A film is the artistic expression of the director, and different directors have various approaches to make their films unique and their own. Filmmaking is a tough business, and a few simple words of encouragement from world-renowned directors don’t hurt.
After all, their years of work in the industry gave them the wisdom and expertise that you can’t learn in film school. Here is a list of some words of wisdom from 24 of the best directors.
1. Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock, a London-born director, was known as the “Master of Suspense”. He started his filmmaking career in 1919 and moved to Hollywood in 1939 to create some of the most popular suspense and psychological thriller classics we know today.
In his six-decade career, Hitchcock made more than 50 feature films and received the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979.
Hitchcock, known as a suspense genius, strived to get the audience to be invested in his characters and to put them at the edge of their seats. His style was to make the audience suffer, but give them the pleasure of a good movie.
His mission, as he said, was “To simply scare the hell out of people.”
Quotes/Advice from Hitchcock:
"We try to tell a good story and develop a hefty plot. Themes emerge as we go along."
"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible."
"The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder."
2. Christopher Nolan
English-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan gained fame for his 2000 independent film Memento. Nolan is known to be a traditionalist, but he also knows when to break cinematic rules to achieve his artistic vision.
Non-linear storytelling is a style that he uses in some of his films, and practical special effects are used only when needed.
Being a self-taught filmmaker, Christopher Nolan has a deep understanding of his craft, as he had to everything himself in order to learn. Nolan has 26 Oscar nominations and 7 awards under his name.
Quotes/Advice from Nolan:
"One of the things you do as a writer and as a filmmaker is grasp for resonant symbols and imagery without necessarily fully understanding it yourself."
"My approach with actors is to try and give them whatever it is they need from me. Direction to me is about listening and responding and realizing how much they need to know from me and how much they have figured out for themselves, really."
"I think audiences get too comfortable and familiar in today‘s movies. They believe everything they’re hearing and seeing. I like to shake that up."
3. Steven Spielberg
American producer, screenwriter, and director Steven Spielberg is one of the pioneers of the era of New Hollywood. He is one of the most well-known directors in film history and is a co-founder of DreamWorks Studios.
In his four-decade career, Spielberg has created some of the most popular adventure and science fiction films, giving him the honor of being the highest-grossing director in film history.
Spielberg is also known to tackle humanistic storylines in his later films, touching topics such as the slave trade, war, and the Holocaust.
Quotes/Advice from Spielberg:
"You shouldn’t dream your film, you should make it!"
"You can’t start a movie by having the attitude that the script is finished, because if you think the script is finished, your movie is finished before the first day of shooting."
"Filmmaking is all about appreciating the talents of the people you surround yourself with and knowing you could never have made any of these films by yourself."
4. Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino is famous for his unpredictability, which results in bloody, violent films with shock value. Tarantino was a film buff and even worked at a video rental store.
He started his career in the film industry independently with the film Reservoir Dogs, which was released in 1992. He, however, gained popularity with his comedy crime film Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino has gained commercial and critical success for his films and has also received industry awards. Named as one of the Most Influential People in the World by Time, Tarantino continues to be one of the most talked about directors in this generation.
Quotes/Advice from Tarantino:
"I steal from every single movie ever made."
"When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, ’No, I went to films."
"To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I‘m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence."
5. Martin Scorsese
With a career spanning more than 45 years, Martin Scorsese has delivered some of the best films in the movie industry. His works address various topics ranging from gangs and crime to Catholic concepts. Scorsese is part of the New Hollywood era of filmmaking, and he also founded the non-profit film preservation organization, The Film Foundation.
Scorsese has received numerous nominations and awards from film bodies such as the Academy Awards, Emmys, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, Silver Lion, Cannes, and the Palme d’Or.
Quotes/Advice from Scorsese:
"I can‘t take shooting any scene for granted. I just can’t. The moment I do that, I have no idea what I‘m doing. ’Oh that‘ll be easy. I’ll do that in five minutes.’ Believe me, that never happens."
"Cinema is a matter of what‘s in the frame and what’s not."
"You don’t make pictures for Oscars."
6. Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick was an American filmmaker known for creating film adaptations of short stories or novels. His films consist of elaborate set designs, evocative music, and unique cinematography styles. Before starting his filmmaking career, Kubrick was a photographer for Look magazine.
