Stanley Kubrick needs little introduction. He’s considered one of greatest film directors of all time and a visionary genius.
In this article, I have compiled what I consider to be the most comprehensive list of Stanley Kubrick quotes available anywhere.
These excerpts, which are gathered from interviews and documentaries, provide an invaluable insight into Kubrick’s filmmaking process and views on cinema.
Whether you’re starting out on your film journey or an experienced professional, these words of wisdom from the legendary director will certainly give you pause for thought and help take your filmmaking to the next level.
Must See Kubrick Films: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), The Shining (1980), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Dr Strangelove (1964), Paths of Glory (1957) and Barry Lyndon (1978).
Author note: In this article, I have selected 100 Kubrick quotes from my own collection (which contains over 2000 quotes). These are what I consider to be his best quotes on filmmaking process. If you find the article helpful then I would be grateful if you could share with others.
Stanley Kubrick Quotes on Filmmaking
There is a very wide gulf between reality and fiction, and when one is looking at a film the experience is much closer to a dream than anything else. In this day-dream. if you like, one can explore ideas and situations which one is not able to do in reality.
The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle.
In a film, however, I think the images, the music, the editing and the emotions of the actors are the principal tools you have to work with. Language is important but I would put it after those elements. It should even be possible to do a film which isn’t gimmicky without using any dialogue at all. Unfortunately, there has been very little experimentation with the form of film stories, except in avant-garde cinema where, unfortunately, there is too little technique and expertise present to show very much.
I would say that there are elements in any good film that would increase the viewer’s interest and appreciation on a second viewing; the momentum of a movie often prevents every stimulating detail or nuance from having a full impact the first time it’s seen. The whole idea that a movie should be seen only once is an extension of our traditional conception of the film as an ephemeral entertainment rather than as a visual work of art. We don’t believe that we should hear a great piece of music only once, or see a great painting once, or even read a great book just once. But the film has until recent years been exempted from the category of art – a situation I’m glad is finally changing.
Making your Film
A filmmaker has almost the same freedom as a novelist has when he buys himself some paper.
When you are making a film, in addition to any higher purpose you may have in mind, you must be interesting; visually interesting, narratively interesting, interesting from an acting point of view. All ideas for creating interest must be held up against the yardstick of the theme of the story, the narrative requirements and the purpose of the scene; but, within that, you must make a work of art interesting.
I think that one of the problems with twentieth-century art is its preoccupation with subjectivity and originality at the expense of everything else. This has been especially true in painting and music. Though initially stimulating, this soon impeded the full development of any particular style, and rewarded uninteresting and sterile originality. At the same time, it is very sad to say, films have had the opposite problem — they have consistently tried to formalize and repeat success, and they have clung to a form and style introduced in their infancy. The sure thing is what everyone wants, and originality is not a nice word in this context. This is true despite the repeated example that nothing is as dangerous as a sure thing.
Everything has already been done. every story has been told every scene has been shot. it’s our job to do it one better.
There are three equal things: the writing, slogging through the actual shooting and the editing.
There is a wonderful suggestive timeliness [that the structure] of making a movie imposes on your life, I’m doing exactly the same thing I was doing when I was eighteen and making my first movie. It frees you from another other sense of time.
Telling me to take a vacation from filmmaking is like telling a child to take a vacation from playing.
I breezed through ‘Paths of Glory’ without being aware of many things I now see are mistakes. The more you learn about an art form the more difficult it becomes because you create harder rules for yourself.
Kubrick Quotes on Writing
If it can be written or thought, it can be filmed.
I always come back to E.M. Forster’s Aspects of a Novel where he tells about the first caveman telling his friends a story as they sit around a fire. They either fall asleep, threw a rock at him, or listened. The problem obviously is you have to make people pay attention long enough to get across what you’re trying to say. Most films don’t have any purpose other than to mechanically figure out what people want and to construct some artificial form of entertainment for them. Even when this is the sole purpose it rarely succeeds.
Finding your Story
All the films I have made have started by me reading a book. Those books have been made into films have almost always had some aspect about them that on first reading left me with the sense that, ‘This is a fantastic story: is it possible to make it into a film?’
