Director Ron Howard here. Hi Reddit! Ask me anything!
Hi everyone! Really excited for everyone to see my latest film, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA starring Chris Hemsworth in theaters this Friday. Other movies I've directed include A BEAUTIFUL MIND, APOLLO 13, RUSH, FROST/NIXON, among many others. Ask me anything, Reddit!
Just getting set up, I will be answering your questions in a few minutes.
Edit: 12:45pm Thanks for all the questions! And of course I'm here today touting In the Heart of the Sea, a movie that I'm very proud of, and I'm really hoping you will get out--before Star Wars! Or see Star Wars, duck under that wave, and then catch it over Christmas. Try to see it on a big screen. It's a movie that I'm very proud of, and a lot of good actors give terrific performances--along with, of course, The Whale. Have fun, have a great Holiday!
The Andy Griffith Show was such an amazing experience and so many lessons, just like the Opie character, there was a lot to learn being around those people.
I think that the number one lesson was probably that trying to achieve a quality entertainment is something that requires incredibly diligent focus, care, and dedication. Andy embodied that. At the same time, you could work hard on the creative problem solving. You could respect the audience and try to achieve a level of quality, but you can also have fun and laugh.
In fact, the creative, collaborative energy could be really intoxicating and thrilling to be around. But it also required this sort of equilibrium between focus, professionalism, and an ongoing sense of play. Because you are engaging in sort of make-believe to try to help achieve the goals of any scene, no matter what the genre.
What is going in with the Dark Tower movie? Are you still involved?
Your cable is out, but you're curious about Dark Tower...okay! Good!
I can't really say much about Dark Tower, except there's a lot going on and it's pretty exciting. While schedules and conflicts, etc, made it impossible for me to be the director of this first movie installment, it's looking very likely and fingers crossed, but I really can't say much more about it than that. Stephen King is very excited about the script, I'll say that, and Nikolaj Arcel our director is doing great work on that script and preparing. Do we have an absolute green light? Nope, not quite, but fingers crossed!
First off, I’m a big fan—Apollo 13 in particular is a favorite of mine, and something that’s inspired some of my own work as a space author.
You’ve obviously made a few movies based on real events, and characters both living (Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, John Forbes Nash, Niki Lauda) and dead (Jack Swigert, James Hunt, James Braddock). And some of your works have become the most-remembered telling of those lives and stories. Obviously you have to take a certain amount of artistic license to tell their stories…how much latitude do you give yourself for the sake of a good story? And is it easier or harder to write about people who are still alive, and who may to take issue with their portrayal?
That's a really good and complicated question, and of course it's a judgement call. It's like anybody writing about those people, of course they’re editorial decisions. Even in a documentary you're editorializing and making judgement calls that reflect something that you the story teller believed was important or significant or interesting.
In the case of a narrative movie, we never call them historical fiction, but of course to make a thing fit the story fit into a couple of hours, you have to make all kinds of decisions, and you also have to create very often scenes that you know didn't exist. But the goal is to create scenes that actually advance people's knowledge and understanding of the “big picture” thematic relevancy of the scene, and what the characters have gone through. So, you do try to reflect aspects of the characters that you believe are true. Peter Morgan, who has done a lot of this writing--he wrote Rush, Frost/Nixon, but he also wrote The Queen--and he's done a tremendous amount of narrative storytelling built around real characters and real events. He didn't invent the quote, but he likes to quote somebody who said, "Sometimes you have to lie to get the truth, so you have to invent in order to convey a significant idea." So, generally those are the sort of guidelines that I try to follow, all the while making sure that I'm putting the movies best foot forward as entertainment and something that is going to engross and deserve to be seen on the big screen.
As a screenwriter who has just been optioned, what advice would you give to someone who wants to build off that 'heat'?
Great question! The biggest thing is to never stop writing, and to keep building an outline or something so you're collecting your own intellectual property at all times. Even while you're going out and starting to take meeting. Now, the development game is not what it once was, and even though you have some heat from having something optioned, you want to take advantage of every one of those get-to-know-you meetings that you possibly can, and open up relationships with development executives, because that's so important. Interesting rewrite jobs might come your way--those are great for paying the bills--but more importantly, you're developing relationships with the gatekeepers, the people who can help you get things done. That's really important.
But vital is to not just have one calling card, okay, you got an option, that's great. You want to keep being as productive as you can and collaborating. As this one that's been optioned moves forward, my suggestion would be to stay as nimble and loose about continuing to collaborate and take on collaborators. It's been your baby, but that's not really the way film works. There are two or three key voices that often enter into the evolution of a screenplay, and the collaborators, directors, producers, and studio executives love somebody who can continue to advance by having that creative conversation, taking some notes, building upon the good ones, and being smart about editing out and weeding out the ideas that are not compatible with the screenplay. So, the more you can demonstrate that, the more you just build good will and that creative muscle that most great screenwriters need to have.
