Maya Deren on film

“In the beginning I was ignorant also of the material and physical problems of film production, which begin after the creative labor of conceiving the film is already achieved. And I am convinced that this foolhardy naïveté is to some extent responsible for the fact that the films have actually been made. Now, after considerable experience, I deliberately ignore the infinite number of complications which threaten the production of a film. For I have found that the first shot is always the most difficult; once one has plunged in, the problems can be dealt with as they come up.

I have met numbers of talented people who tell me of scripts which they have written and field away as a ‘some time’ project. They await financial backing, for most people have permitted themselves to assume the prerequisite of an elaborate budget to provide for much film, complex studio sets, intricate equipment. There is, moreover, no institution which at the moment subsidizes cinema as an art form, in spite of the fact that it is more expensive than most other art forms.

My films have been paid for by that part of the personal budget which is usually set aside for entertainment, such as going to the movies, and the fund for small luxuries. The limitations of such a small budget can be compensated for by the exercise of imagination and ingenuity and physical exertion. Instead of attempting to pay salaries for professional actors, I use my friends and act in the films myself. And since the burden of the meaning and the emotional projection of the film is carried actually by the visual effects of the camera and cutting, I have found these non-professionals more than adequate to my needs. Instead of dreaming up a set which would cost hundreds of dollars to build and more hundreds to light, I conceive the films in terms of interesting landscapes and locales which, though sometimes accessible only by great physical effort, are always convincingly real as well as naturally lit, and all free for the asking. As for the interiors, I have turned my own home into a studio, photographed in the apartments of indulgent friends, worked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the unrented ballroom of a hotel.

The equipment, also, is extremely simple, and here especially imagination and ingenuity not only compensate for its seeming limitations but, on the contrary, the very absence of gadgets and mechanical paraphernalia inspires an exploitation and creative use of some of those basic capacities of the camera which, being so taken for granted, have been greatly neglected by professionals. Furthermore, when the mechanical means remain simple, the camera does not become a monster which reduces the artist to impotent awe.

Free time is another thing that these ‘some time’ scripts are waiting for. Yet the first film, Meshes of the Afternoon, was photographed in two weeks. At Land was shot on weekends, over the course of three summer months. And the dance film was photographed whenever Talley Beatty, who dances in it, had some spare time left over from teaching classes, taking classes and rehearsing for a Broadway production.

Or perhaps the prospective film is postponed until one can ‘learn some technique.’ This is perhaps the most destructive of all misconceptions about film. The actual operation of a motion picture camera is very simple and consists largely of pressing a button. All the rest is achieved best if it is developed, as one goes along, in answer to some requirement of the imagination. There is nothing more deadening to the development of a form than the technician who takes his instrument and its means so much for granted that he never attempts anything new.

In the final analysis the only critical requirement is the determination to make a film. […] I am driven by that which motivates any artist or writer – the conviction that his medium has infinite potentialities for conveying his particular perceptions of life. And because I came to cinema not as to an industry in which to find a lucrative position but from a background which had included a preoccupation with poetry, dance, music, I brought to it some of these basic aesthetic criteria.”

— Maya Deren, Magic is New (1946)