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Darren Aronofsky on Childbirth and Filmmaking

By Freddy  /  25 Nov 2016 (Friday)

“And for me, filmmaking is pain. I’m in pain the whole time. I’m in pain writing; I’m in pain shooting; I’m in pain editing,” said Darren Aronofsky in a dialogue with Clint Eastwood during Tribeca Film Festival 2013.

That quote was the first thing that Aronofsky had to address in the Masterclass, which was held at ArtScience Museum as part of the 27th Singapore International Film Festival. He did not look very different from his Tribeca experience, clad in semi-formal top, brown pants, sneakers, and a baseball cap.

I was curious to know what makes filmmaking a painful process for such an acclaimed director, probably best known for his work in the psychological thriller ‘Black Swan’. That film alone scored him more than a dozen Best Director nominations. While Aronofsky is more well-known as a director, he frequently takes on other roles such as writer and producer, sometimes all three in the same film.

“Filmmaking is never easy,” he said. That seemed to be the theme of the entire masterclass as we delve into how he works as a filmmaker. He acknowledged the role of passion to get through the pain. That pain, though, is forgotten after it is done. In that respect, he compares filmmaking to childbirth. The forgetting of the pain is what drives filmmakers to continue making more films.

Part of the pain is compromise. He introduced the triangle of filmmaking: creativity, money, and time. These three factors affect each other. For example, more creativity would require more money and time, or less money would limit creativity and time. Aronofsky shares that although a bigger budget theoretically gives more time, if something goes wrong, repeating it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars as opposed to hundreds of dollars in cheaper films.

From small films like ‘Pi’ to medium films like ‘Requiem for a Dream’ to a blockbuster like ‘Noah’, Aronofsky understands the complexities of filmmaking. It is a dynamic, unpredictable process that constantly evolves. He compares scriptwriting to sculpting. It would be draft after draft, with a film like ‘Black Swan’ having more than a hundred drafts. Then the screenplay might change after casting. What he got during shoots might not be what they prepared during rehearsal. The result might also be unexpected. Both ‘Noah’ and ‘Black Swan’ were not expected to perform well financially. Aronofsky considers filmmaking as a constant process of discovery.

Despite the constant changes, Aronofsky does not dismiss the importance of preparation. “Preparation is everything. Homework is so important,” he said. In the film he is working now, he claimed to have spent months just for rehearsal. The preparation also involves gaining the trust of actors, which he believes is important for them to work well with the director. The actors need to believe in what they are doing.

Lastly, as a filmmaker known for making risky films, Aronofsky was asked about the advice he would give to a risk-averse country like Singapore. He cites the difficulty of working with censorship, which also exists in the United States. He believes it is important for artists to be honest and truthful. He encouraged filmmakers to continue to pursue what they want to do. “Might not work in Singapore, might work in Cannes,” he said. He also emphasised the importance of individuality. He reminded them to “keep telling the truths that [they] know” and to tell stories that only they can tell.
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