Letter to a friend who reads Eisenstein, admires René Clair and wants to become a film director

I am late in giving you an answer and I fear your impatience may see something negative in it. However, you shouldn‘t let the delay frighten you; it is one of the characteristics of our cinema and it is important that you get used to it, just in case.

But let’s move on to what you’re really interested in. No, there is not an official film directing certificate. This happens to be one of the attractions of the profession: its generosity in accepting all types of people, trades and cultures. A generosity which means it has from distinguished engineers through to memorable fools in its ranks. And I won’t talk about the frequency with which both types appear, because the statistics are within reach of all the screens of the country and it is obvious that you will have faced them much too often. So, you needn’t worry about having any certificates or previous studies to practise this magic profession you dream of so much.

Nevertheless, I don’t want you to build up your hopes about how easy it may be to get to hold that megaphone which used to represent film directors in the old days. Generally speaking, there are a lot of people with the same vocation as ourselves, although we all believe we are the only person who knows about filming in Spain. Everybody starts like you, like me, selling the second-year Algebra textbook to be able to see Marlene directed by Stenberg; selling the fourth-year Algebra textbook to buy some issues of Nuestro Cinema (“Our Cinema” magazine) and selling the sixth-year Algebra textbook to see Marlene directed by Stenberg again in any cine-club (film club) and later write a very long article, full of symbolisms, about Russian cinema and editing, although one may not really know exactly what either of them is. But one has to pretend to be an expert and to be very brave. And there is our article, in the editorial office of that film magazine one has been subscribed to since their first issue. Three months later they publish it, reduced to a third, in that section called “Hablan nuestros lectores” (“Our Readers Talk”), together with another one called “Greta, la esfinge eterna” (“Greta, the Eternal Sphinx”) , by Margarita Lozano Villardó, Capdepera, Gerona, and some very funny aphorisms sent by Jacinto Conill, third company of Regulars, Melilla. In time, and thanks to the popularity these articles give us among our coffee friends, we get the film review section in a newspaper or local radio station. From there we are only a step away from success. The step that that friend of ours, who is also an assistant producer’s friend, gives so that we can go to the shooting of a film as apprentices, or something like that.

Then, one packs one’s suitcases, breaks up with one’s girlfriend, drops out of university and comes to Madrid with three thousand pesetas, because one is really interested in this thing they call the cinema. One talks to the assistant producer so that one can go to the set whenever one likes. And you go there, and you don’t understand anything, you don’t do anything, you don’t take in anything. People are either screaming like mad or at the studio bar. And when they work, they naturally don’t do it in a didactic way. We start to realize that to be able to learn we must have a job with responsibility, and we respectfully ask for one for the next film. But that next film never comes, because making more than one film for a production company seems to be forbidden in Spain. To sum up, you don’t get this job because you are not good enough, because you are a nobody, because you don’t have a checked sports jacket and because you are not a union member. And since there comes a day when you run out of the three thousand pesetas, the help from home and whatever you expected to get out of a script you had written about the conquerors, you can’t but take the long way back home. And one morning, many years later, when you look out of the windows of your insurance broker office and see the publicity board at the cinema opposite -the “Lírico”, the “Olimpia”, the “Royal”?-, announcing a premiere, you will take out your address book and cross out the name of that friend who was an assistant producer with a hand that could have truly put together a possible award winner for the “Biennale”.

Despite all that, you shouldn’t be a pessimist. This example I’m giving you is not defining. There is a fast and efficient road, which could be yours. It is called money and it can represent itself before you in a thousand deceiving ways. But this is a sensitive question and it would be wise to ignore it or, if you prefer it, to see it through a camera with a travelling movement.

You have a different possibility. The I.I.E.C (Institute of Cinematic Investigation and Experience). Even today the professional world laughs at these initials a little. If they know them, that is. But, it doesn’t matter. Gallone, Bonnard, Mastrocinque and the rest of the directors “with all the pomp and ceremony” also laughed, while Zampa, Germi and Antonioni received certificates of their studies in the Centro Sperimentale and were patted on the back. Honestly! Do they really expect to learn about filming on the blackboards?

Now, I wonder whether one can really learn how to direct from textbooks or from notebooks. Kulechov says you can and he even hints that it is necessary. But I do not really want to pay attention to him, because my stomach ulcer is incompatible with his maxim that a director must have an excellent health. The thing is, I have studied at the Institute of Cinematic Investigation and Experience in Madrid and I have directed, well, co-directed, a film. Right now, I could not tell you whether I learnt in its classrooms any of the things I have had to do later when I have faced a topic, the actors and the crew. However, it is obvious that if I had not been at the Institute I would not have directed this film and I would have probably not had the opportunity to direct any films. So, what is the secret of this arrival, an almost sudden arrival, to the finishing line we long for? And I am calling the starting point a finishing line, but with a running certificate. Let’s call it cooperation, team. You are likely to achieve what you want in life, and cannot get alone, if you do it with somebody else. Especially if that person, like you, likes Chaplin, Clair, De Sica and everything that means cinema and smells of cinema.

Here is my last piece of advice: if nothing wonderful comes up, and by wonderful I mean the Three Wise Men, get into the I.I.E.C., meet some other dreamers and join them in a fight which is difficult today, but that will yield some day. No little group, plaster or experience can resist quality.

Best wishes from your precursor,

P.S. Make sure you see some Italian films. They will detoxify you effectively.

Luis García Berlanga

* Revista Internacional de Cine, nº 1. Madrid, June 1952.