Just in time for our 9th Annual Summer Film Camp, Donald Petrie (MISS CONGENIALITY, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS, MYSTIC PIZZA, GRUMPY OLD MEN) discusses his childhood and what motivated him to become a filmmaker. Donald will be speaking to AFF’s summer film camp registrants this Wednesday, June 8th, before our screening of MISS CONGENIALITY. Register for a Camp today to hear him speak!
AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL: What inspired you to become a filmmaker? Specifically, was there something in your childhood that motivated you?
DONALD PETRIE: Actually, I wanted to be an actor… we moved a lot when we were kids and I could make friends fast by being in drama… that progressed on to acting and I studied with all the great teachers, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Harry Mastrogeorge and Uta Hagen among them… I worked as an actor but then started teaching acting… and then started directing plays… until after seeing one of those plays, my father encouraged me to check out the American Film Institute… I started directing film there, called my agent and told her that I wasn’t an actor anymore.
AFF: Was there anything like our summer film camp that you could attend when you were around the age of 9-18 (the age group of our film camp registrants)? If not, do you wish there had been?
DP: I went EVERY summer to WMAC – Westchester Music and Arts Camp in New York… but that was for acting and I loved it!!! Remember, in those days we did not have the technology you have today. If you made a short film it had to be on FILM! And that was SILENT and VERY EXPENSIVE! We didn’t even have video tape then! Now you can shoot a feature on your cell phone!!! You are SO LUCKY!
AFF: As an aspiring young filmmaker and coming from a talented filmmaking family, how did you creatively set yourself apart from your father and older brother?
DP: Again.. I was an Actor first… I really didn’t even understand what my dad did… Eventually at the AFI, I realized how much I knew from just growing up around it. My brother (the WRITER) and I had very different personalities. He was the more introverted intellectual. I was the more extroverted goof ball… Dan was off reading ALL the great novels. I was off jumping in leaf piles and playing cowboys and Indians…
AFF: With all of the technology out there, what methods (if any) would you suggest to young filmmakers to utilize rather than the ones that are currently available?
DP: Remember that technology is just one part of it. Yes you want to understand and know technology… but you also have to know how to tell a story… in the language (yes it is a language) of cinema. And most important… you have to have stories you want to tell. Hopefully that are original and new and fresh – and not just a re-hash of what we have already seen. Once you decide to become a filmmaker you become a student for the rest of your life. Because the world and people and stories are ever changing and evolving. Look at the difference from movies made even 20 years ago to today… very different.. As to answering the question… learn SOUND… It is the SOUND that is usually the difference between a professional film and amateur.
AFF: Who are some of the filmmakers that inspired you when you were young?
DP: Growing up I loved everything Frank Capra did.. and Billy Wilder… those formed my tastes in movies… Then I learned a lot from my Dad and wanted to be like Spielberg.
AFF: What are some of the experiences you have had in the business which made you realize you made the right career choice?
DP: Did I make the right choice? Who knows? I could have been a star! Actually, on a film set, the actors have to sit around and wait a lot… it’s part of the challenge of being an actor… “energy management”… saving your energy for when the camera is rolling. The “magic time” as Jack Lemon would say. For a director there is very little “down” time. You are always busy, and for very long hours. That to me means I’m never bored… It means that every shot is my close up! How many Directors does it take to screw in a light bulb? One… But He / She merely holds the bulb, and the world turns around him…