Hollywood’s Best Film Directors


Andrew Davis

In "Hollywood's Best Film Directors," we go behind-the-scenes with some of Hollywood's biggest names. They talk about their lives and work, explaining what makes them so successful. The series includes heavy-hitters Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and M. Night Shyamalan, among others.

AIRED: February 08, 2021 | 0:25:32

Man: Action.


Narrator: This great Hollywood director began his career

in the camera department on the cult classic "Medium Cool,"

and made his feature directorial debut in 1977

with the award-winning "Stony Island."

He established himself as an action director

with "Code of Silence."

Then, he directed Steven Seagal in his first hit film,

"Above the Law," and a few years later reignited Seagal's career

with the explosive "Under Siege."

After that, he followed up with a string of hits,

including the family favorite "Holes,"

"Collateral Damage" with Arnold Schwarzenegger,

"A Perfect Murder" with Michael Douglas

and Gwyneth Paltrow, and "The Guardian,"

starring Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Costner.

But he might always be best remembered

for directing Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive,"

which garnered seven Academy Award nominations.

Hi. I'm Andrew Davis.

I was raised in a community of actors and writers.

Studs Terkel, a wonderful, very famous American writer,

was a close friend of my parents.

My mother and Ida Terkel, lived together during the war.

So, I was sort of surrounded by both politics and theater.

And my mother always wanted to be a photographer.

And I remember, as a young kid, I said to her "Mom, you know,

if you could have done anything other than raising us, what would you have done?"

And she said, "Been a photographer."

And it turns out that I was the president

of the South Chicago YMCA photo club when I was 8.

And actually, we shot a scene in "The Fugitive"

about a block away from there.

And then, in high school, I was a projectionist,

and I was always interested in music, and issues.

I started playing the guitar when I was a young kid.

My brother was a young musician on the south side of Chicago,

in a changing neighborhood.

He was the last white kid on the block.

And I grew up in a very rich musical area

called Stony Island,

which is a street on the south side of Chicago

where Louis Armstrong got off the train from New Orleans.

And when I went to college, I studied journalism.

And journalism was something

that was very provocative in those days.

It was the height of the Vietnam War.

And I was on television, literally on WYLL,

a PBS affiliate in Champaign-Urbana

at the University of Illinois.

And we would read the AP wire service,

or the UPI wire service, and we knew they were lies.

And I got out of school in the summer of 1968,

which was very, very infamous, especially in France.

And and I worked with Haskell Wexler,

who was a friend of my parents, on a film called "Medium Cool,"

sort of a seminal American movie.

And I was an assistant cameraman shooting riot footage

during the Democratic convention in Chicago.

And that summer, I became a serious assistant cameraman.

And I was shooting commercials, and all kinds of things.

And when I was 21 years old,

I got to shoot a network commercial

with Duke Ellington for Zenith, which is sort of unheard of.

And with that experience, and Haskell

being sort of a mentor of mine,

I began a career as a cinematographer,

but always interested in politics and issues.

Came to California, Moved to San Francisco,

where Haskell was working with George Lucas and Coppola.

He was shooting Lucas' film "TH1138" during the day.

He was part of Zoetrope with Coppola's company.

And I lived there for about a year and half in San Francisco.

And then, I moved down to L.A.,

and started shooting low-budget pictures as a cameraman.

I decided to make my own "American Graffiti,"

my own "Mean Streets," which is a coming of age story

about my brother making it in a neighborhood

as a musician.

You know, when we made "Stony Island,"

it was made for so little money,

and we would -- I was, you know,

staying with my parents part of the time,

my girlfriend and I, or we used their house

for a location.

And my father's in it, You know, he plays the bad guy.

So, there was a real family kind of thing that we --

when we put it together.

And I think that they were interested in the fact

that I was doing a film about their son,

and their -- and their life decisions

about not leaving a changing neighborhood --

a racially changing neighborhood --

became the basis of the story.

That film was done in 1977,

and eventually, it got a lot of attention.

It won awards in festivals all over the world.

