If you’re looking for the best Ingmar Bergman quotes then you’ve come to the right place.
Ingmar Bergman holds an undisputed place in the pantheon of major filmmakers. In a career that spanned over 60 years, Bergman made over 40 feature films, directed more than 120 stage plays and wrote numerous scripts, plays, and prose works.
His films deal with existential matters – God, death, love, man, hate, isolation, truth, madness, sex – and have been a major force behind today’s regard to film as a serious medium for personal expression.
After reading hundreds of Bergman books and interviews, I have put together what I believe to be the most comprehensive list of Ingmar Bergman quotes on filmmaking available anywhere.
Below you’ll find 110 quotes from the legendary film director covering everything from writing the screenplay to working with actors, and even wisdom on cinematography and editing.
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Notable Ingmar Bergman films: The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966), Wild Strawberries (1957), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Fanny and Alexander (1982), Autumn Sonata (1956), and Cries and Whispers (1972).
Ingmar Bergman Quotes
No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.
When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence
I cannot help thinking that the medium at my disposal is so fine and complicated that it should be able to illuminate the human soul more strongly, to reveal more ruthlessly, cover new realms of reality of which we are still ignorant. Maybe we should even be able to find a crack through which to penetrate the twilight land of suprareality…
All art has to do with breathing in and breathing out. Because our whole life consists of rhythms of day and night; light and darkness; black and white; breathing in and breathing out – and in this we live. If we don’t inscribe rhythm in every interpretation, every recreation – swiftly, slowly, restrained, you let loose, you make a pause, you maintain the whole time a tension, so that the public is given an opportunity to breathe along – well, then it does not function.
But there is something wonderful: that for thousands and thousands of years, all our fear, all our hopes, the sighs and longings have crystalized a certain religious feeling inside, an eternal gift from all those generations. So when you hear one of the last symphonies by Mozart or Bach or a play by Stringberg, suddenly the roof opens up to something that is bigger than the limitations of the human being. That makes me very happy. That is a treasure we carry with us. To make a film is to try to open up the roof – so we can breathe.
Quotes on Dreams
Dreams are a sort of creative process, don’t you think? My films come from the same factory. They are like dreams in mind before I write, and they are made from the same materials, from everything I have ever seen or heard or felt. I use reality in the same way dreams do. Dreams seem very realistic – and so do my films – and there is a certain security in reality. And then something happens that disturbs you, that makes you insecure. All my films are dreams.
I am living permanently in my dream, from which I make brief forays into reality.
No other art medium… can communicate the specific quality of the dream as well as film can. When the lights go down in the cinema and this white shining point opens up for us, our gaze stops flitting hither and thither, settles and becomes quite steady. We just sit there, letting the images flow out over us. If will ceases to function. We lose our ability to sort things out and fix them in their proper places. We’re drawn into a course of events – we’re participants in a dream.
The Life of a Filmmaker
Making films is for me a necessity of nature, a need comparable to hunger and thirst. Some achieve self-expression by writing books, climbing mountains, beating their children, or dancing the samba. I happen to express myself by making films.
I dream about doing a film about once a week.
You know, somebody studying sleep discovered that if they prevent you from dreaming, you go crazy. It is completely the same with me. If I could not create my dreams – my films – that would make me completely crazy.
I never considered myself anything more than a craftsman, a hell of a skilled craftsman, if I may say so myself, but nothing more. I create things that are meant to be useful, films or theatrical productions. I’ve never felt the need for… what’s the word?… sub specie aeternitatis. I never created for the sake of eternity. I was only interested in producing the good work of a fine craftsman. Yes, I am proud to call myself a craftsman who makes chairs and tables that are useful to people.
I am very much aware of my own double self. The well known one is very under control; everything is planned and very secure. The unknown one can be very unpleasant. I think that side is responsible for all the creative work – he is in touch with the child. He is not rational, he is impulsive and extremely emotional. Perhaps it is not even a ‘he’ but a ‘she’.
