Are directors always distinctive?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Joe Karlosi, Jan 7, 2005.

  1. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    I don't always think they are, though there are exceptions (Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick...)

    Many film fans tend to refer to a film as the directors' own baby with regard to virtually ANY movie. For example, they'll say: "Franklin Schaffner's PLANET OF THE APES," or "Roy William Neill's SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON". But just how much has to do with the director?

    To me, it's always seemed that the only real way a director would have such a complete claim on the movie is when he is director, writer, and editor combined. Sure, directors put their own individual "stamp" on a project, but is JAWS (for instance) totally Spielberg's creation when he didn't write it, and when Verna Fields was the editor (presuming Spielberg was not present consistently through every phase of the editing process)? And would it have been as effective if, say, Robert Redford had played Quint instead of Robert Shaw - even though Spielberg was still the man doing the directing?

    It just seems that if a director was the sole person truly responsible for the entire appeal (or unappeal) of a given film, then his results would have to remain the same from film to film. In other words, I love "DePalma's" DRESSED TO KILL and also CARLITO'S WAY .... but yet I have no use for "his" PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE! If I "loved Brian DePalma films," wouldn't PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE have to appeal to me too?

    I'm of the belief that it's usually a whole combination of factors -- the script, the actors, the subject matter...
     
  2. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    In the world of literature, the author of a novel is considered the "sole author" of the work (yes, I realize editors have a tremendous influence) but not every novel by an author is of the same quality, right?

    To answer your original question, I bring up Ron Howard. He has got to be one of the blandest "non-directors" in the business.
     
  3. chris winters

    chris winters Second Unit

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    another good example is the bland "non-directors" of the James Bond installments. It really matters little who is behind the camera on Bond, the producers and other folks behind the scenes hold the true power of the production. This is more akin to television, where the producer of a show weilds the power, and various episodic directors helm each episode. Chris Columbus is a bit of a non-director as well.
     
  4. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    Absolutely not. If you like two Steven King books, will you like them all? If you like two Bowie albums, will you like them all? Of course not. And in both of those instances, the main artist has a lot more control over the final product than a director - takes a lot more people to make a movie than to write/edit a book or record a rock album.

    Really, it's an odd train of thought that because you generally like a director/writer/whatever, then you must like everything they do...
     
  5. Ray H

    Ray H Producer

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    Don't know if this is what you're asking but since others have posted in the same manner, I find Michael Curtiz's directing to be pretty bland. There's nothing present in his films that say "this was made by Michael Curtiz!" In fact, it's pretty hard to tell just by looking at a film that he directed it. It's hard to believe that the same guy that directed Casablanca made the Adventures of Robin Hood or Yankee Doodle Dandy. Great films, but all radically different.

    Anyway to answer what I think you're asking, just because a director has entire control of a film doesn't mean his films will stay at a certain qaulity. Woody Allen directs and writes his own films and they vary in quality from briliant to not so much.
     
  6. Jan H

    Jan H Cinematographer

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    The great directors all seem to have certain thematic and/or cinematographic threads that underpin their work, regardless of the genre of film they work in.

    Lang, Kubrick, Renoir, Ozu, Bunuel, Welles, Hitchcock, Dreyer, Mizoguchi, Ford, Wilder, Fellini, Godard, etc., all made films that could be readily identified as -esque, and most would agree that these directors are among the 'greatest.' Did they make films that didn't work? Yes, but they were always distinctive.
     
  7. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    To me, it's always seemed that the only real way a director would have such a complete claim on the movie is when he is director, writer, and editor combined. Sure, directors put their own individual "stamp" on a project, but is JAWS (for instance) totally Spielberg's creation when he didn't write it, and when Verna Fields was the editor (presuming Spielberg was not present consistently through every phase of the editing process)? And would it have been as effective if, say, Robert Redford had played Quint instead of Robert Shaw - even though Spielberg was still the man doing the directing?

    Joe - have you been reading William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade? He made the exact same argument using the exact same movie, and threw in DP Bill Butler and composer John Williams to boot.

