Robert Eggers’ Top 10 Filmmaking Tips

Robert Eggers is one of the hottest directors on the planet. He has released two independent critically-acclaimed projects, The Witch and The Lighthouse. Through these projects alone he has built a strong fan-base and cult following. Here are 10 of the most important tips on filmmaking by Robert Eggers himself.

robert eggers filmmaking tips, directing robert pattinson
Source: A24

1. Write About What You Are Interested In

The first of Robert Eggers filmmaking tips comes from an interview he gave to Vox where he made the following statement:

Folklore, mythology, fairy tales, religion, at times the occult — these are the things that I’m the most interested in. So, yes. I developed and wrote three things that didn’t get greenlit that didn’t have anything to do with New England. This [The Lighthouse] did get greenlit. But yes, both of these films [The Lighthouse and The Witch] are very much me deliberately trying to explore the folk culture of my region.

This demonstrates how Eggers is willing to write content that interests him, rather than be an audience-pleaser. He believes in this so much that he is willing to write scripts where he knows there isn’t a huge demand.

Earlier in the interview he states that “we’re not going to sell that many tickets to a black-and-white movie“. This shows how he is willing to stick to his vision, even when he knows it is not commercial.

You can’t please everyone. In today’s saturated marketplace, you are better off making an amazing niche movie, than a mediocre one which is intended to appeal to everyone.

2. Research, Research And Then Research Some More

In the same interview with Vox, Eggers claimed that his “entire process is research-based. With the creation of the physical world, the material world, I’m trying for it to be as accurate as possible.

In an interview with Indiewire, Eggers stated that the reason why he doesn’t get writers block is because everything is researched so thoroughly.

This complements Eggers’ style as he writes period pieces which are based in the past. Ensuring that the language, costumes, wardrobes etc. are accurate can help transport the audience into the past.

robert eggers filmmaking tips: the witch costume design
Consider how the costumes in The Witch help immerse you into the story

3. Write Many Drafts Of The Script

During his Reddit Ask Me Anything thread, Eggers was asked how many drafts he had written of The Witch. His reply:

Many. Constantly tweaking over 4 years and the 5th year when we actually were making the film. I would say there were maybe 5 main drafts, but 2-5 sub versions of each of those drafts.

It is unsurprising that a filmmaker who places so much emphasis on being period accurate would write several drafts. However, the main lesson to take away is that you should constantly be adapting your work. Even whilst you are filming, don’t be afraid of making changes, if you believe they will improve the film.

For more detail on how to write a kickass script, click here.

4. “I Find Everyday Life Boring.”

This quote during his Reddit Ask Me Anything thread was very telling as to why his films are so intriguing.

There are certain films which explore everyday life and others which explore the extraordinary. If you are interested in Eggers’ work, it could be due to how Eggers makes a conscious effort to write about subjects which the average audience member would not consider or come across in everyday life.

He is able to transport us from our lives into a completely different setting for the duration of his movies. This is what makes his films so much fun to watch.

5. Use Language Effectively

When asked about the language in The Lighthouse, Eggers made the following comment:

A ton of research went into the dialogue. You can never do enough. I read Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, dictionaries of sailor’s words. Plus Sarah Orne Jewett — She wrote her stories in a dialect based on interviews she’d had with local Mainers, and that was a great source for us. Language is fun. When you really get it right, it’s transportive.

Language is one of the key tools that Eggers uses to help transport his audience into the world he is trying to create. Therefore another of Robert Eggers’ filmmaking tips is to not underestimate the value of language.

Take a look at one of the most memorable scenes in The Lighthouse and Willem Dafoe’s monologue in particular to really study the effects of language:

6. Film Is A Visual Medium

Eggers’ films, and especially The Lighthouse, have a very distinctive look and feel about them. This is because Eggers fully considers that films are supposed to watched, from the very inception of his ideas. I know this may sound obvious, but often when you read first drafts of many scripts, it is clear that the screenwriter has not necessarily considered how the scene will play out on the screen. This may partly be because this isn’t their job and they’re leaving this to the director.

Alternatively, consider Eggers’ screenplay for The Lighthouse, where the following excerpt is added before we get into the main script:

Source: A24

Eggers clearly considered how his movie was intended to be filmed, even before writing the script. This is why he was able to achieve such a distinct feel for the movie. Eggers later revealed:

Before I wrote anything, I knew I wanted to shoot on black and white negative. Atmosphere and mood came before story.” 

7. Create In Production, Not The Editing Room

Many directors are more than willing to adjust or even add entire aspects of their sets in post production. While there is nothing inherently wrong about this, using real locations is useful for two purposes. Firstly, it gives you more of a genuine look and feel when shooting the real, a certain rawness which cannot be captured by CGI. And secondly, it can help the actors to immerse themselves in the scene.

Robert Eggers knew this when creating The Lighthouse. Which probably explains why he built the entire set from scratch. In an interview with The Verge, he remarks:

The sets were designed to work with the aspect ratio. The furniture had to be built to accommodate the aspect ratio — the kitchen table needed to be a certain size where we could get a two-shot on a 50mm lens without blowing the walls out.”

For additional tips on improving your production design, click here.

Robert Eggers' new film 'The Lighthouse' is set on an island in ...

8. Take Pride In The Detail

Whilst he is best known for being a writer/director, one thing that you may not know about Eggers is that he started his career as a production designer. Eggers remarks:

I’m very interested in the smallest details because they help transport audiences into the world we’re creating.

By focusing on the tiny details on his sets and production, Eggers can ensure that the film feels period authentic. As a result, the actors and audiences are fully transported into the world he is trying to create.

For his next project, The Northman, Eggers mentioned that the production was is on a much larger scale, stating:

The scale is so huge and there are so many more locations and things that I couldn’t do everything or know every prop myself.

This gives you an insight into his normal production method.

9. Adapt Your Style

As a director, it is your job to get a great performance out of your actors. The performances your actors give can literally be make or break for the success of your film, so it is crucial to get them right.

Famously, The Lighthouse stars two actors with entirely varying styles. Eggers remarks:

Willem comes from theater, and he’s used to rehearsal, and he was happy to engage with that. Whereas Rob really hates rehearsal, and he didn’t really feel comfortable.”

Eggers had to adapt his style, eventually agreeing to only a week of rehearsal time, to accommodate for the way the actors work.

Therefore, another of Robert Eggers’ filmmaking tips is to adapt your directing style to suit that of your actors.

For more advice on working with actors, please click here.

Source: A24

10. “Give Yourself Permission To Fail.”

One of the worst realisations you will come to as a director is realising that, regardless of how hard you try, you will always make mistakes. There will always be things you could have done differently to improve the movie. It’s just a part of filmmaking. Eggers remarks how it is important to learn from mistakes rather than dwell on them:

“I don’t have a lot of regrets. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned from all of them. This may sound silly, but I wouldn’t change anything, because the worst mistakes I’ve made, I’ve learned a lot from them.”

If you have been inspired by Eggers, consider starting your filmmaking career by making a short film for FREE!

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