Kubrick was a perfectionist and had good attention to detail, overseeing all aspects of production from writing and direction to editing. Kubrick’s works are considered some of the most important contributions to the film industry in the 20th century.
Quotes/Advice from Kubrick:
"Perhaps it sounds ridiculous, but the best thing that young filmmakers should do is to get hold of a camera and some and make a movie of any kind at all."
"If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed."
"A film is -- or should be -- more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later."
7. David Fincher
David Fincher is a critically-acclaimed director for both film and television. Fincher started in the industry as a production assistant and moved up the ladder to become a visual-effects producer. Later, Fincher worked as an assistant cameraman and worked on films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Return of the Jedi both produced by Lucasfilm Ltd.
After directing several movies and videos, David Fincher then went on to direct films, his first of many being Alien 3 in 1992.
Quotes/Advice from Fincher:
"The thing I always say to any writer that I’m working with is: Just make sure that in any argument, EVERYONE is right. I want every single person arguing a righteous side of the argument. That makes interesting drama."
"The fact is, you don‘t know what directing is until the sun is setting and you’ve got to get five shots and you’re only going to get two."
"I learn the most from making my own mistakes."
8. Francis Ford Coppola
Director Francis Ford Coppola gained attention in the filmmaking industry for his screenwriting for the film Patton, which won an Academy Award in the 1970.
After two years, Coppola again became the talk of the film industry after releasing one of his most famous films, The Godfather, the first movie in a series of three, and the film that gave him his first nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards.
Coppola’s films in the 1980s and 1990s were praised by both critics and viewers, and he is one of only eight filmmakers to receive two Palme d’Or awards, which is the highest recognition given at the Cannes Film Festival.
Quotes/Advice from Coppola:
"An essential element of any art is risk. If you don‘t take a risk then how are you going to make something really beautiful, that hasn’t been seen before?"
"The things that you get fired for when you‘re young are the same things that you get lifetime achievement awards for when you’re old."
"Sound is your friend because sound is cheaper than picture, but it has equal effect on the audience -- in some ways, perhaps more effect because it does it in a very indirect way."
9. Woody Allen
Playwright and filmmaker Woody Allen has a career that spans five decades. He started as a comedic writer and stand-up comic, but found himself on the director’s chair by the 1960s. His early works were inspired by European art cinema, switching between the comedy and drama genres.
Woody Allen’s breakout movie was Annie Hall, released in 1977. Allen co-wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, and it gained him four Academy Awards, including Best Director.
Quotes/Advice from Allen:
"If my films make one more person miserable, I’ll feel I have done my job."
"I can’t imagine that the business should be run any other way than that the director has complete control of his films."
"If my films don‘t show a profit, I know I’m doing something right."
10. James Cameron
Canadian filmmaker James Cameron is known for large-scale, expensive productions, and his 1984 film The Terminator propelled his position in the film industry. Cameron went on to become one of the most successful directors in Hollywood, creating films that are praised by critics and moviegoers alike.
One of his works, Titanic, is the first film in history to earn more than $1 billion. Cameron earned a total of 14 Academy Award nominations for the film.
Quotes/Advice from Cameron:
"If you wait until the right time to have a child you‘ll die childless, and I think filmmaking is very much the same thing. You just have to take the plunge and just start shooting something even if it’s bad."
"Pick up a camera. Shoot something, no matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now, you‘re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee."
"The film industry is about saying ‘no’ to people, and inherently, you cannot take ‘no’ for an answer."
11. Tim Burton
Tim Burton, also called “The Master of The Macabre,” started his career in the film industry as an animator and storyboard artist in Walt Disney Productions.
However, his works did not make it into the final cuts of films he worked on. He then created his own short stop-motion animation film entitled Vincent, and from then on created more films that were screened in film festivals.
Burton’s dark fantasy, gothic direction style made its way into his films, creating some of the best stop-motion animation and live action films that audiences of all ages adore. Tim Burton has garnered several nominations and won a few awards from film institutions.
Quotes/Advice from Burton:
"It’s good as an artist to always remember to see things in a new, weird way."
"Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?"
"You always have to feel like it‘s gonna be the greatest, even if it’s a… you know… piece of crap."
