Artistic expression is an assertion of individuality, and all artists compose their work differently. In the case of filmmaking, there are numerous approaches to translating a story to celluloid. Inspired by director Wim Wenders’ recent advertising short, “Wim Wenders’ Rules for Cinema Perfection,” we’ve collected the golden rules of filmmaking employed by 100 famous directors. These tips and tricks are a wonderful source of advice and inspiration — even for the most seasoned professionals. The rules also serve as a fascinating snapshot of each directors’ filmography, capturing the spirit of their work.
“Final cut is overrated. Only fools keep insisting on always having the final word. The wise swallow their pride in order to get to the best possible cut.”
“During the shooting of a scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by ‘watching with a detached gaze.'”
“There are a million ideas in a world of stories. Humans are storytelling animals. Everything’s a story, everyone’s got stories, we’re perceiving stories, we’re interested in stories. So to me, the big nut to crack is to how to tell a story, what’s the right way to tell a particular story.”
“No comedy should be longer than 90 minutes. There’s no such thing as a good long joke.”
“I film quite a bit of footage, then edit. Changes before your eyes, things you can do and things you can’t. My attitude is always let it keep rolling.”
Francis Ford Coppola
“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In The Godfather, it was succession. In The Conversation, it was privacy. In Apocalypse, it was morality. The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
“I remember in The Conversation, they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.”
“I try to just make what I want to make or what I would want to see. I try not to think about the audience too much.”
“Performers are so vulnerable. They’re frightened of humiliation, sure their work will be crap. I try to make an environment where it’s warm, where it’s OK to fail — a kind of home, I suppose.”
“I’ve always traveled with the films because I want the audience to be my teacher so that I can learn for the next one.”
“Before I go off and direct a movie, I always look at four films. They tend to be The Seven Samurai, Lawrence Of Arabia, It’s A Wonderful Life and The Searchers.”
“A long-playing full shot is what always separates the men from the boys. Anybody can make movies with a pair of scissors and a two-inch lens.”
“Music is, for me, a great tool of a filmmaker, the same way cinematography, the acting, editing, post-production, the costumes are. You know, to help you tell a story. ”
“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”
“Character and emotionality don’t always have to be relegated to quieter, more simple constructs.”
“A film should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”
“I always scout locations first. The apartments, the railway tracks, the café, the canal — I figure out the geography of the film.”
“I intentionally shoot violence to make the audience feel real pain. I have never and I will never shoot violence as if it’s some kind of action video game.”
“Don’t try and change things for other people. Don’t try and be persuaded by producers and people to change your vision. If you stick to your vision and you’re true to yourself, it kind of works. I mean, it’s tough. It’s a big Fitzcarraldo journey, but then you’ll have your good karma at the end of the day. You’ll have your good soul. You know, if you start to sell little bits of it, you, you become nothing and nobody, and you don’t have any vision [remaining].”
“When your characters are really living they tell you what they do.”
“I don’t think there is any one route to directing…. Other than that I think you just have to think ‘By any means possible’ and take any job you can that will get you experience. I also did a lot for free. I got paid virtually nothing for my first film, but it changed my life.”
“The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture.”
“Always get to the set or the location early, so that you can be all alone and draw your inspiration for the blocking and the setups in private and quiet. In one sense, it’s about protecting yourself; in another sense, it’s about always being open to surprise, even from the set, because there may be some detail that you hadn’t noticed. I think this is crucial. There are many pictures that seem good in so many ways except one: They lack a sense of surprise, they’ve never left the page.”
