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The 10 Most Meticulous Filmmakers in Cinema History

26 October 2016 | Features, People Lists | by Conner Ammar

5. Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson

Many agree that if there is any director who ever lived that has a clearly defined style, it’s Wes Anderson. As stated by Alfred Hitchcock, the only way to secure a style is with diligence. There is a very precise formula that goes into every Wes Anderson film that is extraordinarily quite simple to map out.

Anderson uses a color palette that is tailored to every film. These palettes are used to identify which theme of the story is being exemplified in any particular scene, character, set or prop. This makes the movie naturally dynamic merely in its imagery. The audience automatically and subconsciously feels exactly the way Anderson wants them to feel at every cut causing every image to be independently enduring.

Cinematographer Robert Yeoman has helped Anderson for every feature project the director has done. The close collaboration has been the perfect setting for painstaking detail orientation in camerawork. Each shot has virtually perfect centering of characters and care to blocking in order to accommodate the symmetry that the director attempts to convey in his famous storybook-esque fashion.

Those who poke fun at Anderson’s work often point out the seemingly random choices of syntax or wardrobe that he has placed on screen. From oddly eloquent or awkwardly romantic dialogue to unexplained accessories or birthmarks on a character, Anderson is no stranger to the strange, but it is a mistake to say that he just throws in these features solely for the sake of being an oddball. When pondered, these details actually make sense in context.

If a man has an eyepatch, the reason will be explained not by way of a backstory, but rather justified by his indirect characterization as a careless daredevil through his reckless actions. Such adjectives certainly do not apply to Wes Anderson’s style.

 

4. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese & Leonardo DiCaprio

A fair number of critics throw around the term “OCD” to describe meticulous directors as a means of accusation. However, in Scorsese’s case, such an ignorant slander is actually more of a lucky guess. Scorsese has given credit to filmmaking as a kind of therapy for his OCD. That therapy, when paired with his insurmountable brilliance, equates to a gilded filmography.

Like Paul Thomas Anderson, Scorsese is selectively liberal with his direction, he trusts his actors to be good at their jobs and allows them to improvise lines. The end result tending to be a several of the greatest movie quotes ever. At the same time, he is very careful to only use reliable actors who understand the narrative.

Scorsese is perhaps most famous for his blending of film technique and the careful editing of everything. The Sugar Ray Johnson scene from Raging Bull often comes to mind when this topic is discussed.

In the making of this epic biopic, Scorsese was suffering from the fear that his fame was dying out and that this would be his last film he ever made. With that mentality, he made an insane effort to make the most beautiful film he possibly could, to say he did not succeed and exceed is wildly disingenuous.

In the Sugar Ray scene, Robert De Niro’s fading confidence and consciousness is gorgeously portrayed in every slightest detail from lighting and sound contrast to the slowing up and speeding down of footage. This scene is not described as violent because of blood (the film is black and white, for one thing), it’s considered violent because the viewer is dragged into the ring like high-tide pulling a piece of seaweed back into the ocean only to be kicked in the teeth by spectacular editing.

The fact that such an analogy can even apply to and artform that is merely pictures and soundis incredible. Nothing of that intensity can be achieved without a commitment stronger than most marriages.

 

3. David Fincher

david-fincher

When a director’s most frequent response to criticism of method on set is reportedly, “Shut the f— up, please”, that filmmaker tends to show up on a list like this.

A handful of essays have been published on the method of David Fincher, all of them help immensely to prove his validity as a phenomenal auteur. Collectively, these pieces isolate the rules and constraints that he puts not on his cast or crew, but on himself.

Perhaps the most famous of these was a video essay published by Tony Zhou entitled David Fincher- And the Other Way is Wrong. In this video, Zhou perfectly lays out Fincher’s rules of shooting and how it all contributes to his overall style and, therefore, every one of his films.

