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Interview with:

Lance Mazmanian [mazmanian] 

What is your specialty? Production, direction, something else?
I've been fortunate to acquire a lot of experience in the area of music videos, commercials, network TV, feature films, and the theatrical stage. These days, I'm focused on a producing/writing combo. Full-time directing is the ultimate goal, however. I'd prefer to die on a set at age 110 or so, hauled away on a craft services table.
How did you begin in this field? Who introduced you to it?
My oldest memory is Kubrick's 2001 in its first release, Cinerama Dome in Vegas. I was too young to know what the hell was going on, but Stanley's imagery made a huge impression. Apart from that, the acting bug got me around age 5, from Bill Mumy's Will Robinson role on the 60's TV show "Lost In Space". Afterward, I never missed a chance to act in a theatre department of any size, spending 10 years in a study of the stage before moving to film & TV. The theatre was a complete experience: I spent untold hours learning wardrobe, makeup, direction, lighting, sound design, and how to professionally polish the boards. As for movie directing, at age 12 I finally got a Super-8 film camera and that started the road to shorts and experiments in a wide variety of film & video formats.
Do you work for a client, for the audience, or for your own creative adventure?
Most valuable element of the collaborative process is the audience, regardless of genre. Wonderful 2-way street. Of course, different projects sometimes attract or exclude more specific audiences, and that's perfectly cool. Ultimately, I want the audience to work a little and I promise to do my work, too. I think that's the happiest place to be.
What should a good script have in order to interest you?
Originality. Not a cliché or predictable moment. Strong, believable characters, whether dialed for a "genre" picture or some kind of hardcore dramatic narrative. Authenticity. Authority. Killer dialogue. Plausibility, even within far-flung fantasy or sci-fi scenarios. Timing & cadence.
Name three contemporary directors or producers that you admire.
Directors? Kubrick is the Grand Master: No one like him before, probably no one like him again. Hal Ashby and Franklin J. Schaffner are a couple of "old school" major inspirations. Can't say enough about Krzysztof Kieślowski. Wow. An all-time great. On the contemporary scene, Producers include Duncan Kenworthy and Andrew MacDonald. Amazing pair. Directors include Miloš Forman, a huge hero whose influence taught me the art & science of hard transition. Jacques Audiard? Amazing. Love Jonathan Glazer, and Alfonso Cuarón is kind of a deity figure, isn't he? Spielberg, for reasons starting with his DUAL follow shot (Weaver entering the roadside café, uncut) and near everything between. Forgetting the popular vibe, Spielberg's an absolute master of film language, especially on close examination. And let us not forget Jim Cameron, who is truly an ultimate badass in so many ways. Okay, that was more than three.
What movies or television shows inspired you to work in this field?
At an early age, "Lost In Space" (I know, I know); "Star Trek" (original 60's version); PATTON (Schaffner's); the original 60's "Ultraman" series; all the old Roger Corman standards; 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which, at age 3, was the first movie I ever saw in a theatre (already mentioned that, I reckon). Later on, the original non-CGI May 1977 release of STAR WARS, Forman's CUCKOO'S NEST, Sergei Eisenstein's ALEXANDER NEVSKY, the original RAIDERS, various obscure Russian and French films from the early 80's and 90's.
If an actor delivers the lines but is not believable, how do you direct him/her?
That's situational, based on the personality of the actor, their malleability, their inclinations, the dynamic of a specific scene, location distractions, all that stuff. In every case I'd try to find an organic solution to reach a proper level of authenticity and allow the actor to find the key themselves. What I would never do, unless in a very specific dilemma, is give a "line reading".
What actor would you love to work with and what type of character would you propose to him/her as a challenge?
I'm a firm believer in casting unexpected individuals, whether known or unknown. Love seeing actors taken from their comfort zones and placed in alien territory, ala Viggo as Aragorn. Or, taking an actor who's had success as a certain "type" (but is capable of far more) and giving them a chance with larger artistic fare. That would be you, Matthew McConaughey. As for specific actors I'd like to challenge and/or work with, probably best to keep that under the hood for the moment.
Are you the type who instantly knows when a take is good, or one who does another three takes to be safe?
I know immediately. However, it could easily be take one, ten, or sixteen. It's a per-situation kind of thing. Also depends upon intent: You might sometimes request repeated takes for some purpose unknown to the actor or crew.
What type of direction are you used to giving the director of photography?
The relationship between cinematographer and director is a marriage. Over time, the two should literally read one-another's minds and intuitively know what's needed for shots and sequences. The DP should always be allowed to bring their own vision to the table, obviously via the director's expressed palette and designs. For example, if I wanted a scene in a bar to reflect "hard elegance" I would leave it to the cinematographer to deliver this look and I would trust them to understand the visual and tonal idea without a lot of explaining. This gives the DP the necessary room to work their own personal magic based on material, characters, narrative. Of course if a shot wound up going the wrong direction I'd immediately ask to have things scaled backward or forward, to suit. And, I always know enough about what I want to monitor the lighting/staging process and determine if time is being wasted on unusable moves or exposures.
How interested are you in image technologies such as robotized cameras, special effects, etc.?
