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a la Mod:
I’d love to work with De Palma again. When I finished Badlands, Ed Pressman the producer said come and work with Brian De Palma on this film I’m doing, Phantom of the Paradise. Brian can appear kind of gruff. I showed up, kind of assigned to the project, and he asked, “What have you done?” Well, I hadn’t done much. I had finished Badlands. I had done a lot of Roger Corman and Gene Corman films up to then. I started working on that film, and I don’t pretend to know everything but I started presenting ideas about the character. We were doing this great thing about the music industry. I came out of my house one morning and there was this dead bird lying on the side of the road. And I picked it up, and I got this idea for an image for Death Records. It was actually a sparrow, but I was thinking of it poetically as a songbird, and I thought it could be a logo for Death Records. I took a picture with a process camera and made an image of it. And I think Brian responded to that. Long story short, three years ago one of my daughters shows up with a shirt on with that bird on it, and someone’s marketing it on the Internet 40 years later. That was a fun thing.
And then I had these ideas of Swan’s office desk being an old record, his bedroom being a turntable with gold record sheets. I never really knew what Brian thought but I was working like crazy. And we were about to do the scene when Finley [Winslow/The Phantom] breaks out of a brick wall—somebody has locked him in this office to write and fixed it so he’d never get out, and he does bust out. Well, I was new to film and I was making the bricks and mortaring them together during lunch. The grips came back, and they were ready to shoot, and I wasn’t quite finished. I was covered with mortar and sweat and stuff, and one of the grips started giving me hard time: “You’re not a professional: you should have done this a long time ago!” And I can’t tell you exactly what Brian said, but it was something like, “Shut up, he’s making the film look great.” It was the first time I knew he was excited with what we were doing, because it was really kind of out there—out there like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I called a friend of mine who was a costume designer, and said, “I’m doing this film with Brian De Palma, it’s about the Devil, Faust, and all that,” and she said, “You can’t use black and red, that’s for sure.” The way she said it, I just got it into me, “I’m going to use black and red” and so I did. Sometimes I just like to go against what everybody thinks. She was a woman of taste but I thought, I like black and red. Also, we didn’t have a lot of money, so you could black out something and not see it and it would work really well. Sometimes I wanted the sets to go black and the DP overlit them, and I get upset to this day when I see it, because there are things that were supposed to be black that are gray. All we had to do was just shut off a few lights. Working with Brian was great fun, and with Carrie, the same thing.
Brian called me afterwards to work with him, but our schedules just didn’t work out. I love Brian. He’s a wonderful filmmaker. He actually storyboarded every shot. At the time he would do it on 3 x 5 cards, with stick figures. You could go into his office and see the whole film laid out on the wall. Every scene. So I knew what he was going to shoot and it was easier to design the sets because I knew what he wanted and who the characters were and where the camera was going to be. And he stuck pretty much to that. And he would show up on set and he would get so bored waiting for lighting and waiting for people to get made up, because he’d already made the film in his mind. He really took advantage of the sets; probably more than anyone I worked with, he would use them and took a certain delight in them. He was a fun director.
You know, someone did a remake of Carrie. I know Brian knows the director who directed it. And someone was talking to him and to her about how they did the bucket of blood that gets dumped on her. And the new one, they engineered with effects and levers and stuff like that. And I think it cost them about $200,000 to dump the blood on Carrie. And someone was talking to him and her about the new dump, engineered with effects and levers. And they asked Brian how he did it, and he said, “Jack Fisk just climbed up a ladder and dumped a bucket of blood on her.” That low-tech thing we did in the ’70s because we didn’t have much money. Sometimes it works just as well or better.
With the latter scene mentioned above, I couldn't help but be reminded of Scorsese's mention about going to see Deep Throat with Brian De Palma in the 1970s. The following is from page 116 of Richard Schickel's book, Conversations With Scorsese, during a discussion of Scorsese's Taxi Driver:
Schickel: The woman—a society campaign worker—is attracted to Travis because he’s so out of her league, as it were. Her Junior League, I guess. Which makes this notion of taking her to a porn movie—
Scorsese: Oh! I know. Well, you have to remember, a lot of people don’t remember now, but at that time, they were trying to make porn acceptable, with Deep Throat and Sometimes Sweet Susan, and pictures like that.
Schickel: I went to a few of those.
Scorsese: It was okay to go with a girl. But Brian De Palma and I went to see Deep Throat, and he said, Look at the people around us, it doesn’t feel right. There were couples. I said, You’re right. We should be with all these old guys in raincoats. It was a wonderful kind of hypocritical thing that was happening—it opened up the society.
Dueben: In the book you talk about some of the people you worked with, and I have to say that both Brian De Palma and Steven Seagal seem nuts -- De Palma in a different, more interesting way than Seagal. What was it like working with them?
Leguizamo: I disagree -- Brian does not come across as nuts, he comes across as a filmmaker who knows how to work actors and manipulate them to get the best performance out of them. If you have ever worked with actors, it's a lot of psychology, babysitting and handholding. I know; I've directed. I love actors and they bring so much to their work but you still have to do lots of diplomatic tiptoeing. I would work with De Palma any time. He is one of the great, American, original directors.
Now Seagal is not interesting crazy, just dickish! He has no respect for others and that is so damaging to the whole creative process that real actors subscribe to. I'm not the only person he's hit without warning. He's done it many times and it's inexcusable. We are there to make a great story and help everyone achieve this task, be they the director or the writer or the other actors. He only cares about himself to the point of inflicting harm to others.
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