how David Lynch started making films how David Lynch started making films

How David Lynch Started Making Films? Unveiling the Unexpected Journey in 5 Points

David Lynch’s filmmaking journey is a mesmerizing odyssey. It illuminates the enigmatic psyche behind his surrealist masterpieces. With a penchant for dark and perplexing narratives, Lynch’s films have pushed the boundaries of art and storytelling. They leave audiences both bewildered and enthralled.

But how David Lynch started making films ? From his humble beginnings in Missoula, Montana, to his breakthrough film ‘Eraserhead.’ Lynch’s path to becoming a renowned filmmaker has been anything but conventional. He has an innate ability to tap into the depths of human consciousness. Lynch’s distinctive style has earned him a cult following. It also cemented his status as a visionary in the realm of cinema.

In this article, we delve into the intriguing genesis of Lynch’s filmmaking career. Let’s explore the influences, experiences, and creative processes that have shaped his iconic body of work.

Introduction to David Lynch

David Lynch
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David Keith Lynch, born January 20, 1946, is an American filmmaker and screenwriter. He has left an indelible mark on the world of cinema. All of Lynch’s works are unique with mind-bending visuals. A multi-talented artist, Lynch has also dabbled in painting, photography, sound design, and music composition for his films. He even ventured into the realm of television. He created the groundbreaking and deeply strange mystery series “Twin Peaks“.

Lynch’s filmmaking career is peppered with notable works that have earned him critical acclaim and a devoted following. His directorial debut, “Eraserhead“, birthed a new wave of surrealism in cinema. He then went on to create masterpieces like “The Elephant Man“, “Blue Velvet“, “Wild at Heart“, and “Mulholland Drive“. Despite the critical and box-office failure of his science-fiction epic “Dune“, Lynch’s artistic resilience remained undeterred.

Such is the uniqueness of Lynch’s style that it has given rise to its own term in the film industry – “Lynchian“. Some define “Lynchian” as a style that incorporates abstract visuals and nonsensical narratives to explore real issues. Others view it as a cinematic experience that defies straightforward interpretation, much like navigating through a confounding dream or nightmare.

  • The “Lynchian” quality is further accentuated by Lynch’s innovative use of cinematography techniques.
  • A prominent example is his frequent use of the Dutch angle, a technique originally introduced by the German Expressionism Movement.
  • This technique, which involves tilting the camera to one side to create a skewed frame.
  • It serves to convey a sense of madness and hysteria, perfectly embodying the essence of Lynch’s distinctive storytelling approach.

In essence, David Lynch is not only a filmmaker; he is a cinematic visionary. His unique storytelling techniques have redefined the boundaries of film artistry. His journey from an aspiring artist to an iconic filmmaker is a testament to his enduring creativity and unwavering passion for pushing the limits of cinematic expression.


How David Lynch Started Making Films?

1. Early Life and Artistic Pursuits

Born on January 20, 1946, in Missoula, Montana, David Keith Lynch was a fascinating figure from the start. His father’s job with the Department of Agriculture led to a nomadic childhood, with the family moving across multiple states. This transient lifestyle, combined with a contented family life, helped shape Lynch’s unique perspective of the world.

Lynch’s artistic inclination surfaced early. He developed a love for drawing and painting on spare paper brought home by his father. The absence of coloring books, courtesy of his mother’s refusal to let him use them. This led young Lynch to create his own visual narratives.

His involvement with the Boy Scouts of America played a significant role in his life. Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest in scouting, Lynch internalized the “be prepared” motto. It is suggested that this principle later shaped his “do it yourself” approach to filmmaking and art, enabling him to “make things out of nothing.”

2. The Journey to Europe

As Lynch grew older, his passion for art intensified. This led to a decision that would forever change his life. He left his studies to travel Europe with his close friend, Jack Fisk. Their plan was to study under the renowned artist Oskar Kokoschka in Austria. But, the reality didn’t match up to their expectations. Upon their arrival, they discovered the artist was not present.

This disillusionment marked a turning point in Lynch’s path, pushing him toward the world of cinema.

