On The Making of REDS (1981)
Meanwhile, on the set, “Do it again” had become the operative phrase. Beatty shot an impressive number of takes. He generally liked to give himself lots of choices in the editing room, and always thought that the best take was just around the corner. Explains Beatty, “I don’t ask for a lot of takes except when I’m directing and acting in a scene. It’s no fun for the person who’s acting with you to be watched. It kills the performance. You can’t say, ‘Well, no, I want you to change this and open your eyes there,’ and so forth, all that bullshit—you don’t. What you do is you do it again. And you hire good actors.
Customarily, a director will say “Cut” at the end of a take, and the cast and crew will break while the director of photography prepares for the next one. According to production manager Nigel Wooll, Beatty “wouldn’t stop the camera. Instead of going to Take 1, Take 2, Take 3, he’d do it all in one run until the roll of film ran out, after 10 minutes. He would just say, ‘Do it again,’ ‘Do it again,’ ‘Do it again.’” But this created its own peculiar problems. Wooll recalls, “We burned out three camera motors because they overheated. I’ve never, ever burned out a camera motor before or since. It was extraordinary.” One day they discovered that the focus was soft on some of the dailies of the scenes between Keaton and Nicholson. “We were going crazy,” remembers Dede Allen. The default response would have been to fire the focus puller, but Storaro demurred. After some investigation, he discovered, in Allen’s words, “that the magazine would get hot and slightly move the film from the gate by the most minute amount,” thereby distorting the focus.
Some of the actors welcomed the challenge of working for Beatty. Says Paul Sorvino, who did as many as 70 takes for one of his scenes, “It was a point of pride with me to do as many as Warren wanted. It was like ‘Yeah? You want another one? How ‘bout 10 more? How about 20 more?’ It was that young macho thing in me that said I could stand up to anything Warren [dished out]. I thought he felt he had to strip the actors down. A lot of directors do that in a cruel way, skinning them, flaying them. But Warren just wanted the best that I had, so I gave it to him.”
Others weren’t so amenable, especially since Beatty, ever opaque on set, rarely told the actors precisely what he wanted. According to one source, Maureen Stapleton did more than 80 takes of a scene, her head further slumping onto her shoulders with each re-do. Another day, after another set of multiple takes, she reportedly inquired, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” Beatty just smiled and said, “I may be, darling, but do it again anyway.” Says another source, “I saw several actors actually break down and start crying. Jack was almost in tears. In one scene with Diane, I remember him screaming, ‘Just tell me what the fuck you want and I’ll do it!’ Literally, his eyes filled with water from the frustration of not knowing why he was asked to do it again.” Says Beatty, “Put it this way: It was a scene of great frustration, and a scene of great emotion. Maybe [Nicholson’s reaction] just means I’m a good director! What was it that Katharine Hepburn once said—‘Show me a happy set and I’ll show you a dull movie.’”
From Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, By Peter Biskind
Peter Biskind, the author of the film classics Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, writes an intimate, revealing, and balanced biography of Hollywood legend Warren Beatty. Famously a playboy, Beatty has also been one of the most ambitious and successful stars in Hollywood. Several of Beatty’s films have passed the test of time, from Bonnie and Clyde to Shampoo, Heaven Can Wait and Reds, for which he won the best director Oscar. Few filmgoers realize that along with Orson Welles, Beatty is the only person ever nominated for four Academy Awards for a single film — and unlike Welles, Beatty did it twice. Biskind shows how Beatty used star power, commercial success, savvy, and charm to bend Hollywood moguls to his will. At the same time, it is seen how exacting a colleague Beattty was, to the point where he destroyed many of his professional relationships and ultimately, his career.