Legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall on his motu near Tahiti, 1974
Robert Towne
Screenwriter, Tequila Sunrise

Early in 1988, at about two in the morning, I found myself calling information for the phone numbers of everyone named Hall in French Polynesia-- on Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea. I knew that Conrad "Connie" Hall had a home somewhere in the Society Islands, but his phone number wasn't listed, and so I ended up hunting down anyone in the South Pacific who might be remotely related to the man. I was desperate. We were, truth to tell, five days into principal photography on Tequila Sunrise--a movie set in the sunny South Bay, Los Angeles--and the dailies were looking like they'd been shot in a submarine running on reserve batteries and foundering toward ever darker depths. I needed Connie not in Tahiti but in Manhattan Beach, California. The truth was that I had initially tried to hire Connie but had been told that he was too expensive--until, of course, he wasn't.

Fifty calls later, I found Connie's boyhood friend, Jimmy Nordhoff, the son of Charles Nordhoff who had written the novel Mutiny on the Bounty with Connie's father. Jimmy explained there was a reason Connie wasn't listed: he didn't have a phone. So, despite the fact that he had a broken leg at the time, Jimmy paddled a canoe out to Connie's motu some four or five hundred yards off the island of Tahiti, and mentioned to him that someone needed to speak to him.

And twenty-four hours after that, Connie was standing with me in a riverbed in Pico Rivera, California, explaining to me not to tell him the kind of shot I wanted. That, he said, would only addle his jet-lagged Tahitian brain. "Tell me what you see," he said. "Tell me the story of this moment, get me to see what you see, and let me shoot it." Thus began my education at Connie's hands, and one of the great joys of my life.

Connie was honored many times for his achievements as a cinematographer, and indeed he may have been lord of the light. But whenever I worked with Connie I thought of him, above all, as a storyteller like his dad. Because that is what he was. He was there to use what he saw to tell the story, and no one who writes, directs, or photographs movies did it any better.

Tequila Sunrise was a very rough movie. In the sixty-four day schedule, about fifty of those days were nights. About forty-five days and forty nights in, I found myself reshooting a scene that hadn't worked. We were all exhausted, dead on our feet. As fate usually has it, the second time around the scene wasn't working any better. I glanced over at Connie. He was behind the camera in a director's high chair, deadass asleep, looking like disgruntled Tahitian sea captain who ought to be lashed to the wheel to keep from being washed overboard. I figured it was cruel to wake him to look at what we were shooting, and made a mental note to make sure he didn’t injure himself. Two takes later, Connie suddenly lurched violently, his right eye shot open, and he said “I don’t know why in the hell you’re even bothering. It’s just as bad as it was the first time. Jesus God.”

The funny thing was, about two takes later, for no reason or perhaps for the same reason that hardened criminals stop committing crimes--just because it’s time to stop--the scene stopped being a criminal act and began to take shape. At the moment, and I mean the very moment, that the scene took its turn for the better, Connie sat straight up, both eyes open," and declared, "Hey, what happened? Now that's better."

Which proves the point if anyone is in doubt: Connie could see more in his sleep than most of us ever do with our eyes wide open.

Connie's motu, where I finally tracked him down during the filming of Tequila Sunrise. This land was a gift, given to him not long after he was born by a friend of his father's. So, from the age of about four-and-a-half, Connie could go to his island and be master of all he surveyed. From virtually as far back as memory serves, he was king in his very own country --a Polynesian realm whose beauty and light he loved and cherished. It would be the place from which he voyaged to work around the world, and it would be the land to which he returned when he wasn't working.

There is a sense in which he never really left that island, because I think he carried it with him wherever he went. "Whatever happens, I've got this island I can go to," he'd occasionally say. It was, he admitted, not realistic; he was never a wealthy man and did need to work for a living. But it was, in his words, "a concept that you have a place to go to--a place that doesn't make you do what you don't want to do." What his island really did was fortify his sense of freedom and independence, for it was a world light years from Hollywood. It was a palpable expression of his own joyous Tahitian soul, one that freed him to wander the world and decide what made life worth living, what made work worth doing. That bit of island was emblematic of a regal generosity and matchless integrity--of, in a phrase, his noblesse oblige--and so Conrad Hall shared the riches and beauty of his inner island with the rest of the world.

One of my most vivid memories of Connie was on this island, where my wife and I once went to visit him. It was a lovely afternoon, full of dappled light, and something like a trade wind was rising and whipping through the palm fronds. Connie was padding around barefoot in a t-shirt, rumpled khakis, and a worn leather belt, with eyeglasses dangling from a string around his neck. Suddenly night fell and the wind began to really tear into the palm trees. We could hear the periodic thud of coconuts hitting the beach and falling by the huts, and I said, "Connie, aren't you worried about walking around here at night? I mean when those coconuts fall twenty or thirty feet they hit the ground like cannonballs. They could kill you."

Connie smiled and looked up at the swaying palms and the stars. "Yeah," he said, "But look where you are, and at what you see. Then it'd be over in a flash. Not such a bad way to go, huh?" Then he smiled and gave me that look, somehow both deranged and kindly. “not bad.” With a wink, eh went off into the night.

And believing that Connie never really left that island, as I do, that’s how I like to think he left us--even as I can’t abide the thought of waking up to a world without the possibility of Conrad Hall shedding light on it somewhere.

Federico Fellini gives direction during a take. The film follows the exploits of Encolpio and his friend, Ascilto
Giuseppe Rotunno
Cinematographer, Satyricon (Fellini-Satyricon)

I was the cinematographer for Federico Fellini on several films, including Satyricon and Amarcord. One day we were on the set of Satyricon preparing to shoot the scene when a dramatic earthquake rocks the building where the two young protagonists live. Federico was shouting directions into a megaphone as we set up for the take.

However, Federico was very worried about the presence of a white horse on the set and afraid of how it might react when the special effects for the earthquake began. Sure enough, when the take began and the debris fell, a great cloud of dust filled the courtyard and the white horse became agitated and took off, running in all directions. Federico was frightened and ran off himself in the direction of the exit.

At the end of the take he reappeared, and when he was close to me, I asked him, "Where have you been?"

Avoiding my question, he instead asked, "How did the filming of the take go?"

"The horse was marvelous," I responded with a smile.

Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière discuss the script for Tristana over coffee
Jean-Claude Carrière
Screenwriter, Belle de Jour

We're never really behind the scenes. Whatever we do, whatever we say, we're always onstage. Sometimes we have people watching us--our friends, our family, our boss, passers-by in the street. Sometimes we're alone. And yet even when we're alone (or believe we are), somebody is watching us: this bitter little judge, this pitiless critic whom we all carry around inside ourselves, more or less hidden. He looks like us, he wears our clothes, he speaks with our voice, but he doesn't like us--doesn't like what we are, doesn't like what we do.

We all know him (or her). We all fear him (or her).

