Today on the show we have a true legend from the film business, director John Badham. John has directed some of the most iconic films in history. From the decade-defining Saturday Night Fever to 80’s hits like War Games, Short Circuit & Stakeout to 90’s action classics like Bird on a Wire, Point of No Return, Nick of Time and Drop Zone.
John Badham has not only continued directing but is involved with some of the most cutting-edge television show being made today. John is also the author of two books John Badham On Directing: Notes from the Set of Saturday Night Fever, War Games, and More and I’ll Be in My Trailer: The Creative Wars Between Directors and Actors
He’s also is a Tenured Film Professor at Chapman University in Los Angeles. I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to sit down and pick John’s brain. He’s been directing for close to five decades. His wealth of knowledge and experience is remarkable.
Sit down and get ready to take a TON of notes on this epic conversation with John Badham. When you are done listening to the episode take a listen to the video below. It’s awesome and very helpful to ANYONE who wants to direct.
Alex Ferrari 1:49
Well today guys you are in for a treat I have on the show today legendary film director John Badham. John has made decade defining features like Saturday Night Fever, and 80s blockbusters like war games short circuit and stakeout and not to mention 90s hits like bird on a wire with Mel Gibson, the hard way and point of no return just to name a few. John is also the author of two amazing books on directing called john bad ham on directing. And I'll be in my trailer the creative wars between directors and actors. And he's also a tenured film professor at Chapman University here in Los Angeles. John is a wealth of knowledge experience when it comes to directing and he's been doing it for close to 50 years. I know that sounds like a lot, john, I'm sorry. But it's almost five decades of directing and working with actors and telling stories and working at the highest levels of Hollywood. And I was just such a thrill to sit down and pick John's brain in this episode. So if you guys are interested in directing, this episode is just plumb full of knowledge bombs, about directing, about storytelling about working with actors, all sorts of amazing tips. I learned a lot. And I really want to thank john, again to take take time out of his busy schedule to jump on this episode and talk to the tribe. So without any further ado, please enjoy my conversation with John Badham. I like to welcome to the show the legendary John Badham. How you doing, sir? Thank you so much for doing the show.
John Badham 3:31
Oh, this is great fun to be here. I'm glad to talk to you.
Alex Ferrari 3:34
You are you basically were my youth. I grew up in the 80s in the 90s. Watching your movies. And it is an absolute thrill to have you on the show.
John Badham 3:44
Well, thank you. I'm having fun being here.
Alex Ferrari 3:47
All right, so So first off, how did you get started in the film business?
John Badham 3:53
Um, I actually was a theater major at at Yale and I was in the Yale drama school also. So I got interested in, in, in film, and and sort of thought foolishly that I could just show up in California and start to get involved in it. You know, I mean, I had a master's degree in directing. It was in theater shutter, and people would say, Well, what would you like to do? Say I want to direct Oh, great. What have you directed well plays get out of here.
Alex Ferrari 4:34
So what are that no matter no matter what decades you are, you were born in there's always naivete.
John Badham 4:42
Right. And so I you know, I hung in there, kept looking for a job and finally landed something in the mailroom at Universal and and, you know, by then I thought, this is a big deal. Got a job. delivering mail. On the lot of course, I was used to be on the lot. Absolutely. And I walk into the mailroom, and there's 12 guys there, four of them with master's degrees, including me eight with bachelor's degrees. And, and in hot California, sun, summer sun, worshipping male up and down the hill. So, but but the idea was that you would kind of find your way out of there, you'd find a department on the lot that wanted to train some people. And it was a busy, busy time, at Universal, where they had 24 hours of television, plus all of their movies. So the lot was just rocking. Right? And opportunities were you know, popping up right and left. I eventually found a home in the casting office as a trainee casting director. And there's that's where I started to work with the, with real directors and real producers and, and who, you know, listen to me when I started talking about wanting to direct so
Alex Ferrari 6:13
And you got into television first, right?
John Badham 6:16
So I got into television first because I was working with a with a great television producer, William SATCOM, who led me start directing small things like literally inserts close up on the cigar and the ashtray, you know, close up on the telephone being dialed. But to go from there into actually having real people in the shot and then hold scenes and, and finally, when we started a series, call the senator with Hal Holbrook. He and and and his other producer David Levinson said, yes, you can direct number seven of this series, which was just great. I mean, we know what an opportunity
Alex Ferrari 7:08
Wow, how many? How many years were you hustling to get to that opportunity?
John Badham 7:13
So that I think that's about six years, I think five or six years before I got got to that place. And I thought oh my god, it's so late. Oh, I'm just gonna be ancient. But you know, thank goodness it worked out all right. And then that got me another another film which which actually won me an Emmy nomination another episode of the same show. And and and that that little stamp of approval that Emmy nomination that kept me busy for years and years,
Alex Ferrari 7:56
You were doing a lot of what they used to call tell TV movies or movies of the week,
John Badham 8:00
I segwayed into TV movies, which were just all over the place. There had to be there were half a dozen every week. Oh, they were everywhere. We're losing them. And so they were like little movies and and be shot in, say 15 days, that was like great. 15 days. Because by comparison, the our shows are being shot in six days. Right? And these were only like 30 minutes longer.
