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.
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
Narrator: This great Hollywood director
began his career as one of the most gifted
and bankable actors of his generation.
Starring in such cult franchises
as "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon,"
his directorial debut was "The Man Without a Face,"
but his very next film was a colossal hit -- "Braveheart."
Won five Academy Awards,
including Best Picture and Best Director.
While continuing to pursue a successful acting career,
he would later write, produce, and direct a movie
set in the Amazonian forest
and shot completely using the authentic language
of the ancient Mayans.
The stunning "Apocalypto" offered one of the most amazing
and breathtaking foot chases in cinema history.
His biggest hit was also shot in an ancient language
but, this time, Aramaic.
Grossing over $600 million worldwide,
the story of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus
was "The Passion of the Christ."
I'm Mel Gibson. Welcome to "Hollywood's Best Film Directors"...
wherever they are.
I'm just sitting here in an office.
It's a quiet little cul-de-sac in Santa Monica.
Up on a fourth floor.
What do we do here? We talk.
We take phone calls. We project.
[ Chuckles ] We scream, we yell,
we laugh, we cry,
and we try and figure out how to tell a story
here in these buildings.
Not only that,
but we figure out practical ways of realizing those stories.
So, there's an accounting team and a lawyer
and all that kind of stuff.
So, you know, we're a team.
I was born in 1956 in upstate New York.
I got 10 brothers and sisters.
My parents -- My dad was a brakeman for the railways.
Mom was like a full-time mother,
you know, cooking, cleaning,
and chasing us little beasts around.
We drove her insane.
So it's, you know, just kind of a family
living in the country, you know,
kind of growing organic vegetables
before it was fashionable
and making an existence.
Day-to-day -- go to school, get bored,
come home, tell stories.
I remember -- I think the first time I ever went to the cinema,
I was like 4.
Maybe I went before that, but I doubt it.
And I just remember the whole -- sort of the darkened room.
And the kind of ritualistic kind of gathering of people
is sort of all focus on one image.
And I heard someone later describe it
as a public dreaming.
And, you know, I think it's amazing.
That's an amazing way to look at it.
When I began to pursue, you know, an acting career
or, you know, the thespians life,
striding the boards, my family were very supportive.
They were always very supportive of all of us
in anything we wanted to do.
Hey, can we get everybody --
Can everyone ease back here, please,
right back to the truck?
I saw this man,
and it was his, really, first big time out,
as it was my first big time out,
watching this guy grapple with the beast
that is being a director, you know, in its many facets.
I did nothing but ask him questions.
I think I probably drove him crazy with the questions
because I wanted to know what he was doing,
because it didn't make sense to me.
Because when you're first exposed to this world,
it doesn't make sense to you.
I have the opportunity of working with them
with the greatest nut -- Mel Gibson.
Working with Donner was just one of the funnest things ever.
I mean, he showed me the joy of what that process should be.
He enjoyed himself. He's a larger-than-life guy
[deep voice] with a big, booming voice.
Ahh! Ahh! [ Normal voice ] You know?
You know, and he's a terrible rogue.
He'll do horrible, cruel things, see, but they're funny.
I mean, and, you know, afterwards,
kind of when you kind of relax
and [laughs] get over the sting,
but he's a prankster.
He's fun, and he knows --
He's very experienced, too,
and, you know, he's forgotten more about this game
than most of us learn, you know?
He started off in TV,
and they had to do it fast, and they had to do it good.
And I think it was live TV he started.
He was, like, with guys like Sydney Pollack
and, you know, those great guys.
I mean, God.
Gaby, get alarmed and run out.
Gaby: Mom! Cut!
I started to put myself in that situation,
where I think I was about 30, in my early 30s,
and I was looking at, you know --
And I worked with some amazing people up to this point.
I mean, George Miller and Peter Weir,
and I think I was working with Franco Zeffirelli
on the "Hamlet" film, which I produced,
so I was more in kind of
a "driver's seat behind it" situation
on that film.
So I was, like, trying to wrap my head around,
like, "Now, what if we, you know --
How could we do this quicker? How could we do this?
What would I do if I was?"
