In reading about the top 100 horror films of all time, I noticed a quote about William Friedkin. He explained that he (and the screenwriter) had no intention of making horror film when making The Exorcist. Perhaps others find this hard to believe, but a part of me doesn’t. I have a feeling that artists “find” things of value when they’re not directly for it. The Exorcist might be an example, but I also think this has happened several times with Erroll Morris. I believe he made The Thin Blue Line while researching something completely unrelated. Similarly, I get the sense that an artist won’t “get” something if they pursue it directly. For example, I understand that Cassavetes wanted to make Capra-esque films.
Do others feel that there is some truth to this? I have to believe that this is only occasionally true, as I would expect that some artists actually create what they directly and actively intended.
Can anyone think of films that came about “indirectly” and films that were made with completely different intentions/objectives?
Yes. I agree with that but I actually cultivate my work in the land of surprises. so to speak. Because I allow improvisation to occur.
Would probably be more interesting to hear from a filmmaker who is more deliberate with their work.
Interesting that you mention The Thin Blue Line Jazz. I haven’t seen that film as yet but I would imagine this probably happens quite a bit with regards to documentaries with all the research that goes into them. I know Andrew Jarecki wasn’t originally trying to make Capturing the Friedmans but stumbled upon their story while researching birthday party entertainers in New York.
I know its easy to get sidetracked on Wikipedia. I find it hard to read through an entire entry without clicking some random link in some paragraph that seems interesting.
haha that’s the whole internet. ^ but i doubt many artists create exactly what they intended. i’m sure i’ve read of novelists who end up being quite surprised with where their stories go and how characters take on lives of their own. like they’re channeling the muses. i only commented here cuz i enjoyed the reference to kung fu lol
Yeah, I think this is pretty common in contemporary documentaries. McElwee’s Sherman’s March started out to be literally about Sherman’s March, but then the actual march ended up having only metaphorical associations to the finished film.
Sherman’s March is a great example, great lesson in the value of leaving yourself open to becoming something different than what you intended when you set out. (Although I personally have my doubts that Sherman’s March ever really was intended to be about literal Sherman’s March.)
But it is interesting because there are some people who rely very heavily on this principle, and some who do not at all. The Coens for example are widely known for storyboarding out every single shot ahead of time, and allowing for actual zero improvisation on their set, with every pause, every uh, and um being scripted. Very deliberate.
So you have that approach, in direct opposition to the more “Malicky” style of point the camera at an actor and say “do stuff”. (These are obviously gross simplifications, I’m sure Malick does some things very deliberately and I’m sure the Coens have improvised on occasion.)
The really interesting part is that both of these approaches seem perfectly capable of yielding good results, not only that but there are infinite grey areas / hybrids between the two, being very preconceived and deliberate about your framing for example but more open and free spirited when it comes to dialogue and performance.
I think that as an artist it really comes down to finding your own method, one that best allows you to transition your vision from your mind to the screen. Whether this is a very strict vessel or a very loose one, if it transfers “your magic” then it transfers the magic, and that magic is most certainly the thing at the end of the day.
^ <3 Axelmuog
Any narrative filmmakers out there want to chime in?
i’m sure i’ve read of novelists who end up being quite surprised with where their stories go and how characters take on lives of their own. like they’re channeling the muses.
Another example came to mind—Francis Ford Coppola. In interview, he expressed a love for smaller, independent, personal movies, and went so far to say that he saw himself as that type of filmmaker; he made the bigger films mainly to fund these smaller films. That surprised me, primarily because he seems so adept at making these bigger films, while not so adept at the smaller films (at least the one’s I’ve seen). His comments made me wonder. Here are some theories that come to mind:
Theory #1:A filmmaker might really like a certain style or subject to the point where she becomes very serious about the subject and style. Here, I’m suggesting that the level of seriousness could stifle the artist’s ability. For example, sometimes I do better at projects that I don’t place so much importance on. When I do place a lot of importance, I tend to get uptight and stressed out that I’m not perfect. Ironically, maybe Coppola’s Hollywood films because they weren’t as important as his smaller films.
Theory #2: A filmmaker might really like a certain style or subject matter, but if the filmmaker expressed themselves in the truest way, her films would be in a completely different style or subject. In this scenario, the filmmaker might not be fully aware of her true self and may mistakenly believe that a certain style or subject may be crucial to the artist. The artist may really like—or even love—the style or subject, but it may not be as vital to the artist’s identity.