Alex Ferrari 8:32
So you had it was you were you were being spoiled.
John Badham 8:35
So Oh my god, this is great. And you got to do you know, more interesting stuff and some some action things and and, and and people you know, mad might take you seriously when you start looking for a movie, as opposed to having just done our television.
Alex Ferrari 8:53
Nice. No. So how did you get involved with Saturday Night Fever.
John Badham 8:59
I had gotten to do a movie with Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams, about the history of Negro baseball. With the unlikely and unwieldy title of the bingo long traveling all stars and motor kings.
Alex Ferrari 9:21
John Badham 9:23
But it was a comedy and, and was great fun that we shot in ballparks all over Georgia. And and it had a lot of music and, and and dancing in it. It was a co production with Motown and universal and that actually led to lead lead to me ginning up with with Motown to buy the rights to The Broadway musical The Wiz okay. And for for universal and and for Motown and and so I was working on that with my with my then partner Rob Cohen when when universal and Motown decided that for little, little 12 year old Dorothy, we should have the noted 12 year old Diana Ross play the part. And I said, Guys, I mean, this is a great opportunity. She's a fabulous actress, singer dancer, I mean what name it, but she's, you know, whatever age she is, I don't know, you know, late 20s, early 30s, probably late 20s. And, and and and Dorothy, you know is in literally in the L Frank Baum books is six years old, right? Which explains why there's cowardly lions and tin men and straw, you know, scarecrows, all kinds of the imagination of a child. So, wouldn't it be nice if we could find somebody that was really young that could play this? And I'm sure nobody's ever gonna have heard of it, because we're gonna discover. Well, that got into a big thing. And And finally, finally, we parted ways. Right? on that. I said, Well, you guys understand this? Because I don't know what to say to her.
Alex Ferrari 11:40
How do you how do you direct the Dorothy Who's 30?
John Badham 11:44
This scares the bejesus out of me. I mean, you've got a vision that doesn't match. Well. It so happened that the Robert stigwood organization had, we're producing Greece, and another musical with the beegees that was going to be called Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Alex Ferrari 12:11
I've heard of the album.
John Badham 12:12
And and you've heard of the album. And, and, and they flew me to New York and and, and wanted me to talk with them about doing shards and pepper, which, I mean, there was no greater fan of that album than me. Right. But the but the script that they want to do, I just didn't get it. Right. I was like, What? It just didn't quite didn't quite gel in my mind. And, and I as politely as I could, you know, refused, you know, and said, Thank you very much, but I just I don't get it. Right. And but two weeks later, the the then director of what was called tribal rights of the new Saturday night.
Alex Ferrari 13:08
It doesn't have the same same ring to it does
John Badham 13:13
But if we look at the New York Magazine article that it was based on, that was the title. And and nobody had come up with anything better, except for calling it Saturday night. And and that was immediately confused with Saturday Night Live, right? So they said, well, we'll just put a pin in it and deal with this later. So anyway, the director of that film, had a had a disagreement with Robert stigwood, who was not a human being to ever disagree with, because he was a tough old Australian. And he wasn't that old either. But to me at the time, I think, Oh my God, this guy's old. He might be 40 years old. I wish I were 40. And so suddenly, I'm like the next guy to be called on the list. And, and I read this script. And I had 102 fever with from the flu in LA at the time. And then the, the one hour that it took me to read the script, I was cured. Jesus came and laid his hand on me and said, you're cured, your fever is gone. Your fever is gone because you've read this great script.
Alex Ferrari 14:39
It broke your fever. That's great.
John Badham 14:41
I'll tell you it was it was fabulous. And that was a Monday morning by. By Thursday morning, I was standing in New York, starting to interview actors and talk to my new crew and and told that I had a Two weeks before we start shooting. This is probably where having done all those TV movies of the week and everything paid off, because unlike any normal human being, I didn't fall down and panic and have a heart attack,
Alex Ferrari 15:17
Right! Because you were used to it. Yeah, I go, okay, two weeks. What's the catch? So now as far as the casting of Travolta of John Travolta was he he was just the guy on Welcome Back, Kotter at that time, he had done Greece yet. Right.
John Badham 15:32
That's right. And he had been already signed to do Greece. Because from the welcome back Kotter, and from a TV movie called The boy in the plastic bubble,
Alex Ferrari 15:47
God I remember that movie to you.
John Badham 15:49
And if I remember properly, I think he was in the Broadway company of Greece. So so he had he had that experience. So the stigwood organization sign john 233. Picture deal. Got it. And Greece was to be, you know, the big the big one, one to be found. And, and then somebody came up with this New York Magazine article and said, How about this, that we could do this while we're waiting to start Greece because they had to wait for Olivia Newton john, right, at a very tough Kant concert scheduled at the time. And and she said, Well, I've got available from May to September or something like that. So they said, okay, between January and May, when we get Olivia Newton john, this is where we'll plug in this little movie called, called tribal rights are the new Saturday night.
