The 15 Best Filmmakers with Multiple Talents

6. Jean Cocteau (director / screenwriter / cinematographer / novelist / poet / playwright / designer / photographer / painter)

Jean Cocteau’s identity as a filmmaker does not eclipse his many endeavors. In fact, he is best known as the multifaceted poster boy of the alluring intelligentsia, which was based on the sparkling intellectual appetizer of cultural tourism that was Paris in the 1920s. He was famously an integral member of the guilds of intellectual discourse of his time.

For Cocteau, cinema was always avant-garde. Many formal and conceptual innovations that expand the very premise and promise of cinema originated from his enduring films, which are endeared by both students and historians of film as well as those with avant-garde sensibilities.

He made films that were instrumental in the creation of the experimental space, like “The Blood of a Poet”, “Orpheus”, “The Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Storm Within”. He is best known, to date, for his novel “Les Enfants Terribles”, which is an acclaimed work of great originality about isolated adolescence. He wrote five other novels, 23 collections of poetry, and 25 critical meditations and poems.

He worked as a screenwriter for films other than his own, which obviously demanded a different style of writing as these films belonged to different genres. He wrote screenplays for Robert Bresson as well as Jean-Pierre Melville (who adapted “Les Enfants Terribles”), and dialogue for three films.

Cocteau had written innumerable plays with successfully realized and acclaimed productions; he also adapted many existing plays. This large body of work corresponding to his association with theatre has exposed us to his brilliant storytelling talent. Like every artist with a vision of the totality of the presentation, he was concerned with every aspect that assimilated into the experiences.

Therefore, he designed the sets for his plays, as well as the costumes and other props and paraphernalia. This talent of his found contributory is on display in plays by others as well. Picasso, Satie and Milhaud collaborated with him in his production of ballets and dramatic performances; he also designed ballets for Sergei Diaghilev.

He was also a fashion designer, with ingenious embroidery motifs and surreal themes that would be incorporated into clothing and accessories crafted by Elsa Schiaparelli; he also collaborated with Gabrielle Chanel in this field. Cocteau illustrated covers for Harper’s Bazaar in the 1930s, and he painted the interiors of Chapelle de St. Pierre at Villefranche.

Retrospective exhibitions that were tributes to this genius included more than 300 drawings, 300 photographs, and 20 paintings. He was also the cinematographer in Jean Genet’s film “Un chant d’amour”.


7. Abbas Kiarostami  (director / screenwriter / art director / film editor / poet / photographer / painter / illustrator / graphic designer)

One of Iran’s most famous global exponents and anchor of the creative life of his people, Abbas Kiarostami is a landmark in the medium. His films are characterized by their poetic cinema verite style, serene directorial integrity, and great formal experimentation in humane premises (as in “Close Up”).

He is distinguished in the Iranian New Wave movement, not only as a pioneer but also as the artist who feels the pulse of Iran’s human reality most effectively. He is known to deliver critiques of society through elaborately realized characters and understated storytelling, and he writes his films with observational insights and inimitably naturalistic dialogue. He has also written screenplays for other filmmakers, including Jafar Panahi.

Kiarostami is a famous Persian poet, and his love for Persian poetry naturally infiltrates his cinematic style, and also sometimes appears as direct quotations. “Walking with the Wind”, a bilingual collection of more than 200 of his poems, was published by Harvard University Press.

These works are further testimony to the man’s profound intellectual clarity; his poems have been included in the leagues of great modern Persian poetry, which derived from the idealist traditions of the region and also borrows tonal and philosophical choices that make them somewhat Haikuesque.

He is an art director for his films, and also a craftsman with his installation art receiving great appreciation all over the world. He is also a qualified illustrator and painter; his innate talent, which he cultivated into his late teens, won him a painting competition when he was 18 and he left home to study at the University of Tehran’s School of Fine Arts, where he majored in painting and graphic design.

As a painter, designer and illustrator, Kiarostami did visual work for advertisements in the 1960s, designing posters and creating commercials, and he shot innumerable advertisements for Iranian television. He began creating credit titles for films and illustrating children’s books, and would later create the promotional material for his own films.

He is also an accredited film editor. His photographic work includes “Untitled Photographs”, a collection of over 30 photographs, mostly of snow landscapes, taken in his hometown of Tehran.


8. David Lynch (director / screenwriter / actor / painter / musician / designer / writer)

As an insanely modern surrealist, David Lynch made hypnotic films of unique naturalistic fantasy and violence that were executed with mystifying and disturbing visual grammar, and they address the most obscure corners of the human psyche. In his unique style, he has created films that include elements of horror, neo-noir, psychological thrills, and he also penned a comedy-mystery TV series.

His films are known for their ambiguities and the dream logic of his imaginative plots, which try to penetrate the subconscious through a technique of jigsaw puzzle motifs. He has acted in many of his films and has appeared in many other works by other creators, both for American television and film.