I try to be as open as possible in front of the books I read. At first, I try to react in a completely non-analytical way. It is my only way of being able to judge, this first and naive reaction. (…) There is one thing that the greatest directors in the world cannot know is how it feels to someone who sees their film for the first time. It is an incredible gap which separates your impression after having made a film of that of the spectator who sees it for the first time. Fortunately, I never chose a story which I got tired of later. I think it would be a terrible experience.
Lets say you now decide that it is possible to make a movie out of it; the next questions are: does it have cinematic possibilities? Will it be interesting to look at? Are there good parts for the actors? Will anybody else be interested in it when you’ve finished with it? Those are the thoughts that cross my mind. But mostly, I would say, a sense of personal excitement about the thing; the fact that you just fell in love with the story.
I usually take about a year to get interested in something, get it written, and start working on it, and in a year, if you keep thinking about it, you can pretty well exhaust the major lines of play, if you want to put it in chess terminology. Then as you’re making the film, you can respond to the spontaneity of what’s happening with the resources of all the analysis that you’ve done . That way, you can most fully utilize each moment while you’re making the picture.
What to Look For?
If a story interests me sufficiently to spend two or three years turning it into a film, then I believe it will interest many others as well.
I think it’s very hard to make a film that is both dramatically appealing to a wide audience and contains the kind of truth and perception which you associate with great literature. I suppose it’s hard enough to do something like that even if you don’t appeal to a wide audience… [great laughter] because films do cost a lost of money in the United States, people might be overtly concerned with appealing to a wide audience. Now, it should be possible to make something which is dramatically appealing and yet still not false. But it is difficult.
I’ve got a peculiar weakness for criminals and artists. Neither takes life as it is. Any tragic story has to be in conflict with things as they are.
I believe fantasy stories at their best serve the same function for us that fairy tales and mythology formerly did. The current popularity of fantasy, particularly in films, suggests that popular culture, at least, isn’t getting what it wants from realism. The nineteenth century was the golden age of realistic fiction. The twentieth century may be the golden age of fantasy.
The basic purpose of a film, which I believe is one of illumination, of showing the viewer something he can’t see any other way. And I think at times this can be best accomplished by staying away from his own immediate environment. This is particularly true when you’re dealing in a primarily visual experience, and telling a story through the eyes. You don’t find reality only in your own backyard, you know — in fact, sometimes that’s the last place you find it. Another asset about dealing with themes that are either futuristic or historic is that it enables you to make a statement with which you’re not personally blinded; it removes the environmental blinkers, in a sense, and gives you a deeper and more objective perspective.
Most films are really little more than stage plays with more atmosphere and action. I think that the scope and flexibility of movie stories would be greatly enhanced by borrowing something from the structure of silent movies where points that didn’t require dialogue could be presented by a shot and a title card. Something like: Title: Billy’s uncle. Picture: Uncle giving Billy ice cream. In a few seconds, you could introduce Billy’s uncle and say something about him without being burdened with a scene. This economy of statement gives silent movies a much greater narrative scope and flexibility than we have today. In my view, there are very few sound films, including those regarded as masterpieces, which could not be presented almost as effectively on the stage, assuming a good set, the same cast and quality of performances. You couldn’t do that with a great silent movie.
I don’t have the slightest doubt that to tell a story like this, you couldn’t do it with words. There are only 46 minutes of dialogue scenes in the film, and 113 of non-dialogue. There are certain areas of feeling and reality – or unreality or innermost yearning, whatever you want to call it – which are notably inaccessible to words. Music can get into these areas. Painting can get into them. Non-verbal forms of expression can. But words are a terrible straitjacket. It’s interesting how many prisoners of that straitjacket resent its being loosened or taken off.
The problem with movies is that since the talkies the film industry has historically been conservative and word-oriented. The three-act play has been the model. It’s time to abandon the conventional view of the movie as an extension of the three-act play. Too many people over thirty are still word-oriented rather than picture-oriented.
Writing the Screenplay
What happens in the film business is something like this: when a scriptwriter or director starts out, producers and investors want to see everything written down. They judge the worth of a screenplay as they would a stage play, and ignore the very great differences between the two. They want good dialogue, tight plotting, dramatic development. What I have found is that the more completely cinematic a film is, the less interesting the screenplay becomes. Because a screenplay isn’t meant to be read, it’s to be realized on film.