Alex Ferrari 16:52
It was very much almost like an indie movie. I know that you did have a budget, but the way it was shot, I remember it, though, vividly was very kind of in the streets and kind of gritty and it was not a polished Hollywood movie by any stretch.
John Badham 17:06
No, and it was part of the point was to make it as gritty as we could. I mean, never having been in Brooklyn in my life. I said, Well, what if I were an English documentarian coming here? Right? I would just, you know, open my eyes and shoot everything that looks good. And, and, and one of the appeals of the magazine article was the kind of gritty realism of, of this disco and the people that in that, that were in it. During the time I was prepping a very brief time. Every every night, I would go to some different disco. In the middle of the night. There were yuppie discos there were gay discos, there were lesbian discos, there, you know, any, any kind of preference, you could think of there was a disco for it. And, and I quickly realized that, that this little kind of hole in the wall disco in Brooklyn, was very special. It was just, you know, kind of lower middle class kids were coming there. And you didn't really see any adults. Right? Sir. And, and it was just the neighborhood, it was the neighborhood disco.
Alex Ferrari 18:30
And I remember, I remember those guys grew up because I grew up in New York. And I remember that time, and I remember, you know, cousins of mine, you know, that, that couldn't rub two cents together. But when they got their clothes for, not, you know, Saturday night, you know, they they were peacocking all over the place.
John Badham 18:48
Oh, yeah. And, and, and so, so it was clear that, that we didn't want to go and glitz this up. Right? That it was not the kind of musical that's that say Greece was certainly going to be, which was much on a different much more fun, romantic kind of scale. Sure. And, and, and that this should have a real grittiness to it. And the script itself, you know, had more profane language and racism and sexism and, you know, really reflected the culture of those neighborhoods. Which, which I would have proven to me every day because I would be talking to people on the street and extras and learn, you know, learning about the culture as we're going and finding out that if anything, our our depiction of it was a bit mild.
Alex Ferrari 19:52
Wow, now that How was it? You know, obviously, when you guys were directing it? Yeah, I was. I remember we were talking OFF AIR about your assistant director Alan Werth who was a good friend of mine, he told me a story that I think he was you or someone handed him the soundtrack to the movie. And he took it home. And he listened to it. And he's like, this is never gonna go anywhere. And his wife was the one that told him, you're an idiot. And then if obviously became this phenomenon, how, what was it like being in the center of that storm? I mean, because you had directed literally a phenomenon. I mean, you couldn't go anywhere in the world without hearing that music. And seeing those images that you shot.
John Badham 20:36
Yes, I'm mean, the, the reaction to, to the soundtrack. Made Allen's experience wasn't, you know, wasn't unusual. They gave me a, you know, a little tape cassette with the beegees demos on it, which is probably what I gave to Alan. Right. And, and they were there were rough demos. And I think Paramount had listened to it and said, Well, this is not even real disco. Right. And, and I, and I think others, you know, were dubious about it. But Robert stigwood was a real champion. And he said, five songs on this cassette. Three of them are number one hits, at least, I thought, Wow, that's pretty. That's pretty arrogant. You know, how do you know what's going to be a number one hit? Right? He was wrong. Of course. There were four number one hits on there. And I don't know what happened to the fifth one, but it is
Alex Ferrari 21:45
Probably number two. It was probably number two. That's, that's right now, when you I mean, but as a director, I mean, we all as directors hope to be involved with the project that gets this kind of attention. What was it like getting the spotlight thrown on you? I'm assuming some opportunities opened up after the movie.
John Badham 22:03
Yes, of course. The first the Hollywood first reaction was to poopoo it, of course, because they had just, they were just totally shocked by all of the negative parts of it, you know, especially the language and the sexism. And I actually got fired from a movie, the day after we ran it at the big Hollywood screening. Picture got put in turn around 730 in the morning, I'm going to New York to the New York opening, and I get a phone call, you know, telling me that the show I was working on is now in turn around, because the head of the studio saw the movie last night and doesn't want anything to do with a director who would, you know, produce that
Alex Ferrari 22:56
Till the box office comes in?
John Badham 23:00
And yeah, the box office came, but they never changed their mind. Yeah, that movie eventually got made, but not not with me. Sure. So, I yes, it was crazy. Opening night in Los Angeles. As I was coming back from New York. I drove by the village Theatre in Westwood, just to you know, take a look, see what the marquee look like. And, and I see a line at the box office this about 1030 at night that are playing got in. And and I drive around the block and the line keeps going and going and going goes all the way around the block of this big theater. And this is for the 12 o'clock show. Wow. And, and I walked into the I walked into the lobby, and all the Paramount execs were standing in their grown men jumping up and down like little kids.
Alex Ferrari 24:10
All they saw was dollar signs, of course, and of course went on to be an extreme huge it.
John Badham 24:15
It did the little neighborhood theater near me in Studio City. Had it in their theater for six months.
Alex Ferrari 24:23
Wow. Back when they you could do that.