Directing is more fun with women. Everything is.
I have always felt lonely in the world out there. That is why I escaped into filmmaking even though the feeling of community is an illusion.
I think all real artists have this childishness – they never feel that “now I am completed.” They are always curious and they are always on their way and they are always impatient.
Rather it’s that the longer you’re involved in this business, the more you dare to view filmmaking as a game. The moment you lose the sense of play, you should quit. If you forget that it’s a game, that as a filmmaker you are imitating reality, then you’re heading toward a terrible self-deception.
If I make films cheaply enough I can stay with it as along as I have reasons for making films. Nobody, however indirectly, can prevent me. If Smiles of a Summer Night hadn’t been an international success I would have been virtually finished. I had just had The Seventh Seal refused, in manuscript. When Smiles of a Summer Night became a success, after its showing at Cannes, I drove to Cannes to see Carl Anders Dymling and laid the script out on the table and told him: “Now or never.” Then he accepted it.
You see people get twisted. They become commercialized and afraid. I have felt that fear often. And deep inside me, there is probably some left… it would be terrible to be robbed of my livelihood. But then I have theatre, my profession. It is a great security, because – as I’ve said now and then – every film is my last film.
I have come to a certain belief, which is based on three powerful effective commandments. Thou shalt be entertaining at all times. Thou shalt obey thy artistic consciousness at all times. Thou shalt make each film as if it thy last.
One task is to make people laugh and be happy and forget themselves. But another is to show them what is unbearable and terrifying in a way that they can bear it and learn from it.
The “creator” of films deals with a medium of expression that interests not only himself but also millions of other people, and most of the time he feels the same desire as other artists: “I want to succeed today. I want fame now. I want to please, to delight, to move at once.” Midway between this wish and its realization is the public and they want only one thing from a film: “I’ve paid. I want to be diverted, caught up, involved. I want to forget my troubles, my surroundings, my work, I want to get away from myself. I am here, seated in the darkness, and like a woman about to give birth, I want to be delivered.”
The filmmaker who recognizes this need and who lives off the public’s purse is placed in a difficult situation that imposes certain obligations. In making his film, he must ·always take into consideration the reaction of the public. For me personally, I continually ask myself the question: “Can I express myself more simply, more purely, more briefly? Will everyone be able to understand what I am saying now? Will the most simple soul be able to follow the line of action? And this, which is the most important: Up to what point have I the right to compromise, and where does my obligation to myself begin?” All experimentation necessarily implies great risk, because it always alienates the public. But, the alienation of the public can lead to sterility, to isolation in an ivory tower.
The Power of Emotion and Experience
To feel is to primary, to understand is secondary. First feel, experience – and then understand. Self-evidently, the main thing for the public is to have an experience. Later they can bring intellectual processes to bear. That’s always a pleasure. And eventually the intellectual process, itself, may elicit a new feeling.
If my pictures make people feel something that is most important for me.
It’s great if a film does well and people like it. But the moment a film has gone far enough to reach another’s consciousness, it becomes uninteresting.
Nothing is easier than to frighten a spectator. He can be literally maddened, for most people have in some part of their being a fear always ready to come forth. It is much more difficult to make him laugh, to make him really laugh. It is easy to put a spectator into a state worse than the one he arrived in, it is difficult to put him into a better state; still it is this that he wants each time he goes into the darkness of the cinema. But how often and by what methods do we give him this satisfaction?
I don’t want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than understanding them.
Starting a New Film Project
There is no orderly progression, no logic, and there are no rigid guidelines. My pictures always come out of tensions, specific situations, changing conditions. It’s always like that. And why one picture appeals and another doesn’t, I don’t know. People who interview me always try to find a pattern. Of course, it’s their profession. It isn’t mine. My creative life is movement. It’s like water. I don’t want to be logical or find motives. That is completely uninteresting to me.
