Clint Eastwood is one of the most enduring filmmakers in Hollywood. The legendary director started as an actor before making his directorial debut in the 1971 psychological thriller film Play Misty for Me.
In his five decades as a filmmaker, Eastwood has directed a remarkable 45 films including Unforgiven (1992), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Gran Torino (2008) and American Sniper (2014).
In this article, we’ll be sharing 65 of our favorite filmmaking quotes from the Oscar winning director and actor.
Clint Eastwood Filmmaking Quotes
Every movie I make teaches me something. That’s why I keep making them.
If you ever go to a music session, you’ll notice that the musicians can sit down and start playing right away, and everyone knows what to do. Of course, they’re reading it, but the conductor can tweak little things, and you can take that back to directing motion pictures.
I’m a movie maker, but I have the same feelings as the average guy out there.
Everybody accuses me of moving fast when I direct a picture. I don’t move fast, but I just keep moving.
I’m just doing a job, I’m just in the entertainment business doing the kinds of films that appeal to me. You’ve got to keep that in perspective. Fame is fleeting.
I keep working because I learn something new all the time.
It would be great to be 105 and still making films.
I love every aspect of the creation of motion pictures and I guess I am committed to it for life.
Eastwood on Directing Movies
The plan was, when I first started directing in the 1970s, to get more involved in production and directing so at some point in my life, when I decided I didn’t want to act anymore, I didn’t have to suit up.
Too many directors don’t know what the hell they’re doing. They’ll do multiple takes on scenes and try out different angles and lighting. I don’t like that. If you can’t see it yourself straight away, you shouldn’t be a director.
I always wanted to try something different. A lot goes into a film. But first you have to have a great story, a foundation; then you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to frame that story, how’s it going to look, how’s it going to sound. It’s hard to express it, because I don’t sit around and intellectualize it. A lot of times when I go to work, I have a picture in my mind of how things should be, but I don’t know why I have that picture. I just know that I want to get there and I’ve got to explain to people how we’re going to get there, or have people explain that to me.
You have to steal a lot. You have to have a criminal mentality to be a film director.
Most people like the magic of having it take a long time and be difficult . . . but I like to move along, I like to keep the actors feeling like they’re going somewhere, I like the feeling of coming home after every day and feeling like you’ve done something and you’ve progressed somewhere. And to go in and do one shot after lunch and another one maybe at six o’clock and then go home is not my idea of something to do.
[on the atmosphere on set] I like to have fun. I like everyone to be in good humor. And I try to keep it quiet. I like an atmosphere that isn’t loaded with tension. I don’t like sets where people are yelling at each other. The thing I dislike the most is people going ‘Sssh sssh sssh,’ because they end up making more noise than the people they’re trying to sssh. I remember after I started directing I was on a picture over at MGM, I walked out on the soundstage and all of a sudden I hear this huge bell ringing, which meant they were going to start the scene, and I thought, ‘What is this shit?’ What happens when you’re doing a really sensitive scene, or a scene that demands a certain amount of concentration? You shouldn’t put a person through that. If you talk to the actors who’ve worked with me–Sean Penn, Tim Robbins–they love the fact that they can be ready to go without a lot of fanfare. And for actors coming on who haven’t had a lot of experience, it’s even better for them.
In my career as a director, there’s always been some point where you get halfway through it, or three-quarters, and you go: ‘What is this thing all about, and why am I telling the story? Does anybody really care about seeing this?’ At that time you have to say: ‘OK, forget that and just go ahead.’
During shooting, I have certain objectives, but I am never locked into things. In other words, when I am going on a location, I don’t say it has to be this way because this is the way we looked at it two months ago so this is the way it has to be. I’m always flexible, I always improvise. If we looked at the location in the fall and the sun in the summer makes it a different place, I change it. If an actor is left-handed instead of right-handed, I ask them to come in whichever direction is more natural to them. I am using simplistic analysis here, but there is no rule that has to be stuck to rigidly.
Likewise, I am flexible with the script during production. Sometimes I get an idea in one scene that will stimulate something else. Or I’d like to see the actors do that, or maybe this character would do that.
… in America, instead of making the audience come to the film, the idea seems to be for you to go to the audience. They come up with the demographics for the film and then the film is made and sold strictly to that audience. Not to say that it’s all bad, but it leaves a lot of the rest of us out of it. To me cinema can be a much more friendly world if there’s a lot of things to choose from.
