SO YOU WANNA BE A FILM-MAKER HUH?
Gareth pointed me to this website, with the suggestion it might provide some inspiration. Well, Werner Herzog is, in my humble opinion, one of our greatest living film-makers, an international institution, and if you haven’t seen his films you’d better start p.d.q., because his oeuvre is considerable and his mellifluous voice can gently but firmly guide you through his many unfolding dramas, both real and imagined. But before you start – or continue, enjoy what IMDb says about him here. I digress. One of his quotes is , ‘Chance is the lifeblood of cinema. This is a great truth. Serendipity is something every filmmaker knows changes everything in their film and it is something you have to be tuned to. It is also something you can snare, entrap. You make your luck when telling stories, but to make it you have to be sensitive to it, like a ghost’s breath will make your hair stand on end, so serendipity favours the bold, the fearless and above all, the ruthless. You have to sense it to seize it.
In the Open Culture link Herzog lists 24 gems of advice for film-makers, and priceless diamonds they all are. Number 16 is my favourite; ‘Manoeuvre and mislead but always deliver.’ Ruthlessness is only negative in the hands of gangsters. Knowing what you want and going after it is an essential prerequisite of good storytelling. I had a shorter list of essential advice for the young filmmakers who I worked with than Herzog but being ruthless in the pursuit of your goal was one of them. The other was when filming to, first and foremost keep a shot steady and in focus. Today, this advice is universally ignored by most film-makers who believe if the shot wobbles and is out of focus it must be art! Picasso was able to break the conventions of painterliness because he could draw, he could paint the most beautiful figurative work; he was a master of the very fundamentals of drawing and brush work. Today I wonder at Tracey Emin who shares the same genius for the basics. Her drawings are lovely – I have a handkerchief she doodled on for the launch of BBC4 – unused I hasten to add! My point is, you can only break the rules successfully when you can play by them. As the machiavellian Welsh director Carl Francis once said to me when preparing to meet a commissioning editor, ‘Adam, it is the duty of every film-maker to bite the hand that feeds them.’ Of course, he would sink his teeth into the poor dolts outstretched paw with the greatest charm so that the pain was always sweet. And of course Carl inevitably got his way.
However, the most important thing I tell students and young professionals alike is, don’t depend on anyone to pay you to make your film. You have a camera, a hard drive, a memory card, a computer, so all the tools you need are at your disposal. Now, find someone whose ambition is to help you make your film better, recognise that great films are the work of great collaborators and remember those 24 pieces of Herzog advise before you hit the record button. Oh yes, and please, keep the shots steady and in focus. It really does improve the viewing experience.