Ron Howard: I think it's very fortunate that I was exposed to the entertainment business as a child, and taught about it in a really solid way. A lot of children are put in that situation, and they're just a little bit more than trained animals. They look cute, and people want to get a certain reaction out of them, so they goad them, or they bribe them, but the children really aren't really learning how to act. My dad is a very good natural teacher. He really gave me the fundamentals. So I had that going for me.
The environment, particularly on The Andy Griffith Show , was really wonderful and very inclusive. And if there's any reason that I like reaching out and talking to people about what I do, it's because that was very much the environment on The Andy Griffith Show . The actors were really allowed to participate, to contribute. And even as a kid -- I'm talking about six, seven, eight years old -- I was allowed to raise my hand and offer up a point of view about a scene, or changing a line of dialogue, or making something a little bit more natural. I was allowed to participate. And, you know, imagine the sort of self esteem that goes along with being accepted by a bunch of adults. It was extraordinary.
Ron Howard: I became intrigued by what the director did primarily because when I was working on the show -- The Andy Griffith Show -- the actors, they were a blast. I had so much fun hanging around with them. They were interesting, they were smart, they were funny. They were playing practical jokes, then on a dime, they could focus and do great work. And even as a kid, I was impressed with these people. But I also really enjoyed spending time with the crew. They'd let me sit up there and work the camera or learn a little something about sound, how the microphone worked, and placement, and lighting, and things like that. And I enjoyed that time. And, after a while, I realized that the director was the one person who, moment to moment, day in and day out, really got to play with everybody. And the job just started to look very, very good to me.
The thing that I've also understood is because my father is sort of a freelance actor, a character actor, he's never become a star. He's never had leverage. He's never had power in the industry. But he's always worked, and he's made his living. But it's always a struggle. It's always a struggle. I was always extremely fortunate, but I could see my father struggling in what I view as kind of a noble way, because he's not really getting all the kudos, and the perks, and all the stuff that a lot of people are attracted to the business for. He just liked being a part of it. He liked being a part of it. And that's what I began to understand -- that I was a part of something. And I started to think about what that thing was. What is that process of staging a television show or movie, and communicating with the audience? And it began to be much more to me than just showing up and fulfilling a function because somebody handed me a script. It became an exploration. It became a chance to really keep challenging myself and keep trying to honor this process, this system.
What kind of formal education did you get? Did you go to school while you were working on all these TV shows?
It was a pretty creative environment at The Andy Griffith Show . Also, my father was always writing or conducting an improvisational workshop or something at home, so I was around it all the time. When I did go back to school, it was a major adjustment, because suddenly I was in a classroom. I didn't -- and don't -- process things very quickly. If there was a dictation exercise where the teacher was writing something on the board and we were supposed to copy it down, I'd always be the last one to finish. It wouldn't be terrible, I wouldn't get it wrong, I'd just be last. On top of that I was always the new kid, and not necessarily getting things quite as quickly as everybody else. It was a little nerve-wracking.
The kids tended to -- I wouldn't say ostracize me -- but to make me uneasy because there'd always be two or three weeks where every day at school was more like some kind of a personal appearance where I was at everybody's disposal. And if one group wanted to get autographs, they'd bug me for autographs. If another group wanted to make fun of me, they'd make fun of me. I wasn't a person. I was this sort of image from TV that they now had at their disposal. It was kind of strange.
Ron Howard: I've had, I think, an extraordinarily blessed journey. At the same time, if I can give myself credit for anything, it's probably for not taking it all for granted. I don't think I've ever assumed it was going to go on forever unless I kept earning my way, earning my keep, maybe even to a neurotic extent. I never want to coast on past performances. It's probably one of the reasons why I wanted to become a director, because I wanted to be able to control those opportunities so I could keep doing good work.
That's the thing I learned from my father. I continue to learn from him. he just returned A couple of years ago, he went to his 50th high school reunion, and he was very gratified by the experience, because all of his buddies were retired -- the ones that were still alive.
