David Lynch is regarded as one of the most eccentric filmmakers in Hollywood with a unique visual style that has inspired other famous filmmakers of our time.
In his 56 years as a filmmaker, Lynch or aka The Nightmare Maker directed a total of 41 films including Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), and Blue Velvet (1986).
The unique artistic approach of David Lynch in his films has caused the inception of the word “Lynchian” in the English dictionary. It is a word that describes the extraordinary balance between the mundane and the macabre which is a recurring theme in Lynch’s films.
Lynch’s films occupy a crossroads between cinema and dreams, as shown in his dark, fruedian masterpiece Mulholland Drive which was voted by critics as the greatest film of the 21st Century in a poll conducted by BBC Culture.
Below we’ve listed 55 of our favorite David Lynch quotes on filmmaking. If you find this article helpful, then don’t forget to share with other filmmakers.
David Lynch Quotes on Film
Film exists because we can go and have experiences that would be pretty dangerous or strange for us in real life. We can go into a room and walk into a dream. If we didn’t want to upset anyone, we would make films about sewing, but even that could be dangerous. But I think finally, in a film, it is how the balance is and the feelings are. But I think there has to be those contrasts and strong things withing a film for the total experience.
I’m not a real film buff. Unfortunately, I don’t have time. I just don’t go. And I become very nervous when I go to a film because I worry so much about the director and it is hard for me to digest my popcorn.
I see films more and more as separate from whatever kind of reality there is anywhere else. They are more like fairy tales or dreams… they should obey certain rules. And one of them is contrast… I like murder mysteries. They get me completely because they are mysteries and deal with life and death.
In a sense all film is entering into someone else’s dreams. Maybe we can even share the same dreams, exchange the same experiences.
I’m convinced we all are voyeurs. It’s part of the detective thing. We want to know secrets and we want to know what goes on behind those windows. And not in a way that we would use to hurt anyone. There’s an entertainment value to it, but at the same time we want to know: What do humans do? Do they do the same things as I do? It’s a gaining of some sort of knowledge, I think.
Film is the thing that brings many media together. So, it made me become interested in each separate thing. Sometimes still photography will give you ideas for a film. Or a painting. Each thing is a world that you can fall into, and each medium is unique. You can go very far in each one, it’s just a question of time and experiencing it and entering into this dialogue with it. But it’s a great life, y’know?
Quotes on Cinema Changing
The cinema is really built for the big screen and big sound, so that a person can go into another world and have an experience.
Most of Hollywood is about making money – and I love money, but I don’t make the films thinking about money.
I think part of the reason ideas haven’t come in is that the world of cinema is changing so drastically, and in a weird way, feature films I think have become cheap. Everything is kind of throwaway. It’s experienced and then forgotten.
More and more people are seeing the films on computers – lousy sound, lousy picture – and they think they’ve seen the film, but they really haven’t.
[on why his officially sanctioned DVDs contain no chapter stops] It is my opinion that a film is not like a book–it should not be broken up. It is a continuum and should be seen as such.
[2008 interview] Now if you’re playing a movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real.
David Lynch Quotes on Ideas
Ideas are everything. We are nothing with the idea. So I go where the ideas lead. When we get an idea we love, you’ll see it and feel it and know it all at once.
Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They’re huge and abstract. And they’re very beautiful.”
Desiring an idea is like bait on a hook. You can pull them in. If you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful day, and you write it down. That idea might just be a fragment of the whole, but now you have even more bait. Thinking about that small fragment, that little fish will bring in more. Pretty soon you may have a script.
Be true to yourself. Find your own voice and be true to that voice. Never take a bad idea, but never turn down a good idea. And, of course, have final cut.
Every idea that you fall in love with is a gift. How the ideas come is the trick.
Ideas are so beautiful, and they’re so abstract, and they do exist someplace – I don’t know if there’s a name for it – and I think they exist like fish, and I believe that if you sit quietly like you’re fishing, you will catch ideas. The real beautiful big ones swim kinda deep down there.
I like the idea that everything has a surface which hides much more underneath. Someone can look very well and have a whole bunch of diseases cooking: there are all sorts of dark, twisted things lurking down there. I go down in that darkness and see what’s there. Coffee shops are nice safe places to think. I like sitting in brightly lit places where I can drink coffee and have some sugar. Then, before I know it, I’m down under the surface gliding along; if it becomes too heavy, I can always pop back into the coffee shop.
