Film Journal
Call for Papers

Actors behind the Camera

Guest editors:
Nicole Cloarec (Université Rennes 1, France)
Delphine Letort (Université du Maine-Le Mans, France)
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“Actors are cattle” was Hitchcock’s provocative judgement in the famous series of talks that the filmmaker gave to François Truffaut (Jeffries).Truly enough, during the heyday of Classical Hollywood, actors were under contract, like any other cog in the wheel of production of the studio system. The prevailing star system put an end to the “multitasking” norm of the beginning of the movie industry and, in this context, the instances of actors who turned directors (Charles Laughton, Robert Montgomery, Ida Lupino) were all the more remarkable.However, the break-up of the studio system and the advent of independent cinema brought about a new order where a new generation of actors (Dennis Hopper, Paul Newman or Robert Redford among others) had more opportunities to try their luck behind the camera. Since the 1970s, the list of actors-turned-directors has increased dramatically and seems to have become a significant trend in recent years. The list keeps growing exponentially, moving from old-timers like Warren Beatty, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Angelica Huston or Tommy Lee Jones, to include actors who are also known for their political commitment like Tim Robbins, George Clooney, Jodie Foster, and film stars like Tom Hanks, Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Sean Penn, Michael Keaton, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, Edward Norton, Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, Angelica Jolie, James Franco, Joseph Gordon-Lewitt. Nor is the trend confined to the American film industry, as testified by the films of actors Peter Mullan, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Alan Rickman, Paddy Considine or Vanessa Redgrave in the UK, Sarah Polley or Don McKellar in Canada, Russell Crowe in Australia.While there has been a renewed interest in actorial studies after studies on the star system and stars’ biographies (James Naremore, Jacqueline Nacache, Christian Viviani, Christophe Damour, among others), this phenomenon has yet to be investigated. This issue of Film Journal aims at exploring this largely unchartered territory.

What drives an actor behind the camera? Is it just another star’s fanciful whim or an unconscious desire to get even with directors – and prove Hitchcock’s assertion wrong? Do actors nurture the presumptuous belief that their experience will make them better equipped to stage direct other actors or do their films’ aesthetics give more leeway to actors’ performances? In the case of actors-turned-directors that are also in front of the camera, how can one film oneself? Does it testify to the fantasized ideal of immediacy which Jacqueline Nacache points out,[1] obliterating signs of acting itself so as to equate playing and being? Or, on the contrary, is it a way to foreground the thespian quality of the actors, relating their actorial work to the prestigious stage (Al Pacino comes to mind)?

From Charles Laughton’s one-off masterpiece to the steady production of former actors who have become as well-known for their director’s works as for their acting career (John Cassavetes, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, Kenneth Branagh), actors’ films do certainly not constitute a genre of their own. Nonetheless, for all their variety, they seem to foreground some personal commitment, either in relation to an autobiographical experience or in an attempt to make a political or social statement. In this respect, one may wonder if actors’ films are not the perfect illustration of “auteur theory” that American film critic Andrew Sarris popularised from French film criticism, whereby a film is first and foremost the product of the director’s personal vision, a means of conveying his/her own worldview (Sarris, 1962).
The economic aspects of the matter may also be considered. Does the recent trend of actors-turned-directors convey a genuine emancipation from the profit-oriented, market-led constraints of a broadcasting environment that seems ever more prone to cash in on predictable formulaic franchises? Or is this rather the ultimate sign of the entertainment industry’s merchandising?

We invite submissions that will explore significant examples of films or collections of films by actors-turned-directors. The following list provides possible, albeit not exhaustive, topics for discussion:

  • To what extent does this phenomenon contribute to renewing the debate around theories of film authorship after it has been discredited by structuralist and post-structuralist approaches?
  • Is it possible to set up a typology – from the intimate and autobiographical or self-reflexive stance (Paul Newman directing his family, Sarah Polley etc.) to the spectacular overkill (Mel Gibson for ex)?
  • How do production contexts and distribution strategies impact an actor’s decision to turn director? Do the opportunities offered by television (HBO, Netflix, etc.) and Hollywood or independent studios stimulate such career choices?
  • How are the films received by the critics and the audience? Are they received with more condescension or more severity than other “ordinary” new-comers?
  • How does it impact the collaborative nature of filmmaking?
  • How do actors-turned-directors handle actor management? Are there notable specificities in this regard?
  • How does it impact their future career? How does filming oneself affect an actor’s performance? Is an actor’s choice of roles or acting modes altered after an experience as film director? Does a director’s choice of film (and genre) relate to his/her acting career?
  • Can factors of difference (age, gender, ethnicity, for example) influence actors to turn director?