That's why I don't like to go on a movie set, especially when I've written the script: because I fear to meet him. I know that he knows everything about me--mainly what I have done wrong. I know that he's going to criticize everything, tell everyone how overrated I am, how badly the scene is written, how the action stinks, how clumsy the dialogue sounds. I know he's right, of course. He's always right. And I'm afraid that he's going to tell the actors: "Look, the writer is here, yes, the so-called writer, the one who is responsible for what you're obliged to do and say. Do you see him? It's that man over there."

When I arrive on set the actors will come up to me (they have to, they have signed a contract), they will smile and say: "Hi, how are you? Nice of you to come, it's such a pleasure to see you here." They will lie to me, they will even kiss me in front of everybody. And there I will be--onstage--without any possibility of escape. I'll blush, I'll try to say something, to apologize, but the little judge whom I carry around will not allow me to speak. He will confirm that I play a part, that I wear a mask, that I'm not what I pretend to be.

Yes, that's why I don't like to go on a movie set. And there's another reason, an even stronger one. As soon as I get there, the director looks at his watch and thinks: "We're losing time. When is he going to leave?"

Buck Henry and Mike Nichols clown around during the making of Catch-22
Wendy D’Olive during a costume fitting
Mike Nichols
Director, Catch-22

In 1969, when we were shooting Catch-22 in Guaymas, Mexico, we built the whole base, including our own landing strip: I was told several times by our production manager that our film had the sixth largest air force in the world. I have no idea if that was true. What I do know was true was that the Mexican Government had made us sign a paper guaranteeing that we would take out as many B-25s as we had brought in.

There is one scene in which Colonel Cathcart (Martin Balsam) and Milo Minderbinder (Jon Voight) are walking along the landing strip, discussing the business of smuggling vegetables and other food items on to the base so that they can make money selling them to the men. In line with the slightly surrealistic approach that we were taking for the look of the movie and its events, I asked that while we shot the scene, a plane in trouble should land and pass by them with smoke pouring out of its tail. I wanted the two men to simply ignore it as they continued discussing their scheme. We rigged the sound of an explosion to go off after the plane had disappeared from the shot, and then we had a dummy plane that looked as if it had just crashed waiting to be revealed a few seconds later, when the original plane was well out of sight.

The scene went well. As we shot the men walking down the strip, the smoking plane raced through the frame, careened up on one wheel, and disappeared. What I didn't know was that the special effects crew had decided to surprise me and actually blow up the plane. The only thing that they hadn't checked beforehand was where the camera would be aimed when they did. So, although it was a very effective spectacle, no one behind a camera was fortunate enough to catch it. However, after hearing the enormous explosion we did pan from the two guys walking, to the plane in flames. It was indeed downright surreal. We were happy.

There was one thing that worried us though. The plane, having been blown up, could not be taken out of Mexico when we left as specified in our agreement. Sure enough, on the last day we were in Guaymas, the authorities came and arrested the Mexican caterer. We didn't understand it, but we didn't complain. We left.

Buck Henry
Screenwriter, Catch-22

I visited my first movie set in 1941. I was a kid. Some of the actors were friends of my parents. I had no idea what to expect. I remember being allowed to sit in a director's chair with someone's name on it (the rules and regulations of who gets to sit in which chairs were as tricky then as they are today).

I understood about playing the scene over and over until the director--a very tall, very handsome man--was happy. I understood about moving the camera to show different aspects of the same scene, and I sort of understood about the fairly long waits while the director of photography got the lights just right.

I knew what the nice lady--then called a script girl--was doing when she would consult with an actor about various lines in the script that she held. Although I didn't know that three decades later I would work with her several times, and that she would be consulting with actors about lines that I had written.

But here's what I really didn't know about or understand: they were shooting the master shot for a melodramatic scene in which four men argued about the ownership of something they called "the black bird." After each of the many takes, the four actors would disappear for a few moments, then march back in line through a door on the set, zipping their trousers as they reappeared. They did it with immense seriousness, and everyone else would laugh. It was a small, silly joke but it relieved the tension.

I have often wondered what would have happened if I'd had a camera with me to record the event. I think the pictures would have been worth something--the actors were, in order of reappearance on the set: Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook, Jr. The director was John Huston. And the "black bird" was, of course, The Maltese Falcon.

Billy Barty in costume as Abe Kusich, a foul-mouthed, irascible neighbor of the film’s main characters at the
San Bernardino Arms, with John Schlesinger
Donald Sutherland
Actor, The Day of the Locust

What do you mean I cannot write about Mary Ellen? If not about her, what? Surely anything I would write for her book would in some way be about her. About sailing with her on a tiny silver lake in upstate New York, during the shooting of Klute in the city, while she clutched her bulky black cameras to her breast in dire fear--not of drowning (un-life-vested, that would certainly have been a legitimate fear to have had), but of losing her cameras. I suspected at the time, as I sat there watching her with the tiller in my hand, that she valued them more than her life.

Mary Ellen also taught me about what to focus on in my own life--about what's essential. When she visited me just before the birth of my son, what a lesson the catalyst of her presence was. When Mary Ellen first entered the labor room, I forgot, in a sense, why we were there. I began trying to be sociable--to take care of her, make her comfortable. I offered to get her a coffee or a tea, and in the process lost my focus on my child--bearing wife and the business at hand: I was neglecting my duty as the deliverer of my yet-to-be-born child. But then it turned out to be a false labor, and we all went home.

We were back seventeen hours later, and I'd had the time to put my thoughts together--and those particular thoughts have pretty much held together for the last thirty-four years, since that 5 February. And then there was Mary Ellen walking around that delivery room: the epitome of discretion. I can only see her silhouette in my memory, a gelatinous silver silhouette, and those black eyes watching from just over the black camera body before the two hands holding it moved up to obscure them and the shutter opened and closed.

Danny Devito shares a joke over lunch with his wife, Rhea Perlman
Danny DeVito
Actor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

It was 1973 and I was in Yugoslavia acting in Scalawag, my first major motion picture. It was directed by Kirk Douglas, who was also starring in it as a one-legged pirate called Peg. I was in awe of the filmmaking process.

This was the first time I had ever been in front of a motion picture camera. It was called the Mitchell BNC and it was a workhorse of a camera. It looked like an extra large breadbox. One day, we were shooting at the ridge of a Canyon. Three or four hundred feet below was a beautiful blue river. For this scene, horses were walking up the side of a mountain on a narrow path and the camera was perched on a ledge looking down on them. I was standing five feet away from the camera, watching the cinematographer Jack Cardiff photographing the scene, when suddenly I heard a snap and the safety line holding the camera broke. The camera tumbled down three hundred feet and landed heavily on the bedrock of the river. The Yugoslav, English and Italian crew went into action. They rushed down the hill, a couple of them on horses. They tied ropes to the camera and using one of the horses dragged it back up to the top of the canyon. After fifteen minutes of meticulously cleaning the machine, they started shooting again. They just don't make 'em like they used to.