“[In] directing you’re really like a host, that everyone’s going to your party, and it’s very difficult for [the crew] to help you get glory. Once they trust that you really are interested in the work, and not in your own perfection, they will work very hard for you. The actors are the same. They don’t want to be second fiddle to a camera. When people begin to feel a little upset, there begin to be mysteries about filmmaking. There are no mysteries to making films. There is no mystery to writing. I try to make it comfortable for the actor by realizing what they’re doing is so personal. If you’re doing a movie and somebody slaps a slate in front of you and everybody stands around expecting you to be brilliant, then it’s gonna be like a contest. I like to develop an atmosphere where that doesn’t exist; where nobody is looking at you to see how good you are; where people can function. It’s very hard to let the technical processes of film take over and then expect the actors to reveal themselves. I mean, you can’t take a shower at a dinner party. You make a movie to tell what you know about life — about your life. But after waiting around for eight hours, for set-ups, for lights, all of it, when it comes time to shoot, you’re thinking, ‘I don’t wanna tell you about my life anymore! Why should I tell you about my life!’ On a set there’s really a lot that can hamper the actors. For example, in this film, here’s maybe the most important moment in two people’s lives: a guy is committing his wife to a mental hospital. [In other movies] someone is also fiddling with your hair, putting lipstick on you, placing lights above you, sitting you down, marking your feet, moving cameras, yelling, ‘Hey, she doesn’t look good; her skin is out of focus.’ Now, I ask you, how can the actors concentrate? So we do all this before the actors come on stage. We all work quietly, and hopefully efficiently, and get it done.”
“Work very very hard. This business is no joke. Make sure you know what you want or you might be taking someone else’s view instead of your own.”
“Something filmmakers have to watch, all filmmakers, is that film basically works not like books: it’s very direct, it impacts you directly, it’s photorealistic images enlarged, and somehow it has to be realistic-looking, and somehow because the demand on attention is mandatory, it works on a emotional level, a philosophical, the ideas don’t translate in a movie. It has to have emotions. So you that’s different from the book quite a bit. So it has to be an emotional journey. . . . To me, I think that to me, it’s an visualization of feelings. That’s why you are doing it. Movies or any art is external stimulus, they don’t carry anything. They just stimulate, and it’s not about stimulating me, all that really matters is you, the viewer.”
“Cinema is a social art form. You cannot make a piece of cinema by yourself. No matter what you do, no matter how controlling, no matter how crazy and Fitzcarraldo-bizarre or how crazy generally you try to be, yelling at people with your bullhorn, you can’t push a single pencil across the table without help. It’s just the way it is. The final product will always be a sum of all of the parts that are working on it. So if you want to understand cinema, you have to think about it as a social dynamic. And you have to investigate it and unpack it as a social project.”
“The director’s job is to know what emotional statement he wants a character to convey in his scene or his line, and to exercise taste and judgment in helping the actor give his best possible performance. By knowing the actor’s personality and gauging his strengths and weaknesses a director can help him to overcome specific problems and realize his potential. But I think this aspect of directing is generally overemphasized. The director’s taste and imagination play a much more crucial role in the making of a film. Is it meaningful? Is it believable? Is it interesting? Those are the questions that have to be answered several hundred times a day.”
“A film causes me so many worries and such a lot of reactions that I have to love it in order to get over it and past it.”
“A person’s clothes make up part of his character. I draw the character with his costume. I suggest it to the stylists with my drawings; the drawings translate some of my emotional impressions. For me elegance happens when there is a correspondence between a person’s personality and how she dresses herself. Finally, don’t forget that costumes, like dreams, are symbolic communication. Dreams teach us that a language for everything exists — for every object, every color worn, every clothing detail. Hence, costumes provide an aesthetic objectification that helps to tell the character’s story.”
“When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer.”
“No ‘mise en scène’ has the right to be repeated, just as no two personalities are ever the same. As soon as a ‘mise en scène’ turns into a sign, a cliché, a concept (however original it may be), then the whole thing — characters, situation, psychology — become schematic and false.”
“You have to show violence the way it is. If you don’t show it realistically, then that’s immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, then that’s obscenity.”
“Structure is the key to narrative. These are the crucial questions any storyteller must answer: Where does it begin? Where does the beginning start to end and the middle begin? Where does the middle start to end and the end begin? . . . All the regular questions that face writers also face us. Where does the story begin, where is the middle, and where is the end? Each of those things is entirely up to the writer. They are the hardest decisions for any writer to make about any story, whether fiction or nonfiction. If you make the right decision about structure, many other things become absolutely clear. On some level, the rest is easy.”
