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12 Stanley Kubrick Strategies for Perfecting a Film

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Director Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, but he still remains an integral part of our culture today. The recent documentary Room 237 explored various conspiracy theories about The Shining. An extensive Kubrick exhibition is touring the world. And Kubrick’s work is continually noted as influential on contemporary directors of huge blockbusters such as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Here are 12 things Stanley Kubrick would do in order to perfect a shot, performance, or film.

1. Adapt any source material.

Kubrick left no stone unturned when it came to genre or source material. He sometimes worked with non-fiction elements and other times adapted novels into films. He used shorter stories as basis for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut, one a science fiction epic and the other a character-driven drama.

Stephen King has been vocal about his hatred for Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, and Kubrick’s attempt to include author Gustav Hasford in the process of making Full Metal Jacket was a failure. Despite his reputation, Kubrick actually accepted a lot of help with his screenplays, including assistance from Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote the screenplay for the 1962 film.

2. Don’t succumb to traditional film structure.

As Martin Scorsese explained, “[Kubrick] doesn’t deal with traditional, dramatic structure. He was experimenting.” The obvious example of Kubrick’s break from structure is 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its three independent sections, “The Dawn of Man,” “Jupiter Mission,” and “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite.” The segments are very different in terms of both action and theme, but that does not stop Kubrick from making a coherent film.

Kubrick showed an interest in experimenting with structure long before 2001; in his 1956 film The Killing, chronology does not limit the plot.

3. Build elaborate, expensive sets.

Anyone who has seen The Shining knows that the Overlook Hotel is a main character, and the set itself reflected that. Kubrick used his budget to create elaborate interiors, including a two-story-tall lobby. And he insisted on having an actual wheel with a 38-foot diameter to represent the spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built by engineers, the wheel cost a total of $750,000. Later in his career, Kubrick became more averse to flying, so he sent staff to Manhattan, where Eyes Wide Shut was set, in order to get the exact measurements of streets and locations for set pieces like newspaper racks.

But the most famous set designs of Kubrick films don’t even scratch the surface. Steven Spielberg once told the Dr. Strangelove set designer, “That War Room set for Strangelove is the best set you ever designed. No, it’s the best set that’s ever been designed.”

4. Shoot as much as he wanted for as long as he wanted.

Kubrick was known for taking his time with each project. Eyes Wide Shut even holds a Guinness World Record for the longest constant movie shoot with 400 days. The film was released in 1999, yet no production schedule since has come close to surpassing the record. Kubrick used three weeks of the shoot to film a 13-minute scene with Tom Cruise and Sydney Pollack. The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey  also had shoots that are still famous for their extensiveness.

5. Let the actors take charge.

Kubrick empowered his actors to try scenes over and over again in different ways. For example, Malcolm McDowell came up with the idea for the infamous use of “Singin’ in the Rain" in A Clockwork Orange. Actor Peter Sellers once explained how involved he was allowed to be, claiming, “If a scene didn’t seem quite right, we’d sit round a table with a tape recorder and ad-lib on the lines of the passages we’d chosen; in that way we’d get perfectly natural dialogue which could then be scripted and used.”

Kubrick asked Jack Nicholson to interpret what the script for The Shining might mean by the direction, “Jack is not working.” Nicholson suggested he be throwing a tennis ball against the walls of the hotel, which became a prominent part of the final film.

6. Freak out his actors.  

Though Kubrick empowered his actors, they still tended to treat him like the legend he was, which made for an intimidating set at times. Tom Cruise developed an ulcer on the set of Eyes Wide Shut, but he did not talk about it publicly because he was worried about Kubrick’s reputation. Kubrick was notoriously hard on Shelley Duvall during the filming of The Shining and she has been very vocal about their tense relationship. She eventually acknowledged, “I might have hated him at the time, but I now see him as a really important filmmaker who gave me that role of my life and made me the sort of actress I never dared think I’d become.”

7. Go way over budget... 

2001: A Space Odyssey was supposed to cost $6 million to make, but Kubrick used $10.5 million. Barry Lyndon cost $11 million, which, it’s hard to believe, was shockingly high in 1975.

8. ...With anyone’s money.

Kubrick reached out to his family and friends for money to make his first two films, Fear and Desire and Killer’s Kiss. His father even gave up his life insurance for cash to help finance Fear and Desire.

9. Argue with experts in the field.

After his two family-funded films, a 28-year-old Kubrick made The Killing with a Hollywood budget. And a Hollywood budget meant Hollywood big shots, who were shocked to learn how confident and capable Kubrick actually was. One infamous on-set story describes an argument between Kubrick and famous cinematographer Lucien Ballard. As later described by the film’s associate producer, Alexander Singer:

"Stanley was, needless to say, very specific about this particular setup, as he was with all setups...So it’s all been pre-planned. Then he gives the finder to Lucien Ballard, and Lucien has watched him and says, ‘I see, it’s going to be a very nice shot.’ Lucien gets to work, Stanley walks off the set to do some piece of business. He comes back a few minutes later and Lucien has indeed set up the dolly track but he set it up at a considerable distance from where Stanley’s position had to be - in terms of the proximity to the set. Now Stanley said, ‘Wait a minute, Lucien, what are you doing, Lucien?’ ‘Well, I took your dolly shot and instead of the 25mm, I’m just going for the 50mm, but I’m at a distance where you would get the same image size...it won’t make any difference.’ Well, it’s all the difference in the world. As soon as you back up, you can hold the same image size, but the entire perspective changes...Stanley looked up at Lucien Ballard and said, ‘Lucien, either you move that camera and put it where it has to be to use a 25mm or get off this set and never come back!’”

