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8 Essential Filmmaking Tips from Darren Aronofsky

Celebrate the 'Black Swan' director's birthday with his words of wisdom on everything from color to improvisation.

by Beckett Mufson
13 February 2015, 12:15am

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With over 15 years of filmmaking experience in both mainstream Hollywood and the nooks and crannies of independent filmmaking, director Darren Aronofsky has tackled drugs, ballet, religion, space-time, and professional wrestling, imbuing his visionary look and feel throughout. His films have spawned supercuts, discussions of religion and art, and probably even an above-average amount of nausea in theaters. Today the director of Pi, Requium for a Dream, Black Swan, The Fountain, The Wrestler, and Noah, turns 46 years old, so we gathered some of his most powerful comments about the art of filmmaking from his interviews scattered across the web.

On scares:

Trying to figure out ways to be fresh with was a big challenge for me and the team. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out clever ways to scare people in ways they didn't expect. We did that with one-way mirrors. We also digitally erased cameras. There's a really cool shot where Vincent is watching Natalie dance, and the mirror goes by his face, and it should be reflected in the mirror—the camera is in the shot, it's just digitally pulled out.

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On budgets:

It's always good to have a box that the budget creates, because in that you can turn your limitations into your strengths.

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On characters:

It doesn’t matter if you’re an aging, 50-something wrestler at the end of his career, or an ambitious, 20-something ballet dancer. If they’re truthful to who they are and they’re expressing something real, then audiences will connect.

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On audiences:

Audiences are very sophisticated. As long as it’s fun and entertaining, it’s okay.

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On theme:

I remember working on the first film I ever did, Pi. I thought I understood it. And then, after doing press for a few months on it, I was like, “Wow, I never really understood the movie until I talked to you guys.” (Laughs) But I think that's true... There's something about the material that's interesting and attractive, and you just work on it... It's gotta have something that connects with you, because it takes years to make these things, so it's gotta be something you can come back to.

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On color in Black Swan:

When you're doing a colour film and you're gonna stylise it, then first thing you think about is how to control your colour palette. So black and white was always going to be a major part of the film, because of darkness and light, and then pink became a very obvious colour, because it's the colour of ballet. And then we had the colour of the lake, which was this greenish-blue... It all had different meanings for different characters and we tried to track it through the whole film.

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On motivation:

if you don't do something when you're passionate about it- in the moment—[snaps his fingers] you're not passionate about it the next day.

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On improvisation:

I have a really clear sense of the gist of what I'm going for, but then- things change. When you're on set- things change. When you're in the editing room- things change. So, it's a matter of really dealing with the best options, at the moment, and making the right choices.

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On preparation:

“It’s all about research,” he continues, “understanding their world and putting yourself in their head and figuring out what you would do.”

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