July 2004

Creative Filmmaking From the Inside Out: Five Keys to the Art of Making Inspired Movies and Television
(A Fireside Book/Simon & Schuster, 224 pages, $15.95)
By Jed Dannenbaum, Carroll Hodge and Doe Meyer

Why does director Mira Nair offer her cast and crew morning yoga sessions? " 'It genuinely promoted a sense of democracy on the set, a great sense of egolessness... " Why does a textbook on filmmaking include such a testimony as Nair's? It's all in the title. Creative Filmmaking From the Inside Out stresses the inner workings, motivations and artistic sensibilities of people who are passionate about film. Written by three teachers of film production at the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, the book is almost a Chicken Soup for the Filmmaker's Soul, as it is warm, personal, anecdotal and inspiring.

Which is not to say that it isn't also practical. The authors do not suggest any "foolproof, surefire formula for great filmmaking" because, "of course, there is no such thing." They see the creative process of filmmaking as "mysterious ... and so it shall remain." Yet they believe there is something that can be learned, and that is what is emphasized on these pages: "how best to prepare yourself, and how to approach your work, so that your inherent creativity has the greatest opportunity to emerge and flourish."

The process is broken down into five chapters ("The Five Is"): Introspection, Inquiry, Intuition, Interaction and Impact. At each chapter's end are "Limbering Up" exercises; such as watching five or 10 minutes of a TV show or movie "that seems completely innocuous and uncontroversial," and looking for "every instance of embedded value you can spot..." A final sixth chapter, "Workouts," offers production guidance on such topics as turning ideas into scripts and "open-closed" casting; having "a clear idea of the qualities an actor needs to play a certain character, yet [to] remain open to being surprised."

Comments by 15 "outstanding" filmmakers (each introduced on a separate page and given extensive filmographies in the back) are interwoven throughout the book. The professionals represent "a wide range of creators:" writers, directors, producers (many hyphenates), production designers, cinematographers, editors, composers and actors.

Aspiring directors could enjoy reading about ways other artists perceive the role of a director. Editor Lisa Fuchs has found that " 'very talented directors' such as Francis Ford Coppola," with whom she worked on Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Godfather Part III (1990), "can 'shoot the movie that allows room for things to happen, where they don't know exactly how it will go together. I don't consider that a limitation but rather a strength.'"

One theme predominates the authors' and their 15 interviewees' ideas about reaching satisfaction as filmmakers: the importance of harmonious collaboration. Writer-director Anthony Minghella "talks about the process of 'growing the movie' and recognizes that what he's hoping to achieve as a director 'is something much greater than any particular narrow scene that I can manage by myself. I want to have the greatest amount of brain power and creative energy working on the film. The cast and crew are filmmakers in their own right. They're not there to be my servant.'"

If, as Federico Fellini said, " 'the cinema ...ought to be in a state of combustion ... a journey toward the center of ourselves and the world,' " Creative Filmmaking From the Inside Out makes a good traveling companion.

Review written by Lisa Mitchell


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