Famous Directors’ Rules of Filmmaking

wim wenders
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Artistic expression is an assertion of individuality, and all artists compose their work differently. In the case of filmmaking, there are numerous approaches to translating a story to celluloid. Inspired by director Wim Wenders’ recent advertising short, “Wim Wenders’ Rules for Cinema Perfection,” we’ve collected the golden rules of filmmaking employed by 100 famous directors. These tips and tricks are a wonderful source of advice and inspiration — even for the most seasoned professionals. The rules also serve as a fascinating snapshot of each directors’ filmography, capturing the spirit of their work.

directors’ filmography, capturing the spirit of their work.
Wim Wenders
“Final cut is overrated. Only fools keep insisting on always having the final word. The wise swallow their pride in order to get to the best possible cut.”
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Akira Kurosawa
“During the shooting of a scene the director’s eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn’t right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by ‘watching with a detached gaze.’”
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Richard Linklater
“There are a million ideas in a world of stories. Humans are storytelling animals. Everything’s a story, everyone’s got stories, we’re perceiving stories, we’re interested in stories. So to me, the big nut to crack is to how to tell a story, what’s the right way to tell a particular story.”
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John Waters
“No comedy should be longer than 90 minutes. There’s no such thing as a good long joke.”

Terrence Malick
“I film quite a bit of footage, then edit. Changes before your eyes, things you can do and things you can’t. My attitude is always let it keep rolling.”
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Francis Ford Coppola
“When you make a movie, always try to discover what the theme of the movie is in one or two words. Every time I made a film, I always knew what I thought the theme was, the core, in one word. In The Godfather, it was succession. In The Conversation, it was privacy. In Apocalypse, it was morality. The reason it’s important to have this is because most of the time what a director really does is make decisions. All day long: Do you want it to be long hair or short hair? Do you want a dress or pants? Do you want a beard or no beard? There are many times when you don’t know the answer. Knowing what the theme is always helps you.
“I remember in The Conversation, they brought all these coats to me, and they said: Do you want him to look like a detective, Humphrey Bogart? Do you want him to look like a blah blah blah. I didn’t know, and said the theme is ‘privacy’ and chose the plastic coat you could see through. So knowing the theme helps you make a decision when you’re not sure which way to go.”
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Sofia Coppola
“I try to just make what I want to make or what I would want to see. I try not to think about the audience too much.”
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Jane Campion
“Performers are so vulnerable. They’re frightened of humiliation, sure their work will be crap. I try to make an environment where it’s warm, where it’s OK to fail — a kind of home, I suppose.”
Sally Potter
“I’ve always traveled with the films because I want the audience to be my teacher so that I can learn for the next one.”
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Steven Spielberg
“Before I go off and direct a movie, I always look at four films. They tend to be The Seven SamuraiLawrence Of ArabiaIt’s A Wonderful Life and The Searchers.”
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Orson Welles
“A long-playing full shot is what always separates the men from the boys. Anybody can make movies with a pair of scissors and a two-inch lens.”
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Spike Lee
“Music is, for me, a great tool of a filmmaker, the same way cinematography, the acting, editing, post-production, the costumes are. You know, to help you tell a story. “
Frank Capra
“There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.”
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Kathryn Bigelow
“Character and emotionality don’t always have to be relegated to quieter, more simple constructs.”
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Jean-Luc Godard
“A film should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order.”
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Claire Denis
“I always scout locations first. The apartments, the railway tracks, the café, the canal — I figure out the geography of the film.”
Takeshi Kitano
“I intentionally shoot violence to make the audience feel real pain. I have never and I will never shoot violence as if it’s some kind of action video game.”
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Lynne Ramsay
“Don’t try and change things for other people. Don’t try and be persuaded by producers and people to change your vision. If you stick to your vision and you’re true to yourself, it kind of works. I mean, it’s tough. It’s a big Fitzcarraldo journey, but then you’ll have your good karma at the end of the day. You’ll have your good soul. You know, if you start to sell little bits of it, you, you become nothing and nobody, and you don’t have any vision [remaining].”
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Andrea Arnold
“When your characters are really living they tell you what they do.”
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Mary Harron
“I don’t think there is any one route to directing…. Other than that I think you just have to think ‘By any means possible’ and take any job you can that will get you experience. I also did a lot for free. I got paid virtually nothing for my first film, but it changed my life.”

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