Cover image for Breaking in : how 20 film directors got their start
Breaking in : how 20 film directors got their start
Jarecki, Nicholas, 1979-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Broadway Books, [2001]

Physical Description:
xv, 316 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


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PN1995.9.P7 B646 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A naked-truth collection of interviews with today's hottest film directors detailing how they made their first films and "broke into" the movie industry. When Nicholas Jarecki graduated from New York University's film school at the age of nineteen, he knew that he wanted to make movies, but the fortress-like wall around the film industry proved hard to crack. So he set out to talk to some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers about how they got started, thinking that if he learned their stories, he might well find his own road to success. The end result is Breaking In, a sizzling look at the movie industry that delivers candid advice from twenty of today's most provocative directors--from the blockbuster kings to the arthouse visionaries. Filled with insights they don't teach you in film school, Breaking In offers readers access to some of Hollywood's greatest minds, revealing what sparked their passion for film and what they did to get their first break. From the creation of the script to the first day's shoot to the roller-coaster of marketing and promotion, the directors share unique insights into the myriad ways of getting films off the ground, and offer a wealth of practical tips for aspiring filmmakers. Their interviews also present an insider's glimpse of their sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, but always exhilarating rides to the top.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

There is much to enjoy in this rather uneven set of interviews. Jarecki, a young director himself, isn't a deeply probing interviewer, and most of the questions sound as if the subjects had written them. For the most part, though, their stories prove immensely entertaining, detailing the cutthroat competition and illuminating the crazy luck that often leads to a filmmaker's first break. The debut films discussed by the likes of John Schlesinger and Edward Zwick tend to be ambitious or significant efforts, and it is enjoyable to hear their masterminds deprecate them from the perspective of subsequent experience. The book has great appeal to aspiring filmmakers, but the emphasis on technical details may put off casual readers. Still, the personality and intelligence of the subjects carries the day, as the director's affectionately recall how they turned their passion into a full-time gig. --Will Hickman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Young NYU film school graduate Jarecki began this project as a "selfish" endeavor (he wanted to know how he could get his own start), but it evolved into an expansive collection of interviews with three generations of directors about how films are conceived, shot and distributed. The directors included span decades and genres, from John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) to Amy Heckerling (Clueless) to Ben Younger (Boiler Room), but nearly all agree on the need for perseverance and the belief that writing a good script is, as Younger says, the "easiest and most direct route to success." These directors generally praise film programs, like those at Columbia, NYU and AFI (American Film Institute), as training grounds, and they view Sundance and other festivals with both starry and jaundiced eyes. Aside from offering advice, the book also provides directors' views on the purpose of filmmaking. Edward Zwick (Glory) sees film as a way to communicate feelings and "organize" experience; Peter Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber) considers it "telling a good story." Like a fine movie, the book generates memorable images, including Farrelly frozen by fear in bed before his first shoot and a teenaged John Dahl (The Last Seduction) trying to seduce a girl at a drive-in showing A Clockwork Orange. For future filmmakers, the book grants an extended community; for movie fans, it encourages faith in future films made by directors like Brett Ratner (Money Talks) who aim to inspire people, because "that's what movies ultimately are supposed to do." (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Edward Zwick ABOUT LAST NIGHT EDWARD ZWICK was born in 1952 in Wyneck, Illinois. He attended Harvard University and began publishing work at the New York Observer and other publications by the time he was twenty-one. During a year abroad in France he met Woody Allen, who gave Zwick his first job working on a film. This exposure pushed Zwick to begin developing his own material. At the age of twenty-six he became producer of the television show "Family." He went on to direct his first feature, About Last Night, starring Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. Subsequently he created the television series "thirtysomething," and directed and produced many more films including Glory and The Siege, starring Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis. He also produced the Steven Soderbergh film Traffic . Zwick lives in Los Angeles with his family. I grew up in Wyneck, Illinois, an affluent, middle-class suburb of Chicago. I went to a public high school, but it was a very progressive one, called Nutrier High. It's a bit odd, but a disproportionate number of people from this school have gone into the entertainment business, mostly as actors. I can't necessarily say why, but they have a very good drama department and I think it's that combined with the privilege of the suburb. Growing up there you're exposed to a number of artistic things as a child and indeed are given the presumptuous notion that you can go out into the world and succeed. There may be some sense of entitlement that comes from growing up in that particular way. My mother had once been the assistant director in the high