Fincher once said, “As a director, film is about how you dole out the information so that the audience stays with you when they’re supposed to stay with you, behind you when they’re supposed to stay behind you, and ahead of you when they’re supposed to stay ahead of you.” Truly, there is only one way to achieve this control; the intricate layering of all information in a very stylistic manner (see the many frames in Fight Club (1999) where Tyler randomly pops on and off screen).

 

2. Buster Keaton

Sherlock Jr (1923)

As with Lang, Keaton suffered the plight of silent films to create an artform unlike any other. Where Keaton strayed away from Lang was that his job was significantly more taxing. On top of social commentary and rhythm, Keaton had to make the masses laugh.

A great deal of comedy directors fall flat in that their films simply lack the comedic glow that so many of their ancestors had. Even when certain films are astoundingly well written or performed, the director has no real function in the production aside from saying “action” and “cut”.

On the contrary, Keaton was the quintessential aspect of each of his films. Never using more than a few dozen title cards for dialogue and always ensuring his practical jokes were actually practical, Keaton made films for himself and for the audience. The stunts in his films are famous for three factors; how dangerous they were; how he was always in the thick of the danger; and how each and every one of them is still hilarious a full century later.

Keaton’s story of obsession does have a rather sad ending in that MGM did not allow him to express himself through his films, decreasing the quality of his work into oblivion. There is something to be learned from studying the effects that anyone’s obsession has on a film if it is not that of the director.

 

1. Stanley Kubrick

Stanley-Kubrick_Barry-Lyndon-4K-Shooters

If ever there were a director, or a human being for that matter, who was famous in life and legendary in death for meticulous behavior in all aspects, it was this man. From his demeanor to his work ethic to the way he took care of his cats at home, Stanley Kubrick was a loyal visionary.

One could make a day out of exploring the many stories behind Kubrick’s obsessive tendencies, but in the interest of time and space this article will contain three common practices on Kubrick film sets:

Much like Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, Stanley Kubrick believed that the actor was trustworthy to play the part well. However, Kubrick often had a very important, self-assigned role in the method acting process.

Often, the director would emotionally manipulate his actors in the manner of the story toward the character they were portraying. In “The Shining” for instance, he took most of the filming time picking at Shelley Duvall in order to drive to a kind of insanity that aurated off of the screen.

A hallmark of the Kubrick vision was how he designed a set. He would spend as much money on realism that he saw necessary. The bombastic nature of his scenery went down to the most finite of detail like the color of a table in a black-and-white film (see “Dr. Strangelove”). This at times even constituted creating a complex technological feat that changed cinema forever just to pull off a twenty-second stunt (see the gyro set in “2001: A Space Odyssey”). Conveniently, this draws to the final example.

One of the many reasons that Kubick will be remembered and beloved for years to come is because of the technological advances that he made to practical filmmaking.

For instance, in the making of the 1975 film “Barry Lyndon”, Kubrick wanted to have a realistic look into life in the 18th century by having a set lit only by candles. To still have the actors visible, Kubrick utilized super-fast 50mm camera lenses used by NASA to capture images of the moon in the 1960’s. Little did he care, Kubrick had changed the way the period pieces were made.

If this were the only example of how Kubrick change cinema forever, he would not be number one on this list. However, if this article were to contain half of what Kubrick did it would be a book. For more information on Stanley Kubrick, see “Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures” (2001).

To say that ambition is not met with obsession to not know the meaning of either. It is clear that these men understood that completely and with no regard for any other method of thinking, hence their great success in this field that they have so passionately contributed to.

Author Bio: Conner is a student with a passion for films and the brilliance behind their creation. He also enjoys other arts including music (specifically classical and jazz because he’s a band geek). When he’s not watching a film or practicing his trumpet, he can be caught writing for fun, solving logic puzzles, or playing games like chess, ping pong, Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, or basketball in his spare time.

 

 

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  • Brandon Thompson

    I would’ve gone with Chaplin well before I go with Keaton. While I do hold Keaton in high regard, I believe Chaplin’s attention to detail is one that rivals Kubricks.

    Also the author uses The Every Frame a Painting as a reference maybe too much.

