quote Jim Beaver: Historic historian

Jim Beaver (acting extraordinaire) is old enough that he used to be a member of a defunct movies message board i.e. circa the nineties newsgroup era. I saved his best comments…

The Bridge Over the River Kwai is discredited:

“The superiority of Stalag 17 over Great Escape or Kwai lies mainly in the fact that those stories deal primarily in great events that had little in common with the average POW’s experience of the camps. Stalag 17 does a terrific job of depicting what day to day life must have been like. The biggest event, the smuggling out of one officer, is not nearly as uncommon in the historical record as events like those in Kwai or Escape. The superiority of those films over Stalag 17 lies primarily in the splendid depiction either of the details of those great events or of the personalities which influenced those events.”

What directing consists of:

“A good film director will get extra stuff out of an actor, but rarely if the actor isn’t already bringing a lot to the table. A good editor will contribute as much or more to an actor’s performance. I’ve worked with some pretty terrific film directors (Alan Parker, Norman Jewison, Spike Jonze, Paul Thomas Anderson, William Friedkin, etc.), and the times I’ve seen them talk extensively with an actor about pure performance matters are fairly rare. Of course, I’ve not played leads for any of these people, and so can’t speak to what they say in the weeks leading up to production – a time I’m rarely involved in but which stars very much are. On the set, though, directing seems to consist much more in staging, blocking, and discussions about the meanings and objectives of the scene. Pure performance direction (the complex version of “Play it sadder” or “Think about your dead mom in this scene”) are extremely rare compared to those other discussions. In television, it’s quite rare to get performance direction. An occasional “hit him a little harder with that line” is about it.”

An example:

“The only line of actual performance “direction” I even remember getting is Jewison asking me, right before my first scene in a film – “How do you think this fellow slept last night?” He said that, walked away, and they rolled camera, and what I did next was much richer, I think, than anything I’d done in rehearsal. But one of the reasons I remember it, aside from its leaving the answer up to me, is the rarity of that sort of thing. That said, I don’t doubt that there are great performances coaxed out of actors by directors. It’s just not nearly as common as the actor being left pretty much to make his own decisions and having the result of those decisions mildly tweaked. And finally, I don’t think I can come up with a great performance that wasn’t founded on pretty amazing writing.”

Reuben, Reuben (1983):

“It’s Kelly McGillis’ first film. Great story – She was waiting tables when she was “discovered” by a customer and cast as the female lead in this movie. It came out, did very little, and very little for her career. Back to waiting tables. “Discovered” again by a different customer, and cast in Witness. This time, it took.”

Biographies and documentaries:

“Bogdanovich had written one book-length interview with Ford, and can be presumed to have illustrated him in the film as closely to the man he himself knew as was possible. I think it’s a fairly terrific documentary. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the ultimate objective truth. Joan Didion said “The moment you put pen to paper, you’ve started lying.” The moment you start to present a real-life person on film, you’ve started lying, too. There’ve been two, maybe three documentaries on Ford that I’m aware of. This one, particularly in that it includes Ford himself and several people who worked with him at length over the years, is my favorite.”


“California has been notoriously slow about safeguarding its showcase industry. Forget Canada or New Zealand; New Mexico, South Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, Connecticut and Massachusetts have seriously better tax incentives for film as well as TV productions. And the fact that the U.S. dollar bought a lot more in Canada than in the States was a factor, too. Now that the loony is on the other side of the equation, I wonder how long before California starts looking more reasonable. Yes, American industries will go overseas for all sorts of things for economic reasons. The union burden in the States is one of them, but hardly the only one or the most prominent. Each of the creative guilds (directors, writers, actors) has programs in place to make it possible for “less well-heeled” producers to get their projects made. I’ve always felt that anyone who’s anti-union has obviously never held a job. If the W.G.A. fails, it’s almost a given that the other unions will fail as well.”

