Stephen Lowenstein follows up his 2001 book of interviews, My First Movie: Twenty Celebrated Directors Talk About Their First Film, with the sequel, My First Movie: Take Two. He reduces the number of subjects down to ten, and in the introduction he states his mission with this book “would try to shine a light on various filmmaking worlds — such as those in India, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.”
The most interesting aspect of the directors’ stories is the different avenues taken to complete their first film, showing there is more than one route. Slacker’s Richard Linklater was a do-it-yourselfer in Austin, Texas who had taken some community college courses. Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly went to the prestigious USC film school. Violent Cop’s Takeshi Kitano was a popular comedian on Japanese television. Jabberwocky’s Terry Gilliam became known on British television for his animated work with the comedy troupe Monty Python, although he had a bit of a leg up on the feature-film experience from co-directing Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Jones.
Friends and family in the right places can be very helpful in opening doors, too. Amores perros’Alejandro González Iñárritu made the most out of being hired by his friend Miguel Aleman. First, he became a successful DJ in Mexico, and then when Alemam moved to an MTV-type channel, Iñárritu followed and began creating well-received promos. Masoom’s Shekhar Kapur was the nephew of popular Indian movie star Dev Anand and got into acting before making the transition behind the camera. Being an actor or pursuing some study of the discipline was a common theme among the interviewees.
Take Two also introduced me to three European directors whose success hasn’t made them well-known entities off the continent: Do You Remember Dolly Bell’s Emir Kusturica of Sarajevo, Show Me Love’s Lukas Moodysson from Sweden, and Le goût des autres’ Agnès Jaoui, the only woman to be interviewed. It’s good to read the stories of their small triumphs as filmmakers because it puts into better perspective how rare the Oscar-winning success of American Beauty’s Sam Mendes is.
Rather than the usual brief, shallow exchanges that usually fill chat shows and press junkets, Lowenstein’s questions, informed by his work on British television documentaries and as a writer/director of short films, draw out very thoughtful and engaging responses. The interviews cover the creative process; working on the set with the crew, particularly the director of photography who appears vital in assisting the first-timer; and the business of the business. Kelly chastises, “If you’re writing something for the marketplace, you’re not a real writer…you’re a door-to-door salesman pretending to be a writer.” Linklatter explains, “The director is the head coach.” Moodysson talks about the reversal of attitude towards his script by a Swedish Film Institute consultant after the Danish Film Institute showed interest.
Another amusing aspect is the common love/hate relationship these people have to their chosen endeavor as they struggle to get the perfect visions from their minds onto the screen. Kusturica says, “The most awful thing is to direct the movie. But the most beautiful thing is to enjoy it when it is good.” Moodysson says, “It’s terrible making movies. You feel completely lost. But there’s something intoxicating about being lost.” Gilliam had more of a hate/hate relationship: “I hate making films because it always feels like a nightmare. Nothing is achieved in the way I want it to be achieved. It’s always terrible—compromises and failures.” And more specifically, “What I hate about directing is getting up early in the morning. I hate it!”
The stories told in Lowenstein’s My First Movie: Take Two are insightful, entertaining, and inspirational for wannabe directors and those fascinated by the process of filmmaking.