The latest in a series of “first” books, “Breaking In: How 20 Film Directors Got Their Start” is a solid entry in a category that has recently seen the Writers Guild Foundation’s “The First Time I Got Paid For It” and Stephen Lowenstein’s “My First Movie.” Author Nicolas Jarecki’s motivation for writing this book — as an aspiring filmmaker, he wanted to know how his subjects survived their first feature — is a perfect fit for the subject matter, and though the interviews may sometimes lack a certain spark, Jarecki does his best to pry open the director’s head so the reader can look inside and learn. Above all, “Breaking In” proves that old Hollywood maxim that discipline without talent will get you farther than talent without discipline.
An ex-hacker, Jarecki’s appetite for Hollywood was first whet when he crewed up as a technical consultant on Ian Softley’s 1995 feature “Hackers.” From breaking into computers to breaking into Hollywood, Jarecki assembled an eclectic list of subjects — he covers every niche from the old guard to modern masters, from AMC programmers to the Laemmle crowd. These directors speak with the candor and self-deprecation that’s become de rigueur for successful filmmakers remembering “way back when”, detailing their biographies, philosophies and the constant daily threats to time, budget and sanity endured on their first features. Cube’s Vincenzo Natali summed up moviemaking best when he said, “It’s about coming up with a compromise that doesn’t feel like a compromise in order to get the film done.”
In his exploration of the psychologies of these men and women, first-time journalist Jarecki gets some surprising admissions, such as Barry Sonnenfeld’s confession that “My becoming a director was an economic decision . . . I couldn’t in a million years go back to anything else because it pays really well.” Kimberly Peirce attributed her success to upbringing and sexuality (“There was such a need for me to seek out my own identity”), while John Carpenter calmly dissects the necessary “narcissistic arrogance… filmmaking is a kind of an addiction.” Unfortunately, not all of Jarecki’s interviews hit gold, and his Q&A style can let the more parched interviews seem interminable. But every subject has some amusing and/or educational tidbit to offer, whether it’s John McNaughton’s (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) remembrance of a drunken fistfight with his best friend that led him into directing or Amy Heckerling describing herself as “the world’s biggest Mean Streets fan”. And really, aren’t anecdotes really what these collections are all about?
In his foreword, Roger Ebert notes that filmmaking is “a career you have to make for yourself . . . [you have to] go off and make your movie.” Jarecki has taken Ebert’s advice to heart, creating a primer about the pleasures and pain directors encounter not only on that legendary first film but also on the path to the realization that they want to make movies. Breaking In won’t take the place of discipline — or even, God forbid, talent — but it’s not a bad place to start.