6 Filmmaking Tips From Harmony Korine

By  · Published on March 13th, 2013

That fuzzy guy on the end there came up in filmmaking with Kids when he was just a kid. With that, and with his following projects, Harmony Korine has awed a rotating audience while confounding all the people that his audience convinces to please, please, please just watch for fifteen minutes.

He’s the fresh voice most people claim they want in filmmaking, but he doesn’t fit in with any grand tradition. It’s not like others have made Korine-style movies while orbiting around a shared stylistic vision. At least, if they have, they haven’t reached his stature. Since there won’t be a Weird Wave that grows out of what he’s doing, he remains a vibrant loner and a wonderful army of one.

So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from Mister Lonely.

Don’t Worry About “The Point”

From an excellent conversation about Trash Humpers over at The A.V. Club:

The A.V. Club: During the Q&A after the Toronto première of Trash Humpers, someone in the audience asked “What was the point of that movie?” You responded, “What is the point of your hat?” Do you feel any need to explain the film?

Harmony Korine: I don’t know. I’ve always got questions like that with all the films I make. I never feel like there’s any one point to the film, to anything, to any of the movies I’ve made. This one, it’s everything and nothing. It’s like, “What’s the point to life?” “What’s the narrative thread in a home movie?” It’s a collection of moments. Maybe it’s not even a real movie in the traditional sense. Maybe it’s something else. It’s its own thing. It’s hard to say, exactly. I don’t really know what’s the point. It’s like, what’s the point of a photograph? Sometimes I can try and make something up, but I think it’s better just to… it’s an experience.

AVC: Christo, the artist who did The Gates in New York, would tell people who asked the point of his installations, “There is no point. It’s art.”

HK: Yeah, I don’t understand what everybody’s obsession with “the point” was. Everything has to have some kind of a point for people to breathe easy. What’s the point of life? I have no clue, but sometimes there are things that just attract us and pull us in a certain way. Like you say, it’s art. It is what it is.

Find Beauty in the Everyday

“…I have always loved street lights and especially the ones around [Nashville]. They have a theatrical element, but I don’t know if they are more like stages or if it’s a natural spotlight, a natural suburban Broadway. You know what I mean? Yeah. These characters are drawn to that light. . . I would never speak for the characters in the movie, but I feel like, I assume that’s what they feel. I’ve always liked street lights, and I’ve always photographed them. I probably have a collection of two to three thousand photographs of them, just around the city, mainly at night.”

That stapler on your desk. A log in front of a fire. A lamp. A dog scratching his ear. The coffee table. There’s is something in all of them that you’re not seeing, that you might see if you look the right way. What Korine is pointing out here is the simple, yet insanely effective tool of learning to see beyond the surface. It can provide all kinds of elements for your storytelling, and it’s a skill we’re taught in elementary school.

Although the recursive tip ‐ to turn the exceptional into the mundane ‐ might be equally as useful.

Find a Paint-Sniffing Survivor (or Cast Outside the Box)

If You Don’t Fit In, Then Don’t Fit In

“ I still feel [alienated]. I just haven’t let myself get to a place where I’ve felt a part of any kind of a community, so I’ve always stayed outside of it. I do have friends who make movies, but for the most part I never really wanted to feel like I was part of an industry. My knock with filmmaking is the whole bureaucracy around it, so in some ways staying outside of it is easier for me.

I went through this really horrible phase where I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make movies anymore. For a few months, I spent time with this small cult of fishermen known as the Malingerers. It was a group I met in Panama who were searching for this fish called the Malingerer fish, which was supposed to be a golden fish that had these three dots on the side. The story goes that if you press the three dots in a certain way, it sounds like a toy piano. . . In the beginning it was interesting to watch these guys, and I started to believe this fish existed. But I became disenchanted by the whole thing, and one day I got into an argument with one of the leaders, and his wife said, ‘You don’t believe anymore. It’s time for you to go.’ And I said, ‘You’re right,’ and that’s kind of when I started feeling like maybe I could make movies again. But it had taken me a good six or seven years away from it.”

The other side of this coin is being realistic about expectations. If you don’t fit in the mainstream, you shouldn’t expect mainstream popularity or success. Korine’s career has been marked by his quirkiness, but there’s no denying that his movies aren’t for everyone, and that they’ve been vilified as often as they’ve been praised.

Some self-awareness is key here. Fortunately, if you don’t like the cut of the red tape, there are now more ways to hack through it and blaze a trail on your own to the audience that will appreciate what you’re doing (even if an executive never does).

Let Yourself Dream

“Ever since I was little, I would just make stories up in my mind. It was based on people I saw in the street or someone I would talk to or I would hear a specific voice. I’ve never actually directed anything I haven’t made up. I’ve never adapted anything. It usually comes from somewhere… I let myself dream.”

Your Filmmaking Environment Can Match Your Tone

What Have We Learned

It’s actually pretty unclear. A lot of this advice can be dangerous, and it’s important to remember that Korine is the exception to the rule, so following his path might not be the best call (or even possible for that matter). These 6 entries could also yield some incredibly bad outsider art.

Of course, no one would go to Korine for advice about how to make it in the corporate filmmaking system, so there’s that. Plus, his advice has a lot of storytelling joy to share as well as some reminders about not taking the status quo for granted.

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