Making my first full-length feature film was no big deal—winning the Prix Italia and taking it on tour has blown my mindby Mark Cousins / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
On location: Mark Cousins with a budding Iraqi filmmaker
What’s the relationship between liking and making? If I like Chinese food, do I automatically have the desire to make it? If I like The Smiths, do I want to make music like them?
The answers are no, of course. But why not? Liking and making are very different activities. The latter calls, the former responds. Liking is more passive: it involves less process. You need neither a wok nor a guitar. And liking something while not wanting to make it involves, among other things, a determination not to enter the mystery of the object giving pleasure. Then there’s the fact that making is, in a way, starting from scratch—whereas liking, by definition, isn’t.
These thoughts come to mind for three reasons. First, I’ve been reading François Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Jean-Luc Godard, who were critics before they were directors. Second, I recently interviewed Paul Schrader, who was an outstanding film critic before he wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and directed American Gigolo; and third, because the critic Mark Kermode asked me recently on his radio show, why, after years of writing about cinema I finally made my first feature-length film, The First Movie. My answer was that, as a boy, I loved both looking at imagery and drawing and painting. It didn’t feel like there was a difference. Each involved getting inside images.
Mark said he would never direct a film. Why not? For the reasons above, perhaps. There’s certainly a lot more process involved in making than liking. Particularly so in film. It’s easier to paint an apple after seeing Cezanne’s apple watercolours than it is to make a film about the mafia after seeing The Godfather. But this is changing. If the cinematic process—equipment, crew, money, marketing—used to be a grand canyon separating liking and making movies, that canyon is closing fast.
At the tender age of 45, after 20 years of showing other people’s films and 20 years of making hour-long documentaries for television, I have just made my first feature-length film. This was not because I’m a slow learner—though perhaps I am. It’s because the process is now simpler. You no longer need to be at the helm of a crew of 150 people to make a movie (I’d be rubbish at that). You just need to have something to say, and a camera, and…