If you’re reading this article, the chances are you already know who Orson Welles is.
At the age of 26, Welles directed and co-wrote the movie Citizen Kane which is considered the greatest film ever made.
In his 54 years as a filmmaker, Welles directed a total of 23 films including Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), and his last film, The Other Side of the Wind (2018) which was released posthumously.
The influence of Orson Welles later ignited the French New Wave movement and his contributions to filmmaking remained unsurpassed up to this day.
Welles was named by the British Film Institute as the greatest director of all time. In this article, we’ve put together a list of our favorite Welles quotes.
Orson Welles Quotes on Film
I started at the top and worked down.
A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.
The first thing one must remember about film is that it is a young medium. And it is essential for every responsible artist to cultivate the ground that has been left fallow.
The cinema has no boundary; it is a ribbon of dream.
Every true artist must, in his own way, be a magician, a charlatan.
I’m a provincial. I live very much like a hermit: reading, listening to music, working in the cutting room, writing, commercial work – which doesn’t take up that much time.
A good artist should be isolated. If he isn’t isolated, something is wrong.
I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time.
The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.
I liked the cinema better before I began to do it. Now I can’t stop myself from hearing the clappers at the beginning of each shot. All the magic is destroyed.
I think it’s very harmful to see movies for movie makers because you either imitate them or worry about not imitating them and you should do movies innocently and I lost my innocence. Every time I see a picture I lose something I don’t gain. I never understand what directors mean when they compliment me and say they’ve learned from my pictures because I don’t believe in learning from other people’s pictures. You should learn from your own interior vision and discover innocently as though there had never been D.W. Griffith or [Sergei Eisenstein] or [John Ford] or [Jean Renoir] or anybody.
Welles on Film Directing Quotes
My kind of director is an actor-director who writes.
[on his favorite directors] I prefer the old masters; by which I mean: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford.
Movie directing is the perfect refuge for the mediocre.
I would rather be on the set than doing anything.
Don’t give them what you think they want. Give them what they never thought was possible.
I hate it when people pray on the screen. It’s not because I hate praying, but whenever I see an actor fold his hands and look up in the spotlight, I’m lost. There’s only one other thing in the movies I hate as much, and that’s sex. You just can’t get in bed or pray to God and convince me on the screen.
If you want a happy ending, that depends of course on where you stop your story.
A poet needs a pen, a painter a brush, and a director an army.
The essential is to excite the spectators. If that means playing Hamlet on a flying trapeze or in an aquarium, you do it.
If you’ve noticed that I don’t use long takes, it’s not because I don’t like them, but because no one gives me the necessary means to treat myself to them. It’s more economical to make one image, then this image and then that image, and try to control them later, in the editing studio.
If everyone worked with wide-angle lenses, I’d shoot all my films in 75mm, because I believe very strongly in the possibilities of the 75mm. I know that in theory the word is secondary in cinema, but the secret of my work is that everything is based on the word. I always begin with the dialogue. And I do not understand how one dares to write action before dialogue. I must begin with what the characters say. I must know what they say before seeing them do what they do.
In the film business you’re taught all the things the cameraman doesn’t want to attempt for fear he will be criticized for having failed. In this case I had a cameraman who didn’t care if he was criticized if he failed, and I didn’t know there were things you couldn’t do. So anything I could think up in my dreams, I attempted to photograph.
Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable to others.
I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.
The notion of directing a film is the invention of critics – the whole eloquence of cinema is achieved in the editing room.
[on seeing his own films] I never like to see my movies because I like to remember them as being so much better than they really were.
I think it is always a tremendously good formula in any art form to admit the limitations of the form.
Every actor in his heart believes everything bad that’s printed about him.
I’m never certain of a performance – my own or the other actors’ – or the script or anything… But to me it seems there’s only one place in the world the camera can be, and the decision usually comes immediately.
The Film Business and Hollywood
I think I’m… I made essentially a mistake staying in movies, because I… but it… it’s the mistake I can’t regret because it’s like saying, “I shouldn’t have stayed married to that woman, but I did because I love her.” I would have been more successful if I’d left movies immediately. Stayed in the theater, gone into politics, written–anything. I’ve wasted the greater part of my life looking for money, and trying to get along… trying to make my work from this terribly expensive paint box which is an… a movie. And I’ve spent too much energy on things that have nothing to do with a movie. It’s about 2% movie making and 98% hustling. It’s no way to spend a life.
Hollywood died on me as soon as I got there. I wish to God I’d gone there sooner. It was the rise of the independents that was my ruin as a director.
As a producer, sitting on the other side of the desk, I have never once had an agent go out on a limb for his client and fight for him. I’ve never heard one say, ‘No, just a minute! This is the actor you should use.’ They will always say, ‘You don’t like him? I’ve got somebody else.’ They’re totally spineless.
I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.
I don’t like television when it gets near to photographed plays.
Nobody who takes on anything big and tough can afford to be modest.
A typewriter needs only paper; a camera uses film, requires subsidiary equipment by the truckload and Wellington several hundreds of technicians. That is always the central fact about the filmmakers opposed to any other artist: he can never afford his own tools.
Hollywood is the only industry, even taking in soup companies, which does not have laboratories for the purpose of experimentation.
Film is like a colony and there are very few colonists.
The best thing commercially, which is the worst artistically, by and large, is the most successful.
Recommended Orson Welles Reading
Recommended Orson Welles Books
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Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind
This Is Orson Welles (1998)
Orson Welles: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series)
Orson Welles Quotes Final Words
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