    I had a discussion on this very same subject with Allison Anders back around 1995 or so, and I'll pass on the knowledge she sent my way because I was also of your opinion that because of the auteur theory, directors were given complete credit for the contributions of others. She told me that there are indeed directors who rely heavily on the contributions of others, and she even quoted a certain recently annoited Best Director Oscar winner who said that he didn't need to worry about the whole "vision thing - that's what art directors are for" -- but she vehemently disagreed with this notion because by and large, all directors are ultimately responsible for everything that makes it to the screen, including the contributions of the DP, the actors' choices, the set design, the music, etc. The idea that a director just shows up and marshalls a good team and then waltzes to the finish line -- this is simply wrong.

    Let's take Goldman's famous comments on Steven Spielberg claiming authorship of Jaws as an example. If anyone doubts his controlling aesthetic over that film, all one needs to do is watch three films in succession...Duel, The Sugarland Express, and Jaws. Three Universal films, yes. But by and large, these are three films shot by three completely different crews, and yet they are so strikingly similar in shot composition, editing, character work, and even (dare I say it?) world view, that there is no doubt that all three were coordinated by the same guiding hand.

    Are all directors distinctive? Let's take a counterpoint example...my favorite director, my choice for the best American director working today -- is Clint Eastwood. Here is a true actor's director, a professional who disappears within his work. The identifying trademark of all of Eastwood's film is the absolute invisibility of the director, and yet the passion is there behind every shot, every frame. Rather than make a film that is essentially a film about the director and the director's point of view, Eastwood tells stories and disappears within the narrative and allows the ebb and flow of the acted moment to dictate his camera work. Is he an "auteur"? You bet. Is he a showy "look ma!" director who uses his story as an excuse to showboat and make sure everyone knows his films were directed by the great Clint Eastwood? Absolutely not. You won't see camera moves in an Eastwood film where he trucks his camera through the inner workings of a toaster, like David Fincher in Panic Room. You won't see camera moves like the shot in Spielberg's Always where Spielberg uses the image of a plane landing through one window to motivate a pan to another window as characters move about and live their lives almost as a secondary issue to the true interest of the filmmaker.

    Is Eastwood distinctive?

    His taste is absolutely distinctive.

    His ability to serve his story rather than showboat his control over the camera is distinctive.

    No toaster shots in Unforgiven, A Perfect World, The Bridges of Madison County, Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby. Just shots of great human drama, shots controlled by a master storyteller not afraid of letting the work speak for itself. No shots where the primary purpose is to glorify the person who directed them.
     
  8. Jan H

    Jan H Cinematographer

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    I agree that Eastwood is a great director whose tasteful restraint is a breath of fresh air in this world of MTV-Bruckheimer-Baz Luhrman jump-cuts. But I wouldn't say that Eastwood disappears in his films. In his best work (and I personally wouldn't include Bridges of Madison County), his thematic thread is exploring the degree to which violence eats away at the human soul. I think it's very safe to include Eastwood as one of the 'auteurs.'
     
  9. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    I'm not sure you understood my post -- I absolutely belive Eastwood is an "auteur", and his choice of subject matter is very personal -- themes of self-destruction are evident in most of his movies (Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, Unforgiven, A Perfect World, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and Mystic River) as are odes to intimacy and an ache for human contact (Bridges of Madison County, Play Misty For Me, Bronco Billy, Honkytonk Man).

    The theme of violence as a caustic self-destructive force even when it serves as an ironic agent to restore justice is a dichotomy in many of his films - see The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider and again, Bronco Billy, Unforgiven and Mystic River.

    Eastwood is attracted to certain themes, of this there is no doubt, but his approach to TELLING these stories aims for an invisible restraint where the director's wish to grandstand and show himself off is secondary to the the storytelling and the actors playing the characters in that story.

    My senior year in college, I was making my third student film (an update on the narcissus myth), and my DP said that we needed to do more shots that would, in hs words, "show you off". Such a thing never ocurred to me, that I needed to stage shots to show off my guiding hand as the director. The final work should speak for itself.

    Some days I think that, for all the enormous good Citizen Kane has done for cinema, there are instances where it has poisoned the water somewhat. Some filmmakers are being raised to make films about the act of making a film, where every shot is a self-referential tribute to the person who is directing the film. Eastwood is the Anti-Christ of such dogma, and I love him all the more for it.
     
