Grinding Your Gears

In the past, each completed project gave me a morale boost to fuel the next.  If something goes off track or I’ve been given (and naively accepted) a false resource that collapses, it can be difficult to just transfer energy to something else.  I think people talking to themselves may be re-living conversations where they could have anticipated the worst and come away with dignity and saved some time.  I can grind my psychological gears in a quiet moment wasting energy on a “would-could-shoulda.”  Things may have gone the same way ultimately sooner or later.  Maybe sooner if you put a fine point on it.

If it feels like there is some Faustian embargo in the air, you might be making the wrong deal.  If someone wants to be the creative power behind the throne, they can get their own throne.  And as I’ve said before, if someone doesn’t have faith in you as a director or doesn’t like the script, you’ve got no leg to stand on with that person and why walk into that burning house?  If on the other hand they want to impose something on the film – random shtick, improvisation, ideology – it will negate or compromise your sense of authorship.  It is one thing to improve a script, kicking the tires, questioning logic or continuity. These are things the writer can answer and figure out without losing the sense of authentic authorship.  A full range of talents have clung to a credit even if it meant arbitration and even if it meant that everybody knew the best lines came from someone else.  But if what motivates you is the work itself and seeing your own ideas vindicated (or giving them every chance to be vindicated), it is worth remembering that Jim Jarmush claims that he writes a screenplay in longhand, one draft, and gives it to a typist and then just makes his movie. I suspect there are many critical darlings who do that and if something seems unclear in the movie it is taken as artistic ambiguity.  It is not unlikely that a first draft and final draft will have the same percentage of people who like or dislike the resulting movie.  Se7en famously had many drafts generated in the development phase, only to have its original shocking draft by Andrew Kevin Walker find its way to David Fincher’s attention so he could insist on reverting to that. The Verdict was adapted by David Mamet and then compromised by others until director Sidney Lumet insisted on discarding the development and reverting to Mamet.  Those seem like no-brainer choices, but it took a good cook insisted that not everybody had to piss in the soup.  Especially if you are a writer-director, you are gong to take the heat for a mediocre movie so you may as well be gambling on your own taste and your own work rather than someone else.

Discussion of movies from a fan perspective can generate some of the worst ideas for how it “could have been better.” One guy re-edited The Last Jedi just to make sure that in his version Admiral Ackbar is still alive. There are many things wrong with that movie, and that character should have had an on-screen death and one with nobility (maybe securing an oxygen mask onto Princess Leia before floating off dead in the vacuum of space). But even with a Lucasfilm Story Group and producers looking at the script, and hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, they went with Rian Johnson’s whims and took their chances.  Each writer has to take his or her own chances.  You might even be satisfied just writing character descriptions and an outline of scenes and letting others expand on that. But however long the process, you arrive at a point where you say THIS is the script I want to translate into storyboard drawings and finally stage for the camera.  Not a hundred other variations which you have considered and discarded.

The internet has accelerated the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” and also the consequences of answering with honesty.   People can insist on being called something they are not. It may be personally vital to know that a writer-director credit reflects your actual writing and your direction. I would feel false if I did not plan my own shots and the progression of images. That is where my satisfaction comes from.  Simply gathering people together to shoot something is not in itself cathartic. It is kind of a necessary evil.  Most of the anxiety will come from just how the house of cards will fall. Some people thrive on chaos, but I don’t.  I wouldn’t invest in chaos.

There are people who push to destroy the auteur theory of direction, where “A film by” credits are seen as giving too much importance to the role of director. I don’t really come down on either side of those false binary options.  The designation of director – let alone writer – can be given to anyone from a fraud who shows up and takes credit for everyone else to someone coming from a Hitchcock perspective where film grammar and psychology motivate the shot choices and the audience is being directed by the person they have been told is doing so.  None of us has to be a genius or feel like one to achieve the latter description.  It might help to be obsessed with finding the best shot for a moment or an interesting and appropriate way to transition between scenes. I’ve done short films that people hated and written screenplays that some people did not get, but I honored my impulses in any case and that is a big part of it.

So many processes appear to be about stripping the finger prints from a work. The issue celebrated might be the subject matter or a sociopolitical bent and not the WAY something was written or the WAY it was directed.  Style may be stripped away, and for me style is a big part of what makes me love cinema.

Does this blog make me look fat?