You know, so those scenarios were popping into my head,
and, occasionally, I had the opportunity to do them.
On a couple of occasions, I said, "Well, you know,
put the camera here, key it from over there,
stick on an 80-mil lens.
We'll do a track. I'll move, and we'll do --"
And it came out. It was okay. I was like,
Wow. You know, that's -- that actually looks kind of good.
I mean, it kind of works, you know?"
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
Scared, you know?
You're scared because it's like, "Man, I've been here before,"
and it's like, "I better step up to the plate."
And I was going to,
but you don't know if you've got the goods.
So it's like you're kind of going a lot on bravado.
I mean, it's like jumping out of an airplane for the first time.
You know, it's like, "What if the chute doesn't open?"
Well, you know, lucky for me, the chute did open.
But I've found solace in
talking to some of the people that I worked with and admired
and other directors who I admired
that I didn't work with, like Clint Eastwood.
I called him because I just watched "Unforgiven,"
and it was like -- I was, like --
I was watching that, and I thought
that it was a pretty good Western, you know?
And it was -- I called him, I said, "Hey, Clint,
you've directed a bunch of stuff."
And he said, "Yeah."
His voice is like... on the phone.
Cracks me up.
And I said, "What's the trick?"
He says, "You'll be okay."
[ Laughs ]
The tall one gave me the imprimatur, you know?
So it was like -- He said just --
And Peter Weir, I think he just says,
"All you have to do is say 'action' and 'cut.' That's all."
I'm like, "Oh, come on. This can't be that easy."
He says, "No, you're right, it's not, but you'll find out."
He said, "You'll be fine." You know?
They were, like -- they were very cool, very supportive.
And so I thought, you know, now's the time to actually
step into a street that I don't normally travel.
But, then again, the first time out, I didn't --
The risk wasn't high, monetarily speaking,
because that's usually what makes or breaks,
is, you know, "Is he gonna kill us,
and, you know, is he gonna kill my wallet?
Is the bank gonna be --"
You know, I went modestly
and did a low-budget, small film
that did not, you know, break the bank.
And the po-- you know, the possibility of it coming back,
even if it was bad, was, you know...?
It was an even chance, you know?
So it was not a high-risk thing.
But I did it, and it was okay, you know?
So I went big next time.
I always think of the three E's --
I've said this before -- the three E's
when I think about, you know, what kind of story do I want to tell?
Firstly, you -- and you must do this -- you have to entertain.
And that by itself is valid, just entertainment.
It doesn't even have to be logical,
so long as, like, people watch it
and they get something from it, some feeling,
some emotion, some something.
The next thing I think that's important,
for me, is to educate.
So, you entertain, you educate.
And the third thing,
which is the hardest thing to get, is to elevate,
which is almost on another plane,
that you reach beyond the realm of, you know,
our Earthbound-ness and reach for something a little higher,
whether it's spiritual or just something outside yourself,
you know, something in the cosmos,
something that... talks to your soul,
if you can do that.
So those are the three E's for me.
And if I get all three of those things going, fantastic.
But you have to entertain. You have to.
That has to be the first thing you do.
[ Indistinct conversations ]
This is frightening. Yeah, okay.
I'd read the script for "Braveheart,"
and it was given me by the writer Randall Wallace.
I read it, liked it, and then, it just --
I just was busy with other things,
and it just kind of sat there in the background
for a long time.
But it made an impression on me.
I wasn't tripping over myself to be in it.
But I kept thinking about it, you know?
I kept thinking about the images
of what that might look like in that story.
And I got into sort of -- He said, "Well, what's the story about?"
So I started jumping around in the motor home I was in
sort of describing the story
and telling him shots and angles.
And I was like -- I realized that I'd been constructing that,
and it was another one of those subconscious.
A little more than subconscious. It was quite conscious
that I'd actually lain awake and thought about,
"What would you do with this image here with..."
You know? And so, then I finished describing,
and he said, "I'll go and get that script."
You know, he found the script, and he said, "Wow."
He said, "You got to get on this."
And he was my assistant,
and he said, "You should direct this."
I mean, and I'm like, "Really?" He said, "Yeah."
