June 25, 2017

Stanley Kubrick Explains How Chess Can Make You a Better Director

stanley kubrick chess directing quote no film school filmmaker iq
"With respect to films, chess is more useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas."

Before he was a filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick was a chess hustler, spending days down in Washington Square Park earning money against the regulars who haunted it. And he never gave up his passion for the game, playing on the sets of his films and even using his prowess as a psychological tactic against actors (such as George C. Scott, with whom he clashed over certain elements of Dr. Strangelove).

Chess was one of Kubrick's lifelong passions, and in this unearthed quote he equates the game with the craft of directing. In 1968, Kubrick told Playboy Magazine:

“Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you’re in trouble. When you’re making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds’ thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.”

Kubrick was certainly a methodical filmmaker, and his point about finding calm in the eye of a hurricane that is a film production, about not going for the first, easiest choice, but deliberating and calculating the possible ramifications of each move, is certainly a valid one. If chess was good enough for him, it's probably not a bad idea for any filmmaker.       

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