  10. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    Yes, they DO all vary in quality. That's my whole point. My opening post stems from discussions I've had in the past with fans who believe that it's the director who's almost solely responsible for the final result of a film. I say it's the editors too, the script writer, the actors, the soundtrack, and a whole other plethora of factors - which is why every film by any one director can never all be the same in quality.There is much more to account for their appeal than merely who the director is.
     
  11. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    No, I never even heard of this! But it's great to know that I'm in good company [​IMG]
     
  12. Colin Jacobson

    Colin Jacobson Producer

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    But my point is that even if something IS created solely by one person, not everything they do will all be the same in quality. It's impossible for someone to consistently make everything just as good as the rest. Even the most talented folks have off days - or years!

    And while the director doesn't create everything on a film - except maybe for Robert Rodriguez [​IMG] - he/she IS ultimately responsible for everything in it. If something's not up to snuff, the director should make sure it's fixed - the final product is his/her baby, and the buck stops there...
     
  13. Michael Elliott

    Michael Elliott Lead Actor

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    Or....an NBA team where the players couldn't beat a high school team. The coach (ala director) gets the blame. If the coach turns that team around into winners, the players don't get the credit, the coach does.

    I think the director is the key to any film because he calls the shots. He calls the shots on the score, the actors and the screenplay. A great director can get a good performance from a bad actor easily. I'm sure Scorsese could pick a few people out of this thread and win them an Oscar. I'm sure the likes of Kubrick, Hitchcock or Welles could have done the same thing.

    If you look at any great director, if they are doing directorial work up to their standards, then you can see them jump over various flaws the film might have. There could be a weak screenplay but a great director could get past that. You could have a weak actor but the director could get past that. The budget could be cut $10 million before production starts but the director could get past it.

    Some directors are bland (like Ron Howard) but they still turn out memorable works. Others, like the Kubrick's or the Scorsese's can pick what they want and when viewing these films, no matter the subject matter, you can see it's their film. Kubrick never made the same film twice but I think each of his movies deal with fear and desire. Someone like Scorsese has worked in a wide variety of genres but his style and characters are the same.

    Recently I read an interview with John Mellencamp where he asked Bob Dylan how he wrote so many great songs. Dylan replied that he wrote four great songs and then rewrote them one hundred times.

    That stuck out to me because every Dylan song usually deals with the same subject matters but they are told in different ways. I think the same can happen with directors.
     
  14. Mario Gauci

    Mario Gauci Cinematographer

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    Quote (originally posted by Joe Karlosi):

    "I don't always think they are, though there are exceptions (Hitchcock, Welles, Kubrick...)

    Many film fans tend to refer to a film as the directors' own baby with regard to virtually ANY movie. For example, they'll say: 'Franklin Schaffner's PLANET OF THE APES,' or 'Roy William Neill's SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON'. But just how much has to do with the director?"

    I guess I should plead guilty to adopting the habit of naming the director’s name before a film’s title once too often in my various posts on other online Forums but I stand by it: although the primary elements in the film’s structure are supplied by a screenwriter, the material itself is eventually moulded into an effective end result by the director. One can say that a brilliant script is able to survive mediocre handling and still sound brilliant on film - who today remembers Victor Heerman and yet he handled the directorial chores on The Marx Brothers’ second film, ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930), to mention one example I’ve viewed recently – but if a script is brilliant and the director has a vision, the end product is not merely an entertaining or even well-made movie but, truly, a work of art: HIS GIRL FRIDAY (Howard Hawks, 1940), TO BE OR NOT TO BE (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959), to name just 3 of my all-time favorites.

    It all depends on whether the director in question is considered an artist or an artisan; on what grounds one should base his considerations is all a matter of personal taste. Personally, I may care little for the work of film-makers as diverse as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Greenaway, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, Gaspar Noe, Yasujiro Ozu, Sergei Paradjanov, Eric Rohmer, Alexander Sokurov, Jacques Tati, Lars von Trier and Andy Warhol but I can’t really blame those who think not only highly of them but of them as being world-class artists. In case you’re wondering, I have seen at least one film by each of these individuals; as a matter of fact, in the case of Tati, I’ve watched all 6 feature-length films which constitute his entire oeuvre and I’ve yet to REALLY like a single one of them. However, just a couple of days ago, while I was viewing W.C. Fields’[​IMG] IT’S A GIFT (1934), I was reminded of Tati and his MON ONCLE (1958) in particular and…what’d you know, I actually started entertaining the notion of adding the Criterion DVDs of his first 3 movies to my collection! But, I’m digressing: at any rate, who’d question that Tati is the single most important component in the creation of his films? By the same token, how one feels about his films depends a lot not only on how much one finds M. Hulot’s antics (or is that non-antics?) amusing but also by the appreciation one has for Tati’s individualistic cinematic style and pessimistic world-view.