In fantasy you want things to have the appearance of being as realistic as possible. People should behave in the mundane way they normally do. You have to be especially careful about this in the scenes which deal with the bizarre or fantastic details of the story.
I have always enjoyed dealing with a slightly surrealistic situation and presenting it in a realistic manner. I’ve always liked fairy tales and myths, magical stories. I think they are somehow closer to the sense of reality one feels today than the equally stylized “realistic” story in which a great deal of selectivity and omission has to occur in order to preserve its “realist” style.
Real is good, interesting is better.
Observancy is a dying art. The essence of dramatic form is to let an idea come over people without it being plainly stated. When you say something directly, it is simply not as potent as it is when you allow people to discover it for themselves.
Note: This approach is practically identical to Socratic questioning (which Kubrick studied and used when working with writers on screenplays) Socrates believed that by asking his students a series of questions, it would lead to them discover the answer for themselves and ultimately the truth. In a kind of way, this is what Kubrick was doing with his movies. He provided us with the questions and we (the audience) have to discover the answers and connect the dots for ourselves, which is why his films stay with you. It’s only through discovery that we understand the meaning of his movies or rather are own interpretation of the movie.
Adapting a Novel
The perfect novel from which to make a movie is, I think, not the novel of action but, on the contrary, the novel which is mainly concerned with the inner life of its characters. It will give the adaptor an absolute compass bearing, as it were, on what a character is thinking or feeling at any given moment of the story.
The Film Directors Role
A director is a kind of idea and taste machine; a movie is a series of creative and technical decisions, and it’s the director’s job to make the right decisions as frequently as possible.
The other part of the director’s job is to exercise taste: he must decide whether what he is seeing is interesting, whether it’s appropriate, whether it’s of sufficient weight, whether it’s credible. These are decisions no one else can make.
I feel the director, or filmmaking as I prefer to think of him, is wholly responsible for the film in its completed form.
A directors style is partly the result of the manner in which he imposes his mind on the semi-controllable conditions that exist on any given day – the responsiveness and talent of actors, the realism of the set, time factors, even weather.
Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car at an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.
You have got to use your resources (money and people) in the most effective way possible, because they are limited and when they are seriously stretched it always shows on the screen.
Problem Solving on Set
Time is gold in filmmaking. The ability to not walk away from a scene before its perfected.
One has to work out very clearly what the objectives of a scene are from the point of view of narrative and character, but once this is done, I find it much more profitable to avoid locking up any ideas about staging or camera or even dialogue, prior to the rehearsals. I try to leave enough time between the writing of the script and the working out of the ideas of the scene, and the actual shooting of the scene, so that I can arrive in some way as an observer looking a something that has a degree of freshness to me. It’s important to be able to respond to some extent in the way the audience will eventually respond.
I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want.
Sometimes you find that the scene is absolutely no good at all. It doesn’t make sense when you see it acted. It doesn’t provide the necessary emotional or factual information in an interesting way, or in a way which has the right weight to it. Any number of things can suddenly put you in a position where you’ve got nothing to shoot. The only thing you can say about a moment like this is that it’s better to realise it while you still have a chance to change it and to create something new, than it is to record forever something that is wrong.
Working with Actors
A director can’t get anything out of an actor that he doesn’t already have. You can’t start an acting school in the middle of making a film.
I think that most interesting actors have physical eccentricities about them which make their performances more interesting and, if they don’t, they work hard to find them.
Staging and Rehearsals
However carefully you think about a scene, and however clearly you believe you have visualized it, it’s never the same when you finally see it played. Sometimes a totally new idea comes up out of the blue, during a rehearsal, or even during actual shooting, which is simply too good to ignore. This can necessitate the new scene being worked out with the actors right then and there. As long as the actors know the objectives of the scene, and understand their characters, this is less difficult and much quicker to do than you might imagine.
