November 17, 2013

Takeaways from This Year's THR Directors Roundtable Discussion

Directors RoundtableIf there was ever a wall on which to be a fly -- every year The Hollywood Reporter brings together some of the biggest directors for their Directors Roundtable. This year, Steve McQueen, Paul Greengrass, David O. Russell, Ben Stiller, Alfonso Cuarón, and Lee Daniels sit down for a discussion with Matt Belloni and Stephen Galloway, discussing everything from their latest films to how they deal with challenging situations they face on-set. There are many useful nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout the nearly hour-long video, so continue on to take a look.

Seeing as this group of directors have made some of the most talked-about films of the year (12 Years a SlaveCaptain Phillips, American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter MittyGravity, and Lee Daniels' The Butlerspending an hour listening to them discuss their craft is truly a treat. Belloni and Galloway ask a range of questions -- some that are challenging and bring about a healthy debate, particularly how they deal with conflict on-set.

There are so many takeaways from this roundtable discussion, but I'll just pick a few to highlight:

Filmmaking is like jazz

As filmmakers, we have to expect, like in other areas in our lives, that we're going to go through different seasons in which we grow and change. Our cinematic and narrative sensibilities will inevitably evolve, however it's important to determine just what those sensibilities are.

Russell explains how his last three films all have a similar feel to them -- a similar story with similar characters that are the products of a "music" that he listens to -- his sensibilities. McQueen elaborates by saying that though there is a structure to filmmaking as well as your own personal style, like jazz you're able to exercise your individuality by experimenting and improvising.

Don't overthink it

Russell touches on something so incredibly important to keep in mind as a filmmaker. He explains how his film I Heart Huckabees didn't turn out the way he wanted it to, because he overthought it rather than relying on his instincts. If you're wondering where in the world your cinematic instincts are, they might be hiding somewhere near your creative voice, according to Russell.

Arrogance can be good -- to a point

When Cuarón was in film school, he admits he and his buddies were arrogant while on-set -- something that he has since grown out of. However, Stiller makes an interesting observation about arrogance, something that is almost unanimously seen as a negative (and irritating) trait.

Most of us began our film careers in our 20s, which is usually a time before we've become cynical and our futures are as bright as the stars in our eyes. We think we can do anything -- and do it better than anyone else. We're arrogant. But Stiller says that that arrogance gives you the courage to go out and "do your thing." We just have to make sure we eventually find a better place from which to pull our courage!

What do you think? What did you learn from the directors' discussion? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[via THRFilmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

28 Comments

I found this to be a frustratingly weak roundtable considering the gargantuan talent on show (bar maybe one or two), particularly compared to previous years. Everyone seemed uncomfortable, the questions were stilted and the answers very stagnant and underdeveloped.

These kinds of things are always going to be a little overwrought (six strong-minded individual artists forced to 'banter' with each other in front of cameras), but this was so much of a wasted opportunity that I felt pretty uncomfortable throughout.

Poor interviewing techniques? Lack of enthusiasm from the subjects? An unwillingness to embrace this type of setup? It all adds up to a flat, cramped hour where not a lot of substance, wisdom or insight was actually discussed or dispatched from some of the strongest directors working today.

November 17, 2013 at 9:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Patrick

It's just disappointing because none of these filmmakers are really taking risk in the same way people used to. I mean you can say Mcqueen and Alfonse made daring films but really? these are lame risks....Gravity could have been made 40-50 years ago minus the VFX....Kubriks 2001 honestly did it in a much more exciting important way. I understand the content and emotion in Mcqueens film is strong and somewhat politically daring but in this time in 2013 I think you need to push way farther not just in content but in filmmaking and in honesty. The notion of making an entertaining commercial film that speaks to yesterdays way of cinematic storytelling about honest concepts does not work.

Its sad that the filmmakers who are taking great risks can't find audience in a more mainstream setting and that we don't see them sitting at this table.

November 17, 2013 at 12:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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albert smithee

It seems like you're arguing that people should take risks past the point that it is necessary to tell the story that they want. Injecting your script with controversial subject matter for its own sake is not much different than using a camera move or visual effect or piece of music when it is not called for.

Also, why are you comparing Gravity to 2001? I would have guessed that someone so in touch with the substance of moviemaking would see past the fact that they are both set in space and notice the gigantic differences in scope and intention of both films.

And the last few sentences of your post are pretty close to being incoherent, but If it's all about 'honesty' as you say, what's stopping you from being your own idealized hero filmmaker. Seriously. If it's so sad that people aren't pushing it to your satisfaction, then go grab your camera, go outside and be as honest as you like. There's no shortage of fucked up shit happening in the world, and it costs you nothing to go out and film it.

November 17, 2013 at 2:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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jime

You're a nice man for even bothering to reply.

November 17, 2013 at 3:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

Haha

November 17, 2013 at 3:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Stewe

Yes!

November 21, 2013 at 1:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Lloyd

I dont think I am suggesting taking risks past what is necessary I am talking about taking steps forward in filmmaking. Which many of these films did not.

And the notion that "filming fucked up shit in the world" has anything to do with honest filmmaking is shallow and ignorant.

I make the 2001 comparison because mainstream press did and its upsetting. Gravity is a piece of entertainment that has a little art in it. 2001 was a piece of art that happened to entertain. I think many of these film represent a lack of art and substance in contemporary cinema

but then again this is the hollywood reporters round table so w/e. It was a great year for independent cinema.

