Clint Eastwood’s influence on John Lee Hancock’s work is pretty clear. Hancock wrote one of Eastwood’s best movies, A Perfect World , and one of his lesser pictures, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Since then Hancock has gone on to direct The Rookie, The Blindside, The Alamo, and Saving Mr. Banks. All of his movies have a workmanlike approach. The camerawork is never showy, always with its focus on character and story. The same goes for Eastwood’s films, so it’s no surprise that Hancock learned a few lessons from working with him.
One important takeaway for Hancock was to keep a calm set. Saving Mr. Banks shows a very heated creative process, and when we asked Hancock what’s the best way to deal with those conditions, he discussed a lesson from the zen daddy himself, Mr. Eastwood:
“Clint Eastwood was my film school. I didn’t go to film school. I was a lawyer and a writer, but I started to get movies made. I did two movies with Clint Eastwood, and he is the zen daddy. I’m not saying I’ve done it successfully, but I like that model of trying to stay as zen as possible, being upbeat, and enjoying the work. You want a creative workspace like that where everyone can do their best work. I don’t like a lot of yelling or running. There are some directors who like chaos and want to be the eye of the storm, but that just confuses me.”
Keeping an easygoing set wasn’t Hancock’s only takeaway from Eastwood, but also the importance of letting an actor own a scene.
“I learned a million little tricks and lessons from Clint Eastwood. Just being able to ask him going into a scene how to give actors ownership over a scene when there’s the physical limitations, blocking, lighting, and the way you have to shoot it was just great. How do you still give them ownership? You can’t be tied to the work and research you’ve done before. You may show up on a day where the location is completely different from when you were there four months earlier on a scout. Clint would walk in and say, ‘Let’s see what the day is going to give us.'”
Well put, Eastwood. Well put. Not losing your head on a film set isn’t always easy, but it sounds like Eastwood and Hancock know how to keep their cool. Hancock is a prime example of how a tough creative experience can lead to good things.
Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters now.