Today on the show, we welcome back returning champion, the legendary director John Badham. If you didn’t already know, John has directed some of the most iconic films in history. From the decade-defining Saturday Night Fever to 80’s hits like War Games, Short Circuit, & Stakeout to 90’s action classics like Bird on a Wire, Point of No Return, Nick of Time, and Drop Zone.
John’s second edition of his second book continues with more stories from filmmakers and actors working in TV, movies, and streaming content.
John Badham on Directing also includes sections detailing methods for working with action and suspense, hallmarks of Badham’s Filmography, as well as a 12-step “Director’s Checklist” for comprehensively analyzing any scene and how best to approach it with your actors.
Sit down and get ready to take a TON of notes on this epic conversation with John Badham.
- John Badham – Official Site
- John Badham – IMDB
- John Badham – On Directing – 2nd edition: Notes from the Set of Saturday Night Fever, War Games, and More
- IFH Academy – Get MASSIVE Deals starts Black Friday to Cyber Monday!
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 2:20
I like to welcome back to the show returning champion, John Badham, how you doing, John?
John Badham 3:45
Okay, I could be like Rocky. Okay,
Alex Ferrari 3:53
Last time you were on the show, the tribe really loved our interview. You know, we went deep into your history and how you got into the business and down your filmography a bit so can you for people who didn't listen to that first one, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself? And I mean, you've you've been around the business a few years. So if you could just kind of talk a little bit about what you've done, and and who you are.
John Badham 4:17
Okay, all right. Well, I, I came out here in the middle 60s, into Los Angeles, from I was an escapee from the Yale drama school. And people said, what do you what do you have you directed? I'd say theater and they'd say, get out? Nobody, nobody liked the idea of theater. What's that? That's for weirdos. And so my first job was in the mailroom at Universal and delivering mail with my two degrees from Yale. There I was, but then everybody else in the mailroom was in the same boat. And the thought of you know, becoming a director at that point was just kind of ridiculous. Like, you're down at the bottom of the food chain, lower than whale poop. And, and you're, you're gonna be a director. Oh, lot's of luck. But, you know, I spent some time as a casting director at Universal later eventually train me for that. And then got involved with some producers who let me start directing and television that universal. And then my first movie was with James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor called bingo long traveling all stars, which was about a negro baseball team back in the 1930s, when the black people, you know, could not play with white teams, and vice versa. But they could if they were barnstorming around the country. So that was kind of the history of that of those teams were the players were so fabulous. They were much better than the white players. But nobody knew it. That that movie actually in a, in a weird way. Got me Saturday Night Fever, which was, which was the next movie that I was able to do and and that tells its own story.
Alex Ferrari 6:20
We went in deep into how that entire phenomenon happened back in the day.
John Badham 6:27
So I was lucky to get to, you know, to make a lot of really good movies like wargames and blue thunder and short circuit, but a lot of people say they grew up with short circuit. Oh, is number five. How is Johnny five?
Alex Ferrari 6:44
Oh, my God, short circuit? Are you kidding me? When I such I was in? Fifth, if I remember correctly, is 8586 if I'm not mistaken around that time, right? That's right. So I was in fifth grade. So I was, I don't know, 10 910 years old, 1011 years old, something like that. And when I saw short circuit, it, my whole world changed. I was just like, I thought it was the coolest movie I've ever seen. I was so enthralled with Johnny, Johnny five. It was just so so so wonderful. And yeah, I mean, I grew up, you know, obviously, you've heard this 1000 times, I grew up on your films, point in our return drop zone, nick of time, or game Saturday Night Fever. I mean, I grew up watching a lot of the films, and it's so funny that your career started in television, then went into features, and then you've kind of gone back to television, and had and kind of been playing in that in that ballpark for a while.
John Badham 7:37
That's right. And and the business has been changing non stop ever since I started in the mailroom. You know, it's changed a bit, it's just so different in so many ways, you know, take hours to go through all the stuff as we change from film to digital in the studio system disappeared. And, you know, so many things now streaming has become such a big part of our lives. So that the difference between film and television has vanished. I mean, it's not there anymore. And in the middle of this terrible pandemic that we have, you know, the movie business has almost completely vanished and it shows up now in places we never thought like, our iPhone, we can we can stream the latest release of something.
Alex Ferrari 8:28
It's pretty, it's pretty insane how, you know, production is halted. And we could talk a little bit about like, just, I know, everyone's talking about trying to get back to work here in Hollywood. And there's, you know, there's TV shows waiting, and there's movies waiting and everything's everybody's waiting, but at the end of the day, nobody really knows how to really do it. And, and it's, there's so much like, like, right now as as we're recording this, we're still kind of in that first wave of the of the virus. And now it's starting to come back. And we're a few days away from July 4. So now everything's shutting down where things were opening up or shutting down. So I think in Hollywood was like, oh, we're gonna open back up well, now I don't know and what's going to happen, there's just so much uncertainty. And there is no blockbuster season. Like this is the first summer without blockbusters in the movie theaters since 1975. When they were invented by Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Lucas.
John Badham 8:29
Let's try it since since jaws and Star Wars Yeah, they've they've gone away. There's gonna be a hell of an avalanche of blockbusters and all this is over
Alex Ferrari 9:37
I mean, I don't know everyone says it's coming out in the in the in the winter I'm like, but there's only so many slots. So many weekends you can put out it because they've pushed everything from the summer over the movies that are finished and done, are sitting on the shelf plus whatever was imposed that was going to go into this to the winter releases. So I you know, I know I've heard a few of them are just holding off till next summer. Not really Big ones, but some other smaller studio fair is waiting till next summer or it's that or lose or lose it. So it's like, okay, we could keep it and hold on to it on the books for for a year or we could release it and maybe lose our shirts. Yeah, so it's it's a crazy world.