“Directing movies is life-changing. It’s an absolutely life-changing thing. That’s why you can’t throw it away on some shooter movie about scuba diving. . . . It’s waking up at three in the morning, it’s coming up with ideas, it’s downloading your whole childhood and the people that you’ve known and the experiences that you’ve had… you can’t just do that for something you don’t believe in. It’s a life-changing thing, and it allows you to get through a spiritual crisis in a completely full way. You think about it, you ruminate about it, you ask people, you do research, you inhabit each one of the characters and say, ‘Well, what about from their point of view?’ ‘What about from his point of view?’ How does it look, how does it sound, what kind of music will be playing . . . it’s a way of evolving and changing and getting through an experience in a full way. It’s fantastic.”
“I’m psychotic. I don’t care how the world works. I do what I want to do. . . . If you want to do it, you can’t listen to what the world is telling you. You do what you want. If I tell you what I feel truthfully, there will be a [ton] of people who respond to that.”
A Handy Tip for the Easily Distracted
1. Collect the distracting items.
2. Trap them.
3. Choose a precious thing.
This is your hostage.
4. Put your hostage in danger.
5. You are free.
Go be productive!
“Trust yourself so that the mistakes you make are the ones you’ve made and not something you’ve made because you were afraid to do what you wanted to do. Own your mistakes, then you can own your successes. Try to be as good a listener as you are a speaker. Don’t just put the emphasis on saying things. Listen. You can learn a lot even by saying no to things. You help define what you do want and what you can do. I would mainly say trust yourself and don’t curl up in the fetal position and cry as much as you did.”
“I’m lucky, because I like all the different parts [of directing]. And they are all extremely important, because if one or two fall short, the whole thing falls apart. So you have to be involved in every part of the process, making choices that reinforce the whole idea which started the thing in the beginning. And you have to be very watchful — and open to fantastic new ideas. Once you see something right in front of you, like an actress with a certain dress walk into a certain light and say a certain word, you can almost pass out. You’ve got all the parts together, but now it’s really something different, and it goes to another place. . . . You can’t give priority to one over the other. You have to know the sound, the lighting, the placement of people, everything — and you keep on going until it is right or as right as you can get it. It talks to you, you know. You are always comparing what you see in front of you with the original idea, and you know when it’s right and when it’s not working. And sometimes you also have the happy feeling that it’s better than the original idea, because of other people’s input and having it all in front of you.”
“Fall deeply in love with character and story. I give my heart to those characters. I take it on as a responsibility, and then it’s up to me to teach myself and become better at my craft in order to serve those characters. Every day I learn. Put my best foot forward and listen to what the brilliant Julianne Moore says about her character. Listen to what Chloe’s saying about her character. Listen to what my cinematographer is saying. Be as open minded as you can. Know your craft inside and out. Be very open to the brilliant people that you hire, make it the best working environment, and let the best ideas come forward. And don’t have any ego, there’s no place for that. It doesn’t matter. Honestly, you can learn things and the work can get better and better if you create an environment where you can allow it to be better. If you do all that, you will succeed. I know you will because not enough people do that. Human beings need stories. Human beings love stories. Get better at your craft. Tell better stories. And you will do well.
“It’s okay to be afraid to fail but don’t ever let it stop you from making art or doing anything. You want to tell a story? You don’t think you are good enough? You don’t know what to do? Try to do it, go out there. Put it out there. Listen to the audience. There are things in Carrie I got right; there are things I got wrong. The audience taught me, and I fixed it.
“People ask me, ‘Aren’t you scared of failing in such a public space?’ Yes! Of course I am, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll fail, you’ll get back up, you’ll do it again, and you’ll succeed. I think that’s the biggest thing I would tell anybody — it doesn’t matter. Nobody is keeping score except for you. For women, yes the odds are against you. Yes, the statistics are too low but so what? That’s not to minimize it. But that’s to acknowledge it, we want it to be better. But if you put your heart and soul into it and you are good at what you do, you’ll succeed. And have fun! I think the more fun you have and the more you love it, if you put in what you want it’ll come through.”
“The most important job of the director is casting. If you can cast your film in an interesting way, then you’re 50 percent there.
“You gain [actors’] trust sometimes through the rehearsal process, through interactions with them, by getting to know them, listening to their opinions. It’s a little like being a therapist or a friend: Then once an actor trusts you, you can give criticism in a positive way, to shape the performance. lf you don’t have that trust relationship, it can be detrimental. On the other hand, I’ve worked with actors like Meryl Streep who are far more experienced than I am. In that case, it’s about working together to figure out who the ‘character’ is, but then trusting the actor’s instincts to be able to deliver that character onscreen.”
