How to create a Director’s Canon
Because of the nature of their job, directors have a lot of control over their everyday working lives. When you’re talking about someone who is making a film, you’re talking about someone who has complete autonomy over every aspect of that film—creatively, financially and comedically. There’s no such thing as a bad day. You don’t have to be on time. You don’t have to answer to anyone else. And you make all the decisions. It’s the greatest job on Earth.
Now that I’ve seen a lot of directors’ cansons, I’ve come up with a list of rules that are critical to having an effective canon:
1. It needs to be easy to follow. The director should strictly limit how many films they make and how many pictures they use in each film. They need to step away from the nature of their job and put that responsibility in someone else’s hands. If there are too many films in a director’s canon, it makes it difficult to do a good job for each film. It also makes the filmmaker look like they’re trying to build a track record.
2. It needs to be chronological. The best directors’ canons are always chronological. All the films should go from beginning to end in chronological order. The director should not say, “Here’s a good film for your first time out,” or “Here’s a good film for your last time out.” It should be chronological. The audience knows that it’s a director’s canon because it goes from beginning to end. You see all of the films in the order that they were made, and you know how well they’re made.
What is the Director’s Canon?
Directors usually carry around a list of films and directors from which they draw inspiration. This, of course, is all cinematographic in nature. For example, for the director Steven Spielberg, the director’s canon might include movies like The Godfather and Citizen Kane . . . and any of a number of European art-house movies like The Passenger and Wings of Desire . . . or perhaps those movies that have won Academy Awards for Best Picture, like the ones from which he chose Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
For a director like Bennett Miller, he might choose his canon below the level of Best Picture winners: Good Fences (it did win an Independent Spirit Award), Capote, Being John Malkovich and Moneyball, filtered through movies that have been nominated for Best Picture. He might also include the following movies:
1. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, dir., John Huston) 2. Heaven’s Gate (1980, dir., Michael Cimino) 3. A Clockwork Orange (1971, dir., Stanley Kubrick) 4. Fitzcarraldo (1982, dir., Werner Herzog) 5. Zabriskie Point (1970, dir., Michelangelo Antonioni) 6. The Conversation (1974, dir., Francis Ford Coppola) 7. The Last Picture Show (1971, dir., Peter Bogdanovich) 8. The Hateful Eight (2015, dir., Quentin Tarantino) 9. A World Apart (1937, dir., John Ford) 10. Secrets & Lies (1996, dir. Philip Noyce) 11. The Pursuit of Happiness (2006, dir., James Marsh).
A director’s canon may also include movies that are loosely based on novels or other works of art or literature. For example:
Director’s Canon in Action
So Branagh went through his director’s canon and found pictures that were similar. Here are two that he thought fit Hamlet fairly well.
Here is what Branagh had to say about comparable shots:
The idea for me was to find visual connections – so I went through the pictures that I have taken in the past, and that I have yet to take…to see if there are any pictures that really made sense. And on this occasion, there were pictures from “Hamlet,” “Wilde,” and a few others. The idea was not to overshadow Wes’ work or get in his way.
Canon Writing Course
When Bryan Singer wrote and directed the 2006 film X-Men: The Last Stand, he was not only able to incorporate all of the elements he wanted from previous X-Men films, but he was also able to use one from his own personal director’s canon—the Terrence Malick epic The New World . . .
Bryan Singer’s X-Men: The Last Stand drew heavily on development artist Adam Bowie’s “director’s canon” of films. [Editor’s note: The chosen texts are not necessarily related to the film, but they all authoritatively demonstrate a director’s deep understanding of his or her oeuvre (films) in one way or another].
Disney Directors’ Classroom & Directing School in America
Four of the films on Jackson’s chart were his own director’s canon films—his personal favorites, including King Kong , The Exorcist and Jaws .
For this list, we gathered the key films that were also part of the Disney studio’s canon.
It’s a small list, but it proves Roberts’ idea that Disney has been producing consistently well-liked classics. We’ve drawn data from Box Office Mojo to determine which directors and studios (Disney and non-Disney) had the most number of films on Jackson’s chart. The two studios even had a tie: both Wright Brothers Studios and Miramax had five movies on Jackson’s Top 100 list.