Inspiration is a tricky thing.
As a writer / director, I’ve always depended upon this X-factor, this mysterious well of creative energy that allows me to put aside my reservations and fears and just dive into work on a project. I give this magical mystery energy full credit for the crazy outpouring of non-stop, back-to-back filmmaking that happened in 2011-2012, when Ryan, Michael, and I first launched Finite-Films.com and released a short every month based on your constraints. I honestly can’t think of any creative project I’ve ever written or directed that didn’t somewhat rely on me experiencing this powerful feeling I’m calling “inspiration.”
Here’s the problem with inspiration. Sometime’s it’s not there. And to my dismay, I’ve found that it’s not something I can turn “on” and “off,” because inspiration is not a conscious mental process. It’s by its very nature an unconscious, mysterious, instinctual kind of phenomenon. One can’t think their way into passionately wanting to create something with every fiber of their being…one has to feel it.
So at times like this, when that well of energy I once so reliably depended upon has gone missing, I wonder, “Where the hell did it even come from in the past?” The answer, time and again, seems to be: I watched a movie. Not just any movie—I watch movies all the time. But once in a while I see a movie that reminds me why I’m doing this in the first place. A movie that shows me something new, that gives me an experience I’ve never had before. That makes me think, “I want to do that!”
Today, I thought I’d share a few movies that have inspired me over the past several years—movies that awoke a deep urge to create, to expound a ridiculous amount of time and resources to write and direct a film from scratch, for no other purpose than I just had to. I’m in no way saying these are objectively the “best” movies of all time or anything of the sort. This is a list of films that simply got to me in a very special, personal way, and my thoughts on why that might be.
If you’re a filmmaker who feels like your creative well has run dry, I hope they can serve as an inspiration to you as well. Here are the first three; I’ll be back on Thursday with the rest in Part 2 of this blog post:
Children of Men (2006)
Why it inspired me: Children of Men reminded me what a visceral, incredible experience cinema can be. I walked into the theater not sure what to expect from this under-the-radar, dystopian-future film (most people didn’t even know it existed; it had a limited, poorly-publicized release late in the 2006 Oscar season).
What I got was one of the most intense, white-knuckle, beautiful, brilliant, suspenseful, deeply human film experiences of my life. I often think of Children of Men as a movie that “has it all”—as close to perfection as I can imagine any film achieving. The astounding, documentary-style “long takes” in this movie are reason enough to watch it, but there’s just so much to admire. The world director Alfonso Cuarón created is unbelievably detailed and thought-out, the social/political commentary is sharp and devastating, the stakes in the story couldn’t be higher, the cinematography is nothing short of groundbreaking…I could go on and on.
Watching Children of Men was an experience I’ll never forget and it became the ultimate “bar” to reach for, the movie to beat (and nothing I’ve seen since really has).
The Fountain (2006)
Why it inspired me: Wow, I guess the end of 2006 was a very inspirational time for college-student Alex. The first time I saw The Fountain, I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened to me. I walked out of the theater feeling very different than when I walked in. Even as I struggled to piece together the film’s three interwoven stories, which spanned the distant past, present, and future, there was no doubt in my mind that I had just been transformed by this movie. The film’s core theme was strange and powerful, and it hit me like a lightning bolt: “Death is the road to awe.”
I would go on to re-watch The Fountain countless times, and come up with my own theories about the rich layers of symbols and meanings embedded in this gorgeous, unclassifiable film by Darren Aronofsky. But even before I understood it intellectually, I felt this film down to my core. The gorgeous visuals, the haunting music, the unabashedly mystical / psychedelic imagery, the devastatingly honest performances by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (particularly in the “present” storyline), all came together to communicate—to transmit—a feeling, an experience, that couldn’t be expressed in any form besides cinema. When I watch The Fountain with an open heart and mind, the movie actually puts me in an altered state, where deep, important, cathartic feelings about life and death arise and wash over me. As my good friend Gary Ruiz put it, it’s film as “psychotechnology.”
When a movie can achieve that, it feels like an act of pure magic. In my mind, it’s sort of the ultimate goal one can hope to achieve in this art form.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Why it inspired me: I remember seeing the TV spots and trailers for Punch-Drunk Love and being really confused. I was in high school and hadn’t yet been exposed to the glorious filmmaking of Paul Thomas Anderson, and thought it was really odd and unlikely that Adam Sandler was (apparently) “amazing” in this weird-looking indie movie. Years later, after repeat viewings, it became one of my favorite films. What really struck me (and still strikes me) about Punch-Drunk Love is how wonderfully subjective it is. The film jettisons any pretense of “realism” in favor of putting you in the protagonist’s head, and it does so using every tool in the filmmaker toolbox.
Everything in this movie is working to give you the experience of being Barry Egan—the confused, troubled, lovable protagonist played by Adam Sandler (who is somehow totally, completely perfect for the role). The sound design, music, editing, camera movements…they all combine to take you on a radically original cinematic journey. In one memorable scene he’s being accosted simultaneously by his sister, his boss, and a crazy person on the phone, and we the audience are similarly accosted by rapid cutting, chaotic music, and sudden sound effects. It demonstrated to me just how much a filmmaker can do by making brilliant creative choices in every moment. When Barry feels adrift, confused, lost, we do too. When he gets what he wants, the camera sweeps and glides and frames everything beautifully; the music swells like a classic Hollywood picture.
Like pretty much all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, this is a movie that shouldn’t work but totally does. And that gets me super revved up about filmmaking.
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Alright, I’ll be back Thursday with the rest of my “most inspiring” list. Obviously, which movies happen to inspire me is a very subjective, personal topic, and will be different for everybody. I’d love to hear what films inspire you and maybe even make you want to make movies.
Seriously, I’d love to know because I could definitely use a little inspiration right now. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page with your most-inspiring list!
Till next time,