‘Cynicism is the death of creativity’ and other stories

A few words of wisdom, inspirational nuggets and general advice from some of the filmmakers who’ve kindly given talks as part of the NFTS Masterclass programme:

“I wish my writing life were more organised, more Ernest Hemmingway, you know – ‘write for 8 hours, 3 gins, shoot a buffalo’, but it isn’t.  You have to write the way that works for you.” Simon Beaufoy, writer, Slumdog Millionaire, The Full Monty

“If you explain too much, people will tune out.  Just dramatise it once.  The only rule you really need in a story is ‘…and then?’” Guillermo del Toro, writer-director, Pan’s Labyrinth

“I’ve been writing for 20 years and I still don’t know how to do it. Don’t try and be a grown up, I use alcohol, I talk to my wife, I make desperate phone calls. It’s good to skate on thin ice.” Thomas Vinterberg, writer-director, The Hunt

“Almost everyone said I was insane, suicidal, deluded and that it’s impossible to make a film for less than £200,000 even in Romania. I had barely a third of that.  I often thought of just buying a flat, as almost everyone advised. But I asked myself, ‘Should I buy myself a one-bedroom flat in Bracknell or should I make a revenge drama in Transylvania?'” Peter Strickland, writer-director, Berberian Sound Studio, Katalin Varga

“We like to go to those uncomfortable places, because that’s where the good jokes are.” and “The earlier you realise something isn’t working the better….this also applies to relationships by the way.” Sam Bain, writer, Fresh Meat, Peep Show

“You see the world, you end up in jail three or four times, you accumulate experience. And it gives you something to say. If you don’t have anything to say then you shouldn’t be making films. It’s nothing to do with what lens you’re using.” – Chris Doyle, Director of Photography, In The Mood For Love

Cinematographer Chris Doyle
Cinematographer Chris Doyle

“Be around people who take the work seriously, but not themselves.” David Yates, director, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“You immerse yourself in the research, then at some point you have to throw it away and trust yourself to make a film. Otherwise you might as well go be a historian.”  Paul Thomas Anderson, writer-director, The Master, There Will Be Blood

“Figure out what is the song that only you can sing. That is the only thing that counts in the end.” Paul Greengrass, director, Captain Phillips, United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum

Three from Atonement director Joe Wright:

“I try to keep my eyes open in life, and see the drama and the beauty and the poetry around me and that’s what informs my films.  I try and work with people who have that sense of wonder and innocence. Cynicism is the death of creativity.”

“If there’s a project you feel like you know a secret about, a way only you could tell that story – that’s the one you should do…If I’m not scared by a project then I think there’s something wrong.  Fear is a great motivator.  One should confront one’s fears.  Or at least I should.”

“The day I stop learning I’ll give up and take up, I don’t know… rose cultivation.”

And finally, a practical tip from writer-director of ‘cornetto trilogy’ Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Edgar Wright: “My advice – do not try to match the characters in The World’s End drink for drink, or you will end up dead in a ditch”

Edgar WrightEdgar Wright