Whenever I start a new scene, the most important thing in my mind is, within the needs of the theme and the scene, to make something happen worth putting on film. The most crucial part of this comes when you start new rehearsals on a new scene. There’s no way to define what this process consists of. It obviously has to do with taste and imagination and it is in this crucial period of time that a film is really created. Once you know you’ve got something worthwhile, the shooting becomes a matter of recording (improving, if you can) what you have already done in rehearsal. Whatever problems exist during the actual shooting are not the kind of problems that worry me. If the actor isn’t getting it right, well, he’ll get it right eventually. If the camera operator spoils a shot, it can be done again. The thing that can never be changed, and the thing that is the make or break of a picture, are those few hours you spend alone in the actual place with the actors, with the crew outside drinking their tea.
When you rehearse a scene, it is usually best not to think about the camera at all. If you do, I have found that it invariably interferes with the fullest exploration of the ideas of the scene. When, at last, something happens which you know is worth filming, that is the time to decide how to shoot it. It is almost but not quite true to say that when something really exciting and worthwhile is happening, it doesn’t matter how you shoot it. In any event, it never takes me long to decide on set-ups, lighting or camera movements. The visual part of filmmaking has always come easiest to me, and that is why I am careful to subordinate it to the story and the performances.
Critical Rehearsal Period
[On the critical rehearsal period] The reality of the final moment, just before shooting, is so powerful that all previous analysis must yield before the impressions you receive under these circumstances; and unless you use feedback to your positive advantage, unless you adjust to it, adapt to it and accept that sometimes terrifying weaknesses it can expose, you can never realize the most out of your film.
With very few exceptions, I think it is necessary to keep your staging ideas for the very last moment and to use the decor and the action that you ultimately choose as the basis of what you want to shoot. (…) The most important thing is to carefully rehearse a scene and make sure you have something interesting to film. It’s after that you can take care of the “how”. The “how” should always follow the “what”. It’s the content and the ideas that come first. After that, we can worry about how to film them. These staging ideas are almost never in a scenario.”
In a scene that might take three days to shoot, I would probably spend till four o’clock on the first day rehearsing and working things out. This period is one of maximum tension and anxiety; angles and coverage is, by comparison, a relatively simple matter.
Number of Takes
It happens when actors are unprepared. You cannot act without knowing dialogue. If actors have to think about the words, they can’t work on the emotion. So you end up doing thirty takes of something. And still you can see the concentration in their eyes; they don’t know their lines.
It’s invariably because the actors don’t know their lines, or don’t know them well enough. An actor can only do one thing at a time, and when he has learned lines only well enough to say them while he’s thinking about them, he will always have trouble as soon as he has to work on the emotions of the scene or find camera marks. In a strong emotional scene, it is always best to be able to shoot in complete takes to allow the actor continuity of emotion, and it is rare for most actors to reach their peak more than once or twice. There are, occasionally scenes which benefit from extra takes, but even then, I’m not sure that the early takes aren’t just glorified rehearsals with the added adrenaline of film running through the camera.
An actor has to know his lines before he can begin to act. You cannot think about your lines and act. Some actors – and those are usually the ones who go back to L.A. and do interviews about what a perfectionist I am and how they had to do a take 70 or 80 times – don’t go home after shooting, study their lines and go to bed. They go out, stay out late, and come in the next morning unprepared… So you can reason with them or explain how they’re hurting themselves, or you can yell at them. Some of them respond, some don’t, and there isn’t an awful lot you can do about it except not work with them again.
Shooting your Movie
The danger of everything that you do in a film is that it may not work, it may be boring, or bland, or stupid. When you think of the greatest moments of film, I think you are almost always involved with images rather than scenes, and certainly never dialogue. The thing a film does best is to use pictures with music and I think these are the moments you remember.
Because of my background in photography, I have been able to quickly figure out the best visual way to photograph or represent a scene on the screen. But I never start thinking in terms of shots. I first begin thinking of the main intent of the film. After the actors rehearse the scene and achieve a level of reality and excitement, only then do I really look through the viewfinder and try to figure out the best way to put this on the screen. Generally speaking, you can make almost any action or situation into an interesting shot, if it’s composed well and lit well. I’ve seen many films in which interesting camera angles and lighting effects are totally incongruous to the purpose of the scene. When the whole thing is over, you’ve seen a rather interestingly photographed movie that has no effect at all.
