An interesting blend of memoir and advice for budding directors
For over three decades, director Ken Kwapis has charted a career full of exceptional movies and television, from seminal shows like The Office to beloved films like He’s Just Not That Into You.
He is among the most respected directors in show business, but getting there wasn’t easy. He struggled just like everyone else. With each triumph came the occasional faceplant. Using his background and inside knowledge, But What I Really Want To Do is Direct tackles Hollywood myths through Ken’s highly entertaining experiences. It’s a rollercoaster ride fueled by brawls with the top brass, clashes over budgets, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.
This humorous and refreshingly personal memoir is filled with inspiring instruction, behind-the-scenes hilarity, and unabashed joy. It’s a celebration of the director’s craft, and what it takes to succeed in show business on your own terms.
In But What I Really Want to Do is Direct, Ken Kwapis draws on decades of experience as a director of television and movies, sharing what he’s learned behind the camera and also some interesting and often amusing experiences and stories.
Kwapis sets out early what he intends this book to be. It is comprised of three “thematic layers”. He includes autobiographical chapters, recounting memories of his early years as a director (as well as his introduction to cinema and when he caught the bug). He recounts time spent directing various movies and television episodes, a few meetings with luminaries such as Robert Redford and Rip Torn (who seems to have been an… interesting colleague). A second layer is focused on certain movies that had particularly strong influence on his own work and approach to making movies and TV. The third component of the book are more instructive chapters on how to Be a Director. For example, what are the best ways to give notes to actors; creating a shot list; different approaches to all the various aspects of directorial work; dealing with bad reviews and “the suits”; and certain truisms that should always be kept in mind when working in the movie/television industry (for example, not meeting is informal, they are always an audition).
“… how do you comport yourself as a director? How do you assert authority on the set without being authoritarian? How do you navigate a path in such a turbulent business? How do you pick yourself up off the ground after a major setback? How do you deal with incredibly difficult people? How do you develop a directorial voice?”
He addresses all of the above questions and more throughout the book. The chapters aren’t always clearly separated out, but rather he weaves recollection and advice pretty much throughout. Some chapters, however, do lean more towards advice/instruction and others are more obviously memoir. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a director, and just want to read more about the movie-making industry, the book is littered with interesting and oft-amusing memories from behind-the-scenes of Follow That Bird, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, The Office, The Larry Sanders Show, The Bernie Mac Show, and A Walk in the Woods (to name but a handful).
Like many people on the creative side of the Hollywood industry, Kwapis has some amusing and sharp things to say about the “business” side of it, and offers advice on how to walk the line between the two, keeping them in balance (or, preferably, the suits as far away as possible) — how “Your goal is to be in the business but not of it.”
“… if numbers define your self-worth as a director, then you are truly no more than a commodity. If you believe that you’re only as good as your ‘commodity value,’ then—to cite the tired adage—you are only as good as your last picture. It’s imperative to create a personal yardstick for success to unshackle yourself from the way the business defines you. It takes persistence to tune out the static and internalize your own value system, but once you do, the Hollywood matrix will no longer have a grip on you. As a creative person, you’ll hear the refreshing sound of your own voice again.”
Overall, then, I enjoyed this book very much. I think it will be of especial interest to anyone who wants to become a director, or work in the industry as a whole (always good to get as wide a picture as one can). If you’re looking for pure memoir, you may find some of the book a little dry, but I think it nevertheless contains enough interesting anecdotes and stories to appeal to a wide audience.