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 Drive, Bronson, 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.
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.