Festivals SXSW

SXSW 2018: Darren Aronofsky Shares 10 Commandments for Indie Filmmaking

This past Saturday we had the opportunity to see Darren Aronofsky’s film keynote at this year’s SXSW Conference. Best known for his surreal and psychological dramas such as “Requiem for a Dream,” “Pi,” “Black Swan,” and “mother!,” Aronofsky is a revolutionary filmmaker who not only pushes limits, but also brings controversial yet important conversations to rise.

Aronofsky opened his keynote by discussing the history and progression of storytelling through the ages, from cave paintings to film making. As he put it, “Storytelling makes us human, it’s in our DNA.”

After digressing about his need for a coffee, Aronofsky continued on to share his own personal background through school, how he came into film making, and the lessons he’s learned through the years. He presented his “10 Commandments for Indie Filmmaking”, followed by the caveat, “With all humility, I’m a hack writer compared to the guy who wrote the Bible.”

Make the film only you can make.

In order to be a true story teller, Aronofsky believes that every film maker should place himself in each character of the film. “I’m the wrestler. I’m the ballet dancer. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem’s character,” he said. “I’m every character in every movie.”

Persistence is 9/10ths of the game.

Aronofsky discussed several movies in which persistence was key, specifically “The Fountain” and “The Wrestler.” Amidst budget concerns, doubts, and rewrites, he learned that “the more people who tell you no, the more you know you’re doing something right.” Instead of giving up, Aronofsky channels these challenges and uses them to prove himself, his talent, and his passion.

Work with family.

For Aronofsky, collaboration is one of the most important things on set. He encourages that every one pushes each other to do their best, so they can create something they are all proud of. His golden rule is essentially to eliminate any hierarchy. “It’s about treating everyone with the same respect,” he said. “It’s not about just respecting the people you know, it’s about respecting the people you don’t know.”

Do your homework so you can be open on set.

Aronofsky’s recent movie “mother!” was a prime example for this commandment. Aronofsky shared that they prepared for the film by renting a warehouse in Brooklyn for rehearsals with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem. For three months they figured out the best shots, transitions, and POVs which was by no means easy. This then led him into discussing the importance of procrastination, and knowing when you just need to take a break. To his point, “your brain is still working” during times of procrastination. Sometimes you just need breathing room.

Adapt to reality.

Aronofsky believes that you should “make your limitations into advantages.” Beyond the previously mentioned struggles, he also discussed the constant challenge of finding the right place for the camera, as this is what ultimately tells the story. To him, “there is only one place the camera should be in a scene, and it is up to the film maker to determine where that is.”

Don’t be afraid of your actors.

Let your actors cry. Let them scream. “Create an environment where they feel safe,” he said. “You want actors to be in a sandbox where they can create, and fall, and make mistakes.”

Know your audience. Be the audience.

Aronofsky could not stress more on the importance of this and remembering that you are not making this film for yourself, but a mass audience. In order to be the audience, you must “be present” and the “caretaker of the entire film.”

Commit to the vision. See it through to the end.

For Aronofsky, this was a major challenge particularly during the filming of the movie “Noah.” Despite the challenges thrown his way and backlash from evangelicals, Aronofsky pushed through and takes pride in the fact that he hasn’t lost a film yet because, “when you spend months fighting you have to try to get that vision done.”

Let your child go. Let things go. Finish it.

Sometimes the best option is to just walk away and not worry about the million tweaks that could be made. Aronofsky admitted he struggles with this constantly, but has learned that “you never finish a film, you abandon a film.”

Give a shit.

Last but certainly not least, Aronofsky holds that we should all continue to care about the world around us and making it a better place, especially during this day and age. When it comes down to it, “art is about disruption.” “Making something deeply human is what it’s all about,” he proclaimed. “Focus on human love, not human violence.”

Thank you Darren, for gracing us with your presence and bestowing upon us your 10 Commandments for Indie Filmmaking!

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