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Directing is the easy part

Think it's fun to be a director? These six will enlighten you.

January 23, 2011|John Horn

Some spent years fighting to bring their movies to the screen. Others had the great fortune of seeing the pieces fall into place almost overnight. A few of the directors work so closely with their actors they almost become their therapists. One simply turns on the camera and lets his performers fly.

The six filmmakers who recently came together at the Los Angeles Times to talk about their craft have dramatically different work and directing habits. And their films could hardly be more diverse: David Fincher's Facebook film "The Social Network," Ben Affleck's crime story "The Town," Tom Hooper's historical drama "The King's Speech," Darren Aronofsky's ballet tale "Black Swan," Lisa Cholodenko's family comedy "The Kids Are All Right" and Ethan Coen's western "True Grit" (directed with brother Joel).

But they all achieved something exceptional in 2010: They created movies that not only were critical and commercial hits but also became a part of the pop cultural conversation. For all their differences, these six directors share the same passion for storytelling and concerns about moviemaking -- those early moments when failure seems imminent, praying for the weather to cooperate, kicking holes in doors over financing headaches.

Here are excerpts from a conversation with six of the season's most celebrated directors:

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 25, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Directors roundtable: An interview with six filmmakers discussing their craft in the Jan. 23 Calendar section said that Mickey Rourke appeared in "The Fighter." The movie was "The Wrestler."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, January 30, 2011 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 3 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Directors roundtable: A Jan. 23 interview with six filmmakers discussing their craft said that Mickey Rourke appeared in "The Fighter." The movie was "The Wrestler."


You're all here because your films have been incredibly successful. But I wonder if you actually learn more in failure. Are the more telling learning experiences from something that doesn't work?

Ben Affleck: I feel like all filming for me, directing, is about failure. Every day I go home, "Oh, my God."

Ethan Coen: Yeah, that's terrible, isn't it?

Darren Aronofsky: It's the worst.

Coen: And you kick yourself all the way home -- that stuff you could and should have done.

Aronofsky: I think it's a myth that you [get] exactly what you have in mind. You're in three dimensions with weather, atmosphere, technology that has limitations, time that has limitations. And you don't want to control an actor to that extent because it'll just suck the life out of 'em. It's a constant form of improv, and you just sort of roll with it.

Tom Hooper: I think it's an extraordinary thing when you watch your first assembly [of the roughly edited movie], the film always has become something slightly different from what you thought...

Aronofsky: The worst day of my life, every time.

Affleck: Way worst.


In what way?

Aronofsky: When you watch an assemblage, you just know you're getting drunk that night. It's just a miserable experience. Because you realize you have so much work [to do on it].

Lisa Cholodenko: And you have no idea if it'll ever be there.

Aronofsky: And you really thought you did better work. You thought you did better stuff. And it has nothing to do with the editor. It just takes time and time to refine, because you're so far away from that final mix where you're really putting on that final sanding, the final shellac.

Coen: It's always funny because we cut our own movies, and I feel exactly the same way.


Since you're an actor, Ben, what do you learn about directing from directors who get good performances out of you?

Affleck: One of the real advantages of being an actor who's a director is that actors have seen how everybody else does it. Actors have been on all these sets. And made more movies, with the exception maybe of you guys. So you have a sense of all the different ways it can be done. And what that means is you've seen it done well, and you've seen it done really poorly. There is a kind of unique understanding of having to kind of stand there, and what sort of goes on in your head. And I think there's two ways to get actors' trust. One is to become a great director and have done all of these movies. And so actors show up and go, "OK, I'm working on the Coen brothers' picture." The other is they're gonna trust you, that no matter what happens I'm on their side.

David Fincher: People like to do things for people that are really handsome too. [Laughter] But do you ever find that you were in a situation that you thought this guy is a jackass and this is never going to amount to anything, and then you go and you see it and you go [this performance is really good]?

Affleck: I've worked in situations with an actor where I was like, "This guy is crazy." You know what I mean? And I'd say, "OK, the scene is over here." And he'd go, "I think it should happen in the living room." And I'd go, "Well, I feel like if she's waiting for you here and you're going to come to talk to her...." And then we'd work it out and he'd kind of like sulk. And then I'd say "action" and he'd walk into the kitchen, or the living room. I'm like, "But the cameras are over here. OK? You can't just...."

Fincher: And then the final product?

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