Brian Williams, news anchor for CBS evening nightly news, interviewed filmmaker, Ron Howard about his fifty-year career in the film industry. Listening to their conversation had a familiar tone. Held in the Tribeca Community College auditorium with hundreds of people present the atmosphere had a flare of intimacy. The hour long session quickly slipped away.
Now in his early 60s, Ron Howard is a household name. He shares about his early beginnings as a childhood actor and the impact acting made on a worthwhile career in the film industry. One observation is that Howard loves to tell stories. Fifty-plus years gives him a pretty good repertoire for reminiscing. Williams eloquently steers his questions to give Howard the freedom to share as much or as little as he wanted to.
Williams talks with Howard about how the movie experience is changing. The business part is constantly trying to figure out what form of the business brings in the most profits. Today stories told with the moving picture come in a variety of forms due to modern technology. Howard believes modification is key to finding a format that works. Williams asks Howard if he fights technology. Howard replies, "Why fight it at all? To decry it...is to be against it...no one person can not stop the rapid pace of technology from modernizing and changing our world. I need to embrace the formats that work for my type of storytelling." He continues, "We all view stories differently. Thus telling stories differently is imminent. I like a single sitting experience (the feature film or a documentary) because I am a storyteller who likes to communicate one whole story at one time."
Howard adds, "Technology impacts all of us. The audience is always going to tell you what they like best. As a storyteller and a communicator, I am required to adjust to that." Howard then acknowledges, "At the end of the day, if I think the story has value and that it's interesting, then my next job is trying to understand how to best tell the story."
Williams notes that Howard has directed and produced more years than he was an actor and asks, "Will you ever return to acting?" Howard smiles and says, "I would like to someday..." He explains that as a director he likes to work from project to project and rarely takes a break in between. This fact makes it hard for him to be available to take on an acting role. However, he sheepishly admits that he has not had an offer to act in a film in a very, very long time. Reminiscent he says, "I became a director at a very young age and my dream was to do it right and take it seriously."
Howard goes back to his roots and answers Williams request to tell about his parents. Howard happily shares that they were married for 54 years. A milestone today. He grew-up observing a wonderful example of marriage. His parents (Rance Howard and Jean Speegle Howard) were from Oklahoma, fell in love, had children and a nice long life together. Before they wed, Howard's dad studied acting and drama at the University of Oklahoma and his mom went to acting school in New York.
Rance came from a farming family. When he was a teenager his dad seriously advised him to figure out some type of work that he would be able to make a good living because he was never going to be a good farmer.
Rance and Jean set their sights on the entertainment industry and were successful. Ron's mom continued acting until just before she died. Many of us remember her in Apollo 13 as Jim Lovell's mom. Evidently she was so nervous about that role because she had been out of acting for a long time. She desperately wanted to do her character justice. She did and with excellence. Howard often casts his family in his films. His dad now married to Judy continues to work in the industry.
Many remember Howard as Opie, Andy Taylor (Andy Griffin) son on The Andy Griffin Show. Williams asked how he transitioned from Opie to Ron. He confidently shares that it was due to the influence of his dad being a great coach and mentor. Howard notes, "He brought reality to acting for me."
Howard recalls as a six-year old actor on the set of The Andy Griffin Show, being enamored listening to the chatter and laughter between his adult colleagues, Don Knotts and Andy Griffin. Lessons learned as child actor on that show were invaluable. Often being able to speak into his character's role and comment on what a kid his age would actually say if it was contrary to the script. Howard was taken seriously and often had a 'voice at the table' one could say.
The difficulty for Howard was the transition from teenage actor to young director. It was his dream to be a director because he felt he could control his destiny. He wanted to become a leader in the business not an actor that would be at everyone's disposal.
Howard, privileged to work with many famous actors, recalls unique experiences with a lasting impact. He noted, "The older actors all had one thing in common, They would work a little harder than everyone else." Adding, "I've acted with all types, I've directed all types. What you want to understand as a director, is what actors have to offer. They'll get at it however they get at it. If you can understand that, you can get your work done."
He recalls the fun times working on the set of The Andy Griffin Show because Don Knotts was a natural comedian and often as soon as the director yelled, "Cut"...the cast burst out laughing from something Knotts had done not scripted in the filmed scene. Howard said that Knotts was a sweet, mild-mannered, kind man. He was open, collaborative, fun and dedicated to do whatever it took to get their show in the best form possible. Andy Griffin was Knotts biggest fan outside of his own family. Their relationship was special. As was Griffin with Howard. Even before Griffin's death in 2012, he still felt compelled to give Opie, some fatherly advice regarding a personal matter of interest Howard recalls fondly.
James Garner, John Wayne and RUSH (his latest film) were also topics of discussion. Howard concludes the afternoon session with a personal story he had working with legendary actress, Bette Davis.
He chuckles and begins, "Bette Davis was so professional and never wanted me, as a young director, to get the best of her. She was tough. Serious about her job. She wasn't sure about me directing her due to my age and put me thru the ringer. She didn't much like that there was this 25-year old from a sitcom that was directing her. I was talking to her on the phone about the script and I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, I'll protect you as the director and make sure you're prepared and that your performance will not suffer', (she was concerned that the script wasn't up to speed for her caliber of acting experience but she liked the storyline and wanted to act it) and she said, 'I disagree, Mr. Howard'. I said, 'Ms. Davis, just call me Ron', and she said, 'No, I will call you Mr. Howard until I decide whether I like you or not'. Smiling Howard continues, "While on set the following day I gave her a note to try something a different way. She was reluctant but tried it. She said, 'You're right, that works much better'. At the end of the day, I said, 'Well, Ms. Davis, great first day. I'll see you tomorrow'. She says, 'Okay, Ron, see you tomorrow' and then pats him on the butt while adding, 'If you're going to direct, do your job and don't be afraid'. Laughter and applause exploded as Ron Howard ended his talk with a big smile and a grateful Thank You to the audience.