Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Terry George

Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Terry George has forged a long career tackling the difficult histories of nations.

His spotlight turns frequently to his own Northern Ireland—with many films revolving around IRA activity during the Troubles—and, of late, elsewhere, from the Tutsi Hutu conflict in Hotel Rwanda (2004), to the Armenian genocide in his latest, The Promise.

The latter, the first major picture to examine the historical tragedy, stars Oscar Isaac and Christian Bale in a love triangle set against the backdrop of the last days of the Ottoman Empire. George understands the power of cinema as a tool to dig deep and discover the humanity in the bleakest of human atrocities.

Here, the moviemaker shared the little things that go a long way to ensuring continued work in the business. – Caleb Hammond

1. The best directing advice I ever got was from the irreplaceable, irrepressible Dame Helen Mirren: “There are really only four directions a good actor needs: faster or slower, less or more.”

2. Don’t even think of crossing the road without a good script. If you start shooting with a script that you have doubts about, you’re fucked.

3. The actors are what really matters on set. On any day, hair and make-up, lighting, set design, etc., etc., will all demand their time, and usually get it. The actors appear last and by then you’re probably fighting the clock. The producers and the first A.D. will be studying their watches. Ignore them. What happens last is what goes on screen!

4. Actors take an enormous leap of faith. They put their trust in you. Earn it. Do your homework. Be prepared. Listen to what they say. If you disagree, give their opinions all the consideration you can. Get the take you want, then let them try what they suggest.

5. Pick a cinematographer that you really, really get along with. In the same way that actors often put their careers in your hands, your film is in the cinematographer’s hands, so he better be shooting your film and not his.

6. The first A.D. is the next most important relationship on set. Insist that you get who you want. Get references from other directors and heads of departments. Make doubly sure he’s working for you exclusively. Avoid screamers.

Christian Bale plays an WWI-era reporter in The Promise

7. Extras are people, not set dressing. Do not let anyone abuse them.

8. A bad extra who’s not spotted can ruin a shot like nothing else. Carefully check the playback.

9. Don’t listen to the hype about dailies. If there are so many great dailies, how come there are so many bad films?

10. No, you won’t fix it in the edit.

11. If you film is more than two hours and 15 minutes long, it better be The Godfather.

12. Fuck the critics. Fuck Rotten Tomatoes. Try to be on your next project by the time you release and ignore the reviews.

13. Break a leg. MM

The Promise opens in theaters on April 21, 2017, courtesy of Open Road Films.

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