Network (1976): Why The Acting Is So Good | Acting

Network (1976): Why The Acting Is So Good | Acting

Hello Cinephiles! Tyler here. The next film you voted for is Paddy Chayefsky
and Sidney Lumet’s 1976 diatribe of the television industry, Network. I often wonder how much of Network’s biting
satire is lost on someone my age simply because it had all mostly come true before I had seen
it. I must say, it took a couple of viewings for
me to realize just how funny the movie was. “You can blow the seminal prison-class infrastructure
out your ass! I’m not knocking down my goddamned distribution
charges!” [Gunshot] What I want to look at today is how the film
got such great performances out of its cast. The cast won a multitude of awards including
the Oscar for Best Actress won by Faye Dunaway and the Oscar for Best Actor won by Peter
Finch— who won over another nominee for the same film: William Holden. Beatrice Straight won Best Supporting Actress
for only five minutes and two seconds of screen time— the shortest performance to win an
Oscar. And Ned Beatty was nominated for the Best
Supporting Actor Oscar for pretty much one scene. The previous year, Sidney Lumet had directed
Dog Day Afternoon, which itself, contained some of the greatest performances captured
on film. So what was Lumet doing to elicit such brilliant
motion picture acting? This is Making Film… Ensemble casts were nothing new for Lumet,
who had previously directed Murder on the Orient Express, The Group, and the iconic
Twelve Angry Men (Under the Influence). And Lumet’s reputation for strong character
pieces was helpful when casting the film. Sidney Lumet: “We never got a turn-down. Whoever we sent the script to said, ‘yes.’ Usually somewhere down the line, you’ve
got second, third, fourth choices and then finally some compromised choices. Not on Network. Everybody there was the first choice and they
knew it.” Another reason for this was the reputation
of the screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky. Chayefsky was one of the most successful television
writers in the 1950s— the [quote] “golden age of television.” He was disillusioned with the direction television
was going and wrote the satire as a commentary on the medium he had once been such an important
part of (Cinephilia). Chayefsky had previously won screenwriting
Oscars for Marty and The Hospital, and after his win for Network, he became the only person
in history to win three screenwriting Oscars without the help of a co-writer (Wiki). Highly unorthodox, Chayefsky’s contract stated
that he, the writer, was given final cut of the film— a power usually reserved for the
director. This was Chayefsky’s film (Washington Post). The first thing Lumet did was to bring the
cast and crew together for two weeks of rehearsals at the Hotel Diplomat in Times Square (Itzkoff
99). Script supervisor, Martha Pinson who worked
with Lumet on many of his later films, detailed Lumet’s rehearsal process in an essay titled
“The Lumet Method” (hodah). Once gathered together, Lumet would first
make an address about the piece, then they would move onto a table reading and discussion
(hodah). The rehearsal process began on a cold January
5th, 1976. They had wanted to use the large ballroom
at the Hotel Diplomat for the table-read, but it was unheated and they had to use an
adjacent room (Itzkoff 99). Everyone was excited to witness the meeting
of acting giants William Holden and Peter Finch who many had grown up with— Holden
and Finch had never worked together (Itzkoff 99). After the table read, Lumet would show location
photographs, they’d analyze each scene to [quote] “[put] the film on its feet” (hodah). As I mentioned in a video on Dog Day Afternoon,
Lumet sometimes used the rehearsals to have the cast improvise dialogue that they would
write into the script. This was not the case with Network. Here, the screenplay was sacred. Every line had to be spoken exactly as it
was written. Chayefsky attended the rehearsals to make
sure everything was working toward his vision. After all, he had final cut. Lumet announced to the cast that he wanted
them to “keep their performance simple” and that they should display [quote] “pure
behavior,” but of course not quite as naturalistic as Dog Day Afternoon (Itzkoff 100). Sidney Lumet: “I don’t know what to say
about actors reacting perfectly because it’s so much a part of the norm of what they’re
doing if they’re working well. So many times on pictures, because they haven’t
rehearsed it, because they haven’t worked it out cleanly and in advance, these things
are mechanical and forced, but not here.” The actual rehearsals would begin after the
assistant directors taped the floor plan of each set onto the floor the rehearsal space
(hodah). Luckily the heat to the ballroom was fixed
and so they spent the next few days in there blocking the action in each scene (Itzkoff
100). Chayefsky explained the hierarchies of UBS
and CCA to the cast and they were ready to begin (Itzkoff 100). Then they were off, rehearsing each scene
of the film as if it were a play. The scenes were blocked within the confines
of the taped-off floor plans, all the props needed were at their disposal. Lumet said that they would even rehearse transition
scenes of walking and, if there were a car chase, they’d rehearse that too (Under the
Influence). During rehearsal, Dunaway was often found
thumbing through her [quote] “heavily annotated copy of the script” (Itzkoff 100). Other actors were afraid of the amount of
