Since the release of John McTiernan from his stint in federal prison early this April, he’s been invited to the Deauville American Film Festival last month where he gave not one, but two Masterclasses on his filmmaking. I condensed this particular one to its bare essentials which cover familiar ground discussed in the earlier commentary select I’ve put together which you can view below. I’m including a separate select that focuses simply on how McTiernan began his career for those interested simply because it fills in some details of his beginnings and what was to come to be his entire approach to filmmaking. Check out all three selects below.
The editor who was John McTiernan‘s perfect collaborator for Die Hard because he was happy to “cut on movement” when any other film editor would deem you as a filmmaker who doesn’t know what he’s doing, sits down to divulge some information on the process of editing. What is the process on a day-to-day basis for an editor? What is important to maintain a rhythm of a scene? How does temp music help an editor when he cuts a scene? What is an editor’s responsibility? These questions, among others will be answered by this generally unknown editor who was behind some very interesting action films of the 90’s.
“The lens of the camera replaces the eye of the observer, and the changes of angle of the camera—directed now on one person, now on another, now on one detail, now on another — must be subject to the same conditions as those of the eyes of the observer.”
Now listen to John McTiernan express the same sentiments in this excerpt. Composing a film or a scene like music, applying how eyes see / move about into a design of camera movements. Skip over to 6 Minutes 47 Seconds
John McTiernan’s classic actioner Die Hard is broken down from top to bottom. To supplement his discussions of the film through my condensed commentaries – you can also now take your time and study how he strung together the images together to form scenes and sequences.
One of my biggest inspirations is John McTiernan. I think it’s become obvious through how I constantly mention him. Here’s a video in which McTiernan talks a bit about how he approached learning filmmaking. Actually, it’s an expansion of the quote.
I went about it like it was reverse engineering. I knew that I had to go and learn what a movie was, not just my experience of going and watching a movie. So I went and sat in Truffaut’s Day for Night, watched it for three days straight, eight hours at a time and memorized it shot-for-shot. I got past the story, all the original and secondary experience, so I could study what it was that I was really watching. Film is really sort of a chain that’s really linear. Yet when it’s all strung together, it just sort of feels like an experience. It takes quite a while to be able to deconstruct that experience to figure out what you really saw.
Skip to 4th minute
What he used to make me memorize was the shots. He’d say, “Ok, learn that movie!” – by learn that movie he meant; you sit down with a bunch of pile of paper and pencils and write – shot for shot – the movie from memory. I learned a bunch of movies that way. I learned 8 1/2 that way which is a very complex film. I learned Clockwork Orange…His notion was that if you really wanna become a filmmaker, you have to get that conversant. You have to be able to carry that much in your mind. If you want to be a world class musician, instrumentalist player of something; piano, or violin or something. You’d have dozens maybe hundreds of scores, you’d have hours of music in your mind! You’d never need to look at the piece of paper, all those hours would be in your mind! And you couldn’t possibly be good enough unless you had done enough work to put all that music in your mind. So that you would just be able to sit down and call up note for note some piece of Mozart or one of the classics of your profession. And his notion with me – because the way he put it he just said “You have eyes, so you better learn to use them”. Instead of thinking of movies as print – which is the way they’re always approached; a pile of paper. It’s always the events and the words that will be spoken. Instead of thinking of movies that way, he made me learn to think of movies as a chain of images where you would fashion the entire chain of images. Just like a music student could hold a concerto in his mind, you should hold the movie in your mind; the images – nevermind the words, the images – “Where is the camera for that shot. What kind of lens was it? What was the camera doing?” – on every shot, on every one of – well most movies have about a thousand shots.