And I said, "Yeah, okay. I've done it before.
Maybe it's time to go on something big, you know?"
And we might have to give you some verbal indication
of hitting Jim.
Like, I'll say, "Swing, dig, pull."
All right? Something like that --
"Swing, dig, pull."
Man: Okay. Let's try. Let's shoot.
Well, there's a long gestation period.
Like, on "Braveheart," there was a long gestation period.
On "The Passion," there was a longer gestation period --
many years -- you know, because, you know,
the way I was brought up, you know,
that's your faith, that's your, you know --
you're brought up in Christianity,
you look at that story as sort of a pivotal part of your life.
So, for many years, I was, you know, contemplating
on what that must have been.
What was the passion? How did it happen?
Geez, what was the reality of that?
So, with these meditations,
gradually, those images began to come together
that I wanted to sort of incorporate into a film,
that it's a massive piece to bite off.
I mean, all those gospels and everything with the passion
and the death and all that stuff,
it's a lot to cover in a couple of hours.
So, I'd focused, really, on 12 hours,
on that aspect of it.
I just went for it, you know?
And then, afterwards, when I started
to get the footage together, then I approached studios.
I think everyone was really afraid of it.
And so, I decided to sort of, like,
find a little distribution company and go for it myself.
People wanted to sort of distance themselves from it,
until after it came out and made a lot of money.
Then they were kicking themselves, going, "Why didn't we?"
You know, because this town is about that.
And go! Action!
Man, I just made that story up in my head.
And it was -- it was fun, you know?
I was -- And, again, a long gestation period.
I realized that there's a lot of, like, intri--
It just -- You grab the arms of your chair
when you're watching a good chase.
I like a chase, you know?
For that film, just the idea of the chase.
And I thought, "Well, hang on -- foot chase.
Foot chase is just as good as a car chase.
It can be more exciting.
You can make a foot chase like your car chase."
So I thought, "Let's go there."
I like to get into a world and explore it
so the people are like, "Whoa,"
so hopefully they they smell it
and they feel like they're there.
And I find, ofttimes, that, you know,
like, the Aramaic language helps with that,
as did the Mayan language.
It's kind of like, "Wow, who are these people?
Whoa, what are they saying?" I mean, it's just --
But they're incredibly like us, aren't they?
Yeah, they are doing human sacrifices
or whatever was going on there would be --
you know, you could relate to that stuff
or relate to some indigenous people
before the arrival of Europeans on a continent, you know?
And that was the other thing about it was,
when people focus on these eras, these stories,
they look at it from the Christopher Columbus perspective.
And I'm like, "Well, that's kind of boring.
I want to see, what was happening before he got there?
It could have been pretty cool."
And that's exactly what I did.
It was Paramount and Fox -- an unusual deal.
Fox took the international, and Paramount took the domestic,
and they combined their forces on a motion picture,
which was unheard of.
I don't think they engaged in that kind of activity,
that sort of fraternization before that film much.
Anyway, I just jumped in the saddle on that one,
and it was like 10 weeks of preproduction.
It was so fast.
Ten weeks preproduction, and we were off to the races.
It just happened. It was -- That's really unusual.
And when I told people I had 10 weeks preproduction on that,
they go, "Are you --" They can't even believe it.
Man, was I tired after that. That was a big bite.
It was fast, and, you know, fortunately,
one puts together a good crew,
and one doesn't do any of these things alone.
Fortunately, I had some really good people around me
to help me achieve those things, and, wow, what an experience.
But when that was finished, I really felt like
I'd been through a war.
But it was worth it, because I think that the end result
really made me proud.
I was really happy with what I got.
Man: And action!
[ Men shouting ]
Well, it took some doing.
I mean, you had to get together with all the heads of the department.
You had to have your location so that you could have contours.
Like, we did little maps and little soldiers and stuff
and then discussed the strategy
of what the battle would look like.
Of course, the Battle of Stirling in "Braveheart"
is nothing like the real Battle of Stirling.
It didn't have that dynamic at all.
There was a bridge. It was called the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
And I think the British kept sending the --
or the people from lowland --
you know, they kept sending the people across this bridge,
and they were being slaughtered in a narrow space.