My father is working more now than he ever has. And he said, "You know, a lot of my friends, they went into the corporate world, they became doctors, they had great careers, the kinds of careers that everyone would have applauded them for pursuing. And they pursued them, and some of them are happy about it and some of them aren't. But I followed my dream. And if the object is to have a secure and gratifying life, I've achieved that. Maybe never stardom, but my home is paid for, I have a great pension through the Screen Actors Guild plan, and I have security. And on top of everything else, while everyone else is winding down, I still can keep the dream alive. Because you never know when another interesting challenge is going to come along, or another great role. And I'm working more now than I ever have, and I'm active. And I've got a lot to look ahead towards."
Ron Howard: Well, that practically goes with the job description because every project is a potential disaster. Each project requires a huge investment and people are afraid.
As a young person, a young adult trying to make the transition from sitcom actor to motion picture director, I was getting an awful lot of patronizing kind of pats on the head. And, "Hey, hang in there." And, you know, "In another ten or 15 years, I'm sure somebody will give you a chance to direct." And that's not what I wanted to hear at all. I had a lot of frustration about that, and I earned my way out by making student films myself, by writing, and by getting myself into a position with some leverage by being one of the lead actors on Happy Days . I had something I could sort of trade with.
Most people get their first chance to direct by blackmailing their way in. Generally, they have to say, "Well, if you want me to write this script, you have to let me direct it. If I'm going to act in the movie, you've got to let me direct it. going to have to let me direct the film." Nobody really wants to hand a first-time director the reins.
Ron Howard: I think I handle criticism well. I think that's one of my strengths, in fact. That doesn't mean I like being criticized. It always hurts. Whether it's a critic writing a bad review, or people in the theater bathroom who've just seen the movie. I overhear them and a couple of people are saying, "Hey, I really liked it." And one person says, "Ah, it wasn't so good." I'll forget about all the compliments and that one criticism will stay with me. I'm very sensitive to it, but I really believe that it's wrong to stick your head in the sand and pretend that everybody loves what you do and only listen to the good stuff because you need to be sort of nourished by that.
"You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't please all the people all the time." That's not the Abe Lincoln quote, but you get the gist. It's clearly the case with any sort of creative undertaking. There's no movie that's ever been made -- no television show that's ever been produced -- that everybody liked. You have to take that into account.
Even when you have such a strong vision and belief, you're in a field that is so collaborative that you don't always really have control.
Whenever you face a problem, it's kind of upsetting. It's kind of daunting. Everybody's got a suggestion, a point of view. There's a little arguing that goes on, a little friction. All of a sudden somebody -- myself or someone -- will present a solution that makes sense. Generally, there's almost an instant consensus. But even if there isn't, if it really rings a bell for me as the director, I get to say, "That's it! That's what we'll do!" It's exciting. It's thrilling. I get this emotional rush. "Ha! We did it! We came up with a solution!" I find that really interesting. One of the little theories that I always have is that...
Creative undertakings: putting on shows, working in groups on projects, school projects, research projects, making films or videotapes. I always think that they're, in a way, a kind of better model for how to get things done in life than, for example, playing sports. I used to play and coach kids, and I love sports. I love athletic endeavors. But the fact is, that that always boils down to split-second reaction time and dedication. Preparation and then execution -- split second execution. And most human endeavors don't depend on that. They depend on a more methodical, careful consideration of all the possibilities. And then the dedication, and the execution. I always think that creative projects are actually a better training ground for getting things done in the real world, in real life.
Ron Howard: When you're doing something as emotionally risky as working on a TV show or a movie, part of it is that you're facing the real possibility of complete public humiliation. I mean, it's not all that unusual for people to say, "Aw, that was terrible! Did you see that guy? Aw, he was awful! He stinks!" And so, everybody knows that that's out there, because they've participated in that same kind of ragging on shows and movies. They know. They know that you're putting yourself up for that sort of judgment. You're opening yourself. So as a result, you know, there does need to be a kind of trust. But I've found, in the creative community, there's often a sort of an instant trust. And in just one or two conversations, you can actually determine whether that trusts exists in a relationship or not.
