When exploring authorship in the context of cinema, there is no getting around the auteur theory.
The auteur theory came out of the ideas developed during the nouvelle-vague in France by the likes of Francois Truffaut: that the director can be seen as the major creative force and to some extent sole author of a movie. As Francois Truffaut wrote: “There are no good and bad movies, only good and bad directors”.
In reflecting on these ideas as published in the French magazine Les Cahiers du Cinema, Andrew Sarris (an American film critic) even went so far as to suggest that “good directors make good movies, and bad directors make bad movies”.
Although in these discussions it is never denied that the rest of the film crew contributes substantially to the movie, it is asserted that it is still the result of a single dominant voice and vision.
One example that is often used to illustrate the auteur theory is the milestone science-fiction movie Blade Runner (1982), where director Ridley Scott is seen at the author of the film.
In the documentary “Dangerous Days” about the making of Blade Runner Ridley Scott himself can be heard saying:
“Sometimes they don’t comprehend, what I do for a living on a big movie. My performance is as important as any other performance of any person on that film. Particularly the star. The film that I make, at the end of the day is my movie. It may be a team thing as well, but I’m tacking the knocks, I’m taking the bashed, and probably I’ve developed it etc. So yes, it’s my movie, and I’m inviting people to come in and do it. That’s what a director is”.
But the same documentary is filled with examples of individual contributions that became essential parts of the world of Blade Runner. It is often argued that Ridley Scott is one of the modern examples of an auteur filmmaker and Blade Runner is a prime example of his vision. But I could as easily make the argument that Blade Runner is the result of a wild collection of individually developed ideas and elements that somehow became more than the sum of their parts.
Do androids dream of electronic sheep Of cours the first hint that the authorship of Blade Runner is a lot less concretrated than just the person of the director is that fact that the script is an adaptation from a book by Phillip K. Dick. After multiple drafts of the screenplay were written it was sent to Ridley Scott, who turned down the project at first. Only after he dropped out of Dune, he was persuaded to reconsider directing the movie that became Blade Runner.
Jean Moebius Gireaud
As admitted by Ridley Scott himself, a lot of the visual style of the world of Blade Runner was inspired by the work of French comic artist Moebius – specifically the story ‘The Long Tomorrow’. Scott tried to hire Moebius as a production designer but he was busy working on an animated feature at the time.
Darryl Hannah was one of the actresses doing screentests for ‘Pris’, all with completely different looks. The actresses doing the test scenes had to develop their own interpretation of the character before the audition. Hannah had seen Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu and went with a Klaus Kinsky look with blacked out hollow eyes. The iconic ‘Pris’ was very much her own creation.
Edward James-Olmos developed his mash-up multilingual language for “cityspeak” mixing up Hungarian, German and French all by himself. Olmos says about Scott: “He never questioned it.”
Tears in the rain
Possibly the most famous lines of dialogue in Blade Runner: Roy Batty’s “Tears in the rain” speech, was re-written by actor Rutger Hauer the night before the scene was shot.
The scene had been written by David Peoples, who was hired to re-write the original screenplay by Hampton Fancher.
These are just examples of how the world of Blade Runner is not so much the result of a singleminded director, but the accumulation of all these little contributions that become more than the the sum of their parts.
Denis Villeneuve, the director of Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to Blade Runner said this when asked about auteur theory:
“If I wanted to have total control and be a dictator, I would do ice sculpture in my basement. If I want to make a movie, I’m going to work with 500 people and I will have to work with their strength and their weakness. The idea, as a director, is to be able to bring everybody on board and to inspire and give energy to everybody and to explain specific color, specific ambience. I need to be very precise, but I think I’m a better director when I’m more a channeler than a dictator. When I look at the result, it’s better than what I had; then, it’s tough for my ego but it is (better). And that’s the poetry. The beauty of cinema is, like, 400 hundred people shooting at four o’clock in the morning for a month, trying to create poetry.”
That voice-over Towards finishing of the film, the producers were worried that the narrative would be unclear to the audience and it was decided to bring back the voice-over that Scott had removed from the script. In the last recording sessions for the voice over Scott was not even present. Harrison Ford was not happy about doing the voice-over and although he has denied intentionally sabotaging the voice-overs you can tell from his rendition that there’s a distinctive lack of enthusiasm.
When a ‘directors cut’ was released Scott removed the voice-over again, but a wide audience (including director Guillermo Del Toro) prefers the version with the voice-over, with the bland acting becoming part of Ford’s android character.
As some of the articles below demonstrate, one can just as easily make the argument that Ridley Scott is indeed the main author of Blade Runner. If you take into consideration that there are seven known versions of Blade Runner, of which five were widely released, it becomes clear that that at least the process towards the final version was also one of experimentation and back-and-forth testing with audiences.
I am not interested in taking away anything of the remarkable accomplishments of Ridley Scott. But I think it is important to realize that a director or team leader can have a strong and identifiable voice, without suppressing or limiting the voices of the team members.
Maybe a good illustration of this is Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz instrumentalists, composers and band leaders of the 20th century. As a bandleader he is famous for developing very minimal frameworks for his band members to improvise within. Considering that Davis hired many young and unknown players that developed to become distinctive voices in their own right: Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Mike Stern and Joe Zawinul to just name a few. I try to make that connection here.
In spring of 2017 I created the Atlas of Rotterdam in 2070. This document was an attempt to curate and bundle the outcomes of a team session exploring our thoughts and ideas for the world in which to set ‘Fight’, a science fiction feature film that is being developed.
I discussed the outcome with the director who was really excited by the material and we agreed that the next step could be to make the selection more specific: create more specific chapters and categories within the images and look for stories within those.