Some of my films come to fruition very quickly and are quickly finished. These are the films that come up to general expectation. The children are always undisciplined, but always healthy; one can at once predict that they will carry on the family line.
Most of my films have grown – from some small incident, a feeling I’ve had about something, an anecdote someone’s told me, perhaps from a gesture or an expression on a actor’s face. It sets off a very special sort of tension in me, immediately recognizable as such to me. On the deepest level, of course, the ideas for my films come out of the pressures of the spirit: and these pressures vary. But most of films start from a specific image or feeling around which my imagination begins slowly to build an elaborate detail. I file each one away in my mind. Often I even write them down in note form. This way I have a whole series of handy files in my head. Of course, several years may go by before I get around to transforming these sensations into anything as concrete as a scenario. But when a project begins to take shape, then I can dig into one of my mental files for a scene, another for a character. Sometimes the character I pull out doesn’t get on at all with the other ones in my script, so I have to send him back to the file and look elsewhere. My films grow like a snowball, very gradually from a single flake of snow. In the end, I often can’t see the original flake that started it all.
[When he gets new ideas for films] Usually when I’m in the middle of shooting the previous film. When the factory is working at full blast, day and night, and the atmosphere is charged, then I’m usually filled with a new idea.
I have thousands of ideas. That’s not the problem, because I still have enormous desire to make pictures. I have many things to talk about because of my fascination with the human being, the human face – which fascinates me more and more – all the dimensions of reality, and the conditions of human life, of the human being.
Bergman Quotes on Writing
I write scripts to serve as skeletons awaiting the flesh and sinew of images.
I’ve always had a huge complex, great misgivings, about my own writing. There are many people, who have often said, perhaps justifiably, that I am no writer, which in fact, I have never claimed to be. In the past I was haunted by these misgivings, as well as by the fear of not getting it right. It was an obstacle to my writing, which came down to an act of willpower, with the accompanying tensions and inhibitions. There was so much that I had to overcome. During the last few years, I’ve stopped worrying about what people might say about what I am doing, because – it’s not that I don’t care, but I can never please everybody anyway. I’ll find no mercy among those who dislike what I’m doing anyway. I think I’ve calmed down a bit on that point. It will take the form it takes.
I think it’s hard to film books and short stories. The material is too rich, it often fences in the film. It’s hard to create from it. I don’t know. I feel no temptation to try.
I think the only way to explain the play is to play it on stage, because a film must be an adaptation; it is not the same thing; you must translate. It’s hard work; I prefer to write my own scripts; not to adapt; it is too much of a job.
Bergman’s Writing Process
When I start writing a new picture, or start shooting or cutting it, or when I release it to the audience, it’s always the first time, and always the last time. It’s an isolated event, and I never think back or forward; it’s just that.
The fun part is the conception. The playfulness, the dreaming, the fun and games are in the notebooks – the wonderful feeling of total freedom, that you can do anything you want. Then, when you have to codify this in contact with the script and the actors, that’s when it’s important to keep fun from turning to tedium. You have to re-create it with painstaking care and attention to detail. I have to sit at my desk at home and draw scenery and try to transform what I thought was fun and fanciful into boring arrows and figures. Then this, in turn, has to be communicated to the actors and tap into their creativity, so that they, too, feel all the freedom, fun and joy. For me, theatrical work has always been broken down into a fun period, when the time flies, and a dull, pedantic period.
The best time in writing, I think, is the time when I have no ideas about how to do it. I just play the game. I can lie down on the sofa, and I can look into the fire. I can go to the seaside, and I can just sit down and do nothing. I just play the game, and it’s wonderful. I make some notes, and I can go on for a year. When I have made a plan the difficult job starts. I have to sit down on my ass every morning at ten o’clock and write the screenplay. Then something very, very strange happens. Very often the personalities in my script don’t want the same things I want. But I have also the experience that if I try to force them to do what I want them to do, it will always be an artistic catastrophe. But if I let them free to do what they want and what they tell me, it’s okay. So I think this is the only way to handle it. All intellectual decisions must come afterwards.