John Badham 10:20
It's interesting that though the Disney movie about trolls
Alex Ferrari 10:24
John Badham 10:26
Was that was universal? Ok, that's a universal troll. So okay, you're, I mean, apparently that did fabulously people were so desperate for something to watch
Alex Ferrari 10:38
But it's interesting. They bought it. Yeah, they paid 20 bucks a pop for it. It's streaming. But the difference is not trolls. It was at the moment it hit it was a family film. It was, you know, cost about 90 to $100 million. And they made about $100 million, plus whatever they're making now. It's a perfect kind of storm film. But I like to see that with a Marvel film. I'd like to see that with the next James Bond. I'd like to see that with, you know, Wonder Woman. Like let's these big 200 million plus dollar films. I'm curious to see what it does. I think there is potential for that world. I do think that look, if mike tyson fights back in the day, we're pulling three $400 million in in a night from pay per view. There is a potential for that, too, you know, for the next big Marvel, like imagine Avengers. If Avengers came out right now, at $20 a pop, I promise you that movie would probably make 150 $200 million this weekend. I just right? I think it would be it would be interesting. It will be the whole world is changing so rapidly. Nobody knows what's going on. It's such a unique place in in time, specifically for our industry. And you've been in our industry for a few a few a few years now. So you've seen things.
John Badham 11:57
Absolutely, absolutely seeing things change. But you got to keep up. I mean, you can't let you can't let things get ahead of you, or there's just no way of catching up.
Alex Ferrari 12:06
Yeah, and one thing I love about watching your career is that you have kept up you are working on, you know, really, as of as of this year, you've been working on television shows and you know, very, very hip and happening kind of fair out there. It's amazing to watch how you are continuingly you're an inspiration to all directors out there that you are you keep going and you keep making great work. You know, after these years, it's it's really an inspiration to watch you.
John Badham 12:41
Well, it's fun doing it. That's the that's the good part. If, if it can be fun doing it, then you're inspired to do more of it. I mean, just working on this show, ABC Family show called siren. You know, we're learning so much about how to do underwater photography and transforming normal human beings into mermaids and mermen. And having it absolutely believable, it doesn't look like they put on some dumb suit. You know, it's completely believable. And you think this is a miracle? We could we couldn't have even thought about doing this, like five years ago, or 10 years ago. And and it's so marvelous to see. You know, if we can imagine it, we can do it nowadays, which is quite quite something.
Alex Ferrari 13:32
Would you agree that that the the you already said that the line between television and films are starting to blur a bit. But I'm noticing just from my point of view that the technology that's happening in television right now is so exciting, specifically like in the Mandalorian, with the volume and all the things that they're doing, they're starting to create very high end looks and budget, look, you know, a production value at a very low cost. And I think that as this whole industry starts to shift as we are shifting right now, the $250 million plus film, you know, might become a little bit more extinct because it's just the financially with like, right now we have no movie theaters. So is there a business model that makes sense for $250 million plus film without a theatrical release? As we start shifting more towards streaming and moving towards that world? I feel that a lot of filmmaking is theirs. They're taking from television now as opposed to television taken from filmmaking, as far as Scott as far as cost is concerned, and quality, correct?
John Badham 14:38
Yeah, well, I mean, the Mandalorian is just like another almost quantum leap forward. It was strangely with history, way, going way back to the very beginning of film, where rear projection was was the standard of doing things, you know, and then it became outmoded and turned into blue screen, then sodium Green and green screen and all these different screens. But now there we are right back, because they invent these giant LED screens. So you get what you're seeing is what you get, you know, you, you have this marvelous stuff, and you probably don't have to move the camera around very much at all, because you just keep moving the background, changing, changing things around.
Alex Ferrari 15:25
And what I saw from the there's a behind the scenes series on Disney plus explaining the technology is now with the camera talks to the background. So as the camera moves in, in real space, the perspective changes only in the view of the camera. So you can see if you're just standing behind watching this whole thing, you just see the focus change, you see the perspective change. So it's like you're on a real location. It's it's mind blowing. It really is.
John Badham 15:52
Right? Absolutely. That's it. So YouTube video, isn't it that explains all of that.
Alex Ferrari 15:59
There's a couple, there's a couple. Yeah, there's a couple of that. And then there's a series on Disney plus, that explains the entire making of the Mandalorian as well. Right, which is which is wonderful. But So today, I wanted to talk about acting and dealing with actors and how you direct actors, because you have obviously such an experience with it. What are the major differences between directing actors? And specifically, but in general, direct and television streaming versus feature films? There's no difference. Okay, next question.
John Badham 16:31
There's no different, there's no difference you have, you have the same problems. In both in both places, you've got all kinds of stories, you know, there's no single kind of story in either field. And actors are coming in. And acting, directing actors 101, the first thing that you have to do with them in wherever is to make them feel comfortable, and make them feel relaxed. So many of our directors don't know how to do that. They they're so focused on the camera angles, the lighting, you know, the shooting, that they don't take the time to get, you know, this delicate, you know, nervous actor who's coming in baring his guts in front of everybody and needing to know that they've got somebody there that's got their back there front, you know, is there supporting him, you're the coach. And, and you're there for you're there for them. So that's, that's the very first thing that you have to do. And that's going to apply, wherever. I mean, I teach all of my, all of my students that the first thing they do when they get to the set in the morning, is they find the actor wherever they are, and talk to them about that day's work. Not something that takes very long at all is easy to do. But there's that actor sitting in the makeup chair or something just fretting and nervous about what today's scene is going to be like, especially the poor day players and the people who are there for just a short while. I mean, they need the most help at all. The guys who are the leads in the show, they're, they're pretty suave and savvy, and they know what's going on. But they still need direction, they still, you know, they still look at you at the end of tapes and go, how was it? How was it? When they look over and they see you just talking to the camera man, or the boom operator? Or the IT technician? They think well, he doesn't give a damn about us. And, and, and they, you know, they lose confidence and the morale goes down. So this is a huge part of it. It's it's, you know, it's like chapter one in the directing book. No, so people say oh, yeah, that's easy. That's easy. And then they forget and just don't do it. Just start talking to the camera or cool oh, and with.
Alex Ferrari 19:07
John Badham 19:07
There is no such thing as a five millimeter lens. Yeah, but what if there were?
Alex Ferrari 19:13
Exactly? Well, then what so what is that first conversation with an actor about his or her character look like? What what? How does that go when you are approaching? Not in television, but let's say in a feature film experience process. You're walking up to the actor for the first time talking to them about their character. How does that conversation go?
John Badham 19:32
How do you how do you see this guy? What do you what do you think about this character? And tell me about him. Oh, that's interesting. Now just for a moment, imagine that some god awful idea is coming out of the actor's mouth. Usually not they've they're bright. They're smart. You cast them, right? They're not going to come out and tell you crazy things though. Marlon Brando used to do it just to screw with you.