I think that ideas exist outside of ourselves. I think somewhere, we’re all connected off in some very abstract land. But somewhere between there and here ideas exist. And I think the mind isn’t conscious enough to go all the way to where we’re connected, but it’s conscious of a certain amount of that territory. And when these ideas fly into the conscious part, then you can capture them. But if they’re outside of the conscious part, you don’t even know about them. So you just hope that you can make the conscious part of your mind bigger or that these ideas will fly into your airspace, so you can shoot them down and grab them and take them home. So that’s all you try to do. Sometimes an idea will strike you when you’re sitting in a quiet chair. But sometimes an idea will strike you when you’re standing. Sometimes music will also help you. If I thought I could just sit still in a quiet place and get ideas, I would do that all the time, but sometimes nothing happens. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. But you’ve got to write them down right away. I forget so many things. Then if I forget it and try to remember it, my whole day is ruined because I can’t remember and I feel horrible. And I imagine that it was one of the all time great ideas. And it probably isn’t.
There’s a comfort when you realize your ideas are realized. You’ve worked so that all the elements are working together and it feels complete and correct and you say it’s done. Then it goes out into the world, but it doesn’t need any more explanation. It is what it is. Cinema is such a beautiful language [but] as soon as people finish a film, people want you to turn it into words. It’s kind of a sadness for me: the words are limiting.
David Lynch on Writing the Script
If you want to make a feature film, you get ideas for 70 scenes. Put them on 3-by-5 cards. As soon as you have 70, you have a feature film.
You need contrast and conflict in order to tell a story. Stories need to have dark and light, turmoil, all those things. But that does not mean the filmmaker has to suffer in order to show the suffering. Stories should have the suffering, not the people.
To me, a story can be both concrete and abstract, or a concrete story can hold abstractions. And abstractions are things that really can’t be said so well with words.
To make the script, you need ideas, and for me a lot of times, a final script is made up of many fragments of ideas that came at different times.
Quotes on the Meaning of his Films
In my mind it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious – something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoon fed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working
It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It’s better not to know so much about what things mean. Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.
Black has depth… you can go into it… And you start seeing what you’re afraid of. You start seeing what you love, and it becomes like a dream.
[His films] mean different things to different people. Some mean more or less the same things to a large number of people. It’s okay. Just as long as there’s not one message, spoon-fed. That’s what films by committee end up being, and it’s a real bummer to me . . . Life is very, very complicated, and so films should be allowed to be, too.
If we didn’t want to upset anyone, we would make films about sewing, but even that could be dangerous. But I think finally, in a film, it is how the balance is and the feelings are. But I think there has to be those contrasts and strong things within a film for the total experience.
People say my films are dark. But like lightness, darkness stems from a reflection of the world. The thing is, I get these ideas that I truly fall in love with. And a good movie idea is often like a girl you’re in love with, but you know she’s not the kind of girl you bring home to your parents, because they sometimes hold some dark and troubling things.
I don’t know why people expect art to make sense. I don’t think that people accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable. It seems like religion and myth were invented against that, trying to make sense out of it.
I’m not sure what these people are saying. Is it that if you depicted no graphic violence, the world would calm down and there would be less violence? Or is it that if you sense certain things about violence and then portray those things in a film, does that make the violence go to another level? Or is the violence in films a way to experience something without having to do it in real life?
In Hollywood, more often than not, they’re making more kind of traditional films, stories that are understood by people. And the entire story is understood. And they become worried if even for one small moment something happens that is not understood by everyone. But what’s so fantastic is to get down into areas where things are abstract and where things are felt, or understood in an intuitive way that, you can’t, you know, put a microphone to somebody at the theatre and say ‘Did you understand that?’ but they come out with a strange, fantastic feeling and they can carry that, and it opens some little door or something that’s magical and that’s the power that film has.
Lynch on Creative Control and Final Cut
I believe in creative control. No matter what anyone makes, they should have control over it.
I started selling out on Dune (1984). Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut.
