When you start making film, you come to realise very quickly (or at least you do if you have the faintest scrap of self-awareness) that the auteur theory is bullshit. The very idea of a film being “by” one person is simply untrue.
Now, I can just about swallow the idea if a film has been written and directed by the same person, and in a low-budget environment. Lack of money and resources mean that the prime mover behind the film will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting both on set and in post. But watch the credits of any major studio movie and you’ll see how quickly the concept falls to bits. Film is a uniquely collaborative medium, a glorious meeting of a myriad of talent. Everyone on that credit roller brings their own strengths to the table. Sure, every shoot needs a boss, the buck-stopper, the go-to guy or gal. But that director’s USP, the look they negotiate with their DoPs, the performances they tease out of their actors, presents a unified body of work that can be effectively marketed. The notion of branding is as important as any airy-fairy hoo-hah about a director’s vision. When you sit down in front of a Hitchcock, a Preston Sturges, a Tim Burton or a Jodorowsky you have a certain preconception of what you’re going to get. To get that consistency of product, a smart director will have gathered a crew with which he or she can work comfortably in order to achieve the expected result. The same ADs, editors, camera crew. Effectively, you’re ending up with a band. And yet there’s one name front and centre in the credits – the person who yells “Action!”
Film is unique in this regard. Theatres have their companies. Music is performed by orchestras or groups. Art and literature, yes, fine, the auteur theory holds up there – because they are largely carried out by one person. Writing and drawing, as I know very well, are intensely solitary activities. The act of creativity is largely undertaken between the artist and the keyboard or the easel. It’s virtually impossible to make a film on your tod. It can be done. I’ve done it. But you won’t end up with a piece of mainstream cinema.
I think the idea of films being made by bands would be a fairer admission of the collaborative nature of the medium. If a writer, director, DoP and editor always work together, why not simply admit that and play to it as a strength? It’s not like there aren’t directing teams out there. The Coens, Nevedine/Taylor, the Pang Brothers – these are all acclaimed partnerships. More importantly, they’re strong, instantly identifiable brands.
There are groups of insanely talented low-to-no budget film-makers around the world who pool resources and help each other out on their shoots. Why not go the whole hog and simply gang up? Have some fun with it. Come up with a cool name. Get some band photos done. Everyone in shades. You know the deal. I’m not saying it’s an ideal solution – but at the very least it makes for a unique marketing hook, and everyone’s being a bit more honest about the co-operative nature of the gig. You could even make it an umbrella partnership, with members dropping in or out for each project.
An example, just off the top of my head. Call the group Cinema Conojito. The individual talents would be subsumed to a degree by the gang name as a whole. I would have credits that read something like:
For the purposes of this film, Cinema Conojito have been:
and then list the major talents involved, cast and crew, in strictly alphabetical order. I’m convinced I’ve seen this kind of thing before – it’s a Wes Anderson thing, perhaps. The point is that no one person takes precedence. Everyone has their role on the set and in post – the director still does the same job, as does the editor, the DoP. But no-one takes overall credit for a film that’s a product of a group.
What do you think, Readership? I’ve deliberately left holes in the argument to encourage discussion (and indeed I have an argument as to why this democratic approach wouldn’t work). Let me know if I’m talking out of my hat, won’t you?
If you want examples of films that are genuine one-man shows, may I direct you towards the works of Patrick Keillor and Bill Plympton? Oh, and there’s this…
(I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.)