To open up the process I printed all the images that we had collected (many more than ended up in the previous Atlas). We put them on the wall in random positions, without adhering to earlier categories or order.
This opened up interesting conversations about contrasts and similarities between the images, and we recognized new patterns that we had not noticed before.
We started reordering and regrouping the images and this sparked more detailed conversations shaping our vision of the futuristic world of ‘Fight’.
Printing out all the images that we collected through sharing Pinterest pins was at first meant to be a conversation starter. Intuitively I wanted to get the team in the same space and have an organic exchange of ideas. Huddling 5 people together over a digital screen was an unattractive idea (although I was not sure why).
Upon reflecting I realize what I’m doing is alternating convergence with divergence. During the first session we were mostly divergent, thinking out loud and collecting as many thoughts as we thought useful. After collecting more material I converged the process by bringing these images into a unified Atlas.
From this it would have been easy to converge further and go into detail but instead I presented my interpretation in the form of the Atlas, but at the same time opened it up by presenting all images without order or hierarchy.
In hindsight this process of alternating convergence with divergence resembles the ‘double diamond’ as proposed by the British Design Council in 2005.
Accidentally, or maybe intuitively, I invited the team to take part in ordering the images by making the process really accessible.
It is also a good example of the value of geographic proximity: this was a lot easier to organize with all teammembers living in The Netherlands.
In august we spent a week with Bureau Buitengewone Zaken, to experience their hidden design method. During the week we were challenged to design and develop interventions aimed at testing our questions, engaging with participants and collecting data to further feed our research.
The first day was spent mapping our objectives as a starting point for the first steps in designing some kind of interaction with participants.
I started out with the main research question that formed the center of my poster essay, and developed a sub-question that would be the basis for my work during the next days.
At first I was struggling to come up with an idea that could be executed in the following days. There was no real possibility to do a session with my filmmaking peers. But following a conversation with one of the coaches I realized I could use my activities as a rugby youth trainer to experiment with the hidden design method.
While a lot of rugby coaching is done through ‘drilling’ the intended behavior, the best theoretical outcome is that the players play exactly as expected of them. In practice this is never the case of course, especially with children. During this workshop I wanted to test what role I can play in inviting the players to be creative in their solutions, developing new (to them and maybe to me) types of play. The thought is that this may lead to developing a playing style from within the group, making it ‘their own’, which may be more enjoyable, but mostly better suited to the specific skills and attitudes of the group of players.
And this is where the parallels with my professional research in the field of visual effects and filmmaking start to emerge. I propose that by inviting the individual creativity and craftmanship of the teammembers and making this central to the design process, this will lead to new ideas that will also be better suited to the skills and qualities of the teammembers.
This leads to the following question:
“What role can I play to stimulate this creative process, and what are the possible threats or stimulating factors to take into account?”.
This I wanted to test on the rugby pitch.
The approach I took was to create a realistic game situation, and invite the players to design a gameplan to execute together in response to it. I used the Hidden Design Intervention Card to prepare.
Session 1: players age 12 – 13
Players were a bit confused by the invitation to think of a plan. They were clearly expecting the coach (me) to explain what I would like them to do. The team had just started training together this week so some were still getting to know eachother. In this agegroup with players from group 8 up to 2nd grade high school the players were very self-conscious.
The general approach of the players was not very playful, not a lot of adventure.
PIVOT I simplified the explanation to the bare bones, expecting the younger age group that followed to be even less responsive.
Session 2: players age 8-9
This age group was really positively excited about the freedom to play. They had no inhibitions whatsoever and after an attempt ‘failed’ they were really keen to try it out again, or come up with a new idea. They kept wanting to do new experiments and were sorry to see the session come to an end and have ‘regular training’ continue.
This group was a little distracted by the camera.
OBSERVATION: if I want more ‘productive’ or ‘effective’ useable results, then I need to be a bit more specific and give a little more direction. This is paradoxical to my original statement.
The available time is brief for getting actual results with groups that are not used to being asked for creativity. The solutions were not very imaginative. The atmosphere felt ‘not safe’. After talking to their coach he confirms that the age group of 12-13 is very difficult in terms of self-consciousness and risk-taking is a complex issue.
In hindsight not surprisingly the 8-9 year old group was a lot more spontaneous in their responses and really enjoyed the chance of fooling around.
What would I like to get out of the next iteration?
If I want more useful or more surprising results I need to be a bit more specific in my briefing.
I will have a bit more authority in the next iteration because it’s my own group.
I can make the challenge a bit more explicit by demonstrating clearly what is at stake.
Stay as close as possible to the original idea to compare.
Session 3: players age 10-11
In the third session there was a slightly different dynamic, partly because the age group sat right in between the previous two groups, and I had already been training them in the previous season so they accepted me as their coach very easily.
The players were eager and excited about trying things out, and were rehearsing (I did suggest they could)
There was a very open exchange, I did not notice any inhibition.
When stimulating creative interaction within a group, the emotional safety within group is a huge factor. This is also affected by age.
The relationship with (credibility of?) of the coach within the group is a factor in the teams willingness to take risks.
There is a fragile balance between too little and too much input: too little direction can leave the teammembers uninspired, or results may be totally irrelevant to the goal.
If teammembers are not used to be called on their creativity in a specific context it will take time to get them to ‘play’.
As small and futile as an experiment may seem, they can sometimes lead to substantial insights.
There are many more parallels between coaching rugby, teaching animation and coaching creative teams than I was really aware of.
Trust and emotional safety are essential for creative interaction.
Too little information can actually be counterproductive when trying to stimulate creative experimentation. Some fuel needs to be provided to allow it to spark.
My full presentation that I did in the end of the week can be downloaded here.