He had initially decided to pursue painting as a career path early in his life and attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. His paintings are not only exquisitely beautiful with surreal themes, but they are also the origin of his curiosity with cinema; his first short film was an animation inspired by his own paintings, which can be distinguished for their use of dark colors.

According to Lynch, all of his paintings are violent comedies. He is a Francis Bacon admirer and has had his works exhibited in significant platforms, and they have always received undisputed acclaim. A constant experimenter with technique, he was a filmmaker eagerly imbibing new technologies, from Internet platforms to digital video.

Lynch’s contributions and roles in the music industry range from directing concerts to composing and writing lyrics. He has been associated with genres like experimental rock and electropop, and he wrote the lyrics for Julee Cruise’s first two albums in collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti.

For his own productions, he composed music for ”Wild at Heart”, ”Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me”, “Mulholland Drive” and ”Rabbits”. In 2001, he released a rock album called “BlueBob”, performed by Lynch and John Neff. He experimented with his guitar style, playing it upside down and backwards. He released two electropop music singles, called “Good Day Today” and “I Know”, that he created and sung himself with guest contributors.

As a designer, Lynch designed furniture for some of his films, as well as exhibitions and a nightclub in Paris. Silencio is a private club that Lynch designed, which is free to public after midnight. It is inspired by the concept of the theatre in “Mulholland Drive”; it creates an underground space for performances and brews an intimate atmosphere through its design. Lynch also wrote a nonlinear autobiographical book on his creative process and practice of Transcendental Meditation.


9. Chris Marker (director / screenwriter / photographer / journalist / multimedia artist / film ist / novelist / film editor)

Film theorist Roy Armes said, “[Chris] Marker is unclassifiable because he is unique … the French Cinema has its dramatists and its poets, its technicians, and its autobiographers, but only has one true ist: Chris Marker.” Nothing could describe this genius better. His use of visuals was isolated from the rest of cinema, even in fiction. The style of creating a language entirely qualifying for cinema in experience, through a series of still photos, is how he is referred to by students of film all over the world.

He is also known for redefining the documentary. He also edited several films by other filmmakers as well, as his own films had pushed the boundaries of the aesthetics associated with film editing. He wrote his first novel, “Le Coeur Net”, in 1949 and has been since regarded as a writer of repute.

He began a career as a journalist after the war, first writing political commentaries, poems, short stories, and film reviews for the journal Esperit, a neo-Catholic, Marxist magazine. He would later become an early contributor to Cahiers du cinema. He sustained his vocation as a traveling journalist and photographer throughout his life. He was hired as the editor of the series Petite Planete that had editions dedicated to each country, with photographically illustrated and informative content.

As a photographer, he had several published series. He was an accomplished multimedia artist who created video installations, digital prints, and photogravures with an extremely futuristic vision for the arts.


10. Alejandro Jodorowsky (director / screenwriter / playwright / actor / novelist and short story writer / ist / poet / composer / comic book artist / spiritual guru / circus clown / production designer)

This beloved figure of cult cinema and avant-garde surrealism is based on an anarchist “hybrid blend of mysticism and religious provocation”. He interpreted the medium of cinema, with films like “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain” that established him as a director of great control and a writer of vivid imagination.

His statements transcended civilization and normalcy to approach human conditions with spirituality, and the countercultural absurdity of his works made him an immensely popular deliverer of psychedelic experiences.

He wrote a series of science fiction comic books, most notably “The Incal”, which bears the claim of being “the best comic book ever written”, and also “The Technopriests” and “Metabarons”. His comics were intellectually heavyweight alternatives to popular fare, but were great achievements in the genre.

He drew the comic strips and wrote stories for many comics in Mexico other than his own. He has written books and delivers propagating lectures on his own spiritual system – “psychomagic” and “psychoshamanism” – and which uses themes like alchemy, the tarot, Zen Buddhism, and shamanism. With a great curiosity in anarchism, he began attending college, studying psychology and philosophy.

After dropping out, he pursued his interest in theatre and mime; he took up employment as a clown in a circus and began a career as a theatre director.  In 1947, he founded his own theatrical troupe, the Teatro Mimico, which by 1952 had 50 members. In 1953, he wrote his first play, ”El Minotaura (The Minotaur)”.

He was a founding member of the anarchist panic movement, and he was also a musician and a composer. He wrote the scores for both “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain”, and he also designed the sets and costumes for both of these films.

As a theatre director, he had produced about 100 plays in Paris, Mexico City, London, Madrid and elsewhere. His plays were well known for the same fierceness of surreal mysticism that is recognized in his largely staged cinema of graphic provocation.

He had written 16 plays and has half a dozen published poetry books to his credit, with experimental verses of certain merit. He published about four novels with mystical themes, and several short stories and in Spanish, all of which are read and appreciated as important anarchist art.