10. Turn serious subject matter into comedy.

He created the hilarious 1964 satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb out of the serious novel Red Alert. Making light of nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction was particularly outrageous during the Cold War, but that did not stop Kubrick. The film is often compared to Fail Safe, which was also released in 1964. That film took on the subject matter with a much more serious tone, but it would be hard to find anyone who'd argue Fail Safe is more notable in the world of film than Dr. Strangelove is.

11. Make himself legally vulnerable.

On the subject of Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick knew that his film might get the attention of the government. Production designer Ken Adam remembers when a serviceman visited the set one day and was taken aback by how accurate the film was. Adam claimed, “I got a memo from Stanley saying, ‘You better make sure that you know where all your references came from because otherwise we might be investigated by the FBI.’”

That serviceman was not the only one who couldn’t believe the film’s accuracy. Daniel Ellsberg, the military analyst who released the Pentagon papers, said of the comedy, “That was a documentary!”

12. Invent his own technology.

Long before James Cameron was inventing new filmmaking technologies to complete Titanic and Avatar, Kubrick was a technical innovator. During the making of Barry Lyndon, Kubrick decided he wanted to light portions of the film with only candles. He bought three of the ten lenses that NASA used to take pictures of the moon in the 1960s. He then attached the lenses to his own cameras so that he could get the shots with the lighting he wanted.

The Shining is often cited as one of the first films to make good use of the Steadicam. It was especially noteworthy because the camera was often following around a young boy on a tricycle, which was much more low to the ground than Steadicams had previously been. The crew used a wheelchair specially designed to assist with many of the shots.

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8 of the Weirdest Gallup Polls
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Born in Jefferson, Iowa on November 18, 1901, George Gallup studied journalism and psychology, focusing on how to measure readers’ interest in newspaper and magazine content. In 1935, he founded the American Institute of Public Opinion to scientifically measure public opinions on topics such as government spending, criminal justice, and presidential candidates. Although he died in 1984, The Gallup Poll continues his legacy of trying to determine and report the will of the people in an unbiased, independent way. To celebrate his day of birth, we compiled a list of some of the weirdest, funniest Gallup polls over the years.

1. THREE IN FOUR AMERICANS BELIEVE IN THE PARANORMAL (2005)

According to this Gallup poll, 75 percent of Americans have at least one paranormal belief. Specifically, 41 percent believe in extrasensory perception (ESP), 37 percent believe in haunted houses, and 21 percent believe in witches. What about channeling spirits, you might ask? Only 9 percent of Americans believe that it’s possible to channel a spirit so that it takes temporary control of one's body. Interestingly, believing in paranormal phenomena was relatively similar across people of different genders, races, ages, and education levels.

2. ONE IN FIVE AMERICANS THINK THE SUN REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH (1999)

In this poll, Gallup tried to determine the popularity of heliocentric versus geocentric views. While 79 percent of Americans correctly stated that the Earth revolves around the sun, 18 percent think the sun revolves around the Earth. Three percent chose to remain indifferent, saying they had no opinion either way.

3. 22 PERCENT OF AMERICANS ARE HESITANT TO SUPPORT A MORMON (2011)

Gallup first measured anti-Mormon sentiment back in 1967, and it was still an issue in 2011, a year before Mormon Mitt Romney ran for president. Approximately 22 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, even if that candidate belonged to their preferred political party. Strangely, Americans’ bias against Mormons has remained stable since the 1960s, despite decreasing bias against African Americans, Catholics, Jews, and women.

4. MISSISSIPPIANS GO TO CHURCH THE MOST; VERMONTERS THE LEAST (2010)

This 2010 poll amusingly confirms the stereotype that southerners are more religious than the rest of the country. Although 42 percent of all Americans attend church regularly (which Gallup defines as weekly or almost weekly), there are large variations based on geography. For example, 63 percent of people in Mississippi attend church regularly, followed by 58 percent in Alabama and 56 percent in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Utah. Rounding out the lowest levels of church attendance, on the other hand, were Vermont, where 23 percent of residents attend church regularly, New Hampshire, at 26 percent, and Maine at 27 percent.

5. ONE IN FOUR AMERICANS DON’T KNOW WHICH COUNTRY AMERICA GAINED INDEPENDENCE FROM (1999)

Although 76 percent of Americans knew that the United States gained independence from Great Britain as a result of the Revolutionary War, 24 percent weren’t so sure. Two percent thought the correct answer was France, 3 percent said a different country (such as Mexico, China, or Russia), and 19 percent had no opinion. Certain groups of people who consider themselves patriotic, including men, older people, and white people (according to Gallup polls), were more likely to know that America gained its independence from Great Britain.

