Ronin - John Frankenheimer


Last Update: 19 September 1998


"This is movie that had to have one style, and I have a very definite visual style. I wanted it to look a certain way, and I knew the only way I could get exactly what I wanted was to do it myself."

JOHN FRANKENHEIMER (Director) has enjoyed an extraordinary career in which his diverse feature films and extensive work in television have expressed his views on important social and philosophical topics, ranging from an indictment of McCarthy-era politics (The Manchurian Candidate) to international terrorism (Seven Days in May) to the indomitable nature of the human spirit (Birdman of Alcatraz).

Born and raised in New York City, Frankenheimer attended La Salle Military Academy before beginning studies at Williams College, where he was active in the theater as both an actor and director. During a subsequent stint in the Air Force, Frankenheimer directed documentary movies, an experience that encouraged him to pursue a career in directing films.

In 1953, he was hired as an assistant director at CBS-TV in New York, where he quickly moved from working on weather and news broadcasts to series like Person to Person, You Are There and See It Now. Within a short time, he was directing dramatic programs later described as part of the Golden Age of Television; between the highly acclaimed Playhouse 90 and two other anthology series with which he was associated at this time, Frankenheimer directed 152 live television dramas between 1954 and 1960, averaging one every two weeks.

He made his feature film directorial debut in 1956 with The Young Stranger. His next film, The Young Savages, was the first in a five-picture collaboration between Frankenheimer and actor Burt Lancaster, which culminated in the Academy Award-nominated Birdman of Alcatraz in 1962.

That same year, Frankenheimer was represented at the Cannes Film Festival with All Fall Down, and he went on to critical acclaim for his direction of The Manchurian Candidate. His other feature film credits during this prolific period of his career include Seven Days in May, The Train, Grand Prix, The Fixer, Seconds, The Gypsy Moths and the American Film Theater adaptation of The Iceman Cometh. Action-adventure films like French Connection II, Black Sunday and 52 Pick Up later reflected the director's characteristic meticulous attention to detail and elaborate pre-production planning.

Frankenheimer returned to television in 1993, winning an Emmy Award for his direction of Against the Wall. The next year, his HBO telefilm The Burning Season earned Emmys for director Frankenheimer and star Raul Julia, going on to win three Golden Globe Awards and two Cable ACE Awards. His next television project was a mini-series for Turner Network Television, Andersonville, which earned the director his third consecutive Emmy Award in 1996.

He returned to feature films in 1996, directing Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer in The Island of Dr. Moreau, before returning to television in 1997, when he directed Gary Sinise in the widely acclaimed, award-winning George Wallace, which won the Golden Globe for best Film for Television as well as the George Foster Peabody Award. George Wallace also garnered the director another Emmy nomination. In1996, the American Cinema Editors honored Frankenheimer with the ACE Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award, celebrating his lifetime achievements as a filmmaker.

A widely acclaimed feature film and television director for over 40 years, John Frankenheimer enjoys a reputation as "an actor's director."

"When I'm shooting a picture, I try to create an environment for the actors that is safe for them and where they feel at ease," the director explains. "I never lie to them and I never manipulate them we are very upfront with each other, and we have honest relationships. My big thing is trying to help people overcome whatever fears they may have; when I succeed in that, the actor can open himself up and give his best. I want my set to be a place where actors and technicians feel free to do their best work."

"John genuinely likes actors, and has extensive technical experience, which was helpful for everyone in the cast of Ronin," observes Robert De Niro. "He has great energy, a terrific sense of humor and is smart and fun to work with. He takes his job very seriously without sounding serious, and as a result he enjoys a very good rapport with the actors."

"I like working with a director who has as much experience as John Frankenheimer," says Jonathan Pryce. "There is a great economy in the way he works and he knows every technical aspect of filmmaking, which means you can relax and get on with your work. John has a clear idea of what he wants within a scene, and he is able to support you as an actor but he's still open to something that might happen spontaneously during a take."

"John knows what he wants and he gets it," agrees Natascha McElhone. "But that does not obscure his ability to allow you to try to do what you want as well he's also able to change his mind, he's very fluid. He's incredibly hard working, he has so much energy he's unstoppable and I have a lot of respect and admiration for him."

Adds Jean Reno, "Because his experience is so vast, John knows exactly what he wants and is able to accomplish it quickly. During rehearsals, he gives his actors a lot of freedom to get comfortable and find their own rhythm, so he can then request certain precise variations from them. His set is very disciplined, and I work well in that kind of atmosphere."

"When I'm shooting a picture, I try to create an environment for the actors that is safe for them and where they feel at ease. I never lie to them and I never manipulate them we are very upfront with each other, and we have honest relationships. My big thing is trying to help people overcome whatever fears they may have; when I succeed in that, the actor can open himself up and give his best. I want my set to be a place where actors and technicians feel free to do their best work."

"This film is all about behavior. The characters in the story act in a certain way, and the audience gets to know them through those actions - so we don't neatly explain everything in detail. In the end, there are no victors, only survivors, for every victory carries a tremendous price."

"We had tremendous logistical problems shooting the action scenes, but our production people did an excellent job, The city of Paris was wonderful about giving us authorization to shoot in places that aren't usually open to film crews. We had amazing cooperation in both Paris and Nice."


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