It was 1977. I was six years old. My mom was an occasional movie reviewer for a niche publication, so she got free passes to movies. I’d been with her to a few, but I couldn’t really recall seeing any of them until that one.
Back then you got a ticket, found a seat in the theater, and could stay there as long as you liked. I remember pleading to see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star again. I got to see “A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away” twice on that day. I was hooked on movies. There were two more films in 1977 that I can recall seeing at the theater. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Rescuers. After each one, I remember asking “who made that movie”? So at six years old, I knew that George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney made movies. (It’s ok mom, at that time no one would have easily known that John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Art Stevens were credited as co-directors of the Disney classic. You didn’t have IMDB!)
The director is the auteur of a film, superseding even the writer. Sure, the actors are the stars and make the most money, but the director is the single person that you can point to as being the one that “made” the movie. He controls everything: the perspective, the mood, the characters’ point of view and demeanor, the pacing, the sequence of events, every detail is within his jurisdiction. In most cases he can even rewrite, add or delete scenes of films where he didn’t write the screenplay (often ending up with a co-writing credit under the rules of the SGA).
Today, directors are recognizable from their imprint on the films they make. It can be as simple as Michael Bay’s gratuitous explosions, George Lucas’s campy dialogue or Paul Verhoeven’s gratuitous sex scenes. It can be as technical as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s long, seemingly cutless tracking shots, or Tim Burton’s signature surreal fantasyscapes. And that’s just the mainstream. (I consider old masters like Hitchcock and Kurosawa as reasonably “mainstream”.)
I used to buy DVD as much for the features as for the movies themselves. Expansive material as was seen on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy DVDs kept me awake nights, marveling at the ludicrous amount of work that they lovingly put into those movies. I listen to director commentaries, enjoying their explanations of why they chose to shoot from certain angles, or why certain scenes were cut out, or why they went with the particular take of a particular scene, or why the musical score is the way it is, or how they shot a scene in the middle of a storm or blizzard.
It’s all amazing to me. The director is a conductor of a massive orchestra, that keeps playing rain or shine over months or even years. I can see myself doing that.
Here’s an interview with Cameron Crowe, director and writer of Almost Famous, one of my favorite movies. It’s about an amazing scene, where the main characters are on a bus and spontaneously start singing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. He talks about how they approached shooting the scene, how important it was to both the story and the directory, and how Elton reacted to it after seeing the movie.
I’ve wanted to be a film director since I was six. Almost forty years later I still do.
This post is a response to the Daily Prompt of March 30, 2015.
If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!).