The thespian’s equivalent to royalties:

“Something apparently left off the table this time is the similar issue of cable residuals. Doing an episode of Lost or Desperate Housewives on network television provides writers and actors with big residuals the first few times that those episodes are rerun. Doing an episode of Deadwood or The Sopranos for cable results in no residuals for reruns. The W.G.A and S.A.G accepted the same scenario from the cable networks back in the early `80s. If the show was to wind up in syndication on a broadcast station, there would be syndication residuals, which can run from a few cents to possibly three figures in a year. As I mentioned before, all the actors from the three episodes per DVD share in six cents from each DVD, so there’s a little something there. I get about 35 bucks a year from the DVD of my Six Feet Under episode, as an example. If the show is sold to foreign networks, there’s a one-time payment of two-to-four hundred bucks, depending again on how many people are in the episode. There’s no compensation from photos in a book or elsewhere. I did a DVD commentary on one episode. No compensation for that either (except the publicity department sent me some free copies of the DVD). No extra money worked into my contract to account for that.”


“Brian de Palma hated the Teamsters. His revulsion was that they were the menials who would take no cuts in benefits so that a project might go forward. His resentment bubbled up constantly. In describing credits, he pointed out how the very same data was repeated further down on the same page, and he said that was so the Teamsters might understand it. My experience is that the Teamsters are not as interested in helping out low-budget productions with reduced rates as the creative guilds are.”

Mistaken identities:

“I wasn’t referring to Cameron Mitchell as a porn star nor did I confuse him with John Cameron Mitchell who is NOT a porn star but rather a highly acclaimed writer/director/actor of such works as Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Short Bus. I was referring to the appearance of Cameron Mitchell – the same Cameron Mitchell (who was in How To Marry a Millionaire and many other mainstream films) in a cameo role in a hardcore porn film called Dixie Ray, Hollywood Star. Mitchell didn’t have anything to do with the porn scenes, playing a police detective in the framing story, and it’s highly possible he didn’t even know it was a porn film.”

Charlize Theron is disregarded:

“There are hundreds of actresses with her skills. It’s just that most of them are completely unknown to the world at large. What they lack are opportunities, looks and persona (that ineffable thing known as star quality). It’s that last thing that gets the salaries – not skill alone. Some folks get those salaries without any skill at all. She has got star quality – that along with her skill and opportunities are what got her where she is. Without the star quality, though, those other things would have given her no guarantee at all. With it, she needed a lot less of the other things. I’ve been too intricately involved in the casting side of things to fall for the “cream rises to the top” theory as regards skill alone. I know far more brilliant actors who’ve never gotten a decent film or TV gig than I know even passable actors who have, and I’ve seen far too many people give brilliant auditions only to see the role go to “the pretty one” who couldn’t act. It’s the norm, not the exception. I’ve seen scores of casting lists with N.P.E. written next to names (Not Pretty Enough). I’ve never seen one with N(ot) T(alented) E(nough).”

Alec Baldwin (circa the last day of February in 2011):

“I dare say he is making a TON more money on a sitcom than he could ever dream of making in feature films. Based on what I know of some other sitcom people’s salaries, he’s probably making between 1-2 million per episode as an actor. He’s also a producer, so add between 50 & 100% of that salary again. He’s done something like 100 episodes of 30 Rock. That’s somewhere around 150-200 million since 2006. In that time he’s also done 17 feature films. I’m betting the feature films paid him a tiny fraction of what he’s made on 30 Rock.”

Title sequence:

“The only series I’ve done that had footage of the principal actors in the opening credits was Thunder Alley in the `90s. The footage in those opening credits was shot especially for the opening credits and was part of our basic contracted duties. We weren’t paid extra for that footage. I have serious doubts that any actor who is a regular on a series gets paid extra for use of footage (either clips from episodes or especially-created-for-the-credits) in the opening credits. Series regulars are very well paid and such usage would most certainly be part of their standard duties, covered under their contract, exactly the same way that photo sessions, press interviews, and those voice-overs (“We’ll be right back, here on ABC”) are (i.e. no extra pay). For non-regulars (such as I am on Supernatural), they entail what’s known as a re-use fee. This is a nominal payment (around $300-400, as I recall) for using the clip, whether it occurs in the “Previously” or in the body of the show e.g. flashbacks, etc. Regulars don’t get this fee because it’s included in their series contract and covered by the larger salary that they receive. As non-regulars, even recurring ones such as myself, the lower salaries don’t cover as much, so we get paid for clip re-usage.”

