What it takes to be the most mainstream cult filmmaker.
Few filmmakers have as up and down a career as Guy Ritchie. Sometimes he’s seen as a cool director, then he’s seen as a hack. Sometimes he delivers positively reviewed movies, and sometimes his work is severely panned. He’s been considered mainstream, and he’s been appreciated on a cult level for his style, especially when it comes to action. Through it all, though, he’s been a successful, highly paid favorite in Hollywood, particularly of Warner Bros., the studio behind his last four movies (including King Arthur).
Ritchie isn’t the sort who gives a lot of advice to aspiring filmmakers, but he has shared some tips and “lines” (rules) of the trade over the years, and we’ve selected these six we think are worth following:
1. Getting Started Late is Fine
Ritchie wanted to make movies at an early age, but it wasn’t a serious pursuit in his youth. After dropping out of school at 15 (upon expulsion), he tried to make it as a bricklayer and a drug dealer, among other jobs. Eventually he figured out what he really wanted to do, went into the entertainment biz, starting at the bottom, and the rest is history. In a recent episode of NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, he shared what he learned:
I didn’t start seriously until I was 25. If there’s one piece of advice I would give anyone it is do not sweat until you’re 25. There seems to be something that takes place in the brain at 25 when you’ve had a quarter of a century of arsing around, learning about life…And all of that anxiety I went through from 15 to 25 was wasted. I just think at 25 get serious. And up until then don’t be.
Literally from the day of — from the age of 25, once I started in the film business, I did not stop working. In nothing else did I sustain any motivation or interest. But as soon as I got interested — as soon as I started in the film business just as a tea boy, that was it. I was off to the races.
What got Ritchie motivated to get into filmmaking seriously is also an interesting story, as shared in the 2005 book “Success: Advice for Achieving Your Goals from Remarkably Accomplished People”:
A useless mate I went to school with directed a commercial and got paid copious amounts of money for it. And the commercial was a pile of shit! The fact that he managed to get the job and that he had the balls to call himself a director was enough to inspire me — he was a director because he was making money. He was 24. I was 25, and I didn’t have a job and that wasn’t good because I knew it takes five years before you get anywhere. I began to panic…I’d read that Steven Spielberg made his first movie when he was 26. And somehow I did; I made a short film called Hard Case.
For Warner Bros., here’s Ritchie talking in more detail (and seemingly lengthier in time) on how he got his career started:
2. Self-Doubt is Normal
You’d think an experienced guy like Ritchie would be as confident as directors get, but apparently that’s not true. While he is fairly confident, he’s also fairly nervous when he starts a new movie. He told Echo-Pilot in 2015 about his insecurity both before beginning a project and after it’s done and headed out to audiences:
Yeah, of course. Because you put a few quid in the pot. You get a couple of years in, and all of a sudden some accountability takes place. I try to knock that self doubt, but you do need an element of it. You know, at the beginning of the process, I usually have a crisis for a week, where I’m thinking, “Have we really thought this through?” And I’m riddled with self doubt. And then it goes. (laughs)
3. Discomfort is Essential
In a 2009 Esquire interview, Ritchie reveals that he has “three best lines,” or rules about life, surely applicable to filmmaking. He doesn’t divulge the third one, the second one is “it’s okay to have beliefs, just don’t believe in them,” and the first one is:
You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s what karate taught me. The fear of being uncomfortable is worse than the discomfort itself…The illusion of pain is something you have to get comfortable with.
Here’s a new interview in which Ritchie explains how he keeps cool on the set:
4. Writers Need to Be Proactive
Ritchie has written most of his own movies and worked on the final scripts for his last couple studio efforts, but he isn’t as much of a screenwriter as he used to be. He prefers directing and can make more movies if he doesn’t start them from scratch. In a 2015 ComingSoon.net interview, he explains why he doesn’t write as much anymore while subtly giving advice about what it takes to be a screenwriter:
There’s no question that writing is the most painful and arduous process in the entire equation, because it’s not active like directing is active. Directing on the day is people give me a lot of ingredients and I’m the chef, right? But at least the ingredients are on the table and I just have to sort of act. It’s an interactive experience. Writing is not like that. Writing is you and a typewriter or [The Man from U.N.C.L.E. co-writer Lionel Wigram], myself and two typewriters, you know? So you have to be much more proactive about that than you do about any other element of filmmaking, so hence, we think it’s really important that we both liked. Lionel would not be sitting where he’s sitting if he didn’t write.
5. Keep Fit
Is directing always active, though? In the below answer to a 2015 Twitter Q&A question, Ritchie explains how since there’s a lot of downtime, it’s important to keep active and stay in shape:
— The Man From UNCLE (@ManFromUNCLE) August 11, 2015
6. This is a Fun Job
As tough as Ritchie makes filmmaking seem with other tips, in a 2015 Vulture interview he maintains that it’s the best job in the world and should be recognized as such:
The curious thing about directors is that there aren’t too many who go to other directors’ film sets, but I hear horror stories about what goes on, and it mystifies me how that could happen. Anyone who has wanted to become a film director and becomes one and is paid to do it as a career, you’d think they’d be incredibly grateful about the position. Levity is a word that I try to hang onto, because the filmmaking business should be a fun business. There seems to be no good reason why everyone shouldn’t be having a good time.
What We’ve Learned
Through all the challenges and pressures, the uncertainty and pain, filmmaking is a great job to have and one you can get started on after you’ve experienced a bit of the world and found it out as your calling (or realized your talentless mates are undeservedly getting away with it). It’s fun, just not easy, nor is it for the lazy. You need to be determined with your writing of projects and stay active while directing them.