[on making movies] you’re not trying to capture reality, you’re trying to capture a photograph of reality.
Keeping it Simple
If something is really happening on the screen, it isn’t crucial how it’s shot. Chaplin had such a simple cinematic style that it was almost like I Love Lucy, but you were always hypnotised by what was going on, unaware of the essentially non-cinematic style. He frequently used cheap sets, routine lighting and so forth, but he made great films. His films will probably last longer than anyone else’s. You could say that Chaplin was no style and all content. On the other hand, the opposite can be seen in Eisenstein’s films, who is all style and no content or, depending on how generous you want to be, little content.
There’s always a conflict between time, money and quality. If you shoot a lot of coverage, then you must either spend a lot of money, or settle for less quality of performance. I find that when I’m shooting a scene, I shoot a lot of takes but I don’t try to get a lot of coverage from other angles. I try to shoot the scene as simply as possible get the maximum performance from the actors without presenting them the problem of repeating the performance too many times from different angles. On the other hand, in an action scene, where it’s relatively easy to shoot, you want lots and lots of angles so that you can do something interesting with it in the cutting room.
Storyboards and Planning
I’ve always been impressed reading that some directors sketch out the scenes and can actually find that it works. It may be some shortcoming of my screenplay, but I find that no matter how good it ever looks on paper, the minute you start in the actual set, with the actors, you’re terribly aware of not taking the fullest advantage of what’s possible if you actually stick to what you wrote. I also found that thinking of shots, or thinking of the way to shoot a scene before you’ve actually rehearsed it and got it to the point where something is actually happening that is worth putting on film, will frequently prevent you from really getting into the deepest possible result of the scene.
It’s important to save your cinematic ideas until you have rehearsed the scene in the actual place you’re going to film it. The first thing to do is to rehearse the scene until something happens that is worth putting on film.
The important thing is not to put the cart before the horse and to set things up for the camera before you’ve made something happen worth filming.
The key part in shooting a film is not to necessarily execute what you had in mind but [to] stay loose in case you have a better idea.
For things that are arranged for the camera generally result in cliche compositions.
Kubrick on Lighting
I have always tried to light my films to simulate natural light; in the daytime using the windows actually to light the set, and in night scenes the practical lights you see in the set. For the day interior scenes [on Barry Lyndon], we used either the real daylight from the windows, or simulated daylight by banking lights outside the windows and diffusing them with tracing paper taped on the glass. In addition to the very beautiful lighting you can achieve this way, it is also a very practical way to work. You don’t have to worry about shooting into your lighting equipment. All your lighting is outside the window behind tracing paper, and if you shoot towards the window you get a very beautiful and realistic flare effect.
I should say that eighty-five percent of A Clockwork Orange was lit either by replacing normal bulbs in existing lighting fixtures with photo floods, or by the use of very lightweight Lowell 1000 watt quartz lights bounced off either ceilings or special reflective umbrellas. At other times it was necessary to use brute arcs for which there is no substitute when large expanses have to be lit at night, or when a one source light effect has to be achieved in a large interior.
Stanley Kubrick Quotes on Editing
I love editing. I think I like it more than any other phase of filmmaking. If I wanted to be frivolous, I might say that everything that precedes editing is merely a way of producing film to edit.
Editing is the only unique aspect of filmmaking which does not resemble any other art form – a point so important it cannot be overstressed. It can make or break a film.
Nothing is cut without me. I’m in there every second, and for all practical purposes I cut my own film; I mark every frame, select each segment, and have everything done exactly the way I want it. Writing, shooting, and editing are what you have to do to make a film.
Music is one of the most important elements in a film, as is silence.
Cutting the Movie
I think there should always be a reason for making a cut. If a scene plays well in one camera set up and there is no reason to cut, then I don’t cut. I try to avoid a mechanical cutting rhythm which dissipates much of the effect of editing.
As a rule, action sequences need to be cut into lots of little pieces, whereas dialogue works best when it’s left whole.
When I’m editing, I’m only concerned with the questions of “Is it good or bad?” “Is it necessary?” “Can I get rid of it?” “Does it work?” My identity changes to that of an editor. I am never concerned with how much difficulty there was to shoot something, how much it cost, and so forth. I look at the material with completely different eyes. I’m never troubled losing material. I cut everything to the bone. When you’re shooting, you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, and you cover it as fully as time and budget allow. When you’re editing, you want to get rid of everything that isn’t essential.
