Decisions: Part II

Filmed January 1985

As I entered 1985, I was closing in on ending a quarter of a century behind the camera, directing a production that was precipitously near to being my 200th. I felt an affinity to James Hart, and as I thought back, I could identify with that young man at the beginning of his career.

And a television director couldn’t go into left field. He had to keep his eye on the schedule, the budget and many times the limitations imposed by the words written on the scripts he was to transfer to film. In a recent telephone conversation with Earl Hamner, he was startled when I told him that twice in those earlier years I was actually told by a producer, “Don’t be so creative.”

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As I stated in the previous post, which was the beginning of DECISIONS, although the two-hour film was to open the season for THE PAPER CHASE: THE THIRD YEAR, the film’s first hour dealt with the end of the classes’ second year. For those who have not read the post and to refresh the memory of those who have, the hour dealt with the selection of the new president of the Law Review, so let’s start this post with the final result of that competition.

Written by John Jay Osborn, Jr., the author of the novel that spawned the law school film and television series, two of the new characters introduced by the author had already appeared in the first hour, one of them, Margaret Tyler, played by Diana Douglas, a female professor being introduced into the cast’s all-male teaching staff. The series already had two prominent young women as students. An interesting fourth woman was about to enter the school.

Playing Rose Samuels was Lainie Kazan, an amazing performer. Lainie has done it all. She made her Broadway debut at the age of 21. She understudied Barbra Streisand in FUNNY GIRL, got to fill in eighteen months into the run when Streisand was ill and left the show soon after to establish her singing career. She appeared regularly on Dean Martin’s television show, being very adept at matching his freewheeling comedy style. She appeared on both the big screen and the television screen, equally adept at portraying dramatic or comedy roles. She played Jewish mothers (I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY), Italian mothers (MY FAVORITE YEAR) and Greek mothers (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING). A few years ago Lainie came to Carmel with her one-woman show. I of course was in the audience. More than a singer, Lainie is a consummate musician.

I have to admit, Clare Kirkconnell surprised me. She was thirty-one years old, her major career had been as a model, her film credits before THE PAPER CHASE were minuscule and Harriman was a difficult role. Hart described her as “bright and talented,” but Golden said she was “rude, overbearing and smug.” The role could so easily have been played with the character projecting as unfeminine and unpleasant, but Clare did what Stanwyck did. Her Harriman was highly intelligent, totally in command, she enjoyed seeing Hart’s discomfort as she parried his requests and at all times she was very sexy.

Postproduction on this series was even more unusual than the filming. As I reported in an earlier post, THE PAPER CHASE was shot on 16mm film. As director of photography Al Taylor explained, that required different lighting than if it were shot on 35mm film. But then the process really veered from the usual course. The negative was developed, but rather than developing positive film, the negative was transferred to tape, and that was how the show was edited. I had worked with tape editing before. The INSIGHT episodes I directed were shot and edited on tape. Since the shows were shot with television cameras, the sequences were already edited, but those sequences had to be assembled into a final whole. I remember in the late 60’s doing that with the editor in the cavernous bowels of CBS Studio City, where the tape was stored in ten-foot tall tape machines. It took hours to do, and we did it into the wee hours of the morning, after the network editors had finished with CBS productions. Later as improvements were made in tape the editing for the INSIGHT productions was done at the Paulist Productions building in Malibu, the historic home where the famous unsolved Thelma Todd murder had occurred. Tape had been downsized from its original two-inch width to ½ inch, and the tape machine was a small unit that sat on a table.

I’m finding it interesting that it is more difficult for me to write about the films I directed in the mid-80’s than the ones I directed a quarter of a century earlier. Those earlier years I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was learning, and mishaps occurred that make for interesting copy. I humbly acknowledge that in the intervening quarter century I had become a seasoned pro, and the problem had changed. The earlier challenges were gone, and since my knowledge of filming had grown, it was so easy to relax and approach each new project with an “Oh, I can do that!” attitude. I know. I fought the temptation.

I am not a scholar when it comes to politics and the Supreme Court. I know that in 1985 when we filmed DECISIONS, the Chief Justice was Warren Burger, a conservative. He had been Chief Justice since 1969, but surprisingly his court had continued the liberal views of the preceding Warren court. I bring this up because I wonder what motivated John Jay Osborn, the author of the current film, to choose the court’s shift in philosophy from moderate to conservative as the impetus for Hart’s plan to use the court’s trend as the subject for his first issue of THE LAW REVIEW. It is also interesting in light of the leanings of our current Supreme Court.

I was not happy with the Hart dream sequence. In the first hour of DECISIONS Golden, beset with doubts and pressure about accepting a Supreme Court clerkship as opposed to accepting an offer from a law firm to litigate, had a similar dream sequence. He dreamt that he was dragged in chains by two hooded figures from his graduation celebration to the Supreme Court where he viewed visions of litigating lawyers. It was very surreal and for me visually epitomized Golden’s diIemma. I wondered if this later dream had been in Osborn’s script or had been added by the producer’s staff. Executive Producer Lynn Roth proudly proclaimed, “Freudian, isn’t it?” I agreed, it was, but for me it was more Hollywood than Harvard.

Art Seid was the editor I worked with on the episodes I directed for THE PAPER CHASE. He was a 70-year old esteemed film editor who had been editing film since 1937. He was a rarity. At that time very few film editors had transferred their knowledge and talent to the new tape medium. I remember being very impressed with the tape-editing machine we were using. It was larger, could store the voluminous dailies of a television production, and I was amazed at how quickly we were able to find a shot we were seeking. It was faster than dealing with strands of film.

There was another way I found myself identifying with James Hart as he took over the editorship of The Law Review. In an interview years ago I said:

Directing episodic television is like jumping on a freight train in motion. As a director, you have to jump on and not break your legs. Once you’ve boarded it, you must climb on top of the train and run across, get into the engine and take over running it. Much of what happens is that before you can bring anything personal to a story — which you have to do — you have to get acquainted with who the people are. That’s not in terms of who you want them to be but who they already are, because you catch them as ongoing, already established characters. You do that and then you can start to find the warts and different things to do, finding outlets and ways that you can extend and expand.

The following end credits appeared at the conclusion of the two-hour film. It includes the credits for the preceding post DECISIONS.

The journey continues

 

 

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