There’s a different New York City for everyone. Some miss the old one, where the cabbies knew where they were going—guaranteed to miss a red light or two. The cause and effect? A young Dustin Hoffman, in the middle of a scene catches a runaway yellow out of the corner of his eye, which inspires him to yell out “I’m walking here, I’m walking here”, creating one of the most iconic film moments, defining to this day , how people envision a native New Yorker. This real-moment-turned-movie-clip was caught during the filming of Midnight Cowboy in 1980 … On take 50 to be exact. What Hoffman meant to say was “we’re shooting here, we’re shooting here.” Frustration was high, making all that hood slapping, real.
Last night, two cinema legends sat down at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Art Center to talk about the craft of filmmaking. If you know Noah Baumbach’s films, you know the dialogue is sharp and quip, but always hilarious. He really takes his time with the script, it’s a map. Not a map to the end of the film, but a map to uncovering what bonds all of his films together and in the process creates a cinematic brand uniquely his. And from what Hoffman recalled shooting with Baumbach, there’s no detour from what’s on the page. Actors “have to stay with what’s been written,” the director mentioned about the DNA of his film process. This came as a surprise to Hoffman, he hadn’t been told to stick to the script in decades,“it was only the second time in 50 years that I worked with a director where a director wanted me to say every. single. word. that was on the page—the last time that happened, was The Graduate. The script supervisor would come up to me after the take and say, ‘That’s not a period, those are three dots.’ And [Baumbach’s] script supervisor did the same fuckin’ thing.” But this is what Hoffman found so interesting about Baumbach’s films. The director treated words like music moving through the scenes.
Baumbach infuses authenticity in every single film. Not only because the actors wardrobe may actually be his family’s old clothes, from the decade the film takes place, but because he’s always fine tuning the script. If the location changes, the words on the page change. He adapts, then creates an adaptation of what he adapted. “If it’s cast right, even if they’re not fitting exactly right away, we have to stay with what’s been written to find it [the voice of the film]. Rather than scrap it and rewrite the dialogue.” Meaning sometimes you have to let an Oscar award winner know he hasn’t quite hit the mark, even if it takes 40 tries.