I don’t think my movies are that stimulating. People in the audience just sit there and say, “I admire the independence. I’d like to have the nerve to tell the boss off or have that control over my life.” In the society we live in, everything is kind of controlled for us. We just grow up and everything’s kind of done.
A movie is like a clay statue and editorial is the final part of that molding. It’s where a film evolves from a story that’s been read on paper and makes the transition back into a story again, only this time a visual one. It’s one of the most important processes of filmmaking.
By the time you’ve finished a film and lived through the editing and post process, you have no idea at that point if anyone’s going to go see it.You can never guess what people are going to like. I don’t make movies for their commercial possibilities; I’d hate to be driven by that. I always look at a story when I read it and ask, ‘Is this something that I would like to see?’ Secondly, I ask myself if it’s something I’d like to direct or would like to be in.
I don’t always shoot a lot of coverage. I try to shoot just what I want to see and sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, because when you get into editing, you realize maybe there’s something wrong or there’s a redundancy to one scene as it fits in the puzzle and you forego it. It’s the final molding process, like working with a piece of clay and you can break a film in editing by doing it improperly or enhance it with good editing.
On Story and Scripts
Nowadays you’d have many battles before you blow it up, but eventually you’d take it down. And that’s okay, I don’t heavily quarrel with that, but for me personally, having made films for years and directed for 33 years, it just seems to me that I long for people who want to see a story and see character development. Maybe we’ve dug it out and there’s not really an audience for that, but that’s not for me to really worry about.
Sergio Leone loved long stories and long pictures. To me, I don’t mind a long picture if you’ve got a lot of story. But if you’re just making a long movie to just show off more production value, I think you can edit some of that stuff down. That’s where he and I would differ.
As soon as I read that line in the script, “Go ahead make my day”, I knew audiences would love it.
Sometimes I don’t change a good script at all. I bought the “Unforgiven” script in 1980 and put it in a drawer and said I’ll do this some day – it’s good material and I’ll rewrite it. And I took it from the drawer ten years later and called up the writer and said I had a couple of ideas and wanted to rewrite some of it, and he was fine with that. I told him I might call him because I wanted him to approve my changes. So I went to work and the more I tooled with it, the more I realized I was killing it with improvements. So I went back to him and said that I had been working on these ideas and I really felt I was wrecking it, so I was just going to go with it the way it was. So I did. Of course, you make improvements along the way, but generally when you start intellectualizing it, you can take the spirit out of it.
I love stories about women.
The stronger the participation of the female characters, the better the movie. They knew that in the old days, when women stars were equally as important as men.
I always liked characters that were more grounded in reality.
If you’re doing a biography, you try to stay as accurate as possible to reality. But you really don’t know what was going on in the person’s mind. You just know what was going on in the minds of people around him.
I never second-guess audiences, because many times they’re just so much further ahead of you. And then sometimes, they miss what you think you’ve been explaining so simply. So you can’t second-guess. All you do is build on your own instinctive reactions. That tells you what to do. You do it the best way you know how, and you hope, of course, that somebody likes it.
Eastwood on Working with Actors
The great ambition and actor has is to try and make it sound like this is the first time this thought has ever been transmitted and its the first time the words have ever been spoken. If you do it 30 times, the actors working strictly on technique to get the illusion that it’s the first time.
I have a reputation for always going with the first or second take. Of course, I don’t always get it in one or two takes. It’s more that I want to get the feeling that we’re moving. You have to keep the crew and the production going at a business- like pace so they get the feeling they are part of something that’s actually moving forward.
Actors know, with me they aren’t going to be allowed to rehearse a scene for a couple of hours and then get away with doing 25 takes before we get it right. So they come with their full bag of tricks.
You hear about actors being late and all that sort of stuff, but you never find that with an actor who’s directed, because an actor who’s directed understands all the problems your production is going through.
[what he says after a take, instead of “Cut!”] That’s enough of that shit.
You have to trust your instincts. There’s a moment when an actor has it, and he knows it. Behind the camera you can feel the moment even more clearly. And once you’ve got it, once you feel it, you can’t second-guess yourself. You can find a million reasons why something didn’t work. But if it feels right, and it looks right, it works. Without sounding like a pseudointellectual dipshit, it’s my responsibility to be true to myself. If it works for me, it’s right.
