2008-10-08

Vision

As a sometime screenwriter, i’ve been known to rant in mixed company from time to time about the endless blood war known colloquially as “auteur theory”, and why you should soundly slap anyone using the term in a non-ironic context. I was having one such conversation recently, and was surprised to have the person at the other end tell me that they assumed i was down on film directors because of my belief in the sanctity of the screenwriter. And that surprised me, insofar as i’ve always tried to be clear that i actually worship the vision of the film director.

Good directing is a thing that i'm constantly in awe of by virtue of the fact that i'm in awe of the specific and particular creative spark that it takes to do it at the highest levels. On a purely mechanical level, i know how to direct. I know how it's done, i know the technology, i know scene composition, i know how to work with large groups of stressed-out people and inspire them to do their best work. But the reason i've never had any aspiration to direct is because i don't feel the joy of it like i think you have to feel in order to do it well. With writing, on the other hand, i do feel that joy. And as a result, i think i do all right at it.

I've always been of the opinion that to make a great film, writer/director has to be a single creative unit. Sometimes that happens if both roles are filled by the same person; sometimes that happens if two people in each role can work closely together; sometimes it happens when a great script gets given to a great director who truly wants to make the film that the script inspires. However, most often (especially in the American system, unfortunately), it's a hit-and-miss proposition because the two roles are so rigidly separated, and because relatively few directors are capable of maintaining a connection to story throughout the process. Not that they don’t understand story, because the vast majority of directors do. They have to, because without an understanding of story, you’d never walk out of a theater and say “That film inspired me.”

Directing is an extremely expensive, extremely risky balancing act, wherein one person has to manage to meld the dozen different and often contradictory creative arts that filmmaking comprises. The problem is, only one of those arts — the art of story — needs to be laid down ahead of time. You can find the perfect shot on the day. You can seek out a perfect performance or a bit of improvisation that totally nails down a scene in the moment. You can devise the perfect formula for maximizing the drama inherent in an exchange a sequence, a shot in the editing room. But you can’t build story in rehearsals, in the camera, on the set, or on the AVID, because story is the one part of the vision that has to come first.