As a matter of fact, I was invited to Deauville.

I was the young, independent filmmaker

with a full head of hair in those days,

going to Deauville.

And I met a lot of wonderful people.

And that was sort of the beginning of my career

as a director.

Man: action.


There's a lot of different ways to be involved in projects.

Sometimes, rarely, you know,

your agent will send you a script,

and you'll say, "This is something worthwhile."

But mostly, it's either developing ideas of your own

or finding projects that are in process at studios

that you want to become a part of.

We were lucky enough to find a book.

Theresa Tucker-Davies, who used to work with me,

found a great book called "Holes,"

which was an award-winning children's book,

a Newbery Award winning book.

And we acquired the rights,

we found some partners, and we made that into a movie.


"Holes" just an amazingly sophisticated,

soulful story about three layers of history,

in a book that was beloved by American kids,

and teachers, and librarians.

And it's a story that probably never would have

been made into a movie,

except for the fact that it was such a huge book.

Dick Cook, whose daughter was listening to it

on cassette on the way to school every day,

became familiar with it.

A company named Walden Media,

which is now a very successful movie company,

was aware of it. And we had the rights.

So, we were able to put that all together.

And to do a film that deals with mystery, and treasure,

and racism, and the history of

a family's journey from Europe to America

all in one piece is very, very exotic

for a film that did so well, and was so beloved by kids.

"Collateral damage" was originally a story

that was set in the Middle East.

And at that point -- this was pre-9/11 --

and I was just -- I just didn't want to do

another Middle East bashing movie.

And I had made a film in Colombia

years and years before, as an associate producer,

cameraman, co-writer with Jose Ferrer and Allen Garfield,

a sort of remake of "Oliver," called "Paco."

And I fell in love with Columbia,

but the country had gone into turmoil

with both the drug wars,

the guerrillas, the paramilitaries,

and it was so unsafe you couldn't even go back there.

And so, it was a story that, you know -- the basic setup

was about somebody being killed

in an accident -- a terrorist accident.

They were not the targets of the terrorism.

And so, I thought, "You know,

Let's take this thing, and turn it into a movie about Colombia,

and talk about what American policy was in Colombia,

and how it was affecting things down there."

And I thought, who better than,

you know, the biggest macho action guy in the world,

Mr. Schwarzenegger, to play this part?

Very nice.

So, we began looking into where we could shoot a movie

that would take place in Colombia without going there,

'cause we knew it was too dangerous to go there.

And we went to Venezuela, actually.

We went down the Orinoco River.

One of my associates, Salvo Pacili,

had access to Chavez.

We met with him.

and we were about to go there when we got word that it was --

you know, from the State Department

that they didn't want us going to Venezuela

because it might be too crazy.

American politics down there

were not very stable at the time.

Still aren't.

And so, we looked into Mexico.

But it was -- it was --

basically, knowing Colombia well enough,

and studying the history of what was going on with guerrillas,

and paramilitaries,

and understanding the politics and locations

that allowed us to transform this into a location in Mexico.

And we wound up shooting in Veracruz.

Pre-production involves working on scripts,

figuring out how you're gonna do the movie

for a certain price,

getting the locations and logistics all worked out,

casting -- tremendous amount of casting,

hiring the right people.

And it's really where the movie gets made.

Getting comfortable with the talent before you start shooting

is really important.

Having them feel comfortable with their role in the movie,

any research they need to do,

Having spent time with the realies,

whether they're playing doctors or Coast Guard people,

means that they're gonna be that much more comfortable.

And I like giving them a feeling of the environment,

and the fabric of the material, before we start.


"Code of Silence" was a script that was originally...

it was something Clint Eastwood was interested in.

And a producer named Ray Wagner had it.

And Orion said they would make the movie.

And I, once again, came in and sort of played with the script,

and took some elements of Columbia,

which I knew, and basically spent some time

with a great journalist in Chicago

by the name of "Bulldog John Drummond" --

John "Bulldog" Drummond -- who was a great crime reporter.

