Sidney Lumet: I Seek Out Partnerships

New York City

For every actor who arrives at work with demands and pronouncements and riders to contracts, there are three or four who are eager to listen, who are insecure about their contributions, and who are waiting to listen to you and work with you.

Every director has his way. I seek out partnerships with the people I work with. I don't show up and say that I've figured out everything and you stand over there and you light it this way and you make a noise like this when he says that. I don't think that works--certainly not for me. I also don't show up and ask everyone to tell me what they think should be done. I don't pick brains and get everyone's idea. Instead, I become partners with the actors and the crew and start rehearsing, playing around, getting scenes on their feet, and that's when people begin to feel comfortable, playful, strong, creative. Surprising things will show up, be shared, be discarded.

If you make an actor feel comfortable; if you reassert over and over that he is needed and admired; if you solicit his input whenever you need it, sincerely, you will get the best work at that time from that actor.

There is no one way. I am always surprised myself. I think I know what a film is about and how it's going to be made and how it's going to be received, and when it's up and growing and moving, it becomes something else. I am still the one who pulls it all together; I'm still the one who mixes the wonderful ingredients. However, it's not just my film.

I think of it as directions to a party, a wedding, a celebration. All of us are en route to this celebration, and each of us carries the unique gift that we've picked out for the celebration we think is going to occur at a particular time, at a particular location. Everyone has his or her taste, so I don't know what's been picked out by whom, how it's wrapped, what it means. What I have done is I've provided the directions to this party; I've crafted an easy-to-read, interactive map, and I'm with all the other revelers, on the way to the celebration.


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