Films

9 wonderfully offbeat filmmaking tips from Nicolas Winding Refn

With ShortList’s Short Film competition still open for entries, we gleaned some advice from the Danish director

“I just did it. That’s the only way to do it."

It’s not quite the response you’d expect from one of the world’s most in-demand directors upon being quizzed why he first picked up a camera. No anecdotes involving little green army men and a Super 8mm. No nods to early Spielberg films that captured his imagination. He just simply felt like it.

Then again, when you realise this is the chap responsible for the unapologetically muted wheelman of neon-lit Drive, and polariser of critical opinion for his even more aloof follow-up Only God Forgives, perhaps a degree of cocksure nonchalance is to be expected - admired even.

We’re talking, of course, about Nicolas Winding Refn: an arthouse auteur with mainstream appeal who since catapulting to fame with his Pusher trilogy, has remained a cinematic force of nature. And following a recent big screening of Bronson at London’s Picturehouse Central which saw Refn turn up for a Q&A, we asked him to impart some advice for entrants in our ongoing short film competition.

True to form, he's anything but predictable.

EVEN A SMARTPHONE IS A CAMERA

“Technology now gives you complete access to create. Any new iPhone has the tools in it to make a movie. There’s nothing to hold you back as old school rules don’t really apply anymore - the digital revolution has made filmmaking an open field of opportunity."

SHOOT IN CHRONOLOGIAL ORDER

"Sure have a script, but you don’t always have to follow it. Your movie doesn’t have to be a normal movie, it can be anything - I shoot all my films in chronological order because I like the constant feel of free fall. I know where I want to end up, I’m just more interested in how I’m going to get there. I highly recommend it.

BOND WITH YOUR LEAD ACTOR AWAY FROM THE CAMERA

I’ve been very lucky to work with Mads [Mikkelsen], Ryan [Gosling] and Tom [Hardy] at very specific times. They all had ‘it’. But on a personal level I have spent more time with Ryan socially [the pair lived together during the filming of Only God Forgives], and spending a lot of time with a lead actor off set enables you to trust each other a lot more. Or even to come up with new ideas.

DON’T EVER THINK YOU CAN WALK ON WATER

"Ever. All the way through my career I’ve have had times when I thought I could. Believe me, you soon find out you can't."

DON’T TREAT ALL ACTORS THE SAME

"Each actor is different. Every actor needs different cues, different elements, various approaches. They’re never the same so you’ve got to be able to adapt. On Bronson, Tom, who was wonderful, was fearless, in extreme directions at times - he gives you his heart and soul which is a big commitment for an actor - so he needed to feel secure. It was my job to give him that."

IT’S ALSO OKAY TO BE SUPERFICIAL

“Take your best friend that looks the best, and shoot them.”

BUT NOT TO BE OVERLY SATISFIED

"You can never be able to gratify yourself on good work. Because then you become too conscious of it. Filmmaking has to be a constant organism which you just let be as is – you can’t explain a shot or scene, it just felt right."

HAVE A VERY GOOD EDITOR 

"One who can tell you when things are working and when they’re not working. But creatively, and with love."

FINALLY...DO IT YOUR WAY

"Never look back, always forward and, above all else, make the movie you want to make. At all costs. It’s the only thing no one can ever take away from you."

Bronson is now available on Vertigo On Demand; Vertigovod.com 

[Images: Rex, AllStar]