Deconstructing the Auteur

Recently, I’ve increasingly felt like a failure as an aspiring director because my intuitions aren’t strong enough to make meaningful improvements to a film I am working on. Rather, I feel like I just keep experimenting, endlessly. I guess I always thought that a director should have a vision for everything that goes into a film. Therefore, my lack of vision is a testament to my lack of potential as a director.

I think I’ve been misguided, however. First, my definition of vision is just wrong. Vision doesn’t produce finished products, rather it is a guide along the way. A director follows her vision in choosing what to try next and then feeling out how that change relates to the whole. Yes, this is an intuitive process, but the point is that while the director nurtures the vision of a film she doesn’t own it entirely.

Rather, especially in a collaborative art like film, vision must be shared. Part of being a director is being able to communicate your vision to others so that they can in turn add something of themselves to it. A director, thus, is only as good as his creative team. I was recently reflecting on an interview I conducted a few weeks ago with a wise filmmaker who stressed “connectivity” in the art of film. I think what he meant is that a director must connect all the individuals working on a film to a shared vision. This vision is contructed by all of them, together, many times the director may simply function as an idea-generator rather than a sounding-board, empowering the other creative leaders to influence the vision.

I have been too obsessed with the idea of an auteur, a director who exercises final say on every element of a production and thus manifests a singular vision. This modernistic approach deserves a deconstruction which emphasizes the service of the director toward his crew rather than the other way around. My interviewee remarked that a key ability in art is to “make a gift of yourself,” to match your skills to the needs of those around you. This kind of service also means matching other’s skills to the needs of the project, connecting talented people to the jobs that they can be passionate about. If this is to work, the director cannot be able to do every role herself if given the chance. Rather, the crew must be mutually dependent, tied by vision. This vision, and the director herself, function as a muscular tissue which receives and transfers impulses, moving ever closer to something beautiful.

Lao-Tzu said:

When the master governs, people are hardly aware that he exists.

I would adapt an extension:

When the director succeeds, each person is connected to the vision of the final film.

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2 thoughts on “Deconstructing the Auteur

  1. Great point sir! I think you’re right on with your deconstruction of the auteur theory. I think some of the best films are more the creative product of a collaboration of several minds than the monolithic ‘vision’ of one mind, as auteur theory would sugest.

  2. This is a great observation. Don’t be discouraged David, there’s life after Calvin. That isn’t to say that being a director is an easy thing, but you were never expected to be an auteur on your first college project, or even your last. I suspect that this is a gradual transition, if it ever happens.

    Much love,

    Stephen Panaggio

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