school class play. That was the extent of her theatrical involvement and yet it struck a chord in her. She loved the theater. She loved films. My father had loved film too, and it was important to my mother that we go see movies and important to my father that we go see them the first night. He was very into the glitz and allure of it and I think she was more aesthetically interested in the films themselves. When I was a kid I was initially very drawn to the theater. I first worked on a school play in fifth or sixth grade. By the time I was in eighth or ninth grade I was directing these little productions and acting in them and lighting them and doing all the things that somebody does when you're that age. We lived in a little split-level house that had three bedrooms. I have two younger sisters, and when they no longer wanted to share a room, I moved out of my bedroom and into the den of our house. In the den there was a television set, and although it was scandalous to have a television set in your room, particularly at age twelve or thirteen, I was now in the den, where it was somehow okay. That meant that I could stick a towel under the door so the light wouldn't show and turn the sound down and keep watching. When they thought I was asleep I could watch late-night movies. It was about 1965 and at that time in the Midwest the late show was a wonderful venue for watching older movies. I remember seeing some of the real American standards such as The Maltese Falcon or Red River when I was supposed to be sleeping. It was a guilty pleasure, and one that I was passionate about, but not one that I ever really thought I could partake of. WHAT WERE YOUR PARENTS' PROFESSIONS? My father had several professions over time. He initially went to work for my grandfather in the dress business. Then he was a mortgage banker, which is someone who puts together financing for larger business projects. Then in the midst of one of those projects he chose to open some clothing stores. He had three different incarnations over the course of his life. Each business had a spectacular rise and an even more spectacular fall, and by the time I went to college he was in the midst of the most spectacular fall of all. I think he owed the government a lot of money. My mother took care of us while we were young, and then she and my father divorced when she was forty. She began to work, starting out at Harcourt Brace, a publishing company, and then went on to become director of entertainment at a geriatric hotel as a kind of a recreation director for eight hundred senior citizens. I had been watching films since I was young, but didn't really ever think that I would be making them, so when I went to college at Harvard University, I didn't study film but instead was an English major, although theater remained central to my life. As well as doing all the things that one does at a liberal arts school, I also spent an inordinate amount of time in the theater. SO YOU WERE DEFINITELY LEANING TOWARD AN ARTISTIC PATH. You're getting to a very watershed moment, which is that after working so much at the theater, I began writing. I wrote for Rolling Stone while I was in college and later for a magazine called The New Republic . I also applied and was accepted to Harvard Law School. Certainly law school was a more conventional choice, and one that my parents thought more legitimate. I'll say though that my mother, because she harbored this very secret love of the arts, was encouraging about the idea of me being in theater, and my father, who was at the time in the midst of his business collapse, had lost some moral authority in the argument. At the same time that I got accepted to Harvard Law, I received a Rockefeller fellowship to go to Europe and work with some local theater companies. It offered a year of grace, a year not to have to decide, and so I took it. It was cash really and tax-free cash and so I took it and went to France. While I was there, I was very lucky in that when I had worked with The New Republic I had corresponded with Woody Allen because he'd written a number of short humor pieces for The New Yorker . But there were a number of pieces that William Shawn had not published, and Marty Parrots, a professor and a friend of mine from college, had solicited Woody to give those pieces to The New Republic . So I had had a brief correspondence with him throughout that process. I had heard that he was making a movie in France, and so when I actually saw him one day walking on Saint-Germain des Près, I did something that I would never do now. I was twenty-one and brash, and so I walked up to him and introduced myself right there on the street. He was remarkably kind and open. He professed to recall the correspondence, although I'm not quite sure he did. I told him I was in France on a fellowship and asked if I could hang out at the set and see what that was all about. I didn't even know if I was interested in doing that, really, because as I always felt like the technical aspects of film were daunting. I was well aware of film's relationship to what I did in the theater in terms of storytelling and directing the actor and things like that, but I felt that I needed to know the technical side. Then at this encounter Woody invited me to hang out on the set, and work as a kind of a half-assed assistant. I spoke some French, so I could help out, and they didn't have to pay me much. I could tell very quickly that Woody was not technically inclined, but rather was an artist, a writer with a vision, and that he had surrounded himself with a number of people whose job it was to interpret that vision. Whether it was a cinematographer, or Kurt Gallow as an assistant director, or Paul Veder, Woody had all these wonderfully talented people surrounding him. Although this was before he made what I consider to be the extraordinary breakthrough of his career, stylistically, which was Annie Hall , he had only made a couple of movies at that time, and was now filming Love and Death . I worked on that movie for six weeks in France and then we went to Hungary for two or three