There’s a lot of talk around the indie film community about “finding your own voice”. I’m not totally sure what that means. I’ve been making films since I was 12 and still don’t think I’ve ever found my voice. There are certain things that excite me as a filmmaker and a few tools that I continually use to tell stories a specific way, but other than in my writing I don’t think I have a specific style that’s only unique to me. What I do have, however, are a ton of filmmakers and movies I look to for inspiration time and time again.
There are many artists who view the world in such an interesting way, that it’s impossible for their art to not reflect their point of view. Filmmakers like David Lynch and Wes Anderson seem to fit this bill. Watching their movies feels like stepping into their brains and seeing the world from a totally different perspective. It creates a sense of wonder in the world they’ve crafted for the screen while being entirely authentic to their artistic sensibilities. There are other filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright, for example) that have built a career and a visual language from the movies and works of art they love. They’re students of cinema that are able to translate what they enjoy about a certain film into their own style. It’s not as easy as ripping off a shot or referencing a line of dialogue. You have to understand the film from every aspect before you can apply the tools to your own work. The difference also lies in the volume of art they “copy”.
I’m not trying to say that you don’t need to have an artistic expression in your movies. Your art should be personal to you and the way you present your art should reflect that. BUT! It’s silly to expect yourself to have some completely original way in which you tell your story. What I’m suggesting is that you steal from every film you’ve ever seen and loved. Rip off a shot from Goodfellas, take a line from Chinatown, light a scene like the Godfather, do whatever you want! Don’t be afraid to have inspirations and for those inspirations to show up in your art because inevitably they won’t look or feel very much like the source you ripped off and now you’ve created something different and interesting!
A lot of notes on this blog aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and this one may feel like that, but it’s for real. It’s okay to not know how to say what you’re feeling. You probably got into movies because someone else was able to explain your feelings better than you were. And while I’m kind of joking about stealing direct images from your favorite movies… mostly I’m not. You should take what you like, but put your own twist on it. Your shot won’t look like Scorsese’s. Your line won’t sound like Robert Towne’s. Your lighting won’t feel like Gordon Willis’. But you’ll learn why those masters made the decisions they made. You’ll gain a fundamental understanding of how that specific shot or lighting setup works and the next time you make something, you’ll use it to your advantage in a totally new way.
Just make sure you aren’t focusing all of your theft on one film or filmmaker. My series, Cobblestoned, is heavily inspired by the works of David Lynch (primarily Twin Peaks), but I gather a lot of ideas and inspiration from other shows and movies as well like The X-Files, The Evil Dead, and Bojack Horseman. Figure out what you love and lean into it. Don’t worry about being completely original, especially early on in your filmmaking career, because you probably don’t have enough life experience anyway. Spend those early years experimenting with tools developed by the people you admire. Become a craftsman and apply those tools however you wish. But I guess I should probably mention that I’m not an authority on this and that our Dashing Agent lawyers strongly recommend not listening to anything I say.