While the European sojourn did not go as planned, it played a crucial role in shaping Lynch’s future. It reinforced his belief in independence and self-reliance. It set the stage for his eventual move to Los Angeles in 1971, where he would embark on his filmmaking journey at the AFI Conservatory.

3. Lynch’s Transition to Filmmaking

Hands Holding a Film Slate Directing a Movie Scene
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In the year 1971, David Lynch made a pivotal move that would mark the beginning of his renowned career in filmmaking. Leaving behind his initial interest in painting, Lynch moved to Los Angeles with his wife and daughter to pursue a new artistic venture – filmmaking. He enrolled at the AFI Conservatory, a decision that would prove instrumental in shaping his unique approach to cinema.

Lynch’s time at the AFI Conservatory was not without its challenges. He described the institution as being “completely chaotic and disorganized“. Still, rather than viewing this as a drawback, Lynch acknowledged the constructive aspect of such an environment. He stated that it was “great” because it taught him a valuable lesson – the importance of independence in filmmaking.

The lack of structure and organization forced Lynch and his fellow students to take matters into their own hands if they wanted to get anything done. This experience nurtured his ability to work independently, a trait that would become characteristic of his filmmaking style.

Upon reflection, it is clear that this phase of Lynch’s life played a crucial role in his transition to filmmaking. This experience at the Conservatory would later shape Lynch’s approach to filmmaking. That often broke away from traditional narrative structures and embraced a more abstract, surreal mode of storytelling.

4. The Birth of “Gardenback”

The creative process is often a journey of unexpected twists and turns, a truth David Lynch knows all too well. His first project at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies (AFI) was birthed from a painting he had done.

This piece, depicting a figure with little green growths springing from its back, inspired the 45-minute short film that would be known as “Gardenback.”

Lynch’s artistic vision for “Gardenback” was deeply atmospheric and surreal. It reflects his love for Kafka‘s Metamorphosis.

The story revolved around a happy couple, Henry and Mary. Their lives are disrupted when Henry is infected by an insect from another girl. This insect grows in Henry’s attic, a metaphor for his mind. It transforms into a monster that wreaks havoc on his home and life.

Why Did He Drop This Project?

In the world of filmmaking, an artist’s original vision can often be distorted by external influences. This was true for “Gardenback.” Lynch faced criticism from his advisers at AFI. They attempted to impose their ideas of realism and linearity onto his abstract narrative. They even tried to push him to expand it from a short to a feature film.

He got disgusted by the thought of transforming his intriguing abstraction into a typical monster movie. Lynch lost interest and decided to abandon the project.

This interference from the conservatory figures led to Lynch’s disillusionment and eventual departure from the institution. It was a pivotal moment in his career, teaching him the importance of protecting his creative integrity against external pressures.

Interestingly, elements of the abandoned “Gardenback” found new life in Lynch’s most consistent and beautifully realized work, ‘Eraserhead‘.

5. The Launch of Eraserhead

David Lynch’s journey in the world of filmmaking took a significant turn with the creation of his film ‘Eraserhead‘. Lynch had decided to create a project entirely on his own terms. The one that would reflect his artistic vision without any external meddling.

This bold decision might not have come to fruition if it wasn’t for Frank Daniel, the AFI dean. Recognising Lynch’s talent and unique perspective, Daniel persuaded him to return to the Conservatory. He offered him the freedom to create a project without interference. This significant endorsement provided Lynch with the opportunity he needed to fully express his creative prowess.

Conceived in an atmosphere of artistic freedom, ‘Eraserhead’ became the embodiment of Lynch’s personal anxieties and fears. In 2007, Lynch stated that “Believe it or not, Eraserhead is my most spiritual film“.

The script was deeply influenced by Lynch’s fear of fatherhood, as he was dealing with the reality of his daughter Jennifer being born with severely clubbed feet. This personal turmoil was masterfully woven into the surreal narrative of the film, making it an abstract yet profound exploration of the human condition.

