Jerry Lewis’ Invaluable, Impossibly Rare ‘The Total Filmmaker’

The Total Film-Maker—Jerry Lewis’ book on filmmaking, taken from 480 hours of audio tape, recorded as Jerry taught filmmaking at the University of Southern California, 1971. It’s apparently one of the best books written about filmmaking ever. It was printed in 1971 and has been out-of-print since then [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only. Copyright disclaimer under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976. Copyright owners may, if they wish, request to have material removed).

When I interviewed Mike Birbiglia for his first feature, ‘Sleepwalk With Me,’ his bag was crammed with filmmaking books like Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies. But his prize possession was a copy of Jerry Lewis’ The Total Film-Maker, compiled in 1971 from lectures Lewis gave while lecturing at the University of Southern California. Then, used copies ran about a hundred dollars; now they’re up above $500. But thanks to Cinephilia and Beyond, the book, which  many regard as the best ever published on directing, is available for the first time in decades. Of course, it may not last long. Those who know Lewis as a comic actor, or a punchline, may not realize what a great and innovative director he was. In addition to his artistic achievements, which have directly inspired Wes Anderson, among others, he developed (and patented) the ‘video assist’ system that has become essential to modern moviemaking. (Whether or not he invented it is a subject of some debate.) Lewis has acquired a reputation as a curmudgeon, but when I introduced him at a reading for his memoir, Dean & Me, in 2005, he was unfailingly gracious, and stayed with a rapt audience well past the two-hour mark. (In the event that this post is happened upon by someone writing my obituary, I would like it to be noted that I once made Jerry Lewis laugh.) That same spirit resonates through The Total Film-Maker, which is as much about how to instill an atmosphere of creativity on the set as the technical aspects of the craft. It’s not quite ‘The Day the Clown Cried,’ but for Lewis scholars—and anyone interested in the art of filmmaking—it’s close to the Holy Grail. —Sam Adams, Jerry Lewis’ Invaluable, Impossibly Rare ‘The Total Filmmaker’ Resurfaces


The video embedded below comes courtesy of Justin & The Jerry Lewis Internet Archive.

With endless thanks to Matt DeGennaro. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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