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Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Articles - Screenwriting

Patricia Clarkson
Patricia Clarkson stars in The Dying Gaul.

You cannot be too specific.

If a character is in a hurry, what kind of hurry is she in? God, of course, is in the details, but the devil’s there too. I think a lot of directors get very impatient with actors and you see movies where you know the choices were generic.

In The Dying Gaul, the pictures Elaine had on her desk of her family and her kids… You see movies where it looks like someone just banged out the family pictures in Photoshop. You have to ask yourself, ‘Who are those people? How do they get in front of a camera? Why do they stand the way they stand?’ Making those choices is the really fun part.

Norman used to say, “Directing movies is sitting on the toilet, thinking you’re alone, and having someone shove two fabric swatches underneath the door and say, ‘Pick one!’”

You don’t have to bully anyone.

People work differently and part of your job is to allow people to work the way they need to work and to give them what they need. Some actors want you to get right in there with them and help them find the answers to their questions and others just want you to leave them alone and tell them where to stand and when to move.

It is not threatening for others to contribute ideas and they should feel welcome to do so.

I learned that I will steal a good idea from anyone. And I learned that if you invite the crew—the grips, the gaffers, the assistant costume people—into the journey at the beginning, they will come along and they’ll work harder. I asked everyone on The Dying Gaul to please bring their thoughts or suggestions to me.

I also held open rehearsals. I felt people should be able to be in the room and to hear and see what went on there. And I had old union members, who were only working to get a couple more points toward their health insurance, come up to me at the end of the shoot and say, “This is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done because it was fun to watch the way you all worked.”

I learned how much I don’t know.

I still don’t know about lenses, for instance, but I learned a lot about light from Bobby Bukowski, my DP. Often in Bobby’s shots the light will go across the chest instead of the face because that’s where the heart is. Or the light will go across the groin or the forehead. He lights the part of the body the person is living in at that moment.

I also learned a lot about editing on this movie. Campbell believes strongly that the most economical gesture is the best—that the less you do to accomplish what you need to accomplish, the better—and that idea has informed my aesthetic. I could go on for hours about what I learned on The Dying Gaul, but one of the main things I learned is how much more there is for me to know.

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