  • Gavin Lawson

    You ever heard of a place called Japan? What about Masaki Kobayashi, famous in the japanese film industry because of his attention to detail, responsible for such masterpieces as Harakiri and Kwaidan. Or Yasajiro Ozu, who could take hours to frame a single shot? And from my extensive reading on Scorsese and Anderson, I wouldn’t put them on this list as meticulous directors. There is a whole world of filmmakers out there beyond white people, what a ridiculously western-centric list!

    • Mortimer

      Wes or Paul Thomas ?

      • Gavin Lawson

        Yes, good point, I meant Paul Thomas Anerson.

  • Cameron Olsen

    Fellini??

  • Deepesh

    You had better named the title “most meticulous American directors”. Still not a decent list

  • Andrija T.

    This article is very superficial without mentioning Akira Kurosawa.

    Kurosawa had a reputation for undertaking elaborate pre-shoot
    preparation and he was going to great lengths to establish the authenticity
    of scenes, arranging rooms and choreographing battlefields. When he was shooting “Ran” he asked his art director to create the “stones” of
    castle by having photographs taken of actual stones from a real
    castle, then painting styrofoam
    blocks to exactly resemble those stones and gluing them to the castle
    “wall” which required months of work. Later, before shooting the famous scene in which the castle is attacked and set on fire, in order to prevent the styrofoam “stones” from melting in the heat, the art department coated the surface with cement, then painted the colors of the ancient
    stones onto the cement. To make rain realistic, thick and visible for cameras, he combined milk and black ink.
    For “Throne of blood”, in the scene where main character is
    attacked with arrows by his own men, the director had archers shoot real
    arrows toward Toshiro Mifune from a distance of about fie meters, with the actor carefully following chalk marks on the ground to avoid being hit. (Some of the arrows missed him by an inch; the actor, who admitted that he was not merely “acting” terrified in the film, suffered nightmares afterward).
    For “Red Beard”, to construct the gate for the clinic set, Kurosawa
    had his assistants dismantle rotten wood from old sets and then create
    the prop with this old wood, so the gate would look properly ravaged by time. For the same film, for teacups that appeared in the movie, his crew poured fifty years’ worth of tea into the cups so they would appear appropriately stained…etc.

    • CaraLegal

      Belgium?

    • Cap

      Akira Kurosawa movie spoilers.
      (just so someone like me can avoid it.)

  • Clint Toshiro Kurosawa

    I miss David Lean, Akira Kurosawa or Sergio Leone, they were even more meticulous than Kubrick.

  • Saurav Sarkar

    I would like to add the great Indian director Satyajit Ray to this list.
    He was known to hunt for the perfect location for days and not shoot if he did not get one.

    He was a very good painter, so he used to sketch his scenes and would not proceed until the sets and props did not match his sketches.

    Similarly he was an author and made some movies on his own stories later on. So the images of characters and the location mentioned in the book had to match in the movie.

  • jeyaganesh rajamanickam

    Sergio Leone. Every frame of Sergio’s movies is full of details.

  • Generic Actor

    Perhaps a bit unsung but Sam Mendes usually likes spend a LOT of time cutting and re-cutting his films until they suit his liking. He doesn’t do that with just one or two of his films.

    One such example is during the making his first film American Beauty, Mendes and co. filmed lengthy bookend sequences which involve Ricky and Jane at court for the murder of Lester Burnham. The film was originally going to end with them going to prison and was also supposed to begin with Lester flying around the skyline of the suburb but during editing, they could not find the right tone for it. Mendes even described the initial opening scene as “an episode of N.Y.P.D. Blue.”

    He kept cutting it down more and more but in the end at the VERY last week of editing, he decided to cut out the courtroom sequences and Lester flying mainly because they didn’t suit the tone he was trying to set up. When the actors, crew and the screenwriter Alan Ball saw the finished product, they were surprised by the lack of scenes.

    It wouldn’t the only time that happened. Films like Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road have also been re-cut to oblivion until Mendes saw them fit.