Vulture has a super interesting interview with director Steven Soderbergh on his retirement from Hollywood. I especially liked this bit on his ability to get films made:
On the few occasions where I’ve talked to film students, one of the things I stress, in addition to learning your craft, is how you behave as a person. For the most part, our lives are about telling stories. So I ask them, “What are the stories you want people to tell about you?” Because at a certain point, your ability to get a job could turn on the stories people tell about you. The reason [then–Universal Pictures chief] Casey Silver put me up for [1998’s] Out of Sight after I’d had five flops in a row was because he liked me personally. He also knew I was a responsible filmmaker, and if I got that job, the next time he’d see me was when we screened the movie. If I’m an asshole, then I don’t get that job. Character counts. That’s a long way of saying, “If you can be known as someone who can attract talent, that’s a big plus.”
“My filmmaking education consisted of finding out what filmmakers I liked were watching, then seeing those films. I learned the technical stuff from books and magazines, and with the new technology you can watch entire movies accompanied by audio commentary from the director. You can learn more from John Sturges’ audio track on the ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ laserdisc than you can in 20 years of film school. Film school is a complete con, because the information is there if you want it.”
I learned more about graphic design by finding out who inspired the designers I like or read the book they read. Then I found out who those designers looked to or what books they read and would keep going farther and farther back, spreading out the range of inspiration wider and wider. It’s now been years since I haven’t had a book to read.
“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.
And then there is, of course, always, and inevitably, this spume of poetry that’s just blowing out of the sulphurous flue-holes of the earth. Just masses of poetry. It’s unstoppable, it’s uncorkable. There’s no way to make it end.
If we could just—just stop. For one year. If everybody could stop publishing their poems. No more. Stop it. Just— everyone. Every poet. Just stop.
The consumption beast is hard to feed. It’s always hungry and there is never a shortage of food it can devour.
Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. The lists of books I want to read grows faster than the list of books I have read. The list of movies I want to see seems to never get shorter. Or all those television shows I said I wanted to start. Without even including my Instapaper articles or my daily blogs, I sometimes feel like I keep climbing and climbing but I’ll never make it to the top of this mountain. I’m weary.
It’s for the inspiration, right? That’s how I convince myself it is okay to watch one more episode or read one more chapter. We approach great works of art—whether that be books, movies, poetry, or even television—because we hope to find a little of ourselves in those stories, and in that, we can become better versions of ourselves. We sound more interesting at parties, we produce smarter work.
And maybe that’s the paradox of in it all: all this consuming, this quest for knowledge, to be smarter, better, more cultured actually takes us away from producing our own work. Isn’t that why we do it? Why read that book that will make me sound interesting at a party, if I’m not going to the party anyway?
But wouldn’t it be great? To have a moment to regroup and understand? Everybody would ask, Okie doke, what new poems am I going to read today? Sorry: none. There are no new poems. And so you’re thrown back onto what’s already there, and you look at what’s on your own shelves, that you bought maybe eight years ago, and you think, Have I really looked at this book? This book might have something to it. And it’s there, it’s been waiting and waiting. Without any demonstration or clamor. No squeaky wheel. It’s just been waiting.
If everybody was silent for a year—if we could just stop this endless forward stumbling progress—wouldn’t we all be better people? I think probably so. I think that the lack of poetry, the absence of poetry, the yearning to have something new, would be the best thing that could happen to our art. No poems for a solid year. Maybe two.If everybody was silent for a year—if we could just stop this endless forward stumbling progress—wouldn’t we all be better people? I think probably so. I think that the lack of poetry, the absence of poetry, the yearning to have something new, would be the best thing that could happen to our art. No poems for a solid year. Maybe two.
I’m still trying to figure out that balance. I tell myself I have a lifetime to acquire that knowledge I desire, to read those books and see those movies. What’s the rush, Jarrett? Why not spend some time creating something of your own, or returning to those stories that helped make you who you are?
Good art requires repeated visits. So even though there is a stack of books next to me waiting to be read and a long Netflix queue, tonight I just want to settle in with an old favorite.
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.
“I like the idea that the story changes over time even though nothing has changed on the outside. What’s changed is all in my head and has to do with a realisation on my character’s part. And the story can only be told in a particular form. It can’t be told in a painting. The point is: it’s very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you’re doing it, and that you utilise what is specific about that medium to do the work. And if you can’t think about why it should be done this way, then it doesn’t need to be done.”
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.
“What makes great art often unsettling to contemplate is the palpable presence of the generous hand behind it, a hand that is, just like us, mortal. No matter how great, all artists die, and despite the dedicated efforts of many talented people, the Muppet moment has died. All the keepsakes in the world won’t change that. This is okay, even desirable, because it means a new moment might surface at any moment. It just won’t look anything like the old one.”
I love this quote (and the entire article) for a variety of reasons. I think of all my favorite artists who have died and I can’t help but wonder what else they had in them that never made it out, what more other masterpiece is left unfinished because their life was taken too soon. The Muppets are a perfect example—when Henson died, the Muppets were never the same.
And, in light of recent events, I can’t help but think of Steve Jobs and Apple when reading that. Apple won’t be the same without him, there is no doubt about that and sometimes it’s hard to think about a time when Jobs is no longer with us and we wonder what other products were in his head. But, this is also a time for a new Apple. I’m excited to see what they have in store.
(Also, interesting footnote, Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords is writing all the music for the new Muppets film. And that is all kinds of awesome.)
“It’s odd that she has come to represent, for some, a kind of soulless hipster cool, because in July’s work, nobody is cool. There’s no irony to it, no insider wink. Her characters are ordinary people whose lives don’t normally invite investigation. So her project is the opposite of hipster exclusion: her work is desperate to bring people together, forcing them into a kind of fellow feeling. She’s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her difficult to bear. It also might make her culturally essential.”