The best way to learn about directing is to listen to directors.
My favorite time of the year is when The Hollywood Reporter releases their roundtable discussions with the creatives behind some of the year's best films.
This year, the director's roundtable includes Alejandro González Iñárritu (Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Woman King), Todd Field (Tár), Joseph Kosinski (Top Gun: Maverick), Sarah Polley (Women Talking), and JD Dillard (Devotion).
The conversation ranges from budgets, to casting, to the pressure of sequels, to every corner you can imagine.
Check it out below.
If you watched the full hour, you got the sense that this group had a real emotional journey to go through making these films. COVID-19 is still not over, yet the industry was relying on these directors to make movies that brought people back to the theaters, connected with audiences, and made money.
But none of that can be haberdasher. Like Sarah Polley said when asked about picking when the time is right to make a movie, "There has to be this sense of urgency about it or something that you think hasn’t been said that you want to say."
How did these people know they should be directors? Gina Prince-Bythewood said of her experience, "I was 20. I thought I was going to be a writer, which is why I went to UCLA. I was working on a student film, carrying a bunch of equipment, and it was the first time I fully understood, ‘Oh, that person that’s telling everybody what to do? That’s the person telling the story.’ And realizing that’s what the director is. I knew at that moment, ‘I’m a director.’"
Of course, none of these movies could happen without financing. When it came time to finance a movie like Tár, Todd Field ran into some difficulties.
He said, "I’m used to having everybody pat you on the head and say, ‘Good job on the script, but we’re not interested.’ Normally if you write original material, unless you have some wonderful benefactor, it has to be a spec script."
“At the beginning of the pandemic, [Focus Features chairman] Peter Kujawski and [president of production and acquisitions] Kiska Higgs said, ‘Just write whatever you want.’ That was a very novel situation for me,” Field said. “It felt strange and terrifying to try to live up to that responsibility, and the respect that they had given me by offering me that opportunity. I said to Serena, ‘They’re never going to make this. They would be crazy to make it.’ They were completely on board and supportive and didn’t give me one note and said, ‘Go make it.’"
One thing all these movies have in common is the amazing actors in them. JD Dillard expanded on how he picked the stars of Devotion, saying, "There’s also sometimes that magic trick where you’re a fan of someone’s work. Then, you meet them, and you realize how different they are than everything that they play. It adds this new layer, like, ‘You are really working.’ What you do on set is actually a phenomenal trick because you’re not showing up as yourself. I felt that way severely with Jonathan Majors. How he carries himself reveals how much of a chameleon he actually is. I always find that so special to see."
As always, these tables came back to advice. Instead of asking what the best advice the directors received, they were asked what the worst advice they had ever been given.
Iñárritu said the worst piece of advice he got was, "Discipline. One of the dangers is to get somebody to just trust in his instinct and inspiration and never be challenged by anybody. That could mislead somebody to believe that this is something that is only about inspiration and not the work."
What were your favorite parts of the roundtable?