Three of the most interesting hours of my life were spent in the company of Henry Bromell, who died the other day at the age of 65. Henry was a writer–of short stories and television scripts mostly, but also of an also of a novel and of screenplays. Ann Kolson had assigned me to write a piece on him for The New York Times; the occasion was his debut as a film director for a film called Panic, about a hitman, for which he had also written the screenplay. We met him at the Algonquin Hotel–the only interview I’ve ever conducted there–and I liked him immediately. Easy-going, friendly, funny, interested, smart–he was anything other than self-absorbed. We talked for literally three hours, which was about three times the amount of time usually required to complete the assignment. Although I was careful to cover the usual bases that needed for my assignment, the encounter wasn’t like an interview at all, but more just a delightful conversation. We talked about film, books, writing, his interesting upbringing, about Homicide: Life on the Streets (where had had performed distinguished work and which was one of my favorite series.) It was just an enormously enjoyable experience, with no sense of the professional wall that typically exists between subject and interviewer. I was thrilled to see that he had achieved recent success with Homeland; that was arena he knew well from his upbringing in the Middle East as the son of a CIA operative. I’m glad that he capped his career with success.
Here are a couple of Henry’s quotes from the piece:
”My editor says I’m the only person she knows who’s written for television that television has made a better writer,” said Mr. Bromell, pointing out that writing for David Chase, who was the executive producer of ”I’ll Fly Away” and is the executive producer of ”The Sopranos,” was the most rigorous experience of his career. ”He thinks in terms of a page and a half or two pages, and within that time, there should be two turns, two times where the scene goes someplace that you didn’t see coming, that’s real and is believable. And he’s a Chekovian, so for him the whole scene has to have a subtext. Even if it’s not mentioned, you’ve got to feel it and understand it. Really tough stuff. But you get excited by what he says, because you see that he’s made it better.”
Reaction to ”Panic” has been positive; Mr. Bromell seems particularly pleased by friends who’ve told him that he has made a European movie. ”Most of the filmmakers I love are Europeans,” he says, enumerating a catalog of favorites that quickly begins to include directors from Japan, India and America but that leaves out most of today’s Hollywood filmmakers.
”Working on the series, we would get as production assistant these very bright kids from U.S.C. film school and N.Y.U. film school who begin each day asking what would be entertaining for the greatest number of people. Not, ‘What if I take that character and put him in a room with that character?’ Now they think like agents and producers. They’re very comfortable servicing corporate culture. They don’t see as their fundamental role being critical or making people laugh in a way they’re not used to laughing.
They think, ‘All right, we got to bring in 30 million people, how are we going to do this?’ I think, ‘If all we’re going to do is serve corporate culture, where are our ideas going to come from?’ ”