John Badham 24:25
You could do that. That was like, I mean, we were kind of following Star Wars in in a lot of markets. And we're replacing Star Wars. Because I knew that as I was checking theaters that usually not have a print of Saturday Night Fever yet, but they they would put up the you know a reel of Star Wars and I'd look at it and check the sound and so on. Wow.
Alex Ferrari 24:52
Now, let me ask you a question. When you approach How do you approach directing a scene in general like when you're going to go into a scene? What is your thought process? What is your process in your process in general?
John Badham 25:05
Well, there's usually about a dozen questions that I that I have to ask, which is, what's, what's different at what have we learned? What's different at the end of the scene from the beginning? You know, what, what were the characters in the scene? What did? What did they want? What does one character want? And what is the other character want? Let's say there's two people in the scene. Hopefully, they're opposed to each other. They're not just all agreeing, you know, there's a, there's, there's some kind of conflict. So I'm always looking for, you know, where's the conflict in here? What's interesting, what what, in the course of the conflict causes something to change from the beginning to the end of the scene? You know, I asked, whose point of view, is this scene? Is it this character or this character? You know, are we rooting for anybody in particular? And then, and then finally, I'm asking, okay, these guys have goals. When a guy, a guy wants to take a girl out for coffee, and she doesn't know if she likes this guy, or not, so that his goal is to talk her into going for coffee, and her goal is, you know, to kind of politely slide out of it, you know, and you know, that there can be a fun scene there, you know, and how does he go about it? Is he is he aggressive? Like, you know, a real macho guy would be or is he a kind of nerdy guy who's kind of embarrassed, but he's really excited about this girl, and he really wants to, you know, take her so he can overcomes his shyness. So, so as you just start to pull it apart asking these different questions, you pretty quickly develop a point of view on the scene.
Alex Ferrari 27:00
Very cool. Now, what do you do when you're not getting the performance you want out of an actor?
John Badham 27:08
Well, usually, I, I'm trying to help them and say, you know, go and say, no, what are you playing here? What are you trying to get? What's your goal here? And, and usually, a lot of the problem is, is that they haven't focused on on that. They say, Well, you know, when I was a kid, my dad used to, you know, yell at me, and it made me wet my bed. And I said, No, I don't want to hear this. I want to know, what are you doing right now? Well, I, you know, and I, I've got to focus them on what they're trying to do. And, and I, and I'm really tough about making them come up with the answer. Okay, I can go and it's easy for me to go and tell them now, you know, persuade this girl, you know, charm her into going, I can do that. But the more I can make, I can help an actor come up with stuff themselves. The, you know, the better they're gonna be.
Alex Ferrari 28:20
That makes perfect sense. Now, do you have any advice for dealing with difficult actors or difficult department heads on a set, which I'm sure you've had to deal with, at one point or another in your life?
John Badham 28:33
Absolutely. Every every department and, and a camera man, let's say comes up to me. And I say here, here, I here's the shot I was thinking about doing. And and he goes, Well, I don't know. I don't. I don't I don't like that, that shot. there's a there's a lot of ways to deal with this, which is, no, this is what we're going to do. And, you know, let's, let's do make it work that way. And you can get into a big argument or the guy goes, Okay, all right, fine, which is the last time you'll ever get any, you know, good creative contribution from that camera man. And, or it's just gonna be a, you know, a war between the two of you for the rest of the shoot. I look at the guy and go, Oh, that's interesting. Tell me about it. Tell me what what do you think? And he says, Well, you know, this, that and the next thing you say, Oh, great. Tell me more. I had I never thought of it that way. And even if it's the worst idea in the world, that's why you know, saying something like I never thought of it that way. is not judgmental. It's just kind of letting him expound on It in the course of that, and it could work this way with an actor with a costume designer, with an editor. In the course of that I'm learning what point of view that that person has on on what we're talking about. And, and I'm hearing them and I'm also getting them giving them a chance to kind of vent.
Alex Ferrari 30:27
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
John Badham 30:38
Whatever feelings they have, and and i'm not overriding them. And it doesn't mean that I'm letting them push me over either. I'm just, I'm just listening and doing what what some people call active listening, where you're just kind of feeding Oh, that's interesting. So you think that, that this, this shot is into the backlight? And, and and you can't, you can't like you can't compensate for that. Yeah, well, that's kind of what I was thinking. So what do you think? What do you think we should do? How would you do it? So with an actor, if an actor says, Well, I think I should be over here. And, and I think I should try this. I go, well, let's try it. My answer to them is usually Yes, let's go. Let's try it. Because I know that if I let that person try it, that their sense of professionalism and their creative instincts as an actor, it's going to start to ring alarm bells when it doesn't work when they try it. But I set out to be over here, because the scenes scenes have a dramatic logic, that it's hard to buck. Right? And if you go and you try some weird adaptation to the scene, it'll tell you it No, this doesn't feel right. But but the actor having tried it, first of all, is is more willing to try it your way. And, you know, say, well, let's do it both ways. Or he'll actually realize that it's, you know, that his idea didn't work. Or miracle of miracles, it's a great idea. Only by trying it, did you say, Oh, my God, I, I would have missed an opportunity here. Right? by me. And I've had that happen any number of times, where an actor comes up with with an idea, and I go on, inside my head, right? I tried to follow this little method that I just outlined for you. And go, Oh, my God. Oh, that's great. We would have missed something here. Well, thank you, Bill, to the actor. Now, for that. I mean, there's not a lot you can do on the other hand with actors that are, you know, showing up drunk or high shirt, or, or just basically unprofessional, really untalented that you made a mistake in casting. And that's, that's when more radical solutions are called for, like, you know, can you can you change? Can you change the actor? If you can't? How do you how do you disguise them? You know, hide the mind. Other people shoot over their shoulder?