I like working with actors who don’t have anything to prove.
Sometimes I rehearse with the actors, sometimes I don’t. Most actors have a pretty good idea coming to it, because it’s what attracted them to the role. Some are extremely instinctive and grasp the character right on. A great example of that would be Gene Hackman in “Unforgiven.” He had the character so perfect right out of the box on every shot, every sequence, and he really didn’t have to do anything different – he was amazing. Sometimes when I’m rehearsing for a camera move, the performance is so good that I just turn the camera on, not wanting to lose it. I’ve seen it happen in the past that actors come out really good at the start and then all of a sudden, they start killing it with improvements.
Respect your efforts and respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both under your belt, that’s the real power.
My old drama coach used to say, ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ Gary Cooper wasn’t afraid to do nothing.
I’m not afraid to look bad on the screen.
There’s really no way to teach you how to act, but there is a way to teach you how to teach yourself to act. That’s kind of what it is; once you learn the little tricks that work for you, pretty soon you find yourself doing that.
It’s always appealing to play a character that has to overcome himself as well as an obstacle. It makes the drama so much deeper.
For years I bummed around trying to get an acting job. They told me my voice was too soft, my teeth needed capping, I squinted — all that tearing down of my ego. If I walked into a casting office now, a stranger, I’d get the same old crap. But now I’m Clint Eastwood.
I always thought of myself as a character actor. I never thought of myself as a leading man.
It’s much more fun to play something you’re nothing like than what you are… It’s much easier to hide yourself in a character.
There has to be something in every role that interests you.
Clint Eastwood Motivation
My whole life has been one big improvisation.
There are two kinds of people in this world. ‘I’ people and ‘we’ people. I’ve always tried to be a ‘we’ person.
I like working. That’s when I’m feeling my best. And the people around me know that. My wife knows that.
I don’t believe in pessimism. If something doesn’t come up the way you want, forge ahead. If you think it’s going to rain, it will.
One of the most important things in life is feeling good about yourself. And when you’re in decent shape, when you like the way your body looks and feels and your energy levels are at their highest, it’s a lot easier to feel good about yourself.
[if he could give advice to his younger self] He was never a smart kid. I was a slow learner, so I’d say speed up the process a bit-and maybe practice a little more!
Follow what you think. You want to do something? Just do it the best you can. Not everyone makes something phenomenal, but at least you can fail on your own terms.
The older I get, the more I realize it’s okay to live a life others don’t understand.
Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.
The Film Business
None of the pictures I take a risk in cost a lot, so it doesn’t take much for them to turn a profit. We don’t deal in big budgets. We know what we want and we shoot it and we don’t waste anything. I never understand these films that cost twenty, thirty million dollars when they could be made for half that. Maybe it’s because no one cares. We care.
Plagiarism is always the biggest thing in Hollywood.
If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.
I’ve always had the ability to say to the audience, watch this if you like, and if you don’t, take a hike.
I’m in the entertainment business, NOT in the business of trying to shape social opinions.
[on if he worries about having a movie flop at the box office] If you start thinking about the end results and start anticipating what an audience might feel, you may be dead wrong. I just go ahead with my way and figure that, at least I can have the satisfaction of having put it down. And if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, move on.
Secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist. And then when I did Gran Torino (2008), even my associate said, “This is a really good script, but it’s politically incorrect.” And I said, “Good. Let me read it tonight.” The next morning, I came in and I threw it on his desk and I said, “We’re starting this immediately.”
[on the contemporary superhero craze in Hollywood] Thank God that I didn’t have to do that. […] I always liked characters that were more grounded in reality. Maybe they do super things or more-than-human things – like Dirty Harry, he has a knack for doing crazy things, or the western guys – but, still, they’re not caped crusaders.
I just make the pictures and where they fall is where they fall. If somebody likes them, that’s always nice. And if they don’t like them, then too bad.
There’s a lot of great movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven’t. You just do the best you can.
For most of my career, I’ve been an actor who occasionally directed. Of course, Europeans consider me more to be a director who occasionally acts, and that’s probably more true today.
Clint Eastwood Quotes Final Words
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