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The Key To Directing According To The Legendary Billy Wilder



Some of Wilder’s trademarks include attention to detail and showing more than telling, which can be witnessed all throughout a movie like 1944’s classic film noir mystery “Double Indemnity.” When asked about his vision as a director in tandem with the script in a 1976 interview with the American Film Institute, Wilder commented, “It is very important [that a director] knows how to read.” He shared an anecdote about a script he wrote, which included a visual gag that required a man to have a long beard. But when he saw it on-screen, the man just had a small goatee that made the joke nonsensical. An exasperated Wilder noted that without reading, “[Directors] just don’t think.”

Wilder’s statement implies that screenwriters create a movie’s story, and the filmmaker is responsible for reading and interpreting the script to execute a distinct and clear visual image of every scene. Writing is not important for a director, but the ability to read and absorb the material in the screenplay visually certainly is.

Other influential directors have also emphasized the importance of reading for filmmaking. In a 2014 interview with Quill & Quire, Christiane Kubrick, the widow of Stanley Kubrick, was asked if her husband was a reader, to which she replied, “He was voracious. And fast. I admired and envied him – he could really swallow a book in a night, and it wasn’t superficial reading, either.” Billy Wilder’s words speak a truth about filmmaking that fundamentally connects it to other storytelling art forms.

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