Do you remember eating with two old ladies in a McDonalds in South Louisiana about two decades ago?
(laughs) Agent Cherry, I'd like to say I remember. I was in southwest Louisiana a couple decades ago. My wife Cheryl's family is from that area and we've had occasion to visit a number of times over the years.
Her people came from a town called Gaydon, it's a beautiful part of the country, and I've had a lot of good meals there. I'd like to say I remember it, but I don't. But I have fond memories of the area.
Hi Ron, what film do you most wish you could make again with more experience under your belt or are you totally content in everything you've done so far?
Well I'm not totally content, although when I do have occasion to see sequences from my old movies.... I can't remember the last time I actually watched one of my old films to be honest because I'm always looking ahead. I'm excited about what I'm doing and trying to solve all of that, but I'm usually pretty good about cutting myself some slack. You know there are things about the movie Willow, as much affection as I have for it and as much affection as fans have for it that, you know, I would love to have a second chance with.
George Lucas was so trusting; I was still fairly green, I always say it was a little like me doing my doctoral thesis working with George Lucas on that movie Willow. And I think today I could make it even more dynamic, I could make it cooler, I could make the funny stuff funnier, but all that said, you know Willow was a great experience and I'm really glad it sort of lives in peoples memory. Or younger people see it today and still find something to really like about it.
Does the untapped narrative/storytelling potential in video games interest you?
Video games as a resource for movies or television...it does interest me. It interests a lot of people who like popular entertainment and are looking for characters and situations that will connect with audiences and have proven that they do in some way. But there are a lot of theories about what a challenge it is. A lot of it has to do with the fact that--people in my family who are gamers, I'm not really a gamer--people talk a lot about the fact that when they're in a game, they are the character.
To then suddenly ask people to go and enjoy a passive experience is tough, because they have their own sense of it. So it's almost a heightened version of people who have read a novel that they like, a book, and then they see the movie. And very often they may go the movie, the might even like the movie, but they probably always feel that it's a little bit compromised because it doesn't align with their sense of the story--that's common. The same kind of dynamic may be a little impediment in terms of video game characters making it into the movies, but there have been some examples (and I know there will be more) because there's so much creativity around the gaming, so much invention, and of course people want to build upon that in other platforms including movies and TV.
What do you want for Christmas this year?
Pervysage... uh, what do I want for Christmas? Well, you know I'm in that fortunate position that when I need something or really really want something, I have the luxury of being able to go out and get it. So what I really want, as corny as it sounds, is health of family, as much togetherness that we can muster now that everyone is grown with lives, careers, and children and so forth, and I want that holiday to be, you know, that time of the year where you kinda focus less on goals and immediate accomplishments, and just more on that connection. That's the Christmas gift for me.
What kind of movie would you like to make but haven't got into it yet? Something nobody would expect from you?
I've worked in a lot of different genres, and I'm not really chasing genre exercises the way I did as a younger director trying to prove myself to fans and to the creative community, but there's a certain kind of horror that I always admire when it works. I've touched upon it. I've brushed up against certain moments. There are a couple of moments in the movie Missing like this. There's actually without spoilers some elements of that in Inferno, which is the next Dan Brown / Robert Langdon mystery that I just finished directing with Tom Hanks, and so that's something that I would be open to if I found a story that I could connect with and believed I had something to share.
And then there's always that lingering curiosity of what it would really be to stage a musical. Closest thing I've ever did was one sort of goofy number that Jim Carrey performed as the Grinch. Our version of “You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”. And we shot it very quickly in a couple of days, but it was fun, and I've always thought it would be interesting to try to tackle that genre, but it's a challenging one as well.
What's the first thing you do when you step on set?
The first thing I do when I step on set is usually hand off my shot list to the script supervisor or, if I haven't built my shot list yet and all I have is a bunch of notes...
I'm bypassing stopping off at the port-o-potty, and getting a cup of coffee--those are kind of obvious early in the morning
...but get out there, look at the set, get a quick report if there are any surprises: Is anybody sick? Are your actors okay? Is everybody on time? What's the weather supposed to be?
You get a quick rundown, then you see if the plan that you made the day before still holds so you know what your first shot is going to be. Then it's really about getting that first shot launched. Sometimes that entails getting the actors there for a rehearsal first. Sometimes you know what the staging is going to be and you get the camera crew going, and then you begin.. you just begin the process.
If I haven't made a shot list, once I've staged that first one and broken it all down, I'll step aside with the script supervisor and jot down a shot list for the entire day--could be up to 50 shots--but I'll work it out with him or her, and that's usually about 75% accurate in terms of what we're going to do. But it becomes a great organizing game plan.
Do you see there being a return to the Willow universe now that Disney own Lucasfilm?
