- Excerpts – from filmmakers and all kind of professionals within the film industry – about filmmaking that I find valuable.
Science writer Albert Rosenfeld explains Kubrick’s method of learning about subjects:
“When a subject interested Kubrick, he never let it get away until he was through with it. He probed with a ruthless tenacity, asking the right questions, comprehending all he was told, never getting enough details to satisfy him.”
“To make a film entirely by yourself, which initially I did, you may not have to know very much about anything else, but you must know about photography.” – Stanley Kubrick
What are the pros and cons of directing versus screenwriting?
“I’ll make it succinct. With directing, you have tons of
control. But, you have tons of control, which means you have tons of decisions to make and you have to be there. And you have to have an incredible level of input and your life doesn’t really belong to you so much. With screenwriting, you get a lot more quiet. You go to an office every day. Maybe you work with a collaborator. That’s nice. It’s a life that’s in here [pointing to his head]. I like to mix it up. You get crazy being in the room alone for too long and you certainly get crazy directing on the streets of New York.” – David Koepp [source]
When you mentioned cutting scenes you didn’t think you’d have to cut, does that just become a very instinctual thing, when you have to decide what to ultimately cut?
“It’s research and development. When you put a movie together, you’re continually screening it for yourself and you’re screening it for other people. It’s like a video game power meter. When the power bar starts going down, you’ve gotta look at what’s going on. Even though there are these great scenes, all stacked up, it can be one too many, or you’re just not getting to the point of the movie quick enough. It’s a fine dance.” – David Ayer [source]
Did you really plan everything out ahead of time, or did things change once you got on set?
“Everything changes when you get on set. It’s all about planning. You plan and you sit there with your department heads and go over your day. When you make a movie, whatever’s been brought to set is what you’ve got and whoever is there is who you’ve got, so you hope you made the right decisions, early on. But, once all the pieces are there, for me, I direct with my gut and my instincts. I’ll switch stuff up.” – David Ayer [source]
So you’re entirely self-taught. You didn’t go to any kind of film school?
“No, I worked at a telephone company at 17. You know why? Because my father was working in a telephone company. My destiny was in the cinema; I wanted to make movies since I was nine years old. One day a friend of my parents came home with a Super-8 camera. I was, “Oooh,” and I thought, “I’ll just work. I’m going to buy a camera and I will be a director.” That was my philosophy at the time – if you want to do that, just do it. Buy a camera and make some movies. Especially now, it’s easy to find a video camera and a computer and you can make movies. It’s not a problem, you know?” – Jean-Pierre Jeunet [source]
The very opening of Delicatessen is clearly very carefully constructed and I wanted to talk a bit about your use of storyboards to construct your films before you actually begin shooting. To what extent did you use storyboards?
“I believe in work. I believe in working hard and a storyboard is just a pretext to think beforehand. Because when you are on the set it is too late to think. You have to work, you have to run, you have to watch the time. Beforehand, it’s not expensive. Because Caro is a designer, we preferred to put the idea with sketches rather than words because it’s more visual, it’s more efficient for the crew. It pressures you to think. A storyboard is not made to be respected, to be followed; it can change. If you find another idea at the last moment, it can change. But you have something to believe in, something to follow. Now I have a drive to get to the set and I continue to work, to think – at the last moment, I find another idea. Or an actor can in fact do something. Everything is very prepared, but I like to change. I love to improve. It’s a gift when an actor proposes something you’d want.” – Jean-Pierre Jeunet [source]
On what Jan Kadar taught him…
“What he used to make me memorize was the shots. He’d say, “Ok, learn that movie!” – by learn that movie he meant; you sit down with a bunch of pile of paper and pencils and write – shot for shot – the movie from memory. I learned a bunch of movies that way. I learned 8 1/2 that way which is a very complex film. I learned Clockwork Orange…His notion was that if you really wanna become a filmmaker, you have to get that conversant. You have to be able to carry that much in your mind. If you want to be a world class musician, instrumentalist player of something; piano, or violin or something. You’d have dozens maybe hundreds of scores, you’d have hours of music in your mind! You’d never need to look at the piece of paper, all those hours would be in your mind! And you couldn’t possibly be good enough unless you had done enough work to put all that music in your mind. So that you would just be able to sit down and call up note for note some piece of Mozart or one of the classics of your profession. And his notion with me – because the way he put it he just said “You have eyes, so you better learn to use them”. Instead of thinking of movies as print – which is the way they’re always approached; a pile of paper. It’s always the events and the words that will be spoken. Instead of thinking of movies that way, he made me learn to think of movies as a chain of images where you would fashion the entire chain of images. Just like a music student could hold a concerto in his mind, you should hold the movie in your mind; the images – nevermind the words, the images – “Where is the camera for that shot. What kind of lens was it? What was the camera doing?” – on every shot, on every one of – well most movies have about a thousand shots.” – John McTiernan [source]
