David Lynch: Thoughts from a Unique Filmmaker

David Lynch

The book Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age: At the American Film Institute, by George Stevens Jr., was so successful that a sequel about (mostly) younger filmmakers was made, Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation.

If the first work is about film legends from the classic era (Harold Lloyd, Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder…), this one is (mostly) about younger filmmakers who started in TV, documentaries, or film schools (Steven Spielberg, no presentation needed, Robert Towne, who wrote Chinatown, George Lucas, the Star Wars emperor, William Friedkin, helmer of The Exorcist, Janusz Kaminski, Spielberg’s DOP…).

So please, if you want to learn from these great artists, please buy and read George Stevens Jr.‘s Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation.

If you are interested in the original book please check the posts Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Harold Lloyd and Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Pearls from Walsh, Vidor, Capra, and Hitchcock.

Another of the “next generation” filmmakers in the book is multilayered artist David Lynch.

Lynch resumé speaks volumes: Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, The Straight Story, Mulholland Drive

Let me quote a few thoughts from Lynch, that I’m sure they’ll leave you wanting for more. Ergo, the book.

David Lynch on the Cover of Time Magazine.


The ideas come in fragments. I don’t know where anything is going. When a few fragments start hooking themselves together and they marry to a fragment that you didn’t think was going to relate at all, it’s a big surprise.

On Rehearsals

You rehearse before you start shooting and you pick a scene that helps you define the character. The first rehearsal could be a million miles away, but by rehearsing and then talking, rehearsing and talking, it gets closer and closer and closer. Along the way a thing happens and they catch the character, so now the two of us are going down the same road and the actor brings all he has to that character. If there are changes I will re-rehearse before we start shooting.

David Lynch
Lynch, the one and only
David Lynch films as books

About his Dune (1984)

I don’t know why Dino De Laurentiis thought of me, but he signed me up with a contract that said if Dune is a success I would be obligated to do follow-up pictures. At one point I was starting to write the second one, but the first one didn’t do well enough to get the second one finished. It was a mixed blessing, that whole experience. I learned a tremendous amount making the film, but half the film was cut out, and it needed much more of a story than it ended up having, and there was a real failure inside me for a long time afterwards.

Until it’s finished

Nothing is finished until it’s finished. I hear stories about Hitchcock knowing every single thing that’s going to happen. I don’t see how that’s possible, and I think that would be pretty boring. You need to have a script and a story and the ideas, but as you go in you start seeing the three-dimensional thing in front of you.

Things keep talking to you as you’re rehearsing and building and it becomes more and more complete; or something isn’t working and you realize why and you adjust it. It’s an ongoing process all the way through to the very end, and hopefully at the very end all the parts unite and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But it’s never finished until it’s finished.

David Lynch and Dennis Hopper on the set of Blue Velvet (1986)
David Lynch and Dennis Hopper on the set of Blue Velvet (1986)

The Man in the Mirror

Could you tell the story about the man in the mirror in Twin Peaks?

(By the Man of the Mirror, it’s meant the way the actor who plays the evil Bob in the series got to be chosen).

The man in the mirror? Oh, yeah. Well, strange things happen. We were shooting in the bedroom of Laura Palmer, and Frank … I can’t remember his name… (It was Frank Silva, who sadly passed away in 1995. Silva ended up playing the evil Killer Bob in the series) That’s too bad. Anyway, Frank was the set dresser, and he was moving a dresser in front of the door, rearranging furniture, and someone on set said, “Frank! Don’t lock yourself in that room.”

Frank Silva / Killer Bob

I pictured Frank in that room, locked in there, and I went running in and I said, “Frank, are you an actor?” And he said, “Well, actually I am.” “You’re going to be in this movie,” I said. So I did a scene with a panning shot across the room and I put Frank down low, hiding, frozen behind the bars of the tailboard of the bed, and the camera pans around and holds on him.

I didn’t know where I was going to fit it in or what it meant. Then we went downstairs to do the last setup, where Mrs. Palmer is on the couch and she’s really sad and overwhelmed with grief and things are passing through her mind and she remembers something and she bolts upright with a scream, so the operator has to crank up with the low gears to keep her in the shot, and he did it beautifully. It was perfect and I said, “That’s perfect!” and he said, “No, it’s not perfect. Someone’s reflected in the mirror.” I said, “Who was reflected in the mirror?” He said, “Frank was.” Then I knew I was on to something.

David Lynch directing The Elephant Man (1980)
A young Lynch directing Anthony Hopkins in The Elephant Man (1980)

About Film Writing

What I learned is that a feature film has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s a beautiful thing and you can do so much within that form (…).

You know what’s coming up and you can feel it go from the beginning to the middle and you can feel the ending coming.

David Lynch : The Art Life (2016) Documentary on Lynch

About Editing

Well, editing is very depressing in a way, because at that point it is what it is. You cut stuff together and you look at it and if there were loaded guns around you might kill yourself. It’s a process that is sometimes very painful, but by acting and reacting and trying to hold your objectivity, you can eventually get there. It’s an experiment. You lose scenes you thought you would never lose and you take on a little bit of a scene that you thought was a throwaway. But those combinations make it happen.

The film seems to want to be a certain way and an editor can help you get it that way. You need an editor who is anxious not only to make it work but to take some strange chances. Experiment. And a lot of times through experimentation you get to some beautiful places. A lot of times you go down a wrong road and you get in trouble. But you have to be willing and you have to be with people who want to take the chance and experiment.

A few titles from the man:

More on Conversations…? Check Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Harold Lloyd & Great Moviemakers of Hollywood’s Golden Age: Pearls from Walsh, Vidor, Capra, and Hitchcock.

More on David Lynch? Check The Art of David Lynch & All DUNES before DUNE (TV and Movies, from Jodorowky’s to Villeneuve’s).