“Real arguments are never so articulate. They just aren’t. The fact that we’re struggling with what to say is part of what makes it fascinating,” says The survivor director Barry Levinson.
“When someone wants to say something and has a hard time getting it out, the struggle can be more interesting than what’s actually going to be said. So that’s what you’re always looking for – just the little human moments.
Barry Levinson is the famous director of dinner, Natural, good morning vietnam, Bugsy, You don’t know Jack, Walk the dog, and winner of Best Picture in 1989 rain man, which also won him the Oscar for Best Director. His astonishing film career began while writing for The Carol Burnett Showand got the call to be a writer on Mel Brooks Silent movie and Strong anxiety.
Barry Levinson has channeled decades of writing, directing and even acting experience into his new HBO movie The survivorbased on the true story of Auschwitz survivor-turned-boxer Harry Haft and adapted from the book Harry Haft: Auschwitz survivor, challenger to Rocky Marciano by Haft’s son, Alan Haft. Even in a movie about good and evil, says Levinson, there’s always something unexpected to discover. Below, he shares the wisdom he has accumulated over his long and illustrious life as a filmmaker. – MRS
As said to Margeaux Sippell
1. I think the most influential thing is that for two years I studied acting with this group of actors. Not like a few times a week – I was there all the time and didn’t want to be an actor. But in doing so, I started to see all these possibilities. All of a sudden your brain is like, ‘Well, what if you did this?’
2. Then all of a sudden I started writing little plays, and after two years I was actually — if you can imagine it, it’s even hard for me to believe it now — Craig T. Nelson and I would do things together in the acting group and improv, and at some point, because we were both broke, I said, “Well, maybe we can get some stuff together and we can play at some clubs and make some money.” So we left and we played.
Ultimately, that led to writing about a local show, which was a 90-minute show that we had to do this writing and performing, and that led to writing and then doing comedy sketches. I didn’t really want to do sketch comedy, but I did, so I went that route all the way. The Carol Burnett Show and I worked on it for three years, and it was a really nice time. And then, luckily, I was able to work with Mel Brooks and a few other writers who Silent movie and strong anxiety.
3. For three years we were together, and I sometimes told dinner stories about Baltimore. Mel said, “You should write this as a screenplay,” which never occurred to me. And then I did. It’s all accidental stuff, but if I had to go back on that little trip, it was Mel Brooks saying, “You should write about this” – eventually, I wrote dinner because he put that in my head.
4. Much of my career has been by chancestarting with hand puppets and improvisation and all that, and the journey to becoming a screenwriter, then writer-director and director of films that I don’t write.
5. You have to commit in the moment and develop a relationship in which everyone feels free. And it’s not like, “Oh, I have to say this line this way.”
Read also : Barry Levinson’s memories of his great-uncle who survived the Holocaust inspired him to direct The survivor
6. I’ve always believed that if the actor is comfortable, then the brain gets to work. Because now you have all the information you need – somehow the brain is sorting out things you might not even be thinking about. It may not even be that way. And then all of a sudden, because you were quite free, a moment – it must only be a moment – suddenly arises, and it surprises us and it fascinates us and it brings us closer to the screen to see what he or she is doing at that particular moment. That, for me, is the continual search for something else.
7. It’s not easy to do what Mel Brooks does. He said, “I don’t just want them to laugh. I want them to laugh so hard they’ll fall out of their seats. There are a lot of people that I would admire and who would tell me that there is an extraordinary job that has been done. We can look at some of the old masters and some of the younger ones who came in and said look what they did – they redefined certain genres. And that comes from the fact that they have to trust each other. “That’s where I’m going.” You must have confidence in this, because if you guess everything you do, you can never come to any kind of specificity, because you’re just fighting your own insecurities.
8. I have always been influenced by music. When I’m putting it together in my head, I’m playing music, and while I’m playing music, sometimes it starts telling me about a scene that we’re gonna do, and maybe I should do this or do that . The music begins to help define it. I know that sounds crazy, and a piece of music I use may ultimately have nothing to do with what I’m doing. But sometimes a piece of music helps me focus on, “Well, you know, in this scene, I can do this and so I could change that to this”, and highlight what’s going on better. had on the page, because the music made me think of something.
9. Before we go shoot The survivor, there was a piece of music. I was in New York, and I had headphones on and I was walking the streets and for maybe three hours I had it on loop and I listened to this song over and over trying to figure it out, What am I responding to? What is happening? Then, all of a sudden, the images started to fit in there. I was listening to the song “Avinu Malkeinu”, and something struck me. It set the tone in my head on how to handle certain things.
ten. There’s a kind of excitement in not knowing where you’re going that fascinates me. It’s not a trip if you know exactly where you’re going. It becomes a journey to find something. It’s always a search, and for me, music has played a very big role in everything I’ve done.
11. There are so many rules of cinema that ultimately don’t hold water that we sometimes say to ourselves, well, I don’t know. Somehow, some things work. Intuitively, you think they’re right, and that seems like the way to go, and other times it’s not. I think that’s part of the nature of what we do, and it probably applies to any artistic endeavour. There are the rules, and then there are the reasons why you break the rules.
12. It’s a bit of a mystery, and along the way there have been quite a few good surprises. So it was an interesting trip. If I thought of growing up in Baltimore and saying that’s what I would do, it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind because I knew so little.
13. I would be a kid and I would go to the cinema, and I would see At the water’s edge. There’s a moment where Eva Marie Saint drops her little white glove and Marlon Brando picks it up, and they’re talking and he starts putting the white glove on his hand when he’s talking to her. like a kid, I watched this and thought, “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in a movie theater.” the boxer puts on the white glove. I thought it was fascinating. I think, Wow, how the hell did this happen? I couldn’t understand, because it was just this little moment, and there was something so tender and fascinating.
14. The only other thing if you’re trying to follow your life and make sense of it, which is always hard to do for anything, is in the movie Martin. There’s a little scene, and Marty and his friend are in this bar, and the character says, “What do you want to do tonight, Marty?” And Marty said, ‘I don’t know, Ange, what do you want to do?’ I thought that was the most amazing writing. It’s so ordinary.
The survivor, directed by Barry Levinson, will premiere on HBO on April 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, in honor of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and will also be available to stream on HBO Max.
This story originally appeared in the Spring edition spring 2022 from MovieMaker magazine.