What does the Auteur Theory Mean?

❓ Have you ever binged on Quentin Tarantino films and had a deja vu feeling?

Like there’s just something very similar with all his movies, even though each movie had its unique plots and characters.

It’s not deja vu. It’s a style of filmmaking that only Quentin Tarantino could have made. His films have their own style of filmmaking, highlighted by witty dialogue and use of gory violence.

Quentin Tarantino is in a class of filmmakers known as auteurs. These filmmakers have their own distinct style, like a cinematic signature that’s stamped on every Tarantino film.

According to the auteur theory, these filmmakers (called auteurs) have a unique take on film that sets apart their directing style, creative flair, and vision, branding him or her as the author. 

One can tell from the visual cues in a movie and recurring themes which director is involved before the credits run up. From the use of mise en scène and choice of aspect ratio, the auteur makes careful artistic choices to leave his or her mark on the finished film.

The theory recognizes the director as the “author” of the film because of his or her unique way of cinematography or making a movie

It became popular in the mid-20th century as directors’ importance to filmmaking grew. 

In the years before, producers, studios, and stars got all the recognition. Films were even referred to in their names with directors mostly in the shadows of appreciation.

The auteur theory turned the tables, shifting power toward directors and away from the former group.

Directors began to be viewed more as artists, and a powerful creative force fueling the distinct direction of a film. There have been many great auteurs in film history. 

Today we take a look at 3 auteurs who were masters of their niche.

Alfred Hitchcock – the Auteur of Suspense

Successful English director Sir Alfred Hitchcock was among the best and brightest of his day. Cinematography history has seen few such rare minds.

In particular, his unique work with the thriller and horror genre lead to the sobriquet: Master of Suspense. Films like Psycho and Spellbound assure his nickname is well deserved.

What made Hitchcock’s directing so unique and enthralling?

So often, he leveraged anticipation as a nerve-wracking tool for suspense. The audience knows something bad was about to happen, but the undefined “when” kept you on the edge of your seat, heart in mouth.

He believed that information sets the stage for suspension.

 As such, most of his movies made the audience aware of looming danger. The character, on the other hand, was left in the dark until it’s too late.

By reminding the audience of the presence of the threat and the scene playing out normally, he was able to create a crescendo of suspense.

The murder-shower scene in Psycho is a perfect example of this technique.

Alfred Hitchcock was also flawless in creating subjectivity. It was easy for the audience to slip into the shoes of the character. His characters would often ogle unassuming subjects.

Viewers could relate to that because it mirrored their basic instincts. 

The famous director would also switch perspectives between ogler and ogled to best captivate the mind.

Known as “The Kuleshov Effect” (a montage technique), Alfred Hitchcock confessed in an interview to have borrowed a leaf from the Russian filmmaker.

Additionally, Hitchcock steered clear of clichés when creating his characters. If it’s so obvious what a character will do because of who they are, there isn’t much suspense anymore.

He made characters so unpredictable that viewers had no clue what would happen next.

Woody Allen – the Rom Com Auteur

In some circles, Woody Allen’s way of directing was termed as “lazy” but he showed that there is great skill in simplicity. He is an iconic filmmaker who rocked the latter 20th century.

He is famous for masterpieces like Hannah and Her Sisters and Annie Hall. 

Here’s a trailer to one of his most iconic movies, Manhattan:

He often used subtitles in his movies to provide character exposition, which was also served up through animation and split-screen. These were effective in getting the audience up to speed.

In Annie Hall, the conversation between Alvy and Annie at the latter’s apartment uses subtitles heavily. 

These make known the characters’ inner thoughts and emotions, or how they understand certain things. In this example, Allen used subtitles to also show how men and women perceive the same thing differently.

And he executes it to hilarious effect, at a time when subtitles only served foreign language translation purposes.

The split-screen technique was also a trademark of the multiple-award-winning director. In Annie Hall, he uses it twice to illustrate the contrasting personalities of the characters.

In one scene, a split-screen shows the two characters responding differently to a similar set of questions posed by a doctor.

These interplay and contrast techniques, among others, set him aside as a brilliant auteur.

Woody Allen’s movies also rose to stardom for the amazing picture quality and cinematography. Romantic comedies were underappreciated at the time, not getting the picture quality of action movies and other popular genres of the day. 

His movies had a way of capturing the environment in the most realistic ways, making the world familiar to his audience.

That is in large part to the fact that he worked with the best cinematographers of the time, like the one responsible for The Godfather.

Quentin Tarantino – the Violence Auteur

Quentin Tarantino’s incredible auteur mind is evident in modern-day hits like Django Unchained. He has collaborated to make massive films across the genre divides but he is undoubtedly most appreciated for his unique take on graphic violence films. 

He is able to reel the audience into the movie, taking the place of the character, and feeling what he feels.

This auteur skill is evident in one scene of Pulp Fiction. In particular, the trunk shot where the camera, hence the audience, takes a position in the trunk looking up at John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. 

Trunk shots are a common technique throughout his films. In Reservoir Dogs, a trunk shot puts viewers in the shoes of a captive looking up at his three abductors. 

Here’s the trunk shot from Reservoir Dogs:

Tarantino also uses trunk shots in Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Volume 1, and Death Proof.

Here’s a collection of the classic Tarantino trunk shot:


Tarantino rarely takes the straight path in storytelling and is famous because of it. He combines character status, locations, and time to model non-linear storylines.

His auteur style features tracking and POV shots and some long takes to add implicit and explicit subtext. 

His unseal awakening shots, like the bride coming out of a coma in Kill Bill, also defined him as a producer. As do other recurring themes such as the similar uses of props across his movies.

Drug containers, straight razors, Elvis TCB sunglasses, samurai swords, and black and white suits always wind up in his films somehow.

Tarantino loves a good torture scene to spice up the plot with dread and tension. Almost all his movies feature a character undergoing some horrific torture.

Maynard and Zed brutally toy with Wallace and Butch in Pulp Fiction, True Romance features an unsightly beating while someone loses an ear in Reservoir Dogs.

What’s your style of filmmaking?

There are many more auteurs out there. And the ones mentioned here are American auteurs.

If you’re looking to find your style of filmmaking by studying others, look overseas. In Asia, take a look at Wong Kar-Wai and Akira Korusawa.

In France, there are Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Finally, there is the great Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone.

Then there’s the Italian great – Fellini. He has a unique style of his own, heavy on visual metaphors and subtext.

They say the best way to become a better writer is to read as many authors as possible. This is the same way to better yourself as a filmmaker.

Watch and study these great filmmakers. Develop your own style. And write that great script.

Then CONTACT US and let’s make movie magic!

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