What the Greats Say: My Favorite Directors on Filmmaking

I read an article this morning out of Vanity Fair, where Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes shares his top 25 rules for directors.  With his roots in theater and not film, Mendes has always brought a rich, deep, and unique perspective to his films.  He’s a true actor’s director, a steward of his story…his films always choose depth and substance over high-concept style.  To review the full list please visit http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2014/03/sam-mendes-rules-for-directors.

Director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty," "Road to Perdition," "Revolutionary Road,""Skyfall")

Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition,” “Revolutionary Road,””Skyfall”)

Out of this list, there were a few that really resonated with me – and I thought were valuable little lessons for creating egolessly, not just for filmmakers, but other artists as well.  Mendes’ list also made me think of others that I’ve read from some of my other favorite filmmakers.  So, I compiled some of my favorite rules, lessons, and reflections from some of my favorite directors…


“Always choose good collaborators. It seems so obvious, but the best collaborators are the ones who disagree with you. It means they’re passionate, they have opinions, and they’ll only ever say yes if they mean it.” – Sam Mendes

“Filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself.” – Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg directs his actors before shooting a scene in "Saving Private Ryan"

Steven Spielberg directs his actors before shooting a scene in “Saving Private Ryan”


“Learn to say, “I don’t know the answer.” It could be the beginning of a very good day’s rehearsal.”

“You are never too old to learn something new.”

“There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting, and less interesting.”

“Learn when to shut up. I’m still working on this one.” (me too)

-all 4 from Sam Mendes’ Rules


“The process can shift out from underneath you for reasons beyond your control. How you respond is what will define you and the movie.” – Steven Spielberg

“How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. How do you shoot a 150-day movie? You shoot it one day at a time.” – David Fincher

 “Get on with it. Robert Frost said, “Tell everything a little faster.” He wasn’t wrong.” – Sam Mendes

“I really try to jump into the world of the film and the characters, try to imagine myself in that world rather than imagining it as a film I’m watching onscreen.” – Christopher Nolan

Director Christopher Nolan setting up a shot on the set of "The Dark Knight Rises"

Director Christopher Nolan setting up a shot on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises”

“An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.” – Billy Wilder

“Just tell your story. Don’t be precious about it. Make it count. Make it emotional. And mean it. Really mean it.” – David O. Russell

Director David O. Russell talks with actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of "Silver Linings Playbook"

Director David O. Russell talks with actors Bradley    Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence on the set of                 “Silver Linings Playbook”

“You can only move forward, you can never move backward, and you can profit from absolutely everything.” – Martin Scorsese

“Always get to the set or the location early, so that you can be all alone and draw your inspiration for the blocking and the setups in private and quiet. In one sense, it’s about protecting yourself; in another sense, it’s about always being open to surprise, even from the set, because there may be some detail that you hadn’t noticed. I think this is crucial. There are many pictures that seem good in so many ways except one: They lack a sense of surprise, they’ve never left the page.” – John Ford


Learn to accept the blame for everything. If the script was poor, you didn’t work hard enough with the writer. If the actors failed, you failed. If the sets, the lighting, the post, the costumes are wrong, you gave them the thumbs-up. So build up your shoulders, they need to be broad.” – Sam Mendes

“You are going to have to take all of the responsibility, because basically when it gets right down to it, you are going to get all of the blame, so you might as well have made all of the decisions that led to people either liking it or disliking it.” – David Fincher

Director David Fincher on the set of "The Social Network"

Director David Fincher on the set of “The Social Network”


“The only time I’m totally happy is when I’m watching films or making them.”                           – Steven Spielberg

“I am passionate and want to try stuff. You’re never going to learn something as profoundly as when it’s purely out of curiosity.” – Christopher Nolan

“Never, ever, ever forget how lucky you are to do something that you love.” – Sam Mendes

Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg

Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg

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