Before I start the writing of the final script, I write and write and write books and nooks of notations They are very personal: dialogues and discussions and personal expressions and situations, memories, things that have nothing directly to do with the picture or with anybody but myself. It is very boring. I hate it. And afterward I throw everything away. But I boil all that down in the final script. I put all those things together as in a dream – so you don’t recognize anything. It’s always thousands of details, and these combinations are emotionally stimulating to my creative mind. From these combinations I build a selective reality, a mirrored reality. Suddenly it’s a newer reality.
First, I write down all I know about the story, at length and in detail. Then I sink the iceberg and let some of it float up just a little.
[how many hours he writes] About four hours a day. I work from 10 to 12 and from 1 to 3, then I sleep for an hour. After that I go across to the bigger island and pick up the newspapers and the mail. In the evening, we read or see friends or watch a movie – I have a big collection of films. It’s very regular.
I usually take a walk after breakfast, write for three hours, have lunch and read in the afternoon. Demons don’t like fresh air – they prefer it if you stay in bed with cold feet; for a person who is as chaotic as me, who struggles to be in control, it is an absolute necessity to follow these rules and routines. If I let myself go, nothing will get done.
When I write I must try to capture something in words which for all useful purposes, you might say, can’t be expressed in words. Later it is necessary to translate words again so that in quite another context they’ll come alive. To be sure, so long as I have a firm grasp on my point of departure, there will always be an inner relationship between the original version I had and the completed, materialised picture-sequence.
So I have decided to make a certain film. Now begins a complicated work, difficult to control: to transfer rhythms, moods, atmosphere, tensions, […] pitches and smells to words and sentences in a readable or at least decipherable manuscript. It is difficult, if not impossible. The only thing that can be provisionally materialized is the dialogue, but even a dialogue is a sensitive matter that can offer resistance.
Bergman on Writing Characters
In the past few years I have begun to realize that women are essentially the same as men, that they have the same problems. I don’t think of there being women’s problems or women’s stories any more than I think of there being men’s problems or men’s stories. They are all human problems. It’s people who interest me now.
When I write something horrible or depressing, I am not depressed or horrified. I am just at work. And what I’m writing about is far away. I can stand in the center of a drama, hearing people around me saying things, I can hear exactly the way they speak, and I look at them and I just write it down exactly the way they speak, and I look at them and I just write it down because what they do can be very astonishing for me. But I have already passed through it, mostly.
Almost all continuously working dramatists have written for particular actors. It’s reciprocal stimulation. You see a certain actor in a certain role at the moment you’re writing. Then the actor gives it additional dimension. The manuscript is like the melody part. It must be enhanced by the instrumentation. This happens during filming. By making my screenplays less and less detailed I can follow my basic experience more freely.
[On writing with a specific actor in mind] Always, always, yes. It’s very important. I always want to know the actor before I write a script. I don’t know why, but I hear a voice, and see the behaviour. Perhaps it’s wrong, I don’t know, but we have always worked together.
The most important thing in a creative job is to let your intuition tell you what to do. I am writing my script and I plan for this man that he will do such and such. I know if he does not do such and such, all these other things in the plot will fall into pieces. But my intuition tells me suddenly that this man says he will not do such and such. So I ask my intuition why. And the intuition says, I never tell you why. You have to find out for yourself. Then you go on a long, long safari in the jungle to follow where the intuition has directed. But if I refuse the intuition, then I have merely arranged things. So my characters, they don’t obey me. They go their own way. If they had to obey me, they would die.
Making the Film
You can’t direct reality, and that sometimes makes me very insecure and scared. But when you direct a picture, you can decide everything. You can do everything you want, you can control every little detail. It’s always handmade.
To shoot a film is to organize an entire universe.
