the multi-talented actor, producer, director, composer, writer (The Producers, Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles) and BAFTA Fellow on hidden meanings, the stuggle of early mornings and why laughter is the only way to beat facism
All my movies have to say a little something, that’s what drives me. That’s the engine that takes it to whatever victory you get. In Blazing Saddles it’s racial prejudice, History of the World had to do with a lot of things, royal injustice, religious injustice, Silent Movie is all about big companies swallowing up art, the little movie business. Even in Spaceballs, it’s still good against evil. If audiences get it, they get it, but that’s what drives me and is the little choo choo that drives the movie.
You need another reason to make a movie besides money. You, the writer-director, must have another reason: something that’s very dear to you, that’s deep inside you that you want to say. Even if it’s a silly comedy, I look for that hidden meaning or feeling in the story. I try not to do anything that is simply flat-out funny or just for laughs. I try not to be simply frivolous. I always try to have my own little engine pushing it through.
Stick a song in there. I’m very different from a lot of filmmakers; I love music, I am a composer and I write tunes, music and lyrics. I like to stick songs in; if I can stick a song in there I’m very happy. Almost every movie I make, for no reason at all I stick a song in it. And now they’ve done that with La La Land and they’ve got a big hit.
Energy and hours are a challenge. I’m a normal guy, I go to sleep at 2am, wake up at 9 or 10. But with movies you’ve got to be on the set at 6, walking the shot for your cinematographer. That’s not me. Some people get up at 5 everyday, that’s fine; movie hours are good for them. They’re not good for me. What’s good for me are what we call French hours. The French, God bless them. They start filming at 12, there’s always something to eat and they finish at 8, and anything after 8 is what we call golden hours or double time. It’s perfect. That’s for me.
Learn what the hell each and every person does and why they’re there. If I were teaching movies, Mel Brooks Movies #1, I’d say learn what everyone on that set does. What is the art department? What do they do? What is the electrical department? Who is the best boy? What is lighting? What do the grips secure? So when you see someone on a set, it’s not just another guy: it’s an important person who’s helping you make your movie. That’s very important. I would say to young directors, learn all of the jobs – and that includes the interns you’re not paying any money to and saving money on. They have a job to do, as do the poor people stuck in the office who can’t enjoy the excitement of actually seeing the film get made. Just have some compassion for them. Learn what everyone does on a movie and have normal respect and compassion for them. And then they will love you.
That’s always been my take on Nazism and Fascism, reduce it to laughter. If you argue with Hitler you’re going to lose, he’s a better orator than you’ll ever be. But if you ridicule him, you’ve won the argument.
Some films today stink. Some are just terrible. But this year there have been three or four pictures already that are terrific. La La Land, Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Loving, we’ve got some incredibly good movies. This is a good season for good movies, we’re lucky.