The usually recalcitrant Marlon Brando poses with a beetle on his head
Francis Ford Coppola
Director, Apocalypse Now

One of my pleasures during the making of Apocalypse Now was to watch Mary Ellen Mark, dressed in army fatigues, sloshing around in the mud shooting pictures. That striking black hair, those lovely eyes (often behind a camera), that smile--yes, her pictures were always unusual and beautiful, but so was she. I think Marlon Brando felt the same way, because he would agree to some of her very weird requests: I remember her taking pictures of him grinning while a cockroach crawled up his shaved head. Admittedly, Marlon was fascinated with insects--termites, especially--and so I don't think he had a big problem with that. Still, I think she was able to get him to do these things because she was so appealing herself, especially in her jungle garb and the exotic setting of our location. Later on, when I had time to really look at her pictures, I understood why she was one of the best. But back then, I confess, I just liked being around her. During what was a tough time in my own life, I really valued the lasting effect of that smile.

Dustin Hoffman on the running track around the reservoir in Central Park, where the movie begins and ends
Jim Clark
Film Editor, Marathon Man

I had been John Schlesinger's film editor since Darling and worked with him on Far From The Madding Crowd and Midnight Cowboy. The fact that Marathon Man came after The Day of the Locust was no accident. Bob Evans, head of Paramount, had never wanted to make The Day of the Locust, and when it failed at the box office he was delighted. So much so that he offered John Marathon Man. "I pick up good directors right after they've made a flop," he declared. And he was right, in this case, because Marathon Man became a hit.

But there were stumbles along the way. Laurence Olivier, cast by John to play the old Nazi, Dr. Christian Szell, had been seriously ill and could not be insured, and the script, which William Goldman had adapted from his novel, lacked an ending. The latter problem was resolved by an ad hoc group of interested parties. After a day's shooting, this group would meet on Richard Macdonald's incomplete waterworks set, and--with Dustin Hoffman and Olivier improvising, Bob Towne and Waldo Salt jotting things down, and Connie Hall and me suggesting angles and so forth--John worked out the ending.

I had assembled the dental scenes, for which the film is largely remembered, and was unhappy with them. "You need a few really close shots of the drill hitting the tooth," I said to John. "OK," he said, "if you feel you want them, do them." I got a crew together and we shot for a day--really tight shots of the drill, complete with some smoke. I was pleased with the rushes and cut the shots into the scene. At a preview the audience went crazy and were ready to walk out. "See, you didn't need those tight shots," said John. And he was right, so we cut them out. I had become totally desensitized to the violence in the film.

At another preview, in San Francisco, the audience became very hostile--as Roy Scheider died in a spreading pool of blood, they started to boo and hiss. "What are they reacting to, dear?" asked John, who was sitting next to me. "I don't think they like the violence," I replied. "That's too bad," John said. "There's a lot more." My assistant and I went off to a Chinese restaurant and only learned later that, when the film ended, the theatre had to lock John, Dustin and Bob Evans in the manager's office to prevent further mayhem. When I got back to the hotel, there was a note from John: "Where were you? It was hell. We were lucky to get out alive. Meeting at Bob's hotel in the morning."

We attended the meeting. Every shot was analyzed and every scene of violence was shortened. We had been so sure of the film that we had cut the negative--unheard of before a preview--and those with hawk-eyes can still see the jump cuts that I was forced into, since in those days, when extending a shot, two frames of negative were lost.

The final preview was in Dallas, the scene of President Kennedy's death, but with less obvious violence the film played well, and it has gone on to be considered one of the best thrillers ever made. My last collaboration with John was on Honky Tonk Freeway--a much reviled and misunderstood film. Unfortunately, Bob Evans did not pick John up again after that film died, or his story might have had a different ending.

Conrad Hall working in the rain during the filming of Marathon Man, Pound Ridge Reservation, New York, USA, 1975
Sam Mendes
Director, American Beauty, Road to Perdition

I met Conrad Hall in 1998 when he walked into the small American Beauty production office on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. I had been warned of him by a producer friend, who said he was "Too old, too cranky, too slow", and expected a chilly, distant presence. But I couldn't resist meeting the man who had shot In Cold Blood.

The fellow who shuffled in was in every way the opposite of what I had been led to expect. With his trousers hoisted slightly too high above his waist, long grey hair grazing his collar and a roguish glint in his eye, he charmed us all instantly with a combination of naivety and directness.

I have several abiding memories of Conrad on the shoot in the weeks that followed--of him laughing so much at Annette Bening discovering her husband masturbating that he had to climb into a closet; or him sitting on top of a crane, happy as could be, and while a naked Mena Suvari was sprinkled with rose petals waving back to her as she winked at the camera; or high-fiving his crew when they made Chris Cooper's character disappear into a rainy night. He was a seventy-year-old with the infectious enthusiasm of a teenager.

But Conrad Hall was more than just a delightful man; he was one of the few genuine artists I have known. A man who never compared himself to others, except to acknowledge their mastery over him; who thought only of the movie, never the marketplace; who treated every shot as if it were the most important he had ever attempted; and who took the work seriously but never himself.

Above all he was a man who understood the power of light and knew how to harness it: soft or hard, cruel or tender, unsettling or calming, exposing or mysterious. In a sense, I realize now that I chose to direct my second movie, Road to Perdition, partly for him--to see how he would light those rainy streets, those lonely interiors and lonely people. Although it was a hard shoot for an old man who didn't like the cold and didn't believe in violence, it lives on as one of several testaments to his extraordinary eye and consummate artistry. Late in the shoot, I turned to look at him as he was lighting an extreme close-up of Paul Newman staring into a fire, and found him crying quietly. "He was so beautiful," he said. "He still is," I replied. "No, but ... Cool Hand Luke, Harper, Butch Cassidy... He was so beautiful." I think he was crying for both of them.

He is missed by all who knew or worked with him. He was one of the greats, in the tradition of Gregg Toland, Sven Nykvist, Gordon Willis, Vittorio Storaro and others--poets working within an industry. You can still find them if you look hard enough.

Ultimately, though, I think he possessed something greater than success or even talent. When he put his eye to the camera, he found a kind of peace, like a painter in his studio. Indeed, that's how l like to think of him now, perched on his seat, face pressed against the eyepiece, humming softly to himself like a child with a secret.

Lina Wertmüller looks through the camera at a love scene between Giancarlo Giannini and Candice Bergen
Candice Bergen
Actress, A Night Full of Rain

I first worked on location when I was nineteen. It was my second movie--The Sand Pebbles, with Steve McQueen. We were in Taiwan (which was then still known as Formosa) for four months, and it was hardcore. No phones, no TV, no communication with home other than the three-week mail delivery.

I was staying at the Grand Hotel in the Golden Dragon Stuite, better known as "Eisenhower's Bunk." I remember ordering oatmeal from room service and getting half a watermelon. We ended up working only three of the twelve weeks, because we were dependent on the weather and the river tides, which were constantly changing. There were exciting moments: one day, we were shooting a scene on the deck of our riverboat when we were suddenly interrupted by a herd of what looked like seals swimming behind us. They turned out to be Taiwanese frogmen, training to swim to mainland China for a takeover.