And I proposed to him, I said, "What would happen

if some Mafia underling decided to rip off the Colombians?"

And we got involved, and met some guys,

a guy named "Wally the Wiretapper,"

who had actually been approached to hit some some kitchen table

that, every Thursday, had $300,000 dollars on it.

And he checked it out, and said, "It's too dangerous."

But we took that idea, and developed a story

about what would happen if you had a cop caught

in this war between a mobster and the Colombian drug dealers,

and also, the idea of the cover-up of an innocent kid

being killed by a policeman.

And the code of silence related to several different issues.

So, it was a lot of research, a lot of looking at materials.

And similarly, I did a film called

"The Package" years ago, with Gene Hackman,

which was set partly in Berlin.

And having gone to Berlin, and knowing what it was like,

we knew that we could adapt some of that to Chicago.

There are areas of Chicago that look just like Berlin,

because those same German immigrants

had built the buildings and neighborhoods.

So, once again, as a journalist,

I was able to find some substance

in what was gonna be, basically,

a Chuck Norris action movie, and give it some meaning,

in terms of what was going on with police honesty

and the war on drugs.

And I was able to get a really interesting cast in that movie.

Dennis Farina was in that movie,

who is still a policeman in the Chicago Police Department.

And it was based on that movie, and the success of it,

that I was sort of pegged as this big action director.

And it was quite successful.

I don't yell.

You know, I'm demanding, but I don't yell at people.

I don't create an atmosphere of tension,

which some directors like to do,

in terms of making something happen on the set.

I'd rather people feel comfortable.

I'm very open to other people's ideas, especially actors' ideas,

about what to do with their characters,

or the part, or how to approach something differently.

I mean, Tommy Lee Jones and I had some great collaborations,

as with a lot of the best of the actors --

with Voight, even with Shia LeBeouf.

I was a cameraman,

and so, I feel very comfortable about the process

of getting the shot set up, and what does it take?

Sometimes, I will be a blessing for a cameraman

or a nightmare for a cameraman,

'cause I'll say, "I don't want to spend any more time on this.

I understand what it looks like.

We don't have to fine-tune this anymore,"

or "I'm not going to like this. I want to shoot it naturally."

And at the same time, I know how to pick locations

and environments that allow them to do

probably some of their better work.

You try to find a context that's real,

that's not a cartoon.

Even though they're doing what they do,

in some ways, it was a bit of a pop entertainment, you know?

But you try to find a context that makes the cop more real,

or whatever he's doing more believable.

You surround them with really good actors.

And you don't pander to certain types of cliches.

And you let them feel comfortable

in the world they're in.

Now, the same can be true with Kevin Costner

in "The Guardian,"

or Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive."

You try to create a world that they can inhabit,

and you let them feel comfortable being who they are.

And I think that that's the key.

You know, I mean, there are certain actors

who have to make great leaps, in terms of their characters --

Jon Voight, for example, in "Holes."

Everybody said, "Jon Voight doesn't do comedy."

Well, he was hilarious in "Holes."

And he's a brilliant actor.

So, I think it's, you know,

just tuning in to what you're working with,

what the actor has to offer you,

and what the story requires, and trying to find that balance.

And it's hard.

It's hard in the theater.

You know, you get to work on the stage, with the writer,

and you make changes, and try this, and try that.

You can't do that when you're spending

$170,000 a day on a movie.

And I think it's important, sometimes, to take the actors

around to the key locations,

get a sense of the world they're gonna live in,

so they don't get shocked or thrown.

Different actors are more or less uncomfortable

with certain things.

Some people are very happy changing things.

Other people really don't like to have

a curveball thrown at them.

So, I just simulate -- I just simulate

putting that thing in there like that?

And then, hold it in there.

And the, when I and toss that thing --

Kevin Costner was very clear.

He said, you know, "I want to come knowing my lines,

and I don't want to have a lot of things changed,"

because he learns his dialog almost like a song,

which makes it very comfortable for him.

Other people, you know, don't mind changing things.

They sort of like to change things,

'cause they feel it --

feels it's more spontaneous for them.

