Who Would Direct My Perfect Film? A Writer’s Breakdown
DISCLAIMER: For the purpose of this post, I’m only considering current living directors that have had success in Western markets.
I got to thinking the other day, what would my perfect film be and who would direct it? While I combed through my memory and past posts of the most memorable films I’ve seen, I couldn’t chose just one. How could I? If you had pick of the litter of the greatest filmmakers alive, I’m sure that the genre of your film alone would influence who you would choose. It’s an important decision. Once you have your story it’s the most important decision. You wouldn’t get Judd Apatow to do a horror film or Ang Lee to do a rom-com, right? This was starting to feel like an impossible task.
Then I got an idea.
What if I could get multiple directors and break it down according to the most pivotal parts of a screenplay? Each major transitional point in a screenplay would have a different director. This way, regardless of the genre, it would work. Let’s start with the “catalyst.”
This means starting your screenplay with an ending as the audience meets the protagonist (or other main character[s]) that ultimately catapults the overall plot and locks you in from this point on. I can think of no better writer/director for this than Quentin Tarantino. In fact, I would want all my characters-no matter when in the story they first show up on screen-to be introduced by Tarantino. Throughout his career, he has used subtextual and belligerent dialogue as well as direction to present to us some of the most polarizing characters in modern cinema.
Here are two examples.
The opening scene introducing Colonel Hans Landa (played by Christoph Waltz) in “Inglorious Basterds” is one of the most psychologically terrifying and brilliant scenes I’ve ever seen when it comes to character introduction. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it below, but I’ll set it up for you. Landa, a Nazi commanding officer, is in the French countryside interrogating a farmer whom Landa believes is hiding a Jewish family.
In “Kill Bill: Volume 2”, Bill (played by David Carradine) tells the story to the wife (Uma Thurman) at their campsite The Legend of Pai Mei (played by Gordon Lui) in a nostalgic and ever-so respectful nod to throwback 70’s Kung Fu movies.
Now here’s the thing about Tarantino that is a testament to him as a director and a writer: he breaks every “rule” when it comes to writing and setting up a scene. Screenwriters at all times must avoid writing scenes with just two people sitting in a room talking without anything happening. (This is sometimes referred to as “talking heads.”) Directors usually emphasize movement to keep the audience engaged, entertained, and know that changes are happening. Yet Tarantino does exactly the opposite on both counts… and it’s amazing! No other writer/director can do this successfully.
“The Hero’s Journey” is a term that every screenwriter is familiar with. This is the character arc; the evolution of the character and the changes that character endures throughout. There is no better director (in my humble opinion) than Martin Scorsese at showing the changes a character goes though in a movie and how those changes affect the entirety of the film. Here’s a scene from “Shutter Island” showing just that.
“The Dark Night of The Soul” is the term used when the hero believes all hope is lost. It can’t get any worse. But the protagonist has to endure this in order to give him the needed inspiration or drive to finally face the antagonist. For me, the director that does the best job with really ensuing dread on the characters is Christopher Nolan. Recently, Nolan showed his directing and storytelling prowess for dread and despair in “Interstellar.”
After the hero overcomes “The Dark Night of The Soul” it’s time for “The Showdown.” Arguably the most exciting part of any film, this is where the hero/protagonist squares off with the antagonist; whomever or whatever that may be. Lots of adventure or action movies tease the showdown in the trailers because it’s likely to be the best part of the movie. Everything leading up to “The Showdown” is one thing, but when it comes to the actual showdown itself, there are none better at writing/directing it than the Wachowski’s. Look at all three “Matrix” films. Say what you will about the overall quality of the two sequels. I totally get it if you’re not on board with the films overall. But whether it’s Neo’s first showdown with Agent Smith; the mechs protecting Zion from the sentinels; or the final showdown between Neo and Agent Smith, they maintain the excitement and keep the audience’s attention throughout the scene.
“Resolution” would seem like a simple enough concept; it’s the ending. Let me be clear that a good “resolution” DOES NOT necessarily mean a happy ending, but rather feeling fulfilled as you walk out of the theater knowing that all questions have been answered. It’s not to say that if films have endings that are open for interpretation it makes them bad films. For me, however, it’s can be a little infuriating. Spoiler alert: look back at the ending of “Inception.” Wasn’t that infuriating for you? Because it was for me. So which director do I want writing and directing an amazing “resolution” for me? My only repeat honoree for my list; I gotta go back to Quentin Tarantino.
Because Tarantino creates such intelligent and fleshed out characters, it pretty much begs the question that we want to know what happens to each of them by the end of the film, even if a particular character is only in one scene. Also in the long run, especially after multiple viewings, the audience will appreciate it when your film doesn’t have plot holes. Unless you leave a cliffhanger for a guaranteed sequel by the time the credits roll, you should never have to ask yourself what happened to any character. Keep in mind also that Tarantino will sometimes connect storylines between films… even if it takes a couple of decades. So pay extra careful attention.
Even though visuals have nothing to do with the format of a screenplay, cinematography is important and does play a huge part in storytelling. When it comes to creating visual wonders for my film, my list gets a little longer and more debatable. At first glance, genre plays a bigger role here than in any other particular aspect of where and how to set your story. I watch more dark, suspenseful, and/or mysterious movies over most other genres and I tend to write my own stuff along those lines as well. That being said, I think I have a 5-way tie. In no particular order: Terrence Malick, Ang Lee, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Guillermo del Toro. All have a special eye and understanding that scenery and visuals are often just as important as the characters when they are telling a story.
I’m always curious to know your opinions or feelings. Which is your favorite director and why? What if you tried to break it down like me? Who would you choose for your script breakdown?