Robert Wise Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Wise Touch; Conversation with filmmaker Robert Wise, by Harry Kreisler, 2/28/98

Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 10 of 10


Looking back at your career, what advice would you give to young people who want to make movies?

My three Ps: passion, patience, perseverance. You have to to do this if you've got to be a filmmaker. You have to have passion if you're going to deal with this subject. Patience, because it's going to take a long time to get there. And perseverance: keep at it, keep at it. Down the line, put your foot in the door of any organization to get in, and then you can find out how you can work your way up within the organization to achieve what you want to achieve.

You do a lot of work at the American Film Institute in teaching young filmmakers.

I have in the past, I'm not doing that so much now but I have a very long connection with them.

Do you have any thoughts about how you would compare the new generation of young people with the generation that you were part of starting out in film? Do they know more than your generation knew initially because film has so penetrated our imagination?

I would think so. I learned on the job. I didn't go to any film schools; as a matter of fact, they weren't even going at the time I got into film. But I believe in film schools. I believe that kids who are young enough and have the means, because it's not inexpensive to go to film school, are going to be that much ahead of somebody coming in off the streets because they will have worked in all aspects of filmmaking, they will have made their own films, they understand all that. So they're going to be ahead of anybody just coming in off the streets as I did. So I think if they're young enough and have the means, the money, it's worth going to a good film school.

One of the things that emerges in your career is movies as a tool for public education. You haven't been self-conscious about it but you have addressed a number of themes, such as war and peace, nuclear weapons, capital punishment, and even racism.

Racism, that's the one that's going to run tonight, Odds Against Tomorrow.

A film noir set around a bank robbery in which the issue of racism is exposed among the participants in the crime.

Yes, that was a film that was produced by Harry Belafonte's company.

And he starred in the film.

He starred in it with Robert Ryan, Shelly Winters, and Ed Begley.

So comment on movies as a medium for public education. Does it work? And in what ways is it best done?

Well, I think it does work.

You can't tell any kind of a story without having some kind of a theme, something to say between the lines. And that's what I look for in all my scripts; OK, it's a very good story but what does it have to say about man and his world and his condition? I think that's very, very important. I did The Sand Pebbles, as you mentioned, a tough picture but it certainly had something to say in reference, without saying it in so many words, about our venture into Vietnam and what was going on there at that time. And certainly I Want To Live! has its own comment to make, as we've said, about capital punishment. And I think even The Set-Up, a boxing picture, has some kind of indictment about professional boxing and the control sometimes that's had by gangsters and unsavory elements.

What is Robert Wise's philosophy of life?

To stay alive. It's that simple.

One final question. What do you think is the role of film in helping us understand other peoples?

Well I think it's a great educator. Films are so universal, you know. I go to see the foreign language film submissions at the Academy. We get films from 42 or 44 different countries on that particular program at the Motion Picture Academy. And so you see films from all these different countries and see different cultures, different lifestyles, different religions. And it's very, very fascinating, very illuminating. At the same time as you're seeing these differences you're seeing how much we all have in common -- love of children, love of family, love of continuity and life. So I think films are a great educational tool to paint all the peoples of the world with their different cultures and different religions, different nationalities, and understand that we have much more in common than we have in disharmony.

Mr. Wise, thank you very much for giving us this time and talking about your career and your work in the movies.

A pleasure.

And thank YOU very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.

© Copyright 1998, Regents of the University of California

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See the Globetrotter Research Gallery Movies and the Imagination, which includes links to other filmmakers.