12. Ridley Scott
English director Ridley Scott is known for his atmospheric visual style with memorable imagery. His commercial breakthrough in the filmmaking world came when his science-fiction film, Alien, was released in 1979. Scott is also widely known for creating critically-acclaimed period films.
With his keen attention to detail and incorporation of innovative production designs, Scott has garnered several awards and nominations from Cannes, the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and the American Film Institute.
Advice/Quotes from Scott:
"• "I think, at the end of the day, filmmaking is a team, but eventually there’s got to be a captain."
"A hit for me is if I enjoy the movie, if I personally enjoy the movie."
"Cast is everything."
Want to learn more about film directing? Check out some of our recommended books:
The Filmmaker’s Handbook
A Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age: 2013 Edition written by Steven Ascher
Director David Lynch is a master of surrealist films that has become his signature style since his first feature film in 1977. His films never fail to mystify the audience. Aside from filmmaking, Lynch has also directed the popular murder mystery TV series, Twin Peaks, which has a large following.
David Lynch has three Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, and has also received a Palm d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. He has been described as the “Renaissance Man” or modern filmmaking.
Quotes/Advice from Lynch:
"Life is very, very complicated, and so films should be allowed to be, too."
"A film -- especially when it‘s a personal film -- is going to hit somebody or it’s not. There’s nothing you can do about it."
"Most of Hollywood is about making money -- and I love money, but I don’t make the films thinking about money."
14. Akira Kurosawa
Akira Kurosawa is one of the most influential filmmakers in the industry. Kurosawa started out as a painter and later became a scriptwriter and assistant director for various Japanese films. His directorial debut was in 1943 in the film Sanshiro Sugata (Judo Saga).
Akira Kurosawa’s body of work gained the interest of the Western film market, which gave him international attention. Kurosawa was posthumously awarded the Lifetime Achievement award by the Academy Awards for his contributions in the world of cinema.
Advice/Quotes from Kurosawa:
"Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly."
"With a good script a good director can produce a masterpiece; with the same script a mediocre director can make a passable film. But with a bad script even a good director can’t possibly make a good film."
The Coen brothers are called genre-busters, creating films in different genres including comedy, romance, adventure, drama, crime, horror, and Western. Joel always creates films jointly with his brother, and together they have been nominated for 13 Academy Awards.
Aside from directing their own films, the Coen brothers have also written films for other directors.
Quotes/Advice from Coen:
"If the material is challenging, it forces you to challenge yourself when handling it."
"The characters are the result of two things -- first, we elaborate them into fairly well-defined people through their dialogue, then they happen all over again, when the actor interprets them."
"The architecture of a story can be a little bit different if it’s a true story."
16. Orson Welles
American director Orson Welles worked on stage productions before taking on the big screen. In 1941, Welles’ directorial debut in Citizen Kane made him well-known in the industry, and to this day, it is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
Welles’ directing style consists of non-linear narratives, unusual camera framing, long takes, and creative use of lighting. Aside from being a director, Orson Welles is also a famous radio actor and magician.
Quotes/Advice from Welles:
"If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story."
"The enemy of art is the absence of limitations."
"Create your own visual style… let it be unique for yourself and yet identifiable for others."
17. Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is known for his quirky comedic films with distinct, cinematic visual style. Anderson’s love for making films started at a young age, and he directed Super 8mm movies starring himself.
While attending college, Anderson worked at a cinema as a projectionist, which only pushed him to want making his own movies.
Wes Anderson has been nominated for several Academy Awards and has a BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay.
Quotes/Advice from Anderson:
"There‘s no story if there isn’t some conflict. The memorable things are usually not how pulled together everybody is."
"Every time you do a take on a movie, you‘re not sure if it’s going to succeed. Even if you have a great cast."
"Anytime I make a movie, I really have absolutely no idea how it‘s going to go over. I’ve had the whole range of different kinds of reactions."
18. Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson is a director from New Zealand known for directing The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but his name was tossed into the limelight for the film Heavenly Creatures (1994) wherein he was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
Since the success of Lord of the Rings, Jackson remained with the Tolkien franchise, later on releasing The Hobbit.
Quotes/Advice from Jackson:
"The most honest form of filmmaking is to make a film for yourself."
"Film is such a powerful medium. It’s like a weapon and I think you have a duty to self-censor."