A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.
Use of Voice-Overs
There is an old screenplay adage that says if you have to use voice-over it means there’s something wrong with the script. I’m quite certain this is not true, and when thoughts are to be conveyed, especially when they are of a nature which one would not say to another person, there is no other good alternative.
[If] there is too much story to tell. A voice-over spares you the cumbersome business of telling the necessary facts of the story through expositional dialogue scenes which can become very tiresome and frequently unconvincing: “Curse the blasted storm that’s wrecked our blessed ship!” Voice-over, on the other hand, is a perfectly legitimate and economical way of conveying story information which does not need dramatic weight and which would otherwise be too bulky to dramatize.
Engaging the Audience
[On 2001: A Space Odyssey] I tried to create a visual experience, one that bypasses verbalized pigeonholing and directly penetrates the subconscious with an emotional and philosophical content… I intended the film to be an intensely subjective experience that reaches the viewer at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does. You’re free to speculate as you wish about the philosophical and allegorical meaning of the film.
Film operates on a level much closer to music and to painting than to printed word, and, of course, movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension. In two hours and twenty minutes of film there are only forty minutes of dialogue.
I think an audience watching a film or a play is in a state very similar to dreaming, and that the dramatic experience becomes a kind of controlled dream. But the important point here is that the film communicates on a subconscious level, and the audience responds to the basic shape of the story on a subconscious level, as it responds to a dream.
Reactions to art are always different because they are deeply personal… The film becomes anything the viewer sees in it.
[Works of art] affect us when they illuminate something we already feel, they don’t change us.
Ambiguity in Film
The most important parts of a film are mysterious parts – beyond the reach of reason an language.
How could we possibly appreciate La Giocanda [the Mona Lisa] today if Leonardo had written at the bottom of the canvas: “This lady is smiling slightly because she has rotten teeth” – or “because she’s hiding a secret from her lover”? It would shut off the viewers reality and shackle him to a “reality” other than his own. I don’t want this to happen to 2001.
What people sometimes mean is that they want some confirmation of what they’ve seen happen, and what they think. Some people who are used to the conventions of realistic theater and the three-act play are surprised when a new form is presented to them, no matter how intensely they react to it, and no matter how much pleasure they get from it.
Critics and Reviews
The lasting and ultimately most important reputation of a film is not based on reviews, but on what, if anything, people say about it over the years, and on how much affection for it they have.
The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good.
One of the things that I always find extremely difficult, when a picture’s finished, is when a writer or a film reviewer asks, ‘Now, what is it that you were trying to say in that picture?’ And without being thought too presumptuous for using this analogy, I like to remember what T.S. Elliot said to someone who had asked him – I believe it was about, The Waste Land – what he meant by his poem. He replied, ‘I meant what it said. If I could have said it any differently, I would have.’
Kubrick’s Tips for Filmmakers
The important thing in films is not so much to make successes as not to make failures, because each failure limits your future opportunities to make the films you want to make.
The most instructive book on film aesthetics I came across was Pudovkin’s Film Technique, which simply explained that editing was the aspect of film art form which was completely unique, and which separated it from all other art forms. The ability to show a simple action like a man cutting wheat from a number of angles in a brief moment, to be able to see it in a special way not possible except through film – that this is what it was all about. This is obvious, of course, but it’s so important it cannot be too strongly stressed. Pudovkin gives many clear examples of how good film editing enhances a scene, and I would recommend his book to anyone seriously interested in film technique.
The equivalent to Pudovkin’s book on film editing is a book oddly enough about Stanislavski, not by him Stanislavski Directs, by Nikolai M Gorchakov. It provides a very detailed and practical description of Stanislavsky at work on different productions. I would regard it as an essential book for any intending film director.
Starting Out in Filmmaking
One of the things that gave me the most confidence in trying to make a film was seeing all the lousy films that I saw. Because I sat there and thought, Well, I don’t know a goddamn thing about movies, but I know I can make a film better than that.
