When do creatives stop serving themselves?
Robert Eggers isn’t known for his flashy, modern, mainstream blockbusters. Instead, he looks to the past to explore the darkest corners of the human experience, focusing often on the idea of obsession. Eggers' meticulous research process and his unique blend of confidence with humility allow him to become an effective yet humble filmmaker in a time when everything feels too loud and cookie-cutter.
In an interview with Slash Film to promote the VOD release of his latest film, The Northman, Eggers talks about the role of artists in the modern entertainment industry, and how his own unique ego as a filmmaker often gets in the way of his creative process.
“This sounds super uber-precious, but I think it’s hard to do this kind of creative work in a modern secular society because it becomes all about your ego and yourself,” Eggers said. “And I am envious—this is the horrible part—I’m envious of medieval craftsmen who are doing the work for God. And that becomes a way to… you get to be creative to celebrate something else.”
Eggers also talks about taking a step back from the self to recognize that what is being made isn’t just for the filmmaker.
“... Also, you’re censoring yourself because it’s not about like me, me, me, me, me, me. So you say, ‘Oh, I got to rein that back because that’s not what this altarpiece needs to be.’ Any worldview where everything around them is full of meaning is exciting to me because we live in such a tiresome, lame, commercial culture now.”
While Eggers has become renowned after three films, he has largely been able to avoid participating in the “tiresome, lame, commercial culture” that has taken over the theaters and streaming.
The filmmaker, who is obsessed with the details of the story he is creating, attempted to make a broad-appealing mainstream picture with The Northman after being convinced that his first two films didn’t have much of a story. The film’s underwhelming showing at the box office came at a strange time for films, something we’ve been almost hyper-aware of in a post-COVID-19 world. If a movie wants to perform well at the box office, the filmmaker is no longer in service of their own ideas. Instead, the filmmaker is focused on serving the ideas of the average moviegoer and studio executives, appealing to what they desire to bring to the theaters.
Hollywood can be greedy, but that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your vision to make some money. Eggers believes filmmaking is about creating a film for yourself while telling a story to an audience who wants to listen.
Eggers is eager to go back to “do one more New England folktale” film to bring his New England trilogy to a close. Whatever he decides to do, we can expect it will be a surreal and quiet experience that will leave us wanting to know every detail behind his creative process once again. One thing's for sure–Eggers won’t be directing any big-budget, mainstream films anytime soon.
Do you agree with his take?