Michael Tolkin’s screenplay for The Player, based on his excellent novel of the same name [pdf]. I also recommend you to listen out of print Criterion Collection LaserDisc director-crew commentary with director Robert Altman, screenwriter Michael Tolkin and director of photography Jean Lepine [mp3]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
Here is an interview with Robert Altman from 1992 discussing The Player, his acclaimed meta-fictional take on Hollywood. Altman talks about the film’s numerous movie star cameos—including Whoopie Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Jeff Daniels—and how he was able to round them up for the shoot. The short also includes interviews with some of the cast and a few clips of Altman directing the film. His use of celebrities in the movie makes for some hilarious recounts. Perhaps the most interesting bit is when he talks about casting Cher, telling her to wear red to the black-and-white party scene so she would think “she’s a little more special than everybody else.” —Sam Tunningley, The Seventh Art
The Player is considered the best Hollywood satire ever made. Tell us how you
came to it.
It’s not as tough in the picture as it really is in real life. These people are much uglier in real life
than they were in that film. There’s a lot more buck-passing that goes on. They actually came to me with The Player while I was putting Short Cuts together. The success of The Player allowed me to do Short Cuts.
How difficult was it arranging all the cameos in The Player?
Not that hard. I just got on the phone and called these people up. The big coup was when Julia (Roberts) and Bruce (Willis) agreed to do it. Julia did it because she and Tim Robbins were friends and Bruce did it because Bruce just does that kind of thing. We had a list of who could show up on what day and shot accordingly. I actually had Jeff Daniels and Patrick Swayze in a scene that didn’t make the final cut (you can see it on the DVD version). Most of the people did the cameos, I think, because it made them look human. The scene where Malcolm McDowell attacks Griffin Mill in the hotel lobby, for example, or when Burt Reynolds is sitting with (critic) Charles Champlin, calls Griffin an “asshole.” That was all improvised, by the way.
How much time do you rehearse before you shoot?
It depends on what is required in the rehearsals. Is it for lighting, for the prop man, for the crew,
for the actors? Whatever seems to be necessary…most improvisations, unless you’re doing a big scene like the church burning in McCabe, you improvise in rehearsal, and then it becomes set by
the time you shoot.
Do you storyboard?
No, except for certain scenes, like when Sterling walked into the ocean in The Long Goodbye. Logistically that was complicated, so it had to be fairly well-plotted. I don’t do them, but my son Steve storyboarded the whole chase on the dredger in Gingerbread Man. So I shot it that way,
based on his storyboard.
Your battles with studio execs have been legendary. How would you advise young filmmakers to handle situations like that, to not let their work be compromised?
Well, I think you either fight for your child, or you don’t. You also have to be prepared to suffer
the consequences if you start the fight and lose.
Any advice for first-time directors?
The same advice I give my children and anybody else: never take advice from anybody! Anybody who gives you advice is giving you what they think is correct for them if they were in your position. But they’re not you! And you’re not them. —Robert Altman: Eclectic Maverick By Alex Simon
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