It would be intolerable, for me and for those working with me, if, at every moment, I were to try and shape the film by force, if I insisted on a sequence of detailed, pre-conceived pictures to illustrate the conception I had as I envisioned or wrote the script.
[on average shooting period] About fifty days, sometimes fifty five, but no more than that. I made A Passion in exactly forty-five days, but Shame took about fifty five.
The Seventh Seal was made in thirty-five days. Most of it was shot in the woods right outside the studio. Everything in it was done in an enormous hurry, and I like it because it expresses a sort of craftsmanship. It’s very theatrical and complicated. Some parts of the picture I still like. It is very close to me. When we were making it, each morning brought a new catastrophe because we had to make it cheap and quick. For the beach scenes, we had only three days on location! The actors carried the cameras. We borrowed costumes from the theatre. It was all done in a hurry, but with enormous enthusiasm. We were happy even to be able to produce some images each day. For example, the scene with the flagellants was shot from eight A.M. to seven P.M. of a single day.
No matter how well you prepare you don’t really know how a film will look when you’ve finished it. Above all, you’re not sure of the tone, and that’s tremendously important…. for which reason I always have a margin of at least a week for retakes, usually at the tail end of the production….
Problem Solving and Compromise
It may happen that even though the director has prepared everything in great detail, he finds himself on a set that conveys a completely wrong atmosphere. He is then forced to play against the set.
While the original conception must always be in the background, I must not let it become too dictatorial, since, for one thing, I must be prepared to modify it when I switch from writing to directing. For another, my actors, too, have a right – to say nothing of an obligation – to draw straws, to choose among alternatives. The whole process is essentially creative. You write down a melodic line and after that, with the orchestra, you work out the instrumentation.
When you are a film director who has written the script yourself, you have to be some sort of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde because if Dr Jekyll has written the script Mr Hyde has to direct it, and I tell you they don’t like each other that well. I think that is a very schizophrenic situation.
Working with Cast and Crew
When I was younger, much younger, like so many young men I was unsure of myself. But I was very ambitious. An when you’re unsure, when you’re insecure and need to assert yourself, or think you do, you become aggressive in trying to get your own way. Well, that’s what happened to me – in a provincial theatre where I was a new director. I couldn’t behave that way now and hope to keep the respect of my actors and my technicians.
When I know the importance of every minute in a working day, when I realize the supreme necessity of establishing a mood of calm and security on the set, do you think I could or would, have any right to indulge myself in that way? A director on a movie set is a little like the captain of a ship: he must be respected in order to be obeyed. I haven’t behaved that way since I was maybe twenty-five or twenty-six.
When one is unsure of himself, when he’s worried about his position, worried about being a creative artist, he feels the need, as I said before, to express himself very strongly, very assertively, in order to withstand any potential criticism. But once you’ve become successful, you feel freed from the imperatives of success. You stop worrying about striving, and can devote yourself to your work. Life becomes so much easier.
When we shoot, we are together; the actors and the crew, and I – we give and take; we are a very small group and we have all worked together from film to film; we know one another, and know what to do and how to do it. Sitting down with the cutting tape and editing is also very nice.
Bergman on Cinematography Quotes
To me real cinematography is very, very close to dreaming, as cinematography is when it is at its best. Think only of the time gap: You can make things as long as you want, exactly as in a dream. You can make things as short as you want, exactly as in a dream. As a director, a creator of a picture, you are like a dreamer. You can make what you want. You can construct everything. I think that is one of the most fascinating things that exists.
If intuition is our mental instrument, the camera is our physical instrument. I think the camera is erotic. I think it is the most exciting little machine that exists. To me, just to work with my cameraman, Sven Nykvist, to see a human face with the camera and with a zoom to come closer, to see the scene, to see the face changing, is the most fascinating thing that exists. I think the choreography of the actors in relation to the camera is very important, because every good actor feels if he is good in the camera sense, he is in a bad position. And if he is in a bad position, he feels stress and is very unhappy. If he is in a good position, in a logical position – he can be with his back to the camera, it doesn’t matter – if he feels this is all right, then intuitively he feels secure and he does his best.
