A number of the projects from the Munich Film Museum wound up in a documentary called The One Man Band (currently available on Criterion's Mr. Arkadin DVD).
Yes. And also, I made my... I call it a video tribute, not a documentary, called Working With Orson Welles
. Because every book written and everything that was done, they suddenly stop at 1970 like nothing happened after that. We did a wealth of things. Orson was always doing four or five things at the same time. And during the shooting of F For Fake
, I came to the studio and Orson had a whole bunch of pots and pans and food out and I said, "What's that?" And he says, "The food show! The cooking show!" Like I was supposed to know I'm doing a cooking show. He never mentioned it before. He wanted to host a cooking show.
We did a series called Orson Welles' Great Mysteries
for English television in London. We shot that on the F For Fake
set. Every week we shot. He did the introductions, the middle, and the end and then we'd send the footage off the London to put in the TV series. Orson had a great time in the theater, a great reputation, a huge success on the radio, of course, with War of the Worlds
, and then he went to Hollywood and made Citizen Kane
, but he could never conquer TV. He never got his own TV show. He came close when he made a pilot for Desilu [The Fountain of Youth
in 1958], but no one bought it. So he was always trying to be on TV. Johnny Carson
, Merv Griffin
, anytime somebody said, "Do you want to do TV, Orson?" he said, "Yes, I do." So we made a pilot with the two most popular people around 1981, Burt Reynolds
and Angie Dickinson
, and the Muppets
. 90 minutes. It was completed and offered for sale, but no one ever wanted it. It just sits in a vault.
And you mentioned The Dreamers
was unfinished. Well, The Dreamers
was never intended to be finished. It was intended as a 20-minute promo reel to raise money. We knew we never had the money for that. He was going to do King Lear
in France, and I was going to shoot it, and they just yanked the money away from him. A lot of that stuff happened. That happens in Hollywood a lot, too, anyway. Sometimes people get right up to the night before the shoot and it's canceled. But as I said, Orson was famous for getting that reputation.
Oja Kodar plays a fairly large role in F For Fake and in his life during those years. Talk about their relationship and how they met.
She was doing newscast in Yugoslavia, Zagreb, which is now Croatia, and Orson was there making The Trial
. He met her and he just fell in love with her. She went to Paris; she was a sculptress and a painter, and Orson followed her there. She'd go out that night to the discotheque with her boyfriend and Orson would follow her. She told me that he would hide behind a post and watch her. And he finally got her to be his girlfriend. He was 50 then and she was about in her early 20s. But they got along really, really good. The three of us, Oja, myself and Orson, when I lived with them in houses and hotels and everything, it wasn't just being the cameraman. We went everywhere together. I must say, as hard as we worked, especially in France and Paris, we always had a great dinner. Movies, in general, all movies, it's not about the script, not about actors, or the camerawork. It's about food. That's all the crew cares about. Who's the caterer? When's it going to be here? Is it hot? What kind of food is it? I'm hungry.
Was the food good on an Orson Welles set?
Always good, yes. We always had great meals. He insisted upon it. And once, during F For Fake
, we went to a restaurant in the country near the studio, called La Poulet. We went there a lot, and the owners were gone on vacation and their teenage son and daughter were running the restaurant. We had a nice lunch. It wasn't very expensive; it was about 30 bucks, a plate of food, and we had this wine. It was the most delicious wine. And Orson forgot his glasses and he ordered this wine from the menu and they brought the wine it was so delicious, so good. When we got the bill, the lunch was 30 bucks and wine was 150 bucks and he was just... He couldn't be mad, but we went to discuss financial difficulties.
When you started working with Orson Welles, you had made just a few films since you had gotten back from Vietnam, low budget exploitation movies mostly, and Orson had been making films for 30 years with some of the greatest cameramen in Hollywood. How demanding was he of you?
Very demanding. But he worked very hard and he expected everybody else to work as hard as him. Orson worked seven days a week until he died. The day before he died, we were ere going to do Julius Caesar
with him playing every part himself, at UCLA. And he didn't feel good the morning of that shoot, so we didn't shoot. And then he did The Merv Griffin Show
that night and then died in his sleep.
Tell me about actually working with Orson Welles on the set. What kind of direction did he give you when you first started working with him? When you were setting up the camera, doing the lights, what kind of involvement did he have?
