Advice for budding filmmakers from two of the greats: ‘Read, read, read, read, read. Read.’ And when you’re done reading, make sure you take at least a few risks.
That’s just some of the takeaway from Monday’s doc conference session at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) featuring two of the most acclaimed directors working in documentary today: Werner Herzog and Errol Morris. The two longtime friends joined TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers for an informal chat that spanned their friendship, their modes of working and their reading habits, among other topics.
Both men spent ample time praising each other’s output. Herzog, in town to launch his stellar 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams (look for a feature interview in the upcoming September/October issue of realscreen), told the assembled throng that he admires Morris’ ‘boldness of vision, of design, of a voice that doesn’t care what the chorus has to say about it’ as well as the American director’s ‘relentless pursuit of intelligent storytelling.’
Morris, at TIFF to promote his acclaimed Tabloid, said that Herzog has been an immeasurable influence upon his approach to filmmaking. ‘There’s a hybrid world between fiction and non-fiction that I think is the most interesting place to inhabit,’ he said. ‘For that, I think I’ll always be indebted to him.’
Being a director with a fondness for spontaneity, Herzog did take the opportunity to tell Morris where he thinks he can improve. ‘There’s a certain amount of discipline that you still don’t have when it comes to post-production,’ he lovingly chided. ‘You waste too much money!’
As for their own output, both men were modest when appraising their individual talents. Stating his theory that ‘there are no good movies, just really good shots,’ Morris said that a thread that might be seen running through his films is that of empathy. ‘Part of the job of an artist is to extend sympathies where they haven’t been extended before.’
Herzog, whose film was finished the day before the doc conference, is no stranger to challenge and would indeed have a challenge to face during the premiere screening of his film, when the projector quit minutes away from its epilogue. But for the director, such bumps in the road are all part of the process. ‘The producer or the distributor has to take you out of the theater in a straitjacket,’ he said, perhaps partly joking. ‘Then, you will be a filmmaker.’
ALSO AT TIFF: Another session at the Doc Conference featured a case study of the upcoming HBO documentary War Torn 1861-2010, exec produced by James Gandolfini and providing a riveting historical account of post traumatic stress disorder resulting from war. If the clips shown during the session are any indication, this will be a must-see… Old pals Edward Norton and Bruce Springsteen sat down for an informal chat in a Mavericks session prior to the gala premiere of the new documentary featuring The Boss, The Promise: the Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. While a few of Norton’s questions veered a little too close to the side of rambling, Springsteen was thoughtful and candid in his responses, whether he was talking about the revelatory impact of first hearing Bob Dylan (‘Dylan took all the dark stuff rambling underneath and pushed it to the surface’) or the E Street band’s humble origins (‘No one in the band had been on an airplane until Columbia Records flew us to Los Angeles’).