Lumet’s preparation. Lumet said, “When I have worked with actors
who’ve only worked in movies, they come in terrified of rehearsal. They say, ‘Sidney’s going to kill the spontaneity.’ The truth is the exact opposite. Because they know what they’re doing, because
they know where they are in the character, because they feel safe with me and in the
selections they’ve made, they are twice as free. On a location, if a plane goes by, fine, they’ll
incorporate it or ignore it. If a dog bites them, they’ll incorporate it
or ignore it. They’re open to whatever the momentary situation
is because they are much more secure. So, if anything, it helps spontaneity” (Under
the Influence). This makes sense. The actual location will be a different environment
and there will always be a number of variables that the production will have to figure out
how to roll with. If the cast is thoroughly prepared, I’d
imagine that they might feel comfortable enough with the character to make spontaneous decisions
if needed while still having a sense-memory of what is important for them to include. Faye Dunaway: “But it’s just so much better
to have layered already, some sense of the performance.” Sidney Lumet: “You need the continual exposure
to the same thing happening again and again to give you an inkling of ‘ah ha,’ there’s
something interesting here.” Pinson said that these run-throughs would
[quote] “[clear] up uncertainty about the arc and pitch of an actor’s role, the tone
of a performance, [and] the intensity needed for any given scene in relation to what comes
before and after” (hodah). Everybody, even the bit players would be on
the same page and understand how they fit into the whole of the film (hodah). Lumet brought in his notebook of [quote] “hand-drawn
diagrams of where he expected to place his cameras and how he expected each sequence
to unfold” (itzkoff 100). That said, even though everything was worked
out beforehand, they were still able to remain flexible. If, on the day of shooting, he couldn’t
remember how he wanted to block a scene he would say that it “must have been bad”
(itzkoff 100). Lumet said, “I can’t remember going past four
takes on anything we did in Network. If I go more than four takes, it’s usually
because I staged it wrong, or maybe there are some words that are wrong. [Rehearsal] is also a time in which the actors
can develop faith in me, in my taste and in my knowledge. Once they have that, they are released, they
are free” (Under the Influence). Lumet would have a final run-though on the
last day of rehearsal in which the Director of Photography would attend— in this case,
Owen Roizman— and they would work out the lighting around what the actors were doing. This way, they could even be prepared enough
to send the crew out to rig lights on sets well before they were ready to shoot there
(hodah). They would also diagram all the camera positions
and lenses they would use for each shot (hodah). The point of all of this extensive preparation
was that Lumet liked to go fast during production. If you can believe it, the iconic “mad as
hell” speech was done on the first day of shooting (itzkoff 108). These were actually the shots done with the
television camera that would appear on the screens. They did four takes and in each take, Peter
Finch performed the entire two-and-a-half-minute scene except for take three, which [quote] “halted at the one-minute mark for an unspecified reason” (itzkoff 108). “Stick your head out of the window, open
it and stick your head out and keep yelling and yell: I’m as mad as hell, I’m not
going to take this anymore!” Remember when Lumet said that everyone they
sent the script to said yes? While technically true, this doesn’t mean
that Peter Finch was their first choice from the start. In the months leading up to the production,
Chayefsky and Producer Howard Gottfried were intensely searching for an actor that had
what it took to play Howard Beale. They even had to halt the production at one
point because they were having such trouble finding the right person (Cast and Characters). A talent manager named Barry Krost came across
the script and, while not too impressed with the character of Howard Beale, he decided
to pester Gottfried into auditioning his client, Peter Finch (Itzkoff 87, 91). When Finch realized he would have to audition
for the role, he angrily hung up on Krost only to call back a few minutes later to apologize
saying, “Sorry, darling, I forgot I was an actor” (Itzkoff 87). Finch was an Australian living in England
and Lumet and Chayefsky were worried about whether or not he could be convincing as an
American newscaster. Finch had Lumet send him a copy of the New
York Times and he read it in front of a camera to show that he could portray a newscaster’s
cadence in an American accent (Commentary). Sidney Lumet: “And one day, Peter Finch
called and he said if we would be good enough to send him a tape of Walter Cronkite or John
Chancellor—any one of the evening anchors, he would send us back a tape in two weeks
with a perfect accent. That’s exactly what we did, the tape arrived,
and we hired him.” The second day of shooting— January 20th,
1976— had Finch performing the ‘bullshit speech.’ “Well I’ll tell you what happened—I
just ran out of bullshit.” “Alright, cut him off.” “Leave him on.” The next day— January 21st— Finch was
