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Tania is currently the Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Hudsucker, and Senior Editor at the Nashville, Tennessee based PopCulture.com. With past writing and editing credits with Womanista, Quietly, the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) and NBC Newsvine, she is currently a member of Indianapolis based, Society of Professional Journalists — one of the oldest organizations in the U.S. that promotes and represents journalists. She is an avid Indianapolis Colts, Elvis Presley and baseball fan as well as a lover of pancakes and fine cheeses, film, and music. Tania is a Hoosier at heart with a passionate wanderlust for always traveling and giving back to those in her community. She is currently studying at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Follow Tania on Twitter: @westlifebunny.

Ben Affleck: The Renaissance Filmmaker

Every film is its own kind of expedition, and the way you move in that journey depends entirely on the director. Directing isn’t easy but reliance of the script, it should be able to challenge the directors and allow them to break new ground and reinvent their style. As a cinephile, I feel successful directors have a true understanding of not just the world around them, but of quality writing and research, history, literature, the psychology of man and a genuine ability to interact with people. Such filmmakers became auteurs who are able to create an individual style and control such elements of their production to give their film its own personality and unique stamp.

One such auteur is Academy Award winner, Ben Affleck. This past February, despite being snubbed in several categories by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Affleck won the coveted Best Picture Oscar for his third directorial venture Argo. The film was the focus of the real-life CIA operation that brought home six American diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. Though Affleck admits there were a few Hollywood elements added to create commercial appeal, core historical factual elements of the film are indeed true and thus prove Argo to be his finest masterpiece so far.

Image Credit:  Kurt Iswarienko

Image Credit: Kurt Iswarienko

Although Ben Affleck has come a long way in his career through his ups and downs which were catapulted into the limelight of his personal life, the creative thinker finally found his niche by stepping behind the camera and churning out a trio of successes, starting with his directorial debut with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. The film attested to audiences that Affleck was capable of envisioning a story with genuine emotion and thought. His debut laid out a clean slate for him; a tabula rasa of sorts, brick by brick for the foundations of a promising career ahead.

Gone Baby Gone was adapted by Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name and finds private investigator Patrick Kenzie (younger brother, Casey Affleck) of working-class Boston taking on the case of a kidnapped girl with his partner, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). Through his investigation, Patrick uncovers a web of corruption and must make a decision in keeping true and loyal to his sense of duties. It’s a film that’s almost a study in selfishness and raises the argument of responsibility versus accommodation proving that people don’t ever really change despite the circumstances. It’s a tough and gritty film for a debut with enduring pace, mood and milieu all of which show how Affleck can direct and picture a world that feels exact and existent. By the time the neo-noir crime drama ends there is such a moral conundrum posed to the audience that it makes this film an instant classic where one could look back and think about the themes and conflicts raised. When asked by reporter Fred Topel as to why he decided to direct the film, Affleck told him that directing a movie was an instructive experience for him. “I think I learned a lot about writing, and a lot about acting, and I learned how all the pieces fit together from the inside. That was really valuable. It was a good thing.”

Affleck on set directing “The Town”. Image Credit: Claire Folger/New York Times

With Gone Baby Gone, Affleck was able to morph into this emerging artist and each film after has clearly challenged him with proven success. In 2010, The Town released and was adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel, “Prince of Thieves”. The story follows Doug MacRay (Affleck), a lifelong thief who struggles to balance his feelings for a bank manager connected to an earlier bank heist and his plans with his bank-robbing crew working towards their biggest score yet. As they plan out heists, an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) is looking to bring him and his team down. The film is driven as an action flick with drama and romance as an accent and carries out very well. It was a commercial and critical success that proved the sophomore director is able to juggle several elements of real life in a film without restriction thereby creating a genuine and authentic experience. With the setting once again in Boston, the director portrays the city, people and their culture to be just as important as story. It definitely works well as every element floats perfectly between the melodrama and dialogue.

It is quite difficult to direct oneself in a film, considering the director must take on the role of an actor, perfect his chops and know his lines, as well as directing his co-stars and making sure the scene doesn’t lose focus with so many expectations that need to be met. Affleck was able to star in his last two films and secure commercial and critical successes for both, anchoring in Academy Award recognition for all three of them. In many ways he is a ‘renaissance man’ contributing a broad range of impressive filmography to modern cinema. He has been able to distinguish himself as a one of a kind writer and director, as well as an actor and that doesn’t come easy.