Marina de Van
“Be what we make, and not who we are.”
“Don’t wait around for someone else to tell your story. Do it yourself by whatever means necessary.”
“You mustn’t look at a film with only one point of view.”
“Nobody cares about your little movie. You have to care about your little movie. . . . Make it and shoot it. And don’t give a fuck.”
“Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition. No one is capable of doing what you do.”
“If it seems a trifle slow, if it feels a trifle slow on the set, it’ll be twice as slow in the projection room.”
George A. Romero
“Collaborate, don’t dictate. Every department head has something to offer. Listen and gratefully accept their offerings. They’re moviemakers, too.”
“The opinion of the public is sacred. The director is a cook who merely offers different dishes to them and has no right to insist that they react in a particular way.”
“That’s important to me, connecting with people, with feelings. That’s always been a goal in my work. . . . I’m not attracted to anything that doesn’t have to do with real relationships.”
“I consciously did away with fade-ins and replaced them with the cut. Henceforth, I never used such editing techniques again. In fact, neither dissolve, fade-in nor fade-out can be regarded as ‘the grammar of film,’ they are no more than characteristics of the camera.”
“When you’re able to distinguish the art of the horizon at the bottom of a frame, or at the top of the frame — but not going right through the center of the frame — when you’re able to appreciate why it’s at the top and why it’s at the bottom, you might make a pretty good picture-maker.”
1. Fifteen minutes before screening your rough cut for the first time, pour glass of wine. Sip.
2. Start rough cut.
3. Despair at how much work remains to be done.
4. Drain glass of wine. Sigh.
5. Appreciate how much work you have already accomplished.
6. Pour another glass of wine. Swig.
7. Marvel at how well the cut flows.
8. Repeat step 6. There is real brilliance here. Who made this?
9. If you actually find yourself asking, “Who made this?” stop and drink coffee.
10. If step 7 does not occur, retreat to another room with the rest of the bottle.
Note: If you do not drink alcohol, you can try substituting “chocolate” or “an entire pie” (your choice of filling) for wine.
“I think that when you have audacity, you will get polarization. I don’t work with fear, and I don’t work with actors that are fearful.”
“I would be in good physical condition. Avoid drinking and abusing yourself in any way because shooting a film is so physically exhausting. It’s twenty hours a day. And also try and prepare as much as possible. Make as many sketches or write down for yourself specific notes before you come to the set, at least for the first week or so. That way if you get stuck or feel uninspired you can just turn to the storyboard and do what it says. Perhaps it’s not the best it could be, but at least it’s okay, and that way you don’t have to sit there and say to yourself ‘Okay, now I have to be inventive.’ Because then you get scared and lose your confidence. Then after the first ten days or so you loosen up. But in the beginning it’s always like ‘What now?’ So get as much sleep as you can, at least five or six hours a night if you can, and have a plan of some sort for the first couple weeks. Also be nice and have a good relationship with your actors and crew members. Listen to suggestions and be willing to admit when you’re wrong about something. Even apologize in front of the whole cast and crew if necessary. I still do that today. I make terrible mistakes and get upset sometimes. Never be afraid to be seen as someone who makes a mistake and can own up to it. Like my parents used to tell me ‘If you ever have a fight, try to solve it before the sun goes down.'”
“You start selling the movie before you make it.”
“I never really think where I put the camera. It comes naturally to me. I don’t analyze and I don’t contrive. If you haven’t got your own compass within yourself which clearly points you in a certain direction then you won’t find it. And it doesn’t depend on any film school or anything you might learn in a film school.”
Carl Theodor Dreyer
“It’s from the daily grind of making films that you learn the craft.”
“We want to see our lives dramatized on the screen as we are living it, the same as other people, the world over.”
“We need movies about the history of our people, yes, but we need heroic fantasies about our people, too. We all need a little James Bond now and then.”
