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07/16/2002 - EVERYONE WANTS TO DIRECT
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EVERYONE WANTS TO DIRECT

Dear Friends,

Orson Welles once said "The director is the most overrated artist in the world. He is the only artist who, with no talent whatsoever, can be a success for 50 years without his lack of talent ever being discovered."

For my first ten years in the business (over half of which was on the track of becoming a development executive), I thought of nothing other than writing, and never, ever wanted to direct. But as I gained experience and perspective, I started to see the difference between the good directors, the great directors, and, to put it diplomatically, the most overrated directors.

To make a long story short, as an executive and a studio reader, I saw far too many great scripts turned into mediocre movies. Not just because of the director, of course - as filmmaking is incredibly collaborative - but just that the real life of the script got lost along the way.

It wasn't until I saw the same thing happen to a script or two of my own that I snapped. Now, I won't presume to say that those scripts of mine were actually "great," but I will say that they actually were trying to accomplish something original - and that "something" wasn't captured by the director.

I used to blame directors personally for this - accusing them of all sorts of incompetence as I watched a great script unfold into a bad movie on screen. But experience and perspective has changed my mind on this point. I was naive and wrong. I'm not blaming directors personally. See, not only is filmmaking collaborative, it's also impossible. That's right - it's literally impossible to make a film. But you get a group of people together, and you can actually achieve the impossible. And if you're trying to make a great film, well that's a whole different level of luck, skill, probability, and serendipity. Even a great visionary director with a perfect understanding of the script, and the authority to be fully in charge of the process (e.g., as with many Stanley Kubrick films), you can't guarantee that the stars will align.

In most cases, directors have strengths and weaknesses, both internal and external. Maybe they're great with talent, but not so great with story. Or the opposite. Or they're not given the proper authority to truly direct a film, and some executives, production constraints, or actors are diluting the power of the film. Don't get me wrong - often, those same people can contribute mightily to the process. Trouble is, the director is put in the very difficult position of having to arbitrate between numerous viewpoints, hundreds of times per day. That's where the "impossible" part comes in - unless the director, or someone, has a clear and compelling vision, it's easy to make the wrong choice on a few of those decisions. And sometimes, those little decisions end up escalating into things that hamper the final product.

And yet, for some stupid reason, this is a process to which I will soon be subjecting myself. Not in any major way yet, but I guess you could say that I'm dipping my toes in the pool. If all goes well, I'll have some stories about it by the end of the year.

Nevertheless, I will always remain a writer first. And I will always hold contempt for mediocre work, or even fabulous work done by mediocre human beings.

I will also reserve the right to continue harping on directors forever. Of course, writer-directors are a whole different story.

Directorially,

Grady
P.S. By the way, if you want to be a director, don't just talk about it. These days, you have no excuses for not giving it a go. Go write stuff, and film it. Even if it's on your home video camera. (Thanks to Jan for reminding me that many directors annoy me, and sparking me to get to the deeper truth about why.)

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