My dad recently loaned me his copy of The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham, Ron Shelton’s firsthand account of writing and directing one of the greatest sports films ever made.
In a beautiful moment of synchronicity, I was listening to the Team Deakins podcast recently, a series of conversations between legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and his wife and collaborator, James Ellis Deakins. The episode featured an interview with Tim Robbins, who recounts a story from the making of Bull Durham.
Robbins recalls hearing a commotion behind him during a screening of some of the footage. He turned around to find director Ron Shelton, his fists clutching the lapels of a producer, who was lifted off the floor and pinned against a wall. “Don’t you ever talk to my actors again. I’ll fuckin’ kill you,” Shelton snarled through gritted teeth.
In recalling this, Robbins commends Shelton for standing up for his artistic vision: “He was a first time director. He was laying down the law. I’m making my film. If you don’t like it, fire me.”
Robbins goes on to say:
That’s what we have to do as artists. We have to be that strong with our art or else it’s not worth it. What good does it do to be a yes man and an artist? I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think those two things go together. You become a supplicant. You become a functionary, but you don’t become an artist that way.
This rings true in my own life. It’s difficult to advocate for your vision, to prevent your work from being compromised, especially in a world that’s groomed artists to be thankful they get to create at all. While I hate to conflate an artist with their work, this sentiment evokes the Janis Joplin quote, “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
Perhaps better said, in the words of one of my old mentors, “Take care of the work and the work will take care of you.”