Things I’ve Learned As a Moviemaker: John Turturro

Throughout Brooklyn-born John Turturro’s three decades in movies, his distinctive presence has been stamped onto such diverse classics as Do the Right Thing, Quiz Show and O Brother, Where Art Thou?—performances distinguished by his emotional range, physical charisma and capacity for a challenge.

And while he has maintained regular employment before the cameras of moviemakers from Martin Scorsese to Noah Baumbach, Turturro’s career behind the scenes is no less impressive. He made his own directing debut with 1992’s Mac, for which he received the Caméra d’Or for best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival. Turturro followed that up with the films Illuminata, Romance & Cigarettes, and the documentary Passione, and recently completed a short as part of the anthology film Rio, I Love You. In his recent directorial effort, Fading Gigolo (2014), he starred opposite longtime friend and collaborator, Woody Allen, the hapless pimp to Turturro’s newly minted sex worker.

Here are 30 of Turturo’s top moviemaking tips.


1. Prepare. The more you prepare, the freer you can be.

2. Always return to the initial impression or urge you had when imagining the piece.

3. Create and share your book of visual references with all departments, including the actors.

4. Spend time with the actors before shooting, so you can get to know them as people.

5. Read, reread and then memorize Robert Bresson’s Notes on the Cinematographer.

6. Don’t get stuck behind the monitor. There are real people in front of the camera.

7. Listen to other people, especially if they understand what you’re going after. If they don’t, nod your head and move on.

8. Recognize your limitations and try to turn them into a creative advantage.

9. When you can say it in fewer words, do so.

10. On set, play music that inspires you. Play it in scenes where there’s no dialogue. It’s good for the crew and cast, and incredibly helpful in creating the spirit you’re after.

11. Continuity can be a killer of inspiration—but lack of continuity can also kill you.

12. If an actor has an incredibly hard emotional scene, be attentive to their needs and save the emotions for the close-up.

13. Prefer what inspiration whispers in your ear to what you have redone 10 times in your head.

14. Make the audience see what you want them to see through the eye of the camera.

15. Do something crazy once a week. It helps create a fun and energetic environment and keeps everyone on their toes.

16. Storyboards are great, but be prepared to throw them away.

17. Be careful not to fall in love with beautiful shots that don’t reveal anything.

18. If you don’t have a lot of money, beware of establishing shots. Most of them are not necessary.

19. A bad wig can kill a film, unless it’s on purpose.

20. Dig deep. Descend into the core of the eddy. Don’t be afraid to be simple.

21. Watch dailies with your crew at least once a week, so everyone can see their mistakes and learn what is working.

22. Stay loose, even in the worst moments.

23. Be realistic in creating your schedule. Don’t lie to yourself.

24. Don’t be afraid to express what’s inside of yourself, even if it’s embarrassing.

25. Hire the best people possible.

26. Your job is to get everyone on the same page. A good film is created by many different people all working together for the same goal.

27. Screen your film for an audience, if only to see how you feel with people watching it.

28. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

29. Remember: You’re not saving human lives. You’re telling a story.

30. The ear is superior to the eye. It creates without seeing. MM

This article first appeared in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2014 issue. Subscribe to MovieMaker here.

 


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2 Comments

  1. SashaG

    August 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I am officially in awe of Mr. Turturro’s acting in “The Night Of”; he is raw and real. It isn’t often I see an actor who is not afraid to be whatever the character calls for, most actors overdo it and seem to be mugging for the camera. Mr. Turturro gently sinks into his role of John Stone and plays him without panache but instead: pure heart. Classy. (He ripped in The Big Lebowski too).

  2. Ian

    August 8, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Huge Turturro fan! Thanks for posting this. Loving him in The Night Of currently. I thought Fading Gigolo was great and really the title might have hurt it. It’s so much more than that title implies. Hope to see more films from him as a director.

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