Every weekend, the male members of the cast would go to see "The Banana Lady" in Peitou to watch her peel a banana and paint a picture holding a large paintbrush--and not with her hands. I was not allowed to accompany them. Steve McQueen would jump on his motorcycle and disappear between takes and we'd wonder when he was going to come back. He had brought his wife and two kids with him to Taiwan. She was a professional singer and dancer and taught dance classes in a gym on the American base in Taipei, just to give the women on the shoot something to do when we weren't eating, or photographing a Taoist fire-walking ceremony, or eating.

Some of the guys in the cast got arrested for being drunk and disorderly and beating up the Taiwanese room boys at their hotel. Their only excuse was that they were bored senseless. I remember reading Saul Bellow, photographing the island, taking a brief trip to Vietnam to entertain the troops, my parents visiting, eating.

Then we escaped to Hong Kong, which was heaven—pure heaven. There were journalists there from all over the world, reporting on the war in Vietnam. There were picnics on junks, dim sum brunches, long evenings at the Correspondents’ Club, daily trips on the ferry that crossed the bay, visits to Macau, the Lost City and Repulse Bay, trips to the race track and insanely great shopping. Sometimes there was phone service. We ate less, but there was better food. Occasionally we did the odd day’s work, but in Hong Kong working felt like an interruption in my very busy schedule. I remember having to remove my nail polish when shooting, since it was somewhat out of character for my role as a missionary—the inconvenience!

Finally, though, it was time to go home. To pack up the Taiwanese Christmas-tree decorations and the jackets, shirts and shoes custom-made in Hong Kong. For many of the cast and crew, it also meant putting the extramarital affairs on hold, cutting back on the booze. Until the next time and place, where all behavior would be allowed: The parallel universe of Location.

Treat Williams mooning behind Milos Forman in Central Park
Milos Forman
Director, Hair

On the movie set I always feel like a racehorse with its blinders on: I can see only what's happening in front of the camera and I'm totally oblivious to what is happening behind me. But I enjoy the process of filmmaking very much and feel at home in the company of the cast and crew. As long as what's happening behind my back doesn't include a knife, it's fine with me.

Ray Sharkey smokes outside a grocery store in the Bronx during filming
Taylor Hackford
Director, The Idolmaker

When a film is released and sails out on that vast ocean of public opinion, its identity is invariably defined by the actors in the starring roles. However, there are many people who have spent more time perfecting what's actually in the final film than the performers up on the screen. No filmmaker who is honest can claim that he or she danced solo on a film set-- it's the joint work of many vital worker bees of which the audience never sees or hears. I call them "circus people," because they never have a permanent employer and usually live on the road from gig to gig.

One of the most important "worker bees" on my films is David Hopkins, my "on-set dresser." While most people may never have heard of an on-set dresser, David is indispensable to my filmmaking process, and I've made sure that he's been with me on my last five films which were shot in East LA and San Quentin Prison, Nova Scotia, New York, Poland, London, Ecuador, New Orleans, and Albuquerque.

My first visual collaborator is always the production designer. We work out a visual concept for a film months in advance of production. Then the set decorator comes on board and joins the designer in perfecting the "look" of the sets and locations. Drawings are produced which specify the color palette and style of the sets (both interior and exterior), and then the sets are constructed. All this design work can take months to accomplish, but the day finally arrives when a director walks through a completed set with the designer and decorator. It's a heady experience when you're confronted by all these tangible elements that previously existed only in drawings and blueprints, but because you have such a limited time to study these elements, you miss certain flaws that come back to haunt you when you begin to work on these sets with your actors and crew. By that time the designer and set decorator are long gone, preparing other sets for the company to shoot later in the schedule.

So who's going to reposition all the furniture to facilitate blocking, or re-hang a painting on a different wall, or repair a piece of ripped wallpaper, or rewire a table lamp that doesn't work, or clean those streaked windows that are throwing ugly patterns on the star's face, or paint a "Police" sign on a nondescript van, or build a podium out of apple boxes and then make them look like the real thing? Oh, and did I mention that there's no time to accomplish all these tasks, because the company is rushing to complete this sequence before lunch so it can move to a new location in the afternoon?

David is the person who takes care of all these things. He's what the French call a "bricoleur"--someone who possesses a huge set of generalist skills and can get almost any small job done fast. David also pitches in and helps any department that has a problem, so his name is probably called out more times on the set each day than anyone else's; a selfless doer is always popular.

I make a habit of coming in each morning an hour before call-time so that I can walk the sets alone and think about the day's work. Regardless of how early I arrive, David is always there before me--prowling his set, getting things in order. He says nothing to me, because he knows I've come early to work. We share a quiet moment of peace before the rest of the circus people arrive and the race begins. For me this interaction is at the core of my filmmaking experience, as vital as my relationships with the stars, the director of photography, the designer or the writers--a collaboration with someone whose name may be buried deep in the end credits, but whose contribution is present in almost every frame of the film.

James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, Manhattan, New York, 1975
James Ivory
Director, Heat and Dust

IIn 1978, Mary Ellen Mark--photographer extraordinaire--worked with me in India on the film Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures, starring Peggy Ashcroft and Saeed Jaffrey. The "pictures" refer to a legendary hoard of Indian miniature paintings which, in our story, were stased away in a tower of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur. The plot concerned various avid and conniving foreign collectors who had turned up at the palace of Maharaja of Tasveer (tasveer means "picture" in Hindustani), intent on taking the Maharaja's pictures away to "safety" in museum collections in London and New York, before they disintegrated--or, worse, were ransacked by other foreigners. This was fitting subject matter for both of us, because Mary Ellen is a passionate, even ferocious, collector of such paintings, and I too have collected Indian miniatures. The shooting of the story was punctuated by many trips to the local bazaar--mad dashes, really, often during the lunch hour--by Mary Ellen and me. Sometimes we took off warily together, sometimes alone. There was almost nothing to buy; Jodhpur had been picked clean years before.

Mary Ellen in an Indian bazaar is a sight to see: the athletic stride, the mass of tossing black hair, the strong brown hands sorting rapidly through ruined, worm-eaten red-wrapped bundles of tattered pictures that often have had food spilled on them. Sometimes a treasure did turn up; we had our own rules if it was something we both wanted. I would say, gallantly, "I'll have to think about it", which meant she was free to take it if she really wanted it very much. My spies on set would report to me when Mary Ellen made a quick lunchtime trip back to the bazaar to secure an item. Once, however, I found a tiny portrait, no bigger than a postage stamp, of Jaswant Singh--the handsome nineteenth-century maharaja, who loved to waltz with English ladies--pictured with his proverbial eyeglasses. It was the only real find I ever made in the Jodhpur bazaar. My hand darted faster than Mary Ellen's and I think I knocked it away as I extracted the perfect little image out of the rubbish, like a diamond out of the dust. These occasions, which, after all, was about the pursuit of Indian miniature paintings by crafty types like ourselves. We had in real life become reflections of the furtive and conniving characters on-screen.

