Film School: Male Directors Who Do It Right

David Lynch, Pedro Almodóvar, Denis Villeneuve David Lynch, Pedro Almodóvar, Denis Villeneuve

Commercially- and critically-acclaimed ‘auteurs’ who destroy the ‘difficult genius’ myth.

David Lynch

Dispelling the myth that co-requisite behaviour for ‘auteur’ directors is abusive treatment of cast and crew, the female stars of David Lynch‘s films routinely attest to feelings of safety, trust, and respect, despite the themes, scenes and stories exploring dark, even harrowing ideas. Here are some charming and, frankly, inspiring tales from Naomi Watts, Laura Dern and Patricia Arquette (via W magazine):

… and sure enough: here he is with Sheryl Lee, playing his own Laura Palmer, before shooting

… and during shooting:

In his book Catching the Big Fish, Lynch asserts that “the filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering”, and furthermore that “the more the artist is suffering, the less creative he is going to be”:

More of Lynch’s female stars describing the artistically adventurous and safe space he cultivates for creative collaboration:

Pedro Almodóvar

“The strength to play” the “hard” and “complex” mothers in Almodóvar‘s films, says Penélope Cruz, “comes from the compassion [for women who are] in that situation”, which inspires “truth in what you do and honour… when you are playing them”:

Paying attention – from lighting which can “favour a male actor, but… can massacre an actress”, to their mothers, “an inexhaustible source of plots and stories”, and to whom you should try to listen “without being seen” – advises the director (via BAFTA Guru):

A collection of video tributes to Pedro Almodóvar:

Denis Villeneuve

Countering the time-is-money hurry and pressure which more typically characterises the common understanding and atmosphere of film productions, Amy Adams describes the “calm environment” Denis Villeneuve created on set during the production of Arrival, which allowed for “silent moments full of breath, and full of awe, and full of wonder, and full of confusion and conflict“, which… I mean, what else should movies ever be? (via THR):

Similarly, Emily Blunt describes Villeneuve “blocked off the entire day” for him, her, and co-star Benicio del Toro to block the “heightened atmosphere” of their intense final scene together in Sicario (2015) (via HitFix):

More on Villeneuve’s work:


Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) editor Paul Rogers praises directors Danielssafe and sustainable production processes

… and there are so many lessons to learn from the production of EEAAO:

Ryan Coogler

While his stories, from Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) to Black Panther (2018), focus on male protagonists grappling with identity, Coogler ensures that he surrounds himself with female collaborators, both behind and in front of the camera, from cinematographers Rachel Morrison, Maryse Alberti, and Autumn Durald Arkapaw, and legendary costume designer Ruth Carter, to the Dora Milaje, and the almost-entirely female cast of leads in Wakanda Forever (2023). In this talk at BAFTA, Coogler describes how family, and in particular his cinephile mother, formed his relationship with movies, which shaped him as a director:

Edgar Wright

Scene It recaps how Edgar Wright fostered such an enjoyable atmosphere for his actors that they’ve all kept in touch via their email chain for thirteen years

… after working together on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010):

Further Viewing

Some examples of what we’re fighting against:

David O’Russell continues to direct (and receive Oscar-nominations) after infamous on-set behaviour like this:

Alfred Hitchcock vowed then worked to “ruin” the career of The Birds and Marnie star Tippi Hedren after she rejected his sexual advances:

Stanley Kubrick‘s celebrated relentlessness wasn’t directed only toward Shelley Duvall during production of The Shining:

Dune‘s Rebecca Ferguson reveals she refused to work with former co-star after being ‘screamed at’ on set” (via Josh Smith):

Terry Gilliam managed to produce at least one good thing – Sarah Polley growing into an exemplary director:

Further to that last example: actor-turned-award-winning-director Sarah Polley, who had “been on very unsafe sets” as a young actor, now seeks on her own film sets to “construct something that will be better for other people“. There are many lessons to take from the way she ran her set on Women Talking (2022):

“We tend to idolise artists that refuse to compromise,” cartoonist Lars Martinson observes, but “there’s something to be said for having the humility… to recognise that none of your ideas are precious or sacred“:

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