weeks and then back to France. Ultimately I got bored because I wasn't doing anything truly interesting, but rather holding a walkie-talkie in the rain or doing office work. But the experience of the filming was revelatory. HE WAS KIND TO YOU. He was generous. I don't know how else to put it. He was very important, and yet he honored my idiotic questions and really was a big help to me at that time. For the rest of that year that I lived in France I would go to the movies often. Paris is about the best place in the world to see movies. There are twenty (or at least there were at that time) revival houses going at any one moment including the cinematèque where they're showing every movie by Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, any Italian director, and at the same time they are doing a retrospective of John Ford and Preston Sturges, along with Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. It's a remarkable place to get a cinematic education. I spent a lot of time going to movies, mostly because I was lonely, bored, or scared or uncertain as to what my future might be. The movies have always been a lovely refuge for those who want to escape for a couple of hours in the dark, and I wanted to do it for at least twelve hours every day if not more. The difference though was that I began looking at movies as a possible mode of expression whereas before I'd only looked at them as entertainment, or a kind of diversion. During that year in Paris, I also began to write much more seriously. I had written some bad plays in college, but alienation and disenfranchisement are a really good prompt to becoming a more internal writer and I began to do that. I had always thought that when I started to run out of money I would go to New York, as I had had some offers to work in the theater there. But ultimately, and I can't remember how I heard about it, I decided that I wanted to go to the American Film Institute. I was about twenty-two at this point, I had finished Harvard and my year of rest, and so I wrote for the application and sent it in to the AFI. I didn't have a film to show them so instead I sent them some reviews of a few plays that I had directed, some music and songs that I had written, some articles I had written for magazines, and an essay, and on the basis of that I got an interview and was accepted. WHAT KIND OF FILMIC INFLUENCES OR AESTHETIC TASTES WERE YOU DEVELOPING AT THE TIME? I know that I had already been influenced by the things that touched a boy in the mid-1960s--by John Sturges, Sam Peckinpah, John Huston, and all the very muscular American directors. At the same time, I will never forget the moment when I sat and saw Lawrence of Arabia for the first time, or the moment that I saw Seven Samurai . They were just indelible. Once I went abroad, I think the influences were more sophisticated, and a bit more intellectual, and so it was about seeing Ingmar Bergman movies and the films of more contemporary European directors as well as the more venerated ones. What I didn't know, and wasn't able to figure out till years after, was that working with Woody was really extraordinary for me in a very unexpected way--later when I read the first script of Annie Hall , I saw aspects of Woody's life mirrored, transmuted into art. His breakup with Diane Keaton, some things that I knew about him personally, were lifted up onto the screen, and the autobiography of it was quite striking. YOU MEAN THE IDEA OF INCORPORATING A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE INTO THE WORK. Yes. Something began there which didn't really flower in my own artistic life until we did "thirtysomething" or "My So-Called Life" or even the projects I work on now. I think that the more personal, anecdotal things that I've done in television actually date back to that moment with Woody. What I learned is that I find myself through film. LET'S TALK A BIT ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE. It began in September of 1975. The first year, there were about twenty-five of us invited there as directors. What you do is you make short films on videotape, and you shoot them single camera, as if you were shooting film-style. After this process, the class is narrowed down to about six or seven students who are invited back to make a thesis film in their second year, which I did. It was at AFI in that second year that I met Marshall Herskovitz, and therein really began a kind of dialogical relationship about film and storytelling that continues to this day. He had also been invited back to do a film and we worked with each other on our projects. It was not in any way a formal collaboration, but it was the beginning of what would become one. CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE FIRST SHORT FILM YOU MADE? Not with any great pride or desire for it to ever reach the light of day. It was a father-son story, a twenty-five-minute short, and it had some nice actors in it. Bobby Caradine, Melanie Griffith, and Michael Conrad were in it. They all worked for nothing. Melanie had done The Drowning Pool with Paul Newman at the age of sixteen. She was about nineteen then. Bobby hadn't done much, I don't think. It was an allegorical story told about a kid and his father. The kid is a forest ranger who meets a biker. The title was "Timothy and the Angel" and that referenced a biblical story called Tobias and the Angel, about a visitation into a life and how that changes the relationships of the two protagonists. The film wasn't very good, it was just all right, although it did win a couple of student film competitions. I also shot an original script by a young woman named Claire Townsend, who later went on to be a film executive, as well as an adaptation of a John Guare play called There's Something I'll Sell You Tuesday. Those three were the pieces that I did that first year; all naturalistic, all about human behavior and emotion, nothing stylized or genre-esque. Excerpted from Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start by Nicholas Jarecki All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.