Directors Round Table: J.C. Chandor on his 'years of mediocrity'

Henry Ford said that "failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." That's a sentiment shared by some of Hollywood's top directors, including Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), J.C. Chandor ("All Is Lost") and Nicole Holofcener ("Enough Said").

At the recent Envelope Directors Round Table, those filmmakers — along with Spike Jonze ("Her"), John Lee Hancock ("Saving Mr. Banks") and Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") — talked about how and what they've learned from their mistakes.


"You learn much, much more from failure, I think," Greengrass said. You learn, he added with a laugh, "the depths of your own inadequacy. I made a film that was a staggering failure early on, and … it was probably the most important film that I ever made."

Greengrass began his career as a documentarian but said he was always interested in narrative filmmaking. After his aforementioned failure, he resolved "to create the synthesis, for me in my mind, between dramatic storytelling and the traditions that I grew up [with], marrying that in a way that was authentic to me. And I resolved then that I was only ever going to make the films that I saw in [that] way and stop trying to be a grown-up."

Chandor, meanwhile, said he "came from an upper-middle-class family, had a wonderful education, had every opportunity, came out of college with some momentum and then basically went [through] 15 years of absolute mediocrity and failure."

But, he said, "When I finally got a shot with long-form storytelling — I remember it was halfway through the first day of shooting on that movie — I walked around and I was like, 'Oh, my God.' I realized that actually I've learned so much over the last 10 years of flopping around, where you thought it was this colossal waste of time. And I was like, 'I actually know what I'm doing.' That was the first day of that, and at that point I realized all these people showed up to do this because this thing I had written got them there, and that's something."

For Jonze, "The worst failures are when you fail yourself, and when you fail your intention. I've sort of come to realize that what success is to me is how close did I get to that initial feeling that I started with."

For more from the Directors Round Table, watch the full video above and check back for daily highlights.