Filmmakers and Cinephiles

How important is it for a filmmaker to be versed in cinema history and filmography? There clearly exists a social pressure to be all-knowing when it comes to movie trivia, particularly with the more obscure titles, roles, and years of production. Can a filmmaker truly claim the title credibly without having logged several hundreds of hours of film-watching per year? Would not such an individual be uninformed and lacking a crucial frame of reference needed to craft his or her own films? It’s a little bit like asking whether an author can be successful at his craft without being a voracious reader in their own right.

Clearly, a person who has become a filmmaker was attracted to the profession because of their own personal affair with the medium, and their paradigm is very likely informed by the countless films they have watched and enjoyed over their formative years. But is film-fanaticism necessary?

For filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, film history is clearly a huge part of their source material. They are hommage-ists, particularly Tarantino. Whatever anachronisms and curiosities he brings to his screenplays, the major thread in all his films can be felt very plainly; Quentin loves films, he loves them a lot.

On the other hand there are many other filmmakers and artists who are sufficiently acquainted with their forbearers to have gained a context for their own work, but who do not indulge so much in film spectatorship. They are busy thinking about film, crafting it, trying to isolate their voice, their technique, their vision. These filmmakers will often not be up-to-date on the latest films, or possess encyclopedic knowledge of film history, but somehow they manage to ply their craft all the same.

Knowledge and respect of the past is important, and even essential to form a solid basis for any argument, but there is also the very real danger of becoming saturated with the work of others and to impede one’s own natural creativity. There is a danger of “hopping on the bandwagon” and engaging topics in your film with a style and approach that fits just perfectly what others before you have done, and that has been in a way robbed of your true essence by its desire to appear “legitimate”.

It’s quite possible that like in many other facets of life, the ideal state lies somewhere in the middle; a filmmaker might find it most productive to be educated in film and to stick his/her head out every once in a while to see what their peers are doing, but to also confidently ignore the noise and to go with their gut instinct over what Orson Welles would have done.

Balance is really the key.

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7 thoughts on “Filmmakers and Cinephiles

  1. Barbie says:

    I agree with the balancing of the spheres. I have BA in media and culture studies. Do you think it would be necessary to get MA in filmmaking. Does film industry actually requires a degree? S.O.S

    • wolfsenior says:

      It all depends on where you live and what the scene is like in your city. MA’s are never a waste of time but they are more useful if you want to teach film down the line, or are very keen on experimenting with film technology.

      A MA won’t generally get you more jobs in the industry, especially if you’re part of a professional artist’s union which just deals out gigs based on availability and seniority.

      In my experience if you want to make films then, you know, make films in whatever way you can, as often as you have the opportunity. Experience is everything.

      Best of luck and thanks for your comments.

      J

      • Barbie says:

        Thanks for the reply! I live in London, it’s not Hollywood, but film industry is big. I will try to put in use your advices!!
        Barbara

  2. As simple question as this may be, I think it taps in very closely to what is your philosophy of filmmaking to begin with. As a film studies rather than production student who has poured far TOO much time in meaningless information, I have read countless filmmakers take on this very issue. Surprise, surprise, they all have different responses. While some absorb cinema as if their life depended on it (you mention some of the best examples in contemporary cinema, of course the French New Wave filmmakers shared the same passion for homage and intertextuality), you have others who don’t actually watch movies (Bela Tarr) and then you have the casual film watcher.

    My own take? I think the beauty of cinema is that it tends to be at it’s most interesting when people are doing and saying something different, and this does not always come from watching a lot of movies. I think if someone were to ask me what I truly thought, I’d say quality and diversity over quantity. I think as a filmmaker watching a lot of different kinds of films is far more valuable than sheer bulk. And generally, personal experience trumps this… we live in a wonderful age where you can make Cinema on a cell-phone, it’s about going out there and experimenting, making new things and working with others. As I increasingly see around me people who ignore the fact that cinema is very much a collaborative medium, the idea that you have one person who not only has full control but has all the knowledge seems insincere and suggests a hierarchy that frames collaboration in a “use or be used” context. I think there are many great reasons to watch movies, but if it’s just to watch a lot of films… as a filmmaker, well maybe you have more valuable things to do.

  3. Jacob says:

    Nice post! As someone who studies cinema quite a bit I get frustrated when people automatically think I will be a good filmmaker because of my research. The true essence of creating a great film is individuality. You need to be telling a story they can’t find in another film. The best way to do that is to find things in your personal life to inspire the core of the story you are telling. It is a good idea to study the filmmaking process and understand how filmmakers were able to express their grand ideas on the silver screen. And too often we don’t really go back far enough to study filmmaking. Understanding the evolution of filmmaking allows for one to understand the possibilities for the future of the medium. I especially like looking into the people who really started the medium. One of the reasons they are the most interesting was because they were creating the language on the fly. People like Charlie Chaplin D. W. Griffith, and Georges Méliès didn’t have a bunch of people before them telling them what direction to take. They forged their own path and that is truly inspiring.

    • wolfsenior says:

      Thanks for sharing your insight. Yes, the Lumieres, Chaplin, Melies, Edison, Grifith, Murnau, and the other pioneers had the great privilege of being the first ones to push the medium and to explore new frontiers while cinema was mostly a technological wonder.

      Today’s filmmakers face a much greater challenge when pursuing originality with films coming out constantly and from every direction, in all shapes and sizes.

      The new frontier is really the personal experience, in my view. It’s really the only frontier left until we move fully into a three dimensional virtual space.

      Thanks!

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