Freud said “Don’t talk about the meaning; instead, what’s the creative drive?” Some filmmakers may be familiar with this state of being. You have the bare bones of the script; you know the tone, texture of the piece. In your head you’re building great mise-en-scene sequences, the camera glides seamlessly in time to the music, the actors move like carefully choreographed dancers in a new Matthew Bourne ballet. But. There is a but. A huge one. A but not reliant on budget, or on crew, actors, or script. Not reliant on anything in fact, except yourself, the director.
Before I go any further in explaining; I must warn you that this is not a polished intellectual article on film theory- I am not that type and I do not possess that kind of a brain. Instead this is about my journey as a director- my doubts, my struggles, and how to navigate the film industry as it is now.
Let me introduce you to my film. It will (once finished) be about the internal life of an elderly lady. I was inspired by looking at some of Ron Mueck’s sculptures. I love faces. It’s the nosey parker in me. My producers and I decided to raise the funds required to make the film on Kickstarter. However, presumably in order to prevent fraud, KS have recently introduced the rule that all applicants must have a driving license or a passport before they can apply. So fair dos you might think, but, amazing as it seems, I have neither of these identity verifications at present. I was too busy putting myself through film school to worry about having to renew a passport and for someone as cash strapped as me, it has fast become a luxury- and as for my long lost driving license, because in London, who drives? So, all things balancing out, I have to wait for next payday before I can renew my passport. In other words, it could be a long time before this project gets off the ground (watch this space____).
It was Terence Davies who said that once a country decides how a film should be made – and here he means industry-funded and shown to a global audience of millions – then you are f****d]. In theory, I just want to get up, grab a bloody camera and film the damn thing. And why shouldn’t I do that? I was having this conversation with friend, colleague, pioneer and fellow filmmaker Simon Horrocks [director of crowdfunding megasuccess Third Contact] not so long ago. He was trying to convince me to make the film straight away, so why couldn’t I?
You may think none of this important to filmmakers, but it is, it so very important because thinking about these things informs my film aesthetic, it informs how I want to shoot things, and it is also to a certain extent, controlled by the markets, by the state of funding, by whether my artistic instinct is too old and outdated or whether it is ahead of the times or controlled by what audiences want to see- and by this, I mean by what they are told they want to see. It’s controlled and influenced by what others expect of me- especially when they know I’ve been to film school, something I try and keep quiet about these days, as though it’s a dirty secret.
Yet when Simon pushed me and said, why can’t you just make it on nothing, there were more and different buts. Of course, a film can’t be made on nothing because if anything, stomachs have to be kept full. But he meant production really. And I thought- yes I can, because I always do but then I became aware of this huge conflict. The impulse to get up and do and find what is there with my actors in the scene, a bit like a documentary photographer; struggling and conflicting with the impulse to build carefully, to indulge oneself with the precision required by an architect, to design scenes before they are filmed, to glorify and submerge oneself in cinematic history, to borrow and steal from the constructs of others. To produce mood boards, detailed notes on design synthesis with reference to the films of who ever, as I have been taught since I was 17, to reproduce the bubble trick Scorsese borrowed from Godard borrowed from Reed etc. That kind of indulgence which means lights, wallpaper imported from Japan [yes, I have done it] and yards and yards of track, needs money.
And if I had the money, certainly, I’d want to go down that path. Part of my artistic self demands it and wishes to be fulfilled. But then I’m reminded of the little paraphrase which heads this blog. Lucian Freud’s rather stern advice to one of his artistic daughters: “Don’t talk about the meaning, I’m interested in the drive. The drive to make a piece of art is all that matters, not the meaning.” And what did George Eliot mean when she talked about content moulding style, have I misinterpreted her words for so long?
Now I am reminded of another quote, this time from my friend Simon, who said recently, ‘If you don’t support filmmakers who try something new, don’t expect originality at the cinema.’ He’s right. I don’t need to wait for the green light, for Kickstarter or for anyone. If I have the impulse, the drive, the belief, I can make something interesting and challenging right now. I can tailor something according to the resources I’ve got, not what I need. If I am going to be a filmmaker and continue making films in this climate and allow my artistic development to flourish, I can’t wait for anyone. I need to manipulate my own personal circumstances and make it work.