“The role of the artist is not to say what is good, but to be able to denounce. He must feel the heartbeat of society and be able to create the image society gives to him. He can orient society, he can say it is exaggerating, going overboard, but the power to decide escapes every artist. I live in a capitalist society and I can’t go any further than the people. Those for change are only a handful, a minority, and we don’t have that Don Quixote attitude that we can transform society. One work cannot instigate change. I don’t think that in history there has been a single revolutionary work that has brought the people to create a revolution. It’s not after having read Marx or Lenin that you go out and make a revolution. It’s not after reading Marcuse in America. All the works are just a point of reference in history. And that’s all. Before the end of an act of creation, society usually has already surpassed it. All that an artist can do is bring the people to the point of having an idea of the thing, an idea in their heads that they share, and that helps. People have killed and died for an idea. If I understand your criticism, then I’m happy. I had no belief that after people saw Mandabi, they would go out and make a revolution. But people liked the film and talked about it, though my government didn’t. They wanted to censor the movie at the point where it said that ‘Honesty is a crime in Senegal.’ People discussed Mandabi in the post office or in the market and decided they were not going to pay out their money like the person in my movie. They reported those trying to victimize them, which led to many arrests. But when they denounced the crooks, they would say it was not the person but the government which was corrupt. And they would say they were going to change the country. I know my own limits. But through nothing more than just supplying these people with ideas, I am participating in their awareness.”
“I never reflect or convey that which I have not experienced myself.”
“Directing calls for a vision and an itch, a dedicated focus, energy, the ability to be mean and stubborn if you have to, and at times, a little devious.”
“Instead of saying ‘Do this,’ I tried to make everybody a part of it. Often I pretended to a cameraman to know less than I did. That way I got more cooperation.”
“Do whatever you can that doesn’t compromise your morals.”
“I tell people making DV movies at home, use it for practice. Don’t even try to get it distributed unless it’s fucking fantastic. If not, just keep cranking them out. Get better; get better at storytelling. It allows you to do what I did when I started out, which is make a ton of movies for nothing. And you get so much better at it after a while, you can write them and direct them and you know the structure. You just need to learn how to do it and you learn by doing.”
“It’s only the work that counts. Don’t read about yourself. Don’t have big discussions about your work. Just keep your nose to the grindstone. And don’t think about any of the perks. Don’t think about the money or laudatory things. The less you can think about yourself, the better. It’s like being a baseball pitcher; the less you’re conscious of your motion the better you pitch. Just do good work, don’t waste time thinking about anything else, don’t join the show business circus, don’t pay attention to the distractions that people send your way, and everything else will fall into place. If people don’t like your work, keep doing your own thing and either they’ll wise up or you’ll find yourself out of work and deserving to be. If people hate your work, let them — they may be right. Or not. And if people even call you a genius, it’s very important to run because you have to ask, if you’re a genius, then what is Shakespeare or Mozart or Einstein? With me it’s always modified downward — ‘a comedy genius.’ I’d say a comedy genius is to a real genius what the president of the Moose Lodge is to the President of the United States.”
“Definitely watch and make a lot of movies, whether its short movies or longer movies. But what I feel strongly in contemporary independent cinema is that, when you watch a lot of movies these days, they’re not really about anything. Because of the flavor of the month at Sundance thing, there seems to be a group of people who just want to be filmmakers without having a film to make or anything to say. They just want to make a movie, any movie. They just want to go to Sundance. That’s not where I came from, and that’s not where a lot of my contemporaries came from. In our very first movies, there was a passion there. It felt like — if I don’t make this movie, I will die. So much was invested in it. So that’s what I say to new filmmakers; it has to be something you’re so passionate about you are willing to die to make it, and that’s something that’s lacking from a lot of the people coming through.”
“When I finish a movie, I don’t ever see the movie again. The moment I finish the color correction and the mix, I never seen any of my movies ever again. I just try to explore what I can learn from the experience and move on.”
“When I’m writing, it’s about the page. It’s not about the movie. It’s not about cinema. It’s about the literature of me putting my pen to paper and writing a good page and making it work completely as a document unto itself. That’s my first artistic contribution. If I do my job right, by the end of the script, I should be having the thought, ‘You know, if I were to just publish this now and not make it . . . ,’ I’m done.”
“All I try to do with my stories is try and walk in each of the character’s shoes.”
“Whenever I’m not shooting, I’m in the editing room with my footage. While the crew is taking 15 minutes to an hour to set up the next shot, I’m behind the Avid, putting the flick together.”