Jessica Lange rests as Dustin Hoffman’s curlers are re-set for the scene where they share a bed for the weekend
Jessica Lange
Actress, Tootsie

According to the call sheet, I have a 5am pickup to be camera ready for an 8am call to set. We're shooting day exteriors, and there is always a degree of anxiety about getting a day's work when you have only eight hours before you begin to lose the light.

The alarm goes off at 4:30am. I always give myself the minimum amount of time, and still I hit the snooze button repeatedly, just to lie there an extra ten or fifteen minutes. It is pitch black outside. It feels like the middle of the night. I've never liked these early morning calls.

I know my driver is already waiting out there for me. Most teamsters arrive at least ten or twenty minutes early. Just to be safe. It's the idea of him sitting out there in the dark with the motor running that finally propels me out of bed. I dress hastily and head out the door.

A few words are exchanged. We're fond of one another, but it is way too early for conversation. We'll talk on the ride home, after we wrap. Now we're just travelling together in the darkness. He knows where we're going. I have no idea. It's just another location ‑ another town, another city I've never been in before and don't have time to get to know.

I stare out the window. The sky is turning grey ‑ that cold predawn light. I remember driving through the flats of Beverly Hills one such morning, down those empty, wealthy streets of fenced and gated mansions ‑ everything pristine and untouched. Then, crossing in front of the car, a rangy coyote with a kitten in his mouth headed back up to the hills before it got light.

Shooting one summer in Bordeaux, every morning on the way to the set I would pass a field with three signs posted in it, like the old Burma‑Shave highway ads. The first sign had written on it the word "premeditation." The second "manipulation." The third "pre‑emption." These were the driving forces of the character I was playing at the time. How did these signs appear there on my daily route? I used to stare at them in disbelief. Did the director have someone from production place them there for my benefit ‑ to remind me each morning who I was playing? Was it strictly serendipity? I never asked the director and he never mentioned it.

Driving through East Los Angeles, I loved to watch the Mexican fathers walking their children to school, holding their hands, so proud and protective ‑ the children so carefully groomed, so beautifully dressed.

I loved watching the trains silently carrying their chemical loads through Baton Rouge under the cover of darkness. These trains moving stealthily down the tracks through what is known as the cancer corridor. We called them the poison trains. You had to be up early to see them.

Those hundreds of early‑morning drives to the set ‑ all in silence ‑ dreamtime. That bridge between your own life and the one you were about to portray. The last moment of quiet and solitude before you arrived on the set.

And then. Here we are. I step out of the car. An assistant director is waiting for me. He tells me hair and make‑up is ready for me. (I already know that, of course). Wardrobe has a question about my second change and do I have time for a quick fitting before I go into the works? The dialect coach is available whenever I have fifteen minutes. The director has some ideas about today's scenes that he'd like to go over with me. The writer would like to show me the changes he has made and the new pages. The producers would love to have a few words with me about yesterday's dailies. And do I want to order breakfast now or wait awhile? The caterer wants me to know that all the fruit today is organic.

I look out over the encampment. We're like a band of gypsies on the move. Like a massive snaking wagon train. The teamsters are putting blocks under the wheels. Electric is running cable. Assistant directors are knocking on doors. Another day of shooting is beginning. It's getting light. I head over to the make‑up trailer to start the process. I'll be camera ready in two hours. A different look, a different voice, a different life, a different person. The transformation begins. Alter thirty years, it's still thrilling.

Martin Bell and Jeff Bridges on a ferry in Seattle
Martin Bell
Director, American Heart

He looked a tad uncomfortable dressed in a large 3M Scotchlite reflective suit. Standing on a mark, his suit glowing brighter than any supernova, he read his lines from a teleprompter niftily concealed in a prop ice crystal. We were on the planet Krypton, and he was playing Jor‑El, Superman's dad. He was the great Marlon Brando.

It was 1977, and I was on the set of Superman at Pinewood Studios, working as a director of photography on the documentary The Making of Superman. If I wanted to survive the day on this assignment, it was essential for me to be invisible.

At great expense, the production company had made a special rig for my camera to light up the 3M suits that all the doomed citizens of the planet wore. It worked like headlights on an automobile lighting up a reflective road sign at night. I had been naughty and stripped down the rig to reduce its weight, leaving only the small battery‑operated light essential in making the actors suits glow. When the little unshrouded light was on, however, my invisibility rating dropped to zero.

For the upcoming scene, the revered cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth was putting his finishing touches to the vast white crystal landscape of Krypton. To me, it seemed as if every light in the universe was being blasted onto the set, making us all squinty‑eyed. It was if we were on an Arctic snowfield without sunglasses.

Brando had taken an unusual interest in my filming him and had allowed me close whenever he was rehearsing his lines from the concealed teleprompters or talkingwith his director, Richard Donner. The first assistant director, David Tomblin, was clearly less than amused seeing the easy access I had to my newfound friend ‑ he knew it spelled trouble.

Just before the big scene was to be shot, I weaseled my way next to Brando and stood close to him. He was watching an extraordinary British actor, Trevor Howard, read his lines.

Tomblin gave me a look that clearly signaled I was hanging on by a thread ‑ he called for silence on the set and then: "Roll Sound, Roll Camera."

"Speed" the crew responded.

The set lit up like Christmas as the studio lights and main production camera hit the actors' reflective suits ‑ the scene was dazzling, and Howard shone like the star he truly was.

I started my camera and flipped the switch on my lighting rig ‑ the little battery‑operated light sputtered into life. Through my camera Krypton was a blaze of white on white light. And for a moment I felt like a genius until, from the other side of the set, I heard Unsworth shout, "Who switched on that light?"

For two nanoseconds I wondered what other light could possibly be seen amidst all the trillions of photons whining around the planet's surface ‑ until I realized everyone was looking at me.

"Turn that light off," barked Tomblin.

I quickly switched off my camera and lighting rig, humiliated. I had clearly crossed the line, and my visa for the planet Krypton had abruptly expired.

What seemed like an age passed ‑ then a clear, unmistakable voice said, "Martin, turn on your light." It was Brando.

In a split second my camera and lighting rig were up and running again, and the suits glowed. Everything looked amazing. In a wink of an eye, Superman's dad had not only rescued his son, Christopher Reeve, with a one‑way ticket to Kansas ‑ he'd also rescued me.

"Action," yelled Tomblin.

It was as if nothing had happened.

After the take, Brando turned to me and our eyes met. There was a hint of a mischievous smile, but he said nothing. When we had finished our work and were about to leave the planet, Brando gave me a publicity portrait of himself in costume as Jor‑El. On the bottom, he wrote, "For Martin, Never trade words for food. Marlon Brando."

It was ironic advice that I am happy the great actor did not follow that day.