Alex Ferrari 19:59
Did you ever get a chance to
John Badham 20:00
Did you ever get a chance to work with Marlon Brando but my, my good friend Richard Donner no directed in the Superman. Yeah, sure. And john Frankenheimer, john Frank and I were got to direct him in the Island of Dr. Moreau. So I heard some, some stories and, and he just likes to mess with people just to see if the director knew anything, or just to entertain himself, you know, just get bored sitting around sets, being you know, one of the greatest actors in the world and being asked to do crap. So he just likes to mess with the directors. But, but if the actors coming to you, and and the idea that they're, they're putting forward is just awful. The, the way to come back to them is to say, not, that's a terrible idea, or that's not what we're going to do, it's to say, wow, I never thought of it that way. Tell me more. I want to hear more about this stuff. And you know, that the actors has spent some time thinking about their character and what they have, let them get a chance to get it out, let them get it out. If you don't let them get it out of their system, it's going to be in there just causing trouble. And, and whereas, once you know, you share ideas, and this goes down to even discussing how the scene is going to be blocked. You know, and how this moment is going to be, you know, you're you're always listening, you have to train your your listening genes, to, to be paying attention and not to be selling your own ideas. As much as giving the actor a chance to kind of catch up with you, and see what they've been thinking about. Because, gosh, guess what, they might actually have a good idea. And if they don't have a good idea, if they have a terrible idea, you can usually start to work around it. If you ignore it, it'll just come back and bite you. So, you know, bonding with your actors making a good relationship with them right off the bat. And and so on. Because so many so many actors just don't trust directors at all. They they've they've been met manhandled and ignored and directors are afraid of the hide in video village you know behind behind a bunch of displays and have the headphones on which never come off and and I've learned for Sidney Lumet you know who's who says in his book, after every take, after every take, I run over to every single actor in the in the take in the scene and give them you know, a little bit of a note or pat on the back, you know, a wink just something real quickly. He says we never lose any time. I should my movies in 30 days, you know, so it can't take any time to do it. But it definitely you know, lets the actor know that you're you're thinking about them you're watching them you know you're encouraging them and makes a big difference. You know, when I read that I said, Oh my God, that's going to take so much time but what the hell is it Sidney Lumet I should be listening right? I can try this this is a this is not Hi my uncle shorts this the crap director. So I started doing I going you know, this only takes a few seconds. This is really easy. And the actors really appreciate it. They appreciate it when you listen to them and take advantage of their process and and not be afraid of them.
Alex Ferrari 24:00
Very so. Let me ask you so in your career, you have worked with a couple of movie stars over the course of the of your career so how do you direct a Johnny Depp? Or you know a Wesley Snipes at the height of his career or you know, the are these you know, Christopher Walken, like how do you how do you direct movie stars like that?
John Badham 24:24
Well, you've got to sit and and have conversations with them Sydney Pollack. Talk to me about how he rehearses with with Redford or Streisand are so many of the stars that you know pitino and how does he work with them? And it's to spend, he says, I'll get you know, Redford up to my place for a weekend and we'll just sit and hang out and sort of talk about the character and so on. I don't necessarily get them together with the other actors, because I like that freshness of them. confronting each other, they're trained and so on. They're pretty good at it. But you know, I get there, I get their thoughts, I get us on the same page, I don't want to get to the set and find out that we see the character totally differently. Now, if we're on the same page for that, I'm, I'm just trying to help them maximize what they're doing. And give them give them encouragement and give them the room to play. That's really important. You know, we remember that we call actors players. And there's a good reason for that, you know, they need to be in a relaxed, playful state. And Anne Bancroft said to me, you know, what I like coming to the set here is nobody yells at me, before I've had a chance to show what I can do.
Alex Ferrari 25:56
And do I do recommend letting the the actor is general, not movie star and all that. But do you let them do you recommend just letting them go for a take or two, and see where they come up with? Because I found personally in my career that when I do that, I find there's magic there. And sometimes, and sometimes they go off off the rails, and that's where you're, but you pull them back in? But generally speaking, do you recommend letting them go for a bit and then honing them down to where you might want them?
John Badham 26:24
Absolute? Absolutely. I mean, when I'm staging, they, I get so much of their input coming back, I may say to somebody, okay, well come in from that door over there, and walk over to the desk, but that's all I'm gonna tell them. I mean, let them figure the rest out. Because so much of it is I'm relying on their instinct, as actors, and I have a plan in my back pocket. If everybody came in trunk hung over, you know, brain dead, I could block that scene, no problem. But I wouldn't get the advantage of their feedback. But so, so I come in, totally prepared, and also prepared to totally forget everything I prepared. And being willing to just say, That's okay, though, a better idea came up. It's alright. But if nobody's has an idea, I've thought through it enough so that I'm not blindsided. And the same goes for now, once they're performing the scene, and they're doing, they're doing the takes, let them go, let's see where they're going. Or if you didn't get a chance to do that, and then they were tied down to a certain way of doing it, you can absolutely freshen the scene up by saying, dude, completely the opposite. This is, you know, play this is a comedy instead of, instead of a tragedy, let's let's shake the scene up here, you know, or do something completely different that you'd like to do. You know, that we can't, I'll say there's no way we can screw this up, because we've got some good takes here. And, you know, so it's, it's not going to hurt if you can try anything that you like. And and sometimes, they say, Oh, great. Thank you so much. And it comes out exactly the same. But that's okay. They appreciate. That's true. They appreciate it, you know? Oh, was that better? Oh, yeah. Right. It was really good. Oh, so much better.
Alex Ferrari 28:31
So much. Better. Man. I'm glad we did that. Okay, let's move it on. Let's move on to the next setup.
John Badham 28:40
Don't don't publish what we just said here that we let the secret out of the bag. actors are gonna be pissed off forever. I know. I couldn't trust that son of a bitch.
Alex Ferrari 28:49
But you know what, I'll tell you what, what I when I'm editing. A lot of times, I just have clients behind me. And when I'm editing a movie and the like, Can you can you move it over for like five frames here if 10 frames there? And I'm like, sure. And I wouldn't do it. And I would play it back again, then like, Is that better? Like, Oh, yes. So much better? I'm like, I know. I know. All better to trick.
