Different film directors work in different beats.
This is a study about their tempo and rhythm.
by Rau O’Clock
When “The Tree of Life” premiered, we couldn’t stop hearing from the press that Terrence Malick only makes a movie every once in a while – his previous film was “The New World”- and it was made six years ago. Ever since he made his debut feature (Badlands) in 1973, he has only released four more movies, which makes more appealing to pay for the ticket at the movie theatre.
It’s strange that a well-known director has such a short filmography because moviegoers are used to the idea of one director releasing at least one movie per year, or at least, to produce two, or to direct a TV pilot, or to co- write an original screenplay, or to adapt a novel which will be premiered soon (Spielberg and Scorsese are experts in all of these fields) They’re already thinking in their next project when they haven’t even finished shooting their current one. This way, they link one shooting with another one and while the previous movie is being edited, they’re in the pre- production of the next one. They’re not being ambitious, but there’s an inner desire for expressing them, and because they’re also workaholics, and that’s why when we go to see the IMDb page of different filmmakers, we can see that they’re not only getting credit for their known skill – let’s say directing- but the website lists a lot more: producer, writer, editor, and even though they have their own crew, it’s important the entire process of shooting, editing, and releasing a visual project takes a long time which is why film is not an individual art but a collective one.
HOLLYWOOD WILL WRING YOUR NECK, BUT IT WON’T CHOKE YOU.
Nowadays, this fast paced process affects the quality of the films that come out every year because Hollywood is considered a moneymaking factory. In cases like those ones, you can say that making movies is the equivalent to making donuts. This has always been the case: in the 20’s, it was normal to shoot silent movies in the same room, and sometimes, they even shared the same walls. Time went by, and actors and directors signed contracts with studios where they committed to several movies over the next years.
However, there are examples when this fast process in producing things actually works, and the results can be very impressive.
A director’s filmography can be focused in the highlights of his career, and then it can be studied when he starts to lose steam. They also have the option of not taking break ever, and just retire when the grim reaper decides to visit them. Also, some filmographies expand across a lifetime. Not every director works the same way. If artists like Terrence Malick don’t shoot a movie a year or so, it’s because they don’t need nor want to do so. Even though, this has changed since “The Tree of Life,” because Mr. Malick has already four projects in the works. A director that has proved his uniqueness in the film industry, and who has been nominated for the Academy Awards different times (and a top contender this year in different categories), and who has won prestigious awards in Cannes and in Berlin, shouldn’t have a problem finding investors for his project.
ART VS. BUSINESS
A good film director, in the Hollywood pattern, is the one who has a unique visual style for telling stories and for leading his cast and crew. He’s also the one that uses the budget given to him in a fast and productive way. Once the movie is released, if the film duplicates the original investment, he’ll have to do the same with his next movie, and so on, and so on. But there are others who are not interested in breaking box office records, they chose film not only as a source of entertainment, but also as a way of artistic expression, and that expression itself isn’t always nice, easy or pretty. There’s no doubt in the fact that Malick is great at what he does, but his movies, and particularly his latest film is so special, that there’s a very bleak chance that the movie will be a box office hit. When “The Tree of Life” opened in Spain, some theatres offered the possibility of leaving within the first 30 minutes and go to another movie. How many years did Malick had to work for funding a personal film like “The Tree of Life,” without having people distorting his ideas or running his original concept? .Time is the most important element when it comes to filmmaking, because time is money. Everything comes to that: script first, and budget second. Yes, it’s all about money, that very important element that you need in order to make a movie. It’s important in both big productions and quirky indies. One thing is getting what you want for free, and another is to make a movie without spending a dime. It’s possible to shoot a film for free, if you have the contacts to provide everything you need such as: family, friends, and a persuasive personality for finding cast and crew who’ll work for nothing. This is why, once the director reaches a certain status, it’s important to be good with deadlines (not only while you’re shooting a movie, but also all over your professional career). The time gap a director has between his current movie and the next one isn’t that long.
It’s true that the director doesn’t have to worry about other issues except for making the movie itself, but if his movies don’t work, next time he wants to get something done, it will be harder for him to find producers, distributors, etc., and that next time he might not have to wait that long. Terrence Malick is an exception to the rule.
That cold perspective of film as an industry converts artists into businessmen, because at the same time, as they make their movie, they need to think in how they are going to sell it, and once it’s been released, they just want to read reviews and look at the box office results. The fact that art is a business is not either good or bad. Artists (filmmakers) also eat. In the movie industry, most artists need their art to be compensated so they can keep working which is something completely different from needing money for creating something. There’s a feedback between an audience, his market and the artist, but there will always be a person who’ll time the difference between your previous project and your newest one, as if that was a way for measuring talent.
CINEMA PARADISO OR CINEMA HELL
There are really good blockbuster movies. There are okay ones, mediocre ones, and terrible ones. There are masterpieces and pieces of crap in every genre for every crowd. Big productions are as respectable as indies, and viceversa. There are movies that just entertain the masses, and there are movies for making them think. There are personal movies that are worth seeing more than once, in the theatre, at home, in your living room, or on your laptop, and there are movies that become a milestone in the history of cinema that deserve to be studied. There are directors that make over one hundred movies, and other directors shoot only two or three or just a handful of them. The movies made by either of them will be good for some people, and terrible for other people. It’s all about criteria or personal taste. There’s something for everyone, and if every single movie were the same, cinema would be boring.
It’s hard to have full control if you don’t invest your own money because when you have to work with someone else’s investments, you have to work under pressure because the investors enjoy giving their feedback in the production, the script, the casting, the editing, etc. As a matter of fact, the version that hits theatres, it’s a mix between the director’s vision, and the producer’s interest. That’s why, when the director is unsatisfied, some lucky directors decide to release the famous “director’s cut” of their own movie, and they can also earn more money from it, because it’s not enough to have the deleted scene as a special feature on the DVD or Blu-Ray. Both the director and the producer want the best for the film, and it may seem that the producer is the bad guy in the picture; however, there are no enemies in the same team, but there’s a lot of money, and that’s the director has to fight with blood and tears for his ideas, but he also needs to be open to suggestions.
This article is dedicated to all of those directors who are still in the independent side because they stand up for their artistic visions which are something hard but not impossible. I also want to honor those producers who allow the producer to have that creative freedom and takes risks in making a different kind of cinema that needs more support from the audience. For example, some of these risky filmmakers are: Jean-Luc Godard, Leos Carax, Jim Jarmusch, Terry Guilliam, David Lynch, Win Wenders, Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke, Emir Kusturika, Won Kar Wai, among others. Also, Terrence Malick deserves recognition too, not only because his career took off, but also because in a very slow way, he never stopped making movies, so it doesn’t matter if you work fast or slow, just keep making movies. Thank you all, artists.