Affleck has made these three films that have brought out remarkable performances from his actors. In his debut  he hammered out a tight and tough performance from brother Casey, who imbued his character with an authentic working-class Beantown vibe. Casey is shown as very stoic but his deadpan attitude basically owns the film, despite the stellar cast including Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. Amy Ryan as the damaged junkie mother, Helene McCready whose daughter has gone missing snagged an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress as her realistic performance of a woman who is the product of her environment. Her immaculate presentation of bad parenting raises the question to audiences as to how to break such a cycle. The Town found flawless performances from Jon Hamm, ideally cast as an implacable FBI agent; Rebecca Hall as the emotive bank manager; and Jeremy Renner, as the film’s wildcard. His performance not only scored an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for the film, but his character was likely to tip the story either way through his behavior.

Affleck directing younger brother, Casey in “Gone Baby Gone”. Image Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

Although casting has always been crucial to Affleck’s films as is taking part in ensemble pieces occasionally, his real work is as a filmmaker. He has an eye for capturing character and candidly moving an actor toward a certain spot in order to tell the story in the best way possible.

Affleck is an actor with a genuine gift for directing. As a director of two crime dramas set in Boston, he has been able to break out of the acting mold and projected himself successfully and evolved as a filmmaker. With Argo, Affleck combined a large cast in a tense thriller with elements of subtle humor, taking place over a series of very cumbersome events while keeping true to the essence of the real life reports by CIA agent, Tony Mendez.

In spite of being snubbed for a Best Director Oscar nomination this past February, Affleck managed to pick up almost every award this past season, ranging from the BAFTAs to the Golden Globes. Many were surprised when his CIA thriller beat Lincoln, Life of Pi, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty, and Amour, just to name a few to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Affleck accepted the award along with co-producers Grant Heslov and George Clooney.

He made a genuinely heartfelt emotional speech thanking fellow nominees, crew, cast, family, and an industry that was seemingly tough on him but expectantly granted him a second chance:

I’d just like to say, I was here 15 years ago or something and I had no idea what I was doing. I stood out here in front of you all and really just a kid. I went out and I never thought I would be back here. And I am, because of so many of you who are here tonight, because of this Academy, because of so many wonderful people who extended themselves to me when they had nothing to benefit from it in Hollywood. You know what I mean, I couldn’t get them a job.

I want to thank them and I want to thank what they taught me, which is that you have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can’t hold grudges. It’s hard but you can’t hold grudges. And it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.

Personally it is a pleasure to watch Ben Affleck as he transited through various stages of his illustrated career. His filmmaking habits are almost instinctual and the process he goes through to make a film is exquisite. In every aspect of creating films he is a true visionary. His films are the criterion of meticulousness and through the years he has proved to his critics and fans alike that he is here to stay. What’s commendable about Affleck is that he is the type of filmmaker that knows how to portray sincere emotions and words on the screen.

Growing up I have been rooting for him and his best friend Matt Damon. I was probably one of the many young fans who believed Good Will Hunting was more than just a great film. To me it proved how powerful writing can be and how impressively a simple story can be told.  I remember as well that when both Affleck and Damon won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1998, I was eagerly rooting for Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau to call out “Matt and Ben” for the win. With tears brimming in my eyes it actually happened. It made me believe and know that hard work truly pays off and good things can happen if you honestly push yourself. The lesson I learned is that without force of conviction and goals dreams are simply dreams and in order to make them reality, you have to push yourself that extra mile. It’s one thing to say you’re an actor or a writer but it’s another thing to go through this world while taking punches from almost everyone and keep getting up because your dream is worth it. When times get rough there’s no time to quit trying but to work your way through challenges. The link between failure and success is so narrow that at times it causes frustration and dampening of human spirit but like Affleck says, “you’ve got to get up.”

Affleck with his Oscar for “Argo”. Image Credit: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Their critically acclaimed debut was my childhood motivation and translated into my own true love of writing. I owe a big chunk of gratitude to both Affleck and Damon for igniting that spark in me at such a early age and for being catalysts in my own evolution. I took to writing fiction, poetry and screenplays with a passion as a bird takes to the sky. Writing brings its own challenges as does any other vocation like directing and filmmaking, but each journey comes with its own twists and turns allowing us to persevere through the hardships and build up to become better.

Ben Affleck’s films, Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo are all available on DVD and Blu-Ray, in-stores and online.

Subscribe to Ben Affleck on Facebook and follow him on Twitter for updates, news and information on his foundation, the Eastern Congo Initiative.

Connect with Tania Hussain on Twitter and Google+!

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3 Comments on “Ben Affleck: The Renaissance Filmmaker”

  1. londenberg1 April 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    awesome blog, sincerely, from the fantasy writer of LondenBerg by Lord Biron

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