6 Filmmaking Tips From Dario Argento

When you think giallo, you think Dario Argento. Here are some of the man’s thoughts on making those classics.
David Hemmings in Deep Red
Rizzoli Film
By  · Published on October 24th, 2012

The word “Giallo” is Italian for “Yellow” which was the color of the covers of old pulp novels from the Mondadori publishing house. It’s also the color of the urine that’s scared out of you while watching the best horror flicks. There are a lot of names associated with the film movement (which usually focuses on the very stylish, very violent removal of blood from someone’s body), but at the top of the list is Dario Argento (sorry, Fulci fans).

The Italian filmmaker has delivered the truly bizarre and beautiful, making movies like Suspiria and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage amongst many, many others. He was also instrumental in bringing Dawn of the Dead to life and influenced a new generation of horror directors (not to mention leagues of fans).

So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) with tips from Dario Argento, the master of Yellow.

Go All Out

“Masters of Horror for me it was very important. Because for a long time censors have been cutting my works. This makes me so sad, because many times they will tell me Television won’t like, so we have to cut, cut, cut! I was so sad. Suddenly the American producer contacted me about Masters of Horror and told me, ‘you are free, do what you want!’ I say to him, ‘you know what is significant to say to Dario Argento is to say go and do what you want!’ I wanted to do something with fury, something very hard, very strong and cruel. For a long time I forget what its like to be able to go all out and then I did it (with Masters of Horror). This experience caused me to start thinking about doing Third Mother [Mother of Tears], to do something similar, that was strong and to go all out.”

Even icons need a reminder once in a while, especially after getting beat down by the censors time and time again.

Get Ready For Your Film to Change You

“When I see a film I’ve finished, it’s like another person made it. Like another mind.”

Argento has spoken a lot about evolving directly because of the work he does. There’s an aspect to the process of getting a story that’s inside of you delivered to the outside world that’s transformative, and his films in particular are so thoroughly intimate (he once said that every character had a little piece of his soul in them) that it makes sense that he would be altered by completing and sharing the movie.

That’s a danger to consider. The filmmaking process is not a simple one ‐ not financially and often not emotionally. Be ready to discover things about yourself and to see some of what might even be core traits change.

Literally Follow Dreams

“Films are dreams. Many, many critics say to me that my films are not good because they are too unbelievable, but this is my style. I tell stories like they are dreams. This is my imagination. For me, it would be impossible to do a film that is so precise, that resembles real life.”

Maybe your style isn’t dream-like at all. The core message here isn’t that you movies have to live apart from reality, but that you should find the kinds of movies you want to make and stick with them. Pursue what makes you happy. And, seriously, who cares about critics?

Know Enough to Become a Critic

“I first came to cinema as a passionate filmgoer, when I was a child. Then, when I was a very young man, I became a film critic precisely because of my knowledge of cinema. I did better than others because of this. Then I moved on to screenwriting. I wrote a film with Sergio Leone, Once Upon a Time in the West. And then I moved to directing. It came very naturally to me. “

Passionate filmgoer, film critic, same thing. Of course, when Argento notes coming to film as a child, he’s not kidding. He grew up loving movies and became a film critic when he was in high school, writing for several magazines and then moving on to work at a newspaper instead of going to college. He was able to do this, like he says, because of how much cinema he knew. That probably had a hand in his success as a filmmaker as well. If the phrase “write what you know” is to be taking seriously, it’s best to know a lot.

What Have We Learned

Argento seems like a quiet man with a blazing creativity inside of him who is too aware of what others will do with his work once he’s presented it to the world. He’s had to personally crusade against the cutting of his films and the presentation of grossly altered versions. Mostly, of course, on TV.

He’s also a bit of an airy artist to hear him speak. He thinks in big, soaring swaths instead of small lines on a ledger. Clearly he has an understanding of the concrete reality of financing films (and has pointed out the difficulty of getting adult material bankrolled), but he also seems to live inside his own head, still digging around to see what he can find in there.

Fortunately, he probably has a few more horrors hiding in his cerebellum.

Finds Tips From Your Favorite Filmmakers

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.