TV contracts:

“About actors being paid or not being paid for episodes they are credited for but don’t appear in, that works a couple of ways. Series regulars are given varying contracts such as “7 out of 13” (meaning the actor will be guaranteed payment for 7 out of every 13 episodes produced), or “all shows produced” (the actor is guaranteed payment for each episode produced whether he’s in all or none of them). If he is actually in more than his guaranteed number, say 9/13, he’ll get paid for each of the nine. But if he’s got a 7/13 contract and he only appears in 5, he’ll get paid for 7. He may well have his name on the credits of every single episode and only appear in half of them, but that credit doesn’t mean he gets paid for the ones he isn’t in. It isn’t the credit that determines his payment, it’s his contracted guarantee. The variation is if he’s a series regular but isn’t credited on an episode. For example, I was in the main title credits of every episode of Deadwood except the final 36th episode. I wasn’t in the show or the credits, so I did not get paid for it. If one’s new appearance in an episode is a clip re-usage, then there’s no residual payment.”

Margo Martindale:

“She got (enjoyably) fresh with me on an elevator in Louisville in 1981.”

Martin Luther King’s death potentially postponing the Oscar ceremony:

“The Oscars were scheduled for April 8, 1968, which means that the voting deadline would have been no later than Wednesday, April 3 (rules stipulate a minimum of 5 days before the presentation). King was assassinated on April 4. All the votes were already in by then.”

Most depressing film:

Day of the Locust.”

Great sword fights:

“I automatically went to the Flynn-Power-Wilde-Granger-Rathbone train of thought when I saw the subject line, but this time I suddenly realized how much amazing swordplay I’ve seen in the past few years in Japanese films. Within the past few years, I’ve seen all but one of the Shintaro Katsu films about Zatoichi, the blind swordsman, and I’ve got to say that almost anyone of them contains swordplay that, while not classical fencing as we see in the Flynn and Power pictures, is among the most skillful and brilliant ever filmed. What it isn’t is particularly memorable, not in the way that Flynn’s are. They’re amazing fights but rarely the kind that become archetypes. It’s Sanjuro that ends with the Mifune-Nakadai over-in-an-instant fight. One I always bring up when this topic re-arises is the one in Roman Polanski’s MacBeth. Macbeth and Macduff wear heavy armor and carry huge weighty broadswords. The weight and inertia of those swords plays heavily into the way the fight plays out. By the end, they can barely carry their swords.” 

Akira Kurosawa’s movies being shown on TCM:

“The Kurosawa schedule is outrageous! He is the only major director whose entire filmography I’ve seen.”

TV movie sequel to TV series:

“I worked with Arness twice on Gunsmoke movies. They told me I was the first actor ever to play different roles in consecutive Gunsmoke productions – a fairly meaningless distinction, but of trivial interest. Arness was a strange experience. On the first show, he was just this side of rude, refusing to talk to me except during dialog, referring to me in the third person in conversations that I was a part of on set, generally (though not with exceptions) being a cold fish at best. My feelings were a bit hurt and I was not impressed with the big man. I came back to do the second one, and Arness could not have been nicer. He treated me like a long-lost son and complimented me extensively on the work I’d done in the first one. I ended up liking him a great deal. To this day, I don’t know how to explain the different treatment. One note of interest – if you can’t clearly see his face in a shot, it’s almost certainly not him. His double, from the back, looks more like Arness than Arness does. His legs were so shot up at Anzio that he had trouble standing for long, his whole life. He usually did one take and went to his trailer. If you didn’t get the scene in one take, you were either out of luck or you had to finish it with the double. I worked with the double almost as much as I work with Arness. Working with the double was difficult, of course, because you’re looking at Marshall Dillon but he’s got the wrong face and the dialog isn’t coming from the double, it’s coming from the script supervisor who isn’t where you’re looking. Disconcerting. But hey, the guy got his legs shot at Anzio. A little leeway is allowable.”