John Badham 29:09
Right. Right. Absolutely. One of the one of the best tricks ever.
Alex Ferrari 29:15
Now, um, how do you? How do you? How do why do directors get tested by the actors? Because a lot of times, depending on where the actor is emotionally, especially if they don't know you, you haven't built that relationship, build that relationship up. They'll test you like Mr. Brando. But that's an extreme case. But a lot of times I found in my career as well that actors will test you to see if you know what you're doing. What's your experience with that? And how do you deal with that?
John Badham 29:49
Well, hopefully, hopefully, you know enough about the script and the scenes that you're doing. That that you can be conversant with that, what you don't want that to happen is having them ask you questions that you don't know the answers to, because you haven't prepared and you're faking it all the way through and, and they're looking for somebody they can lean on and trust, who's going to give them a little feedback, you know, was that good, and has some sense of taste. So they're, they're constantly watching that, and I'm talking about more experienced actors, the beginning, actors tend to be much more malleable, because they don't know quite enough, and they don't know who to trust, but the experienced, experienced ones are going, my gonna pay any attention to this guy, or am I just gonna, I'm just gonna hang in there and do it, do it by myself. And, and that you don't, you don't know until you get involved with, with the actor and just see how they're how they're responding to you. And how you can can be helpful. Especially in television, you know, you cannot go and tell one of the leading actors, about their character they know about their character better than you'll ever know about their character, once you can tell them is, you know, here's, here's a slightly different way to approach this scene. Let's, let's, let's try to make your objective to, to sell the other character to persuade the other character, that you you want them to do something in particular, as opposed to the way you're doing it now, so you give them different verbs. And active verbs is one of the the real good tricks that you have to learn that an actor will say give me a verb give me a better verb sell, persuade is not working, how about seduce seduce? I can do Seuss. Okay, let me have it.
Alex Ferrari 31:58
Yes, I find that to be an issue with a lot of first time directors or younger directors or inexperienced directors where you're at, you write that a lot of times, they'll they'll try to like either, God forbid, give them a line reading, or like, try to be on the nose with kind of, like, try to like micromanage the performance. And that's very difficult for an actor to do. Whereas if you just say, instead of saying, okay, I want you to do this, and then I want you to do this with your words. And that way, you can't do that with an actor from my point of view. But you but what you just said is brilliant, just like, I want you to seduce him, or I want you to to seduce her in the way you're talking. And that changes the dynamic of the entire scene for the actor and for the scene in general. If Would you agree?
John Badham 32:47
Oh, yeah, yeah, I mean, what you're what you're trying to avoid, is what we call result directing. Yes. You're here, I want you to be better. I want you to be faster or funnier. All those god awful things? Or how about this one? Okay, let's do this with a lot of energy and give it a lot of heart. This guy doesn't know what the craps going on here. He doesn't have a clue. But you know, you give them a good verb, and they're going great, I can play that that'll be fun to play. That's another thing that you're looking for giving them goals that are fun to play, you know, that are interesting that way, but you don't want to be giving them result directions. Or, faster, funnier. Those kinds of those kinds of things. Mr. mismatch, you cry, can't you cry in the scene about buffering.
Alex Ferrari 33:47
I remember seeing a behind the scenes documentary of Star Wars where Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, they all said there was only two directions that George Lucas gave faster and more intense. Those are the only two things he said. Were their performances faster, more intense,
John Badham 34:07
Yeah, they said so you realize, okay, I guess we're pretty much in charge of ourselves here. Exactly. But he's and actors like that actors like Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, you know, are so good and so experienced that they can internalize those directions, and now give you something organic, you know, they're not just mechanically becoming a robotic of going faster, or speaking louder, or harder. I'm more intent says how's this, you know, which is totally on our on our granik and reads as fake?
Alex Ferrari 34:43
Right. And that's where those bad performances come in. Now, how do you give constructive notes on a performance, which I always find is kind of like a tightrope because you want to give them a direct, you don't want to walk up to the actor and go, that sucked. This is really how you really should go about it. Like how do you approach That conversation if they're completely off the reservation where you want them to go,
John Badham 35:05
You know what going up to them and trying an idea of where you'd like them to go. selling it as a pitch is always gonna is always going to work and you go up to a, to an actor and and you say, you know, it's interesting, you're trying to you know, I felt you're trying to persuade him here. But But what would it What would it be like if you're we're trying to seduce him? What would that be like? So, so notice I have not said when you tried that persuading stuff, it sucked. What I said was, what would happen if we tried it this way? How would it be if we did, you know, if, if we what would happen if you grab hold of her in the middle of the scene and just kiss her? You know, find find a moment that that might work? What would you would that work? You think? And the actor did? Yeah, yeah. Let me try it. Let me try it. So so we're not necessarily criticizing because that's not our business. Our businesses, were there playing with stuff, we're trying different things. And, and we're trying not to be judgmental about it. Because, you know, actors, no matter how tough they may act, they, you know, they're very sensitive people. And, and you don't want to be bullshitting them. So you're saying, okay, we're here. We're here in the playground, we're playing let's try it this way. What what would happen if, and and notice again, I'm not giving orders. I'm asking questions.
Alex Ferrari 36:49
That's great advice. That's really, really great advice. Which leads me to my next question, how do you relax a nervous actor? Because a nervous actors is like having a skittish cat on set. You need to relax them. How do you relax them?
