Director Nicolas Winding Refn Discusses the Virtues of Being an Abnormal Filmmaker

Colorblind, a teenage illiterate, and from the future, Nicolas Winding Refn has a message for filmmakers: being normal isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

The Neon Demon director discusses his artistic journey with NOWNESS and ends up giving us all a lesson on why self-acceptance is so important if you want to reach your full potential as an artist.

"I wanted to show to everyone else that having any kind of handicap can also be a blessing, and anything that's normal is so fucking uninteresting."

Embrace your "handicaps"

If you watch any of Refn's films, like DriveBronson, or Only God Forgives, you'll quickly begin to understand that his approach to cinema is unlike any other. One of the first things that stands out in his work is the color—the vibrant, neon colors that play equally important roles in his films as the characters do. This is particularly interesting considering the fact that he is colorblind, something he learned while shoe shopping with his wife.

Refn uses color as a narrative tool; for example, his frequent use of red works to communicate the ferociousness of the subject matter, like the savageness and brutality of Tom Hardy's character in Bronson or Ryan Gosling's character in Drive.

'Drive' (2011)

Embrace your experiences

If you dig a little deeper into Refn's work or listen to what he says about his creative philosophy, you'll learn that his ideas come from the distillation of his experiences:

Seeing is understanding, but it's still subliminal, because cinema is really not about what we see; it's about what we don't see. Creativity is about a two-way experience where you experience something that plants a seed that you deliver back into whatever it is you're experiencing. And it becomes this circular movement that basically travels with you the rest of your life. It defines you, forms you, inspires you, scares you.

Embrace your mediocrity

Refn set out to be the best filmmaker of all time, but when he realized he wasn't, he decided to push himself to be the best at making his own style of films. 

'Only God Forgives' (2013)

Embrace being an outsider

Kids learn at an early age that fitting in is important. Apparently, I didn't learn that lesson. If you were absent during that lecture, too, then you're in good company with Refn, because, as he says:

We spend so much time trying to fit in for all the wrong reasons. And in terms of creativity, it's not about that. It's about the exact opposite, but that takes a lot of fucking guts.

When it comes to creativity, "fitting in" is just another term to describe unoriginality. It's all rooted in fear. Refn is right when he says it takes a lot of guts to be an outsider, to decide that fitting in isn't befitting of an artist.

'The Neon Demon' (2016)

Embrace the dollar

Filmmaking is an industry that is fueled by money. Refn even says that the "rule of the game" is to make sure your film makes money. It's the inconvenient truth no artist really wants to face, but instead of running from it, Refn gives some great advice on how to use it to your creative advantage.

Refn suggests making every movie as if it were your last, because not only could it vary well be if it doesn't make any money, but approaching it as if it were might inspire you to take risks you wouldn't normally take, to infuse more of yourself in your work, and, in the end, be fearless, because—hey—this might be the last chance you have to make something you really believe in.     

Your Comment

7 Comments

He's a narcissistic mediocre filmmaker. I like his work somewhat, but when he opens his mouth I want to throw out the DVD's of his I have. So ignorant and self obsessed. He's just rambling. Most of what he says is nonsense. If you are gonna be a dick to promote yourself, at least do it properly.

June 25, 2016 at 4:16AM

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Emil F. Skanning
Writer, Director, Editor
349

Sounds like you have a problem with the filmmaker more than his films. Learn to separate the two.

June 25, 2016 at 5:04PM, Edited June 25, 5:04PM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
247

Well, it's quite easy to tell a selfcentered want-to-be-the-new-kubrick made his films. And trust me; I got a problem with those too.
I can separate, thank you very much.

June 27, 2016 at 12:53AM

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Emil F. Skanning
Writer, Director, Editor
349

Is it simply the Kubrick influence that makes you think his films are mediocre?

June 27, 2016 at 11:38AM, Edited June 27, 11:38AM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
247

Read between the lines. What I am saying is that his personality shines through in his movies. It makes them a desperate call for attention. There's a little boy inside NWR who just wants to be accepted and liked, and his films show that so much. Instead of just being about wanting to be interesting, they become an obvious attempt to make him seem interesting.

June 27, 2016 at 1:14PM

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Emil F. Skanning
Writer, Director, Editor
349

A lot of directors show their personalities in their films. Spielberg's critics would say there's a little a boy inside him who doesn't want to grow up and would rather live in a fantasy land. Like it or not, that "handicap" makes Spielberg who he is, just like Refn's attention seeking "handicap" makes him unique. Mediocre filmmakers make uninspired, forgettable films, and Refn's films are definitely not average.

June 27, 2016 at 5:34PM

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Warren Bros.
Filmmaker | Cinephile
247

Well, this explains A LOT.

June 27, 2016 at 9:31AM, Edited June 27, 9:31AM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
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