What is an “auteur”?

Auteur is the French word for author.

In film, Auteur Theory is a film theory, developed by the French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema (which included amongst its essayists directors such as Truffaut and Goddard), which states that films should reflect a director’s personal creative vision in much the same way a novel reflects it’s author’s voice.

It is the theory from which Pixar’s touted “director-driven studio” philosophy emerged, along with the cults of both stylish Indie auteurs like Wes Anderson, Alex Cox, and Jim Jarmusch and Hollywood superdirectors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. In Auteur Theory, the writer, cinematographer, editor, and all other film artists involved in production — even the actors and producer — are relegated to supporting characters in implementing the director’s vision.

In some sense this perspective is an inevitability of the immediate power a sufficiently self-assured director wields in shaping the vision of the film. Directors shape a film to fit their vision through sheer force of will, and the fact that they’re one of only two people (the other being the producer) involved in every aspect of preproduction, production, and postproduction.

Only a powerful creative producer (in the traditional Larry Gordon sense) has more impact on the film’s look, tone, and content — and that kind of producer is increasingly rare, owing to the Wall St. management style that has become prevalent at studios in the last couple decades.

What the theory does do is diminish the collaborative aspects of filmmaking, which are most aspects of the craft, and the substantial creative authorship investment that is made by the crew — especially the producer, screenwriter, editor, sound editor, and cinematographer.  And while nobody is going to truly protect and nurture your vision but you, the best filmmakers convince rather than cajole, and they also know when someone else’s idea is better, and how to give due credit when those ideas are used.

This blog is called The Indie Auteur both as an inspiration to independent low/no budget filmmakers who are the most likely audience for filmmaking blogs to pursue your vision, and as a wry joke. Calling a director, writer or producer an auteur (or, lately, “visionary”) has also become a codeword amongst the financial yoke-holders both at the studios and among indie financiers for: “if this goes all to hell, it’s your fault, not mine.” They’ll give you the glory as a visionary if things go well, so long as they can comfort themselves (erroneously) that their positions aren’t threatened when one of your films is a failure.

As for low/no budget filmmakers, auteur is just a fancy French word for: “you get to do everything yourself, pal, because you don’t have the money for anyone else.” That applies especially to the unglamourous (and generally difficult) jobs that are difficult to find volunteers for that will work for experience (i.e. anything other than cinematographer, editor, and cast).

So welcome, fellow Indie Auteur, to the blog that’s all about your glory — and your pain.  But as the great philosophers The Revolting Cocks once sampled: no pain, baby, no gain.  So get out there and grind out a film.

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