We have no camera style, Sven and I. What we are interested in is not a style for the camera because the solution of that is in the picture. What we are always interested in is the light or shadows, the rhythm in the light and the shadows of the picture. These we discuss a lot, and there we have a lot of experiments.
I draw the characters movements before I shoot. I always prepare a scene far in advance. I try to make an ideal diagram. It’s not as complicated as it looks. The first question I always ask myself is, “where should I put the camera?” Antonioni once said, “The placing of the camera is an ethical choice.” I think so too, because if the camera is at an appropriate place from the start, the rest of the scene will go naturally.
The evening before. When I come home in the evening, I just sit down with the script and I read the next day’s schedule very carefully. I make up my mind about it, and then I just note the choreography of the actors and the camera. Then in the early morning when I meet Sven – you know, we have worked so many years together – we just shortly, in five minutes, go through the scene. I tell him about my ideas for different positions of the camera, for the different positions of the actors, and for the atmosphere of the whole scene. And then we can go on the whole day; it is not necessary to have any discussions. He is just fantastic. He is a marvellous man. Suddenly everything is there, without any complications, and I can look in the camera, and everything I wanted is there.
The Power of the Human Face
For me cinematography is first and foremost close-ups. People’s faces. I notice that this what fascinates me more and more, and what I experience as unceasingly exciting. And it’s not primarily just any faces, but those of actors.
Our work in films must begin with the human face. We can certainly become absorbed in the aesthetics of montage; we can bring objects and still life into a wonderful rhythm; we can make nature studies of astounding beauty, but the approach to the human face is without doubt the hallmark and distinguishable feature of the film medium.
I am always interested in faces. I just want you to sit down and look at the human face. But if there is too much going on in the background, if the face moves too much, if you can’t see the eyes, if the lighting is too artistic, the face is lost.
It is important that the audiences recognize the miracle of cinema, its unique ability to capture the human face. A director must work very hard to build a scene to maximum effect so that it functions in an absolutely perfect way. Cinema is a marvellous medium because just like music, it transcends the intellect and directly touches the emotions. A good close-up at the right moment can have an enormous effect. If a close-up is shot wisely, composed well, correctly lit, concentrated upon a good actor or actress, you can allow it to continue on the screen as long as you want! When I was still active as a film director, my great dream was to make a feature film that consisted of a single close-up.
[on faces merging in Persona] If I put two faces together, I get this third person.
Sven and I have experimented with how to light close-ups, and perhaps to make that picture, black and white would be better than color, because color is never true. Black and white is, strange to say, more true because then your fantasy is created; you have created it yourself.
Bergman on Working with Actors
Sometimes there is a miracle happening in front of the camera, sometimes. Not very often, but sometimes. If you are very close to the actors and close to the people around the camera, and there is an atmosphere of confidence… real confidence, suddenly something happens in front of the camera and that is the most beautiful thing that exists. To wait for that miracle and to hope for it is the best thing in the world. It is something with some third dimension suddenly present. Something you can’t calculate or find out or rehearse. I can’t explain it but it’s the magic.
An actor deals with existing or agreed upon material, he creates new dimensions and new secrets. And I feel that you get much further, the actor gets much further, when he deals with something concrete rather than with improvisation. As soon as he can work on a concrete idea, he moves from his own personality into a sort of anonymity. He hides himself behind a role and, in this way, can become much more naked, much more ruthless. An actor rarely wants to be private. Privacy makes him shy. But when he is given a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or three lines from the telephone book, he can be completely ruthless and give himself in a way that he never can with something he himself has been part of creating.
I am fascinated by how, in a given moment, the blood may rush to an actor’s face, or his gaze suddenly change – how he takes on an irrational, secretive tone of voice, whose source is completely mysterious. This, in the end, becomes what’s essentially.
