Bones and All director Luca Guadagnino’s movies are inspired by his life. In lieu of film school, the director learned his craft from directors like Bernardo Bertolucci and Valerio Adami at dinner parties hosted by Italian actress Laura Betti. And his biggest influences aren’t even from the film world: they are his father and mother, Gino and Alia Guadagnino. When the director talks about his inspirations, it’s clear the features and documentaries he’s created in his 30-year career refract his most personal relationships.
We spoke to Guadagnino earlier this year, and are resharing his filmmaking advice to mark the release of his latest, Bones and All, starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as cannibal lovers on the run. Here, as part of our Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker series, Luca Guadagnino outlines how to become a maverick filmmaker with no money, an iPhone, and friends who are as close as family.
As Told To Joshua Encinias
1. To become a filmmaker you must go in the dirt and be wet and sweaty and consumed with fatigue in order to start to understand what’s around you. Be curious, have a very open relationship to the world around you, and do not coddle yourself within the same boundaries you felt uncomfortable in as a child.
2. It’s not true that you need money to make cinema. That’s a complete travesty, particularly now that we have so many weapons, like iPhones, that we can use to film or shoot around us. It’s the world of ideas and is the world of curiosity and it’s the world of a capacity of observation that makes somebody able to make a movie. It is not money, it is not access to a world of the elite that grants you inclusion to make movies.
3. I find collaborators mostly by trying to find a way to become a family. I have the privilege of having been working for many decades with the same team, and then I added more. So for instance, I’m in Boston shooting my new movie Challengers, and I live in the same house with my friend Fernanda Pérez, who is also the makeup artist with whom I have been working for almost 30 years. We started in 1994 together. And then the DP of this movie, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who I’ve been working with since Call Me By Your Name. So one is a 30-year-old collaboration and the other one is a 10-year-old collaboration. Now I met more people here that I have not met before, and I know they’re going to be part of my family of filmmakers. So for me, it’s about the familiar, and it’s about people who love the idea of empowering one another making the best out of what we do.
4. We all make mistakes and sometimes there is not a way to be graceful. Sometimes I don’t walk away gracefully from a collaboration that isn’t working out. Or sometimes you do not understand at the time that you have to be graceful. It’s messy. I regret not being graceful. But I hope to be in the future. I’ve made a couple of mistakes in my life. I made some recently that I regret and I apologize in my mind for that, and I feel bad about it and I hope that I will make amends.
5. First-time filmmakers should be curious. Do not try to dramatize what you feel is the current way of sensitivity in the world. Do not try to make a movie that you think people want to see. Make a movie you want to see, even if it’s scandalous. Be scandalous!
6. I don’t think film schools are necessary. I think film schools are an industry. I think that clearly, you can get out of a film school and be a great filmmaker. I think you can learn cinema by being curious and trying to say something through a visual medium. Use a phone to do it. Find your group of maverick friends to make movies with and do it.
7. Sometimes my favorite movie is the one I most recently watched. Recently, I watched a movie from one of my favorite filmmakers, Claude Chabrol, and the movie is called Betty. So now that has become one of my favorite movies. It’s an incredibly beautiful film, a portrait of a very troubled soul, Betty, and a complete, intellectually honest representation of the pleasant and the unpleasant. This movie never tries to categorize victimhood, or dimensions of power. It’s more about the complexity of relationships within a given state of being. And the character played by Marie Trintignant is undeniable for me. It’s truly sublime and the way in which Chabrol directed the movie, his choices, the way he creates suspense… You know, he, with Brian De Palma, is one of the greatest Hitchcockian directors. Brian De Palma was going this direction and Chabrol went that direction, but in a way, they both are Hitchcockian people. The way in which Chabrol builds suspense out of the morality at stake is just sublime.
8. All of my collaborators have taught me so many beautiful lessons. I learned a lesson yesterday. We are preparing a beautiful shot, it was a complex shot. We had rehearsed it. The actors were fantastic in the rehearsal. We were ready to shoot when Sayombhu runs to me and says, “I don’t think the light is good enough anymore, so we cannot shoot it now.” That was a lesson.
9. The thing that I like the most about making movies is what I learn after having made one. I’m starting to process now what I learned and what I loved making Bones and All, now that it’s a year after I wrapped. From that movie, I think I learned and loved this America that I didn’t know, and how to see it. The process of making a movie is excruciatingly painful to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not crazy about being on set. And what I don’t like about it is the time that you have on your hands that is always less than what you need.
10. One way to garner goodwill among your filmmaking collaborators is by showing them that what we are making is actually good. The movie is a director’s medium, but at the same time, the director is nobody without the collective endeavor of the people that surround him or her, and who makes what you do meaningful. So for me, it’s really about creating the feeling of teamwork. Sometimes you fail because as a filmmaker you are always alone. You are always ahead of the process because you know what you want. And so it kind of slows down your thought process to feel that the machinery is behind, and maybe this can sometimes come across as frustration. So you have to make sure that you pump up your team to feel that we are all completely together making this.
Main image: Luca Guadagnino, photographed by Alessio Bolzoni.
Bones and All, directed by Luca Guadagnino, is now in theaters.