One Who Made It

The 'Scheme To End All Schemes'

When his film "Pi" won first prize at Sundance earlier this year, Darren Aronofsky's road to filmmaking success suddenly got a lot smoother. But his achievement came only after years spent scraping by, working like a dog, and hitting up everyone he knew for money to pay for the film. Now, his film has grossed over $3 million, and will soon be released on video. He's now in L.A., casting his next film, which he plans to film in Brooklyn next year.

Here's what he had to say about fear, doubt, making movies, and being successful.

On His Creative Process

Darren: "The initial creative team was me, Eric Watson the producer, and Sean [Gullette, the star of the film]... it was just sort of jigsaw puzzle of how I write. I just sort of take all these different pieces of experiences that I have had and stories that I've heard and sort of try and mix them together and create a image out of all the different of ideas...It all started with one image, which was Sean standing in front of a mirror bald digging into his head with an Exacto blade. Everything grew out of that."

Before he started writing the script for Pi, Darren put down six rules to keep in mind:
  1. Always move forward. If you have a problem type through it.
  2. Only take a break after something good happens on the page or you accomplish a goal. No breaks for confusion -- (type through it).
  3. Ten pages a day minimum.
  4. Only go back to add something. Do not remove contradictions, just make a note.
  5. Do it. Suffer, live, cry, struggle for one week. You'll feel like a million bucks by the fifteenth [the day he set himself to finish]
  6. Have fun.
On Paying For Pi

Darren: "It's always a challenge when you have very little money because everything has to be stolen, borrowed, or bartered. At one point, we had 54 cents in the bank, and we realized we weren't going to be able to make the moive unless we got some money...That was the seed of the idea to ask all of our friends, family, enemies for $100 each with the promise that if the film made money they'd get $150 back. We ended up raising most of our $60,000...We called it the scheme to end all schemes."

On Dealing With Doubt

Darren: "Well we were very nervous. I mean we always knew that we would pull off the film and finish it but we were nervous that the film wouldn't get distribution, wouldn't make any money, and that we would have to face all those people [who had lent us money]. But we just knew that we'd have to make the film, so we went for it...I put enough leverage on myself that I had to finish the film, but of course there were moments of doubt."

On Commitment

Sean Gullette, a talented designer as well as the star of Pi, created a multi-faceted Pi web site.
Check it out.
Darren: "I just got deeper and deeper into debt for the last two and a half years missing the movie. I shot a few industrials and some other stuff, but basically all of it was working on Pi, that's what I did for about two and a half years. 24-7, 365 days a year."

When He Knew He Might Make It

Darren: "Our big moment was when we first screened our film for Sundance. It was a Sunday morning at 10:30 am, after everyone was partying all night on Saturday, and we had a standing ovation. So at that point I knew we had something, with that had some type of emotional response... you know, that's all we ever to have happen; It was great for us."

On Newfound Notoriety

Darren: "It's no slide. There's a lot of work to be done. I'm making another film now and its just all of the challenges, you know all the other fame, and all the other stuff is just bull. It's all stuff that gets in the way of your work, and you just sort of have to ignore it and do good work. The only reason I'm out there selling the film is because the media likes this, likes to put the director on the pedestal. But for me the major thing is not having some type of recognition in the film world, but just being able to make movies."

On His Creative Process

Darren: "I didn't really decide to be a filmmaker until college. When I was at Harvard my roommate was an animator and he would end the year with a movie and I would end the year with a bunch of papers, and I was like 'There is something wrong here.' So I tried to do filmmaking, and I actually combined a lot of different things that I enjoyed doing. So I continued doing it and it was probably the only thing I ever got an A in at Harvard."

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written by David Kohn