Welcome to Filmmaking Tips, a long-running column in which we gather up the shared knowledge of a particular filmmaker and assemble it all into the internet’s favorite thing: a list. This one compiles the filmmaking advice given by Danny Boyle.
So far one of the highlights of SXSW was the panel featuring director Danny Boyle. The enthusiasm he shared with us about the event was evident during his Q&A. Even when the nifty “Danny Boyle’s Filmography” montage Fox Searchlight cut together was playing we saw Boyle dancing to it. He was happy to be there, and so were we.
While the Slumdog Millionaire director was there to promote Trance, Boyle discussed many of his films and the lessons he learned from them. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to reminisce about all his movies, but what the director of Trance did talk about was noteworthy.
That’s why we took notes.
The filmmaking lessons we can learn from Danny Boyle
1. Become a Great Filmmaker By Showing Interest in the Priesthood
“There are similarities [between a director and a priest]. There’s directing in the priesthood and pouncing around. There are a number of directors who were going to be priests, like, Martin Scorsese and John Woo. Confessing your sins with movies is nice. You go to these dark places and access your darker side.”
2. Study Actors
“Theater is a much easier place to access, and you learn skills there. I learned how to deal with actors and the secrets. In the new film, Trance, Rosario Dawson says, ‘Five percent of the population is extremely suggestible.’ They use techniques to find the 5%, and they’re often actors who want to change and do things that change them. I think you get that with an actor: wanting to experience something as an actor and as a storyteller. You have to trust your actor to be a storyteller. Most people go to the cinema to see the actors.”
3. Your First Movie Has a Magic You Might Not Get Back
“Yeah, I think there’s something wonderful about your first time. Film is so technical. There are so many elements that are manipulative, which you construct specifically to produce an effect. There’s a worry you’ll lose the innocence of your first try.
4. Lie to Financiers and Win an Oscar
“There’s a perversity in there that’s delicious. We used Slumdog’s impact to make a film we wanted to make. Nobody was going to make [127 Hours] because it’s a guy alone for six days and cuts his arm off. You lie to them, ‘Yeah, it’s an action movie with one guy!’. [For Slumdog] We didn’t tell them a third of it was going to be in Hindi. Sure, some kids get their eyes taken out, but it’s like Amelie crossed with Trainspotting! You’ll say anything to get your film made.
5. “Too MTV” Isn’t a Bad Thing
“I was watching The Big Chill on the way over here, and those were bold choices. The Doors and Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now…I mean this whole realistic world is now being shown through this prism. When we started with Shallow Grave and Trainspotting we did that, but we were attacked as being ‘too MTV.’ They said they were like music videos. I thought it was a compliment at the time. People are living their life like that. I see my life like pop music, singing to myself, and seeing it here and there.”
6. The Power of Music
“My coming of age was puck. In 1978 I was 20, and that was an amazing time for me. 15 years later there was rave culture in Britain, and I was just about old enough to go enjoy that. I was 35, around when I started making films. Although the book [“Trainspotting”] is about drugs, the film is about dance culture. We did that unapologetically. We wanted to make a drug movie you could watch since most are so depressing. Maybe someone does heroin, throws up, and sits in a corner for 10 hours, but that’s not cinematic. The drug does destroy people in the film, but the rhythm of the film can be expressed with a different tempo. That’s why the music in Trainspotting…there’s a hidden path from pop to electronic down music and then to Brit-pop.”
7. Movies Should Assault
“I love energy in movies. I want my films to mesmerize people. I used to get that with Nic Roeg films, where I’m pinned by the characters and there’s no oxygen…I want the rabbit in the headlights. We don’t go to a dark room to discuss a film, but feel it and experience it. If it’s a dumb action movie, you may not want to. Depends on the context. When you’ve paid 12 dollars, I want you to be assaulted by the film. I want the film to assault you.”
A Few Other Tidbits From Boyle
- “In the films we make, we try to change genre so you don’t go in, ‘I know how to do this.’ I’ve done that before, and it’s not good for you. You should try to work it out.”
- “The risk-taking you shouldn’t do is what you should do, but you should cover your back. Those risks make your films stand out.”
- “I was never a fan of zombie movies. I never thought we were making one [with 28 Days Later], but that’s what everyone calls it. It’s gone on to kick off a renewal of interest, including a TV show we have no rights for.”
- “When I go to a movie I’m happy to let myself be changed by the experience.”
- “I have a terrible temper. There were a few moments on The Olympics where I was vile, which was surprising. In a huge, corporate thing like that, you have to defend your patch.”
- When it came to turning down knighthood, Boyle said, “Just wasn’t my cup of tea, really. I have no interest in that.”