Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Storyteller’s Rulebook #31: A Director Has to Be A Little Bored

An overly bored director is a terrible thing. They’re easy to spot: any movie with a 360 degree pan in it has an overly-bored director. Martin Scorsese has unfortunately become one of the worst offenders. Judging from the camerawork, he seemed to lose interest halfway through Shutter Island, shortly after I did. The answer should have been to cut 30 pages out, not spin the camera around like a yo-yo.

So bored director = bad movie, right? Well, at the risk of offending my screenwriting brethren, I’m going to say that it’s not that simple. A totally-un-bored director is just as bad. Obviously, a director should love a screenplay if she’s going to direct it, but she shouldn’t love it too much.

You would think that a Charlie Kaufman screenplay would be enough to keep anyone in rapt attention, but Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, who have made two Kaufman movies each, still allow themselves to get a little bored. They capture the writer’s genius, but they also find ways to amuse themselves in movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation. Scenes are shot in kooky, inventive ways, over and above the inherent strangeness of the scripts. When George Clooney directed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, on the other hand, he was too reverent. And what happens when Kaufman tries to direct his own script? You end up with Synecdoche, New York, a movie that was filled with long, lingering shots of a writer/director’s excrement, both literally and figuratively.

I directed a lot of my own writing before I finally decided that I wasn’t meant to be a director. One day I took a look at my stuff and I realized that I loved my words too much to direct them well. I thought my words were so interesting that I could just plop the actors down, pick a few interesting camera angles, and let them recite several pages of dialogue. A good director, whether directing their own stuff or someone else’s, needs to think to themselves “Jeez, how can I make this more interesting?” They need to get a little bored.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to disagre slightly with you in that I love all of Charlie Kaufman's films. Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine were both great fun to watch but I thought Synecdoche was also brilliant. I can understand your comment on the literal and figurative excrement(haha), but I think it's a very personal film that everyone can identify with. The shots may have been very serious and didn't have any of Gondry's kookiness but there was still that Kaufman humour lying underneath all the serious converstaions. Otherwise I love your blog! As a budding screenwriter/film-maker/animator I find your writings very helpful and I always try to check out your movie suggestions. "Harold and Maude is also in my top 5 films!!!

Matt Bird said...

Glad you like the blog, Ciaran. I does feel a bit unfair of me to rag on Synechdoche, NY, because I did admire the ambition of the movie, even if it didn't work at all for me.