An Evening with Director Sam Mendes

An Evening with Director Sam Mendes

March 23, 2021 An Eastern Region Special Projects Committee Virtual Event

On March 23, the Eastern Region Special Projects Committee hosted the virtual event, An Evening with Director Sam Mendes. In an online conversation moderated by Director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) and illustrated by clips, Mendes discussed the making of films from his remarkable career including Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall and his DGA Award-winning features, American Beauty and 1917.

The event kicked off with a welcome from Eastern Region Special Projects Committee Chair Raymond DeFelitta. Then Mendes and Wright dove into their discussion, starting with American Beauty. Mendes recalled his initial thoughts on the success of the film, its ultimate win at the DGA and Academy Awards and the aftermath.

“The success in one way was an amazing thing,” said Mendes, who later added, “[I thought] I’m going to be learning in the public eye. I don’t know everything. I haven’t made every kind of movie. If I hadn’t won, it would have been a quite different career. Having said that, I loved the fact that I was being offered these giant movies.”

When the subject turned to his 2019 DGA Award-winning feature 1917, he recalled the painstaking steps he took in choosing his background actors to maintain his vision for the film. “I auditioned every single extra in that movie. We auditioned 1,600, and I chose 500. They had to come forward and say their name, and answer two out of six questions, and that’s it. I just got little snapshots of all of them, and it was immensely helpful.”

Asked what qualities he seeks in a 1st AD, Mendes answered, “I look for the same qualities in most of my main collaborators. I’d like them to be honest, so they’re not just ‘yes’-people. I’d like them to take their work seriously, but not themselves, so they need to have a sense of humor. In terms of ADs, I think one the great creative areas is the handling of background, and that is a real area of skill. They have to have an intuitive understanding of the rhythm of shooting with that particular Director. Lastly, they have to have an ease of authority and can communicate with their 2nd, and 2nd 2nds, and 3rd, and all the on-set PAs with a sense of authority, but not in any way bullying or mean. I think that’s also tricky without seeming too bullish.”

After the moderated portion of the discussion, Mendes also took questions submitted by the online audience.

A DGA member since 1998, Mendes’ credits also include the feature films SpectreJarhead and Away We Go. He won the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Theatrical Feature Film for his 1999 film American Beauty and again for his 2019 film 1917.

See video from in the gallery below.

About The Special Projects Committee

Special Projects is the educational and cultural arm of the Directors Guild of America, providing its members opportunities for creative exchange to advance their craft and celebrate the achievements of directors and their teams.

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