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March 1, 2012

Mike Medavoy – Foreword to Letters to Young Filmmakers

by Howard Suber

“I knew after reading Howard Suber’s previous book, The Power of Film, that he knew a lot about what makes a film great as well as knowing the inner workings of filmmaking. He captured so well what I had to learn through decades of making over three hundred films and heading two studios. So I insisted that everyone working for me had to read his book. I explained to them that this was a guy who understands the creative process, and can explain not only how things work in films, but why they work.

Now, Suber has done it again. Letters to Young Filmmakers is a treasure trove of what all of us need to know about how films get made, not just writers but directors, producers and, yes, studio heads.

It is obvious from the fact that students of Howard Suber who graduated 20 or 30 years ago still keep up with him that he has had a continuing effect on their lives. It is also obvious that he makes learning about film and the film business fun and, at the same time, profound. He is a man many admire inside the industry, not only for the students who have studied with him (some of whom I’ve worked with) but also because he has often been a consultant in various capacities to several studios.  

Suber is a man of many talents and many interests. In more than four decades of teaching and administering at UCLA, he was responsible for starting the UCLA Critical Studies program, was a founding director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and developed the UCLA Film and Television Producers Program. He was a major figure in transforming UCLA’s film department and turning it into the professional school that is today one of the great University film programs in the world.

Letters to Young Filmmakers applies to filmmaking around
the world — independent as well as “studio” films. The book
has an ingenious and enjoyable approach. Based on actual
exchanges Suber has had with present and former students, it
distills the questions that get asked by everyone who wants to
make films or who becomes seriously interested in how the film
industry works.

Among the many things it deals with are:

1. How important is creativity?
2. Are you born creative or can you learn it?
3. How important is originality?
4. Is this a business of who you know?
5. Where does inspiration come from?
6. What do audiences want?

Although Suber modestly titles his book as being for young filmmakers, what he has to say applies to anyone who is already in the business, especially those who want to combine creativity with intelligent business practices. For example, he says with characteristic bluntness:

‘It is a collaborative business. The sooner filmmakers get
over their cheap and easy prejudices against the other
people who contribute to the filmmaking process, the
more productive they’ll be.’

I find that, and so much else in the book, to be absolutely true.

This book is a must read. I should know, because I live in the world he so insightfully writes about.”


Mike Medavoy is one of the most prolific producers and executives in the film business. He was head of production at United Artists when he was in his thirties, and chairman of Orion Pictures, TriStar Pictures, and Phoenix Pictures in the decades that followed. He has produced or been involved with over 300 feature films, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Rocky (1976), Annie Hall (1977), Platoon (1986), Amadeus (1984), RoboCop (1987), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), The Terminator (1984), Dances with Wolves (1990), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Shutter Island (2010) and The Black Swan (2010). Seventeen of his films have been nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards.


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