John Badham 37:08
Boy, that's, that's tough. I think. I think sometimes, if you've got a slightly got a little bit of time, you know, to take a break and say, Hey, come on over with me over the craft service. You want you want some coffee? Or you know, you feel like some you know, a coke or something, and go over and just be talking to them about everything but the scene talking about how is your morning? You know, how did you how'd you get along? I heard you guys got a new dog. You know, I how's that going as the house trained yet? Isn't that the bitch when they poop all over your? No, your shoes in the dining room, you're having dinner. So you talk about everything except the scene. And first of all, it kind of helps them see that you're not freaking out about about it. Yeah, you have a chance I've taken actors out. And, you know, let's walk around the soundstage here, go outside, and, you know, take a take a breath of fresh air, and let's not talk about the scene. Let's go back in, you know, it takes a bit for them to relax to get all that stress out because it's building up like crazy inside. And if they're frustrated about what they're doing. I mean, you can you can always go up to the actor and say, Now, what, what are you playing here? What's, what's your goal? Here? What do you think is going on going on here? What What do you want out of this scene? You know, that's, that's always that's always something, you can go back to the beginning and say, you know, let's focus again on what the scenes that helped that that can be very, very helpful. Just to remind them of their, their goals and their objectives. And, and what the obstacle is. The obstacle is maybe the other character, you know, Dad, can I can I borrow the card? And I'm going, No, you had the car twice this week. You know, Dad becomes the obstacle. And, you know, how do you feel about it? Do you totally disrespect Dad? Or do you think dad is cool? And you're listened to him? Or you know, what do you feel about him? So so they these are kind of questions you can you can always be asking. Asking the actor, you know, what their goal is and what the obstacle is. And how would you solve this? How would you get dad to give you the keys you know, make him make Laugh Can you make your goal? let's let's let's see if we can get dad tickled and make him laugh. How about that?
Alex Ferrari 40:08
Now do you? Do you give that direction to one actor and not let the other actor know that it's coming?
John Badham 40:14
Oh, yeah, you can you absolutely you want to want to kind of keep them keep them fresh like that. Sometimes you can give them opposing things like Roseanne was famous, or giving actors opposing goals. And, and in one scene in a play called dark at the top of the stairs, the girlfriend of the boy who lives in the house comes in, and she's got a coat on and the mother of the boyfriend comes over and takes her coat and hangs it up for so because then because then goes to the mother and says, Now take the coat off and hang it up. And he goes to the girlfriend and says, Do not let her have the code.
Alex Ferrari 41:00
And, and action
John Badham 41:02
and action. And, and and what happens, you know, they don't know what each other what's going on with each other. But you know, one is thinking this little bit she's trying to screw with me goddamnit you know, and suddenly he gets a little bit of a hate relationship going. I mean, it's really tricky stuff to try that your it'll backfire on you like crazy. It used to backfire on Roseanne all the time. But you know, when it worked, it was fabulous. You know, you get these weird moments between actors.
Alex Ferrari 41:36
Right? And they're just like, let's, let's go. I got Yeah, that's actually really great. I mean, at the end of the day, we you want this an authentic, authentic performance, if you will. That is not acting. It's reacting in many ways.
John Badham 41:52
Right? Yeah, yeah. I mean, reacting. Gary Cooper used to say, I'm not a very good actor, but I'm a great listener. And so, so when you're when you're listening in a scene, you're not just standing there waiting for your cue line, and thinking okay, now what do I say? Okay, what do I do? know you got to be listening, actively listening. And, you know, finding a way that you're giving something back to the other, the other actor responding to them.
Alex Ferrari 42:27
Now, how do you deal with an overconfident actor, someone who thinks that they know everything and then they want to listen to you? And how do you deal with an overconfident actor?
John Badham 42:39
I guess it depends on on, on what they're what they're doing. You know, they overconfidence might be a cover up for a lack of confidence, you know, that they're, they're coming in. But you know, you got to give them room to hang themselves. And, you know, let them let them try. My experience with with Franklin jela in the Dracula film I did with him years ago, was when we got to doing on film, one scene that was almost a duplicate of what he had done on Broadway in the play of Dracula. He, he was acting suddenly at a scale that was bigger than Mount Rushmore. And right, and it just was not going to work on on film. And, and I, you know, I was trying to bring him down and, and get to a more manageable film scale. But he was just totally convinced that's the way it had to go. So eventually, I wound up saying to him, tell you what, when, when this film comes back from the London labs, we were in the south of in the south of England, in Cornwall, when it comes back, come to dailies and look at it with me. And if you like it, I'll shut up. I'll never say anything again. But if you don't like it, we have a chance we can redo this at some point. And so he shows up in dailies, and the scene comes up and he watches for, you know, a couple of minutes and I hear Oh, my dear God. And there you go. And, you know, he sees he sees that, that the kind of directing that was great on Broadway, was over the top on film. And, and so, several weeks later, when we were on a soundstage we had built, rebuilt the set, and we did it again. It's one of the best scenes in the movie. It's a big faceoff with Laurence Olivier, and the two of them are out acting each other all over the place, but in a way that works so powerfully on film. I mean, there's Olivier in his seven He's ill with cancer almost, you know, barely propped up. And he's, you know, out acting Langella like crazy. And, you know, Frank is realizing he's got to really step up to the mark here, because he's against, you know, a total master of film acting.
Alex Ferrari 45:21
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. How was how was it working with Laurence Olivier? I mean, that's not a sentence, I generally ask people.
John Badham 45:40
What are quite a cool experience, you know, that man knew more about acting and directing than I will ever know. And understood my problems. So even when we had a couple of little disagreements here and there, he would say, Well, I'm, I'm only doing this because I don't want to embarrass you in front of the crew. But I don't believe this is the right way to do it. And so I could, I could get the hint. And I'd say, Well, go ahead and do it the way you want to do it what you think is right. And because, you know, the, I said to him, you know, the first person I ever saw in the movies, was when I was five years old, and my mother took me to see Henry the fifth ranked it by, you know, who and story you know, right. So it's really tough for me, you know, to work with you and call you, Larry. When I really want to say, Yes, sir. Lord, Lord Olivier.
Alex Ferrari 46:41
How young were you? You were in your 20s or 30s? early in your career? I was in like, the late 30s. Well, were you Oh, really? You would have already been directing a bunch, but still is still Lawrence living? I mean, you could have been 15
John Badham 46:56
Exactly what a trip. What a trip and and, you know, such a amazing professional and I'm never a never a diva, you know, always totally there for for what Whoa, he needed to do. And physically physically, you know, he was always the bravest physical actor on the, on the English stage. And, and even in his 70s a bit frail. If there was a you know, Chase or running or things. He wanted to do it. That's awesome. He could do it. No, no, don't don't send my double in here. I can do it. I can do it.
