Ciment: You are a chess player and I wonder if chess-playing and its logic have parallels with what you are saying?
Kubrick: First of all, even the greatest International Grandmasters, however deeply they analyse a position, can seldom see to the end of the game. So their decision about each move is partly based on intuition. I was a pretty good chess-player but, of course, not in that class. Before I had anything better to do (making movies), I played in chess tournaments at the Marshall and Manhattan Chess Clubs in New York, and for money in parks and elsewhere.
Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you’re in trouble.
When you’re making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set, But a few seconds’ thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to valuate and put them to use tends to be the real work.
<<< Stanley Kubrick playing chess on the set of Doctor Stangelove
*In his youth Kubrick supported himself a chess hustler in New York City parks. He spent as much as 12 hours a day playing chess and earned $20 a week. Kubrick not only had to master a demanding game but also the meta-game of convincing opponents that he was less expert than he was. (…)