performing the “mad as hell” scene again, but this time it was for the actual camera
(Itzkoff). This is perhaps the most important scene in
the movie. Howard Beale needed to be so impassioned that
he would make an incredible impact on the country and carry us through the rest of the
film. “Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s hear it! How do you feel?” “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going
to take this anymore!” Much like Sonny’s phone call in Dog Day
Afternoon, Lumet loaded up two cameras with film so that they wouldn’t need to take
time reloading. They could start the next take immediately
after finishing the first and maintain the momentum and exhaustion of the performance. The first take ended— Lumet remarked that
it was marvelous and they immediately started take two. Finch got up to the congressmen line — “I don’t want you to write to your Congressman
because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write.” and then collapsed in his chair and said that
he couldn’t go any further (Itzkoff 110). What we’re actually seeing in the film is
the first half of take two and then the second half of take one (Itzkoff 110). “I want you to get mad!” I believe the two takes are stitched together
by this shot of Faye Dunaway. Finch being unable to finish the second take
of the speech was an ominous foreshadowing of his failing health. About 8 to 10 months later, well after the
film had wrapped and the Academy Awards were approaching, Finch was sitting on a bench
at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Lumet was coming down to meet him when he suffered a fatal
heart attack and keeled over (Commentary). He went on to win the Oscar for his performance
becoming the first and only person to posthumously win Best Actor. In 2009, Heath Ledger became the second actor
to win an Oscar after death— Ledger’s was for Best Supporting Actor (Under the Influence). What’s interesting is that every line spoken
in the film was exactly as Chayefsky had written it, except for the most important line of
the film. Finch managed to accidentally sneak an extra
‘as’ into the line which originally read, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to
take this anymore!” But you can hear Finch say: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going
to take this anymore!” You can even hear the correct line shouted
by the people on the fire escapes and out of the windows. “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to
take this anymore!” They had to leave Finch’s version in the
film because they had only shot it one and a half times (Itzkoff 109, 110). Lumet said that the beauty in Chayefsky’s
scripts was that it made the actors “toe the line” of what is realistic and unrealistic. It’s the subtle progression of madness that
makes you accept the insanity of exploiting Howard Beale for ratings (Commentary). It is because of this that Lumet said perhaps
the most important thing to consider when casting is the progression of change over
a character’s arc. He says that you should cast for the third
act. Cast for who the character ends up becoming
(Cast and Characters). When casting a character like Howard Beale,
cast the madman. Chayefsky would sit as close as possible to
the actors so he could evaluate their performances and so he could make sure every line was delivered
verbatim. He liked to sit under the key light because
it was the angle in which the actors were “best lit” (Itzkoff 106). There was even a running joke that if anyone
was looking for Chayefsky on set, the first place they should look is under the key light
(Itzkoff 106). Chayefsky said, “My biggest contribution
is in explaining my humor to the actors” (Moss). “He’s saying that life is bullshit and
it is, so what are you screaming about?” One of Chayefsky’s contributions was in the
scene of Howard Beale arriving at the studio directly before his “mad as hell” speech. Lumet originally had the security guard look
Beale up and down and make a face at the strangeness of a news anchor arriving at the station soaking
wet in his pajamas. Chayefsky told Lumet, “This is TV… He shouldn’t even notice him” (Itzkoff
107). “How do you do Mr. Beale?” “I must make my witness.” “Sure thing, Mr. Beale.” I had never quite realized how similar the
humor in Network is to the humor in American Psycho. “I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” “Uh, great tan Marcus.” The world seems indifferent to what we perceive
as madness and I think that’s what gives the satire its weight. I think the trick is that we should believe
that what is humorous to us is absolutely serious to the characters. “The light is impending! I bare witness to the light!” For the role of Diana Christensen, they needed
to find someone willing to do the part as Chayefsky had envisioned the character—
he would not allow any actor or actress to demand anything about their character be changed
(Lumet 41). Diana was a tricky part to cast because, as
Lumet put it, Diana had to be played by someone who didn’t need to be loved on screen (Cast
and Characters). Lumet had heard that Faye Dunaway had a reputation
for being difficult, so he visited her at her home to make sure that everything was
out in the open. In his book, Making Movies, Lumet writes,
“Crossing the floor of her apartment, before I’d even reached her, I said, “I know
the first thing you’re going to ask me: Where’s her vulnerability? Don’t ask it. She has none.” Faye looked shocked. “Furthermore, if you try to sneak it in,