Man: Action.



"The Guardian" was done in several ways.

We built a very unique tank, first in New Orleans,

and we were blown up by Katrina,

But then, we moved to Shreveport.

And we built a tank

that was a 100 by 80 feet by 8 feet deep.

And we developed a technique of making waves with air,

like the wave parks have, with huge pumps

that built up pressure to let air into water,

that caused wave patterns.

And we could control the wave patterns.

We could press a button, and create an 8-foot wave.

And we were able to, with wind machines and spray machines,

create this environment

that was a little postage stamp piece of the Bering Sea.

And the Coast Guard swimmers who were our advisors

and our partners were very impressed with it.

They thought it was extremely real.

They got goosebumps when we turned it on the first time.

And we took that piece of water,

and Bill was able to put it into a larger sea,

which he created digitally,

which was samples of the Bering Sea,

the coast of Oregon, where the Coast Guard trains,

and even some footage from South America, off the coast of Chile.

And so, that was one of the most unique

uses of tanks in the movie business.

Nobody had ever had a tank that volatile, before, to work in.

There's a tank in Malta that doesn't do it.

That Cameron set up, that he used for "Titanic,"

doesn't do it.

And I think I'm very proud of the fact --

it was the most sophisticated visual-effects movie

I've ever done.

And I was very scared to do these kind of movies

because I felt you were so removed.

But I was able to have my actors be in a very real environment,

having to struggle,

without hanging from a wire against blue screen,

where we would put the water in later.

There were other pieces hanging from helicopters

that required that kind of work,

but for the most part, the water part was very real.

And everybody got beat up, and sprayed on,

and they really had to train, and struggle,

and be in shape to do it.

And I think you feel that in the movie.


Well, "Under Siege" was interesting because,

when we first agreed to make the movie,

I think Terry Semel told Steven Seagal

we could go to Australia to make it,

'cause Warners had a studio there,

and we could go surfing.

But there's no battleship.

And it's not easy to build a battleship.

So, a cop from Chicago, Joe Kosala,

who I've worked with for years,

he said, "You know, why don't you go down to Mobile?

They've got the USS Alabama there.

It's owned by the state. It's a park. It's a state park."

And so, we went down there, and looked at it

and it was close enough to the Missouri

that we we figured we could do it.

So, that turned out to be great, because we we wound up

going to a small area called "Point Clear,"

which had a little private airport there,

was not doing too well.

A lot a lot of G4s and mothballs there,

who had been picked up in bankruptcies.

And so, we took over this hangar.

And Bill Kenney, the production designer,

did an amazing job building the inside of the USS Missouri

in this airport hangar.

So, we're living out.

We had nice houses with docks.

And, you know, we could go to work

down the street at this airport.

And then, we could drive and half an hour to Mobile

for the exterior of the Missouri.

And then, we also shot inside the Missouri.

So, that was a self-contained world that, once again,

Peter MacGregor-Scott helped figure out.

And I hadn't worked with Tommy Lee Jones

since "The Package."

It was the second time Tommy and I worked together.

And he was -- he originally

was written as a kind of Elton John-type character.

And Tommy wasn't gonna make it as Elton John.

So, I said "Well, play him as Paul Butterfield,"

which he could relate to, 'cause he liked Stevie Ray Vaughan,

and he was from Texas, and stuff.

So, one of -- the one of the things we had to do

was record Tommy's band.

You know, they take over the battleship as a band.

And we had to go one day to Mobile

to record the tracks that we were gonna use for playback.

And he was with my brother's band,

and all these studio musicians from Chicago.

He was very intimidated.

But he he got comfortable with it.

And I remember the kids in the band,

and my brother's friends, saying,

"You know, you should do --

you've got a great voice. you should do some voiceovers."

And a year later, he was doing beer commercials,

and telephone commercials, and all that kind of stuff.


[ Speaks indistinctly ]

"The Fugitive" was one of the most

successful movies ever made.

What happened was, Roy Arbogast,

who was our special effects coordinator,

you know, we were talking, and I asked him a question.

