There are varying moral compasses around the world aimed at a myriad of different coordinates, but the tenet that seems to point due north is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This applies even to filmmaking, which tends to create pressure cookers of human interaction where emotions run high and pleasantries reduce to barked orders. At times, filmmakers may feel a bit lost, whether it's with having to deal with a room full of egos or finding your own "esque." Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Trainspotting) offers great perspective with his "golden rules of moviemaking," which could put even the most lost filmmaker back on course.
Boyle shares 15 rules in his article for MovieMaker Magazine, but a couple of them really stuck out to me. Along the same lines as this theme of the Golden Rule, he talks about what kind of person a director should be. According to Boyle, a director should be a people person.
Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.
It seems like a no-brainer -- a director deals with people all day. Yes, of course. And dealing with an entire cast and crew, with all of their flawed humanity, is trying, but Boyle talks about treating every cast and crew member with respect. Part of that means not having an ego, because "the means of production are just as important as what you produce." And whatever you produce on set will be up there on the screen -- not just the images, but the moods, emotions -- the spirit. Boyle says, "The texture of a film is affected very much by the honor with which you make it."
I found the remark about bringing everyone to a boil at the right moment to be quite poetic and powerful. Many times, a director can get lost in a sea of responsibilities, deadlines, and technical issues, but the primary role of a director is to help the actors coalesce in a way that makes you believe that total strangers are really lifelong friends -- or whatever the scenario may be.
Another rule that touched me was one that I've actually heard a million times, but for some reason, hearing it from Boyle made all the difference:
A lesson I learned from A Life Less Ordinary was about changing a tone—I’m not sure you can do that. We changed the tone to a kind of Capra-esque tone, and whenever you do anything more “esque,” you’re in trouble. That would be one of my rules: No “esques.” Don’t try to Coen-esque anything or Capra-esque anything or Tarkovsky-esque anything, because you’ll just get yourself in a lot of trouble. You have to find your own “esque” and then stick to it.
It's expected that you borrow form and style from other filmmakers and artists when you first start out, but it's so easy to lose yourself -- or never even find yourself -- later on. We are raised on such great auteurs who ignited the passion for filmmaking in us, so it's natural to want to be just like them, or at least bear a slight resemblance to who they are. But, Boyle says no. Don't try to be like someone else. You want your film to be Tarantino-esque? Well, there are already Tarantino-esque films out there -- Tarantino's. Boyle wants you to find your own style, your own mark, your own "esque" that you may bring to the world something that no one else could ever bring.
Check out the rest of Danny Boyle's 15 Golden Rules of Moviemaking, which cover your directorial instincts, keeping a "look book," and "pushing the pram."
What do you make of Danny Boyle's Golden Rules? Are there any you can add?
Link: Danny Boyle's 15 Golden Rules of Moviemaking -- MovieMaker Magazine