Jury duty can be a fascinating experience, a chance to participate personally in the justice system. Golden Age TV writer Reginald Rose made his reputation with his live-broadcast drama 12 Angry Men, directed by Franklin Schaffner in 1954. The tense tale of heated deliberations in a jury room was perfectly scaled to the early TV format. Rose was inspired by his own experience on a jury to write a strong liberal statement about the responsibility of citizenship and the true meaning of phrases like "innocent until proven guilty" and "beyond a reasonable doubt." The movie version of 12 Angry Men (1957) marked the beginning of an important film career for director Sidney Lumet. It also represents the birth of semi-independent New York art filmmaking, America's most successful answer to the European art film. Actor Henry Fonda saw Reginald Rose's play as the perfect star vehicle, a movie that points up social problems but ends on a note of hope and affirmation: the system can work if normal citizens do their job. Sold to United Artists on Fonda's name and the mini-trend of TV dramas being up-scaled to the big screen (Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, 1955; Rod Serling's Patterns, 1956), 12 Angry Men was filmed on a small budget that precluded the hiring of a name director. This frugality gave the ambitious, hard-working TV director Sidney Lumet his big chance. Lumet applied himself to the daunting task of making an interesting full-length feature about twelve men sitting and standing around a table.
> During rehearsals, Sidney Lumet and cinematographer Boris Kaufman set up their shots in an actual NYC jury room, blueprinting 365 separate takes from every aspect of the claustrophobic set. The end result, after only 17 days of shooting, is a masterful job of spare, lean black and white filmmaking, crafted in an era when big screens, big locales and bold color were deemed an absolute necessity.
> First-time producer Henry Fonda and first-time director Lumet had their share of tensions, as Lumet recounted for Howard Teichmann, co-author of Fonda: My Life (New American Library, 1981). Before the first day's shooting, Fonda blew up over the quality of the painted backdrop that represented the room's view onto Foley Square, and the first shot taken - an overhead through the blades of a ceiling fan - turned out to be an all-day affair. "We went to the rushes the next noon," Lumet recalled, "and he said, 'Sidney, what am I going to do? I can't stand seeing myself on the screen. I never go to rushes, and sometimes I wait two years to see a finished film I've made'... Hank steeled himself, walked into the projection room and sat down behind me. He watched for a while, and then he put his hand on the back of my neck and squeezed so hard I thought my eyes would pop out. He leaned forward and said quietly, 'Sidney, it's magnificent.' Then he dashed out and never came to the rushes again."
> Fonda's ambition for 12 Angry Men was to open the film small, and watch it build from art-house to popular success in an arc similar to that of another acclaimed adapted TV play, Marty (1955). The front office at United Artists, pleased as they were with the quality of the finished project, opted instead for a wide release on Easter Week. Fonda grimly recalled in his autobiography how New York's now-gone Capitol Theatre "had over forty-six hundred seats. The opening day 12 Angry Men barely filled the first four or five rows. They pulled it after a week."
> While 12 Angry Men didn't even recoup its modest production costs in its theatrical run, the film went on to (fittingly) see some measure of justice in its uniform critical praise, its capture of First Prize at the Berlin Film festival and other international awards, its Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay, and its enduring acknowledgment as a classic of cinema.
> The jury dynamics presented in 12 Angry Men could easily mirror a real life jury situation so if you have never served on a jury before, the following is some basic information about how a jury is selected and what their official responsibilities are.
> A jury pool is randomly selected by pulling a United States citizen's information from a database of driver's license and registered voters information that live in the judicial district. Only police, firefighters, active duty members of the armed forces and full time public offices are exempt from jury service. Twelve jurors, and sometimes alternates, are chosen based on their answers in a questioning process known as the voir dire. It is imperative that the jury is composed of men and women "possessed of sound judgment, absolute honesty, and a complete sense of fairness."
> It is the responsibility of the jury to decide the facts of a case. The prosecution has the burden of proof and must present the facts to the jury "beyond a reasonable doubt." As a juror you are tasked with keeping an open mind, sworn to disregard your prejudices and follow only the courts instructions. Unlike in 12 Angry Men when Juror #8 went to the defendant's neighborhood and bought a similar knife to the one used in the murder, jurors are instructed to never visit the scene of the crime or discuss the case with anyone except the jury members during their allotted time in court. After deliberating the jury is tasked with unanimously finding the defendant guilty or not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury cannot come to a unanimous decision after a valid amount of deliberation it is considered a "hung jury" and the case is declared a mistrial and the case may be retried.
> For more information on the U.S. Judiciary visit United States Courts
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