I didn’t have final cut on Dune (1984). It’s the only film I’ve made where I didn’t have. I didn’t technically have final cut on The Elephant Man (1980), but Mel Brooks gave it to me, and on Dune (1984), I started selling out even in the script phase knowing I didn’t have final cut, and I sold out, so it was a slow dying-the-death and a terrible, terrible experience. I don’t know how it happened, I trusted that it would work out but it was very naive and, the wrong move. In those days the maximum length they figured I could have is two hours and seventeen minutes, and that’s what the film is, so they wouldn’t lose a screening a day, so once again it’s money talking and not for the film at all and so it was like compacted and it hurt it, it hurt it. There is no other version. There’s more stuff, but even that is putrefied.
[on Eyes Wide Shut (1999)] I really love Eyes Wide Shut. I just wonder if Stanley Kubrick really did finish it the way he wanted to before he died.
I would rather not make a film than make one where I don’t have final cut.
It’s so freeing, it’s beautiful in a way, to have a great failure. There’s nowhere to go but up.
David Lynch on Film Inspiration
I like the feel of film noir a lot and it – to me it’s all about a mood that comes about when people’ s desires lead them into areas where they’re doing something against their conscience and, you know, then suffering the results. So it’s about fear, and it’s a nighttime feeling and that – that thing creeps into my work, you know, quite a bit
Directors who have inspired me include Billy Wilder, Federico Fellini, lngmar Bergman, John Ford, Orson Welles, Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Francis Ford Coppola and Ernst Lubitsch. In art school, I studied painters like Edward Hopper, who used urban motifs, Franz Kafka is my favourite novelist. My approach to film stems from my art background, as I go beyond the story to the sub-conscious mood created by sound and images.
More David Lynch Filmmaking Quotes
A filmmaker doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering. You just have to understand it. You don’t have to die to shoot a death scene.
Somewhere in talking and rehearsing, there is a magical moment where actors catch a current, they’re on the right road. If they really catch it, then whatever they do from then on is correct and it all comes out of them from that point on.
I let the actors work out their ideas before shooting, then tell them what attitudes I want. If a scene isn’t honest, it stands out like a sore thumb.
To give a sense of place, to me, is a thrilling thing. And a sense of place is made up of details. And so the details are incredibly important. If they’re wrong, then it throws you out of the mood. And so the sound and music and color and shape and texture, if all those things are correct and a woman looks a certain way with a certain kind of light and says the right word, you’re gone, you’re in heaven. But it’s all the little details.
See, a painting is much cheaper than making a film. And photography is, you know, way cheap. So if I get an idea for a film, there are many ways to get it together and go realise that film. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.
[on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)] I love that film. I say now that The Straight Story (1999) is my most experimental movie, but up until then, “Fire Walk With Me” was my most experimental film, and some of the things, the combos, you know, like, sequences . . . It was a dark film, but like Peggy Lipton said in an interview, it was just too much in people’s faces, and it didn’t have the humor of Twin Peaks (1990). So it was what it was supposed to be, but it wasn’t what people wanted. It was supposed to be stand-alone, but it was also supposed to be the last week of Laura Palmer’s life. And all those things that had been established, they could be pleasant on one level to experience, but unpleasant on another level.
[on The Straight Story (1999)] I wanted the film to have a floating feeling. I particularly wanted that quality to come through in the aerial landscape shots, and it took a lot of explaining to get the helicopter pilots to slow down enough to get the look I was after.
Intuition is the key to everything, in painting, filmmaking, business – everything. I think you could have an intellectual ability, but if you can sharpen your intuition, which they say is emotion and intellect joining together, then a knowingness occurs.
The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you’re dead.
Recommended David Lynch Books
Disclaimer: Filmmaking Quotes is an Amazon Associate and earns from qualifying purchases. All links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means we receive a small commission for any purchases you make. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but this commission keeps Filmmaking Quotes running.
Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity
David Lynch: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series)
David Lynch Quotes Final Words
So there you have it. 55 filmmaking quotes and lessons from one of the true masters of the medium. Don’t forget to bookmark the page and keep checking back for more filmmaking inspiration.
Also check out our related filmmaker articles.
If you found this article useful, then we would be grateful if you could share with other filmmakers through social media, forums and your own blog.