Jeff Bridges in costume as an ex-con who tries to rebuild his relationship with his son after years in prison. The image was used on promotional posters for the movie
Jeff Bridges
Actor, American Heart

For me, "behind the scenes" conjures up the idea of peeking behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain ‑the one that hides him and all his machinations, controls, desires, intentions. It also makes me think of what is "behind the scenes" in my own life ‑ my own intentions and desires. What does the flip side of the "tapestry" look like? The side where you can see all the short cuts, and how the front side ‑ the so‑called "correct side" ‑ was brought about? In life we often want both sides to look the same: pristine and perfect. But that's not the way it works. There is this flip side, this behind‑the-scene view which, if you can have a peek at it, allows you to see, if not precisely how it was done, then at least what "doing it" looked like.

I've taken pictures while working on movies ‑ behind‑the-scenes pictures. I've always felt slightly guilty about that, because revealing what goes on during a movie shoot seems a bit like a magician showing you how he does a trick before he actually does it ‑ like blowing the surprise. When I think about it further, though, I realize that the mystery of how it's done is really so deep that the bottom can never be reached. It's a bit like an onion ‑ you just keep peeling it and peeling it, looking for some sort of core essence, then when you've finally gone through all the skins you find there is nothing left ‑ that, in fact, the skins were it.

Actress Helen Mirren and her husband Taylor Hackford at home by their pool, Los Angeles, California, 1997
Helen Mirren

Everyone is going home from their day's work. The commuters are flooding towards the subway, they are waiting at bus stops, they are sitting in queues of cars at the stop lights, they are buried in papers on the train home, looking forward to that beer and some supper and maybe a bit of TV. As the sun begins to lose its strength, Jam picked up from home to go to work. I am night shooting, and my day will be from 6pm until 7am.

I am driven out in the slowly gathering gloom of twilight toward a set that is outside of town, in a forest or field. As the car approaches the set, it follows the cryptic directives posted along the way: yellow or orange or pink signs tied up at junctions, with "NT2 unit" or "P57 base" written mysteriously on them.

We are waved through the gate and arrive at a settlement that looks exactly like what it is, an upmarket gypsy encampment. There is the smell of bacon cooking and eggs being fried, for in the film business you "pretend" everything, including the idea that it is morning and time for breakfast when, actually, it is night and time for dinner. Lunch will be served at 2 or 3am.

The encampment is made up of alternately sleek and sometimes scruffy vehicles containing cables, cameras, make‑up, wigs, lavatories, kitchens, glue, knives, combs, washing machines, spectacles, paint of every hue and all the paraphernalia of a group of people ready for almost anything. Sometimes the field in which all these vehicles have arrived has already become a mud bath.

The place is busy with people dressed for a long night out in the cold. The pretty young runners, boys and girls, cannot be distinguished from each other because they wear an extraordinary collection of huge down coats, clumpy boots, scarves and gloves. They will be spending the next thirteen to fourteen hours out in the elements. So will the director, the cinematographer, the electricians, the camera operators, the props people, and everybody else who makes up the film set ‑ apart from some of the actors who, when not filming, will be cozy in their trailers.

So into the make‑up trailer I go, to be called out for rehearsals usually at the most comically inopportune moment ‑ hair in pins and no make‑up.

Now comes for me the most exciting, magical moment of all film‑making: approaching the set ‑or, rather, the part of the field or forest chosen for the location of a particular night scene.

You walk into the woods toward the mysterious brightness. Huge lights – called, appropriately, “Brutes” – illuminate the trees. There are also banks of lights called "Wendies" lighting rigs devised by the legendary British cinematographer David Watkin. They were so named after Watkin, who was known in the industry by his nickname, Wendy. From a distance it looks as if you have stumbled upon a strange religious cult straight out of The Wicker Man, going about its pagan business. In the middle of nowhere, deep in a forest, a huge number of people are milling about, looking very preoccupied, making dark shapes against the dramatic lights. As you pass among them, you realize that all the energy, all the action, lights, cables, all the prodigious preparation for this night, is concentrated on one tiny space. This is the space where the camera will meet the actor, and where I am headed.

Sometimes the night passes quickly; sometimes it is interminably slow. Until you adjust, the hardest time is always that dread hour, 4am. And yet the feeling of magic and privilege never leaves me.

The hours are helped along by that marvelous American inspiration called Craft Services. It is a peculiar name, and I don't know what it means, but it describes what is basically non‑stop tea, coffee, cakes, pastries, candy, chocolate, biscuits, and sometimes hot dogs and pizza ‑ separate from the catered meals. Every child who visits a film set shows no interest in the filming but is mesmerized by Craft Services. In honor of the vegetarians and those on a diet (all the actors), there might be a plate of carrots and celery, with a fattening dip. The prayer of all actors starting a film is, "Please God, let me have the strength of will not to go near Craft Services!"

The sun always rises eventually, however, and always too quickly for the director. Tricks are used by the cinematographer to disguise the rising sun ‑ shades are put up, the stops in the camera are raised to let in less light but, eventually, the Great God of the East rises and the filmmakers have to literally call it a day.

Now it is 7am. We have all just finished work, and of course would like nothing better than to go for a drink and unwind. Sadly, there are no bars open at this time in the morning, so you go home, watching all those people you passed last night now rushing to work. At home, you open a bottle of wine at Sam, like an incorrigible alcoholic, have a glass, and raid the fridge for dinner. Then you close the curtains in your bedroom as tightly as possible, put on a sleep mask, and try to persuade yourself that it isn't really 10am.

Erik Per Sullivan, who plays a young sick orphan, with Tobey Maguire, the protagonist, an orphan who learns
the skills of a doctor and longs for a fuller life outside the orphanage
Richard N. Gladstein
Producer, The Cider House Rules

In 1985, eager to work on my first film set, I scored a job as a location production assistant on Brighton Beach Memoirs. With enthusiasm brimming, I reported to Brighton, Queens, where I received my first assignment: to cajole the neighbors in the homes near the set to allow us to remove their television antennae from their roofs so the location appeared in keeping with the period of the film ‑ the 1930s. I was to offer to install rabbit‑ear antennas inside their homes instead; they complained, but most of them acquiesced. Then, filming began! For my second assignment, I was to wander the blocks surrounding our location waiting to hear dogs barking, and then race to quiet them. My pockets were always overflowing with dog biscuits to assist me in my task.

A few weeks into shooting and I had barely laid eyes on an actor, the director, or the set. Exhausted from running five miles every day, I would pass out the minute I returned home. It wasn't remotely helpful that I was often startled from a deep sleep hearing the echo of what I heard all day long from my walkie‑talkie: "Locations, shut that dog up!" The nightmares intensified when I started dreaming that my girlfriend was calling me "Locations" as well.

Then, one surprisingly quiet day (the neighborhood dogs presumably having overdosed on the hundreds of biscuits I'd tossed at them), I wandered over to the set ‑ the backyard of one of the houses. I saw the director, Gene Saks, and the cinematographer, John Bailey, tracks being laid and flags and lights being placed: it was a real live film set!

I slowly ventured closer and closer toward the center of activity and was standing next to the camera when I suddenly heard a voice scream "Gladstein!" I was thrilled that someone knew my real name, and I turned with a smile. Then, the grumpy line producer shrieked, for the entire crew to hear, "How do you like the shot?" I was so naive and so embarrassed that I almost uttered a reply, as though it was a serious question. But instead I walked off, face bright red, and sheepishly returned to my dogs, blocks away.

