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Nine Things I Learned at the Hilarious Santa Barbara Film Fest Tribute to David O. Russell (VIDEO)

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! February 3, 2014 at 2:28PM

At the upbeat Santa Barbara International Film Festival best director tribute to David O. Russell, the Oscar-nominated man behind "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook" (who infamously called Lily Tomlin the c-word to her face in 2004) had us all in stitches. While Russell can get testy or cagey around questions about his so-called "hiatus" from film, this evening at SBIFF was a joyous one. Here are 9 things I learned.
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David O. Russell at SBIFF
Fritz Olenberger David O. Russell at SBIFF

At the upbeat Santa Barbara International Film Festival best director tribute to David O. Russell, the Oscar-nominated man behind "American Hustle" and "Silver Linings Playbook" (who back in 2004 called Lily Tomlin the c-word to her face) had us all in stitches.

Interviewed by fest exec director Roger Durling, Russell, at an early point in the evening, commandeered the Q&A entirely, leaving the adorably obsequious Durling flustered. Unlike other Russell public appearances, when the director has gotten testy or cagey around questions about his "hiatus" from film (between "I Heart Huckabees" and "The Fighter"), the evening at SBIFF was a joyous one. Here are nine factoids from the evening:

1. Sydney Prosser in "American Hustle" was tailor-made for Amy Adams. After "The Fighter," Russell wanted to create another role for Adams that would show the full breadth of her range. "Amy was in 'The Master' last year; we would see each other. She was here in Santa Barbara, I was here in Santa Barbara, so we would talk. I said, I want to create a role for you that's going to show your entire range, the way people have never seen it before. So that's how the part came to be. [The Santa Barbara International Film Festival] helped put this together."

2. His first film was a documentary about an immigrant in Boston who was being terrorized in his neighborhood. "Probably by friends of Mark Wahlberg," Russell joked. "He ran with a very rough crowd, and I met a lot of them. They ended up in 'Three Kings' and they'd come to his trailer and ask to take the monitors." He won a cable TV award for that first film. He went on to say, "I made films that were bad, but there was a place called Sundance where you could take them."

3. In his 20s, Russell waited on Martin Scorsese and Mike Nichols. I went to New York and I was a waiter for rich people. I was a waiter for parties at Jackie Onassis' house, at the New York Film Festival. I waited on Martin Scorsese at the Museum of Modern Art premiere of 'Goodfellas.' I said to him, 'I really want to do what you're doing,' and he said, 'I'll have a vodka.'" At a party at Onassis's, Russell said the same thing to Mike Nichols. His response? "I used to do what you're doing. Good luck."

4. Russell learned how to make movies by memorizing a 20-minute sequence from "Chinatown." "I would memorize sections of films. I memorized a sequence that I thought was spellbinding from 'Chinatown,' and I could recite it to you now. I tell all the kids at the Bronx High School for Cinema, the only public high school for cinema that I've had the privilege of helping for 12 years, I tell them that 20-minute sequence where Jack Nicholson goes out to the land deeds bureau and sees all these names in the book of land deeds out in LA County... He borrows a ruler and coughs to cover up the sound of him ripping the page, and then there's a whole chase through the orange groves."

This article is related to: Festivals, Awards, Awards Season Roundup, Awards, David O. Russell, David O. Russell, Santa Barbara International Film Festival, American Hustle


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.