Why does Clint Eastwood hate the “efficiency label” as a director?
The great Clint Eastwood is most famous for his work as one of Hollywood’s most successful leading men in the 1960s and 1970s. He first made his name in the cattle droving series Rawhide, which aired between 1959 and 1965. After establishing himself as an adept conveyor of American grit, Eastwood cemented his reputation when he starred as the unflinching antihero, ‘The Man with No Name’, in Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy in the mid-1960s.
After that success, Eastwood reaffirmed his position as one of the greatest actors of on-screen antiheroes when he assumed the role of San Francisco cop Harry Callahan in the five Dirty Harry films. As soon as the forever misquoted line, “‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?” rolled off his tongue in the first entry, Eastwood’s reputation as a tough guy would never be doubted, despite all the brilliance he had hitherto produced.
Elsewhere, Eastwood strengthened his connection to action and American masculinity with hit movies such as Hang’ Em High, Pale Rider and Where Eagles Dare. Interestingly, while most of his acting roles feature some form of violence, he has occasionally strayed away from this trend, such as in the 1995 romantic drama, The Bridges of Madison County.
Outside of his acting – and sometimes married with it – Eastwood has also made his name as an auteur. Mystic River, Gran Torino, Changeling and Invictus, are just a handful of titles he’s directed, demonstrating the variety his oeuvre boasts. Alongside being such a storied character, Eastwood developed a reputation for being a creature of habit when it comes to shooting films. After many of his actors discussed his methods in the media, during his early days behind the camera, Eastwood’s most notable stylistic hallmark became his penchant for using one take.
However, when speaking to Action Magazine in 1973 (via DGA), Eastwood set the story straight, as this account of his work wasn’t wholly accurate. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘Well, he only does one take,’” he told the publication. “Even if that were true, I don’t like the reputation. I don’t think anybody likes that efficiency label. What I like is to be efficient with the storytelling. To me, it’s whatever it takes to do the job. I’m not out to save a buck. We’ve budgeted a film and it will live within the budget, that’s for sure.”
The High Plains Drifter director maintained that he filmed in this way for the good of everyone. “The big question, for me, is how to do it so that it’s efficient for everybody, so the actors can perform at their very best and with the spontaneity that you’d like to find so that the audience will feel like those lines have been said for the very first time, ever,” he said.
The Californian continued: “Then you’ve got a believable scene, then a believable group of scenes and finally a believable picture, because everybody is thinking it seems real. It seems like they’re saying it right away, instead of saying it for the 50th time.”
In his customarily frank manner, Eastwood expressed that if a scene was without errors, there is almost no difference between takes. “Other than obvious errors like forgetting a line, often I can’t see any difference between take one and take 20”.