The Making of a Film

Posted on February 5, 2010 by Mike Riddell

Walter Murch

There’s an interesting discussion to be had around the seemingly innocuous question of when (and how) a film is made. In relation to The Insatiable Moon, many answers are possible. As the screenwriter, I’d like to think it was made in the seven years of development, and even before that when I was writing the novel and watching images play out in my mind. No doubt the majority of the crew would answer quite truthfully that the film was made between 16 November and 18 December 2009, when the intense work of the shoot was under way. And yet, here we are some months later, and to a certain extent the film is still not made. It exists in its raw materials, in its digital realisation of images. But it is yet to become a film. Now the director and editor must pursue the delicate dance of not only cutting but discovering the film.

The wonderful book by Michael Ondaatje, The Conversations, which is a dialogue with maestro editor Walter Murch, posits two different approaches to the making of a film. The first, exemplified by Hitchcock and George Lucas, approaches the filming process as a means of realising a pre-existing vision – given by the screenplay and the director’s interpretation of that. The second, as practiced by Francis Coppola or Mike Leigh, regards the film as something to be found in the process of making it, through the collaborative endeavour. Reflecting on these divergent methods, Murch says:

It has to be said – both systems have their risks. The risk of the Hitchcockian system is that you may stifle the creative force of the people who are collaborating with you. The film that results – even if it’s a perfect vision of what somebody had in his head – can be lifeless: it seems to exist on its own, without the necessary collaboration either of the people who made the film or even, ultimately, the audience. It says: I am what I am whether you like it or not.

On the other hand, the risk with the process-driven film is that it can collapse into chaos. Somehow the central organizing vision can be so eaten away and compromised by all the various contributors that it collapses under its own weight.

Personally I feel the middle way is the golden way in this regard. The creative contribution of a whole team of artists is needed to make the film, and, as Murch notes, even what the audience has to bring to it. But there is also the need for a strong central vision to be guarded by someone, and not nibbled to death in the process. This will be the one most important job of the director, much as a conductor must help a horde of musicians to create beautiful music from the lines and squiggles on a page. Our film has not yet been made, but it is there in the making.

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