It Takes a Village

by Ian aka GayAsXmas
I love listening to writers and filmmakers talk about their work. I am the saddo who will buy a DVD not necessarily for the movie, but because of the promise of a commentary from somebody I admire. I remember the best part of the Zodiac DVD (apart from the superb film) was listening to James Ellroy talk about how much he loved the film. In the beginning, Ellroy’s hard-boiled patter felt almost like an SNL parody but his excitement and love for the film was completely contagious.
The best commentary I have ever listened to is the one that spans all three of the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions DVDs and feature Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. For a start, these are wonderfully warm, funny and articulate people to spend a few hours with. They are very open about their difficulties in working on the films, but they also never sound jaded. You get a real sense of their chemistry as a team, how each of their perspectives bring something unique which enriches their work as a whole. They are generous collaborators, constantly stressing how their extended team of actors, artists and technicians all contribute to the final result.
This idea of the director as the fulcrum in a vast artistic co-operative is stressed once again by Jackson in this interview at David Poland’s DP30 blog. Ostensibly about The Lovely Bones, the interview is actually about Jackson’s development as a director and he willingly talks about the value of team work in both the physical as well as artistic work on a film. Jackson’s attitude appeals hugely to me – I have found that the best work I have done is always with the input of others. I think a lot of mediocre new talents (*cough*ZachSnyder*cough*) get lauded for the work which would be more fairly apportioned out to the teams they marshal. Jackson is also a rebuke to the narcissism of somebody like James Cameron, whose work I love, but who comes across as a giant muppet-head in his recent New Yorker profile. He proves you don’t have to be a dickhead, to make distinctive, mainstream pictures and rampant arrogant machismo is a personality trait, not an artistic necessity.
Screenwriter William Goldman raged against the auteur theory in his book Adventures in the Screentrade, the idea that directors are the special ‘authors’ of a particular work. Apart from a few, rare examples, I have always had a problem with this idea when it came to mainstream film. The media inevitably attempts to latch on to a single name to laud for a film, but the inevitable conclusion of this seems to be promising if largely untested talents such as Snyder being anointed as a visionary after a couple of pulp films. The image which Jackson seems to project – that of a conductor in a vast, hugely talented orchestra, seems to me to be in much more appropriate for how major films are made nowadays.
Either way, I can’t wait for The Lovely Bones.