Why Filmmakers Should Favor Their Own Work

By  · Published on July 29th, 2016

Never mind modesty if you’re set on making great movies.

We hear of filmmakers who hate their work. But where are the filmmakers who truly love their own movies? It’s common for artists to be unforgiving of their faults, especially if they’re perfectionists who are never completely satisfied with their finished product. Some people just keep on painting sunflowers over and over, while others remake their own movies, literally or thematically. Yes, there are directors who are proud of their output, but they still don’t include their own titles on lists of their favorite movies of all time.

Maybe it’s just a matter of modesty and the desire not to seem like an egotistical jerk, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying and even favoring your own art. Every artist and entertainer ought to strive to give their audience the best they’re capable of, even if that audience is themselves. Otherwise what’s the point? I have complete respect for any director who knows the quality and significance of his or her own movies. The same goes for musicians, writers, and athletes, the last of whom do seem to get it more than the rest.

This week, Edgar Wright shared a list of his favorite movies. That’s normal for filmmakers to do, but this one, posted at Mubi, consists of 1,000 titles in chronological order spanning from the silent era to this year’s releases and includes features, shorts, documentaries, foreign films, and works of all genres. The only thing missing is Shaun of the Dead, his horror-comedy masterpiece that I believe is so refined in its craft that Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg are aware of its level of excellence.

It’s understandable that he doesn’t include Shaun or any of his others on that list. It’s for people who already like his work and want to see his influences and other stuff he likes and thinks about. It’s not a ranked list nor is it based on his considerations of “the best.” These are his favorites, which he’s basically putting out there as recommendations. He’s known for that sort of cinephile fellowship, as he’s curated screening events showcasing particularly his deeper-cut choices, and he’s also recorded DVD commentaries for other cherished films.

I’ve only seen one filmmaker ever include her own films in a list of the best of all time. For Sight & Sound’s critic and filmmaker poll of the best documentaries of all time, conducted in 2014, Lucy Walker featured her own docs The Crash Reel and the Oscar-nominated Waste Land among her top 10 picks. It was a bold move, but one I admire. Both films are very well made, and she probably did put all her effort into them to be the best that they can be. Makers of films, like makers of anything, should be intent on pushing their craft and the craft in general forward. I believe she believes she does just that in her work.

Artists can be more excused for not favoring their art. True artists are self-critical. Entertainers, however, are not excused for not preferring their goods to the competition. They don’t need to favor their movies over a lot of the classics, but they should think their work is better than most everything else being made right now. Just as any manufacturer, product designer, and home builder should. If they don’t have faith that they’re delivering the best, then why should their audience or consumer?

Maybe filmmakers can get a pass in some circumstances. After all, their product is collaborative and often may not represent their whole vision for what would have been the best possible piece of art or entertainment. Music acts are a different story. Even with a band, each member should be so into what they’re working on that they’d want to listen to their own album in their free time. When I was in a band, I wanted our one record to be something I would enjoy. And in fact I love listening to it.

That’s not a work I had much control over, however. I only wrote the lyrics to one song, and it’s honestly not my favorite track (though they are my favorite lyrics, I’m not too humble to admit), and I wasn’t the most essential piece of the ensemble. Still, I took part in that band and recording as a fan of our own material, as did some of the others involved, and I believe it shows. If I worked on movies, regardless of the position, I’d feel the same way. Especially if I worked on something as perfect as Shaun of the Dead.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.