“Having lots of options means you have to have a lot more discipline, but it’s the same kind of discipline that a painter, a novelist or a composer would have. In a way, working in [digital] is much less frustrating than working in film, but it’s not as though it’s limitless no matter how you go. The artist will always push the art form until he bumps up against the technology — that’s the nature of the artist. Because cinema is such a technological medium, there’s a lot of technology to bump into, and I think as more people use digital they’re going to find [it has] a lot more limitations. Some of those limitations will be [equivalent to] the limitations they had with film, and some of those limitations will just be because they’ve gone so far that they finally bumped into the technological ceiling.”
“Don’t get seduced by your own stuff. Don’t get high on your own supply. The hardest thing as a filmmaker is when you’re watching a film that you’ve worked on for several years. You know every frame so intimately that holding lots of the objectivity of a new viewer who has just seen it for the first time is the hardest thing. Every aesthetic decision you make — and you make thousands of them every day, have to — in theory, must be done from you being a blank slate. You almost have to run a program, like a mind wipe, every time you watch the movie.”
“Audiences are less intrigued, honestly, by battle. They’re more intrigued by human relations. If you’re making a film about the trappings of the period, and you’re forgetting that human relationships are the most engaging part of the storytelling process, then you’re in trouble.”
“If somebody asks me about the themes of something I’m working on, I never have any idea what the themes are. . . . Somebody tells me the themes later. I sort of try to avoid developing themes. I want to just keep it a little bit more abstract. But then, what ends up happening is, they say, ‘Well, I see a lot here that you did before, and it’s connected to this other movie you did,’ and . . . that almost seems like something I don’t quite choose. It chooses me.”
“What you learn from that first, and I don’t call it ‘trial by fire,’ I call it ‘baptism by fire,’ is that you are going to have to take all of the responsibility, because basically when it gets right down to it, you are going to get all of the blame, so you might as well have made all of the decisions that led to people either liking it or disliking it. There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked,’ and you have to agree with them, you know?”
“You have so many balls in the air and you want to hire the absolute best people that you can to help you with it.”
Bruce La Bruce
“I think aesthetics are always important. It’s important to choose the right format for the story you’re telling.”
“It’s been really important to me to create moments where there’s a breath or moments where there’s a laugh or moments where there’s real life that’s allowed to seep in through the cracks of whatever melodrama is happening, because that’s what does happen in life. Some of the funniest moments I’ve ever experienced have been in the midst of tragic situations in my life.”
“I really prefer producing my films, because in that case you’re not helpless, and you actually do it the way you want. But the moment that you work as a director for hire, and you’re working within a system, then testing is really important for the potential investors, and when things are really not working, then you can’t just walk away from that. You look at a film like The Sweet Hereafter — that could never have survived a testing. Actually, Exotica was tested, at a marketing screening, and I remember I got a call at the time saying that, ‘People feel that they’d like to know what was going on earlier, and they’d like to have the last scene at the beginning, and there should be a voiceover when Christine comes into the club for the first time,’ and I’m going, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so thankful that I don’t have to listen to this, and that I can go, ‘It’s great that you had that screening. And this is how the film is.’ You would make the film clear for the audience, but you also eviscerate the film of any power. And that ending that I was so proud of would have just been a lie — a joke.”
“If you would ask me what my ideal process is, I would say, long pre-production, long production and long post-production.”
“I rarely meet people who tell me what they’re doing. I often meet people who ask, ‘Can you help me?’ or ‘How do I do this?’ or ‘Do you want to have coffee?’ ‘Can I take you to coffee?’ ‘Can we grab a coffee?’ ‘I’d love to take you to coffee and pick your brain a little bit.’ ‘Can I send you a script?’ ‘Can you read my script?’ ‘I have a script that I’d love for you to just check out if you can.’ ‘Can you be my mentor?’ ‘I need a mentor.’ ‘I would love if you could mentor me.’ ‘Is it possible for us to talk?’ All of that energy, all of that focus to extract from other people is distracting you from what you’re doing. All of that is desperation.
