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What I Learned From Ten Famous Directors

I’ve been privileged to work with many great and famous directors over the years. With some of them I had only a brief brush with greatness, and some I worked for extensively and collaborated with on a daily basis for many years.

Here’s what I learned from some of the greats.

ROBERT WISE

is famous for directing The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and The Day the Earth Stood Still. So when I got the call to shoot the first four minutes of Star Trek I was obviously very excited. I probably had an idea in my mind that a great director like Robert would have a larger-than-life persona, one as charismatic as the characters in the movies he has directed. But Robert was a very friendly, unassuming man and he didn’t change this persona while directing.

I learned that a great director uses the content of his mind and well thought out ideas to direct, not the force of his personality.

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER

directed one of my favorite movies, Grand Prix, and also Ronin. I worked for him one afternoon shooting a screen test with a young actor, John Savage. I can’t remember what movie it was for, but I don’t see John Savage on Frankenheimer’s IMDB, so I’ll assume the test didn’t work out! I saw John give very little direction to an actor who gave a really good performance.

I learned to “let the actors act”.

bruce logan what i learned from 10 great directors john frankenheimer

JOEL SCHUMACHER

was essentially a first time director when I shot The Incredible Shrinking Woman for him, but he had written Car Wash which was a big hit at the time, and had been a costume designer for Woody Alan. Joel went on to direct many large features including The Phantom of the Opera and Batman Forever. Joel was an extremely open individual and told me all about himself, good and bad, at our first meeting.

I learned from him that personal relationships are one of the most important aspects of this business. Also that succeeding in other creative jobs in the business is a great help in becoming a director.

JOHN HUSTON

directed The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen and had an acting career that was equally epic. I shot the title sequence for his movie Prizzi’s Honor. He directed from a wheelchair and had a bottle of oxygen on board with some tubes in his nose. He was very specific about the amount of time he wanted a shot to last and listened intently as I described the shot I had just made for him. No video assist in those days!

I learned not to listen to anyone who tells you your directing career is over at sixty.

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STANLEY KUBRICK

well, I went into detail on in a previous blog, but I guess what I learned from Stanley was to have Persistence of Vision. I watched him sustain his for two and a half years on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that was just during production and didn’t include the three years of writing and development.

SYDNEY POLLACK

directed Out of Africa, Tootsy, and The Firm. I worked with him for two nights on a documentary about Aretha Franklin and gospel music in Watts, California. I had not seen a director of his caliber shoot a documentary before. It has since become a very controversial project.

I learned that if you have passion for the subject matter, it doesn’t matter what form it takes.

bruce logan what i learned from 10 famous directors sydney pollack

JONATHAN DEMME

had just directed a movie for Roger Corman called Caged Heat. I was shooting a picture for Roger called Crazy Mama when the director fell out. Jonathan was hired to replace him – on this film for which he had not prepped.

I learned that there is no substitution for preparation! Jonathan went on to direct Silence of the Lambs and the Manchurian Candidate. It seems that those pictures were planned very well, so I’m guessing he learned the same lesson.

GEORGE LUCAS

is one of the most innovative directors that I’ve worked for. He came up with the concept of the “Rip-a-matic” – an idea that has now been replaced with an entire department called “Pre-Vis.” Back then, George took footage from The Dambusters, Tora Tora Tora and more to create his battle sequences with existing flying moves. It enabled the Visual Effects to be done with precision and efficiency.

I learned that just because someone hasn’t done something before, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

bruce logan famous directors george lucas

CLINT EASTWOOD

is probably the most prolific director I’ve ever worked with. I worked on three films with him, Firefox, Bird, and The Rookie. Clint is a lot of fun to work with, but he works extremely quickly. He was pretty forgiving to me when I needed more time, because what I was doing was very technical.

What I learned from Clint was, if you set the pace, everyone will follow. And you’d better bring your A Game every time because you might not get another take!

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN

directed The French Connection and the Exorcist I was the second unit director for him on a picture called Deal of the Century.

I learned from Billy that you can either run a set with fear or with love and harmony. I choose love and harmony.

Happy shooting!

Join the conversation

8 Responses to “What I Learned From Ten Famous Directors”

  1. DaveK on April 20th, 2016 6:33 pm

    I enjoyed reading about your lessons learned from these master filmmakers. I remember watching High Road to China and falling in love with those characters. The visuals, the acting, the music, the personas, all worked together to make a romantic and adventurous film.

  2. Sully Cortez on May 4th, 2016 12:30 pm

    Bruce I know exactly how you feel. I worked with Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull(2008), and watching him work was truly a lesson in filmmaking. I also worked with Bobby Deniro and Al Pacino on Righteous Kill back in 2011. Again another lesson from the masters of how to treat your actors well and let them live the role while shooting. Finally i’ll leave off with working with Sam Mendes on Up and Away (2011 originally called ‘Farlanders’). He was VERY interesting to watch and I learned so much from his meticulous planning that you can never be too careful when it comes to making sure you get the shot. But by far one of the most eye opening experiences for me was watching the late Wes Craven work with first time actors on ‘My Soul To Take’ (2010) I would’ve loved to work with Kubrick or Demme, you’re very lucky to have worked alongside some of the greats! Your article has DEFINITELY given me inspiration and hope to continue working on what I believe is my destiny and my true passion…. filmmaking.

  3. Robert Stadd on May 4th, 2016 12:50 pm

    Thanks, Bruce. Good stuff. Maybe some day, I’ll list what I’ve learned from working with you!

  4. Bruce Logan on May 4th, 2016 6:34 pm

    Hi Robert, great to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  5. Bruce Logan on May 4th, 2016 6:36 pm

    Hi Sully, sounds like you’re having a a great career and learning everyday, which is the greatest part about this business.

  6. Bruce Logan on May 4th, 2016 6:38 pm

    Hi DaveK I loved working on that film, except most of what I did happened on a sound stage in front of a front-projection screen.

  7. Shailendra Mishra on June 9th, 2016 5:42 am

    Thank you So much for sharing such great working experience with legends, every line is lesson. Thank’s Bruce…

  8. Bob Franco on July 20th, 2017 5:29 pm

    Hi Bruce. Thanks for writing this very interesting article and pointing out that you can always learn something no matter how long you’ve been in the business!

About the Author


Bruce Logan, ASC was born in London. His love of imagery started when he was hired by Stanley Kubrick to work under Douglas Trumbull on 2001: A Space Odyssey. He came to California in 1968 and worked as a DP on over a dozen films, including: Tron, Star Trek, Airplane, Firefox, High Road to China, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Big Bad Mama, and Jackson County Jail. He did visual photography for most of these films as well. He has shot commercial films for most of the major companies: Pepsi, GE, Visa, Chevrolet, Pontiac, DuPont, Contac, Sprint, Amtrak, Suzuki, Sunlight, and Armstrong. And—he has applied his talents to making music videos for such high profile performers as Prince, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, Glenn Frey, The Go-Gos, Karyn White, Tevin Campbell, Hank Williams, Jr., and Michael Cooper. See Bruce's full bio here.

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