Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Great Directors: An introduction

with 3 comments

At the risk of stating the obvious, the life of a movie director is vastly different from that of a novelist. While a writer is free to invent a world at his or her own leisure, in relative privacy, a director soon finds that even the simplest story requires a collective effort only slightly less complicated than that of going to war, as well as the need to cajole and compromise with a thousand interested parties, and in public. It’s no surprise, then, that so many of our best directors—from Welles to Von Trier—have something of the con artist about them, or that the movies that create the greatest popular impact—from Gone With the Wind to Avatar—seem less like acts of the creative will than like massive feats of organization.

Still, for a novelist, there’s something to be said for looking to the example of great directors. Like filmmaking, the bulk of the writing process is less about creativity than persistence, and much of an artist’s time is spent on rote work, heavy lifting, or simply waiting around for something to happen. Both fiction and film draw on an untidy range of skills and disciplines. For the director, it’s screenwriting, performance, art direction, camerawork, music, and editing; for the writer, it’s plot, character, research, theme, style, and revision. The director, unlike the writer, has the luxury of outsourcing much of the work to others, but the hard task of making decisions remains. And a director, like all artists, is defined by the choices he or she makes.

This week, then, I’ll be looking at five—or actually six—directors, all now gone, whose lives have shaped my own life and work. Tomorrow, I begin with the very best: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Written by nevalalee

February 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

3 Responses

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  1. “The director…outsourcing much of the work to others…but the task of making decisions remains. And a director…is defined by the choices he or she makes”

    I was JUST thinking about this.

    And how the real genius is in the hard decisions and why most people would be overwhelmed by the choices.

    The creative genius is their ability to make the right decisions when faced with miriad possibilities.

    Not that easy…

    I would think it’s intuitive and ruthless.

    Glenfin y'all

    February 6, 2011 at 1:13 pm

  2. Anthony Minghella.

    I’m casting one vote now ahead of the voting.

    Early bird, drop it in the box and run.

    Glenfin y'all

    February 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

  3. I’ll definitely be writing about Minghella at some point, probably in connection with The Conversations, his book-length interview with Walter Murch. Maybe not this week, though. :)


    February 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm

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