HEY LOOK! GEORGE W BUSH WROTE A BOOK!
I like making fun of George W. Bush, what with the way he says “noocyalur” instead of “nuclear” and proclaims simplistic stuff like “You’re either with us or against us.”
I suspect he’s smarter than he lets on. Especially now –– now that I know he’s written a book. And not just one book, but four.
Yeah, sure. We all know he didn’t do the writing. But that’s not the point. The point is, imagine my little headline said something different. Imagine it said,
HEY LOOK! GEORGE W BUSH MADE A MOVIE!
Different reaction, huh?
Bush can write a book. Any bonehead can write a book. Ronald Reagan, OJ Simpson, Tom Arnold, they all wrote books. But very few people can legitimately make a movie –– not even these guys, who by the way all had pretty extensive experience with the filmmaking process. If you want to make a movie, you have to be a filmmaker.
As someone who’s dedicated years to mastering both writing and filmmaking, I can tell you firsthand that it’s actually harder to write a book than it is to make a movie. And the reason is that when you write a book (that is, when you do the actual writing), you’re flying solo. Nothing gets written if you don’t write it. And it’s only as good as you make it.
What happens on a film set, though, is exactly the opposite. You’re surrounded by dozens of talented people, all of whom work their asses off to make you look good. Actors will take the most stilted dialogue and make it sound almost natural; editors will take the most improbable sequence and make it feel almost believable; art directors will scour flea markets on the weekends in order to turn up neat tchotchkes for your set.
It’s a fortunate situation, because almost without exception, new filmmakers are not prepared to set foot on a set when they graduate from film school. Sure, they may know film theory, but a thesis film is about as close to a real production as a lap dance is to a loving relationship.
The real education comes when you get a real job. It’s on-the-job training, usually with clients or studios forking over hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition on your behalf. All you have to do is hire good people. And with all the amazingly talented people out there, that’s about as hard as finding slow-moving traffic in LA.
What’s sad is how many directors don’t even learn that in film school. There are a lot of examples, but I’m thinking of M. Night Shyamalan. I don’t know the guy, but I’d be willing to bet that after The Sixth Sense, he came to believe he was singularly responsible for everything that made that film so good. He forgot how many people worked so hard to make it good for him.
And then he came out with what? Three stinkers in a row (probably more, but I stopped bothering).
M (or is it Night?) didn’t lose it. He’d never developed it. He got lucky, then started believing his press.
What makes it worse is that the same system that works so hard to make directors look good does so little to help directors actually get good. Back when I first was invited to join the DGA, I was excited because I thought it was a guild. With guild stuff. Like resources I could avail myself of that would help me learn how to be a better director.
You should have seen the reaction when I asked. You’d think I was wondering whether they could help me learn how to perform a kidney transplant.
Like every other director, I was left to my own devices. I made a ton of mistakes, but figured out really quickly how important it is to hire good people and to learn everything I could about acting, lighting, finance, editing, art direction, and all the other things that are so integral to a successful production from them.
Not that I necessarily want to do those things. But I want to be able to have an intelligent conversation with the people that do. After 20 years, I really, really know what I’m doing.
I ought to write a book.