Sayles and the Return of the Secaucus Seven

Topics: Film, John Sayles, Audience Pages: 4 (1553 words) Published: April 21, 2013
In the fall of 1978, after a few years of writing screenplays for other people, Sayles decided he wanted to write, direct, and edit his own project, an audition piece outside Hollywood’s commercial limitations. Sayles had $40,000 in start-up money, gained from his three New World Pictures screenplays and the sale of The Anarchists’ Convention, a collection of short stories, so a 16-millimeter feature seemed possible. Because the financing for Return of the Secaucus Seven was all out-of-pocket, Sayles understood that he „had to back up a bit and stop thinking in pictures,“ part of his job description as a screenwriter-for-hire, and „start thinking in budget“ (Thinking in Pictures 5). After finishing the screenplay, Sayles completed principal photography in five weeks. Because he was working with an inexperienced crew, he exceeded his own expectations: The film was a success, albeit a slow-moving one, reaching a niche audience of filmgoers looking for real people and recognizable human behavior on-screen. Return of the Secaucus Seven established Sayles politically, thematically, and aesthetically. This seminal film introduces Sayles’s pragmatic, realistic cinematic approach, marked by economical camera work that is subservient to the story, the play of his characters. Before considering Return of the Secaucus Seven, Sayles understood that access to the director’s chair would be difficult, especially for someone with no formal training: „I realized that it was going to take me a long time to break into directing by the usual route, which is to write a hit for a studio and then say, ‘I want to direct the next one’ „ (Chute 54). Sayles saw „a good five years of writing screenplays“ ahead of him before he might be considered as a director; he wanted to speed up the process (Auster and Quart 326). So he set out to teach himself how to make a movie – one he would want to see: „I figured whatever I did or learned about directing I would have to finance myself” (Chute...
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