I have zero fear of exotic technology and/or prototypes, but anything that does not serve the story should be jettisoned. Not to mention the fact that equipment rentals cost money. They should be ordered or specified as needed and necessary, never wasted (if possible).
Which has been your experience with conflicts between direction and production?
One hopes for a cordial situation between the set and the suits, but it's not always so. Both sides, however, must always try and be reasonable about demands and monetary considerations. If they are, most situations can be fixed or accommodated with little apparent conflict.
Do you enjoy post-production, or do you prefer to leave that in the hands of other professionals?
Love post, with special emphasis on sound design. I do, however, prefer to hire people I trust and respect and then allow them to do their work with little to no interference, and definitely without my micromanaging their process. You obviously have to supervise and make executive decisions, but there are ways to do that without being overt or intrusive. Leadership is a Swiss knife, not a hammer.
Do you approach an editing session with a clear idea of what you want to do or with an attitude of experimentation?
Flexibility is key. You can have an idea you think is great, and yet when put to the reel it doesn't work at all. Having said that, I generally cut everything in my head long before shooting. Kind of an ethereal work print floating around as a template, one to be used or adjusted (or discarded) as necessary. This methodology is an artifact of having learned the craft on Super-8 film, without any kind of post editing tools. "Cutting-in-the-camera" (as it's called) was a necessity in those days, and it definitely created a more efficient personal approach to physical production.
What magazines or websites of the sector do you follow regularly?
The only trade I religiously read is Deadline (aka Deadline Hollywood).
Do you eat popcorn at the movies?
Interesting question. Rarely. At home, however, I do like to hunker with a half-gallon of vanilla Häagen-Dazs, or Steve's Mexican Chili Chocolate.
What do you think of public subsidies for cinema?
They're great; they're necessary. That said, they should be responsibly employed, taking into account budgetary outlay and expected returns and being realistic about both. Public money should always be spent with diligence and respect. It's not a magic faucet.
What respect does the reality phenomenon deserve? What experiences have you had with this genre?
There are gems here and there. A majority of these shows are actually soft-scripted, so what's "reality"? I do believe the genre has more potential for quality and originality than is generally explored. It can and should evolve.
What works best for you when selecting an actor: an audition, seeing some of his/her previous work or having a long conversation with him/her?
Seeing the actor's work, if only a cold reading and even if the circumstances are less than comfortable. Also, you have to consider how a given actor works with and against their co-stars (obviously), as chemistry is all. I have strong opinions on casting, in part from a previous situation where I had no control over casting decisions and in part from my personal stage experience. I have a strong intuitive connection to actors. One thing's for sure: Great CD's (Casting Directors) are like platinum bars with legs, an invaluable collaborator who can and should blindside you with amazing ideas you'd have otherwise never thought of.
Do you like to have a second unit or do you prefer to control every still of a production?
You need a Second Unit you can trust and deploy without hesitation. Very important. Getting to that level of relationship can take days, hours, years. It's situational, but no, I don't want to "in-person" engage with Second Unit's activities, unless it's a very critical shot or sequence requiring more finesse than normal. I would, of course, always monitor Second Unit's work, from afar.
Do you change the dialogue after selecting the actors in order to adapt the characters to them?
Situational. Sometimes that's a great thing, and sometimes not. I'm open to whatever makes the project better, stronger, and ultimately more authentic.
Which do you like more, large budget or small independent productions?
One is about as hard as the other, at the end of the day. Both have their nuances and challenges. I welcome either.
Do you like to experiment with new technology immediately or do you prefer to wait for it to develop?
No fear or problem with tech, not even experimental, prototype, or lab-unproven gear. But, everything in its proper place, within the reasonable window of budgetary and scheduling requirements.
Is the future of cinema the Internet? Mobile phones?
Both, and more.
Does the concept of interactive video stir up creative thoughts for you, or does it leave you cold?
Situational. Intriguing on the one hand, repellent on the other. Honestly, however, mostly cold.
What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to break into in the industry?
Read, study, and understand the true story of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton. Realize that you'll almost certainly have to endure a figuratively similar journey through the entertainment business. Know too that those who attain premature success often wind-up in a situation where they've swallowed an anvil they cannot digest. In all cases, beware, enjoy, and don't make the voyage too "precious" or you will likely die on the steps. Above all, you have to really wanna do this stuff. You have to need it, like oxygen. Just in it for the money, you say? There are far easier ways to generate revenue in this world, my friend. Verily I say unto thee, if you're not driven to be in the business, not 100% passionate, not totally cuckoo about those images on the screen, get out while you can. Hollywood is hard, hard work, inhuman hours, exposure to any and all elements for grotesquely extended periods, politically treacherous, and filled with all manner of reptile. It's also the most powerful art ever conjured by the human mind. So, there's that. Cheers.

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Lance Mazmanian

[mazmanian] Lance Mazmanian
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