Right now, the Lucasfilm team led by Kathleen Kennedy, who is an old dear friend, is entirely myopically focused on the Star Wars universe as you can imagine. So I think the immediate possibility of another Willow movie is probably not on the front burner. But Warwick Davis is such a cool guy, and he's continued to evolve as a talent...man, he's Willow! And a grown-up Willow could be kind of cool, so, I'd say never say never.
Hi Ron, big fan going back to Happy Day's as a kid and I'm looking forward to "In the heart of the sea". If I may, what do you think are some of the best films in the last 5 years or so that we may not have heard of?
That you've not heard of....well, I hope people have heard of Ex Machina and have seen that movie, you know--I loved it. It didn't do all that well on it's theatrical run--you know, one of those things. Not an easy movie to market. But it’s getting some attention in the awards race, and it really deserves it. So, that's a favorite of mine. There's another one called Locke starring Tom Hardy which is a great movie and I really thought that he should have gotten awards attention for that performance. It's a really brilliantly written and directed movie. Very unusual, but, I think a movie worth checking out. Those are a couple just in recent memory that you haven't heard of.
Of course my favorite movie in the last 7 or 8 years is probably just Slumdog Millionaire. I keep going back and watching that movie, and I just love it. And you know, ironically that's the same year Frost/Nixon was nominated for an Academy Award, and as competitive a guy I can be, you know I had to sort of say hats off to Danny Boyle and Slumdog Millionaire. I thought that was just remarkable entertainment and fresh, and original and very thought provoking too.
Hi Ron I've been a fan since Happy Days my question is do you have any story you can tell us about working with Robin Williams as a guest Star on Happy Days something funny? Thanks Ron p.s. ANDY Griffith is the best late at night Barney is the man !!!
Well, Deadaselvis, you must not think Elvis is dead. You must be one of those guys. Let’s hope you’re right.
Robin Williams came in very late in the week, now we used to rehearse all week and do this show on Friday right in front of the audience, not live of course, but filmed. We started rehearsing on Monday and on Friday we did it. By Wednesday, we still didn’t have Mork from Mork & Mindy. Everybody was very nervous, they even talked about maybe shutting the show down that week, which would have been very expensive.
Suddenly the casting director Bob Hoffman came walking in with Robin Williams, he had his trademark suspenders on, some kind of beret, a kind of striped mime kind of t-shirt. He immediately took over, but in the most playful way, you wouldn’t believe it. Henry Winkler looked at me after this five minute torrent of unbelievable hilarious improvs that sort of included.. like kissing Fonzie on the forehead which I don’t think ever made it in the episode, which was kind of just a cartoon come to life. He looked at me, we just never had never seen a burst of genius quite like that. Robin is so missed for that mind, that heart, and that talent. But it was all there on that day, and I’ll always be grateful that I got to witness it.
What was your experience like going to USC's film school?
Well, I went to USC's film school. In fact, I was in the first class they accepted in as freshmen. I took a freshman English 101 class which was great! It probably robbed me forever of all those fundamentals you're supposed to get in freshman English, you know grammar and things like that. But instead, what we studied was screen grammar. We'd basically read novels, watch the adaptation, and write papers about the adaptation, but also work on the themes and ideas--it was so cool! It was great. But, I still struggle with adverbs, adjectives and dangling participles as a result.
USC was great. I left because the Happy Days series got picked up and it was a really great job. For a while, I thought I could do both those things and keep the academic side of my life going, but ultimately I couldn't maintain it. Then Happy Days kept going and going and going...I never got back to USC, but I kept making films on the weekends and writing scripts. And finally I got a chance to direct my first feature film which was Grand Theft Auto for the famous B Studio mogul and great trainer of Hollywood directors, Rodger Corman, and I never looked back. But I always kind of missed that I didn't get to close out my time at USC and make all those friendships with that generation of film people who were there. It was an interesting bunch.
Love your work! How do you remain such a nice guy in the midst of an insane business? Favorite philosopher / spiritual leader?
Well the business is crazy, and it's made up of mavericks. Let's face it; the people who choose this way of life have a kind of independent entrepreneurial spirit. It's a team game when you're actually coming together to make a movie, make a television show, or put on a play. But you don't sign on to a company and just be a loyal employee. You always have to be entrepreneurial. Usually people who are drawn to it are thinking a little outside the box anyway. No entirely sane person would really choose to do something as tenuous, as hard to control as a career in the business--certainly in front of the camera or directly behind it.
