Brian Williams and Ron Howard. (Event photos copyright Giacomo Selloni. All rights reserved.)
Earlier this month, Cinema Retro was invited to cover Tribeca Talks, a new live interview series that took place as part of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. We sent our "Man About Manhattan", Giacomo Selloni to cover the initial event at which Ron Howard was interviewed by NBC newsman Brian Williams. Here is his report:
By Giacomo Selloni
Ron Howard is an articulate film director. So it should come as no surprise that he is also an articulate speaker. He also has a way with anecdotes, as one might expect, given the length and diversity of his career.
"I think it's wrong to think of what I'm in as the movie business," Howard says. "It's the moving image business. I think it's necessary to work in all different mediums." He also says it's hard to call it the film business as the industry moves further towards digital movie making. Part of his process is deciding not only how to tell a story but what medium to use, film, television even the internet. "Some stories might work better on the internet, with little three-minute segments. The audience is always going to tell you what they want," he continued, "the audience clearly wants to have the option to view different stories in different ways."
"You're sixty, and a grandfather; it's enough to make one check their watch," Brian Williams said about Howard as he asked him questions about his career. When called upon to tell stories about the people he's worked with in his career that has now spanned six decades, Howard's abilities as a story teller came to the forefront. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Betty Davis, Jimmy Stewart are among the legends he's acted with or directed. Howard recalled his first meeting with "The Duke." He was picked up at the airport in Carson City, Nevada by "The Shootist" dirctor, Don Siegel and driven to the motel where they were all staying. "C'mon," Siegel said, "let me introduce you to The Duke." Upon introducing the young star of "Happy Days" to John Wayne, Siegel handed Wayne a copy of the latest TV Guide that he picked up at the airport. It featured Ron Howard and Henry Winkler on the cover. "A big shot, huh?" said Wayne. Howard later asked Wayne if he wanted to run lines. Wayne told Howard that no one had ever asked him to do that before. Howard was struck by how hard Wayne worked on finding the right spots to insert his trademark pauses and hitches. They weren't by accident, they were part of a "structured performance." "That's one thing all the great ones had in common," Howard recalled, "they always worked a little bit harder than everyone else."
Howard co-starred with John Wayne in the Duke's final film, the 1976 Western classic The Shootist. Wayne considered young Howard to be among the most professional actors he had ever worked with.
Williams asked Howard if he would ever return to acting. "I would kind of like to," Howard replied - much to the audience's approval. Now that he and his wife are empty nesters she's urging him to get out of the house more. He told the story of how he got his first full-length feature directing job. "Kids off TV sitcoms were not from the fertile ground where the industry looked for directors." He made a deal with Roger Corman who wanted him to make "Eat My Dust," a film he did not want to star in. Corman gave him the opportunity to pitch a film that was in the same car-chase vein. "Grand Theft Auto" was the result. Howard co-wrote the script with his father, actor Rance Howard, and it was a major boxoffice success. The rest, as they say, is history. A few years later Howard gave up acting completely in order to concentrate on his booming career as a director, although out of sentiment, he did co-star in the smash hit TV movie "Return to Mayberry" in 1986 out of sentiment and respect for his co-stars from "The Andy Griffith Show".
The subject of politics and popular culture came up. Howard is a great believer in American culture. "We are truly a melting pot nation and we understand how to make it work and grow." Working primarily in Europe for the last few years, he is troubled by the confusing messages the United States sends to the rest of the world, the whole red state/ blue state thing. People are purposely polarized. Moderate ideas, he claims, don't get any attention. The only messages that get attention are those of the extremists. In closing, Brian Williams told Howard that "If our country were to prepare a time capsule, your films would have to be in it - if not you, yourself." A quick look on IMDB as a reminder of his distinguished directorial career may have you feeling the same way.
(Giacomo Selloni is a playwright and serves as Treasurer of the legendary Players club in New York City.)