    I could go on and make up a list of great and not-so-great directors and divide them into artists and artisans as I see fit to illustrate my point but I thought I'd leave you all to ponder on what I've written so far. I would like to give one word of advice, though: try not to look too hard for artists among today’s film-makers…there aren’t that many and none that will ever match the work of the great masters of the past[​IMG].


    Quote (originally posted by Joe Karlosi):

    "It just seems that if a director was the sole person truly responsible for the entire appeal (or unappeal) of a given film, then his results would have to remain the same from film to film. In other words, I love 'DePalma's' DRESSED TO KILL and also CARLITO'S WAY .... but yet I have no use for 'his' PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE! If I 'loved Brian DePalma films,' wouldn't PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE have to appeal to me too?"

    By sheer coincidence, I recently watched PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974) for the third time and loved it more than ever: the music and the visuals are really quite dazzling. It may not hang very well together, true, but that’s De Palma for you! But certainly the split-screen techniques, a particularly clever and funny Hitchcock homage, and the fact that he’s updating two old chestnuts (both the Opera Ghost and Faust myths) – thus continuing the Hollywood movie brats’ trend of referencing the cinema’s past – make it enough of a “distinctive De Palma” film as any other and, actually in my book, better than most…[​IMG]
     
  15. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Goldman (who is after all, a very important screen writer) makes an outstanding case for films being a collaborative effort (and in that book, he makes the point that he would not ever be a director, as it is too hard and involves too much work).

    For the counter-argument, you might like to read Andrew Sarris, the long-time Village Voice critic (and now critic for the New York Observer and a Professor of film at Columbia. His most well known work is probably The American Cinema—and his latest (AFAIK) is The American Talking Movie. In his columns and books, Sarris promoted (and perhaps codified) the concept (from an American perspective) the director as the auteur (and long before the New Wave).

    Personally I think that the auteur theory works well for some directors and not so well for most others. Regardless, very few directors (at least with whose writings I am familiar) would claim that filmmaking was anything other than collaborative.

    Even so, most would expect that they make the final decision in almost every area.

    It is well to remember the quote most often attributed to William Goldman when discussing how anything in Hollywood works: “No one knows anything.” (I think that this is in Adventures in the Screen Trade)
     
  16. chris winters

    chris winters Second Unit

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    There are many factors that go into a successful directing career. The first rule for making your first film, if you want to make a second, is your first film needs to make money. The second would be it needs to be critically acclaimed. Successful directors are usually savvy business men, or have handlers who are. Pure auteurs like say, Terrence Malick, sustain careers because of overwhelming critical acclaim, and purely commercial directors pick project they know will turn a profit without regard to any sort of artistic credibility i.e. Steven Sommers. Most directors are somewhere in-between. A director has to wrangle a huge crew to realize his/her vision, yet he/she can not lose the forest for the trees. A good director simple picks good people, or picks people who pick good people. They are expert delegaters. They are also great at merketing themselves so their name becomes a brand. He/she also picks the best raw material, i.e. scripts, from what he/she has to available to him/her. Directing a movie is a huge undertaking of logistics and business management. You are basically running a company for 1-3 years managing millions of dollars and navigating all sorts of politics. Its hardly just about the talent of story-telling, and a director who manages to create more then a handful of commercial and/or artistically successful films has demonstrated a myriad of talents, as well as more then a bit of luck and perseverance.
     
  17. David Ren

    David Ren Stunt Coordinator

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    I subscribe to the 'auteur' theory because the director is the one responsible for every aspect of production.