He said, "I want to make this the greatest, you know,

train crash ever, on film."

And really, the genius behind that sequence,

in terms of how we pulled it off was my partner,

Peter MacGregor-Scott, the line producer.

Peter figured out how to take a piece of track

that we found in North Carolina,

gut the insides of an old locomotive,

so it didn't have its engine,

and push it from behind,

and engineer a track that could have that controlled roll.

And today, it would probably be almost done digitally,

and it probably would be fine,

but I think people felt the reality of that crash

because it was a real train.

And we had -- you know, I think I spotted 25 cameras.

And we had all these different meetings

with the second unit, and the first unit,

and the lighting, and how we were gonna do this.

And I think the night that we did the train crash,

I was shooting the bus stuff with Harrison --

the fight on the bus, and the beginning of the roll.

You know, and we finished the night's work at, like,

2:00 or 3:00 in the morning is when they did it.

It was a one-take deal.

And it happened. And that was it.

It was over, you know?

But a lot of it was the buildup, and the aftermath,

too, you know, of what happened,

getting out of the bus, and running, and all that stuff.

So, it was -- it was -- I don't know.

It was just -- I think it was -- a lot of it

had to do with the tension of what preceded that crash,

and how desperate he was to get out of there,

that made the crash feel so powerful.


Well, certainly, "Holes" is one of my favorites, you know.

And I have to say "The Fugitive,"

because it was so successful,

and everybody seems to like it so much.

But, you know, I mean, I --

I haven't seen it in a while, but "Steal Big Steal Little" I loved.

It didn't do well, you know, it was --

but in terms of what it was about,

and what it meant to me at the time I made it.

"Stony Island," my first film.

I saw it the other day.

We just made a new print.

And I'm hoping to get it out on DVD soon.

You know, because it was such an early,

you know, beginning, you know.

I like "The Package."

"The Package" is a good movie.

I don't know. It's so hard to tell.

I think -- you know...

sometimes, you make a film,

and you have ambitions.

Was it Truffaut?

He said, "You start making a film,

and you have all these dreams and goals

about what it's gonna be."

And then, halfway through, you go,

'Oh my God, just let me finish it.'"

And all I can tell you is, every one of my films

I've enjoyed watching with an audience.

I've never felt that the audience was lost, or bored,

or didn't like it, you know?

So, it's a question of -- and that's enjoyable, too,

hearing people laugh, seeing their response,

emotionally involved with people, you know.

So, I feel lucky, in that sense.

I haven't since the early Seagal films in a while.

They play all the time on television.

I mean, "Above The Law" is on TV, like, every week.

"Code of Silence" is playing continuously.


So, they seem to have some life.

"Holes" was one of the best experiences I've ever had

because the material was so rich.

The cast was wonderful.

I loved working with all of those actors, and those kids.

And it was so well-received

by those people who love the book.

There's always a challenge,

when you do have a movie based on a beloved book,

that, you know, you're gonna offend somebody.

And we stayed very, very close to the book.

We added some things, deleted a few things.

And Louis Sachar, who wrote the novel,

we brought on -- Teresa and I --

said, "This is the guy who's gonna write

the screenplay with us,"

because, you know, I didn't want somebody else

to get credit for something he had created.

When I made "Stony Island" in 1977,

I think there were 8 or 10 independent movies that year.

This year, there'll probably be 1,000 independent movies.

So, it's much more competitive.

And the old thing of,

"Well, I don't have the money for a camera.

I don't have the money for film and processing."

That's out the window.

You can buy a $100 video camera at a pawn shop,

and make a movie, now.

And so, I think it's really -- the onus is on the --

on the filmmakers to just do, and show what they can do.

I would say to people...

learn to write.

Learn to put your ideas on paper.

Find good writers to work with.

'cause that's the thing.

You've got to have something on paper

that allows people to see what you want to do.

Or you're completely on your own.

Just go make your film, and then figure out

how to do it without a script.

So, I think it's persistence, too.

It's not giving up.





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