“When I figured that out, things started to change for me. When I’m meeting people and they’re in that moment, I want to say something to them. ‘Knock it off, because it’s never going to work for you.’ That feeling of ‘I need help. I need all of these things to proceed.’ And when I got that, a revolution happened for me
“All of the time you’re spending trying to get someone to mentor you, trying to have a coffee, all of the things we try to do to move ahead in the industry is time that you’re not spending time working on your screenplay, strengthening your character arcs, setting up a table reading to hear the words, thinking about your rehearsal techniques, thinking about symbolism in your production design, your color palette. All the time you’re focusing on trying to grab, you’re being desperate and you’re not doing. You have to be doing something. Because all of the so-called action that you’re doing is hinging on someone doing something for you.”
“A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant, and a bastard.”
“I love rehearsing because in rehearsals there are no mistakes, nothing is wrong, some things apply or lead you to focus on the character and the things that don’t apply are equally valuable because they lead you to towards what does. I’m not a director who says, ‘Say your line, hit your mark,’ that’s not my style. I want them to work with me and everyone I choose to collaborate with elevates our work above what I could imagine on my own. Hopefully — if not it’s not working right. I’m like a navigator and I try to encourage our collaboration and find the best way that will produce fruit. I like fruit. I like cherries, I like bananas.”
“Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like — then cultivate it. That’s the only part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.”
“Most of my characters are romantic rather than sexual. I think that’s an essential difference in my pictures. I think they are more accurate in portraying young people as romantic — as wanting a relationship, an understanding with a member of the opposite sex more than just physical sex.”
“The editing process is almost like the shooting process. It’s almost like framing. When we talk about framing, it’s about the choice of directors. What are the things that you want the audience to see, and what are the things that you want to exclude? To exclude them doesn’t mean it’s not working, but it will give you a sense of expectations. In the Mood for Love, for instance, the original idea of My Blueberry Nights . . . it’s based on a short film I made during that period. In fact, it is not a short film, it is chapters in In the Mood for Love . . . But at the end of the day I realized, the film itself, the story happens in the 1960s, it’s strong enough so we don’t need these chapters. These chapters would become a short film afterwards to be presented at Cannes. Somehow this one day when you have the right moment, you will turn it into a feature film, or you can turn it into a book, or they will stay as a short film, as ever. The only thing is I will only show them when I think they are the right material to show at that point.”
“I always had the ability to say ‘no.’ That’s how I called my own shots.”
“I think right now it’s a writer’s market. It depends on what form and who it’s for. Look at what is being sold and who is selling and who is buying and what kind of script, and then get the names of who those people are, and lie, cheat, steal, bribe and get in to meet them and con.”
“What you have to get is a very good first reel, because people want to know what’s going on. Then you need to have a very good last reel because people want to hear how it all turns out. Everything else doesn’t matter.”
“I think the most important thing as an artist . . . you have to go into this process, or this game, or this business with your own personal mission statement in place, knowing exactly what you want to do and why you want to do it. So, when various situations come up, and they will come up and present themselves, you know pretty much how you’re going to deal with it, how you’re going to react, how you’re going to work around it, how you’re going to subvert it, or just step back and allow it to happen.”
“The most important facets to me of what a filmmaker needs to succeed are ambition, luck, and the grace of God. I am not mentioning talent, you may notice, because there are a lot of extremely untalented people making stupid movies who have been very lucky and very ambitious. And a lot of guys I knew who had great talent never connected, never, and just disappeared into the flow. Ambition, luck, and the grace of God, that’s the formula as I observe it.”
“There was a time when all I looked for was a good story, but nowadays everything has to look like the size of Mount Rushmore, and the actors in close-up look as though they belong there.”
“Sit down. . . . Sit down any time you see a chair. Otherwise as you’re working you don’t realize you’re on your feet for twenty hours. You’re more tired than you know. Get off your feet and sit down.”
“I am not interested in real time and also not in the dramatic and codified time of cinema that manipulated duration. Let’s say I take ‘my time.'”
“I don’t get involved with my actors. I don’t get so involved with the films . . . If I lived like my characters, I would have been dead before I made 16 films.”
“I don’t put in visual material that doesn’t have a direct connection with the kind of dreamlike plotline.”
“I don’t film messages. I let the post office take care of those.”
“The lies are in the dialogue, the truth is in the visuals.”