A Directors Guild of America interview with Mel Brooks. We may tend to think of him as a director or actor, but his IMDb page lists 42 writing credits including the movies The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Q: What compelled you to make the move from writer to director?
A: I just couldn’t sit by as a writer saying, ‘Don’t you think he should have been louder?’ Or, ‘Don’t you think that scene is playing a little longer than it should?’ That’s why I was on my feet as a director. I would just know. What was working, what was entertaining, what was interesting, what was boring. I would simply know. My skin would tell me.
Q: How did you convince anybody in 1968 to let you direct your first screenplay, The Producers, seeing as you hadn’t yet directed?
A: When I met [producer] Joseph E. Levine, he was making Hercules, and that was a big hit. And Hercules Unchained, then Hercules Nearly Chained, But Roped. I don’t know; he had a lot of Hercules pictures with chains. And he was making some money. So Levine says, ‘I’ll do it, but who are we going to get to direct it?’ And I said, ‘Me.’ And he said, ‘Oh no, you’ve never directed a picture. It’s still a million bucks, and we can’t afford to risk it.’ In those days it was a lot of money. And I said, ‘Joe, I’ve got the pictures in my head. I know what they look like; I know what they’re doing; I see them moving; I see them sitting; I see their expressions. I see it all lit, because I wrote it. If you get another director, they come in, they may have completely different pictures in their head. Maybe good, maybe bad, but it won’t flow.’ He said, ‘You know, that makes a lot of sense. Will you do it for scale?’ I said, ‘Of course, yeah, yeah. But I won’t direct it unless I get final cut, because I know what studios can do.’ So he gave me final cut.
Q: On the surface, The Producers is simply good, silly fun. But do you take personal pleasure in the subversive element of making fun of Nazis? There are Nazi jokes in many of your movies.
A: Yeah. If you can make them seem foolish and silly, then you’ve won. But if you get on a soapbox and go head to head with Herr Hitler and Goebbels, you’re not going to win. They’re good at that shit. But they’re not good at comedy.
For the rest of the interview, go here.