I’ll get rid of it in the cutting room, so it’ll be a wasted effort.” She paused just a second, then burst out laughing… She said yes. She never tried to get sentimental in the
part, and she took home an Academy Award. My point is that it’s so important to thrash
these things out in advance. If push comes to shove, you can then say the
obvious truth… This is a script we both said yes to. So let’s do it” (Lumet 41). Faye Dunaway: “It was something that I couldn’t
NOT do because I thought, if I can infuse the performance with some sense of what she’s
paying for this life of what kind of poignancy- and I think I did, I think there was something
there that you felt you couldn’t put your finger on it maybe, but you felt for this
character. It’s probably in the writing.” On being considered difficult, Dunaway said,
“The fact is that a man can be difficult and people applaud him for trying to do a
superior job… It’s in my nature to do really good jobs,
and I would never have been successful if I hadn’t” (Itzkoff 78). Diana is such an interesting character because
she is both the hero and the villain of the story. We follow her work and the conflict that arises
when she meets obstacles, but because she tramples over these obstacles so fiercely
and easily, we begin to notice how she is ruining real human beings on her way there. Lumet noted that each character becomes corrupted
by the end of the film except for Diana who he says was the way she was since the day
she was born. “For God’s sake, Diana, we’re talking
about putting a manifestly irresponsible man on national television.” That said, one of the most brilliant things
about the character is that they don’t explain why she is the way she is. It makes things more complex to leave it unknown
because the audience lacks the comfort of being able to explain her personality as a
result of something specific. For the role of Max Schumacher, William Holden’s
name came up during a brainstorming session and everyone approved and that was that (Cast
and Characters). Holden had done around seventy movies before
Network, yet Lumet noted that he was actually pretty shy about acting (Commentary). He had no theater background, so the theater-style
rehearsal process was much different than what he was used to. Holden remarked after the rehearsal period
that he finally felt like a real actor (Commentary). Sidney Lumet: “The difference in training
or difference in acting styles never matters if both actors are working honestly, which
they both were.” In his book, Lumet points out the importance
of what the actor is seeing. He explains the standard practice of clearing
the actors’ eye-line to make sure that the actor sees only what the character sees. You can’t have Holden bare his soul to Dunaway
with [quote] “some teamster sipping coffee behind her” (Lumet 119). I think we’re all aware of what happened
when the director of photography didn’t clear Christian Bale’s eye-line during a
scene in Terminator: Salvation. “Alright! I’m trying to f— do a scene here and I’m
going, ‘why the f— is Shane walking in there? What is he doing there?’ Do you understand? My mind is not in the scene if you’re doing
that.” Removing these distractions also helps an
actor pretend that they are not being filmed at all— that the scene is actually unfolding. This way Holden can play the scene as if Dunaway
is the only thing he sees. But while rehearsing one of the most powerful
scenes in the film— the ‘primal doubts’ scene— Lumet noticed that Holden was looking
everywhere but Dunaway’s eyes. Lumet said, “He looked at her eyebrows,
her hair, her lips, but not her eyes” (Itzkoff 101). Lumet made a note of it, but didn’t say
anything. There is a good reason why he didn’t try
to correct this even though the rehearsals were supposed to be place to fix any issues
that arise in the performances. Lumet said, “On the day of shooting we did
a take. After the take, I said, “Let’s go again,
and Bill, on this take, would you try something for me? Lock into her eyes and never break away from
them.” He did. Emotion came pouring out of him. It’s one of his best scenes in the movie. Whatever he’d been avoiding could no longer
be denied. The rehearsal period had helped me recognize
the emotional reticence in him” (Lumet 66). Lumet gave Dunaway the same direction, but
for her, Lumet wanted Dunaway to [quote] “just try to understand what he’s talking about”
(Itzkoff 126). And when Holden says: “I just want you to love me, primal doubts
and all. You understand that don’t you?” We get her only vulnerable moment in the film. “I don’t know how to do that.” [Ringing Telephone] Lumet said, “That’s as close a moment
as she gets” (Itzkoff 126). Dunaway described how she played the line
as the character’s [quote] “quintessential expression” (Itzkoff 127). Dunaway said, “[Diana] isn’t connected
as a woman, doesn’t feel like a woman. With just those few seconds on the screen,
you knew that she was completely unable to love” (Itzkoff 127). By the way, this scene was built entirely
out of one take (Commentary). Thanks for watching! Stay tuned for part 2 where I will discuss
Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight, Ned Beatty, and Arthur Burghardt who played the Great
Ahmed Kahn. Network was voted for by my patrons over on
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57 thoughts on “Network (1976): Why The Acting Is So Good | Acting