Here’s another way of looking at this. Maybe the artist loves a certain style or subject, but she doen’t know that subject or style as well some other subject or style. For example, I love Japanese samurai films, but I don’t know the subject as well as I know stories relating to Hawai’i. Hmm, perhaps this isn’t the best example….how about this—suppose I start making a samurai film and in the process the film starts becoming about a samurai descendent who ends up migrating to Hawai’i. :)
I should also mention that maybe an artist’s strengths may suit another style or subject more than the style or subject, she really likes. Here’s a question: What if a filmmaker is better at a style and subject, but she prefers working in another style or subject? And suppose she wouldn’t make very good films in the style or subject she prefers?
Theory #3: a combination of #1 and #2.
Hmm, I wasn’t actually think of this issue in terms of methodology or specific techniques—but more broader objectives (e.g., making a Capra-esque film). So an example might be that you tried to be like a certain filmmaker or make a specific type of film, but end up being a completely different filmmaker or making a completely different type of movie. Does that make sense?
@Langston and Matt
I haven’t seen that film as yet but I would imagine this probably happens quite a bit with regards to documentaries with all the research that goes into them.
But why would research distract a filmmaker more than other sorts of distractions available to a filmmaker of fiction? The wiki example is a good one, but wouldn’t feature length filmmakers also distractions that could derail them?
i only commented here cuz i enjoyed the reference to kung fu lol
Well, it worked for one person, so I’m happy. :)
In response to the OP, here’s an interesting example—The Mirror, by Jafar Panahi. Here he intended to make a film about a child struggling to find her way home in a busy, urban setting. Halfway through the production, however, the child actor rebels and refuses to go on with it. But she remains miked up, and Panahi decides to continue filming her as she actually does struggle to find home, and the camera follows her and the film crew as well. He ended up making the film he sought out to make, in a way, but serendipitously also made a film about making a film. As it exists, I think it’s a masterpiece.
If I remember correctly, Wim Wenders took the approach that there was the movie he set out to make and the movie he discovered in the process of making it. Something like that. Some artists are more fixed than others.
HoL’s example of The Mirror is a good one. I agree that it’s a great movie, I just wish that girls voice was a little less squeaky.
Jazz — for my film work, I can’t say I’ve ever tried to be like anyone. But that’s also because I approach filmmaking from such a weird angle. It’s like playing a game other than football with a football, because you feel that the football could work in a different game, and you never really learned to play football anyway… :)
When I was younger though, I did admire the drawings of the greats — but I never strove to be for example, Leonardo da Vinci. Though if you’re going to be like someone in the world of drawing, damn he would be a great person to try and imitate. Even in trying to imitate him, you would learn so much it would be worth it though you might fail…
However I know exactly what you are talking about. I guess because the artists I admire are so awesome to me, I know in advance that what I am going to make is never going to be like what they made because I’m not them and they are too good, just too good! What is more weird to me is when I start to try to make some idea in my own head, and end up with something totally different that I never would have thought of without going through the process — a sort of failure of my own effort to replicate my imagination. My solution to that is to never trust my own ideas as more than a sketch, because faithfully reproducing them has been such a futile exercise….
(wow I seem to love the word “never” right now)…
I hope this doesn’t come across as chiding, but, fwiw, I’m not really talking about artists who allow their muse or intuition to guide them more than their rational and conscious mind. For example, a novelist who has some initial ideas but let’s the story and characters dictate where the novel “goes.”
I’m talking more about a filmmaker who wants to make a certain type of movie (e.g., Capra-esque, or smaller, personal art films, etc.), but then either end up making a completely different type of movie, for whatever reason. Or maybe they want to make a film about a certain subject, but eventually make a film about something completely different.
I guess listening to a muse or following one’s intuition is related to what I’m saying, but I think of the issue I’m bringing up as something separate. It seems to involves the type of artist one wants to be more than the final results of one’s artwork, if that makes any sense. Sometimes what a person things he really wants isn’t what he really wants. That’s sort of what I’m driving. I suspect self-knowledge and self-awareness is a crucial component.
I guess because the artists I admire are so awesome to me, I know in advance that what I am going to make is never going to be like what they made because I’m not them and they are too good, just too good!
That makes sense, I guess, but when I’ve thought about being a musician or artist, that hasn’t come up. Of course, I never actually tried to become a musician or artist, so maybe I’d feel exactly the way you do.
What is more weird to me is when I start to try to make some idea in my own head, and end up with something totally different that I never would have thought of without going through the process — a sort of failure of my own effort to replicate my imagination.
Is this a failure or just your mind taking you to another place?
I suspect self-knowledge and self-awareness is a crucial component.