When he did Citizen Kane
, Gregg Toland, the cinematographer, said in an interview that Orson was setting all the lights himself and telling people where to put the lights. Finally, someone told him, "You know, that's the cameraman's job." And Orson said, "Oh, really? Oh." And he stopped. But he knew exactly what he wanted, so when I started working with him, and I didn't know his techniques, he would say, "Put a light up there, put a red gel on it," or "Let's put a 2k over there, some different lights, and get something down here." I let him do that. He did the lighting. He knew exactly what lens he wanted and where to put the camera and everything. So I was really, basically, the technician and I had to make sure the exposure was right and the light was right and it looked good so it was covered. But he knew what he wanted to do and as we got working more and more, I bought him this big chair we called the throne. And he'd take this chair out and he'd put it somewhere like this and he'd sit there. "Maybe the camera here. Give me a 40mm lens," or something like that. If I wanted to make a shot that I thought we should have, if Orson went to the bathroom, I'd come in and move the chair around somewhere. He came back and sat down and I got to make some shots that I wanted. And after a while, he really trusted me, you know, and he would draw sketches and have me go out and shoot things. I'd bring them back and usually they were fine.
I was able to bring to him a style that was low overhead. I didn't have a big crew and they didn't make much money. Seven or eight people instead of 50 or 60 people. So we would take our time. We weren't rushing things. But actually, when we got to Other Side of the Wind
, when we had John Huston and Edmond O'Brien
and all these actors, we moved a lot faster. A lot of the film was shot slowly and carefully and he'd edit stuff. Orson did all of his own editing. Not splicing, you know, he'd have some hands to do that, but he called the shots on everything. In F For Fake
, we have shots in the picture which are so short that there are no edge numbers in the negative. The negative cutter had to eyeball it. This was before MTV, before what they do now. Everything's so fast, you get an image and it's gone. This was a new style that he was trying to go for, unlike The Magnificent Ambersons
, with all those long takes, and Touch of Evil
. Normally when you edit, you put scene 45, take 1,2,3,4, something like that and you'd file it in a box. Orson would call it, "Huston takes a drink." Now, when we edit on the Avid, on video, they don't put scene numbers in the computer. They put down "Madonna Sings" or something like that. They do what Orson was doing 25 years ago. He said you always have to be a few steps ahead of everybody else.
Orson was not just a director. He was a producer, he was a writer, and he brought theater and magic with him to film. And, of course, he was the foremost experimental filmmaker we have in this country. He was really an experimental filmmaker. You always can tell his style, though the films are different. I mean, The Magnificent Ambersons
is different from Touch of Evil
, and The Trial
was different. He was always fiddling and trying new things and trying to stay ahead.
From what I've read about him, Orson Welles would sometimes completely remake his films in the editing.
He loved the editing room. I guess that's why some things weren't completed, because he loved to edit. He just really loved that cutting room. He never finished a movie he made called The Deep
with Jeanne Moreau
, Laurence Harvey
, and himself and Oja. I asked him and he said he made it with his own money and he wasn't happy with the way it came out. He says, "I shouldn't be criticized. I didn't waste anybody's money or anything. It's mine." He wasn't that happy with it. He didn't want to do any "jobs," he wasn't a director for hire. In his later years, he said, "Because I want to do only scripts that I write." And he was offered some jobs. He was offered to direct Popeye
, the Robert Altman
movie, and he didn't want to do it.
During the years you worked with Welles, he was essentially an independent filmmaker. Did he ever talk to you about his Hollywood days and the equipment and budgets that he had then? What was his view of working for Hollywood?
Well, he loved it, of course. I mean, he had everything he wanted when he did Citizen Kane
and The Magnificent Ambersons
. He had all the equipment he wanted from the studio and it was rather a crushing blow. RKO was in trouble financially, bad trouble, before they made Kane
. They were very shaky. So Kane
didn't make any money, nor Journey Into Fear
. None of them made any money. So he went down to South America. He started with a big crew. Technicolor cameras and four cameramen and everything, and then they were going to throw Orson out because the pictures didn't make any money. He had a producer down there who sent telegrams back to the studio all the time saying, "We got trouble down here. Welles is filming black people." And things like that. Undercutting him, say he's wasting money. So they pulled the plug on this picture, It's All True
, but Orson was starting this "Four Men on a Raft" section up at Fortaleza, where I went back and interviewed everybody for It's All True
40 years later or something like that.