I don’t think it really makes a lot of difference which film-makers you become fascinated with. Your own style, if you get a chance to make a film, is really a result of the way your mind works, imposed on the semi-controllable factors that exist at the time you start, both in terms of time, or the way the set looked, or how good the actors were that day. I don’t think it matters which films you look at. Close attention to a single film teaches you a great deal. Film schools could be useful if you get a chance to lay your hands on a camera and see a little film equipment, but as far as film aesthetics are concerned, I think that they’re largely a waste of time. You’re generally hearing the views of somebody who rarely warrants listening to. You’re much better off taking films by great film-makers and studying them very closely.
I think the most influential filmmakers for me have been (in no special order): Chaplin, De Sisca, Bergman, Fellini, Hitchcock, Welles and Ophuls.
The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. I know that all the things I did at the beginning were, in microcosm, the things I’m doing now as a director and producer. There are a lot of non-creative aspects to filmmaking which have to be overcome, and you will experience them all when you make even the simplest film. It is rare to be able to have uncluttered artistic environment when you make a film, and being able to accept this is essential. The point to stress is that anyone seriously interested in making a film should find as much money as he can as quickly as he can and go out and do it. And this is no longer as difficult as it once was.
For the first ten years of my career, I only earned money for not directing films. I was paid to make a film for MGM that never got made. And I was paid in full by Marlon Brando to direct One Eyed Jacks, but we disagreed and I left. I started off by making short documentaries with my own money and I sold them at a loss.
The Film Business Quotes
The reason movies are often so bad out here isn’t because the people who make them are cynical money hacks. Most of them are doing the very best they can; they really want to make good movies. The trouble is with their heads, not their hearts.
Take a film that costs $10 million. Today it’s not unusual to spend $8 million on USA advertising, and $4 million on international advertising. On a big film, add $2 million for release-prints. Say there is a 20% studio overhead on the budget; that’s $2 million more. Interest on the $10 million production cost, currently at 20% a year, would add an additional $2 million a year, say, for two years — that’s another $4 million. So a $10 million film already costs $30 million. Now you have to get it back. Let’s say an actor takes 10% of the gross, and the distributor takes a world-wide average of a 35% distribution fee. To roughly calculate the break-even figure, you have to divide the $30 million by 55%, the percentage left after the actor’s 10% and the 35% distribution fee. That comes to $54 million of distributor’s film rental. So a $10 million film may not break even, as far as the producer’s share of the profits is concerned, until 5.4 times its negative cost. Obviously the actual break-even figure for the distributor is lower since he is taking a 35% distribution fee and has charged overheads.
However serious your intentions may be, and however important you think are the ideas of the story, the enormous cost of a movie makes it necessary to reach the largest potential audience for that story, in order to give your backers their best chance to get their money back and hopefully make a profit. No one will disagree that a good story is an essential starting point for accomplishing this. But another thing, too, the stronger the story, the more chances you can take with everything else.
One of the things that amazes me about some directors who have had great financial successes, is that they seem eager to give up directing to become film moguls. If you care about films, I don’t see how you could want someone else to direct for you. It’s true — shooting isn’t always fun. But if you care about the film it doesn’t matter.
Filmmaking violates the old adage that what is wanted is a system designed by geniuses which can be run by idiots. It has always been the other way round with films.
[On the future of cinema] I’m sure we’ll have sophisticated 3-D holographic television and films, and it’s possible that completely new forms of entertainment and education will be devised. You might have a machine that taps the brain and ushers you into a vivid dream experience in which you are the protagonist in a romance or adventure. Stanley Kubrick, 1968[On the future of cinema] I’m sure we’ll have sophisticated 3-D holographic television and films, and it’s possible that completely new forms of entertainment and education will be devised. You might have a machine that taps the brain and ushers you into a vivid dream experience in which you are the protagonist in a romance or adventure. Stanley Kubrick, 1968
Recommended Stanley Kubrick Books
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The Stanley Kubrick Archives, 2016
Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, 2002
Stanley Kubrick: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series), 2001
Kubrick Quotes Final Words
So there you go, over 100 filmmaking lessons from one of the true masters of the medium. Don’t forget to check out other quote articles for more invaluable lessons from the greatest filmmakers.
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