I like more to work with women. I have many good friends who are actors, and I like tremendously to work together with them. In filmmaking it’s a job of nerves, and I think women have much better nerves than men. Women are not, in the first place, women; they are human beings. And God forgive me, but I have the feeling that the prima donnas always are male, and the women aren’t like that. It’s very difficult to be an actor in our society; it’s not so difficult to be an actress.
Experienced actors always sense if the camera is well positioned. It is one of their talents.
Advice for Directing Actors
If you want to know exactly how I work together with my actors, I can tell you in one minute: I just use my intuition. My only instrument in my profession is my intuition. I have the experience that when I work at the theatre or in the studio with my actors I just feel, and I don’t know how to handle the situation, how to collaborate with the actors.
When I met my drama teacher, who had been working in theatre for 50 years, he told me that a director should know two things: shut up and listen to the actors. One very often forgets that actors are creative people – shy but creative – and that if you exhaust them with advice and explain everything in the greatest detail, they will be afraid to express their own point of view. They will feel that the director knows more than they do, and that it’s better to follow orders. Experience has taught me that if I patiently wait and remain open to their suggestions, a fruitful exchange will follow.
[on getting performances from actors] There is nothing more mysterious in it than they have confidence in my ear and that I have confidence in their “inner hearing.”
Some people claim that I hypnotize my actors – that I use magic to bring performances out of them that I get. What nonsense! All I do is try to give them the one thing everyone wants, the one thing an actor must have: confidence in himself. That’s all any actor wants, you know. To feel sure enough of himself that he’ll be able to everything he is capable of when the director asks for it. So I surround my actors with an aura of confidence and trust. I talk with them, often not about the scene we’re working on at all, but just to make them feel secure and at ease. If that’s magic, then I am a sorcerer. Then, too, working with the same people – technicians and actors – in our own private world for so many years together has facilitated my task of creating the necessary mood of trust.
One morning she [Ingrid Bergman] turned round violently and slapped my face (in fun?) and said she would smash me to pieces if I didn’t at once tell her how the scene was to be done. Furious at her astonishing attack, I replied that I had asked her a hundred times not to do anything at all and that only bloody amateurs think they have to do something every single moment.
[Do you tell actors the message of the film] I am always surprised when people ask me about the message, because I just want to get in touch with other human beings when I make a picture and tell them a story, or just be together with them or touch the and have them feel things. Sometimes when I have the message everything goes wrong. So we don’t talk about those things. We just talk professionally: “Be careful. Be slower. Don’t be in a hurry.” The most important thing of all is the ear – the ear for the director and the ear for the actors – to listen to each other. Very often when I see a scene, I just close my eyes and listen, because if it sounds right it also looks right. It’s very strange.
It is meaningless to talk in an intellectual way when our situation is completely emotional. The intellectual discussion must have been cleared out before the start of the picture, because once we are completely in the middle of the emotional process, you have to talk in emotional terms. You can say to an actor, ‘you feel like a heavy stone’ and an actor knows exactly what you mean and transforms his body. And when he has the lines to complete the emotion, then you will have an expression. In the beginning Ingrid Bergman [Autumn Sonata] was very angry, because we were shooting and I didn’t look at her. ‘Why do you not look at me?’ she asked. I said, ‘If I hear that your voice is correct, I know that you look correct.’
Rehearsal and Improvisation
When we begin a film, the actors know as little about it as I do. Usually I over work them, as well as myself, in the first week. I’m looking for something. All the time, in the first medley of images I’m in search of some strong, key expression. Now, if you try forcing this into existence by an effort of will, your work of art will be dead and thin.
[What do you say to actors] Before we start a picture, we talk a lot. We meet, and we talk a lot. We have some sort of discussions. I don’t know how. But when we are in the studio, I think we say strange things to each other. We make some noises, tell funny stories, we touch each other. We just find the key words, because it’s very necessary not to talk too much. Just to hold this intuitive relation is a creative job.
