Steve McQueen
Miller Mobley Steve McQueen

Next up in the Hollywood Reporter's roundtable discussions is the Directors panel. THR assembled Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave"), Paul Greengrass ("Captain Phillips"), David O. Russell ("American Hustle"), Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity"), Ben Stiller ("The Secret Life of Walter Mitty") and Lee Daniels ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") to talk the craft. Interview highlights below.

As has been the case in previous years, no women make it on to this year's panel. Yes, this is often partly due to scheduling--Kathryn Bigelow couldn't make the session last year. But it would have been nice to see, say, writer-director Nicole Holofcener -- part of the Writers round table -- also weighing in for this one.

On the hardest thing about being a director:

David O. Russell: To not know what your inspiration is. And that was hardest for me about 10 years ago. I was very humbled to sort of lose my way after Three Kings, in my personal life and in my professional life, and it really made me a better filmmaker and, I think, a better person. I feel I found a kind of story with a kind of character that's been three movies deep now -- The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

Paul Greengrass: That kind of crisis, directors don't talk about enough. I had the same. I had a real problem trying to marry up where I began, which was in documentaries, with features. When I got into my 40s, I had a real crisis, 'cause I felt I'd lost touch with what had got me shooting in the first place. I'd spent 10 years making films and getting further and further away from my point of view. And the funny thing is, it felt like I was getting worse. And it was only when I had to go through that struggle, that crisis, over a number of films [that I found] what was truly inside. You suddenly feel free.
Alfonso Cuaron: Your process, it's very similar to what happened to me. You do your first films with a lot of enthusiasm. I was lucky that my second film [1995's A Little Princess] was a blissful experience. And then I got a bit engaged in the machinery. I forgot that I used to do my own stuff, and I became this reader of screenplays that they were sending to me. And I started forgetting that I had a voice. It started to become more about the industry. And then I did a film that was a horrible experience, Great Expectations (1998). That is a film that I should have not done. I passed many times, and then I ended up saying yes for the wrong reasons.
On the toll directing takes on their personal lives:

Daniels: I'm disconnected with my kids during that time, which I regret, and with my health. I'm in a bubble with my boyfriend, disconnected, too. So when you come up for air and you're out of the edit room, you got issues to deal with. It takes its toll for me. I give it my all… I made the mistake of doing two movies back-to-back, and it was a very big mistake, because when I came up for air, it was [for] a very brief time to catch my kids, who are getting ready to go to college, and they were in need of me.

Stiller: I literally just went through that with my son. And it's hard because you can't rationalize it. You can't explain it to them because show business, acting, these things don't have regular hours, and sometimes you have to go away. [When] I grew up, my parents were actors, and I grew up experiencing them going away to work, and there is no way that you can explain that to a kid. It's very hard to do it.

On the difference between a good director and a great director:

McQueen: The other day I was watching [John Ford's] The Searchers, and there is that bit where John Wayne has this thing with his brother's wife -- within this [male-oriented] story of his adventure to get his niece back. To have that worldview but at the same time have the glimpses of intimacy? That's just a great director. 'Cause he's not afraid of his feminine side as much as his masculine side.