On the profession of a cinematographer
“I am an anti-intellectual about the process because I think once you start intellectualizing, you scare the kids away from making their own mistakes. It also implies that we are above everyone else. I despise the hierarchy and sense of privilege, and the implication that it takes so much research and effort and correct knowledge to be what we are. I disagree. I happened into what I am doing. I am not an art student. Apparently I am partly color blind. I was never an assistant. Someone just gave me a camera and I am here.” – Christopher Doyle [source]
On learning through practice…
“There was no film school in those days – you had to learn by doing. To become a cinematographer in Germany, normally you become an assistant to a cinematographer, and if you got lucky then you could maybe become an operator. And then if you got really lucky, after ten years you could shoot your own movie. For me, it was different: I got a job at a TV station. I met some wonderful people who worked at the station and became friends with them. I shot my first feature when I was 25, so it was fairly fast. I needed very good gaffers and key grips and a good assistant – they helped me to get it right. I knew, basically, what I wanted – I just didn’t know how to do it yet. But if you start doing it, then you’ll learn.” – Michael Ballhaus [source]
On being able to articulate decisions through teaching film…
“I taught very early in my career – I was teaching at a film school in Berlin in ’68. What was interesting is that I was forced to think about creative decisions. The students would ask, “Why did you do it this way? Why is the camera that high? Why are you using these lenses?” And you’d have to think about why you’re doing it. So through teaching, I learned to explain why I was doing things, and that helped me a lot in my later career – I could always explain to directors why the shot looks like this or why I’m using these lenses.” – Michael Ballhaus [source]
What benefits were there in being self-taught rather than going to film school?
“A very organic approach to understanding all the different bits of the craft. I’m interested in every different bit of filmmaking because I had to do every bit of it myself—from sound recording and ADR to editing and music. I feel very lucky to be a member of probably the last generation who cut film on a Steenbeck flatbed, physically taping it together and dropping out shots. It gave me a really good grounding in knowing overall what has to go into a film technically that was very valuable. And it meant that absolutely everything I did was simply because I was passionate and wanted to try stuff. You’re never going to learn something as profoundly as when it’s purely out of curiosity.” – Christopher Nolan [source]
Over time, you’ve come to work with the same people again and again. How do you assemble your team?
“You have to work backward from how great it is when you’re in the trenches and who you’re there with. If people are as ambitious as you are, you keep them close to you. If a person gets excited by the things I am excited by—say, transforming a run-down arena in the middle of Mozambique that hasn’t had electricity or plumbing since 1974, as we had to do for Ali—if a challenge like that gets your blood running, you would be a person I gravitate toward. We would wind up working together on a lot of pictures. My 1st AD Michael Waxman, who is now directing television successfully, has been working with me since 1986. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti and I have done five movies together. There are a number of folks on my crew who’ve been working with me since Mohicans back in 1991. We’re all working now on Luck.” – Michael Mann [source]
From what I’ve observed, you keep a very long workday, from the crack of dawn to late at night.
“In terms of a shooting day? No. I like a 12-hour day, but I’d like to get that down to a 10-hour day. I’m at my best in those kinds of chunks. It all gets down to selection: ‘This is really of value.’ It’s pivotal; if you don’t get this particular moment right, you just blew the Act II ending. You go get that thing, and you don’t let anything stand in your way. By the same token, there’s another event that may show up and be part of the scene that’s a visual, and it may be trivial; it really is not important. To be able to have that discretion allows you to direct your concentration and logistical assets to what’s really important. The more you can have that discretion of accurately reading: ‘This is really pivotal, this really is not,’ that is absolutely the key to doing this stuff well.” – Michael Mann [source]
What’s a Michael Mann set like?
“Protecting concentration is a big thing for me. I like a quiet set. The actors have the most extraordinarily difficult task: being somebody else, and projecting themselves authentically into a given moment. I’m extremely zealous about guarding their concentration—and mine—from any needless distraction that might interfere.” – Michael Mann [source]