Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers by George Stevens Jr

Sunday, March 09, 2014
On television the Academy Awards ceremony is often regarded as the place for film industry's most prominent talent to come together in one room to toast the years' best achievements in film. For print the equivalent may be Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Movie Makers.

Gathering interviews and discussions with filmmakers after special screenings at the American Film Institute, author George Stevens Jr compiles an overflowing collection of amazing talent to share their road to success and creative process.

When I picked up this book at a local library, I was surprised by the vast compilation of directors, art directors, actors, screenwriters, and many other professions. During an unstoppable craze of watching The Wrestler almost too much, I checked out the book merely on the basis of seeing director Darren Aronofsky listed. After gauging through that chapter, it was only the beginning of many enlightening interviews.

I'm a firm believer that in any medium in life that you pursue it can only make your efforts and passion stronger to study the greats.  It doesn't have to be just film, but history, art, or science. Learning from the best can only make your passion stronger. The present moment is so fleeting it seems impossible to catch up with or absorb the past - especially in cinema where it seems there's less appreciation, less desire, less focus, or passion.

People just seem to fall into acting, directing, screenwriting, critiquing, and there's not a major spark in their profession. It was refreshing to read so many different perspectives on what inspires these men and women to create, the fights they endure to not give up on their dream projects, and to keep sharing the vision with the rest of the world. Award shows are great for appreciating the results of film. This book was amazing to delve into the process of an going from idea to celluloid.

As a theater (veering into film studies) major, the information provided works on two great distinct levels:  If you're not a huge movie fan, you can get a rare inside look at the industry. If you're a film buff, especially if you're a film/theater major, there are so many wondrous golden nuggets to give you hope. This book touts itself as conversations with the great movie makers, and it's not a marketing ploy. What I enjoyed most about the book is learning about filmmakers I hadn't been familiar with before, and understanding more deeply the movie mavens whose films I had watch previously.

There is something for everyone to enjoy - from writer Neil Simon to legendary directors Steven Spielberg, Sydney Pollack and Arthur Penn, actress Meryl Streep, and actor Sydney Poitier. Skip ahead to the names you're familiar with, and maybe you'll pop on someone you don't know and learn something new. Stick to the index and who you love, and you'll still absorb a ton of advice and interesting stories. Some episodes are short and sweet, many are long but never boring. Some movies I found (from director/writer Nora Ephron and actor Gregory Peck) gave me a whole new outlook on several of their most distinct works. By book's end you may really feel like you just stepped out of the American Film Institute and participated in a dozen or so master classes from cinema history.

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