John Irving by the video assist during filming
John Irving
Writer, The Cider House Rules

One fall day in 1998, on set in Dummerston, Vermont, I felt that my thirteen‑year odyssey to see The Cider House Rules made into a movie was finally over. It wasn't a specific scene that gave me the feeling; it was lunchtime in the caterer's tent, where the cast and crew ate. I was in the serving line when I saw them: Mr. Rose and his picking crew were all alone at one table, just the men; no one else was eating with them. I started toward them ‑ there was lots of room for me at their table.

But they were so complete, so utterly themselves. They were in costume, wearing the rags that wardrobe had selected for them, and Delroy Lindo (Mr. Rose) had his wig on. They were a migrant crew of black apple pickers from the 1940s, and I felt as my main character Homer Wells (played by Tobey Maguire) must have felt when he first met them ‑ namely, that this was as close as I (or Homer) would ever get to them.

I had created them, but they were actually here ‑ alone at their table, as if their lives had both pre‑existed and outlasted my act of imagining them.

In a few minutes, all the tables would start filling up; other actors and members of the film crew would join the actors at their table, and that singular vision of them would be lost. But, for the moment, it was as if these apple pickers existed only in The Cider House Rules. No one else could sit with them ‑ no more than I could enter the screenplay I had written, or alter a word of the novel I'd published way back in 1985.

It is the most memorable moment in my various experiences of seeing (and not seeing) my novels made into films, and it hadn't happened onscreen but behind the scenes.

Tim Burton with the prop head of Jonathan Masbath, the fifth victim of the Headless Horseman
Tim Burton
Director, Sleepy Hollow

I'm often asked to describe something "funny" or "interesting" that happened on a film set. My mind immediately goes blank. Funny? Interesting? I guess it was kind of funny back on Batman when Jack Palance didn't like my direction to "just walk out of the bathroom" for a shot and almost beat me up. (Although it didn't seem funny at the time.) Or on Sleepy Hollow when we dragged Johnny Depp on the ground behind a flatulent horse through rotting leaves and horse manure on Christmas Eve. (I guess that was pretty funny.)

The reason it is hard to recall such things is that in the film‑making process everything is very funny and completely unfunny at the same time. Everything is incredibly interesting and yet most visitors on a set will tell you it's like watching paint dry. Making films is the most amazing juxtaposition of images, ideas, and emotions, all colliding together every day.

You might be watching a group of apes standing around the craft service table having coffee and discussing their weekend plans. Or you might find yourself alone, deep in thought, on a pink boat in a chocolate river, surrounded by dozens of Oompa‑Loompa puppets. There is the magical world of the set, and the equally magical world where the set ends ‑ the lights and camera equipment, the grips and electricians climbing over the sets and rafters like pirates on a ship.

This is why it is always important to have a great still photographer to capture these moments ‑all the personal, surreal, absurd elements that reveal what making movies is all about.

Michael Clarke Duncan in costume as the fierce warrior Attar, with Richard D. Zanuck
Richard D. and Lili Zanuck
Producers, Cocoon and Planet of the Apes

Life behind the scenes on a movie is a movie unto itself. Sometimes it is a more interesting story than the one you are making. François Truffaut tried to capture the world of film-making in La nuit américaine (Day for Night), but it can't really be captured. It has no script and it will unfold as it wants, shaped by the determination of the crew to make agreat film.

A crew is a family. We are a traveling circus. There is always the most popular girl, the most popular boy, the class clown, the principal, and the one person whom everyone dislikes. He or she is identified early in pre-production and there is hardly ever a re-evaluation during the course of the film. We work mostly outside and we eat out of a truck. You can always spot us, because even though we think we look like everyone else, we don't. Because we shop all over the world, we have a different color palette than the locals and we wear a uniform of t-shirts, shorts and sneakers all year round. Not many people wear shorts in the winter, but movie crews do.

We are in the trenches together every day. We make decisions as a team, get in early and work late. Like any team, we all have different jobs but are working toward the same goal the movie. Regrettably, the same effort goes into making a good film as a bad one.

At the end of the film, everyone promises to stay in touch, and we all try. But chances are that very few of us will ever be on the same film again; instead, we will make other films and other friends ‑ that is the nature of our world. Which is why, when the last take is shot and the last call to "check the gate" is heard, it can be difficult to say goodbye.

Alejandro González Iñárritu and Cate Blanchett review a scene together on a monitor
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Director, Babel

Not everything that goes into making a film ends up on the silver screen. And it sometimes seems a shame that so many of the landscapes, faces, communities, and textures one encounters while prepping and shooting will not find a place within the final work. Nevertheless ‑ like moisture, or a scent ‑ these things still manage to seep into the skin of the film.

Fiction is like a new reality coming into being. What happens behind the scenes often points to the existence of a parallel world that is simultaneously taking shape in front of the cameras. Sometimes the themes of my films resonate with events that took place in the process of making them. In Amores Perros, for instance, while we were scouting for the house where the dogfights would eventually be set, the film crew and I were brutally attacked by a group of wild‑eyed adolescents carrying guns that were bigger than their hands. They stole all our equipment and personal belongings. Curiously enough, this seemed to me to be a sign that this was the right location for the shoot. Some of the boys that had attacked us even ended up as extras in the film.

On a similar occasion, during the location scouting for 21 Grams, we found a corpse inside the house that I later decided should be the home of Benicio del Toro's character in the film. We felt that the dead man's spirit seemed to be with us throughout the shoot. One of the film's central themes concerned the continuing presence of those who have passed away in the lives of the people they left behind.

One of my most extreme experiences of this kind was in 2001 in Acatlán de Perez Figueroa, a steamy sugar‑producing town on the frontier between Veracruz and Oaxaca in Mexico. We had completely taken over this location for the shoot of an intense and violent short film, Powder Keg, that I wrote as part of a major BMW internet campaign called The Hire. Myself and four other international directors ‑ John Frankenheimer, Guy Ritchie, Wong Kar‑Wai and Ang Lee had been chosen to write and direct a series of short films, all starring Clive Owen, for the campaign.

In the story, a war photographer (Stellan Skarsgârd) is documenting a civil war in Latin America, where fear and unbridled corruption reign. When he is caught taking photographs of the massacre of field laborers by a paramilitary officer, he is attacked and gravely wounded. He manages to escape and is rescued by a UN car, driven by Clive Owen. As they try to escape, they are met with gunfire at the border, and one of the men loses his life.

It was a difficult location ‑ the temperature in the town was more than 100 degrees Celsius and we were extremely isolated as there was only one road into town. As there were very few hotels and services in the region, the entire crew was spread out laying in the locals’ homes. The actors and I stayed in the small house of a friendly teacher who lived with his wife and 22‑year‑old daughter. The town's main source of income was through transporting sugar cane, but we often had to close down the single road out of the town for long periods of time for filming. After only three days of shooting, public feeling turned against us. The town's truckers, armed with machetes, began to protest against the long hours they were forced to wait for the road to reopen.