Alex Ferrari 47:35
He was great. He was the Tom Cruise of his day. Yes. Oh, boy. Now, I wanted to throw a scenario at you, I was actually talking to a director the other day who called me about a problem they were having on set. And they're like, Look, I have, I'm directing, you know, a few million dollar movie. And my lead, just got off of a big studio project. And he's a young young actor, like, you know, probably in his early 20s. But he was like, the third banana, or the fourth banana in a big studio, big monster film, you know, with a very big movie star who will remain nameless, in that, in that, in that big studio movie, that movie star, he started to idolize how that movie star did everything. So they would he would like, whatever that movie star did. He started taking notes. And he started acting like that movie star on this one or $2 million film saying that he I can't, I'm never going to allow myself to be shot sitting down. Because this movie star doesn't allow that to happen. And he does. And this movie star doesn't do this. So I'm not going to do that. So he started doing all these things. But yet he's never done anything. He's not a movie star. Nobody knows who he is. But since he played the second or third banana in this suit, his ego was out of control. How do you deal with that? If this is your lead? And the reason for the financing of the film? How do you handle that situation? In your opinion? Wow. That's a that is a tough one. Mm hmm. And then by the way, they actually did they actually did really love the director. So there was a good relationship there. But yet he stood firm on certain things that he wouldn't do because this other movie star wouldn't do it. So there's that a little bit more information
John Badham 49:28
Wow, boy. That's a stumper how to, you know, how to best to deal with that. Because you've got somebody coming in, who believes his rights so desperately because he watched somebody use those techniques and and admired how they how they worked and and, and yet not taking into consideration that one person could get away with it. Because she was you know, movie starring the Laurence Olivier of his time. And, you know, could be difficult not that Olivier ever was. But, you know, now now now you've got this punk. That's the only way to classify it pretty much funk coming in, coming in like that. And, um, I don't I don't know,I thought I think you have to have some, some conversations in, in in the motorhome about, you know how, how we're gonna, how we're gonna deal with this, so that you don't have these conversations in public. That's at least one of the first things I would do. Because when you have them in public, people feel, you know, honor bound to maintain that position, and you know, to the death, and they haven't they have an audience. So when these things come up, in front in front of the crew, the first thing you got to do is, you know, get, get them out of there, and, and get them in a place where you can have the conversation and, and talk to them about, you know, tell me, you know, tell me why you think that you wouldn't get shot, sitting down? How does that work? You know, talk to me talk to me about that. And, and see if See if you can think out, you know, good, good argument, but, but definitely you you have to hear them out, that's for sure. You have to hear them out. It has to be in private, where you can you can listen to them, and and listen to their listen to their opinions. And then they may be willing to listen to you the problems that you have in allowing them to do this. You know why shooting them? Sitting down? is right, you know, is is not a good is not a good idea. And why you have to be standing up, I take it that's what they wanted to do
Alex Ferrari 52:17
The other way, he always wanted to be standing up, he never wanted to be shot and the position of not powerful or not heroic.
John Badham 52:24
Yeah, yeah, I got I got it. Yeah. Always, always doing that, Oh, my God.
Alex Ferrari 52:35
After the show's over, I'll tell you who the star he was emulating his. But, um, but even like, that's a difficult scenario. And that, by the way this director was, it was the second film that he had been doing. So he's still just getting off the ground himself. So he really didn't have a lot of, you know, experience to kind of fall back on or, or, you know, a filmography or anything that he could fall back on to just go Look, man, I've done this for a while, this is just the way it's gonna be.
John Badham 53:04
Well, yeah. And, and if you're, you know, one of one of our great directors, they, you know, they're, the intimidation factor precedes them, right, they don't have to do anything. But somebody more beginning and I can remember back to those days with me, where you're constantly having to prove yourself. And, you know, an arrogant or very strong minded actor is going to try to walk all over you. And that's that, that's really tough, tough to deal with, but listening, listening to them, and, you know, getting, getting them to be able to articulate their points of view, and so on is a start on how you're going to how you're going to do that.
Alex Ferrari 53:58
But do you? Do you feel that a lot of this is just fear and insecurity? I mean, when you have an actor who's doing that it's just coming from fear and insecurity, and if you can address that you might be able to break through? Right, right.
John Badham 54:11
Yeah, of course, of course, it is a very defensive thing is, you know, here's a way to get through my life. I've seen a guy who can do it a certain way, and is really cool when he does it this way. So I'm gonna emulate that. And now I have to defend that position at the same time, and I get very defensive about it. So the first bad thing I could do is come in and say no, no, no. You don't want to you don't want to do that. I I had, you may have heard me tell the story with worked with Goldie Hawn on a movie called bird on the wire.
Alex Ferrari 54:56
Sure. Mel Gibson in Berlin, Ben and Goldie Yeah.
John Badham 54:59
And there's scene where she and Mel Gibson when they were boyfriend and girlfriend years ago, riding on a roller coaster. And she thinks back to that, she tells me on the day that we're lining up the roller coaster shot. She hates roller coasters. You know, she's only been working with us on the picture for four months. Now she picks the day to tell me, she doesn't like roller coasters. And you know, she's done want to do it when we shoot something else that day. And I'm going well, this is half our day's work today. And so I was saying, Well tell me more about this. You know, why? Why are you afraid? And and how does this bother you? And I let her let her talk about it. And I said, one thing I think that the roller coaster does for us is it helps show the relationship between these when they were boyfriend and girlfriend, and then a relationship and how much fun they were having. So what would you think? What would you think about this, Goldie? What would you think if we took the roller coaster when it rolls into the station and stops? You know where that is? Right? Yes, I know. Well, what if we could back that rollercoaster up about 50 or 100 feet? And have you be in it and it just rolls into the station? And you just, you know act your ass off? Being delighted and gleeful. And and we can use that and and then otherwise, I can I can use your your photo double dawn and and and she can hide her face. And we'll get by with it. She said Well, I can do that. I can do it just do all 100 feet rolling. Absolutely. That's all we have to do. And she gets into there and we we get the cameras lined up and she's sitting in kind of Mel Gibson's lap in the front car, the roller coaster, start the cameras. It comes rolling in, boom, it's all done. And, and I'm running over while the guys are checking the cameras to make sure they rolled. And I hear Mel talking to her. And he's saying, Well, that was nothing. She said that's all there is. I mean that that was the thing. He said, yeah, it's no big deal. And I suddenly went, oh my god. Okay, quick. I I'm I motion to the camera guys. Get away from the camera. I roll the camera, roll the camera, and I waved to the guy who ran the rollercoaster start the roller coaster. Go go go. And it just took off with them in it. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 57:39
I can't. I'm assuming you had a camera and they're covering it.