“Even in TV, which generally moves pretty fast, I don’t know anybody shooting over 13 pages a day. That would be less than four days for an hour TV script, and most hour shows are on an 8-day schedule. Movies shoot at a much more glacial pace, certainly movies made the way that George Stevens was making them. At 13 plus pages a day, the average movie would wrap after nine or ten days at most – a schedule that bears no resemblance to anything that I’ve ever experienced, even on a cheapie. I was on Sister Act for five months. Three months for Bad Girls. Even under the gun, nobody shoots 13 pages a day.”

Best celebrity autobiography:

Wanderer by Sterling Hayden.”


“Years ago, I wrote a play based on Frances Farmer’s autobiography, and I envisioned Jessica Lange playing the lead. Four years later, she did Frances.”

The Iceman Cometh (1973):

“Robert Ryan gave the single greatest performance I have ever seen in a movie. I’ve felt that way for 25 years and still do.”

Cecily Adams:

“I went to the cast/crew screening of Edge of Honor – a little thriller that my wife had cast. There had been a lot of problems on the film, and not everyone had gotten paid in a timely fashion. As the opening credits rolled, the name of the producer came up on screen, and from the middle of the house, Christopher Neame’s voice rang out “Where’s my thousand dollars?” The place broke up. Whatever you think of that movie, you’d think worse of it if you knew what went on in the making of it – and the ending changes that were slapped on it. I got turned down for a part, but then, so did Leonardo DiCaprio, so I’m in good company.”


Lots of small-role players get their lines dubbed by others, especially when a film is shot on location. They’re never gonna fly in a bit player from Tucson just because his dialogue got muddled in the production track. They’ll just use somebody nearby (usually meaning in the building at the moment). The first time I realized this fact was years ago when I was looping my part in El Diablo, which was shot in Tucson. The sound was bad on the scene, and director Peter Markle dubbed in the lines of one of the Tucson actors. Took two minutes and was considerably cheaper than flying a guy in from Arizona.”

Mothers, Daughters and Lovers (1989):

I was doing a TV movie in Utah and I was in Claude’s trailer listening to his stories about the old days, when a P.A. knocked on the door and said Charles Durning was in town shooting another movie and wanted to stop by and say hello to Claude. Durning arrived, Claude introduced me to him, and Durning never said a word to me or even looked in my direction. He interrupted our conversation for about ten minutes, and was all palsy-walsy with Claude but never acknowledged my existence. This, in a 12×7 trailer. It wasn’t any big deal, but I thought it was rude and it’s colored my feelings for Durning (whom I’d always admired) ever since. Claude, on the other hand, was the coolest. Every day when we’d break for lunch, everyone would go line up outside the catering truck with trays and get meals ladled out on our plates. My first day, I looked up into the catering truck, and there was Claude inside, dishing out lunch to the crew and cast. I thought it was a joke and I said “What are you doing in there?” He said “It keeps me humble.” He was serving food to about ninety folks, every day, during his lunch break. I could go on and on about Claude Akins.”


Directors Guild of America doesn’t allow Alan Smithee to be used willy-nilly. There must be compelling reasons given by the director for removing his name, and just not wanting to be blamed for a lousy movie isn’t sufficient. There have to be extenuating circumstances such as replacing another director or having creative control yanked away, or the D.G.A. won’t allow Smithee’s use.”

The Bonfire of the Vanities:

A book and a movie may share a point of view for an awful lot of pages but the film can still diverge at the end. Happens all the time, point of view be damned. Case in point: I did the film version of Ira Levin’s Sliver, which cannot be said to have the sophistication of political viewpoint but did nonetheless have a vaguely political viewpoint. The book ended one way. When we made the film, it ended (as I recall) pretty much the same way. Focus groups called the shots for producers on that one, and maybe on Bonfire, too, for all I know. The political viewpoints, such as they were, were not altered in the slightest. Only the resolution. Ergo, just changing the ending of Bonfire does not necessarily change anything about the film’s overall viewpoint. In any event, I disliked the movie despite its similarity to the book. I thought it was technically excellent, but I didn’t believe much of what was going on, partly due to poor acting by some people who I normally like a lot, partly due to a script that (unlike the book) seemed to want to be too many things at the same time. I don’t hate it, just don’t like it much.”

Not many actors type on message boards because they may get blackballed. I’m surprised that he’s still working.

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