The following morning, at 3:30am, I woke up to the news that Luis Carlos Alvarez, one of our production drivers had been shot through the head. The young man was already on his way to Veracruz in an ambulance. The motive appeared to be robbery. As his life hung in the balance we, too, were re‑creating a shooting ‑ a scene in which a guard on the border accidentally kills another soldier.

To make matters worse, that morning we were scheduled to begin a day‑long shoot of a car chase along the road where the truckers were protesting. The tension during the filming was unbearable. Truck drivers lined up on either side of the road, honking their horns and threatening the production team with their machetes as we tried to work. Then, at midday, my assistant director walked off the set with sunstroke, leaving the rest of us to finish as best we could in the middle of the road.

While I was working out the last positioning of the scene in which the guard gets hit by the stray bullet, I happened to ask the stuntman what his name was. It was Luis Carlos Alvarez, coincidentally the same name as the young man who had been shot that same day, before the break of dawn.

Our Luis Carlos Alvarez died a few hours later. The bullet had gone straight through his head, in one side and out the other. As we were finishing work on the film, the production company's lawyer was preparing to charge the man who had been detained for the crime. The real motive for his murder had nothing to do with robbery, but with a quarrel over a prostitute in a place where his host's daughter had taken him. She had witnessed the shooting. However, the evening before we left, the girl's father ‑ who was a very kind man begged us to convince the production company not to prosecute. The accused was the most powerful and feared man in the community and to press charges against him would be sufficient reason for him to murder the teacher's entire family, including the prime witness ‑ his daughter.

The violence and moral complexity that we confronted behind the scenes bore an eerie resemblance to the story we had come to tell.

Robert Downey, Jr. in full make-up with his son, Indio
Robert Downey, Jr.
Actor, Fur

About twenty years ago, I was in northern Thailand shooting Air America, a semi‑political, action comedy with Mel Gibson. I was in a Chinese tourist bus (which had been converted to a talent trailer), eating shortbread cookies and drinking coffee that tasted like pencil shavings, when I noticed a Southeast Asian wild mutt puppy scurrying around. I had barely registered his bubbly presence before a work truck nearby carelessly started backing up at high speed: it flew past the open door of my bus just before crushing the puppy ‑ who emitted a yelp I'll never forget.

That was it. No fanfare (no owner); no remorse. Not even the smallest acknowledgement that a living creature had met its end at the hands of Hollywood machinery. We weren't in Burbank (let alone Kansas) anymore.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter rehearsing in Pinewood Studios
Colleen Atwood
Costume Designer, Sweeney Todd

I've done several films with Tim Burton, which has been a real creative gift. On Tim's film Sweeney Todd, the frequent murders committed by the demon barber meant that we would have these crazy moments where we were running around with buckets of blood‑soaked clothing. The blood is always an odd orange color, made especially for the desaturated film stock.

We needed so much blood for Sweeney Todd that we rigged up a little shower in our department ‑that way, we could hose down the blood‑soaked costumes on hangers instead of jamming them into a bucket. We first experimented with Sacha Baron Cohen's costume ‑ an extravagantly embroidered suit. It was silk with gold bullion work: what a way to start! We were worried about whether the costume would survive its cleaning, and were pleasantly surprised when we came in the next morning to discover that our shower had worked perfectly.

Benicio del Toro in character as Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara de la Serna
Laura Bickford
Producer, The Argentine

When we were shooting Traffic in 2000, the actress Erika Christensen was sixteen years old. She was playing a young drug addict, Caroline Wakefield, and had several sex scenes to film. Erika was brilliant in the movie, although she had had no real‑life experiences to draw from for her character. In one pivotal scene, for example, Caroline has sex with a drug dealer in a crack house to get drugs.

Simulating sex with a minor is fraught with technicalities. Erika was not allowed on set when we filmed her point‑of-view shot of the actor's naked bottom walking to the door of the squat. (She joked about how she'd have to see the scene when she saw the film.) The insurance company also wanted a board between her and the fully clothed actor during simulation, but Erika was extremely concerned about it looking real; she was terrified that her lack of experience would somehow come through.

She and her mother and I had bonded over the few months of shooting. I was always present for Erika's big scenes and if she was worried that her mother would make her feel self conscious on set, she always knew that I would be there for her, watching. Even so, I was surprised when, on the day of her first sex scene, her mother came to me and asked if Erika could come to my trailer and talk about the scene: it wasn't a scenario that she and her mother felt comfortable "rehearsing" together. I explained to Erika that "everybody does it differently," and that therefore nothing she could do would seem unreal. But she couldn't be persuaded, so I asked her if she'd like me to give her some choices.

Long story short, I demonstrated with a pillow.

The scene was great, no thanks to me, and her mother asked if she could put the story in her Christmas newsletter to the family and tell Elle magazine how Erika "researched" the sex scenes for an article. At the time I vehemently refused it would have been too mortifying. Now I look back on it as just another crazy day on the road. Just another crazy thing you do to get things done.

Hugh Jackman in character as the rugged cattle drover, on set with a crew member
Catherine Martin
Producer, Production Designer and Costume Designer, Australia

Sometimes, while working on a film, the things you dread the most turn out to be the most extraordinary. When we were shooting Baz Luhrmann's Australia in 2007, I was not looking forward to the one‑and‑half‑hour drive to and from the set on location everyday. In fact, just the prospect of that amount of travel made me feel depressed. But then the landscape worked its magic on me. I ended up adoring the drive ‑ especially on the early 5am starts when you could watch the sunrise and see the extraordinary light playing over the landscape.

It became my quiet time in an almost unbearably hectic schedule.

Baz Luhrmann looks over the set from a water tower on location in Australia
Baz Luhrmann
Director, Australia

The job of direction calls upon every part of your being. Because of this, no matter how extraordinary a set or location, I always feel a little oblivious to it: there is always some crisis, strategy, thought or point of focus in which you must be absolutely absorbed. For most of the shooting of Australia, I felt myself only in the moment, and not in my surroundings.

This changed, however, when we started working on the homestead set, which was on a remote cattle station in the shadow of a towering escarpment outside Kununurra, Western Australia. After the first day of shooting, it was evident that most of my production was happening out of a Winnebago. And so a plan was hatched to set up camp by a (crocodile‑infested) river so the crew could remain together on the location.

As the crew scrounged for firewood and our faithful safety officer unrolled a chicken‑wire fence along the riverbank (this had something to do with preventing the crocodiles from eating me), I remained unconvinced that setting up camp was a good idea. I thought I'd give it a couple of nights, but I suspected that the concept of outdoor camping was just a silly romantic notion that would not be compatible with the intense demands of the daily shoot. But by the end of that first night, I realized that a quantum transformation had taken place in my experience of the film ‑to stare up into the night sky and bathe in the moonlight was to feel the movie, to feel the landscape. This was my first true experience in the making of the film. It took me back to the place where I had begun this journey, many years earlier; it took me to the place that I had been looking for.