The point was, after having all the equipment he wanted, all the cameras, lights, set builders, painters, everything, he was left on a beach with one camera and some reflectors and very little film, and he stayed on. And that made him realize that he could make a film without much, which he did then when he did Othello
. Which he did with his own money and his own camera and everything. He told me that when he was playing Othello, he was walking along, strutting along through the church and the canals and everything, and they couldn't get a dolly or anything in there, so he got a board and took the wheels off a roller skate and put them there and then put the camera on it and had a string attached to his stomach and he pulled the camera along. I think that was the first skateboard.
He became inventive. We had something he invented, a lighting thing called Miraculo, for The Other Side of the Wind
. We never used it since. Orson had us get big, long poles, like 12 feet long, and put a light on the end of it and then the wire and on the other end was the plug with a dimmer, and he'd have grips and electricians; when actors would go off somewhere, we were too far away from the set, we wanted to film out in the desert and stuff, and we'd have guys stand out there with these long poles. You'd have to hold it still and we were able to work like that instead of dragging all the lights out there so we could work fast.
The format of the presentation lent itself to digressions. Here are just a few of them, remembrances that would come to Gary in the middle of a discussion or an aside while answering a question.
I remember one day, we did a scene in a coffee house and we worked on a set. All day long Orson said, "Hang some China lamps over there, put some gels there, lay the dolly..." He'd sit there and we worked for hours and hours lighting a set. He liked to light a set. Even before the actors came in, he'd light the set, which I like to work that way too. Most cameramen don't. They like to see a rehearsal and then they
light the set. I'm fine with lighting a set just like Orson. We'd go all day long, 8, 9, sometimes 10 hours, and Orson would say, "Anybody can make this shot. Tear it down, we'll do something else," which you can't do really on a movie. So he would work that way, too. If he didn't like something, he'd change it, recast, whatever.
One night we were in Spain, in Malaga, and we shot all day. He was shooting Lilli Palmer
, some stuff at her house. We shot all day, and Orson said, "I'm going to go out with some friends for dinner." I walked past his hotel, I was in another hotel. He saw me and said, "Let's go to dinner." I said, "You're going to dinner with your friends." He said, "Oh, forget them. You and I will go." So we went to dinner. We stayed out till three in the morning having the wine and the food and the deserts and everything. I went to bed about 3:30. 5:30, the phone rings. "Get up! Get out of bed! Get that camera down here! And bring the sound man with you." I said, "What?" He said, "It's going to be a great dawn shot." And we were shooting two hours after I went to sleep. Tired, dead tired. But it was a great dawn shot.
We were sitting around and I was doing some Roger Corman movie or something, Deathsport
, or something with David Carradine
. Orson was doing the wine commercials. We would sit sometimes in the winter in front of the fire. When we weren't shooting, we would just talk. I'd say, "Come over and have a cup of coffee." And he says, "Gary, here we are in Hollywood. Right off of Hollywood Blvd." He says, "We're both very talented." He says, "We're just working in the suburbs of the cinema." I thought that was a good quote: "suburbs of the cinema." Then I told him, I don't know, I was trying to produce some movie, and I said, "Things are slow." I said, "Orson, I may have to go out and make something like 'Lobstermen From Mars' or something." Next time he goes on Merv Griffin, he says, "Merv, I may have to make 'Lobster Men From Mars.'" And a guy watching the show goes out and he made a film called Lobsterman From Mars
with Tony Curtis
and Billy Barty
. Lobster Man
because he could only afford one Lobster costume. And the guy made a movie from that.
For The Dreamers
, he wanted to keep building onto the house. We built a runway, we built another room, and he had to get lights. He said, "I need a light in the tree, I need some lights over there, I need some lights by the piano." I said, "Orson, this is going to be... I need another generator, I need more money, I need more crew, I need more people, I need more equipment, I need this and this and this." I warned him. Then we had our big night of shooting with all the generators, the lights, and the crew and I gave him the bill. It was like $3,000 and he bellowed at me, "What in the world are you doing to me?! Gregg Toland would never have let me use this many lights!" He said, "We did Citizen Kane
, sometimes Gregg used one light." Well, I wasn't going to tell him he couldn't have his lights.