Kubrick Speaks: His Evolution into a Filmmaker and the Importance of Problem-solving
Following in the footsteps of our recent post on advice for recent grads pursuing creative careers, I found this rare audio interview with Stanley Kubrick complementary. Kubrick, as you may or may not know, did not go to college, and was largely self-taught when it came to filmmaking. Over the course of several conversations with writer Jeremy Bernstein of the New Yorker, Kubrick outlines his own beginnings, and how certain experiences, such as teaching himself photography and honing general problem-solving skills, proved crucial to his development as a filmmaker:
You can listen to the full audio below. It’s a bit of a franken-interview since it’s raw audio from several conversations, but fascinating all the same (if you’re interested in some of the background behind this audio, check out OpenCulture’s post about it here):
Amongst other things, the interview illustrates how even a genius like Kubrick went through a haphazard and zigzaggy early career path: at various points making a living from photography, or playing chess for quarters, all while undertaking his first film projects. What emerges, as he describes his evolution into a filmmaker, is how organic the growth was, and how each project was the right project for his circumstances: taking on a short documentary as an outgrowth of his work doing photo-essays, which lead to more ambitious documentaries, which then lead to taking on a low budget feature narrative, etc. etc. Both through setbacks and successes, by figuring out one thing at a time, and setting up one challenge after another, trusting that he could figure it out, Kubrick was slowly building a career. Which brings us to his discussion of problem-solving:
“I think that if you get involved in any kind of problem-solving in depth, on almost anything, it’s surprisingly similar to problem-solving on anything. I started out by getting a camera and learning how to take pictures, and learning how to print pictures, and learning how to build a dark room, and learning how to do all the technical things, and so on and so on. And then finally trying to find out how you could sell pictures and – would it be possible to be a professional photographer. And it was a case of over a period of say, from the age of 13 to 17, you might say going through, step by step by myself, without anybody really helping me, the problem-solving of becoming a photographer. And i found that, i think looking back, that this particular thing about problem solving is something that schools generally don’t teach, and that if you can develop a generalized approach to problem solving that it’s surprising how it helps you in anything [...] I think that photography, though it seemed like a hobby, and ultimately lead to a professional job, might have been more valuable than doing the proper things in school.”
This is crucial advice, especially for DIY filmmakers such as ourselves. Taking on a challenge that really pushes you to dig deep, researching, analyzing, comparing and contrasting on your own, with little guidance, can be invaluable for your problem-solving growth. The more real-world the challenge, the better. Schools can simulate many of these kinds of problems, but rarely do you get the richnesss of complexity and ambiguity that you get when taking on something in the real-world. What you find, hopefully, is that once you master that big problem, you feel more confident to take on bigger problems, and you start trusting your ability to handle them. The problem-solving strategies that you develop on those first big challenges are, more often than not, incredibly scalable. So if all you’ve known so far is how to deal with school challenges, don’t be afraid to take on that big first real-world challenge, even if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to, you’ll learn an incredible amount!
What’d you think of the interview? Did anything else strike you?