Darren Aronofsky is a man that needs no introduction, but the folks at the Singapore International Film Festival did so anyway. Starting the masterclass with a production clip of Aronofsky's 2014 film Noah (starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson), the crowd watched as the man behind the scenes became the man in the flesh. You know the 47-year-old as the director of disturbing, art house flicks like Requiem For A Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010), the inspiring comeback of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008) and the cult favourite The Fountain (2006). He's also the producer of the upcoming Jacqueline Kennedy biopic, Jackie (also starring Portman). Gossip-mongers also know that the father-of-one and former partner of actress Rachel Weisz could very well be Jennifer Lawrence's latest squeeze. But away from the A-list actors who have him to thank and the red carpets of Hollywood sits a man who's keen to impart his know-how to a room full of film geeks. Here's what we learned.
1. Filmmaking could very well be related to childbirth
"I think when you get inspired by an idea, you just can't let it go and it forces you to go through pain. When it's all done, you forget about it, because once again you're re-inspired by a new idea. And that's what keeps the pain in check — the passion to get something done. Filmmaking is never that easy. So many challenges, compromises...you're constantly running all the time. Once the film's done, you sort of forget it. I hear it's the same thing about childbirth. People go back and doing it again."
2. Looking back on your own films won't necessarily improve your technique
"You can lost in what you've accomplished and what went well. You can also get lost in what didn't go well, and be really hard on yourself. I had a teacher who talked about how he didn't read reviews of his films, because he said, 'bad reviews hurt, but good reviews hurt you more". I watch certain classic films over and over again, learning from them. I watch Sullivan's Travels, Some Like It Hot, 12 Angry Men... there's this great Japanese film I watched, Tampopo."
3. It's as important to learn to act to be a good director
"I was never interested in acting. But I feel a major part of a director's job was to work with actors. When I started, what came very easily to me was editing, but I had no clue how to work with actors. [In acting class] my goal was to cry in front of an audience without being self-aware, so for about four or five months and I did it. It was about learning the process. What I wanted to do was understand what actors were going through to get to that state. As a director you're supposed to sit there and empathise with them and see if it feels correct for the story. Often between "action" and "cut", there's a lot of things you're thinking about. But sometimes there's that moment where you're really connected with what the actors are doing and that's really the best part of the job."
4. That one initial idea will tide you through the bad times of scriptwriting
"It's usually that original image or idea that stays with the film forever that's an anchor. That's the passion that makes you willing to face the hurdles you're going to run into. Because you believe that that one essence is worth sharing. It's a long process of spitballing, telling the story over and over again, and making it richer and richer. Screenwriting is very much like sculpture in that you slowly work your way at it. For me it's always been about just doing draft after draft after draft. Something like Black Swan probably [involved] hundreds of drafts."
5. Directors should be open to actors who change scripts
"It's important to listen to them and understand what they're trying to say. You have to be open and sensitive to the emotion that they need to create. One example: Mickey Rourke wanted to go through every single line and change very small things, but things that made it fit into his mouth better. The original writer [of The Wrestler] used the term 'dude' a lot, and he [Rourke] was like, 'dude's West Coast, it should be East Coast', so he changed it to 'bro'."
6. Martial arts can come in handy when dealing with difficult actors
"Actors can be crazy. The really dangerous ones are very insecure. Usually the ones that are messing with you, if you are direct with them — even though it's scary — it usually works. A lot of my strategy when you run into these situations is with akido, where you take the force and figure out how to redirect it. But with certain actors you have to do taekwondo, and hope you don't break your foot."
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