April 29, 2014

Ron Howard Talks Tech, Storytelling, & Being Groped by Bette Davis at Tribeca

RonHowardDirectingAt the Tribeca film festival, movies weren't the only thing on offer. From Thelma Schoonmaker breaking down the editing process behind Raging Bull to The Wire's David Simon on big data's possible effects on storytelling, the festival had far more than just films, including a discussion between newscaster Brian Williams and legendary filmmaker Ron Howard. Howard shared his opinions on many topics, and  thanks to Indiewire, we're able to find out exactly what those were! Continue on to check a few important takeaways from Howard's panel.

Ron Howard is one of a few child actors to have successfully made the transition into a career in the industry, post-puberty. As a kid, Howard was already an iconic figure with his turns on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days. As an adult, Howard has directed 21 feature films, in every possible genre, from the low-budget Roger Corman movies where he cut his teeth, to Hollywood epics like Apollo 13and even Willow. (I was surprised to find out he directed that one!)

He also has a reputation as being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. This year, during the Tribeca film festival, he sat down with Brian Williams to share some words of wisdom. Even though he's not the most indie filmmaker, Howard's chameleon like ability to turn out successful and entertaining films in every possible genre has made him one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. And, for what it's worth, in my opinion the man gets a lifetime pass for both executive producing and providing the voice for Arrested Development. He has even taken to YouTube to narrate tweets from fans of the show:

And if that's not good enough, he's been on The Simpsonsmore than once:

Howard Simpsons

Indiewire, which was lucky enough to get inside Howard's panel at Tribeca, offers a bunch of takeaways from the event, and we've shared a few of them below.

He Loves Technology

Howard told Williams that while he doesn't consider himself a techie,

I love the fact that I can get so much closer to what's in my mind on the screen than I ever could before. And there was always this gap, and that gap is narrowing. [Robert Zemeckis] was quoted as saying 'We can no longer dazzle people, it's back to story. And it has to be character and it has to be story.' I love that.

While a fan of the new technologies in motion pictures, Howard, like fellow director David Lynch, is not a fan of the idea of people watching his films on smartphones:

I was on a plane, three people watching Rush. Isn't that great? Yeah, three people all at once. I went to the bathroom and I saw they were all watching it. And I noticed that no one was actually looking at the screen. And then one of them was just fast-forwarding and just stopping every so often just to get an idea of what happened next. And I said, 'That son of a bitch is gonna claim he saw the movie!' So yeah, I was having to hold myself back.

That said, Howard has always been on the cutting-edge of technology. In 1995, Apollo 13 featured ground-breaking zero gravity footage (shot in the infamous plane known as the "vomit comet") and extensive CGI:

He Thinks Story is King

For all the bells and whistles in today's films, Howard believes that, in the end, there's no substitute for a solid story:

You know, we're all just doing things and absorbing stories in a different way. At the end of the day, I am a storyteller. And if I think the story has value and I think it's interesting, then my next job is trying to understand out how to best tell the story, and now, what format?

The executive producer of Arrested Development also thinks that the quality of entertainment content is today is higher than before, regardless of format:

I think [we're] at a high point in television quality. Breaking Bad was tremendous. There are shows that I wanna see that I haven't begun to. I really think the creative process is more exciting than ever, and there are more and more people doing great work and we've had a great awards season this past year. It's kind of mind-blowing, people all over the world are making great creative choices, pushing American filmmakers.

How He Made the Transition to Directing

As a kid, Howard was famous for his parts on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days. When he moved to directing, it wasn't easy for him to get his foot in the door, telling Williams:

I had a script that I had written that I wanted to make into a character study. I thought maybe if I had raised half of the $300K budget I could get it made. I told my agent please don't come with me to this meeting, 'cause I wasn't going in there to talk about money. I was going in to talk about my dream.' I went to Roger Corman and I said, 'I know you're the one person who'll give first-time directors a chance. Please read this script and if you'll co-finance this, I'll act in Eat My Dust

The followup to Eat My Dust, 1977's Grand Theft Auto, would turn out to be Howard's directorial debut:

As his career progressed, he found himself directing some of the greats of Hollywood; in 1980, he worked with Bette Davis on the little remembered TV movie, Skyward(Note: the first few minutes of the video below are from a flight-themed episode of Ripley's Believe it Or Not, narrated by Jack Palance!)

Howard recalled a conversation with Davis, before shooting started:

I was talking to her on the phone and I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, I'll protect you as the director and I'll make sure that you're prepared and your performance will not suffer.' And she said, 'I disagree, Mr. Howard.' I said 'Ms. Davis, please just call me Ron.' And she said, 'No, I will call you Mr. Howard until I decide whether I like you or not.' And then [on set] I gave her a note. And she tried it, and it worked for her. And on that rehearsal, she said, 'You're right. That works much better. Let's shoot.' And at the end of the whole thing, I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, great first day, I'll see you tomorrow.' She said, 'Okay, Ron, see you tomorrow,' and she patted me on the ass.

What do you think? As an indie filmmaker, do you think a consummate Hollywood director like Ron Howard can teach us anything? Are you a fan of his work, and if so, what are some of your favorite films? Also, isn't Clint Howard awesome? Let us know, in the comments!

Link: Tribeca: Ron Howard On Proving Himself to Bette Davis and the Future of Filmmaking -- Indiewire

Your Comment

9 Comments

Yup, story is king. I'll shoot a movie on a potato so long as I get the story across.

April 29, 2014 at 9:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

I agree but in Ron's case you're getting a little more than just a great story. He's one of the great ones.

April 29, 2014 at 9:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anthony Marino

Cunningham! :)

April 29, 2014 at 9:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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bendel

a potato....really?

April 29, 2014 at 10:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jayson

Not just any potato -- a Yukon Gold 3000. It has a global shutter and a dynamic range of 16 stops.

April 29, 2014 at 11:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tzedekh

22 stops if you go into HDR mode, but I'm still waiting for the firmware on that.

April 29, 2014 at 2:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Coty

You get better coverage shooting with two Potatoes. Cant afford Yukon 7k's, but if you light it right no one can tell the difference.

April 30, 2014 at 2:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Leon

April 30, 2014 at 11:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I have to agree story is king even though I'm on the camera end. Great cinematography can not make a great movie out of a bad story but a good story will still be a great movie with okay cinematography.
I like Ron Howards attitude and his movies.

May 1, 2014 at 5:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gary