But, I started as a child--great parents, lots of good guidance, a great environment working on the Andy Griffith Show, to sort of uh have this foundational experience and develop kind of a work ethos that has been valuable to me ever since. And...here's the one thing that makes me a real anomaly. I've always loved it. I never wanted to do anything else. I never thought it was a drag to go to the set or learn my lines or be around this. I just always found it fascinating. And you know what? I still do. There are mornings where I get up at 4:30 in the morning to go to the set, it's a lot of responsibility, maybe I didn't sleep well that night, I'm worried about the scene, maybe there are problems...but when I set foot on the set, I'm always glad to be there. I'm always interested in what's going to happen. Even if I'm really tense or worried, there's a part of me that's nourished by it, so I'm fortunate.
My dad is kind of a philosophical guy. I always say it's sort of “midwestern Zen”. Very basic, but a lot of principles that boil down to the simple stuff like “treat other people the way you want to be treated,” seemed to really apply. There's wisdom to be found everywhere. My set of principles is sort of gathered and collected along the way.
Director Howard, do you have a favorite gas station snack?
(laughs) Well, when I stop at a gas station, I'm trying to be healthy so I kind of walk by all that stuff that at one point in my life I might have grabbed and gobbled. But instead, I'm looking for those almonds, those walnuts, those power foods to help me along down the road.
Hi, Ron! What was the most rewarding part of working on In The Heart of the Sea? Thanks for doing this!
Well it's my pleasure to do this. The most rewarding component of directing In The Heart of The Sea, despite all the cool logistical challenges and directorial creative problem solving involved which I really thoroughly enjoyed, I think it was witnessing this cast of really cool, young, dedicated actors totally committing to everything involved in the dramatic moments in this movie of which there are many. Because it really is not only about all the action, and scope, and scale, but it's also about this sort of bond, this brotherhood, the friction, the drama, and the conflict, but also the pulling together that I really admired their commitment to the movie.
You know, it's based on real events, so they were playing real people and they wanted to honor those people. It was not just the weight loss; it was also just the very difficult conditions under which we were working. And somehow, despite the low calories, their focus was there, their artistry was intact, and I will never forget the kind of commitment that they gave and the performances that they delivered.
What's your favorite book?
Wow, my favorite book? Well, going back, you read To Kill a Mockingbird and you never forget the experience. It's a great movie but, it unfolds with a lot of power and it's very memorable. I really like Joseph Conrad's writing and also some of his short stories, and it probably influenced my ambition to try and do a period movie, and see that kind of adventure story with the character dilemmas, the moral quandaries and so forth. Probably more than anything is the Joseph Conrad that I've read.
There's a great great book about the Renaissance--it's history, by William Manchester, who’s a great historical writer. He wrote a book called a World Lit Only by Fire, which is not terribly long, it's very juicy, and it sort of takes a look at the Renaissance in some ways that will surprise you and fascinate you. And of course, it will inform you.
And last but not least, I got to say that the Nathaniel Philbrick book, In the Heart of the Sea, is an absolute page turner. I certainly hope everyone goes to see the movie, our adaptation. But if you're interested, that book is...well it was an award winner and a best seller and all of those things for a reason.
Hi! What is the most enjoyable moment you've experienced while working in the film industry?
Professionally, probably winning an Academy Award! That was pretty thrilling, I'll never forget it. It's not really making the film...probably the filmmaking moment I will most cherish was a moment we were doing a movie Far and Away. It was fiction, but it was inspired by a real event, the Cherokee strip land race. This was where they were giving away land, regrettably this was Native American land that the railroad and the government colluded to give away, so that was tragic. But it was this thing where settlers could come in, they'd fire a cannon at a certain point of the day, and people would race and claim land. That's the climax of this movie Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
We were reenacting this moment and this was pre-digital technology, so it was thirteen cameras dug in, all real horses, real people on foot, reenactors, civil war reenactors, revolutionary war reenactors, pioneer reenactors who would all gather with their wagons, horses, and wardrobe to recreate this moment, including my father Rance who is an actor, and he was in the scene. It was dawn, everybody was coming into place, our thirteen cameras were set, and I just had this moment, because the reason I had chosen that as something to build a movie around is because I had three ancestors who had ridden in it. None of them gotten any land anyway--all of them had ridiculous goofy stories, nothing tragic fortunately, although there were a lot of tragedies and violence surrounding that as you can imagine. None of them had gotten land, but they all had a story, and I'd heard these stories through my dad, and one instance saw a newspaper clipping with one of my relatives in it from the time. This one moment I thought, well this is, this happened a hundred years ago. A hundred years later I am making a movie about it and this is as close as stepping into a time machine and going back as I could ever hope to experience. So, I don't know that much of anything will ever exceed that.
Who do you want to close for the Dodgers? Jansen or Chapman?
Well, I think you kind of want to see what's going on in spring training. Jenson's been awfully reliable, so this is sort of a wishy-washy answer, but I think they have the opportunity to look at these guys in the spring, and that's what spring training is all about.
Hey, OP... what was the single most valuable thing you learned from working on The Andy Griffith Show?
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