Last Friday, director Eli Roth’s latest film, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, hit theaters. It stars Jack Black and two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett as a pair of magically-inclined neighbors who, with the help of a young orphan, try to prevent an evil wizard from destroying the world. It’s a massive production from Universal Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, and a step away from R-rated horror into the family-friendly fantasy world for Roth.
Roth’s long journey to The House with the Clock in Its Walls saw numerous stops along the way, working every odd job on a set you can imagine. These formative experiences taught Roth much about the craft of filmmaking.
In Deluxe’s “First Feature” video, launching exclusively through No Film School, Roth drops some tips for emerging filmmakers to help aid them on their own journeys.
1. Don’t put yourself in a box
When Roth was starting out, he worked as an actor, a stand-in, an assistant, and then as a director/producer of his own projects. He learned early not to put himself strictly in the “director” box. He could shape his projects and retain more control as a “director/producer”. Sometimes you’ll find yourself shouldering a heavier and more diverse weight of responsibilities on a project. At the very least look, at it as a learning experience.
2. There's no such thing as an "overnight success"
We live in a time where everyone wants what they want and they want it now. The problem is that you only learn by doing, by observing, by toiling away in the trenches—your writing space, a dark color grading room, an obscure on-set location—and by the blood, sweat, and tears you pour into every project. It’s a journey. Always be open to learning. Don’t complain. Show up. And work.
3. What do you do when everything goes wrong?
That’s what directing is. Problem solving.
If you’re just starting out, try looking for a gig as a stand-in or a PA or any job on set where you can watch, learn, and listen. You’ll see how every position works and the problems each position has to solve on a constant basis in order to get the shot. Then it’s time for the next shot. A new set of problems. And repeat.
4. Look for happy accidents
You’re on set, finally directing the short or feature that you’ve spent X numbers of months, maybe even years dreaming about. Yet you miss a “happy accident," something magical in the moment that would have been great to capture. Don’t be too lost in the vision in your head of how you thought the shot should look; instead try to be present, be open, and don’t forget to capture what’s right in front you; there just might be some magic there.
This video was shot at Deluxe’s EFILM where Eli Roth worked with colorist Mitch Paulson on the color finishing for The House with a Clock in Its Walls.