John Badham 57:42
Oh, yeah, we had we had two cameras on it, covering it. And it goes up and around. I'm going I am in such trouble if she didn't have like this. I am so screwed. I can't believe it. But I had to just go for it. And it comes rolling back around about two minutes later. And her eyes are as big as saucers. And, and she's laughing and cackling. And carrying on and to all that was great. I love that. Oh, thank god. Oh, thank god the camera roll. And I'm not fired.
Alex Ferrari 58:21
That could have turned that could have turned ugly very quickly.
John Badham 58:24
Yeah, I mean, sometimes you just have to call tricks out, you know, and take your opportunity and, and kind of trick people into it and hope to hell that it doesn't, you know, blow back on you.
Alex Ferrari 58:38
Yeah, there's that one scene that just reminded me of like, telling an actor one thing and doing another which is generally not something you want to do. But in the end scene of diehard when Hans Gruber is being dropped from the building that close up that like kind of iconic close up shot. The look on his face of fear is because the stunt guys like oh, we're gonna go on three. And it goes one and he let go and he wasn't expecting it. And that fear in his face was actual fear. Oh my gosh. And, but it was a great, that's why it looks so but you generally don't want to do that. Yeah. Now, what is how do you balance knowing what you want, but still being open to ideas? Cuz I find that a lot of directors when I work with them, they they come in guns a blur and I know everything bla bla bla bla bla. So you have to have a sense of confidence that you are control. But yet you still have to be open to ideas and collaboration because that's what the filmmaking process is. So what's your what's your take on that?
John Badham 59:50
My feeling is that you have to be prepared. You have to be as prepared as you possibly can. With answering every question and assuming that you have no help but yourself that that people just barely can do it. Now, as you as you approach the set, you have to say, wait a second, this dp, I hired the best dp I could find. And I find he hired the best grip and, and gaffer. And we've got these great makeup people, let's see what they bring us. Let's Let's be, let's be open to that and see how it works with with what I'm doing, so that we wind up with a blend. if nobody's got any ideas, I know exactly how to do it, that I think will work. But I really want to hear what the what the other people are doing. So I will, I will turn to camera operators, for example, as I'm staging a scene, usually, the default position of a camera operator, when the director staging a scene is over, sitting, checking their iPod, their iPhone for emails, you know, and saying if they've got a date that night with their girlfriend, but I say no, you guys have to stand over here. And watch me stage these scenes. And I'm going to ask you, when we finished, how we're going to shoot it, you're going to tell me? So, so be ready with an answer. So I make them I make them watch, and I make them contribute? Well, I think we could go over here. And we could do this. And I think we could do this. And so what we wind up with is maybe a blending of of ideas, or trying a couple of different approaches to things. But I really make people come in and collaborate with me. And they're used to working a lot in situations where they just sit back and wait to be told what to do, which is the worst use of creative people. You know, these, these people, you know, I'm a camera operator. But that means I got here because I've got a very creative sense of, you know, how to how to work with this piece of machinery. And, you know, I don't I don't want to be stuck into just a robotic operator of a piece of hardware, I want to be able to, you know, contribute an idea. So if they know that I'm open to it, they're going to be more open to so I get great suggestions that way.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:30
Now, I have to ask you, in your entire career, is there a scene is there a moment that you consider like this is this was just magic this was a made this was this is my favorite acting favorite scene that I directed? Very, like what is that thing in your filmography that you still can remember to this day?
John Badham 1:02:52
You know, you're gonna think this one's crazy. Go for it. We talked about short circuit. Yeah. Yeah. While a while ago, and I'm thinking I've got a scene in there where Allie Sheedy is dancing with number five. Yeah, I remember it. And, and they're going to how deep is your love. And, and here she is, with this huge, unwieldy robot, and they're turning each other around, the robot is dipping her. And then we're doing crazy stuff here. And the and the, the playback is going with the BGA seeing how deep is your love. I mean, it was just it was so magical, because it was so silly. And, and yet, it was the kind of thing you can do in movies that, you know, just as a sense of magic that this big screwed together TV proper movie prop of number five, you know, could actually be doing this, this wonderful romantic, dip and dance. There's that. So I remember standing there as we're going through the takes just completely almost crying.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:05
You're like, this is just a piece of machinery.
John Badham 1:04:08
It's just so much.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
And that's the one that sticks out out of all the film out of all the stuff you've done. That's the one that's like, you know what that dancing scene with Johnny five? That's awesome.
John Badham 1:04:21
I mean, there, I'm sure there. I'm sure there's plenty of others. But you know, the first one that pops up in your head is that you go Wow, well, that means something I guess.
Alex Ferrari 1:04:32
Yeah, you know, and I, I mean, obviously a movie like short circuit would never be in made in today's studio system. Most of the films in the past that you've directed would not be made in the studio system. And that's generally for any filmmaker. It's almost wouldn't be made in the student system. I mean, do you as a creator, who's been around for so long? I mean, do you find that it's kind of sad that there's there's no As much risk taking in films and think there is more in television, but in films like short circuit, steak out, you know, those kind of films, war games, these kind of films that would just not be made in today's world and another going back to reboot it, like Gremlins in The Goonies, and, and all of these would never get made in today's world. And I think we're a lesser society for it, I think we, we should be doing stuff like that in the studio system, what do you What's your feeling on it, seeing how it's changed so much?
John Badham 1:05:34
Well, I have to look forward to what we can be doing, going forward, and not not worrying about what we can't do anymore. And I am seeing, you know, this opening up of, of streaming, and, you know, television, video, and so on, where so many things are getting made, that have their own magic and their own special thing to them, that would not be would not be made in the theatrical system, because it's hard to get people off their butts. And out to the out to the theater, you know, the people that like to go the young people, because they want to get out of the house, they don't want to be stuck in the place. And, and older audiences tend to, you know, not not be so flexible about that. So, so we're paying attention that we're seeing, you know, so many places in not just the three networks, but now suddenly, all these different channels. Now we've got, we've got Netflix, and we've got Hulu, and we've got this, and Apple plus and Disney plus and Google Plus and, you know, ever everything is plus. So there's so many possible places that you can, you can take material now that it's possible to make that I don't I don't think they television would have made years ago. But now they're much more open to much, much more edgy stuff. You know, watching watching the two versions of Catherine the Great that have been on recently, you know, one that's a complete romp. And one that's very serious. I mean, I can't imagine those being made as a movie. Nowadays, though, back in, you know, back in the 70s, and so on. Yes, that would have made the serious version, I suppose.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:33
Right, exactly. Now, what are you up to next? What what are you working on now?