Partly, this yes. The other thing is that the intuition IS a crucial component of creating, you have to give in to that aspect because it’s part of the way you do what you are doing.
The other thing is discovering one’s way – that is, how you create. That comes from experience. If you keep trying to make a movie about X and it always leads you to some other letter of the alphabet, despite your original intention, then understand that and work with it.
For me, initially I thought I was one type of artist (this was long before I started using the camera as a new tool) — that is, a realist. But, I kept getting bored. After veering off into abstraction, I realized what kind of artist I really am at heart, and that is not a realist, but a poet and a mystic type, in other words, someone who works more with the unknowns and the unrevealed than the known and revealed. But I had to knock my head against the wall for a while trying to fit myself into what I thought I was before I finally “gave in” to the style in which I do my artwork now.
So I didn’t think of this change as a failure, but an evolution to where I am supposed to be.
I hope that answers your question?…
My only other thought is that if you keep trying to make a Frank Capra movie and you can’t, and you hate what you end up with, maybe making films is not your thing?…
“But why would research distract a filmmaker more than other sorts of distractions available to a filmmaker of fiction? The wiki example is a good one, but wouldn’t feature length filmmakers also distractions that could derail them?”
Well, I don’t think filmmakers do get any more or less distracted, but you don’t always have an awareness of the intermediate steps, the pentimento, etc. In McElwee’s case, for example, because he’s a documentarian, he can actually include the diversion from his original intention in the finished film, so the film can be about not only what it’s about, but also about its own making.
Oh, and about that “wanted to make Capra-esque films” business, are you familiar with Harold Bloom’s ideas of the “anxiety of influence” and “misreading”?
Bloom basically thought that an artist (he was writing specifically about poets) become inspired to create because he has read and admired the work of previous artists, but this admiration turns into resentment when s/he discovers that these artist whom s/he idolized have already said everything s/he wishes to say. The artist becomes disappointed because he “cannot be Adam early in the morning. There have been too many Adams, and they have named everything.” So instead, s/he convinces himself that previous artists have gone wrong somewhere and failed in their vision, thus leaving open the possibility that he may have something to add after all.
To Bloom, an artistic tradition is a tradition of misreading, which allows a “strong” artist to clear a sort of space in the tradition for himself or herself . strong poets “misread” these texts in a psychoanalytically defensive gesture that fosters artistic innovation (or whatever you wanna call it):
So, in this context, Cassavetes may have started out admiring Capra and even tried to make Capra films, but what you end up with is a “strong misreading” (and here he means something closer to “creative interpretation” than to “mistake in interpretation”) of Capra.
^ that’s interesting, Matt.
I think every artist struggles with what they can possibly contribute, given thousands of years of art and ideas and nothing really that new under the sun. I struggled with this too — how can you contribute something new when everyone ahead of you has done such a thorough work of covering what seems to be all the bases known to human experience? What on earth could you possibly contribute that would be of interest? And how dare you think that you can contribute anything new given that there are all these powerhouses that came before you?
I remember something my father (who is a painter and a sculptor in addition to many other things) used to say to me when I was having trouble with this — and that is, it is ok to imitate in the beginning, because eventually you will find your own way anyway. And he was right. And this sounds to me what Cassavetes did too, he found something while he was admiring Capra that was his own. The study of Capra led him to where he was destined to go. For me, the study of Klee and Diebenkorn, Matisse and others led me to where I was going to go.
Ultimately, if you are determined, you have to create, those you admire will not stop you from finding your path, they’ll help you to go there.
If they do stop you, as I said before, perhaps that field you’re trying so hard to succeed in is not right for you.
Thanks for sharing that. I definitely wouldn’t use the word failure to describe this, and it seems closely related (if not a good example) of what I’m getting at. And it illustrates what I mean by the importance of “self-knowledge.” You thought you were a “realistic” artist, but then discovered you were another type. Maybe a lack of understanding of your self, lead you to think you would favor realism? On the other hand, maybe who you are as an artist can’t be consciously known until you actually experiment?
That’s really interesting (and know I hadn’t heard of Bloom’s idea). I think there could be something like that at work, although my sense from reading about jazz musicians doesn’t really jibe with this. Jazz musicians often imitate their favorite musicians, at least in the beginning, but the good ones break off into their own direction. My sense is that a strong contrarian and individualistic streak in them pushes them into new territory. They question and rebel against orthodoxy. But I digress,…I’ll have to think more about Bloom’s notion of “misreading.”
And he was right. And this sounds to me what Cassavetes did too, he found something while he was admiring Capra that was his own.
