An Interview with Sidney Lumet by Peter Bogdanovich, Film Quarterly, VOL. XIV, NO. 2—WINTER 1960. A gem of an interview with THE legend!
What have you found to be your main obstacle in film work?
For myself the main obstacle is the set—up, the film in America. The financial set—up, the method of making motion pictures, and the method of distribution is one that conspires to defeat freedom and good work. And I suppose it’s the age—old complaint, there’s no solution that I know of. I know every once in a while somebody just takes a camera and goes off into the street, but what if you had a piece that doesn’t belong in the street? What if your piece needs a sumptuousness and a sensuousness as part of its dramatic meaning? And, you know, documentaries and semi-documentaries are not the only method of work in film. And as soon as you get past that level, financially you’re caught in a miserable situation. Twelve Angry Men cost $343,000, which is ridiculously cheap, but that’s a rarity; it had one set, twelve actors, and a very tight shooting schedule of twenty days.
Many fine directors—Huston, Wilder, Bergman, Welles, Kubrick—either write their own screenplays or collaborate extensively with others on scripts. To date you haven’t done either; do you think you’d find it more satisfying to work on scripts rather than just do the best you can with material you are given?
It’s not “either/or.” I can’t write. And I have such respect for writers—I don’t understand how two writers collaborate, for instance—so that the method for myself is one simply of letting them do their work, then going back into work in terms of whatever specifics are needed, whether it’s structural or dialogue. On Fugitive Kind, for instance, there was a good deal of re—writing between the original draft and what wound up on the screen.
Did you have a say in that?
Oh, yeah. And the working procedure was that Tennessee and Meade [Roberts] brought in the first draft, then all of us together talk, talk, talk, talk, talk-back, another draft, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk-back, another draft—I think it was the fourth draft we used. —Sidney Lumet by Peter Bogdanovich, Film Quarterly, VOL. XIV, NO. 2-WINTER 1960.
For further reading and viewing:
- The screenplay of Dog Day Afternoon by Frank Pierson
- Still missed and a gift to all who’ve seen him, here’s to the great, John Cazale
- Network [the screenplay] by Paddy Chayefsky
- Making Movies by Sidney Lumet [Amazon]
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