John Badham 1:07:40
Well, we're just, we're just getting a book ready to come out. About four or five years ago, we published, john batum on directing. Now. Now we're doing the second edition, which is so much more about surviving television, how directors can survive the land mines in the political minefield, that is television. It's such a different setup from direct feature films, where you may be toward the top of the food chain, you as the director, but now in the world of streaming your way down the food chain. It's really tough for for a director who finds themselves constantly about to be run over by so many people who are in charge here and there. And how do you survive this. Because if you don't survive, you know, you're going to lose the way you make your living. Not just not be able to do creative work. But you know, that's how you that's how you make your living. And then you have to re gear your brain to see how you can survive and navigate through these really troubled, difficult waters of working in streaming media.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:59
And that is where the majority I mean, there's a lot more opportunity in streaming and television than there is in feature work nowadays.
John Badham 1:09:07
Oh, that's wonder that's what's wonderful about it. I mean, instead of there just being 15, or 20, dramatic shows a week now there are hundreds of them. And I tell my students at Chapman that I know we all want to make feature films, but I bet that most of us are going to start making our living, you know, in in a smaller medium. Maybe we may be doing queries or music videos or things for YouTube, things like that. There's great respectability and doing all of that. And it's your work. So you don't want to turn up your nose because that's how you're going to you're you're going to survive and make a living as a director, you're going to be snobby about it. You may never work
Alex Ferrari 1:10:01
Very true. Now, john, what advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
John Badham 1:10:09
Thank God we have the kind of equipment that we have, where people are shooting films on their iPhones. And I mean, it's amazing the quality that you can get on, on iPhones even of a couple of generations ago, and I'm saying what my students are shooting, when they're going out, no longer are they going over to the gold room, and getting, you know, some Sony prosumer camera, they're doing it on the iPhones and it's coming out really nicely. And if they get a little bit of good equipment, like decent microphones, then the quality just shoots up tremendously. Usually the, the part where we're, we're sound is involved gets gets the least respect. The visual always gets the strong respect. Anyway, the point being, you can make films that you can show to people, people that want to, you know, are entitled to say to you, let me see something you've done, let me look at you know, what's a what's a short film or a short reel that you have. And, and that you can do not having to be in film school, you can do it on your own. And and it's a much more entrepreneurial type of business, then then it used to be where when you were shooting 16 millimeter film, and stuff like that it was so bloody expensive, that only a few people could even afford to buy the film stock button. But nowadays, almost anybody can make a pretty decent looking film and give you a sense of this person knows how to tell the story. That's what we want to see. Can we tell a story? Not can we shoot a cool angle? Right? You know, not have we got a wacky lens here? But can they tell a story? Can they show us a character that that ultimately, ultimately is always going to be the most important thing. I mean, the thing that got Spielberg started, is the famous amblin film that he made. For next to no money, you looked at it, and you knew it had been made for 25 cents. But he told a story with characters that you're loved and, and your heart by the end. And that was all it took to get him going versus so many of the films that were being made by students at the time that you couldn't make heads or tails of.
Alex Ferrari 1:12:48
Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life? Never be sarcastic? I love to be sarcastic. It's so much fun to have, you get this silly idea. And you just say it. And then suddenly there's blowback, you're in such trouble. Wrong, you know, they didn't want to hear that. And it's one of my biggest faults. I've gotten in trouble more times from that. I keep lecturing myself, don't be sarcastic. That that's amazing. Now, what was the biggest fear you had to overcome to make your first film?
John Badham 1:13:41
Well, I had been I had been making episodic television and television movies for four or five years at that point. But there was always this feeling of like, now I'm stepping into the bigger leagues. Is it going to look like I'm just still shooting? Little our television show? Is it going to not have the scope? The size, the storytelling? That was a big worry that I had. And, you know, it's always it's always a worry, to, you know, are you going to tell the story well or not. And I think that every day even as I go to the set now, I'm driving to the set in the morning, I'm scared to death, that how it's going to go today, you know, is the same kind of work. Do I even know what I'm doing? You know, I'm constantly worried. And I tell myself you know if I weren't worried maybe I shouldn't even be going to work.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:47
Good, good advice. And three of your favorite films of all time.
John Badham 1:14:54
Wow. I don't know what what the third one would be but I know that No Country for Old Men is a constant favorite of mine, Citizen Kane, I can always watch. I can watch the Godfather till the cows come home. You know, that's I mean, I don't know what it is about it. But you know if it is on television, and I happen to flick past so well, I'd like to see, let me watch a minute or so of it later.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:32
You're in part to get up and I say, Francis, thank you, God bless you for making this film. And where can people find find you and buy the book?
John Badham 1:15:45
And and they can, they'll be able to buy it on Amazon easily. Or Michael we see productions, which is also sells the book. But Amazon is the quick place to go.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:02
And where's your other book that you have that which is fantastic as well, your book,
John Badham 1:16:06
The other book is, is called I'll be in my trailer. And, and it again talks about dealing dealing with actors and how how I managed to almost complete the last couple of weeks of Saturday Night Fever by getting into a stupid argument with john travolta that I didn't have to get into and, and he turns and looks at me and says, I'll be in my trailer and heads off to his trailer while we're standing on the Verrazano Bridge at two in the morning. And he's refusing to come out to shoot all because of, you know, something stupid that I did. And a lot of the book is, you know about what could I have done better? So I never had to have this problem in the first place. is not his fault.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:02
Right! Well, John, I recommend everyone pick up both your books, I'd love to first version of on directing. And I'm looking forward to reading the second one as well. It is always a pleasure having you on the show sir. I'm as you know, a very, very big fan of your work and and the continued work that you're doing with education at Chapman, and with through your book. So thank you again, so much for being on the show.
John Badham 1:17:23
So much fun to talk to you.
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