Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Neil LaBute

In 1997, a relatively unknown yet confident young director stormed both the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals.

That director was Michigan-born playwright Neil LaBute, whose polarizing film In the Company of Men, shot for $25,000 in less than two weeks, was nominated for Cannes’ Golden Camera and took home Sundance’s Filmmaker’s Trophy. LaBute has bounced from the stage to the screen in the interim, directing plays, films, and shorts to varying levels of acclaim, but always leaving an impression. His characters, exemplified by Aaron Eckhart’s applauded turn in In The Company of Men, are known to be misanthropic and curmudgeonly, but LaBute himself has kindly offered to share his directorial do’s and dont’s with MovieMaker.

Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy speak in hush tones In the Company of Men.

Before and After

You can’t have enough pre-production. There’s never enough post-production.

Mother Nature

I don’t enjoy waiting for weather to change. Like hanging out until the cloud passes. I’m not big on that.

Children and Animals Last

Basically I don’t shoot with children or animals, and I’ve never done too much with that, but I shot with both an animal and a child in Possession, and they certainly are more work. The little girl at the end of the movie was really great; the dog was more problematic. He didn’t take direction well (laughing). You know, because he’s a dog. I would underline these rules: steer clear of animals and children.

Ingenuity Rules

Money doesn’t replace ingenuity. That’s probably the biggest thing. I’ve had movies that have cost tons more than the first one I did, but there’s something about the purity of the control of small projects that’s much more tempting to me.

Studio Versus Independent

Studio or independent is not really a label that signifies good or bad as far as I’m concerned, having done both. It’s a matter of the project you make. What you put into it is what you get out of it. I’ve seen a lot of crappy independent movies (laughing) and a lot of good studio movies and absolutely vice versa. So it’s really what you make. You will be the one who’s ultimately held responsible as a director.

When in Doubt, Build a Set

When in doubt, build a set. Some of those places I’ve tried to shoot in, and tried to get angles in, you go, “Why didn’t we just build this?” MM

Featured Image: 2013 file photo courtesy The Chicago Tribune (Aaron Eckhart / Handout).

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