"I think it’s important that filmmakers look at the technology and figure out how to make the theatrical experience a little more exciting."
19. George Lucas
George Lucas is an American filmmaker known for creating the Star Wars movies. He is the founder of Industrial Light & Magic as well as Lucasfilm. His entry to the film world was through director Francis Ford Coppola, who he met while studying cinematography.
George Lucas is among the top filmmakers in the industry, with five of his feature films included in the 100 highest-grossing films when it comes to North American box office.
Quotes/Advice from Lucas:
"The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie."
"A film is sort of binary -- it either works or it doesn’t work. It has nothing to do with how good a job you do. If you bring it up to an adequate level where the audience goes with the movie, then it works, that is all."
"A director makes 100 decisions an hour. Students ask me how you know how to make the right decision, and I say to them, ‘If you don’t know how to make the right decision, you’re not a director."
20. Michael Mann
Director Michael Mann is a film director who has a number of nominations from top film organizations around the world. Many consider Mann one of the top film directors of our time. Many of Mann’s films consist of male protagonists, and his works often end in tragedy.
Michael Mann’s use of visual style and emotional intensity in his films result in masterful pieces that are not easily forgotten.
Quotes/Advice from Mann:
"To tell a story from beginning, middle, and end doesn’t motivate me that much."
"We bring our preparation to the table, and opportunity may present itself, and if you are well prepared, you can seize opportunity and then maybe something good happens, and you call that luck."
"I‘ve never made any film that I wouldn’t go back and re-edit."
21. JJ Abrams
JJ Abrams is best known for tackling films in the science fiction, drama, and action genres. Abrams dabbled into screenwriting for films when he was in college, and eventually went on to create several TV series including Lost, Alias, and Fringe.
Abrams continued to write for films and eventually went into directing, his directorial debut being Mission Impossible III, which was release in 2006. Since then, Abrams has achieved great success in making films, his highest-grossing film being Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Quotes/Advice from Abrams:
"To me the interesting main character is never the one without flaws."
"I love working with the right actor, and if the right actor happens to be unknown, that should be allowed, too, I think."
"I try to push ideas away, and the ones that will not leave me alone are the ones that ultimately end up happening."
22. Ang Lee
Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee moved to the United States to study to be an actor. However, his speaking English was difficult for him, which made him want to pursue directing instead. Ang Lee penetrated the film industry in 1992 with his directorial debut Pushing Hands.
Lee has won several awards, including two Academy Awards for Best Director. He is the only filmmaker of Asian descent to win the Best Director awards from BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and the Oscars.
Quotes/Advice from Lee:
"You become the movie you are making."
"Emotions serve characters’ purposes. That is their motivation."
"Many times when you make a movie, it feels like your biggest mistake. But even if a film isn‘t a hit, you shouldn’t view it as a mistake."
23. Spike Lee
Spike Lee has received Spike Lee made his directorial debut in 1983 with the film She’s Gotta Have It. Most of Lee’s films tackle race relations, political issues, poverty, and crime.
The film helped launch Lee’s Hollywood career, and he went on to establish his own production company called 40 Acres & a Mule, which has produced more than 35 films.
Lee also won several awards, including the Gish Prize and an Emmy award, and he has also been nominated for an Academy Award.
Quotes/Advice from Spike Lee:
"All directors are storytellers, so the motivation was to tell the story I wanted to tell. That’s what I love."
"I think it would be very boring dramatically to have a film where everybody was a lawyer or a doctor and had no faults. To me, the most important thing is to be truthful."
"I like to work with the same people when I can, and you want to get people with the same interests that you have, and the same aesthetic."
24. Park Chan Wook
Korean director Park Chan-wook is one of the most popular filmmakers in South Korea, his native country. Park Chan-wook began working as a film critic, writing articles for film journals.
He was inspired to become a filmmaker when he saw Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. He worked as an assistant director before directing his own films.
Park Chan-wook’s films focus on brutality, even gory and bloody at times. He has received several awards from various institutions including Cannes and Berlin Film Festival.
Quotes/Advice from Wook:
"If you would ask me what my ideal process is, I would say, long pre-production, long production and long post-production."
"I have always meticulously storyboarded my films from beginning to end."
"Visual elements are, of course, the director’s job."