Advice On Boldness From The Best

20 12 2010

Interview with Danny BoyleDeadline Magazine gets mailed to me because the studios take out ridiculous “For Your Consideration” ads and my membership in both the Academy and A.C.E. makes me desirable — at least for eight weeks or so every year. I like reading some of the articles, especially because they do interviews with people who they consider Oscar contenders — every issue focuses on a different category.

The latest issue is about directors and there are two interviews with interesting quotes — one from Danny Boyle, director of the stunningly directed 127 HOURS, and Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu, director of the haunting BIUTIFUL.  Both of them give advice to filmmakers about following their passion. Interestingly, I think this is great advice to anyone who is working on a piece of art — whether as a director, producer, actor, editor, cinematographer, sound designer or whatever.

In Mike Fleming’s interview with Danny Boyle, the director says:

“Beyond persistence, the only advice I ever give to young filmmakers is, ‘Don’t be shy in the way you tell a story. Be bold.’ There is that great quote, ‘Boldness has genius in it.’ People forgive you many things if you remember that.”

Fleming interviews Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and he says:

“We are not machinery. These things are individual expression, themes with original ideas. We may fail sometimes, but we attempt to move things forward.”

There are many types of boldness — in your work and in your work life — and both are rewarded (though to different degrees, depending on circumstances).  The boldness that Boyle talks about is obvious in his own films. And, yet, Inarritu hints at something much more. We are not machines and we often cannot be held back. But to push on our own envelopes require a boldness that is quite scary at times.

I remember when I was a music editor, back in New York City.  I was doing rather well, and had developed a reputation that was getting me offers on some great films – SOPHIE’S CHOICE, FAME, THE COTTON CLUB and more. I was having a great time and working with top notch people, but I had always wanted to edit picture.  I was extremely comfortable as a music editor, but I thought I wanted more.

It took some large degree of boldness, prompted by my wife, to give up the security (and, let’s be honest, the ego) of being a top-notch music editor. It meant starting back at the bottom. It meant admitting that I wasn’t the best at what I did — far from it. It meant giving up some financial security. Ultimately, it meant moving from New York City to Los Angeles.

But those first steps led me to where I am today — and very happy at being here.

That same kind of boldness is what makes directors like Inarritu and Boyle so exciting to watch. It is what clearly inspires the directors who admire the most — Stanley Kubrick, Francis Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard (I just saw BREATHLESS again, on a big screen in New York, and it is a stunning piece of work, even today when that sort of filmmaking has been done to death), Hal Ashby and several more. Because the reality is that there are more than enough people out there who are willing to do “just enough” to be good.  But it takes an ability to move outside your comfort zone to exceed.

Years later, people don’t remember Stanley Donen’s crappy films. They remember SINGING IN THE RAIN, because of its boldness. HIGH NOON is remembered for its stunning characterizations, use of music and montage and its sheer boldness in design. I don’t profess to know what will last from among this year’s crop of films. But my guess it will be more along the lines of INCEPTION than HOW DO YOU KNOW? (sorry for that catty comment, but you know what I mean).

Just a guess.

As an artist, you owe yourself a chance to be both responsible and irresponsible, at times. Boldness for boldness’ sake is not a virtue, but fear isn’t either.


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4 responses to “Advice On Boldness From The Best”

21 12 2010
Philip Hodgetts (01:03:13) :

Art without passion is just craft.

24 01 2011
Zach (18:55:15) :

Thank you for this blog post Norm. This is greatly inspiring:

“It took some large degree of boldness, prompted by my wife, to give up the security of being a top-notch music editor. It meant starting back at the bottom. It meant giving up some financial security.”

One thing I wonder concerns the other point you made: “There are many types of boldness — in your work and in your work life — and both are rewarded.” Are you referring to both professionally as well as personally? If so, do you think this has something to do with the level of respect one has gained? You mentioned you were quite sought after for your abilities. Do you feel if that wasn’t the case people could have frowned upon you not conforming to expected norms of life (no pun intended.) You’re blessed to have an amazing partner in life to actually encourage such a move as well! So many I know would be worried about the security of their marriage.

Thanks again.

24 01 2011
Norman (23:32:21) :

Zach,

I was referring both professionally and personally since little braveries redound in both directions. It is also intrinsically tied to the way in which people respect you, though ultimately it’s not because of that. In other words, to my mind, people who don’t take initiatives in their lives, may be great people, but won’t really affect the world.

On the other hand, I don’t quite understand what you mean when you say that

“people could have frowned upon you not conforming to expected norms of life.”

;. In my experience, in this business, people respond more positively to people taking changes than people playing it safe.

I think.

5 05 2011
Marc (03:49:21) :

A follow up to your comment about boldness and affecting the world. I couldn’t agree more. It takes boldness to really affect things. Many times, that requires one to be willing to walk alone if that is what it takes. I think this old Apple ad makes the same point. http://youtu.be/jULUGHJCCj4

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