6. ONE THIRD OF AMERICANS BELIEVE IN GHOSTS (2000)

This Halloween-themed Gallup poll asked Americans about their habits and behavior on the last day of October. Predictably, two-thirds of Americans reported that someone in their house planned to give candy to trick-or-treaters and more than three-quarters of parents with kids reported that their kids would wear a costume. More surprisingly, 31 percent of American adults claimed to believe in ghosts, an increase from 1978, when only 11 percent of American adults admitted to a belief in ghosts.

7. 5 PERCENT OF WORKING MILLENNIALS THRIVE IN ALL FIVE ELEMENTS OF WELL-BEING (2016)

This recent Gallup poll is funny in a sad way, as it sheds light on the tragicomic life of a millennial. In this poll, well-being is defined as having purpose, social support, manageable finances, a strong community, and good physical health. Sadly, only 5 percent of working millennials—defined as people born between 1980 and 1996—were thriving in these five indicators of well-being. To counter this lack of well-being, Gallup’s report recommends that managers promote work-life balance and improve their communication with millennial employees.

8. THE WORLD IS BECOMING SLIGHTLY MORE NEGATIVE (2014)

If you seem to feel more stress, sadness, anxiety, and pain than ever before, Gallup has the proof that it’s not all in your head. According to the company’s worldwide negative experience index, negative feelings such as stress, sadness, and anger have increased since 2007. Unsurprisingly, people living in war-torn, dangerous parts of the word—Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Sierra Leone—reported the highest levels of negative emotions.

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11 Times Mickey Mouse Was Banned
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Despite being one of the world’s most recognizable and beloved characters, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Mickey Mouse, who turns 89 years old today. A number of countries—and even U.S. states—have banned the cartoon rodent at one time or another for reasons both big and small.

1. In 1930, Ohio banned a cartoon called “The Shindig” because Clarabelle Cow was shown reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn, the premier romance novelist of the time. Check it out (1:05) and let us know if you’re scandalized:

2. With movies on 10-foot screen being a relatively new thing in Romania in 1935, the government decided to ban Mickey Mouse, concerned that children would be terrified of a monstrous rodent.

3. In 1929, a German censor banned a Mickey Mouse short called “The Barnyard Battle.” The reason? An army of cats wearing pickelhauben, the pointed helmets worn by German military in the 19th and 20th centuries: "The wearing of German military helmets by an army of cats which oppose a militia of mice is offensive to national dignity. Permission to exhibit this production in Germany is refused.”

4. The German dislike for Mickey Mouse continued into the mid-'30s, with one German newspaper wondering why such a small and dirty animal would be idolized by children across the world: "Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed ... Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal.” Mickey was originally banned from Nazi Germany, but eventually the mouse's popularity won out.

5. In 2014, Iran's Organization for Supporting Manufacturers and Consumers announced a ban on school supplies and stationery products featuring “demoralizing images,” including that of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, and characters from Toy Story.

6. In 1954, East Germany banned Mickey Mouse comics, claiming that Mickey was an “anti-Red rebel.”

7. In 1937, a Mickey Mouse adventure was so similar to real events in Yugoslavia that the comic strip was banned. State police say the comic strip depicted a “Puritan-like revolt” that was a danger to the “Boy King,” Peter II of Yugoslavia, who was just 14 at the time. A journalist who wrote about the ban was consequently escorted out of the country.

8. Though Mussolini banned many cartoons and American influences from Italy in 1938, Mickey Mouse flew under the radar. It’s been said that Mussolini’s children were such Mickey Mouse fans that they were able to convince him to keep the rodent around.

9. Mickey and his friends were banned from the 1988 Seoul Olympics in a roundabout way. As they do with many major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, Disney had contacted American favorites to win in each event to ask them to say the famous “I’m going to Disneyland!” line if they won. When American swimmer Matt Biondi won the 100-meter freestyle, he dutifully complied with the request. After a complaint from the East Germans, the tape was pulled and given to the International Olympic Committee.

10. In 1993, Mickey was banned from a place he shouldn't have been in the first place: Seattle liquor stores. As a wonderful opening sentence from the Associated Press explained, "Mickey Mouse, the Easter Bunny and teddy bears have no business selling booze, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has decided." A handful of stores had painted Mickey and other characters as part of a promotion. A Disney VP said Mickey was "a nondrinker."

11. Let's end with another strike against The Shindig (see #1) and Clarabelle’s bulging udder. Less than a year after the Shindig ban, the Motion Picture Producers and Directors of America announced that they had received a massive number of complaints about the engorged cow udders in various Mickey Mouse cartoons.

From then on, according to a 1931 article in Time magazine, “Cows in Mickey Mouse ... pictures in the future will have small or invisible udders quite unlike the gargantuan organ whose antics of late have shocked some and convulsed others. In a recent picture the udder, besides flying violently to left and right or stretching far out behind when the cow was in motion, heaved with its panting with the cow stood still.”

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