Cinematically, not quite as compelling.
So, you know, I kind of made up the strategy.
One has to be very much aware that you are setting the tone.
You have to do that.
So you have to be a secure place for everybody,
and you have to include everybody.
Like, on "Apocalypto," everybody started calling me "tío,"
which is nice, you know, to find that out
because you realize that you are bringing people together
and they're calling you "uncle," you know?
'Cause it's nice, you know, and it's --
and you're being as magnanimous as you can with yourself
to everyone around
and letting them understand and appreciate
that they are a vital part of that process, which they are.
I don't know how you do it any other way.
If you didn't have all this help, I mean,
how could you do it?
And it's an interesting thing, too, is you have to kind of
try and keep their respect, too.
They test you sometimes. Sometimes it's pretty funny.
It's, like, they want to see where you'll go,
see what you'll do.
Sometimes they test you.
It's like a kid testing a parent.
Well, I remember
Rudy was jumping off this massive building
with a wire attached to him.
But, still, I mean, it's a 180-foot jump,
okay, into, like, this thing that looks like a postage stamp.
Like, it looks like a glass of water down, you know?
And it's like an airbag.
And he's jumping off these buildings,
and I'm giving him a hard time, and I'm thinking,
"Man, I'm glad I'm not jumping off that building.
I don't know if my heart could take it."
I don't like heights, you know?
And it's like, "What are you scared of?"
And he says, "Your knees are knocking together."
He says, "Come on, you try it."
I'm like... [ Laughs ]
I said, "Ahh!" And I was giving him a hard time.
And at the end of it, you know, the stunt guys all got together
and said, "You don't want to try it, do you, boss?"
And I didn't want to try it. [ Laughs ]
you have to be able to be the commanding officer.
So you just look them in the eye, and you say, "Hook me up."
And you got to do it. You have to do it.
And so I did. It scared the hell out of me,
but I did it. But I felt good afterwards.
I mean, there's nothing like a 180-foot jump
to scare the daylights out of you.
But it's a good adrenaline rush, put it that way.
I don't think I've recovered yet.
I mean, it's like a time machine here.
You end up in these jungle places
trying to move equipment around.
You know, it's nuts.
You have to move Heaven and Earth to get your shot.
We had wires in the trees
and kind of, you know, the 50-foot arm
on the, you know, what are they?
I can't even remember what you call it,
that thing that goes "ooh."
What do they call that? Ah, geez.
Technocrane. Oh, man, Technocrane.
The 50-foot Technocrane -- I love that thing.
I mean, it gives you beautiful shots.
But moving that around in the back I those places,
like that's not a sissy's game.
That's like the Roman legions moving their war machines
into strange places in Macedonia, you know?
Okay, put your hand, try and get Turtles Run!
No, try and get him again. No, here he comes.
Watch out! Go get him now!
When you see -- You cut --
There's this cut-back to Rudy in the film,
and it's this shot of him looking wide-eyed in terror,
and that -- he was not acting, because that thing behind him
was right on -- it was right behind him.
We had the ability to put the brakes on it.
You know, so, it was never gonna get him.
You're not putting anyone in danger.
To get Rudy and the cat in the same shot,
stack it up on long lenses or wide lenses
and have that thing right behind him and him running.
And it was like -- it was on a clothesline
with a wheel and a steel cable coming from a collar
up to this, like, steel cable going through the trees
so he could run freely but couldn't run off.
And he was, like, on a moving leash, if you like.
I remember Rudy was like -- I said, "Okay, Rudy,
as soon as you see the cat break the bushes, start running."
He went, "Don't worry."
[ Laughing ] He was like, "I'll start running."
I've never seen a guy run so fast in my life.
It was like -- it was so funny. But -- And I don't blame him.
I'd have been running twice as fast.
I would have run over the top of him.
[ Men shouting ]
Hired a lot of actors and a lot -- But we hired the Army,
the Army Reserve, and they these were all kids
from, you know, probably 19 to --
Average age -- 19 to 25.
Bunch of smart-asses, you know?
