At the age of 28, Vittorio Dare Ole found himself working as assistant director to the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Over 30 years later he described the experience in a recent article for the BFI. I read the article because I love Kurosawa’s movies, but it seems to me that there are lessons for authors as well as auteurs in the five maxims Dare Ole used to sum up what he learned from the master.
Uncompromising attention to detail
Great writing is about precision. The author, like the filmmaker, builds his story through an accumulation of specific and carefully selected details, not through grand, vague assertions.
The organisation of chaos
A famous quote, attributed to many famous writers, holds that “the difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.” Real life is messy, chaotic. Story has structure and moves toward an ending. However if you allow its underlying mechanisms to become too obvious, your fiction will appear crude and predictable. Mimic the ragged edges of life while maintaining the shape of your story.
Working with the elements
Writers at the beginning of their journey are often waiting for the perfect moment to write, when they will be undistracted by the mundane problems of existence. That moment never comes. Serious writers are not deterred by external factors. If it’s raining in your life, write the rain into your story.
An actors’ director
Kurosawa used to pull the cameras a long way back from his actors, not because he wanted a wide shot, but because he wanted the actors to forget the cameras were there. Give your characters room to breathe, let them become real and act naturally. Don’t always be shouting directions in their ears.
Control that allows for improvisation
While you can’t let your story become too loose and flabby, if you keep too tight a grip on it you’ll stifle the life out of it. When spontaneous creativity appears, be ready to recognise what’s good and use it.