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Rules of creation

The BBC Radio 4 comedy series, The Museum of Curiosity, hosted by Jo Brand and Prof. John Lloyd made me smile recently. Listening to episode when Danish comedian Sofie Hagan asked that her exhibit to go into the museum should be Danish film makers Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s 1995 manifesto of ten rules for making films that conformed to the approach known as Dogme, (Danish for Dogma).
For those of you who don’t know the rules they are:

  1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
  2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)
  3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.
  4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
  5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
  6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
  7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
  8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
  9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
  10. The director must not be credited.

The rules, ostensibly to create traditional values of creative film making and as a reaction against the power and hegemony of the studio system was nothing new. The French did a rather better job of it in my view back in the sixties as those of you who are studying Film Culture will be reflecting on in the course, (Project 7 The French New Wave).
My problem with the cult of Dogme, (which it fancied itself as,) was firstly in its name. For me the word Dogma has no redeeming qualities and that pretty much went for all of the handful of Dogme films I put myself through watching!
Other directors who had rules for making films were also mentioned in the radio programme including Hitchcock who had three rules. The first rule is that the most important thing is the script. The second rule is that the most important thing is the script and the third rule is that the most important thing is the script. Three good rules in my book. William Wyler, one of the greatest and most successful Hollywood directors of all time said the three most important things in any film are casting, casting and casting!
I have written about the rules of film making before, but as I am in the mood I want to alert you to five rules – or non-rules – suggested by Jim Jarmusch, (someone I have blogged about before too), in my view, one of the greatest directors alive today. His first rule is that there are no rules. What a great rule and to be embraced by all creative people.
The second is ‘Don’t let the fucker get ya’. Essentially, the money men and decision-makers in the industry aren’t creative people and should not dictate how you should make your film. More easily said than done, but as an old pal of mine the Welsh director Carl Francis told me one time when we were hustling at Cannes; ‘Remember Adam, it is the duty of every film maker to bite the hand that feeds it.’
Rule three is that the production is there to serve the film, not the other way around and any film maker who doesn’t understand this should be hung from their ankles and asked why the sky is upside down!
Rule four: Film making is a collaborative process and everyone who you collaborate with to make your film should be treated with respect and as an equal. This is really important to understand. The production changes as a result of digital technology where one person can do every job to make a film, training, budgets affecting crewing and a lack of appreciation of the craft of film making undermines the importance of collaboration.
And finally rule five: (I quote the man directly) “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”
What more is there to say about rules?
Image: Jim Jarmusch

Posted by author: Adam
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One thought on “Rules of creation

  • ‘Rule four: ….everyone …. should be treated with respect and as an equal.’
    Even after almost 5 years in the industry, I’m still waiting for this to happen, unfortunately.

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