Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Happy birthday, Woody Allen!

Woody Allen turns 80 today.

He’s been making one movie a year for the past five decades, and shows no signs of slowing down. He’s had just as many misses as hits, but it doesn’t matter; he’s an iconic figure in the filmmaking world.
That's from Biography.com, which lists some interesting facts about him:
While he was still in high school, he tried sending his jokes in to the newspaper, which promptly started printing them. A typical one went something like this: “A hypocrite is a guy who writes a book on atheism, and prays it sells.”

When Allen’s jokes started appearing in well-known columns, . . . he decided he didn’t want his classmates seeing his name there, so he changed it. Allen Stewart Konigsberg legally became Heywood Allen, and then Woody Allen, a name that seemed to lend itself to comedy writing. And he just kept writing jokes, and soon he was up to 50 a day. He hasn’t been out of work since. . . .

Early Woody Allen films are pretty surprising to those who grew up in his post Annie Hall era. His movies had him slipping on a gigantic banana peel (Sleeper), getting shot out of a cannon (Love and Death), or running around in a sperm suit (Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask). He admits he’s been as influenced by the Marx Brothers as he was by Bergman.

These wackier movies were all made in the 1970s, so one might conclude that he’d at least dabbled in some of the popular substances of the times. But he’s never tried any recreational drugs, and says he can’t fathom why anybody else would. He hasn’t taken Valium (another hugely popular drug of the 70s, although a legal one), or Prozac, or antidepressants. He’s never even taken a sleeping pill. . . .

Actors in Woody Allen movies always seem perfectly cast; they inhabit their parts so well that viewers can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. While there were times when it was inspired by a particular muse, like Mia Farrow or Diane Keaton, generally the movie is written and then Allen and his longtime casting direction Juliet Taylor make decisions about who should play each part. And so begins the audition process, which happens so quickly you might miss it if you blink. . . . Taylor says the shortest casting session has come in at ten seconds.

When he’s interested in an actor, he’ll send them a copy of the script, but it’s never via email, and it’s never through their agent. Scripts arrive, hand delivered directly to the actor, and are picked up again within a few hours. They are accompanied by a typed or handwritten note from Allen, sometimes reintroducing himself (“You may remember me from a film of mine you did called Melinda and Melinda”) and saying he hopes they like the script, and if they take the part, they should feel free to change any of the lines that don’t suit them. He says the biggest favor he can do for actors is to get out of their way and shut up. . . .

Woody Allen says he has never sent or received an email. He writes on the same typewriter he bought for $40 when he was a teenager. Now that he’s writing scripts instead of jokes, he has the challenge of needing to cut and paste, but he handles it old school-style: he cuts up the paper he’s typing on, and staples the pieces together in the order in which he needs them.