'Your Job Is Explaining Your Vision': Tarantino, John Carpenter, & Kurt Russell on the Director's Role
As a director, what is your job? It's a simple question, but deceptively so, almost like a zen koan (what is the sound of one clapboard clapping?) While most everyone else on a movie set has a clear and defined role, the director's job description is a nebulous thing, and if you ask fifty different filmmakers, you might get fifty different answers. Click below to see what John Carpenter had to say to Kurt Russell about directing and "vision," as well as advice from Terry Gilliam, via the always entertaining Quentin Tarantino.
John Carpenter and Kurt Russell have had a long and fruitful collaboration, from Big Trouble in Little China, to Escape From New York, and beyond. In this conversation from a video on YouTube channel filmschoolcomments, Carpenter discusses reading a book by the great screenwriter William Goldman, scribe of such classics as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and The Marathon Man, and paraphrases Goldman as saying that no director has any vision, that it's the screenwriter who picks up most of the slack. Russell counters that:
Some directors see something, shoot it because it looks good....a succession of good looking images...not making me feel anything...There were guys who were traffic cops. But there are directors who have vision, I can watch 20 seconds of a movie and tell you...it's a John Carpenter movie.
Carpenter talks about how from his earliest days the one thing that was drummed into his head was to be a storyteller, above all else; in other words, the pictures serve the story, and not the other way around.
In another great segment on the director's job, check out this Quentin Tarantino interview with Charlie Rose, where Quentin discusses advice he received from Terry Gilliam before Tarantino shot Reservoir Dogs. According to Tarantino, he asked Gilliam what the difference was between directors who seemed to have "vision" and those who lacked it. The answer he received:
As a director...your job is to hire talented people who can do that. You hire a cinematographer who can get the lighting you want...you hire a production designer...your job is explaining your vision.
According to Tarantino, as soon as he heard that, the heavens opened and he had a revelation about just what directing was, and it gave him a tremendous burst of confidence going into Reservoir Dogs and the rest of his legendary career.
What do you think? If you're a director, how do you view your job? Some directors are more involved than others (either by choice or necessity) in the aesthetic choices on their films, but what do you think a director's "vision" comes down to? If you work in any other capacity on films, how do you view your role? Let us know!