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AFI's Master Class - The Art of Collaboration: Spielberg-Williams

AFI's Master Class - The Art of Collaboration: Spielberg-Williams(2011)

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teaser AFI's Master Class - The Art of Collaboration: Spielberg-Williams (2011)

TCM and the American Film Institute (AFI) proudly present AFI'S MASTER CLASS: THE ART OF COLLABORATION, a unique and extraordinary series exploring some of the most distinguished film partnerships of recent times. The series, which began broadcasting on TCM in 2011, was filmed before a live audience of AFI Fellows studying filmmaking at the world-renowned AFI Conservatory. Each installment features a pair of cinema artists reflecting upon their collaborative process, discussing their own films and others that have inspired them. They present clips from these movies to illustrate various aspects of filmmaking and the interaction between creative partners.

Each program concludes with a Q&A session with AFI Fellows. Master classes are a core part of the curriculum at the AFI Conservatory, which offers a Master of Fine Arts degree in six filmmaking disciplines and has been named the No. 1 film school in the world by The Hollywood Reporter.

First in the series is The Art of Collaboration: Steven Spielberg and John Williams (2011), focusing on the duo whose regular and ongoing collaboration has covered a span of more than 40 years and encompassed many Oscar-winning films. This episode was directed by Robert Trachtenberg. Spielberg begins the conversation by noting that his partnership with Williams is "synonymous with the way directors and composers have worked throughout our entire cultural history and heritage." He goes on to remark that one of the greatest honors he ever received was when Williams agreed to score The Sugarland Express (1974), Spielberg's first theatrical film. (This movie will precede the screening of the Spielberg/Williams special, at 8 p.m. ET.)

By Roger Fristoe

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teaser AFI's Master Class - The Art of Collaboration: Spielberg-Williams (2011)

Film history is replete with stories of famous actors and directors doling out advice to younger artists as they make their way up the cinematic ladder. Spencer Tracy's famous advice, "learn your lines and don't trip over the furniture," has been repeated by several actors, all claiming the advice was given directly to them. Steven Spielberg said one of his first lessons in the cinema came when he was fifteen years old and met with director John Ford in Ford's office. Ford pointed to a painting on the wall and asked Spielberg to explain why the horizon was where it was. He told the young Spielberg that there were reasons to place the horizon in a particular part of the frame, depending on what the shot needs to emphasize. Spielberg tells the story to this day.

The AFI Master Class is a way of taking these encounters and making them work for the greater benefit of the directing fellows attending the institute. Bringing aspiring film artists together with established ones gives young hopefuls an enviable opportunity to learn directly from the masters. In the AFI Master Class with Steven Spielberg and John Williams (2011), students get to learn from one of the best and most influential pairings in the history of cinema.

It's no exaggeration to say that the pairing of composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg has been one of the most fruitful pairings in film history. It may not even be an exaggeration to say it has been one of the most fruitful pairings in art history, period. The two have worked together so often, and so successfully, that it is difficult to think of one without the other. In fact, when one finds out John Williams has scored a movie, it's practically assumed it must be a Spielberg production, even if it's not. Likewise, if one hears of a new Spielberg movie, it's almost certain the composer of its score is Williams. In fact, Spielberg and Williams have collaborated well over 25 times and show no signs of slowing down.

During the master class, Spielberg and Williams talk to the students directly, relating to them stories of their own collaborations but also introducing scenes from other movies where they felt the music was exceptional or worked exceptionally well with the scene. The first one they show is from another extraordinary director/composer duo, Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann. Williams introduces the clip from Vertigo where James Stewart see Kim Novak's character transformed for the first time from Judy to Madeleine. The love theme that swells and carries the theme is discussed as an example of music completing a scene. Spielberg also mentions how the music stands on its own and can be listened to out of context without seeing the movie. However, watching the scene without the music is a different thing. Without the music, Spielberg says, the scene wouldn't work.

Other scenes are used for different purposes. The music behind a gladiator fight in Spartacus emphasizes the conflict between the gladiators. The music in On the Waterfront is used for the same idea. Amadeus is used to show the music as a third character in a scene where Mozart and Salieri flesh out one of Mozart's works. After each scene, Spielberg and Williams discuss the impact of the music on the scene and the possible reasons why the composer and director may have chosen to go in that direction.

Finally, Spielberg and Williams take questions from the students and most of them cover the same ground, which is, essentially, "tell us how you two work together?" Fortunately, Spielberg and Williams have enough stories and ideas to keep fleshing out the answers, something that probably helped the two of them understand their relationship even better than they had.

The cinema is no different than any other art form or discipline in that learning from those who came before is the best way to hone a craft. The AFI Master Class affords students the opportunity to not only learn from those who came before, but from those active in the field now. And with Steven Spielberg and John Williams as the teachers, it's an opportunity that can't be missed.

ByGreg Ferrara

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