Directors Don’t Owe Us the Films We Expect

A few days ago, I had a stunning realization: Film directors hold no obligation to me, or to anyone else, to make the films that we expect them to make.

I know it may sound crazy, that even though I am a filmmaker myself, going through college and now in my early 20s, it took me this long to understand this. Because before now, I would sometimes get discouraged when directors like Steven Spielberg, or Hayao Miyazaki, or Guillermo Del Toro; were either making films, or had previous films in their catalog that didn’t match up to what I thought were their signature or best types of films.

With Steven Spielberg, I had for the longest time associated him with Adventure, Alien Encounters, and Dinosaurs; and had always wanted to see him return to something similar to those. However, recently his filmography has included things like Amistad, War of the Worlds, Lincoln, and The War Horse: making it seem like he’s changed into someone who wants to tell darker, more historically based tales. But quite a few years back, I realized that he had already made multiple films similar to this: Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun.

Similarly, I had always considered Miyazaki the master of whimsy and 2D animated adventures on a grand scale, with films like Nausicaa, Laputa, Howl’s Moving Castle; and my favorite film of all time, The Castle of Cagliostro. But with his last film being a historical drama, and the one before that being a rather disappointing children’s story, it seems like he may never return to simple adventure films he once did as a young man: especially now that he has retired from directing features. But again, he has always been this way. Nausicaa was a political film talking about the pollution of the earth. Kiki’s Delivery Service was a character study about being a young girl going through adolescence (and one that I quite adore). My Neighbor Totoro was an exploration into the minds of two young children with active imaginations trying to cope with the death of their mother. And Spirited Away; although more fanciful than some others, was a character study on triumph against hardship and proving yourself against all odds. I never doubted that Miyazaki’s films always harbored a magical and fantastical quality to each of their stories, but for the longest time I felt cheated that I didn’t get to watch another classical adventure story like Laputa, or Cagliostro, or something more bizarre like Howl’s Moving Castle; and instead got all of this dramas in rural settings. And yet now, I completely understand. And I know now that Miyazaki doesn’t owe me anything, nor does he owe anyone else anything either.

These preconceptions, I’ve come to understand, stem from my own issues with deciding the future of my filmography. What sort of films do I “want” to be known for? What sort of films do I want to “specialize” in? And I have always thought that I should try to stick to adventure films and fantasy flicks because those were the stories that gave me the most joy as a kid. In fact, one of the things that drive me in my career is a personal mission to make movies that both amaze and challenge children: to show them the same wonder, excitement, and inspiration that I had watching things like Star Wars or Treasure Planet. And while I still believe I can do that one day, I’ve begun to realize how foolish and unnatural it was to try and say “I am going to specialize in this;” or “I can’t make any other kind of film until I make one like this.” Because in reality, creativity doesn’t work like that.

Creativity, storytelling, and making films cannot be arbitrarily forced to fit within a preconceived type or genre. If you said you were going to specialize in painting landscapes because you love looking at nature and mountains and forests, but knew in your heart that you had no skill at drawing trees, mountains or clouds; then you’d most definitely fail at every turn attempting to do the one thing you thought you should do. Same with storytelling: unless you’re a magnificent improvisational storyteller or writer, you won’t be able to say “I’m going to specialize in writing treasure hunting adventure stories” unless you have a natural knack for research and an affinity for ancient history. You may say you enjoy reading adventure stories and want to write your own, but if you can’t muster up the energy to read up on treasure hunting expeditions and research caves and ancient civilizations, then you’re going to have a very hard time writing anything compelling for each successive story, let alone the first.

This all leads back to my own problem. Every time I try to formulate a story that involves wacky characters and adventure with magic and fantasy, I can’t do it. I keep trying to take elements from all of the fantasy films I’ve ever seen and formulate them into something else, but no spark ever comes. It’s because I am not as driven to adventure as much as I thought I was. My brain likes all of that sort of stuff, but it doesn’t “love” it. It doesn’t “feed” upon it. It doesn’t have a burning desire to talk about it. And because it doesn’t, my goal to one day “specialize” in fantasy adventure stories is utterly futile.

What this all boils down to is that I’m still living in the past. I’m still trying to fulfill the dreams and desires of my younger self that wanted so much to go on a grand adventure with quirky friends against an evil force and use magic and flying machines and trained dragons to defeat them. But, right now… that’s not me. That’s not where my mind is fixated. Right now I’m not feeling the drive, I’m not feeling the passion, and I harbor no immediate fascination towards anything of that nature. And although I know in my heart that someday I will have a stroke of inspiration that will spawn an awesome fantasy story; a stroke of “natural” inspiration and a strong desire has taken over me, and is pulling me towards a much different direction. And because of this, I now realize that I am not bound by anyone’s definition of me, not even my own. I am not bound by any genre, nor should I be. I should be able to just let creativity and inspiration wash over me and take me wherever it goes, and whatever will come I know it will be something that I can honestly and truthfully put my heart and soul into without ever needing to force it.

In the end, this is precisely the reason why you, nor I, should ever expect a Director to fulfill our wishes for what sort of film they will make next. We can impart our opinions when it comes to an adaptation, where we should expect a qualified and faithful retelling. That I don’t deny. But when it comes to the initial choice, Directors should be free to tell whatever kind of story they want; because the great Directors will choose the stories they tell with their hearts, and they’ll put everything into their work. So it doesn’t matter what stories they tell, as long as they’re good ones.