Alex Ferrari 33:39
Yeah, I there's, there's little tricks here from them. But let me ask you something, though. And I've had this happen to me on set. And I'm sure it's happened to you. Not recently, probably. But when you were first starting out, were actors and department heads as well. But more experienced actors will test you. Yeah, on the first day, to see if they're safe with you. And is that true? Absolutely. Of course. Yeah. And how do you do and how do you deal with that?
John Badham 34:10
And so I'm, it's, it's tricky, because, you know, I'm trying to pay attention. I'm trying to be prepared. But I'm also trying to be interested in what they're bringing. to it. If, if I look like I'm paying more attention to the camera and the lenses than their performance, they're going to register that right away. You know, because you get to the end of a scene and call cut. And and the camera operator goes out, no good. The actor immediately thinks that's about them, that they're no good, right? Whereas actually, the camera operator saw a coffee cup on the ground in the background, and it shouldn't have been there right So, I'm always paying attention to the actor and going over to I go over to every actor after every take. And, and, and just even if it's just pat them on the shoulder or nod my head or your thumbs up or say you're on a good path or give them a little direction, they know I'm paying attention. Because I'm trying to, you know, build some trust. And building trust with with an actor is, as you say, very difficult. I started at 630 in the morning, going in the makeup trailer, saying, you know, good morning to the missourian, the chair and how you thinking about today's work? And are there any problems I can help you with? things, things like that, just to start building building trust before we ever get on the stage.
Alex Ferrari 35:54
It's a lot to do with psychology as well. And that's something they don't teach you at film school. They don't teach you the psychology of the film set.
John Badham 36:02
Well, I tried to where I teach at Chapman. Sure. And that's, that's a big part of it. And at the risk of plugging my own stuff that my two books are dealing, you know, dealing with, with problematic actors and building trust.
Alex Ferrari 36:25
Oh, what are the name of the books please plug away?
John Badham 36:29
Okay. Well, John directing, okay. It wasn't my idea for that title. But okay. And, and, and, and my first book, which is called I'll be in my trailer, which is something you often hear from, you know, from an actor you're having an argument with?
Alex Ferrari 36:49
I'll be in my trailer, call my agent.
John Badham 36:52
All my age. Yes. That could be that could be a sequel.
Alex Ferrari 36:57
Exactly. Well, we'll make sure to put links to those books in the in the show notes of the of the show. Now, you've worked with, I mean, the over the course of your career, I mean, the amount of different legends and movie stars and, and just talent is, is amazing. If you look over the scope of your career, how do you direct a movie star? How do you direct a legend? You know, as a younger director coming up? What do you are even if you're on the same team, like, you know that there's different egos involved? There's different personas involved? How do you like how do you direct a Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn and burn on wire, when both of them were arguably at the peak of their stardom? They were in that area that the peak of their stardom, they weren't giant movie stars, how do you how do you direct people like that?
John Badham 37:49
Well, I think it's, it's hard because because they're intimidating people there, they're bringing so much experience to, to the set and, and they they deserve respect, they've earned the respect. And, and, and I think they become your creative partners. To treat them in any other way was a big big mistake. And we sat with, with Goldie Hawn and with Mel for quite a while several times during the preparation of that, of that movie, you know, listening to their thoughts about the characters in the scenes and what works. And, and both of them are very, very smart people with with good insights. And my my partner, Rob Cohen, and I would, you know, spend a lot of time listening carefully to what they had to say and taking taking advantage of it. It's, it's not the kind of thing where it's a one man, a one man show, like, well, I can't think of think of a good example, where the it's all about the director, Orson Welles. But But here, you know, as, you know, in many star driven vehicles, you know, you want their chemistry you want to create a chemistry and foster a chemistry between them. And and you're, it's a comedy also. So you're looking for them to come to work in his, in his happy and, and, and up mood as possible, because that's going to reflect in all of your scenes. And if people are not happy, that really reflects I mean, you can tell it we as an audience can go, there's no chemistry here. Oh my god.
Alex Ferrari 39:56
We've seen I've seen movies like that with big movie stars, you could just tell had absolutely no chemistry and had no business being on the screen together, or that they hated each other.
John Badham 40:07
They hate each other. And you can tell it it just smells from from the screen.
Alex Ferrari 40:13
And it smells the opposite way too when there is that chemistry, when there is that enjoyment, it spills right off the screen. Of course, no horse. Now, when you've directed some just amazing action films in the course of your career, in your opinion, what makes a good action sequence?
