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Still Rolling:
Interview with Dwight Little

By Carin Chea

If you happen to have a favorite movie or television show made after 1985, there’s a high probability Dwight Little directed it. From X-Files to Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. to 24 and (my personal favorite) Drop Dead Diva, Dwight Little is a prolific director whose career spans decades and several continents.

Little is responsible for unfolding some of the most classic plot lines in our most beloved TV series. And, while most of his time has been spent behind the camera, the acclaimed filmmaker is now putting his name in the forefront as an author.

Little’s debut book, Still Rolling: Inside the Hollywood Dream Factory, is a treasure trove of anecdotes and experiences that will undoubtedly entertain, but ultimately serve as a compass for those wishing to understand and navigate the brutal industry that is Hollywood.

Still Rolling: Inside the Hollywood Dream Factory by Dwight Little

When did you discover your love for filmmaking?

In the 8th grade. It was early on. My father bought me a super 8 camera for Christmas. I played around with it and just never stopped, to be honest. It’s a blessing because all my decisions got directed in a certain way.

It led me to some local film festivals, then USC film school, which then gave me a few contacts out here. I met a few people at school, which was helpful.

Film school is not at all like business or law or med school. It’s more like joining the circus, which is something I write about in the book.

How would you describe your directing style?

I’ve got a little bit of a documentary feel, influenced by 70s cinema filmmakers like William Friedkin and Coppola and Scorsese and De Palma. They have a very realistic approach to movies. I wasn’t exposed to the new green screen/CGI fantasy stuff.

The fantasy in those days was more apparent in the Disney and family movies. I don’t think the business really changed its approach until Spider Man and Iron Man and the massive success of those 22 films in the 2000s.

Between DC and Marvel, there have probably been 40 or 50 CGI/style movies made.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was invited to be a guest lecturer at UCLA. I looked out over hundreds of eager young faces and thought: I really have so much that I’ve learned. I have an over 40-year career.

What I’ve done specifically that’s very different from anyone else is that I worked a lot in feature films for studios, and then I worked a lot in network television and television movies. I think I’m one of the few directors who’ve worked so much in both.

I thought, “I should write this down because I can reach a lot more people than just one classroom at a time.”

I really hope that anyone who’s ever thought about AFI or NYU or Loyola or USC – I think this book will really be an eye opener, in a positive way. The book is also very entertaining. It’s definitely a page-turner.

You know, it’s a very egotistical thing to say, “I want to be a film director.” It’s an act of hubris in a way because you’re competing with not just your peers, but with every filmmaker all over the world.

If you look at the trends, from Chris Nolan on to Baz Luhrmann, all these great filmmakers, they come from all over the world, and they come to Hollywood. That’s in television too.

You’re going to be competing with not just the best people in your town, but the best people in the entire world. If there’s a best, smartest guy who comes out of France, he’s going to land in Hollywood. That’s just how it happens. They want access to a global audience.

When you get on set, you cannot be intimidated by everyone else’s opinion because everyone else will tell you how to do your job, who to cast, how to change the script. You’re going to be inundated by everyone starting from day one.

Don’t be an asshole, but you have to be really strong and say, “This is my point of view. This is my movie, and these are the decisions I’m going to make.” You’re going to have conflict with people. It is not a kumbaya committee kind of job.

I think sometimes it’s presented as a collaborative thing, but it’s not really. The leader has to be polite and dignified, but also strong. You don’t have to be everybody’s friend, but you do have to respect them.

Dwight Little

If you could travel back in time, what is one piece of advice you’d give a young Dwight just starting out in this industry?

Be very precise and careful about what your first student film is, what your first short is, and especially what your first feature is. You will be defined for the rest of your career by your first feature.

If you come out and make a romantic comedy, and if it’s successful, you’ll be “that” director for a long time to come and it’ll be “get that rom-com director.”

If you make a horror film and it’s your first feature, and it’s successful, you’ll be asked over and over and over again to do horror movies.

It becomes nearly impossible to re-define yourself after an initial movie. Be sure that that’s really what you enjoy because you’re going to be in that world for a long, long time.

What was your first film?

My student film was a gritty political drama about a student who gets put in prison in Spain and has a political awakening. It was reflective of the times.

My first feature, by chance, was a spy thriller with Michael Ansara called KGB: The Secret War. The movie was what we call a genre movie, a spy thriller, which led me toward action-adventure, which then got me my first franchise, which was Halloween 4. That was a huge hit.

So now, I was a horror guy even though I never chose it. But, because it was a hit, I was that guy for a while.

By the time I got to television, many years later, I had worked in nearly every Hollywood genre. I did a Washington D.C. thriller, as well as action movies. So, when I got to do Prison Break or 24 or Nikita, I was already experienced because of the movies I’d already worked on.

What’s one of the most memorable experiences you’ve ever had on set?

I was with a crew in a little Hotel in South India once, filming an action movie, and one day there were these feral monkeys that came down from the trees and invaded the hotel.

Oh my God! Like Jumanji! That’s terrifying.

It was terrifying. We had one charter bus, so we all got onto the bus and slept and stayed in there until dawn.

As soon as we got done with the monkeys, there was a monsoon rain and the river started to overflow and washed away our equipment. At that point, we weren’t trying to make the movie; we were just trying to save ourselves.

For updates and further information, please visit www.DwightLittleDirector.com.

Hollywood, CA

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