  1. It's sort of nuts to see how much work Lumet crammed into getting his performances so perfect. I just watched 12 Angry Men again for the first time in a few years after watching your Dog Day Afternoon video and that intensity from his casts persists throughout all of his filmography.

  2. Thinking Network is a comedy is a sad reflection on the devolution of expectations about important social institutions.

  3. I watched this for the 2nd or 3rd time a couple days ago. It's amazing:
    How prescient it was.
    How multilayered the performances are.
    Finally, how deep the satire and humor really goes.

  4. Its great because the story is great . and then you got actors who can act because you had a director who could direct

  5. Interesting fact, don't know if it means anything or if it's just a freak coincidence…. When Beale says the line "I'm as mad as hell…" The clock behind him hits 4:20 on the second. Maybe I noticed it because I was always high on weed whenever I showed this movie to my mate's.

  6. Too bad Christian Bale's best performance was off camera. Terminator salvation with such a god-awful movie

  7. very insightful.. in an age nowadays where those who call themselves "directors" do not deserve to walk in the shoes of the greats like Lumet, Kubrick, and many many others.. they think that shooting with different lenses, making many cuts, adding effects is directing art!! boy how they have killed the art of cinema.

  8. Chifskis ? Writing was the most powerful in a movie. A real tour de force like gr martin writing all them sub stories for gt

  9. Chayefsky and Lumet and a near-perfect ensemble class. This was a Marshall McCluhan inspired set-piece where the medium is truly the message and essentially a stage play first and a movie second. Ironically it is now a stage play and ever so prophetic of what is happening today.

  10. A movie that belongs in the same conversation as 1984, Metropolis, The Trueman Show and the 1st Matrix movie…….all movies that display the neverending story!!

  11. The extra “as” in the mad as hell line is how an Australian would say it. Peter Finch just reverted to the way he would say it naturally when he was emotionally charged up during the filming.

  12. I have really mixed feelings about Network. I thought that it was very uneven. There were some scenes which I felt were some of the best cinema I'd ever seen. There were other scenes, however, which I felt didn't fit, which I thought were silly, which were just weird & bizarre and not in a way which was great like the scenes I liked.

  13. You cannot possibly have an objective reason why a dramatic performance is good or not. Art of any sort, true art, is completely subjective. Try to tell me why a Picasso painting I cannot stand is actually a work of genius….or why a Bob Dylan album I treasure is in fact junk. This is a complete waste of everyone's time.

  14. Both Finch and Holden were severe alcoholics — it prematurely aged them and hastened their deaths. I can only imagine the wisdom and charm Lumet must have used not only to keep them together, but to give one of the best performances of their careers.

  15. Another "classic" that should be flushed down the toilet. I saw it a month ago, the acting is mediocre and at times off putting.

  16. Most of Bill Holden's love scenes with Faye Dunaway are cringe. I don't know if was the crappy script or crappy directing, but it's just not believable.

  17. You said that the movie doesn't explain why Diana is the way she is… It doesn't has to, really.
    It is obvious that she is a kind of strong and ambitious woman that is struggling through a Man world of TV network using Man's rules AND man's weaknesses.

    Fair game, I would say.

    Howard Beale is just a pawn in her game.

  18. Probably the greatest Satire on film. It seems to get more relevant decade after decade! The first time I saw it I don't think I stopped laughing until the end, and it all started with the "Bullshit" Speech!

  19. I was in high school but had a great southern poet friend Charlene Swansea Whisnett who while drunk so completly discribed the film to me that I still haven't seen it. I plan to someday.

  20. A lot of good insights into the movie, and movie making. But, what's with the irritating, repetitive elevator music? How can someone who investigates movie history and technique so well fail to note the mood the music creates. This feels like listening to an interesting person speaking in a hotel lobby while some function hall music fills the air.

  21. Diane is an archetype of the female ; gives life and can take it away. She's not a mystery, she's as plain as can be seen. For those who can see.

  22. It’s simple they sill had a large group of people that could actually act still in the 70’s . We have very few real actors in this age, not to mention writers producers and directors. It’s a group collaboration film making. If you don’t get that stay out of the industry,those are the ones that are bringing it down to crap.

  23. Because like music of the past u needed real talent to succeed. Simple. They had Tina Turner and we get Beyonce. They had Led Zepplin and we have …………………crap.

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