15 Fascinating Jim Jarmusch Quotes on Filmmaking

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Jim Jarmusch has a new film out this weekend. Palm Dog Award winner Paterson arrived in theaters, starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani in a “quiet observation of the triumphs and defeats of daily life, along with the poetry evident in its smallest details.” The director is also being celebrated in a midnight retrospective at Brooklyn’s Nitehawk, “highlighting four favorites that represent his unique vision in American independent cinema.” To celebrate Jarmusch’s work, we’ve gathered 15 fascinating quotes about his approach to filmmaking.

“They’re all personal to me or not. I don’t know how to respond. I just follow my instincts. So I have a really hard time comparing the things I’ve done.”

“For me, filming is capturing things, and the editing is where you form a film out of them. Obviously, I have a script and ideas, but you really have to find it in the editing.”

“I will never write a script, and then show it to people, and then have to rewrite it… I don’t do multiple drafts. It’s the starting point, the map. But it’s going to get better, I hope. Because the auteur thing is nonsense. Film is so collaborative, and especially in my case, because I have artistic control over the film. That means I choose the people I collaborate with—we’re making the film together. I use “a film by [Jim Jarmusch]” in the credits to protect my ability to choose my collaborators in this world of financing and using other people’s money. But we’re collaborating all the time, so the film is evolving each day we scout, and then each day we shoot, and then if we rehearse, whatever that might mean, it’s just changing, changing, changing. They have this thing, traditionally, where they put different colored pages in the script in pre-production as you’re going along. ‘Oh, that was a new idea, so those are pink pages.’ My final script is multi-colored, because I keep adding, changing—take this scene out, move this one around. For the production, they need to keep track of it. And I love these colored pens that write in four colors, so I make notes all over in different colors. My shooting script is very colorful.”

“Yeah. I’m a self-proclaimed dilettante, and it’s not negative to me, because I’m interested in so many things, from 17th-century English music, to mushroom identification, to various varieties of ferns, to all kinds of stuff. How can I, in one lifetime—I could be like Adam and Eve in Only Lovers, I wouldn’t be a dilettante, because they actually know. He knows how to build a generator, and she knows the Latin identification of everything. But I’m a dilettante because I don’t have enough time. And there are too many incredible things that I get attracted to, and so my head’s always spinning around. But that’s okay. Being a dilettante is helpful if you make films, because films have all these other forms in them. I’ve been finding more and more a lot of great directors I love were dilettantes or are. Like Nick Ray, prime example. Studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, had Bertolt Brecht crash on his sofa, had a radio show of Appalachian music and rural blues in the ’30s, was a painter, read voraciously, knew all about baseball. I know Howard Hawks had an incredible variety of interests. And Buñuel.”

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.'”

“I always start with characters rather than with a plot, which many critics would say is very obvious from the lack of plot in my films—although I think they do have plots—but the plot is not of primary importance to me, the characters are.”

“I have to tell everyone that when I finish a film and it goes out and is released, I never look at my films again. I don’t like looking back. I don’t even like talking about ’em! So I’m really digging back in my memory because I don’t like to sit and look at my films again.”

“I start with actors that I know personally or I know their work, and there are things about their work or their presence or their own personality that make a character, that exaggerates some qualities and suppresses other qualities. It’s always a real collaboration for me.”

“I like to rehearse with the actors scenes that are not in the script and will not be in the film because what we’re really doing is trying to establish their character, and good acting to me is about reacting.”

“I’m stubborn. I have to fight. The studios want to be your partner in the creative process. That’s why I find most of my financing overseas. I don’t let the Money give me notes on my scripts. I don’t allow the Money on the set. I don’t allow the Money in the editing room. These days, even the little independent studios, they act like Hollywood. Some kid is making a movie for $500,000, and they want the final cut. Seems like the squares are taking over everything.”

“I never talk to actors as a group. Only one at a time. I talk to them about being their characters. Never, ever, about the meaning of the scene. I don’t want the actors overladen with research, so they grow stale.”

“The beauty of a movie is that you walk in, you don’t know anything about it, you enter a world that’s new to you, and that’s the magic of being transported. If you make a film, that magic is not there, because you were there while shooting it. After writing a film and shooting it and being in the editing room every day, you can never see it clearly. I think other people’s perception of your film is more valid than your own, because they have that ability to see it for the first time.”

“The beauty of a movie is that you walk in, you don’t know anything about it, you enter a world that’s new to you, and that’s the magic of being transported. If you make a film, that magic is not there, because you were there while shooting it. After writing a film and shooting it and being in the editing room every day, you can never see it clearly. I think other people’s perception of your film is more valid than your own, because they have that ability to see it for the first time. Also, I’m not an analytical person, so it’s not my job to even know what the hell the thing meant. It’s not my problem. I’m just supposed to do it. Sometimes, people have explained things to me that I might have been semi-conscious of or not. I could see how they are in the film, but I’m not aware of them. For example, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote a book about my film Dead Man that was really enlightening to me. [Laughs.] There were a lot of things in that book that made me think, ‘Really? That’s in there?’ [Laughs.]”

“I feel it’s like plugging in a lamp: Until you plug it in and turn the light on, it’s not going to illuminate. And that’s the audience receiving it. I’m not saying, “Oh, I don’t care about the audience.” I do. The film is for them to then receive. But I don’t think about them or what they expect to receive. That’s just not my job. It’s sort of contradictory. Those of us who make films try to make something that we’re feeling and that we would like. Then we just hope an audience responds the same way. It’s very important to have the electrical circuit made, but I don’t have control over how people feel when they flip the switch. So the whole idea of marketing research and test screenings is just foreign to me.”

“This is not a dead period for American cinema at all. I think of myself as an amateur filmmaker, not a professional, in the sense that “amateur” means love of something, for the form.”