    The director tells the Cinematographer how he wants to shoot the movie, how he wants it to look, comes up with a shot list, which lenses to use, and the Cinematographer does it. He tells the composer how he wants the music to sound, and the composer composes it. He tells the writer specifically how to rewrite the screenplay, and the writer keeps rewriting until the director is satisfied. He tells the editor how to cut it, and the editor cuts it.

    If a movie like Fight Club has an amazing visual style, the credit goes to David Fincher, not his cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth. Jeff Cronenweth is only there to serve the director's vision.

    Likewise, I credit American Pie's great screenplay to director Paul Wietz, not Adam Herz. Adam Herz's original screenplay for American Pie was terrible and Paul Wietz shaped it into something special. Adam Herz, by the way, has never written anything good since American pie.

    If a director knows nothing about the technical aspects of filmmaking (like Farrelly brothers, Kevin Smith, etc.) the film will suffer. I'm a fan of Kevin Smith and the Farrellys because they know how to write, but visually, their films are uninspired. They probably let their cinematographer select all the camera lenses and shots. Even if you have the best cinematographer in the world, let me explain why this hurts the film.

    Every shot and camera move should serve the story and need to be internally or externally generated by whatever on the screen that drives the story. A cinematographer is hired for his technical expertise but has no story telling skill (if he did, he'd be a writer or director, who get paid more and get more recognition). If a director lets his cinematographer come up with all the shots, camera moves, and lenses, the film might be technically perfect, but the story can often become incoherent as it is unclear what is driving the story.

    Likewise, every piece of music shound be there to serve the story, not just sound good. If a director doesn't control the cinematography, the music, the editing, and the writing, the film will be a mess (as many films are). Give Kevin Smith the best cinematographer in the world and he couldn't do a 1/10th of what Speilberg can do with him. Not saying that Kevin Smith's movies are bad but he just doesn't know what to do with the camera. On the other hand, even if Spielberg had the worst cinematographer in the world, he would've make JAWS the same way and it still would've been a hit. Spielberg can't write dialogue like Kevin Smith though. Every director has strengths and weaknesses

    If a movie is good, all credit should go to the director, in my opinion. Even if the costume design is amazing, credit goes to the director. The costume also needs to serve the story and fit in with every other aspect of production to make it work. Plus, the director hired the costume designer ;-)

    William Goldman is a screenwriter, not a director. While he knows a lot about writing screenplays and has decades of experience, he knows NOTHING about making movies. Obviously he wants to place less importance on the director because he, himself, has no talent as a director. But then again, nobody knows anything.

    David
     
  18. David Ren

    David Ren Stunt Coordinator

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    Oops, I forgot to address the title question: Are directors always distinctive?

    No, but that doesn't make them bad (or bland 'non-directors' as people have refered to it).

    I don't think a director needs to retain the same visual-style or resurrect the same themes over and over again in every film. Just because Ron Howard or Chris Columbus's films have no distinct style don't make them 'non-directors', whatever that means. They're just not egomaniacs who like putting their signature on everything every chance they get (like Brian DePalma). They know that they are just there to tell the story the best they can.

    David
     
  19. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Speaking of auteur theory, my prof for my Studio Era class suggested that studios themselves in their golden era could also be identifies as autuers, or at least their head producers (like Zanuck).

    They were really acting like super-directors, overseeing everything INCLUDING who would direct. By doing so they were trying to shape a look and style to a film, and in those days the super-producers were really hands-on with all the prestige work being done on the lot.

    There is some solid backing to this theory.

    The bottom line is that while films are collaborative, they still represent the vision of a person or small group that is in master control of the whole thing. It might have been individual soldiers but it was still Patton's command that regulated the style and results.

    One of the least "auteur" directors - Raoul Walsh.
     
  20. Haggai

    Haggai Producer

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    Hal Wallis was a good example of that sort of producer, wouldn't you say? Although nobody really knows how the hell Casablanca came out to be the masterpiece it was, what with so many cooks working on the broth, the overall achievement is probably due more to Wallis than anyone else. Somewhat similar with Gone With the Wind and Selznick, especially given the multiple directors who worked on it, although an important difference there is that it was Selznick's prized project for years. As opposed to Casablanca, which was seen at the time by everyone who worked on it as a pretty ordinary A-list project, not something anyone really thought of as a potential classic.
     

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