If you rehearse with trained actors, they go form the mood of intuition to what they are trained to do, to acting every evening. It’s very difficult. When the atmosphere is created, we come to a sort of intuitive understanding of what the scene means of us. But if you rehearse too much an actor who is trained to play every evening, something new starts to happen, an intellectual process, I think. That process can be very good, but it’s very dangerous for filming because you have something in his eyes suddenly, some sort of “Now I do that and I do that and I do that.” He is conscious of what he’s doing. He has to do it intuitively.
The basis of improvisation must be preparation. If I haven’t prepared, I can’t improvise. If I’ve made careful preparations, I can always improvise. Then I know I have something to fall back on. What I detest is formlessness. That terrifies me. It is seldom that mere formlessness in a work of art conveys anything vivid. More often it gives an impression of effort. But a combination of improvisation and planning – that’s good.
Editing the Film
I don’t at all mind editing or cutting my films. I don’t have any of this love-hate feeling that some directors have toward cutting their own work. David Lean told me once that he can’t bear the task of cutting, that it literally makes him sick. I don’t feel that way at all. I’m completely unneurotic in that respect.
The script is nothing but a collection of motifs which I work over with my actors as the filming proceeds. The final decisions I make in the cutting room, where I cut away all obtrusive elements.
I believe that if you pull the audience out of the action for a time and then lead them back into it, you will increase emotional sensibility and receptivity instead of diminishing it.
This technique was extremely obvious, almost rigid: The audience must never have the slightest doubt where they were in the story. Nor could there be any doubt about who was who, and the transitions between various points of the story were to be treated with care. High points should be allotted and placed at specific places in the script, and the culmination had to be saved for the end.
[on how long it takes to edit] A very long time. I like editing very much; I sit down and it takes me a lot of time, as much as three or four months.
Bergman on Critics
I’ve given up reading what’s written either about me or about my films. It’s pointless to get annoyed. Most film critics know very little about how a film is made, have very little general film knowledge or culture.
I used to be very dependent on people’s opinion of me: I was tyrannically vulnerable to criticism and was unhappy for days if anyone said anything wounding to me or about me. Today, I don’t care about anything except the life I have with friends and the work I have to do. This is all important to me.
I read the reviews in the four Swedish papers, just to get the immediate reaction. But the rest – it takes too much time. You must understand, it’s not the reading that takes time, but the effect of it that remains inside you in a very strange way. If it’s favorable criticism, it leaves you all atwitter; if it’s hostile, you feel poisoned. Just a few hours, but still, it’s a silly waste of time.
[Bergman’s critic friend] told him, “Ingmar remember, always remember, you are here with the actors and here are the critics and we are all clowns making our performance of audience. I think that is a wonderful answer, and now I never feel any bitterness [personal] for anything a critic writes about what I have made.
Bergman on Film and Theatre Work
The theater is like a faithful wife. The film is the great adventure – the costly, exacting mistress.
Between my job at the theater and my job in the film studio it has always been a very short step indeed. Sometimes it has paid off, and sometimes it has been a drawback. But it has always been a short step between.
In the film studio everything is hectic and flushed, for a short period. And everything circles around the director. In the theatre the director is subordinate to the theatre, Dependant on everyone else.
These days I would never be able to produce my own play. I would be too mortally embarrassed to work every day with my own text. In the theatre it is always a actor’s creation that the director attends to. In film there is a mixture of actors, director, camera, sound, the whole machine. For me that difference is now definitive. Film is personal. Theatre is objective.
The magic of theatre? No, theatre has no magic left for me these days. It is manipulation, technique, and applied experience. But for me, film still retains its magic. In filming the unbelievable and the unexpected, the inexplicable can still occur.
Recommended Ingmar Bergman Books
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The Magic Lantern: An Autobiography, 2007
The Ingmar Bergman Archives, 2018
Ingmar Bergman: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series), 2007
Ingmar Bergman Quotes Final Words
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