Sam Mendes Interviews Fellow A-List Directors (Empire)

Sam Mendes

Empire Magazine will occasionally invite A-list directors (Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson) to guest edit their upcoming monthly issues. For the month of November 2015, the British film magazine asked director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) to guest edit their Spectre issue. Mendes agreed and surprised Empire when he decided to interview an impressive list of A-list directors.

The following Q&A’s are from Empire Online. Not every single question or answer will be in this blog post, just the ones I found most interesting. Visit the link at the bottom for the entire interview, its absolutely worth reading.

Featured in the interview are directors Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Ang Lee, Edgar Wright, Alfonso Cuarón, Joe Wright, Paul Greengrass, Joss Whedon, Rob Marshall, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, Susanne Bier, Alexander Payne, George Clooney, and Roger Michell.


Ang Lee: I only Hulked out once.

Paul Greengrass: Once, when I couldn’t work out how to shoot an eight-handed dialogue scene in the desert
 in the middle of the night. After I’d banged my head against a Humvee for ten minutes trying to work it 
out, I was fine and carried on!

Christopher Nolan: I once tried, but nobody
 seemed to notice, so I came back.

George Clooney: No. The reason is because
 eventually you have to walk back on, and that
 would be too humiliating.

Steven Soderbergh: No, but I did walk ON
 to a set with a temper once when an actor 
showed up late two days in a row.


David Fincher: “Shut the fuck up, please.”

Alexander Payne: To the actors, “Great, now faster.” To the crew members, “If this were easy, I would have hired a relative.

Joss Whedon (whiny voice): “Come on, guys, I’m the leader of a whole movie…!” When I want people to fear and respect me. Not wildly effective.

Paul Greengrass: Fuck the script/lighting/extras etc., let’s shoot!

Roger Michell: “Okay, how long will that take?”

Steven Spielberg: “Cut.” “That was brilliant.” “Once more!”


Alfonso Cuarón: The long takes process doesn’t allow for that
 many takes. In the past I have shot over 50 takes of
 different shots. Sometimes you end up using take 64, sometimes take four.

David Fincher: 107

Steven Spielberg: I did 50 takes on Robert Shaw assembling the Greener Gun on Jaws. The shark wasn’t working, so I just kept shooting to make the production report look like we were accomplishing something and to keep cast and crew from going crazy from boredom. It was a strategic indulgence.

Edgar Wright: I don’t think I have ever gone Kubrick crazy. So maybe 20 or so… But it’s usually six or seven takes.


George Clooney: Watching David Strathairn do a three-page monologue in one take on Good Night, And Good Luck.

Alfonso Cuarón: When you allow the unexpected to happen and you flow with it.

Susanne Bier: When a scene you’ve worried about turns 
out amazingly.

Alexander Payne: Sorry to sound corny, but even the worst day on
 set is the best day on set and heads-and-shoulders above
 not shooting.

Sofia Coppola: When Bill Murray is there.


Christopher Nolan: Butter or margarine? It’s called filmmaking, after all.

Alexander Payne: Of course, I prefer to shoot film, but what truly matters is projection – film projection – and that battle is already lost.

Ang Lee: I like them both. They’re like bananas and oranges – I don’t know why some people try to imitate film with digital.

Josh Whedon: Digital. I’M SORRY ART WORLD!!! I like to keep things open, figure out some blocking and concepts on the day. And everything I’ve ever made has been under-rehearsed and under the gun. Digital’s more forgiving, and I don’t worry about wasting film. “It’s only ones and zeroes,” is something else I say a lot on set.

David Fincher: Digital – what is this film?


Joss Whedon: Only tea, ’til Age Of Ultron, where I got hooked [on coffee]. Even then, one or two. With tea in-between. Tea I can swill all day.

Christopher Nolan: So many that I was forced to give it up and take up tea after Insomnia.

Steven Soderbergh: Never had a cup of coffee in my life. Dr Pepper is my caffeine delivery system of choice.

Joe Wright: Way too many, hence the beta-blockers. I met my last assistant when she was working as a barista so we had an espresso machine in my office — that was dangerous

Edgar Wright: Way too many. Once I had a potentially heart attack-inducing eight double espressos in one day. I think my assistant secretly swaps my coffees for decaf as she doesn’t want me to die of caffeine overdose.

Steven Spielberg: I never had a cup of coffee in my life, but I have at least a dozen cups of mint tea a day.


Steven Spielberg: Saving Private Ryan boasts 100 per cent practical explosions.

Ang Lee: Real, with occasional CGI enhancement to sex it up.

Alfonso Cuarón: A real explosion is not only much more fun to shoot, it also helps the actors and creates an energy on set and ultimately in the scene

David Fincher: Real, contained and easily replicable (fast reset, propane?). On set – but with countless iterations of CG augmentation.

Roger Michell: Huh?


David Fincher: Scorsese once told me, “The things you do poorly are as much a part of your style as the things you do well…” Which was totally true, and oddly reassuring.

Joss Whedon: James Cameron told me, “You can hire the 50 best people in the business, people you love and trust and respect. You all look at the monitor — you’re gonna be the only one who sees what’s wrong.

Roger Michell: “If you think you might need a close-up… You need a close-up.”

Sofia Coppola: My dad told me, “Your movie’s never as good as the dailies and never as bad as the rough cut.”

Rob Marshall: It was actually the opposite of what a director once said to me. He said, “Remember, everyone is here to serve you.” And as he walked away, I thought to myself, “It’s exactly the opposite: ‘I’m here to serve everyone.’

Susanne Bier: The best advice I ever got was a result of the worst advice I ever got. When I was at film school, one of my teachers suggested it was a good idea for us directors to integrate ourselves into the crew by, say, rolling up the cables and moving lights etc. So I did – and was finally, and politely, asked by my crew to “do what you do best, and we’ll do the same”. Which was pretty embarrassing. And pretty good advice.

See the entire interview by clicking the link here —> Empire Online.

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