensely interested in film, so much so that I almost didn’t go to college so I could make films. I went to Julliard, then to the State University of New York, which had an experimental film program going on. I was one of the only film students that wasn’t stoned the whole time (laughs), so I ended up using most of the money and resources they offered. Then I went to the AFI after that.
Was there any one film that ignited your interest?
No, but I remember when I decided that that’s what I was going to do. I went about it like it was reverse engineering. I knew that I had to go and learn what a movie was, not just my experience of going and watching a movie. So I went and sat in Truffaut’s Day for Night (1972), watched it for three days straight, eight hours at a time and memorized it shot-for-shot. I got past the story, all the original and secondary experience, so I could study what it was that I was really watching. Film is really sort of a chain that’s really linear. Yet when it’s all strung together, it just sort of feels like an experience. It takes quite a while to be able to deconstruct that experience to figure out what you really saw.
Tell us about your experience at AFI.
One of the sort of perks there is they don’t have grades, but they would take the person they felt was the most likely to succeed, and they’d give him or her to the filmmaker in residence as an assistant. So I worked for Jan Kadar, the great Czech filmmaker. If you read Hemingway, half of the information you get is in this style of how he tells you, his prose style. It’s not literally the events he recounts, it’s how he recounts them, which appears to be obsessively simple in nature. There’s a hint to what people are thinking, but he doesn’t go off into these vast internal monologues. That’s what Jan’s style was like. He used to make me sit down and learn movies shot-for-shot. And we’d watch films by some great masters, like Kubrick and Fellini and Jan would say “See! Look what he did wrong there! That’s wrong! Do you understand why it’s wrong?” And I’d say ‘What’s wrong with it? It’s a nice shot.’ “No, no,” Jan would say, “visually, it’s out of key.” He had a whole sense that you had to approach filmmaking like you were composing a piece of music. It wasn’t about making a translation from a literary source. To decide what the next note is in a piece of music, you don’t think about the plot, or what it means, you think about: what does it sound like? Is it in the right rhythm, the right key? So the montage in a film needs to be in the same key, and if you’re going to change key, you’d better transpose it into the other key, as if you were composing a concerto. In color and lighting also, there are visual melodies. It’s weird because I’m sort of known as an “action guy,” who gets 10,000 machine guns and blows things up. But I cut my teeth on very esoteric European films. Maybe what Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) and I did was to take the technology that the Europeans developed in the 60’s and started applying it to mass market American movies. Paul has an expressive narrator in that his camera is an active, expressive person. I think it’s a very angry, very fiery person. If you think about American films before the European influence in the 1960’s, there was no active narrator. With a few exceptions, the camera just photographed the action and didn’t really have a distinctive voice of its own.
Let’s talk about some of your other films, starting with your first, Nomads. What was it like making the jump into features?
Well, I’d done a little feature called Tales of the 22nd Century that got me into AFI. I only did commercials to support myself, really, while I was in school. It was sort of a jump in the other direction, because I started making films, then moved into commercial directing. So going back to making a feature wasn’t that big a jump, really.
I know you didn’t go into Die Hard thinking you were going to re-invent the action-adventure genre. What were you aiming for?
I think to try to make a thriller that could be jacked up a notch with a great story underneath it. There were also a lot of technical things I was really anxious to do, like have a really active camera. When I broke into the business, the rule was that you weren’t allowed to cut a moving camera shot into another moving camera shot. At the beginning of Red October, I had to fire an Academy Award-winning editor, because he literally didn’t know how to cut the stuff. He didn’t know how to deal with a moving camera and an active narrator.
With Red October were there different challenges filming an existing novel than from an original script?
No, in many ways it just makes it better. I enjoy working from a novel.
I really enjoyed Alec Baldwin’s interpretation of Jack Ryan. What was it like working with him.
Terrific. He’s tremendously intelligent, another good Irish-American kid. (laughs) We had a great time. He’s fiery, and somewhere behind the fire is a worry about something, if you can find out what he’s really worried about.
You opted not to do the second Die Hard, as well as the two Tom Clancy sequels. Why is that?
Well, they wanted to do Patriot Games, which had the villains as the Irish Republican Army. Both Alec and I, as Irish-Americans, were a bit uncomfortable with that, since it’s our heritage. They had another script (Clear and Present Danger) that both Alec and I wanted to do, and for various reasons we decided not to. With Die Hard, I guess I just found myself bumping heads with Joel Silver a lot.
You’ve done two pictures with Sean Connery. What was he like to work with?
I knew I was doing alright with him when he began calling me ‘boy.’ That’s sort of his mark of approval. At the end of the night he’d say “Good night, boy.” (laughs) Sean loves movies, really knows a lot about them. And he really liked my style of working, the way I like to shoot. So it was very easy to work with him.
Medicine Man seems like it would have been a tremendously difficult shoot.
It was. We had all sorts of rigs mounted in the trees, all over the jungle. We probably spent three weeks working 125 feet above the forest floor.
What did you learn in making The Last Action Hero?
Well first of all, I learned the idiocy of releasing a film the week after Jurassic Park (laughs). And also that a studio will do anything do push a movie out, even if it’s unfinished, which it was. It’s largely unedited and large portions of it still appear exactly as it was when it left the camera. It wasn’t ready yet. I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to go back to it. It’s like having a model with an extra 20 pounds on her. There’s a really neat movie in there. In order to get a sense of fun that was clear to the audience, it needed tightening, and it needed another month in editing to do that.
Any advice for first-time directors?
It’s the same thing of how you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. (laughs) Also, I’d say get a hold of a video camera and just shoot as much as you can, of anything. If you have a script, get a couple actors together and shoot two pages from the script, then edit the footage on a really basic video editing program. It takes as long to develop a prose style on film as it does a prose style in writing, so it’s crucial to practice whenever and however you can.
THE MAKING OF ‘THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER’
You can learn more about how this awesome classic was made in this behind-the-scenes mini-documentary which is well worth your time to watch. Beneath the Surface: The Making of The Hunt for Red October features the standard mix of movie clips, production materials, and interviews. Cast and crew start at the beginning and discussed the acquisition of the rights to Clancy’s novel and various adaptation issues. They then went into casting, research for the roles, and many technical topics related to the subs and other special effects concerns.
“I went about it like it was reverse engineering. I knew that I had to go and learn what a movie was, not just my experience of going and watching a movie. So I went and sat in Truffaut’s Day for Night, watched it for three days straight, eight hours at a time and memorized it shot-for-shot. I got past the story, all the original and secondary experience, so I could study what it was that I was really watching. Film is really sort of a chain that’s really linear. Yet when it’s all strung together, it just sort of feels like an experience. It takes quite a while to be able to deconstruct that experience to figure out what you really saw.” —John McTiernan
John McTiernan talks about how he approaches actors when making a film, his notions on filmmaking and editing. Do not miss this, you’ll learn something you didn’t know. Courtesy of filmschoolthrucommentaries.
JOHN MCTIERNAN ON FILMMAKING PHILOSOPHY
Here’s a compilation of all the valuable bits from all of the commentaries John McTiernan had recorded and then making them screen specific, courtesy of filmschoolthrucommentaries.
Director John McTiernan discusses defining the medium of filmmaking.
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of John McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October. Photographed by Bruce McBroom © Paramount Pictures, Mace Neufeld Productions, Nina Saxon Film Design. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.
If you find Cinephilia & Beyond useful and inspiring, please consider making a small donation. Your generosity preserves film knowledge for future generations. To donate, please visit our donation page, or click on the icon below:
Get Cinephilia & Beyond in your inbox by signing in