What makes filmmakers great?I travel a lot in my work, which gives me time to reflect. I write this from my room in Edinburgh, where on this beautiful June day, I am preparing for the second day of our first ever Raindance UK tour. Last night in the pub with Amy (producer) and Orestes (marketing and filmmaker) we were talking about a common question we get asked at Raindance: What Makes Great Filmmakers So Great?

I thought I’d do some research and pumped the phrase into Google, full of anticipation. Very disappointing results. I realised that analysing what makes a filmmaker great would never lead me to a film school library or an online answer. I then stumbled into an excellent blog written by a west coast Canadian film director Peter Marshall. Peter is one of these amazingly talented filmmakers who has made over 40 films, and for whom proper recognition has yet to come. Peter is also one of those rarities in the film world who is good at sharing his hard-won knowledge. It is as his role as a film directing teacher that he puts out a newsletter well worth subscribing to. And from his newsletter, I think I might have found some answers to the question: What Makes Great Filmmakers So Great?

1. Be a film buff

Peter’s blog led me to a British website called Black Country Cinema – a website so well organised that at first I thought it was American! (Actually this is merely an attempt at early morning humour.) Black Country is the work of four Midlands based filmmakers who celebrate film-making as often and as hard as possible. One of their members, Matthew E Carter has written an excellent article titled Do Film Buffs Make Better Filmmakers?.

The argument Matthew puts forward so eloquently is:

Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Jim Jarmusch, Chris Nolan, Michael Haneke, Win Wenders, Jean Luc Godard etc. all film buffs, but does it have anything to do with their success?

Apparently not, Matthew concludes. Knowledge is really useful, but without passion and artistic vision your artistic efforts will be feeble and futile. Don’t confuse the ability to recognize great work with the ability to create it.

2. Hone your craft

Shortly after leaving art school I came to the UK where I worked for a short while with the most successful and prolific British sculptor, Sir Henry Moore. I used to spy on him as he would walk back to his farmhouse via a stream that runs through the meadow, and wonder why he would always be stooping over and putting little pebbles and bits of bone in his pocket (there was an abattoir upstream).

One morning I was sent to the farmhouse to deliver a message, and there he was — the greatest ever British sculptor sitting at his bench sketching these simple objects. I asked him, in words to this effect, why he of all people, creator of monumental sculptures of wood, bronze and stone was sketching these humble bits of bone and stone.

I am building up my vocabulary of shapes.

Excellent advice for filmmakers, no? If you want to be a filmmaker, make films — however humble. Let the rest of us mere observers decide if they are great.

About 

Elliot Grove is the founder of Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards. He has produced over 700 hundred short films and also five feature films, including the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead in 2006, Deadly Virtues in 2013 and AMBER in 2017. He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance trailer 2017

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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