At the beginning of Monday’s seminar, David Puttnam asked the crowd of budding filmmakers to raise their hands if they felt they had a sense of direction within their filmmaking journeys. The number of hands raised added up to an astounding zero. Hello Cleveland. Much like the central characters endless journey from backstage to front stage in Puttnam’s exemplary clip from the film ‘This is Spinal Tap’, we as film students seem to be having trouble finding the stage door.
No matter, it seems that PSOF’s students seem to be somewhat timid creatures and under further interrogation Puttnam found that we do have at least some sense of direction telling us what to do and where to go during our time here. But it seems that having some direction is still not enough to stop us from being left astray. Lord Puttnam’s advice is simple: find what you love doing and let it envelope your life. If you wish to become a great cinematographer you must breathe and eat great imagery. To become a great screenwriter you’d best read screenplays, not only reading screenplays but screenplays adapted from books, books from which screenplays are adapted from and the films based from screenplays that are adapted by books. It may seem like Lord Puttnam’s sense of direction may seem more like a borderline obsession but I feel inclined to agree with him. As the great writer Charles Bukowski once said “Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.” It’s this visceral, unflinching combination of focus and passion that may come to separate the good from the best, and based on the aforementioned number of hands raised, it may perhaps be something that PSOF students currently lack.
Once again, no matter, Lord Puttnam is here to show us the guiding light, one that will lead us from the darkness of uncertainty. And what was that guiding light….? Ferris Bueller.
And yes, we are in fact talking about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And no, Lord Puttnam is not telling us to skip school in order to have adventures with our timid best friend. He’s telling us that we need confidence. Having a good idea doesn’t quite cut it. Believing whole-heartedly in our ideas is everything. Puttnam quotes director Francois Truffaut as saying “I truly believe that my ideas can change the world”. For some having such confidence may seem more like blind arrogance but nonetheless it is the kind of attitude that will get movies made. So we have yet another question to answer: Are there any Ferris Buellers among us? Lord Puttnam’s investigation into the number of Ferris Buellers in the audience proved to be unfruitful. With a lack of direction and confidence things aren’t looking too bright for the young filmmakers of PSOF. When Lord Puttnam asked a student: “Are you Ferris Bueller?” they eloquently replied “No, but I’m working on it. Ferris Bueller doesn’t worry about consequences”. It’s an interesting thing to me, the idea of not having to worry about the consequences and something that I feel is hard not to fear. I find that we make most of our mistakes while paralysed by the fear that we might make mistakes.
Ok, so what? Where do we go from here? Towards the end of the seminar I started to get the distinct feeling of dejection floating around the room. Maybe it was just the fact that the seminar was taking place on the first day of our biggest submission week, a few of us may have started cracking under the pressure of our work or maybe people were starting to feel slightly dispirited from having Lord Puttnam turn a mirror on us to show the part of ourselves we do not particularly like. It is important however to take what we’ve learnt here and use it to move forward. Finding the stage door is one thing but learning to take our place confidently centre stage with all to see is a little terrifying in this juncture at time, and the worst thing we could do is let ourselves be paralyzed by stage fright. If we can find it in ourselves to make it to the stage door and channel the spirit of Ferris Bueller then perhaps we could find the oh so tantalizing magic of movies we desperately seek. And it is imperative that we do and that we do it right because as Lord Puttnam says “Neither of us are getting out of this alive”.
Charles Packer is an aspiring screenwriter, currently in his first year at the Puttnam School of Film. His favorite pastimes include (but are not limited to): Watching good movies, reading a decent book or two sitting down to drink a damn fine cup of coffee.