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Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and 14 More A-List Directors Share Filmmaking Stories with Sam Mendes

Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and 14 More A-List Directors Share Filmmaking Stories with Sam Mendes

READ MORE: The Films of Sam Mendes, Ranked From Worst to Best

The November 2015 issue of Empire Magazine is the “Spectre” issue, and the magazine invited director Sam Mendes on as a guest editor. As part of the issue, Mendes called up 16 of his director friends to ask them questions about their filmmaking process and their experiences on set. The questions ranged from silly to sincere, and all of the answers offered some funny and insightful gems about making movies. The interviewees included Steven Spielberg, Joss Whedon, Ang Lee, Christopher Nolan, Susanne Bier, Edgar Wright and more.

The answers Mendes got are often quite candid and frank, and throughout the interview it’s easy to form a sense of the personality of each of these important Hollywood players. Below are all the questions Mendes asked, and some of Indiewire’s favorite answers from each. Read the whole interview at Empire.

Have you ever walked off set in a temper?

Ang Lee: “I only Hulked out once.”

Christopher Nolan: “I once tried, but nobody
 seemed to notice, so I came back.
”

What’s the most common phrase you use on set?

Joss Whedon (whiny voice): “‘Come on, guys, I’m the leader of a whole movie…!’ When I want people to fear and respect me. Not wildly effective.”

Rob Marshall: “‘Cut. That was great.’ I think it’s always important to give immediate positive reinforcement.”

Music or no music on set? 

Susanne Bier: “Both. Obviously not at once.
”

Joe Wright: “Always music and all the time. I have my set rigged with the biggest sound system possible and have a mini jack for my iPod attached to my director’s chair. I find playing music is a very direct way to communicate with actors and the crew, especially those crew members who are on the periphery of the set. I like dancing on set too, it’s a good way to release tension.”

What are your on-set rules for the crew, if any?

Alexander Payne: “No ‘rules.’ What are you, British or something? I guess I’m too nice… No wonder people take advantage of me.”

Christopher Nolan: “No phones. No phones. No phones.”

What’s the most takes you’ve ever done? 

Steven Spielberg: “I did 50 takes on Robert Shaw assembling the Greener Gun on ‘Jaws.’ The shark wasn’t working, so I just kept shooting to make the production report look like we were accomplishing something and to keep cast and crew from going crazy from boredom. It was a strategic indulgence.”

Alfonso Cuarón: “The long takes process doesn’t allow for that
 many takes. In the past I have shot over 50 takes of
 different shots. Sometimes you end up using take 64, sometimes take four.”

How many cups of coffee a day? 

Steven Soderbergh: “Never had a cup of coffee in my life. Dr Pepper is my caffeine delivery system of choice.”

Edgar Wright: “Way too many. Once I had a potentially heart attack-inducing eight double espressos in one day. I think my assistant secretly swaps my coffees for decaf as she doesn’t want me to die of caffeine overdose.”

What’s your best day ever on set? 

Edgar Wright: “Any time I think out loud, ‘I can’t believe this is my job,’ and remember I am a very lucky duck. Whether marshalling hundreds of zombies, doing crazy stunts or shooting big music numbers, I just feel fortunate to have made my passion my vocation.”

Paul Greengrass: “Probably ‘Bloody Sunday.’ We had no money for extras and gambled on months of outreach to persuade the people of Derry to turn out and march for us on one single afternoon. And they did. In their tens of thousands. Seeing them march, their patience and their dignity and their commitment, I knew the movie would have a quality of truth.”

Real explosion or CGI explosion?

Alexander Payne: “Never done an explosion, but I have had explosive diarrhea, and that was very, very real. Good thing I have my trailer.”

Alfonso Cuarón: “A real explosion is not only much more fun to shoot, it also helps the actors and creates an energy on set and ultimately in the scene.”

What’s the most useful advice you received from a fellow director? 

Sofia Coppola: “My dad told me, ‘Your movie’s never as good as the dailies and never as bad as the rough cut.'”

Rob Marshall: “It was actually the opposite of what a director once said to me. He said, ‘Remember, everyone is here to serve you.’ And as he walked away, I thought to myself, ‘It’s exactly the opposite: I’m here to serve everyone.'”

Why didn’t you just become an accountant?

Susanne Bier: “Because I’ve never looked at a tax return without immediately losing consciousness.”

Steven Spielberg: “I could never have been an accountant. I got a D in math.”

READ MORE: Attention Filmmakers: Here Are Sam Mendes’ 25 Tips on How To Be a ‘Happier Director’

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