This photograph was taken by Alex Harris, @thesouthinanewlight, while making Son of a Gun. I remember riding with my dog Bandit in the back of Nick Fornwalt’s truck from one location to next on the Raymond battlefield thinking about the permanence of film.
This begins the final series of blog articles I’ll be writing along with First Time in a Movie and Community that track the production history and experiences we had on our latest film Son of a Gun. Director’s Notes will focus specifically on my thoughts about our movie and the making of it as I process them over the next few months.
Director’s Notes: Movies Last Forever
Since Blood Country, I’ve made a little speech at the beginning (and sometimes at the end) of each movie production. The recurring theme of this statement is borrowed from the quote by John Milius (director of Conan the Barbarian, writer of Apocalypse Now). He says, “Pain is temporary. Film is forever.”
Though Milius and I are very different in personality and our bodies of work, his words left a strong impression on the way I see filmmaking. Unlike the theatrical production of a play which can evolve and be improved or worsened with each performance, a film is set in stone. Yes, much can be changed or revised in the editing process but the takes you have are the takes you have. The shots are the shots; the acting performances are what they are.
This is both exciting and haunting as I approach each movie. To realize that the actions of each day effect something that will last for years, that can be quite a lot of pressure. But it’s good pressure. It makes you work harder, better. And this is something I try to instill in our cast and crew each time. On Son of a Gun, I feel that it was most integrated into their though process but it wasn’t lived the way I still hope to see.
When I made this statement in early April when we started production in Port Gibson, I once again wanted them to know how high the stakes are. Especially on our movies which can’t afford months of reshoots like the Han Solo movie, everything counts in the moment. If a crew member is texting instead of seeing that something needs done, if the camera operator misses focus on every take and we don’t take it, if the makeup artist doesn’t check someone’s look after they’ve been under our hot lights for ten minutes, or if an actor just can’t quite get past a mediocre delivery of their lines… it all lasts forever. On a positive note, the victories (big and small) remain as well. Each time the crew member catches something the rest of us didn’t see, each time the camera operator nails that difficult camera move or focus pull, each time the makeup artist gets the actor’s look just right, and each time the actor gets to that zone where you can’t tell they’re acting and the performance reaches truth… it all lasts forever.
And it’s not just the actions of each day, it’s the attitude. I have seen time and time again that it’s not only the skill, the talent of our cast and crew that matters. It’s their heart. Your heart has to be in the right place. You have to know to your very core that what we’re doing matters and that your place in it on a minute-by-minute basis effects what it will become.
In a world that is so impermanent, where things are constantly being made and thrown away, movies are about as permanent as it gets. Until the world blows up or our civilization ceases to exist for some reason, our films along with the so many others will most likely be in existence in some form or another. It’s a hard thing to convey to my team but even this little movies we make will outlive most if not all of us.
In my own personal beliefs, I don’t consider life itself to be lasting thing. I believe there’s only one life to live and most likely nothing that comes after it. And therefore these movies I make with others are the most lasting thing I can do with the time I have. I wanted to start this Director’s Notes series with that thought because it is at the heart of everything in my work.