John Badham 40:32
Well, generally, there has there has to be something where you're really involved the character, the main, the main characters have really strong opposing goals. And, you know, something becomes action, when normal conversation just doesn't make it any more. You, you know, it's gotten to the point where people have to get into a fight, they have to do a chase, you know, so, words, words don't happen anymore, but they're people pressing their goals. And the trick is, now, if you're if you're in, let's just say something as simple as a car chase, what are the things that happened during that chase the different events that happen that start to get more and more exciting, and build, it can't just be the, the stagecoach comes by, and then the Indians are chasing it and they come by, then the stagecoach comes by then the Indians come by, it's things have to be happening. The, the Indians have to be trying to stop the stagecoach, and jumping onto the lead horses to stop it. And the and the guy up on top of the stagecoach is trying to shoot the guy who jumped on the horses, right? And so you get through that, now you've got to come up with something that's even bigger. And and it keep the keep a good action sequence alive with with one, one event after another. So when you look at the great classic scenes that my one I'm describing, is from john Ford, stagecoach, you know, you can jump ahead to bullet or The French Connection. And, and and see Oh, my God, we are so concerned about the Jeopardy that Gene Hackman is in chasing this subway train under underneath the L where we're frightened to death because we know how scary that is. And and and and he's almost hitting other people. But we want him to catch up with that subway train that's getting away. And I heard it's a brilliant sequence.
Alex Ferrari 42:58
Oh, no, I studied that sequence. And from what I, I've read and heard that they were really looking at, like 70 miles an hour during that situation. Like it was a real thing. I mean, I know they had stunt people and stuff like that, but it wasn't like they blocked off blocks and blocks and blocks. I heard that they were like, just really driving. And it was Yeah, yeah. It was very scary.
John Badham 43:20
Right! Yeah, they were Bill, Bill Hickman, who was the driver on that, you know, they'd go out at six in the morning and just take off and oh, my God was terrifying.
Alex Ferrari 43:31
And and you could get it on screen. And you got it on. You got it on film. It was amazing. That sequence anyone listening? If you have not seen the French Connection, please stop listening to this podcast, go watch the French Connection. Now, what any advice on working with younger or less experienced CAS?
John Badham 43:54
It's the same whether it's whether it's children or young adults. I mean, who would you with children that the biggest trick is casting it right in the first place. Right? I mean, that's, that's easy to say. But if you haven't cast it, right in the first place with a child who's got an imagination, who's relaxed, who's not intimidated, and who will listen to you that you're, you're in terrible trouble. But if you've got a child that has an has an imagination, you can almost turn them loose, right? I had a conversation with Robert Mulligan who directed To Kill a Mockingbird and and I said how did you deal with these children and, and he said, I cast them right in the first place. I just kind of put them in situations and, and and give them a little idea of what was happening in the scene and just let them go and And their their imagination took over. So, of course he spent by Mulligan and Alan pakula spent over six months trying to find those children in the first place. Right? You know, they raid looked and looked and looked all over the country. So that's, you know, part of the thing you it's easy if you can if you can get Mel Gibson to come and be in your movie or you know a big star, you know most of the work is being done for you buy that person
Alex Ferrari 45:38
Yeah, so I forgot who said it, but cat was a casting is 90% of directing or something along those lines.
John Badham 45:45
We all do. I think it was Elia Zan. Who's, Who said it? And my question always was, yeah, now how do you get that other 10%?
Alex Ferrari 45:54
Can you tell us about that thing? Now, I wanted to ask you about one of my favorite movies that you've done short circuit. How did you direct that robot on set? How did that work? I mean, the technical aspects of that must have been must have pulled your hair out, because I'm assuming you didn't work all the time.
John Badham 46:15
We had a most most movie stars have have some kind of a nice trailer. Number five, had an 18 Wheeler. That was all his right it was filled with different versions of him. Big versions, little versions versions that went left versions that went right puppeteered versions, miniature versions to drop off bridges and and a full time 24 seven special effects crew that kept him running. I mean, he was our star, our Eddie Murphy. He was our comedy guy the star. And Steve Guttenberg and Allie Sheedy, God bless their hearts knew that and knew
Alex Ferrari 47:12
They knew their place was in the movie.
John Badham 47:15
That's okay, you know, we're here to support number five. And, and I, I made everybody treat him like we had Eddie Murphy. Right? You know, I go on the set in the morning, and when, when the guys would bring him out, I'd go over and give him a Give him a hug and start talking to him. Because we always had one puppeteer. Sure. That was the voice of number five. And so he would be talking back. And you know, it's, it's really easy with, with creatures like that to begin to believe they're real.
Alex Ferrari 47:52
Yeah, I'm sure I'm sure when you're talking to Frank Oz. On the set of Empire Strikes Back. Eventually, you just are looking at Yoda like it's Yoda.
John Badham 48:00
Yeah, it's Yoda. And and, you know, thank goodness, we didn't have any huge mechanical breakdowns because the guys were so worked so hard to make sure he was operating all the time and doing crazy impossible things. Like he looks at a grasshopper in one scene and watches the grasshopper jump, and then a full size six foot tall number five starts hopping like a grasshopper.
