With thanks to Mark for making this available.
Title: "Directorís Notes: Stanley Kubrick Movie Maker" by Stanley Kubrick
Originally published in The Observer 4 December 1960
Maybe the reason why people seem to find it harder to take unhappy endings in movies than in plays or novels is that a good movie engages you so heavily that you find an unhappy ending almost unbearable. But it depends on the story, because there are ways for the director to trick the audience into expecting a happy ending and there are ways of very subtly letting the audience be aware of the fact that the character is hopelessly doomed and there is not going to be a happy ending.
In a criminal film, it is almost like a bullfight: it has a ritual and a pattern which lays down that the criminal is not going to make it, so that, while you can suspend your knowledge of this for a while, sitting way back of your mind this little awareness knows and prepares you for the fact that he is not going to succeed. That type of ending is easier to accept.
One thing that has always disturbed me a little is that the ending often introduces a false note. This applies particularly if it is a story that doesnít pound away on a single point, such as whether the timebomb will explode in the suitcase. When you deal with characters and a sense of life, most endings that appear to be endings are false, and possibly that is what disturbs the audience: they may sense the gratuitousness of the unhappy ending.
On the other hand, if you end a story with somebody achieving his aim it always seems to me to have a kind of incompleteness about it because that almost seems to be the beginning of another story. One of the things I like most about John Ford is the anticlimax endings - anticlimax upon anticlimax and you just get a feeling that you are seeing life and you accept the thing.
It is sometimes supposed that the way to make pictures entirely as one wants to, without having to think about the box-office, is to dispense with stars in order to make them on a low budget. In fact, the cost of a picture usually has little to do with how much the actors get paid. It has to do with the number of days you take to shoot it, and you canít make a film as well as it can be made without having a sufficient length of time to make it.
There are certain stories in which you can somehow hit everything on the nose quickly and get the film shot in three weeks. But it is not the way to approach something of which you want to realise the full potential. So there often is nothing gained by doing without stars and aiming the film at the art houses. Only by using stars and getting the film on the circuits can you buy the time needed to do it justice.
Iíve often heard it asked whether it doesnít affect the reality and the artistic quality of a picture not to make it in actual locations. Personally I have found that working out of doors or working in real locations is a very distracting experience and doesnít have the almost classical simplicity of a film studio where everything is inky darkness and the lights are coming from an expected place and it is quiet and you can achieve concentration without worrying that there are 500 people standing behind a police line halfway down the block, or about a million other distractions.
I think that much too much has been made of making films on location. It does help when the atmosphere, circumstances and locale are the chief thing supposed to come accross in a scene. For a psychological story, where the characters and their inner emotions and feelings are the key thing, I think that a studio is the best place. Working on a set provides the actor with much better concentration and ability to use his full resources.
When ďSpartacusĒ was being made, I discussed this point with Olivier and Ustinov and they both said that they felt that their powers were just drifting off into space when they were working out of doors. Their minds werenít sharp and their concentration seemed to evaporate. They preferred that kind of focusing-in that happens in a studio with the lights pointing at them and the sets around them. Whereas outside everything fades away, inside there is a kind of inner focusing of psychical energy.
The important thing in films is not so much to make successes as not to make failures, because each failure limits your future opportunities to make the films you want to make.
People nowadays seem to have a great deal of difficulty deciding whether a character in a film is good or bad - especially the people who are making the film. It seems as if first they deal out twenty-five cents' worth of good and then twenty-five centsí worth of bad and at the very end of the story you have a perfect balance.
I think it essential if a man is good to know where he is bad and to show it, or if he is strong, to decide what the moments are in the story where he is weak and to show it. And I think that you must never try to explain how he got the way he is or why he did what he did.
I have no fixed ideas about wanting to make films in particular categories - Westerns, war films and so on. I know I would like to make a film that gave a feeling of the times - a contemporary story that really gave a feeling of the times, psychologically, sexually, politically, personally. I would like to make that more than anything else. And itís probably going to be the hardest film to make.