November 18, 2013 at 2:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Albert Smitthee

What specifically do you want to see then? You want honesty, some people think Mumblecore is honest. I think it's junk but there ya go. How do you think movies should be revolutionized exactly? Even guys like Godard were using genre tropes, at least when they made their best movies.

November 18, 2013 at 3:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Muh

I'm not saying movies need to be revolutionized....I'm saying there are pieces of work being made every year that are revolutionary and they certainly aren't represented at this table. I have realized a great deal of these filmmakers are independents or foreign though and are just never going to be at hollywood reporter round table.

It had not occurred to me that this is representation of hollywood filmmaking....and it is for sure a representation of the best hollywood filmmaking....its just happens to be that most of it isn't very progressive work.

in regards to your other comments, to classify any genre or type of filmmaking as "junk" in one sentence is pure ignorance. I'm not a big "mumble-core" fan( w/e that even means anymore that classification seems to have passed) but I would never say all mumble-core films are all junk.

and 2ndly Godard...yes, that is an honest filmmaker who changed the way a film could be made and really brought something to the table. As far as genre trope ...well if you think Godard was putting to use genre tropes as a way of simply making entertaining cinema and to appease an audience you should study his work much more closely. Godard's film are very rarely what they appear to be on the surface. If there is anything to critique of Godard it is that over intellectualization....not the other way around.

November 19, 2013 at 12:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Albert smitthee

Albert, can you give us a few examples of these "honest" films that get shunned by the mainstream year after year ?

November 20, 2013 at 6:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Grant

see below.

November 22, 2013 at 11:24AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Albert smitthee

No women. Sad, and discriminatory.

November 17, 2013 at 2:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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IATSE 600

It is sad, but not because there are none at this table. Its sad in general!

November 17, 2013 at 3:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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marklondon

Yeah, first time ever two men of African decent are at the THR roundtable--one openly gay. That sure is discriminatory, isn't it?

November 18, 2013 at 4:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Bolex16

No one cares if anyone is gay or straight anymore. There is open discrimination against female directors at every level of the industry, however. They can't get hired because of limited experience, and they have limited experience because they can't get hired. It's a disgrace. Are men more creative? More able to empathize? No.

November 19, 2013 at 12:59AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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IATSE 600

Always love the roundtable discussion" find it very useful.

November 17, 2013 at 3:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Marcos aurelius

I love how the two black guys have no experience with studio funding. "What Notes?" A little tame compared to McQueen's last appearance. Great Photo Op

November 17, 2013 at 10:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Moe

These guys all made movies they wanted to. it's not just about concept and subject matter. They created worlds and characters from nothing...and did a great job telling the stories. Give them their credit.

November 18, 2013 at 1:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brad Watts

no women directors…this looks like a very closed table…with average films

November 18, 2013 at 7:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DIO

Average films?? Really? Gravity? 12 Years A Slave? In todays day and age where EVERYTHING has been done how can you not say these films are unique and are above average? You can name some of the greatest movies from years ago when there wasn't such an over saturation and the industry was closed to actual educated filmmakers but it just doesn't mean anything. Go out and make an above average movie if you can do it...people have been doing independently for years.

November 19, 2013 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Brad Watts

they may not be "average" in the sense of over the shoulder coverage rom coms but they also are not nearly as daring as many independent and foreign films that have come out...Or as daring as many top hollywood films over the year from other time periods.

November 19, 2013 at 9:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Albert smitthee

Please tell me of these important films you speak of.

November 20, 2013 at 12:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John C

I don't know so much about the dates and if these are all 2012, 2013, 2014 because of festival release vs theatrical ...and I'm sure I'm missing films and am not saying these are all game changing films.... but these are all films I saw that I would say are much stronger then those picks....although I still have yet to see Mcqueen's film.

"Blue is the warmest color"
"No"
"Beyond the Hills"
"before midnight"
"springbreakers"
"life father like son"
"the great beauty"
"Nebraska"
"all is lost"

to think lee daniels is before any of these directors is kinda laugh out loud funny because these people all make more serious pieces of work that are all actually art in some way.

November 20, 2013 at 9:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Albert smitthee

I saw THE BUTLER, it was pretty good. Not earth shattering, not so much a fan of lee daniels but that steve mcqueen guy, that's a serious filmmaker in my opinion. I have only seen about half the films on your list, but BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is intriguing to me. Having said that, I'm hesitate to declare myself the arbiter of what is and isn't art, or daring for that matter.

November 22, 2013 at 11:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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John C

I agree in not trying to declare what or what isn't art.... and that is a murky gray hard to decipher scale anyways....but what can easily be seen is that somethings reflect honest less commercial filmmaking that is taking chances and trying to get at something larger while other films are following methods that in same way can find a root in making money ...whether it be the casting or script choices or editing style etc etc

November 23, 2013 at 10:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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albert smithee

Well shit, that goes for just about anyone in the film industry. Eventually it comes down to who seems like the safer choice, and I suppose that for those up top, hiring a woman is an iffy thing to do. I'm not some sexist, but honestly, I can agree with that logic.

December 21, 2013 at 2:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Miguel A. Garcia

I agree with you. In the previous years they get right down to it and everyone seems so much more open. Still some valuable info.

June 23, 2014 at 2:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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AJ*

BEAST OF THE SOUTHERN WILD <----- Is the most Honest film I've seen. This is revolutionary.

June 23, 2014 at 2:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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AJ*