Alex Ferrari 48:31
I saw that. And that was before visual, like high end visual effects.
John Badham 48:35
Oh, this is all mechanical. Yeah, visual effects. Special Effects. Yeah, I was knocked out how he flipped a coin like like,
Alex Ferrari 48:45
Oh, yeah, I remember.
John Badham 48:46
Like, James Cagney. Right, flipping a coin. And that was all stuff we had to do for real because there was no CGI.
Alex Ferrari 48:56
Right? It was all all practical.
John Badham 48:59
You could do simple math shots and and very simple things like put in a sunset or something like that. But to do what we do today, crude, no way
Alex Ferrari 49:09
Not not even close. And I remember when that came out. That was a monster hit as well. That was another big hit when it came out. I loved it. Love that.
John Badham 49:20
It was I have I have number five, a small version of number five in my office.
Alex Ferrari 49:28
That's awesome. Now, one other movie that you did that want to talk to you about? How did you approach directing a remake of a movie like La Femme Nikita with the movie point point of no return? How does the director approach a remake of somebody else's work? And how do you put your own twist on it and be faithful to the original material. I've always wanted to know how you were able to bring it bring it to life.
John Badham 49:55
I so loved La Femme Nikita when I saw it And, and it was in a very small theater in Los Angeles. And, and, you know, I know that it's often hard to get people to go and see subtitled movies. And, and I and I walked out of that. And I said to my wife, you know, this, this would make a great American version. You know, it's such an amazing story. And I just don't think, you know, anybody's going to see it because we're seeing it in this nice little theater. But, you know, it was a little multiplex with 14 theaters. And it was in the smallest one of the 14. And I think, I think during off hours, that theater doubled as a phone booth. My brother observed, but he'd seen it seen more people in the 711 at three in the morning, right? Then we're in this movie theater. So I also said to her, if I'm thinking of this, at the point this in the theater, somebody else has got this idea and somebody owns this, I bet somebody has already bought this. Sure enough, Warner Brothers had bought it for lupus, oh, to direct an American American version of it, an American version, okay, and he was going to come over and do an American version of it. And, and I, and I shrug my shoulders and went well, too late, I should have been earlier. And, and then Luke besar woke up one day, and when I got other things to do, I, I've already done this, I don't need to do this again. Right. And that's somebody else. So then they, they came to me, and now our goal is, how can we do an adaptation of it without making you know, without making something that is more American and, and fresh, and, and keep the spirit of it, it's kind of difficult, but that's what we, we went to to writers who were character writers not not plot writer. And, and that and I thought it's all gonna be about her character. And, and how that how that works for us, because we've got a very strong story here. We don't need more plot. What we need is people, you know, characters that that we can identify with. And that was that was our approach. And, and it came up with the idea of abuser for the soundtrack using Nina Simone as, as a touchstone for her that that her songs and her kind of female rebellion that Nina Simone sang about was was something that would, would be interesting in helping, you know, helping this character.
Alex Ferrari 53:17
You actually brought it to life because of your love for it
John Badham 53:21
Right now, and I lobbied hard, you know, to get that, to get that job. Because I did really, really love it and and loved the character and loved all the characters.
Alex Ferrari 53:36
It was such a great story. It was such a unique, fresh story when it came out. It was it was monumental. But Luke and Luke is an amazing director as well.
John Badham 53:45
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, it's just I'm a big, big fan of his and, and I'm sure I was vilified in France. You know,
Alex Ferrari 53:56
How dare you? How dare you touch this?
John Badham 53:58
How dare How dare I touch it? And I just I just told the French press. I said, Well, please talk to Luke beside he's the guy that sold it to us. Exactly. sold it. We did, we just went and very politely asked, you know what, you know, can we make a version of this? And he said, Sure.
Alex Ferrari 54:23
Now, I have a couple questions left. Out of all the films that you have made, do you have a favorite one?
John Badham 54:33
Well, it's hard to say because there's good things and bad things in in, in everything. And you know, I think about the good things and then winsett the bad ones and the mistakes and things like that. Don't we all done better? And sometimes it takes 25 or 30 years before I go, Oh no, I just figured out how to do that.
Alex Ferrari 55:00
All right, so, um, you know, teach at Chapman University, what is the biggest lesson you try to teach your students?
John Badham 55:10
That it's not about the equipment, it's about the human beings. It's not about the kind of fancy camera moves, that it's easy to learn how to how to do. It's about what what is going on with the characters here, what's the story, if you don't get that, right, then all the rest matters for nothing. With with young with young directors that the first thing you can learn, the easiest thing to learn is how the equipment works. And and then you can get it in your hands and it'll pretty much do what you want it to do. Human beings, on the other hand, are order.
Alex Ferrari 55:53
You don't they don't do what you want them to do
John Badham 55:55
Tonight is and and they have they have creative thoughts and you have to learn how to deal with that. And that that frightens young directors no end and a lot of our job is trying to teach them how to work with actors. And and, you know, learning how to how to get the best performance out of them. In addition to you know, how to work with with screenwriters and, and, you know, make make stories work as well as they can they can do
Alex Ferrari 56:35
Now, what advice would you give a filmmaker wanting to break into the business today?
