Things I’ve Learned: Crispin Glover

Actor-director Crispin Glover, best known for his performances in Back to the Future and Willard, as well as for directing the films What is It? and It is Fine! Everything is Fine., pens 20 highly individualistic rules for highly individualistic moviemaking. Glover can currently be seen alongside Robert De Niro, John Cusack and Rebecca Da Costa in David Grovic’s crime thriller The Bag Man, in theaters now.

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1. If you want to be a corporate interest shill and corporate interest cheerleader and direct corporately funded and distributed films, then please stop reading here now and refer to Steven Spielberg’s advice to young hopeful USC film students (as reported by the Hollywood Reporter on June 12, 2013: “They are learning about the industry at an extraordinary time of upheaval, where even proven talents find it difficult to get movies into theaters. Some ideas from young filmmakers ‘are too fringe-y for the movies.’”) If you wish to make your own films that explore unusual psyche and bring up questions to pre-ordained and questionable authority that you must fund and distribute yourself, then please continue to Rule Number 2.

2. Start from a subject matter of something that makes you angry or something that you hate. If you make a film about something you admire, or love, it will not have as sharp a point of view. If you make a film about something you hate, there will be a burning passion as to why the film was made. When there is passion behind the subject matter, it will resonate on some level with an audience for many years. Make sure that you treat the subject matter that you hate with love. This will give the final product dynamism and depth. Caress the subject matter cinematically and make it as beautiful as you possibly can. If you employ every cinematic skill you can muster, or have developed, then you may have a good movie.

3. When funding the film yourself, make sure to get as much as possible for free. You will still go broke making your film. Do make the film well at all costs. It is better to spend twice as much money and twice as much time to make a good film. A good film does not necessarily get universally good reviews. A good film may be able to recoup. If you spend less time and money without making certain your film is of genuine value, you could lose your entire investment. Because you are making a film well, at all costs, others will benefit from their involvement in it. So do not feel badly about asking for as many favors as possible.

4. Physically edit at least one film yourself. Understand how you can fix on-set problems with editing techniques. While you are learning to edit, you will also figure out what problems you cannot fix on set. It is better to fix all problems on set and not in the editing room. But it is good to know how to solve problems in the editing room in case they arrive. Be certain the final edit of your film comes to a place of resolution from the subject matter you originally started out with (as described in Rule Number 2). In your final edit, the thing that originally bothered you in some way will have turned in to something gorgeous that you love in some way. If you genuinely love the film you have made and find it cathartic to have made it, then it is likely that it will resonate with others.

5. Always produce/finance yourself or make certain you can stop shooting the film only when you want to stop shooting the film. When others who pay for “your” film have say on the cut, or when shooting must end, or when editing must end, or when they can get someone else to edit the film, it will of course end up being their film. Good art is when you only please yourself. Bad art is when you focus on pleasing others.

6. Because you should always produce yourself, you should not give other people producer credits. If someone wants a producer credit, see if there is something they can do that will be specifically useful in the production and give them the credit for that specific job. If they only will work on your film for a producer credit, they did not truly want to help you in the first place. Most people that want producer credits do not actually want to help you make the film, but know they can make money elsewhere from your film, or by publicity elsewhere with the producer credit you gave them. Also, if this so-called producer should become involved in anything illegal or negative in the future it could have impact on you, your film, or your reputation. If that producer-want-to-be-person cannot be useful on the set, then don’t have them work on the film. If you feel you need to have a producer, go back to Rule Number 5.

7. Do not fear collaborating with a co-director as long as you know that specific co-director is good for the production in some way (i.e. if that co-director will actually make the film better, and is not a producer). It is far better to have a good co-director than a producer.

8. Make sure all cast and crew have read the script and understand all elements of the project, and that they are genuinely enthusiastic about those elements.

9. Kill as many humans, animals and vegetables as possible during production.

10. Ignore Rule Number 9.

11. Make as many enemies as possible by yelling, and treating all working on the film as less than yourself.

12. Ignore Rule Number 11.

13. Understand all aspects of filmmaking. Do make a test of every mechanical element that will be used from the first day of production to the last day of post-production. If there is a step you do not understand for any part of your production, make a one minute film that will go through every step of the process for your final film product. This can save a lot of time and money in the long run.

