What a Difference Acting Ability Makes

Many years ago, Michael Mann wrote and directed a flop pilot for NBC called LA TAKEDOWN, starring Scott Plank and Alex MacArthur. The pilot would be a forgotten footnote in Mann’s career if not for the fact that he pulled off an amazing feat — he manged to remake it, almost word-for-word, scene-for-scene, as the big-budget feature film HEAT, starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. This may be the one and only time a busted TV pilot has been remade as a feature film…with hardly any changes. Here is the original “restaurant” scene from LA TAKEDOWN and the same scene in HEAT.  Same words, better actors. What a difference acting ability makes…

11 thoughts on “What a Difference Acting Ability Makes”

  1. The biggest difference I see in the two clips is experience and age. I don’t believe that the young guys in the first clip have had any of the experiences they talked about, they’re pretending; Pacino and DeNiro, on the other hand, look like they’ve lived through all the rough stuff, and that makes the HEAT sequence more believable.

  2. I agree with Brian, to me the difference is the experience and the age. Would a DeNiro or Pacino have been able to act those lines the same way in 72?
    They would have been an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill.

  3. The major difference in the two scenes is the pacing. Al and Rob take almost twice as long. Certainly there is a larger amount of dialogue but they take the time to emote and savor the interaction.
    The first scene had some serious capture issues with the audio. There are serious jumps in sound level and it sounds like the background noise was captured live with the dialoge. A good audio tech would have made a huge difference in the first attempt.

  4. I think the difference is the scene being improved on paper as much as it is the actors:
    The old scene is simply a cop challenging a bad guy, who reluctantly reveals only a little detail. The cop learns nothing.
    The new scene is two people challenging eachother, each revealing things, learning something from eachother.
    The pacing couldn’t be any longer in the old scene because there’s no subtext to fill the gaps. It works in the new scene because both characters are really considering things between the words, speaking their thoughts with their looks. I’d say that’s more acting than writing, but don’t forget the writer also *directed* the actors.
    After seeing lesser actors in Mann movies, I don’t know how much credit to give Mann for improving the scene on paper (and through directing) versus great actors making it work way better by creating that subtext.

  5. I remember seeing Heat in the theater and the weird feeling that came over me when I realized it was a remake of LA Takedown. I agree that the acting is more compelling, but the Hollywood action overkill at other moments distracts from the story rather than enhancing it, I thought.
    My favorite Mann movie is Thief. The acting, character development and pacing are all outstanding. It’s almost as if he tried to make a half action, half Cassavetes movie.

  6. First thing I noticed, something I learned from the Die Hard DVD commentary….
    In HEAT, the characters are positioned firmly in the left/right of the frame – left = sympathetic, right = strong. Sounds crazy, but it works.
    In LA Takedown, one character is more or less central in the frame, and the character that is sympathetic in HEAT is in the right of the frame, making him strong.
    Which is perhaps at least one reason the HEAT scene works so much better.
    Cos I don’t think there is ONLY one reason. It’s not the writing, it’s not the acting, it’s not the direction and it’s not even the production values. It’s ALL of those things – simply much improved filmcraft, if you will.
    Either way, nothing can diminish the quality of HEAT, anymore than finding some early sketches or rough paintings of some blokes sitting at a table would diminish The Last Supper.
    Just IMHO

  7. this is just one scene a number of scenes were better in la takedown. there is also the placebo effect of more familiar actors.You should also look at the timescales in production one month production 19 days shooting vs 9months production and 6 months shooting


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