Eraserhead‘ was also a testament to Lynch’s dedication and perseverance. Despite facing numerous obstacles such as running out of money, having to halt production temporarily, and going through the pain of a divorce, Lynch persisted.

  • His dogged determination resulted in a film that defied norms and challenged viewers with its striking dystopian landscape and unnerving sound design.
  • Lynch’s distinct style, marked by a continuous, humming, industrial sound, termed the “room tone,” heightened the eerie atmosphere of the film.
  • The public reception of ‘Eraserhead’ confirmed that there was indeed an audience for Lynch’s unique brand of filmmaking.
  • The first screening of ‘Eraserhead’ was met with an uncomfortable silence, followed by applause.
  • This reaction set the stage for Lynch’s future works, which continued to push boundaries and challenge conventional storytelling norms.

‘Eraserhead’ was more than just a film – it was a declaration of Lynch’s artistic identity and the start of a remarkable journey in filmmaking.


David Lynch’s Filmmaking Style- An Overview

David Lynch’s filmmaking style is so idiosyncratic that it has its own term: “Lynchian“. This term encapsulates the surreal, dreamlike aspects of his work, often shrouded in a haze of ambiguity, and punctuated with abstract visuals. That might initially seem devoid of meaning.

But, underneath the surface, Lynch’s films are vehicles for exploring real issues.

Unique Cinematography

The Lynchian aesthetic is one of visually striking cinematography. He pays meticulous attention to production design, lighting, and camera techniques. One of these distinct techniques is the Dutch angle, a method introduced by the German Expressionism Movement which uses skewed, tilted perspectives to convey a sense of madness and hysteria.

These techniques, coupled with Lynch’s collaboration with cinematographer Peter Deming and production designer Patricia Norris, have resulted in a visual style unique to Lynch himself.

Absolute Absurdism

Lynch’s films also often reflect on the absurdity and existential crises of existence. They confront the fundamental questions of human existence, exploring the meaning of life, identity, and the nature of reality.

His exploration of these existential themes invites viewers to confront their own anxieties and ponder the mysteries of existence.

Unprecedented Storytelling

His films are more than just a spectacle of the bizarre. They challenge traditional storytelling norms and delve into the depths of the human psyche. Hence, leaving an indelible mark on the world of cinema.

It is this ability to evoke emotions, provoke thought, and create unforgettable visuals, that has solidified Lynch’s status as a true visionary and a master of his craft.


On the aesthetic front, Lynch’s movies are typified by darkness, fogginess, shadows, and confined spaces. They often feature the ominous and somber style of many noirs and thrillers, with truly peculiar characters that engage in taut and dispassionate dialogue that borders on the schizoid or turns full-on absurd.

In short, David Lynch’s filmmaking style is an amalgam of the surreal and the every day, of dreamlike narratives and stark realism. It is a style that challenges, unsettles, and ultimately leaves the viewer with a profound sense of unease. But it is this very ability to unsettle that sets Lynch apart and has earned him a place in the annals of cinematic history.

David Lynch
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In Conclusion

We have journeyed through the life of David Lynch, an artist turned iconic filmmaker whose unique approach to storytelling has left an indelible mark on the film industry.

So, how David Lynch started making films? From his early days as a painter and a disillusioned traveler to his transformative years at the AFI Conservatory, Lynch’s path to filmmaking was anything but conventional.

His initial project, Gardenback, was born out of a painting but fell victim to external interference, leading him to leave the institution. However, Lynch returned to create Eraserhead, his first motion picture, without any interference, marking the beginning of his illustrious career in film1.

But as many critics and fans have noted, the key to appreciating Lynch’s work could be embracing this feeling of confusion rather than seeking absolute understanding.

David Lynch’s films may not always find broad appeal, and many are considered cult classics due to their seemingly impenetrable and complex nature4. But therein lies the beauty of his work. So, if you haven’t yet delved into the world of David Lynch, we encourage you to do so with an open mind. Each film is a unique experience, brimming with emotion, surrealism, and profound complexity.

So, why not take a step into the Lynchian universe and see where the journey takes you?