by Christopher Karr.
A creative act by any artist is an attempt to play God. After all, the word “create” means to “form out of nothing” and “bring into existence.” Filmmaking allows the artist to play God on a grand scale. The writer wrestles his ideas into black marks on a page and the visual artist works with hard materials like paint and tools, but the filmmaker uses flesh and blood human beings to perform scenes in time and space.
The movie director plays the creator of a miniature world, the organizer of a controlled sphere. As Ingmar Bergman once said, “To shoot a film is to organize an entire universe.” It’s a demanding task, playing master of a mini-universe. And major problems occur whenever humans decide to play God. For instance, what happens to the actors and technicians who devote themselves to a God who’s a tad insane?
Consider Werner Herzog, probably the most certifiable director still working in the film industry. This is by no means the most difficult title to earn in a place like Hollywood, but Herzog’s antics are uniquely unparalleled. What other director has agreed to leap into a cactus patch in order to appease a cast of little people threatening to walk off the set? (“Getting out was a lot more difficult than getting in,” he recalled in his book, Herzog on Herzog.)
When filmmaker Errol Morris approached the legendary director with his idea for a documentary about a pet cemetery, Herzog discouraged Morris by claiming such a movie would never be produced. In fact, Herzog added, he would eat his own shoe if the documentary was made. Morris’ film, “Gates of Heaven,” finally debuted in 1978. At the premiere, the humbled director participated in a short film titled “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.” He boiled a leather boot for five hours with garlic, herbs, and broth before feasting.
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