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Director to students: 'You don't need to be Steven Spielberg to make a movie'

By Megan McRainey | Emory Report | April 1, 2014

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Director David Gordon Green talks with Emory students Meredith Metcalf, Shalina Grover and Jordan Mills. Photo courtesy Matthew Bernstein.

Director David Gordon Green is a master of straddling diverse genres and media, writing and directing low-budget ("Prince Avalanche") and higher-budget films ("Pineapple Express"); small quiet dramas and big loud comedies; television shows, films, a cartoon and even commercials. Green shared his impressively varied expertise with Emory students March 26 and 27.

Green, whose newest film is "Joe" with Nicholas Cage, was straightforward and candid while imparting his experiences with financing, writing and handling praise and criticism. He spoke with four film and television classes and gave a longer talk on March 27.

Green said his experiences as a film student in college significantly shaped his directing career and brought him together with classmates and friends who have worked with him on many of his films.

"We were a strange, rag-tag group of people, working on film productions and feeling our way through it … our lack of resources became our greatest asset. We looked at each other and said, 'no one's going to return my phone call, what can we do together?' And there's a solid posse of us still working together," Green said.

As a native Texan, Green said a trio of films shot in Texas and released around the same time in fall 1993 ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "A Perfect World" and "Dazed and Confused") convinced him as a college student that he could make serious films, too.

"I realized that you don't need to be Steven Spielberg to make a movie. You don't need access to hundreds of millions of dollars and effects. You can make movies in your backyard with a beautiful landscape, smart characters and an interesting regional attitude. Those were movies I could touch and be a part of," Green said.

Green worked several odd jobs simultaneously after graduating from college, including stints at a doorknob factory, hotel and market research firm, to save up the $40,000 he needed to make his first feature film, "George Washington."

"Anyone who says you can't fund your own movie, come to me and I'll tell you to go to work," Green said.

Green encouraged students to find a way — any way — to make their films and gave advice about how to set a budget that could help convince others to support their projects. He also discussed pulling from everyday life to develop colorful characters and dialog for scripts.

When asked about his eclectic career and what the common thread might be among his projects, Green offered a simple explanation.

"I'm sure there are shadows and impressions that lead from one project to the next and psychological reasons I make decisions … I think they're a reflection of me at the time. A comedy I make reflects what I find funny at the time, which may not be what I find funny later," Green said. "I've learned not to reflect and look back and wonder why too much … I make films very self indulgently, no matter what the genre is."

The director's visit was sponsored by the Department of Film and Media Studies.