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14. If you are acting in the film, it is OK to have had sex with someone that you are working with as an actor or actress. Also, be prepared for the possibility, and carefully consider, that the rest of the crew may have to take the punishment that person will dole out for whatever possible romantic foible that you may have had during your relationship. The positive will be an organic quality to the relationship on screen that will be better than acting, but again understand that person may cause trouble with your production. It is good to have a double or other person who is already on the set that you will be able to have step in for the former romantic partner. This way if the person has decided to hurt your production out of retaliation for any possible romantic indiscretions, you will be able to film scenes they are in without their assistance.

In the case of Luis Buñuel’s final film That Obscure Object of Desire, there was a decision made to use two actresses for the same role. It was perhaps for a slightly different reason, but it is a good example of how organic temperament can sometimes bring about interesting things.

15. Do take acting classes or act professionally in some capacity. Become at least a competent actor to obtain work in the corporate industry. Then get to the point in your career where you feel like you would better off if you were to be lobotomized. You will realize this when the corporate constraints that only allow you to get to the truth of a character or moral, are actually only the truths of the corporate interest and not the actual truth. But of course if you say so because you have seen this truth, you will be fired and maligned within the corporate film industry and corporate media.
Then, rather than getting a lobotomy, take your frustration and outrage and put it in to a film that will make most people that work in the very corporate industry to which you have reacted, hate you. Then look to get a job in that same corporate industry as an actor. Also look to get any positive corporate media you can muster in order to publicize the live show that you will invent and books that you will publish to recoup on the films in order to justify making another film.

If you do not make a film in reaction to the corporate constraints, then you will have to go back to the plan of getting a lobotomy. Be clear you are having the lobotomy in order to make sure you don’t notice the constraints in the corporate output of film. Be clear that you want very much to have a private truth in your film rather than the corporate interest’s truth. Or maybe rather than become a filmmaker, go to school to become a lobotomist.

16. Do understand the basic workings of every element of the filmmaking process. This is so that if you need to operate sound, change a lens, change a film magazine, pull focus, set a wig, powder the makeup, or cook a meal you could basically function in those areas in case that crew person is not there, or for some reason is not able to function in their job. Or you can at least instruct someone else to be able to do that job while you focus on making the film.

17. Read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Do not just read that book and then pretend to understand it. Understand it for real and do not fake when you don’t understand it. Read as many other story structure books as possible and then become rather fanatic about story structure, to the point where you may annoy your friends when you analyze all films you see with the understanding of the hero’s journey structure so you can detect what the genuine moral of the film is. Understand the relationship between Freud and Jung, and Jung and Joseph Campbell, and that all three of them were attempting to uncover something about the human psyche and condition that is universally understandable and mysterious at the same time. Understand the hero’s journey stages exactingly so you feel compelled to analyze all stories exactingly, and then ultimately your own as you continue to revise and reshape the screenplay and edit of the film. Perhaps by this method you may have some understanding of what your own subconscious is somehow getting at with your film, and what the audience’s emotional catharsis with your own film could possibly be.

18. Just make the film. Do whatever it takes. Just make the film.

19. Everything good and bad that happens on a set is because of the director. The director goes down with the ship. Make certain no one is injured on the set. If someone is injured on the set and you are directing, it is your fault. Make certain every small thing is safe. Camera operators and crew are often around high places with no safeguards and the same for actors. It is not worth it if anyone is injured on your film. Make sure you understand all elements of how something is working. Work anything out that is at all dangerous weeks before filming, not on the day.

20. Rules are meant to be broken, except for Rules 10, 12, 18 and 19. MM

Don’t forget to visit us next week for more movie knowledge! Previous Wisdom Wednesdays have shared the expertise of Alexander Payne, Paul W.S. Anderson, McG, Ethan HawkeGavin HoodJohn SaylesMike NewellBarry SonnenfeldWilliam FrakerRobert RodriguezJoe EszterhasSeth MacFarlaneMarc Forster,  Billy Bob ThorntonErrol MorrisBrian De PalmaJulie TaymorKevin SmithChris WeitzDanny BoyleSteve BuscemiJim JarmuschZack Snyder, Gus Van SantNeil JordanJohn WatersEli RothNeal McDonoughRandall Emmett and Wim Wenders.

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1 Comment

  1. Simon KIng

    March 14, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Hmmm… scholarly advice on filmmaking from someone who has never produced/directed/released a film that had even a modicum of critical or financial success.

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