Orson Welles – The Magician

Many of you know that I had the privilege to work with a true genius – Orson Welles – during the making of his last feature film: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. It was his final film, and he worked on it from 1970 until his passing in 1985. The subject of the film was a “cult” movie director (portrayed by John Huston) who was having difficulty completing his last work! Self-fulfiling prophecy, indeed!

Peter Bogdanovich (director of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT’S UP, DOC?, and PAPER MOON) had phoned me and said “Want to work with Orson?” I said, “Orson who?” He said, “Welles, of course!” I and my friend Felipe Herba raced right over to Orson’s rented house in Beverly Hills, set up our equipment, and began filming an unbelievably complex party scene.

I knew at once that I was in the presence of a major creative mind. Orson asked me to do things with the camera I had never even dreamed about, let alone thought were possible.

Now, not only has that movie been announced for possible release (http://variety.com/2014/film/news/orson-welles-final-film-2015-release-1201341048/), but there’s a 90-minute documentary about Orson’s life and times – MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING LIFE AND WORK OF ORSON WELLES – which soon will be hitting theatres in select cities around the U.S. (http://cohenmedia.net/films/magician).

I’m honored to be included in this documentary by Chuck Workman, Academy Award-winning filmmaker.

MAGICIAN is one of the best portraits of a film director at work. It’s a loving but no-nonsense telling of Orson’s life and work. During our interview, Chuck asked me a number of insightful questions about working with Orson, and I realized that nearly everything I know about making movies came from my 2-week stint with Orson.

He is the largest (physically, mentally, creatively) person with whom I’ve ever worked. He utterly pervaded the space – he was EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME! He knew precisely where my camera was and what it was seeing, though he never looked through the lens. He controlled me and all the participants through the strength of his will. Once while we were shooting a scene, there were dozens of people running around behind the camera. Four people holding cue cards; electricians pulling cable; prop people racing ahead of our camera; etc. After thirty minutes of straight rolling (I was alternating with Orson’s dedicated DP, Gary Graver), my back started to cramp up, I reached behind my back to rub out the “knot.” Orson yelled out, “Cut. How do you expect me to concentrate with all that extra motion?” I said, “But Mr. Welles, there are dozens of people in motion behind me.” He said, “Yes, but I didn’t plan your moving!” This was TOTAL control!

It was a life-changing experience for me, and I’m forever grateful to Orson and Peter – and now to Chuck. When I teach film history, I divide it into “pre-Welles” and “post-Welles.” He represented the turning point between objective and subjective cinema.

I’d love it if you’ll see MAGICIAN as soon as possible, and let me know what you think. Click on this link to learn more about the picture. (http://cohenmedia.net/films/magician)

Eric Sherman

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