The Oscar-winning director of ‘Gravity’ explains the lesson he learned from his biggest failure

Alfonso Cuaron Tribeca
Emmanuel Lubezki (left) with Alfonso Cuarón (right) at Tribeca Film Festival. Getty Images

You don’t expect one of the most successful film directors working to be so open about what they consider their biggest failure.

But Alfonso Cuarón, best known for “Gravity” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” is not shy when it comes to his older film “Great Expectations,” the adaptation of the Charles Dickens novel.

“I think it’s a complete failed film,” Alfonso Cuarón said during a conversation with Oscar-winning cinematographer and collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki at the Tribeca Film Festival Wednesday.
“It’s the one I’ve learned the most from than anything else.”

During the candid talk with his old friend, Cuarón ran through his filmography, including the 1998 film it turns out he’s not proud of at all. Lubezki, who served as the film’s cinematographer, called it the “least satisfying” of their collaborations.

The film boasted an all-star cast that included Ethan Hawke, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Robert De Niro. Cuarón and Lubezki said they relied heavily on visuals to compensate for what they saw as a weak script.

Great Expectations
The experience of working on ‘Great Expectations’ inspired Cuarón to go back to his roots. 20th Century Fox/YouTube

“I got caught up with, ‘We can convey this visually.’ And it starts to be something that is too much,” Cuarón told the crowd. “Also I wanted everything to be green because that was my trademark.”

The film would go on to receive mixed reviews and gross $55.5 million worldwide. While it might not be the complete failure Cuarón thinks it is, the director says he learned a big lesson from the mistakes he made while making “Great Expectations.”

“My first instinct was to say no to that film,” Cuarón said. “I allowed myself to be dragged in for the wrong reasons. And I think [Lubezki] actually kept on telling me every day, ‘Always trust your first instincts,’ because [he] knew the whole time.”

After that, Cuarón took more control of his career.

Gravity Movie
Both Cuarón and Lubezki would go on to win Oscars for ‘Gravity.’ Warner Bros

Cuarón and Lubezki worked on a small road trip movie together called “Y Tu Mamá También,” a much more personal film for the two of them. It earned Cuarón international prominence. He later tackled projects that he couldn’t turn down: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Children of Men,” and “Gravity.”

Lesson learned: Sometimes, it’s ok to say no.

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