Barry Sonnenfeld: How I Do What I Do

Maybe it's my journalist background but, I've always been curious how people do what they do -creativity is hard to explain, but people do have tips and what better place than the Tribeca Film Festival to ask a few people about their craft. Director, Barry Sonnenfeld (Men In Black & Get Shorty) is a Juror at Tribeca this year and moderated a panel at the Apple Store during the festival with the Coen Brothers. He is currently at work on an animated movie.

Sonnenfeld's five tips for any director:

1. Making a successful movie is all about pre- production. Pre-production is cheap --production is expensive and nerve wracking. The last thing you want to do is stand in the middle room scratching your head about where to put the camera when the crew is out playing frisbee.

2. The only way to make a good movie is to be willing to walk away in pre production when the studio disagrees with you.

3. Wide-angle lenses are funny. Telephoto lenses are handsome. So romances and thrillers should always be shot with long lenses. Comedies shot with a wide-angle lens. And never the twain shall meet.

4. Never move on from a shot without one last take where you tell the actors to do it twice as fast.

5. Never Pan. It is boring. I never let the Coen brother's pan.

Ok, he wanted to throw in a sixth tip so I let him.
6. Never make a movie longer than 90 minutes. There is no reason.

Sonnenfeld has advice on how to deal with actors.
After directing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black and John Travolta and Danny Devito in Get Shorty, no question he is an expert.

"So, how to deal with actors---being a good director is like being a good dad -firm, consistent and full of unconditional love. But remember each one of your children need something a bit different... some need rewards, some need discipline. "

Sonnenfeld's favorite shot:
The open shot of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, starring Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, and Orson Welles. It chronicles a Mexican border town, as it's plagued with murder, kidnapping, and police corruption.

"The opening shot is a five minute shot in black and white ---It is just a thrilling shot."

Sonnenfeld on working with the Coen brothers on set:
"I only did the first three movies with them. Ethan and Joel directed together and were on set together for every shot. Ethan did not speak to the actors though. I always knew when I lined up a shot who to choose to look through the camera to get the shot I actually wanted. Ethan always liked wider shots and Joel always chose the tighter shots."

Before shooting each movie the Coen brothers and Sonnenfeld had a ritual. They would watch Dr. Strangelove and The Conformist. I thought he was kidding, " No...we watched both movies ....We didn't learn anything from the movies we just really liked them and felt like we were doing research and taking the process seriously." Sonnenfeld admits that is not quite true, "When we shot Blood Simple the lighting in the movie The Conformist influenced us. The screen in the woods in Miller's Crossing with Gabriel Byrne was homage to The Conformist."


Will Smith, Barry Sonnenfeld and Tommy Lee Jones at the LA premiere of Columbia's Men in Black II - 6/26/2002. Photo courtesy of: Steve Granitz/

For more HuffPost coverage of the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, go here.