But full of enthusiasm, full of vigor.
And a lot of guys, you know?
A couple of thousand guys in costume
standing around with, like, plastic swords and things.
You can still poke somebody's eye out with one of those things,
so, you know, it all had to be regimented and organized.
I mean, this was -- this was a serious
logistical nightmare for some people.
Lucky I had those people who we --
And we could do it. We could every day go out there
and achieve what we needed to achieve.
Six weeks? Wow.
And action! Got it!
[ Clapboard clacks ]
The guy became a priest late in life.
You know, he was an actor for the Comédie-Française.
And so, he had a wit and a sense of humor,
but he became spiritual later in life and took a --
and became a priest and stuff.
So he was on the set visiting.
And, of course, you know,
having Jim strung up to the cross every day was torture,
so I had a puppet made,
and it looked pretty real, just like Jim, in fact,
even to the extent where it moved
and had mechanics in it, and it breathed.
You can see the lungs breathing in and out.
And it was quite scary, kind of creepy.
And Comédie-Française, the guy now priest, came out,
and he was eating a cookie and a cup of coffee
sitting in a chair,
and somebody was there dialing the puppet.
And it was breathing and moving its head
and like, "Ugh," moving like this.
And then the guy thought, "Hey, I need something else."
He put the controls down, and he moved away,
and then the puppet was just there, and it wasn't moving.
And this guy just -- I watched him for like three minutes
just eating a cookie and watching this puppet.
And he eventually walked up to it,
and he was like, "Jim? Jim?"
And he got really -- He started to scream
and set the alarms off because he thought he died up there.
He was like, "He's dead. He's not breathing."
And he was calling --
he was sending out a 911 to everybody.
And everybody ran up. They're like, "What's the matter?"
He says, "He's not breathing."
And we say, "It's a puppet. It's a puppet."
And the guy lost it.
I've never seen -- For about five minutes,
he was crawling along the ground crying
with, like, fits of laughter, and it was infectious,
because when you see someone that hysterical,
I mean, it's just funny.
You don't even have to know what he's laughing at.
But when you knew, it was like 10 times as funny.
So it was like -- We were all in tears.
That's like trying -- That's like asking
who's your favorite kid, you know, if you have children.
All your films are like different children, you know?
For different reasons,
you may find that one -- you prefer one to another.
I think just for the -- for purity,
as far as just purity of the art and storytelling
and just, like, the tricks and the stuff you had to go through,
I think, for me, it was "Apocalypto,"
I would have to say, is my kind of favorite film experience.
I don't know.
It just seemed to fire in the right way.
I was always jazzed on it.
Not always. You had some bad days.
One always has bad days,
when it rains when it's not supposed to.
Well, it's definitely -- I think as far as film goes,
I mean, my first love is actually directing and storytelling,
and it was always that, I think.
Acting was, like, incidental,
and I was, you know, younger at one point.
Now I'm kind of a wrinkly old guy,
and, you know, nobody wants to see
my tired old mug on the screen anymore.
But I think I could still contribute,
as far as being able to tell a story
and being able to do it well
and tell a story compellingly on film.
So, you know, and I'm happy doing that, too.
It's like I'm happy as a guy with a bunch of cement, you know?
I think, to the filmmaker
and to the people who he displays his wares in front of
and who partake of the story,
there's a great sort of bonding.
There's a feeling of community,
in that they're all kind of,
like, living that dream together,
particularly if they sort of --
You know, the more they enjoy it, the closer to it they are.
And there's a great appreciation of that,
and that sort of validates what I do,
and I hope it validates who you are, you know,
that you dig those stories and relate to them,
and I thank you for it, and I love that --
I love that interface between watcher and the maker
and the watchmaker and the Swiss watch or whatever.
Speaking of Swiss, we all got holes.
And if you can fill the holes in any story, you're doing okay.
And I think that, generally speaking,
fans have pretty good B.S. meters going on,
so they know when they're being ripped off, conned,
conjured, flattered, or fulfilled.
And, you know,
if you're fulfilled by what I do, thank you.
And I hope that's the case, and I'll keep going.
Got 5 bucks?
[ Laughs ]