Ron Howard tells aspiring filmmakers at Sundance, ‘See the joy of creative problem solving’

Ron Howard got his start in Hollywood in unconventional fashion. His father, the actor Rance Howard, was playing the villain in the 1956 Western “Frontier Woman,” and the film’s director needed a crying baby for one scene. Fortunately for the production, Ron was then a baby who still did a lot of crying, so he got the role.

It’s not exactly the kind of career trajectory aspiring actors can emulate for themselves. But at the Sundance Film Festival, where Howard traveled this week to promote his new documentary “Rebuilding Paradise,” he told a crowd at the Audible Speakeasy that he took a lesson even from his infant experience: “See the joy of creative problem solving.”

Howard, of course, went on to become a professional actor, starring in “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days.” But at 23, he decided to try his hand at directing, getting behind the camera to make 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto.” Sitting alongside Amy Ziering (“On the Record”), Heidi Ewing (“I Carry You With Me,” “Love Fraud”), Sasheer Zamata (“Spree”) and Rebecca Hall (“The Night House”) on the “How I Made It” panel — hosted by the Los Angeles Times — Howard relayed some lessons from his early filmmaking days to the festival audience.

“There was a period of years where I was doing fine, but I was also afraid of engaging with really elite collaborators,” said the Academy Award-winning director, whose new film covers the aftermath of the wildfires in Paradise, Calif. “I was looking for help among my friends and it was fine, it was good, but I wish earlier on I would have recognized that you can be in a conversation with an absolute genius — and you might know in your heart that you’re not — but if you share something — a belief and and idea — the conversation will be valid. That spirit of collaboration with people you’re working with is an immediate goal. I wish I’d been a little bit more ambitious or bolder about seeking that out sooner.”