I really enjoyed Jeff Lin’s short profile on filmmaker Ang Lee and his long journey to success. Lee worked for six years before he was able to get one of his films made:
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it? Facing the inevitable “So how’s that film thing going?” question for the fifth consecutive Thanksgiving dinner; explaining for the umpteeth time this time it’s different to parents that had hoped that film study meant you wanted to be a professor of film at a university.
Lee kept working relentlessly because he loved the craft and believed in his work:
If you’re an aspiring author, director, musician, startup founder, these long stretches of nothing are a huge reason why it’s important to pick something personally meaningful, something that you actually love to do. When external rewards and validation are nonexistent; when you suffer through bouts where of jealousy, wondering “How come so-and-so got signed/is successful/got a deal/etc?”; when every new development seems like a kick in the stomach, the love of what you are doing gives you something to hang onto.
“Stanley Kubrick is still regarded as a chilly, intellectual, weirdo recluse perfectionist. Even people who love his films (like me) will concede that he examines the human condition with a level of empathy and affection most people reserve for the dandruff they flick off their shoulders. He has never seemed like a particularly human sort of human being. But that’s only if you’ve never seen Fear and Desire. For once, when Stanley Kubrick tried to be great, he failed. It proves that before he was The Monolith, he was an ape just like the rest of us.”
“I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision: I’m going to write in my own handwriting. That’s just sort of my way.”
The New York Times has a great profile on George Lucas and his desire to return to more personal “art-house” films and retire from the commercial films he is known for. I’ve been thinking about this separation between commercial work and personal work lately, after reading this interview with Nick Knight where he says there is no difference in the work he does for himself and the work he does for clients. This piece on Lucas seems to suggest the same thing:
But you wonder if this view — the commercial versus the personal, the blockbuster versus the experimental art film — is as reductive as the 1970s model. In fact, Lucas has always made personal films, just not in the traditional sense. The very first time Lucas showed “Star Wars” to friends, with World War II movie dogfights standing in for the unfinished effects, Spielberg is reported to have said, “That movie is going to make $100 million, and I’ll tell you why — it has a marvelous innocence and naїveté in it, which is George, and people will love it.”
We inject ourselves into all the work we produce, whether it’s for ourselves or for someone else. The line between commercial and personal isn’t as definite as it sometimes seems.
Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over.
The forgoing of his traditional white-Windsor-set opening credits on a black screen, Woody Allen’s Manhattan opens with a voiceover read by Allen’s character Isaac Davis, while black and white images of city slowly cycle through sets the film up as not just a love story, but as Allen’s love letter to New York.
Being a designer, I’m often interested in the cinematography whenever I’m watching movies. I frequently take screenshots of frames I’m drawn to and have a collection on my computer of some of my movie stills. I’m usually attracted to frames that could stand by themselves as photographs (I’ve written before about one of my favorites, a scene from Eyes Wide Shut.), and am very interested in composition, color, and how they related and add to the story. I thought it’d be fun to share some of my favorites as well as some from films I’ve just recently watched.
Tell the audience there is a bomb under that table and will go off in five minutes. The whole emotion of the audience is totally different because in five minutes time that bomb will go. Now that conversation about baseball becomes very vital. Because now they are saying don’t talk about baseball there is a bomb under there! Now the only difference is, and I’ve been guilty of the sabotage of making a picture but I’ve never made it since: the bomb must never go off.
In the making of The Godfather, writer and director Francis Ford Coppola kept a massive “prompt book” where he kept all his notes in the development of the movie as well as what would need to go into every single scene so the movie would not fail:
In theatre, there’s something called a prompt book. The prompt book is what the stage manager has, usually a loose-leaf book with all the lighting cues. I make a prompt book out of the novel. In other words, I break the novel, and I glue the pages in a loose-leaf, usually with the square cutout so I can see both sides.
I have that big book with the notes I took, and then I go and I put lots more observations and notes. Then I begin to go through that and summarize the part that I thought was useful. And quite naturally you’ll see that the parts fall away, or that you have too many characters, so you know that you have to eliminate some or combine some. Working on it this way, from the outside in, being more specific as to what you think… then when you finish that, you are qualified perhaps to try to write a draft based on that notebook.
In the case of “The Godfather” I did that, and although I had a screenplay, I never used it. I always used to take that big notebook around with me, and I made the movie from that notebook.
Calling a director a “designer” is almost a tautology: indeed, anyone making creative choices about what to leave in or leave out, in any medium, is designing. But Fincher’s coolly intelligent eye, laserlike attention to detail, and (in his best work) apparent fascination with storytelling as problem-solving, all set him apart from other filmmakers as a true designer-auteur. He makes films like Jony Ive makes iMacs: They just work — with style to burn.
I’m on record of being an adoring fan of Fincher’s latest, The Social Network, and that’s just an addition to a string of smart filmmaking. I’ve always liked the director/designer analogy, but Mr. Pavlus makes a strong case that no director deserves the analogy more than Fincher.
Fincher’s best films of the last ten years — The Social Network, Zodiac, Panic Room — all function this way, like exquisitely designed machines. That’s not to say they don’t contain compelling characters, too; it’s just that they often seem oppressed by the nanoscopically precise tolerances of the worlds that Fincher builds around them. Which is, of course, the point.
Fincher approaches filmmaking with the eye of a designer—working through constraints, solving problems, and taking a less-is-more philosophy. So the question is, why didn’t he win an Oscar?
Hollywood has made its peace with honoring geeky director-engineers like James Cameron, but somehow, director-designers like Fincher still don’t quite compute during awards season. But maybe Fincher doesn’t care about winning Oscars; maybe at the end of the day, he just cares more about what legendary designer Paul Rand prized above all: just being good.
The New York Times Arts Beat blog has an interesting interview with Woody Allen about his latest film, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, his work ethic, religion, and New York:
When a project is finished – last week I finished editing this film I shot in Paris last summer – then I’ll fondle for a week or two, or a month, put in a little music and play around with it. But there’s not much more to do on it really. So you sit around, and then what? What is the next thing you do? I start to write. I have a lot of ideas, some of them are good, some of them are less good, and I just make them.
Kitsune Noir linked to the amazing videos of Scott Foley this morning and I am completely hooked. The mix of music, sound clips from movies, typographic credits and his fantastic editing style make for some terrific short films. I watched good amount of the films on his Vimeo page and every one is top notch.
The video above, Burnt Drive Drive, is a perfect audio-visual representation of a summer day. Do yourself a favor and take some time to watch a few. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.