Proposals (250 words) and a short biography are to be sent by December 1st 2017 to Nicole.Cloarec@univ-rennes1.fr, Delphine.Letort@univ-lemans.fr, and filmjournal.sercia@gmail.com. Notification will be sent by mid-January. The deadline for completed articles is 1st September 2018.

Contributions should be sent together with a short biography of the author (max. 150 words) and an abstract (max. 200 words) and five keywords. For submissions, please consult and follow the norms for presentation indicated at Film Journal http://filmjournal.org/author-guidelines/.

[1] “Devenir soi-même, ne jouer que soi-même, étaient depuis les débuts, à tort ou à raison, les objectifs de tout acteur de cinéma.” [“To become oneself, to play nothing but oneself – such was, rightly or wrongly, every actor’s goals from the early days of cinema.” our translation], Nacache, 118.


Selected Bibliography

Adair, Gilbert, “The Origins of the Auteur Theory,” Times Literary Supplement 16 August 1991: 14.
Amiel, Vincent, Jacqueline Nacache, Geneviève Sellier et Christian Viviani (dir.), L’acteur de cinéma : approches plurielles, Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2007.
Andrew, Dudley, “The Unauthorized Auteur Today,”” in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner, and Ava Preacher Collins (eds), Film Theory Goes to the Movies, New York/London: Routledge, 1993, 77-85.
Caughie, John (ed.), Theories of Authorship, London/Boston/Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.
Damour, Christophe (dir.), Jeu d’acteurs : corps et gestes au cinéma, Strasbourg: Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2016.
Esaquenazi, Jean-Pierre (dir.), Politique des auteurs et théories du cinéma, Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002.
Grant, Catherine, “Www.auteur.com?” Screen 41.1 (Spring 2000): 101-108.
Grimes, William, “The Auteur Theory of Film: Is it Holy or Just Full of Holes?” New York Times 20 February 1993.
Heath, Stephen, “Comment on ‘The Idea of Authorship’,” Screen 14.3 (Autumn 1973): 86-91.
Hess, John, “La Politique des auteurs, part 1,” Jump Cut 1 (May-June 1974): 19-22.
Jeffries, Stuart, “ ‘Actors are cattle’: when Hitchcock met Truffaut, ” The Guardian, 12 May 2015,<https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/12/when-hitchcock-met-truffaut-hitchcock-truffaut-documentary-cannes>
Klawans, Stuart, “The Politics of Authorship”, Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order, London/New York: Cassell, 1999, 41-68.
MacCabe, Colin, “The Revenge of the Author”, The Eloquence of the Vulgar, London: British Film Institute, 1999, 33-41.
Maule, Rosanna, “De-authorizing the Auteur: Postmodern Politics of Interpellation in Contemporary European Cinema” in Cristina Degli-Esposti (ed.), Postmodernism in the Cinema, Oxford: Berghahn, 1998, 113-130.
Murray, Edward, “Andrew Sarris and Auteur Criticism”, Nine American Film Critics, New York: Ungar, 1975, 38-66.
Nacache, Jacqueline, L’Acteur de cinéma, Paris: Nathan, coll. Cinéma, 2003.
Naremore, James, Acting in the Cinema. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
Naremore, James, “Authorship and the Cultural Politics of Film Criticism,” Film Quarterly 44.1 (Fall 1990): 14-23.
Perkins, V. F., “Film Authorship: The Premature Burial,” CineAction! 21/22 (November 1990): 57-64.
Prédal, René Le Cinéma d’auteur. Une vieille lune ?, Paris: Éd. du Cerf, 2001.
Sarris, Andrew, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”, Film Culture 27, winter 1962-63, 1-8.
Sarris, Andrew, “The Actor as Auteur,” American Film 2.7 (May 1977): 16-19.
Sarris, Andrew, “The Auteur Theory Revisited,” American Film 2.9 (July-Aug 1977): 49-53.
Stoddart, Helen, “Auteurism and Film Authorship” in Johanne Hollows and Mark Jancovich (eds), Approaches to Popular Film. Manchester/New York: Manchester UP, 1995, 37-57.
Viviani, Christian, Le Magique et le vrai: l’acteur au cinéma, sujet et objet, Paris: Rouge profond,2015.
Wood, Robin, “Authorship Revisited,” CineAction! 21/22 (Nov. 1990): 46-56.


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