People are always looking around for allies in this business. There are a few lone wolves out there, but I certainly am not one of them.
You've been working with the same writers and the same partner for a long time.
I often work with the same writers. Not always -- because I also feel that it's important not to fall into really strict patterns. I don't think you want to make this film exactly the way you made the last one, or this TV series exactly the way you made the last one. One way for me to mix that up and not fall into that trap of repetition is to take on new collaborators. Sometimes it's a little emotionally risky, but it's usually a risk worth taking.
Ron Howard: Yes. When I began directing I was very young. If there was an area where I had some expertise, it was in light comedy. This is something that I'd been acting in -- a tone I'd been involved with -- for 20 years already. It was easier for me to convince people that I could actually take the responsibility and do the job of directing a film working in that tone.
My first movie was a car chase comedy -- young people on the run -- called Grand Theft Auto . And made for $602,000, but the film made a terrific profit and it got me started. I wrote it with my father, and I had to star in it in order to get to direct it. But that's the last time that I acted in anything that I directed. Well, I actually had to do a scene in the next film that I directed, but I didn't like it and I cut the scene out. And the executives in charge of the project, fortunately, liked the movie well enough that they accepted the fact that I cut myself out of the movie. That was the last time that I acted in anything that I've directed.
Since then, I've graduated to more and more ambitious projects, gained the industry's trust, gained the trust of creative collaborators: great actors, writers, other producers. Slowly but surely, I've tried to broaden the range and scope of what I could do as a director.
Ron Howard: Initially, when the idea for Apollo 13 came to me, I didn't remember the mission very well. And then, as I looked at the facts, I had a vague recollection of it. I always believed in the space program and the spirit of exploration, but I was not a sort of a space junkie. Initially, I thought, "Wow! This would be a great challenge: to try to recreate for the audience the experience of going into space." And it's a very dramatic story, and that would be interesting. But I was looking at it more as a sort of cinematic exercise, you know, a great learning experience. However, as I began to learn more about the mission, I began to see that it was, in fact, even more dramatic than I realized. And, more importantly, as I began to meet the individuals involved -- not only the astronauts, but also a number of the mission control people who were involved in the rescue -- I began to see that this was really a great story of human triumph. A very emotional story and that you could be very, very truthful. And yet, it was a real opportunity to sort of celebrate what human beings are capable of.
So my whole point of view about the movie shifted very early in the process. But it was a dramatic shift.
And you've continued with a series on the space project.
What would you tell a kid who didn't have the connections that you started out with, but had the same dream?
Ron Howard: A lot of people have been coming up to me and saying, "I have a sense that I might like to be involved in entertainment or film making. But I could also go to med school, or I could go to law school. I could pursue a more concrete, specific kind of academic discipline that leads to a career. What do I do?" What I keep telling them is that any sort of intellectual, academic pursuit is going to be valid to a creative life. You almost can't go wrong pursuing the more obvious course. Given the video cameras and word processors we have now, anybody can experiment with creative writing, with putting together a film.
I really believe that great creative ideas will find their way to the surface. Make your videos. Enter them in festivals. Show them to your friends. Expose them to criticism. Go out and make another film. Don't put all your creative eggs in one basket. Don't write one spec script and walk away. Just keep pushing it and pushing it. You may find that it's too much trouble. Good Lesson. Don't do it. Walk away. You might find that you really love it. If you really love it, you'll find ways to pursue it.
Is there a book that really changed or affected you?
For writing, there's a book by an author named Linda Seeger, and the book is called How to Make a Good Script Great . It's about rewriting, but it's very useful to anybody who's thinking of sitting down and trying to write a screenplay, because it doesn't present a sort of rigid formula or structure. But it gives you lots of lists. It almost provides you with a checklist, so that when you're inspired, and you come up with your idea, you can ask yourself some of the questions that Linda Seeger asks, and challenge your story in that way. It can be really valuable.
Thank you so much for talking with us. I think your words will be really valuable to a lot of people.