Magazine article American Cinematographer

Making a TV Mini-Series from Steinbeck's Classic Novel

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Making a TV Mini-Series from Steinbeck's Classic Novel

Article excerpt

The Director talks about riding herd on a massive production and the challenges of making it move, while interpreting the source faithfully

Harvey Hart, the director of EAST OF EDEN, is from Canada and has directed many features and television films both in his own country and in the United States.

His credits, to name just a few, include BUS RILEY'S BACK IN TOWN, LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE, PRINCE OF CENTRAL PARK, DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, THE FIRST HELLO, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, THE ALIEN FORCE, MARQUEZ and episodes of such television series as BEN CASEY, PEYTON PLACE, COLOMBO and WEB. He is currently directing the theatrical feature, UTILITIES.

He was interviewed as follows on the Savannah, Georgia location of EAST OF EDEN:

QUESTION: Putting John Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN onto the screen in its entirety is almost a monumental task-not only because of its length, but because it is an American classic and considered by many to be Steinbeck's masterpiece. In view of all that, can you tell me how you arrived at a directorial style appropriate to this vehicle?

HART: My job is to be a storyteller, so my first question was: "What story am I telling?" To answer that question I had to go back to the author-or, in this case, two authors: John Steinbeck, the author of the novel, who was the original inspiration, and the writer of the screenplay, Richard Shapiro, who I feel has done a remarkable job of translating Steinbeck into filmic terms. Going back even further, I studied the daily diary which Steinbeck kept while he was writing EAST OF EDEN. It defines his basic intention, which is Biblical-that of telling the timeless story of Cain and Abel through more than one generation. So, given all that, eventually a style had to emerge organically which is a little larger than life, but which, at the same time, has to be entirely credible. It's happening over several generations, but we've got forces at work that are large forces, we've got passions at work, and we have great ironies in this story.

QUESTION: It seems to me that the novel tells several stories that cross and re-cross. Isn't that so?

HART: Yes, Steinbeck interweaves a number of different stories in this novel. We've got the story of Cathy, who becomes Kate. We Ve got the story of Cyrus Trask, who begets Adam and Charles. We've got the story of Adam, who begets Aron and Caleb through Charles. We've got all that happening and it has to be translated into a cohesive, flowing drama on the screen, without distorting the original source.

QUESTION: Dealing with period drama always presents special problems and in this case the "period" is multiple, extending over several generations. Can you discuss the problems inherent in handling such an attenuated time frame?

HART: The action of the novel begins in 1862 and extends through 1917, more than a half-century, during which time candlelight becomes gaslight which becomes electric light. So it was a question of: Can we give it the feeling of the period without having it look nostalgic? I want it to be immediate. I want the audience to feel that they are there. I discussed this with Frank Stanley, our Director of Photography, and he came up with this idea of a certain use of filters which I had never seen before-a combination of low-contrast filters, fog filters and also color. The result gives you a sense of sepia, but it doesn't detract from the immediacy. It looks like you've gone backwards in time and yet you are there. We're not afraid of halation, of that kind of white-on-white situation in which you have someone with a white dress against a white background or against a white window. You see the halation, but that's exactly what you see in photographs taken back then. That look came from Frank Stanley and he's really very creative and very consistent with it.

QUESTION: What was the network's reaction to this unusual visual style?

HART: When I saw the first dailies, I said to myself, "This doesn't look like anything I've ever seen before. …

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