Film Directors on Directing

Film Directors on Directing

Film Directors on Directing

Film Directors on Directing


The big gamblers who spend millions per film as well as the colorful low-budget kings provide an intriguing look at the mechanics of filmmaking. Choosing and preparing the screenplay, working with actors and crew, dealing with the distributor, and advice to young filmmakers--all are covered in this book's illuminating interviews.


Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1937, John G. Avildsen moved with his family to New York at the age of ten. He attended City College at night, working by day in the advertising business. After a two-year stint in the army as a chaplain's assistant, Avildsen moved into features as an assistant director, production manager, and cameraman, a technical training ground that served him well when he began directing low-budget movies. He photographed his first six features himself, often editing them as well, and later served as president of the New York cinematographer's local (IATSE Local 644). With Francis Coppola, Avildsen was among the first mainstream American filmmakers to edit his features on video.

Avildsen made his mark with the controversial hard hats vs. hippies drama Joe (1970), but although Hollywood beckoned, he continued to direct lowbudget independent features like Cry Uncle! (1971) and The Stoolie (1972). In his first Hollywood feature, Save the Tiger (1973), Avildsen guided Jack Lemmon to an Oscar in the role of a frustrated middle-aged businessman. Rocky (1976) won Avildsen the Academy Award for Best Director, launched Sylvester Stallone to superstardom, and added a new batch of characters -- Rocky Balboa, Adrian, Paulie, Apollo Creed -- to American popular culture. The sports underdog motif was repeated with equal success in Avildsen The Karate Kid (1984) and The Karate Kid, Part II (1986).

The director cities Sweet Dreams/Okay Bill (1971), Joe, Save the Tiger, Rocky, and The Karate Kid as his favorite films, and he has indeed been at his best when he has handled smaller, more personal projects that feature relative newcomers like Peter Boyle (Joe), Sylvester Stallone(Rocky), and Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid) in the stellar roles.

The following interview was culled from two sessions with Avildsen in New York City, the first (with the assistance of Sam Sarowitz) in January 1978, and the second in February of 1988.

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