How Julian Schnabel Overcomes Creative Ruts

Raised in Texas, director Julian Schnabel began his career as an artist, holding his first solo exhibition in 1975 at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston. Schnabel became a key figure in the Neo-expressionism artistic movement, utilizing an audacious style that was often described as raw, evocative, and unapologetic. Throughout the 1980s Schnabel received international media attention for his "plate paintings"—large-scale paintings set on broken ceramic plates.

Schnabel's filmmaking career began in 1996 when he wrote and directed “Basquiat,” a biopic about the life of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He followed that up with another biopic, 2000's “Before Night Falls,” about Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas. In 2007, Schnabel directed an adaptation of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” a memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and became paralyzed in every part of his body except for a single eyelid. The film screened at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the Golden Palm award and won the festival's Best Director award. The film also won Schanbel a Golden Globe for Best Director and was nominated for four Academy Awards.

His latest film “Miral” tackles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling the story of an orphaned Palestinian girl who finds herself drawn into the struggle.

  • Transcript


Julian Schnabel:  When Javier Bardem and I were working on Before Night Falls and we did this scene where he walks into this prison and he’s supposed to be stoned on LSD, there was 150 prisoners behind these huge cells and they were screaming their heads off and we did this thing in basically one take. The feeling that he had after doing that and the feeling that I had gave enough energy to sort of go on and work in a daunting schedule where you’re working 16 or 18 hour days where certain things might not be working, whether it’s in your private life or with other responsibilities. But for a moment there, just for that moment, the clarity and the success of executing that gave you enough sense of yourself and sense of accomplishment to actually try to achieve that moment again, that maybe we could actually have a complete film at the end of that process. Or if everything was going wrong and I could go into the studio and somehow I don’t have to know if it’s good or bad—I don’t even have to know what it is—I could go in there and nobody has to understand what I'm thinking. I don’t have to convey anything to anybody else. I could just do that and then come back and look at it and kind of see where I was or what that was because I posited that impulse, the horror or whatever that was into that thing and transmuted it into something else.

So I would say that if you say, "Oh, I'm depressed, I can’t do this, I can’t work," if you don’t work; if you don’t paint you can’t be a painter; if you don’t write you can’t be a writer; if you don’t film something you’re not a filmmaker. So all those people that are sitting around thinking "God I might make a bad film," or "I might make a bad painting," or "Maybe somebody won’t like this," you’re doomed if that’s going to deter you from that. We all have insecurities and doubts, but I think that it’s better to make a mistake than not to do anything. If you win you win and if you lose you win.

Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd