Turner Classic Movies and the American Film Institute produce a series of specials on some of the greatest collaborations in film. The latest edition of TCM Presents AFI’s Master Class – The Art of Collaboration [Tuesday, 10/9C] features director David O. Russell and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg in conversation about their work together.
Master Class takes place in an almost cozy, bookshelf-lined room with two chairs on a slightly raised dais, and a select audience composed of AFI students in chairs only slightly more comfortable looking than the chairs used in high school assemblies. The guest artists’ chairs actually seem to be comfortable.
The first thing we notice as Russell and Wahlberg take their places is that Russell is well dressed [in a white suit and sports shoes] while Wahlberg is wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and sports shoes. As the conversation begins, Wahlberg looks at people in the audience and at Russell, while Russell seems to look almost everywhere but into Wahlberg’s [or the audience’s] eyes. Over the course of forty minutes, though, both artists speak easily and with great candor.
The conversation begins with their first meeting – when they had no idea what to expect [Wahlberg was sure he’d freaked Russell out a bit because he was working on another film and was still in character when they first met] – and develops over the course of their work on Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter. Wahlberg speaks in a very casual manner, while Russell is slightly less so, but the two have an easy chemistry and it’s abundantly clear that they enjoy each other’s company.
The conversation flits from the formal [Wahlberg comes to every project knowing his lines cold] to the emotional [Russell notes that, every day, he comes to work wondering how the hell he’s going ‘to get to the top of the mountain’]. Both men return to certain key ideas and expand on them via clips from both classic films and their work together. Together, they illustrate that the essence of filmmaking is collaboration – and show why their collaborations have worked so well.
Following the forty-minute conversation [with clips], the floor is opened to the students. The questions are thoughtful and the answers equally so – though Wahlberg gets a couple of well-deserved laughs.
A lot of what the two have to say is simple and straightforward – ‘keep it as real as possible’ is one of their most repeated touchstones – but there are moments, as when Russell talks about ways he can help an actor find their performance, that are real eye openers.
Director Robert Trachtenberg keeps things simple, working with basic two-shots, cuts from one artist to the other, wide shots, close-ups and the occasional pan and slow zoom. His shot selection adds a certain intimacy to the conversation, and maintains that feel when the students ask their questions.
TCM Presents AFI’s Master Class – The Art of Collaboration with David O. Russell and Mark Wahlberg is actually of benefit to anyone who wants to learn and understand more about filmmaking – and Russell and Wahlberg are both entertaining and edifying guests.
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Photo by Mathiew Young/Courtesy TCM