Although born in Italy, Luca Guadagnino spent a large portion of his early childhood in Ethiopia. When his family returned to Sicily, he found himself treated as an outsider, particularly due to the darker skin tone he inherited from his Algerian mother. Like many an outsider before him, Guadagnino turned to film, citing Lawrence of Arabia as a particular inspiration. While in college, he started networking with local filmmakers. At one dinner party, Guadagnino asked if he should attend film school. Filmmaker Jean-Marie Straub told him not to, so Guadagnino didn’t.
It was shortly after graduating from college that he saw the film Caravaggio and caught his first glimpse of future repeat collaborator Tilda Swinton, who would go on to star in Guadagnino’s feature film debut, The Protagonists. Since then, she has starred in three more of Guadagnino’s films: I Am Love, A Bigger Splash, and now Suspira. Guadagnino’s biggest critical success to date is last year’s Call Me By Your Name, which received four Oscar nominations, winning one for James Ivory’s adapted screenplay.
In addition to working in narrative film, Guadagnino is active in the fashion industry, specifically haute couture, having directed a number of fashion films and advertisements for designers such as Fendi and Giorgio Armani. Known for his distinctive take on everything from fashion to camera lenses, Guadagnino has given some quality advice in interviews through the years, including the six tips collected below.
Good Movies Come From the Unconscious
Guadagnino quite frequently mentions the unconscious and the subconscious in interviews in a variety of contexts. However, in a March 2018 interview with online interview publication The Talks, the director got to the heart of why he values the unconscious in filmmaking:
“A good movie comes from the unconscious to me! For me, it’s how you attract elements together. You welcome things and you think, ‘That’s an interesting thing,’ but you don’t think rationally about things. For instance, the decision to shoot ‘Call Me by Your Name’ in Crema, it’s not a conscious decision, it’s more like, ‘I want to shoot there.’ And then I realized that that is leading me to the way I was when I was a young man in Palermo, Sicily. My sense of dreaming of becoming an individual that was independent from that oppressiveness that I felt in Sicily. I think you go to things through a way that you don’t expect.”
Coverage is for Cowards
In a July 2010 profile of I Am Love in American Cinematographer magazine, the film’s cinematographer Yorick Le Saux refers to Guadagnino as “probably the most technical director I’ve worked with,” going on to say that he “knows everything about cameras and lenses.” Which is perhaps why the director himself felt confident enough to endorse the following hot take on the shooting process later on in the same article:
“Coverage is for cowards […] I’m old-school when it comes to filmmaking. You have to express courage. You have to choose in advance rather than wait to choose in the editing room. You have to be able to stage action, and that can be an unnerving process. It’s the moment in which you are very weak and alone as a director.”
Make the Landscape a Character
One of Guadagnino’s trademarks as a director is the sumptuous use of space and settings in his films, most notably bucolic countrysides and rustic villas in his native Italy. In a January 2018 webchat with Gold Derby, Guadagnino addressed his distinctive approach to location and had the following to say:
“I think space is a character in my movie, whether it’s Italy or any other place. I tend to make sure that you as an audience can experience the journey of a character in his physicality, and not only in his emotional journey. So how do you understand someone if you cannot put in context the figure to the landscape? I don’t understand. So for me, that’s really crucial. Of course, ‘I Am Love,’ ‘A Bigger Splash,’ and ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ they are all set in Italy and they are all, in a way, explorations of people in Italy, foreigners in Italy, I would say. Part of my approach is always to make sure the lived-in space, the landscape, becomes really a character in my films.”
Embrace the Unexpected (Don’t Stick to the Script)
In addition to talking about what he considers to be essential in a film, Guadagnino has shared noteworthy filmmaking tips regarding those things he deems somewhat less important. And somewhat ironically, considering Ivory’s screenwriting Oscar win for Call Me By Your Name, one element Guadagnino thinks should not be overemphasized is the script, as he told the Criterion Collection in an interview published in December 2017:
“I don’t believe that the script is the most important part of the process. If you lock your director into what is written on the page, yes, you have an amount of certainty, but it’s the unexpected that makes something great.”
Filmmaking Is “Symbiotic Work”
As Guadagnino refers to his friendships and socialization with filmmakers and other movie types throughout college and beyond as his version of film school, it is unsurprising to note that he is very much a people person and approaches directing accordingly. In a November 2017 Deadline interview about Call Me By Your Name, Guadagnino elaborated on his collaborative attitude towards the filmmaking process:
“[Filmmaking is] all about the point of view. How do you coordinate the efforts of all the people to create this point of view? You can listen to a great symphony of Mahler and have a bad experience, because the conductor and the orchestra are not aligned to make that symphony resonate in the ears of the listener. Or, you can be lifted to the heavens.”
Directors Should Be Direct
And on the subject of collaboration and making the on-set environment as pleasant and productive as possible, Guadagnino has more advice to give, especially with regards to directing actors. This is what he had to say in a November 2017 Vulture interview:
“I really invite the actors’ collaboration not just as performers, but to really participate in making the film 100 percent. Also, I’m very blunt. I don’t tell lies, not when I’m making a movie. It can be a beautiful thing to be direct, because people are rarely direct.”
What We Learned
Guadagnino is known for his distinctive style, whether that be with regard to fashion or film, and this translates to his moviemaking advice. From treating space as a character to embracing the unexpected, Guadagnino’s directorial approach is a fascinating mix of trusting gut instinct and precise technological methodologies from which we could all learn a thing or two.