Master Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — Exploring Creativity, Ignoring Critics, and Making Art (#263)

Photo credit: Niko Tavernise

“Procrastination is part of the process.” — Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky (@DarrenAronofsky) is the founder and head of production company Protozoa Pictures. He is the acclaimed and award-winning filmmaker behind both cult classics and blockbusters, including Pi (which earned him a Best Director award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival), Requiem For a Dream, The Wrestler (the third U.S. film in history to win the esteemed Golden Lion award), Black Swan (which won Natalie Portman the Academy Award for Best Actress and garnered four other Oscar nominations), Noah (His biblically inspired epic that opened at number one at the box office and grossed more than $362,000,000 worldwide), and his latest, mother!, a psychological horror-thriller film starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

In this episode, we explore a wide range of topics, including:

  • His creative process and “nomadic writing”
  • Work environment and highly unusual desks
  • The “Month of Fury”
  • How to navigate tough conversations over creativity and control
  • Psychedelics
  • Dealing with critics
  • And much more…

Many thanks to Peter Attia for making the introduction — check out his three previous appearances on this show here.

Please enjoy!

#263: Master Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — Exploring Creativity, Ignoring Critics, and Making Art

Want to hear another podcast with another award-winning movie maker? — Listen to my conversations with Robert Rodriguez. In this episode, we discuss the making of From Dusk ’till Dawn, Sin City, and what it means to be the “Wizard” of Hollywood (stream below or right-click here to download):

Master Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — Exploring Creativity, Ignoring Critics, and Making Art (#263)

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Darren Aronofsky:

Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Darren tells us about his peculiar, one-of-a-kind desk. [07:50]
  • How does Darren’s “nomadic” writing process differ from project to project? [11:26]
  • How is screenwriting like sculpting? [14:39]
  • Darren tells us why it only took him about 18 hours to write the draft for Pi. [15:30]
  • For contrast, Darren walks us through the formation of the draft for mother! and how years can often pass between an idea for a film and its end result. [16:27]
  • The sometimes fine line between genius and madness. [18:17]
  • Psychedelics and nature as therapy. [23:30]
  • On the benefits of fasting. [27:21]
  • Why Darren believes in being up front with people from the very beginning — as illustrated by his first conversation with Mickey Rourke. [31:40]
  • What does Darren want the audience to take away from his films? [39:32]
  • What are the ingredients that create emotional engagement in a movie? [42:43]
  • The experience that got Darren involved in storytelling. [45:05]
  • Darren’s life-changing experiences as a 16-year-old “concrete jungle flea” in Kenya, and kayaking next to glaciers in Alaska. [49:38]
  • How does Darren respond to public perception and criticism? [52:06]
  • Why does Darren not consider himself a “real” writer? [56:09]
  • As an aside, here’s why you shouldn’t stay awake for six days straight. [59:11]
  • How does Darren stay creatively focused without sacrificing balance in other areas of his life? [1:02:16]
  • The schedule of a filmmaker. [1:06:43]
  • Resources for aspiring filmmakers and the real secret to gaining an audience. [1:09:20]
  • Darren’s history with the game of Go. [1:13:19]
  • The unwritten rule of people watching in New York City, and why Darren laments the advent of Wi-Fi on the subway. [1:18:33]
  • Darren talks about his first time in Tokyo. [1:21:40]
  • Darren explains the three rules behind a “Month of Fury.” [1:22:48]
  • How does Darren write heavily visual components into his screenplays? [1:28:11]
  • Why mother! required an especially long time to put together. [1:30:43]
  • The importance of boundaries and constraints in any art form. [1:32:49]
  • The origin ideas behind mother! and what Darren hopes people take away from seeing it. [1:35:28]
  • On feedback loops, climate change, and coping with the guilt of being an accidental litterbug. [1:36:49]
  • What potential mother! viewers should know before going into the theater. [1:39:49]
  • Career advice Darren might give to a new filmmaker who wants to avoid being chewed up by the industry. [1:46:18]
  • What would Darren’s closest friends say is the superpower behind his success? [1:50:08]
  • How is Darren’s teaching process like playing Dungeons & Dragons? [1:53:31]
  • If Darren himself could no longer make films, how might he focus on teaching others to do so in six months? [1:55:23]
  • Top scriptwriters Darren recommends for inspiration. [1:59:03]
  • Parting thoughts. [2:01:34]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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13 Replies to “Master Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky — Exploring Creativity, Ignoring Critics, and Making Art (#263)”

  1. Hi Tim,

    I see some absolute classics in there.I recall watching The Wrestler and Black Swan and loving them both. Raw, real, gritty flicks in their own right.

    I have no clue why so many creative types pay attention to critics. I ignore criticism. I feel pretty close to clear on what I do. If someone doesn’t like what I do, with my eBooks or courses or blog, or, with my digital nomad ways, it has 100% to do with their lack of clarity and nothing to do with mine. No biggie. But if critics get under my skin it marks my lack of clarity. Back in the day, they did 😉 But now, I see criticism as the admirings of an unclear fan, who cannot express appreciation through their prism of unclear energies.

    I dig Darren’s idea of procrastination, for creating. I am like this sometimes, waiting for a bit to get into the flow. For me at least. My wife takes the same route for her blog. In truth, this comment is a perfect example of waiting in action. For months, writing more in-depth comments felt forced. So I pulled back on commenting and focused on guest posting. Now I am diving into blog commenting again and also will do the guest posting bit.

    Make no mistake about it, folks find me thru these type comments on all blogs so it is definitely a creation, the commenting bit is, which helps me connect with other folks.

    Thanks for sharing as always Tim 🙂


  2. Amazing stuff! Please interview more creatives in the future. Musicians, artists, film makers, you name it. I’d love to hear more Tim Ferriss dissections of the methods and habits of the top performers in the arts. That liminal state that was alluded to in the podcast is both the path and the goal of the artist.

    1. Agree, though, this was my first podcast and I have yet to listen to others. I have an infatuation with the arts – I concur on a major scale!

  3. Ha, ha…Tim politely trying to get Darren to tell him how many psychedelic sessions he’s done, if any. Sounds like a “No,” Tim. Which surprised me too given the feel of Pi. Although that was more speed phreak, cocaine inclined which people in the film industry tend not to do given the low pressures in that business.

  4. Absolutely loved this one, my favorite episode. His movies have moved me, but I can watch them only once. Not for lack of appreciation, but because I usually am not ready to revisit that intensity. I loved his reference to the hero’s journey, and how The Addict is the hero in “Requiem”. I watched that movie in 2001 and I still think about it.

  5. Short and simple – this was my first podcast. Extremely pleasant experience. Great questions, damn! Love, love…thanks!

  6. I love this podcast. I had writers block for the past 3 weeks until I listen to this podcast. I realized that I was making my storyline for the wrong audience. I forgot that I had to entertain myself as well. Thank you Darren for joining Tim and creating an awesome podcast.

  7. Of all your episodes, this zooms into the top 10 for me, and excited to share with my writer and screenwriter friends. In particular, I valued Darren’s humble insights, and straight forward view on procrastination and writing challenges. Such a stout reminder in that we’re all different, yet all the same and to keep tweaking with our own rules and habits and rituals, as to whatever works!