FWIW, I got the sense that Cassavetes genuinely wanted to make Capra-esque films, but couldn’t or somehow, in the process of making films, he veered off in a different direction (maybe in a similar way to your experience?).
But if he made Frank Capra films he would have been an imitator. Wanting to be Capra lead him to do something original. If he wasn’t satisfied with that, what he arrived at after moving toward Capra, for sure, he would have stopped being a filmmaker.
Maybe a lack of understanding of your self, lead you to think you would favor realism? On the other hand, maybe who you are as an artist can’t be consciously known until you actually experiment?
I was brought up in an environment where everything to follow was strongly suggested to me, if not outright imposed on me. I started getting into abstraction seriously when I was in my ‘20s — that was past all my school years and past all the influences I so readily absorbed. Along with slowly growing into myself in my artistic direction, I slowly started growing into myself after I had left my parents and my schooling years behind. And I consider that an ongoing process, having so much of my life defined for me as a younger person, I’ve had to shed each layer of that little by little to know what pleases me for my own sake.
So in sum, this combination of being surrounded by very strong voices and being easily influenced by those I admired prevented me from truly spreading my wings and getting down to who I was underneath. A process of isolation from those voices and experimenting till I found what was true to me is what I have been doing, and continue to do, to get what feels right, and to what inspires me.
But if he made Frank Capra films he would have been an imitator.
Does it necessarily, though? I mean, I can make a film that has a similar style, approach or subject matter without being completely derivative, don’t you think?
Thanks again for sharing your experience. While other artists don’t have the exact same experience, the discovery of self—whether one’s identity in general or specifically as an artist—probably is long process, versus something known instantly.
probably is long process, versus something known instantly.
I’d say it is a life-long process. The minute you think you know everything about yourself, you might as well get in the coffin.
As for derivative… I don’t know… I think that to many artists it’s really important to make something that’s different from the pack, at least, to me that’s really important. It’s the need to contribute your own thing more than anything, to stand out as an individual and say something in your own way.
Cassavetes doesn’t strike me as the kind who would have been satisfied with settling into a style that was “Frank Capra, with a little twist.” He was an explorer, and when you go down that road, you can never really settle in. You keep searching.
Which kind of relates back to my answer to your first comment. I do think the most interesting artists, the ones who are most alive, DO have this need to keep searching, keep stretching, keep growing, keep learning, and keep digging into the mysteries they can’t resolve with one, two, three, four or a thousand works. And by this process, they will ALWAYS arrive to something they didn’t expect to encounter when they set out, and it will be interesting because they will tell that exploration story in their own way, though the story itself may have been told in different “colors and shapes,” as it were, over countless years.
That to me is the spiritual part of art, the human part of art, and the most fascinating thing about art.
For me personally, I usually don’t know what the hell my film is about until after I finish making it.
I don’t think this is an uncommon occurrence.
Wow — it’s like that for narrative too? But you’ve got a script and a story, does it deviate that much during filming?…
Or are you talking about not consciously understanding your film (the full significance of it) till you’ve finished it?…
“Or are you talking about not consciously understanding your film till you’ve finished it?…”
Yeah, that’s what I mean. Obviously I know the plot, the story, the characters. haha
It’s the underlying theme that usually creeps up somewhere in post production.
It’s nice though, isn’t it? That even with something where you have a lot defined, there’s still something you’re saying that you don’t get the full gist of while you’re doing it.
Love that. :)
Keeps things interesting.
Oh yeah totally. That’s part of what feeds the beast, so to speak. The surprises, the revelations – good stuff.
" I think there could be something like that at work, although my sense from reading about jazz musicians doesn’t really jibe with this. Jazz musicians often imitate their favorite musicians, at least in the beginning, but the good ones break off into their own direction. My sense is that a strong contrarian and individualistic streak in them pushes them into new territory."
That sounds to me like the same process in different, more artist-as-hero terms.
Here’s an anecdote about painting that goes along something of the same line. It is said to have taken place at the Three American Painters exhibit of ‘65, where a skeptical student questioned the noted art critic Michael Fried about Frank Stella’s paintings.
With his left arm raised and his finger pointing to the Stella, he confronted Michael Fried. ’What’s so good about that?’ he demanded. Fried looked back at him. “Look,” he said slowly, “there are days when Stella goes to the Metropolitan Museum. And he sits for hours looking at the Velázquez, utterly knocked out by them and then he goes back to his studio. What he would like more than anything else is to paint like Velázquez. But what he knows is that is an option that is not open to him. So he paints stripes.” Fried’s voice had risen. “He wants to be Velázquez so he paints stripes.”
^ AWESOME! :D