John Badham 56:41
Is there something else that you'd like to do?
Alex Ferrari 56:45
Why, for God's sakes, why?
John Badham 56:47
Why would you want to do this. And I have, I have a class of 23 students right now who are all shooting their first short five minute films, okay. And, and, and they're starting, they're starting to learn a lot of the, the difficult parts of filmmaking that have nothing to do with filmmaking, getting getting permits, finding actor's budget, all kinds of things that they you know, you don't think about, right when you're thinking about, you know, glamorous filmmaking, but they're having they're having to learn, it's a, it's a very tough upward struggle as, as you know. And that almost has an automatic self sorting. factor to it, whereas people start dropping by the wayside when they go, I don't have the energy or that I don't care about it enough to do it, or I'm not very good at this. A lot of times we find people thinking they want to direct and then realizing they don't like interfacing with, with human beings as much, but they love putting the film together. Or they love shooting, you know, being a cinematographer, right. So they find other things that they really enjoy doing. And, and that they're good at. And then they and they can make a make a career there, because God knows we have enough opportunities now with all of the television channels and cable channels. Oh, yes. It's so insane. It's so great compared to say, television of 20 years ago, when you had four networks. And that was it, that was the only place you could go But now, gosh, all over the place. So there is opportunity, which is fabulous. And for those who are, you know, making good films in film school, you know, they'll get they'll get to break through.
Alex Ferrari 59:04
The cream does rise to the top, as they say,
John Badham 59:07
Abs Absolutely. And and if you were, you know, nowadays, if if you're talented, and let's say you're in a minority group, or you're a woman, you've got a leg up, it's a great time for them because people are taking their them much more seriously. And, and, and they're getting many more opportunities. Right. My, I had a manager, a talent manager come to one of my classes to talk to them about it. And he looked around the class of 12 people, and he said, I can tell you who is going to be the big talents in this in this room right now. I've only been in this room for five minutes and he points to the two women I'm not joking. I said that, you know, you got you guys would you know this is great. You're gonna get an extra an extra little break here. That's all and and a long long overdue to.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:13
Absolutely, absolutely. Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
John Badham 1:00:22
Oh my gosh. It's a tough question. I think I'm still learning it so I don't know what it is.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:31
Fair enough. Fair enough. Um, and then three of your favorite films of all time.
John Badham 1:00:36
Oh, okay. No Country for Old Men
Alex Ferrari 1:00:41
Great movie. Oh, love that movie.
John Badham 1:00:43
Alex Ferrari 1:00:45
Uh huh. Huh, what? Yeah, I've heard I've heard of it. Yes. You've heard of you've heard you've heard of it. I've seen it many times. It's wonderful.
John Badham 1:00:54
And the Godfather number number one or number two? Can I lump them together?
Alex Ferrari 1:01:01
You literally another person, another guest did the exact same thing. I'm like, I'm just gonna lump one and two together because at the same movie, they're together. They should be. So absolutely. John
John Badham 1:01:12
These are movies. These are movies that have the I'm only gonna watch a scene test, which is you're flipping through the channels. And and you come across something a scene on godfather two and you say I'm only gonna watch a scene. Three hours later, you realize your watch?
Alex Ferrari 1:01:33
Yes, yes, it definitely has that. It definitely passes that test. JOHN, I want to thank you so so much for being on the show and sharing your knowledge and experience with the with the indie film hustle tribe. I really, really appreciate it. It's been an honor.
John Badham 1:01:48
Oh, well, thank you is fun to talk to you. It's good makes me think.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:53
Thanks, my friend.
John Badham 1:01:54
Alex Ferrari 1:01:56
As promised, john dropped some major knowledge bombs on the tribe today. So john, again, thank you so so much for being on the show. It was an absolute honor speaking to you, my friend. And if you want links to any of his books, or some amazing videos that I have in the show notes, head over to indiefilmhustle.com/234. And you can also see John's a demo reel. So you can get an example of what a demo reel for a director working today in television and feature films looks like, as well as links to his books. And I put a little bonus episode there from YouTube, on him sitting down talking about his book on directing, which is about 30 minutes of just amazing knowledge bombs as well. And if you guys haven't done it yet, head over to screenwritingpodcast.com and please subscribe to my new podcast focusing on the craft and business of screenwriting, the bulletproof screenplay. Now also, I know a lot of you guys have been emailing me and messaging me about ego and desire that you guys want to know when the movie is coming out what's going on with it, I really haven't spoken a whole hell of a lot about it. And there's reasons for all of that guys, but I have some stuff up my sleeve. And you know, when I have stuff up my sleeve, generally that's good news for you guys. So there's going to be a lot more ego and desire coming up shortly, hopefully in the next few months, a lot more information and a lot more content that I'm going to be creating for you guys so that I can hopefully inspire you to go out and make your own movies. So as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive and I'll talk to you soon.
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