What do you want to achieve with your stories?
Nothing in particular. Or, at least, nothing directly. I despise the idea of a film having a particular message. It's not that I'm a relativist or that I think life is just one big black hole, completely the opposite. I just think that it ought be the conviction of any artist who is motivated by a deep relationship with beauty and primal truths of human existence to simply attempt to capture anecdotes of these things as is, as they appear particularly significant in any given moment. When the filmmaker's focus is microscopic in this sense, the lines on the individual puzzle pieces become much more lucid, and as a result, the "story" largely begins to compile itself, and typically in a manner much more charitable to reality and less perverted by ulterior motives.
Every piece of art that has stood the test of time has spawned from this: some sequence of ultra-concentrated sensorial experiences, each of which would likely appear to most people, at least initially, to be "beside the point" or excessive in some manner--whether overly analyzed, overly imagined, overly heartfelt, or plainly hedonistic. I will go so far as to say that this response by onlookers is necessary, since, for artists, in the practice of poetically observing the world, what we are actually doing is attempting to tap the infinite. This is a very hard pill to swallow for all human beings who, in being finite, repeatedly tend toward whatever gives us the quickest sense of safety and simplicity, even as we repeatedly find such things to be shallow and fleeting.
Filmmakers, like fine artists, have the unique privilege of being able to gather folks in a room and give them a focused, isolated experience of some piece of reality, particularly one that they may not get to experience, much less even ponder, otherwise. Ultimately though, what we do is no different than what a park ranger or an outdoorsy friend does when they organize a weekend trip to a place where city dwellers, if they are willing, can easily shift gears in their brains from the mathematic and material to the mystic and contemplative―which, ideally, are all parts to the same whole, but, more often than not, get disassociated, or practically divorced, from one another during the dissonant rhythms of the typical American workweek. Setting people up for this gear shift is all I am ever trying to "achieve" in anything artistic or even remotely creative that I do. Fundamentally, my goal in crafting a film (working countless hours, going down numerous rabbits holes, and literally pulling hair out of my head), is no different than what I hope to achieve this Thanksgiving in knocking people's socks off with the most cray-awesome gluten-free pumpkin pie ever (made with fresh pumpkin, pure whipping cream, and brandy, of course).
So, all-in-all, in a similar fashion to my response to the first question, it is less about what I can set out in front of me to achieve via a particular story and more about me remaining engaged in a continually growing relationship with reality, and thereafter some set of experiences, naturally, having something to say. And typically, it's not just one thing, but rather a lot of little things, that when compiled, I hope and pray will create some sort of coherent thought. Oftentimes, I don't even know quite what these things are until I'm finished with a project, and, even then, if I can put it in a nutshell or write it on a bumper sticker, then I'd have to figure I'd cut myself short in some manner, whether due to lack of patience or some other external pressure I allow to overcome me. It is this process, this kind of relationship, and the honesty therein, that allows for the creation of art that will continue to be revered and analyzed as long as it physically exists, even if that is only in the distant memory of a single person.
Obviously, every piece of art tells a story whether it is trying to or not. And whether or not that is a good storyis largely determined by the initial disposition of its creator. Now, please do not take me as saying it's a requirement of good artfor the artist to be analytically self-aware of his or her "initial disposition." Hardly. The cool thing about the creative process is that for it to genuinely arise and flourish in a person seems to necessitate empirical means. In other words, there must be a poetic, or call it "mystic," experience at the root of why a creator creates what they do. It seems you can't work your way to the real deal, the stuff that lasts, by mathematics alone. This opens the door of legitimacy for people to literally be struck with conviction like lightening and inadvertently create masterpieces, even while having very few technical skills. Now, obviously, this doesn't happen to everyone in such an instantaneous sense, but, regardless, it does happen. And furthermore, even though dependence on the reoccurrence of such a miracle is almost certainly a futile endeavor, the reality of this phenomenon should most certainly be taken as an important marker of the mystic and empirical soil that all long-standing art must be planted in, whatever is to sprout above the surface. Again, creators are often planted in this soil without even knowing it, even whilst spite and self-glorification simultaneously grow and spread like wild fungi. If some bit of conviction for some bit of truth is present somewhere, it is possible, for good art to be created by anyone, anywhere, anyplace, anytime. And that is pretty amazing.
Though I am quite obviously a geek for all this analytic exploration of what constitutes an authentic process to achievement or good storytelling, it's not like I sit down and go through all this 'ish every time I begin a new project. That wouldn't be very authentic :). If I did that, I would be leaning more on method and math as my saving grace and robbing myself of the wild and wondrous experience of being convicted and led by all sorts of incredible, amazing, and awesomely-ever-changing things―all that infinite glory, truth, and beauty stuff. Interestingly enough though, even whilst I understand it's not every artist's cup of tea, I find this sort of seemingly infinite, endless kind of analysis of art and creativity to be a beautiful echo of the evermore wondrously infinite things that are at the source of all existence. In a sense, I wrote as much as I did in response to these simple questions because somewhere along the way my analysis, call it "introspection," became art in and of itself. So I guess it all comes full circle.
My rule of thumb, though, in "chasing" the hope that my art will actually achieve something, is that if I am truly operating out of humble and honest disposition and true conviction, as much as I am able, whatever I am doing, whatever I'm making, people may not catch onto it right away but eventually they will get it. To recite an earlier chorus, it almost seems necessary―not for my sake, but for sake of the truth contained within the art. At least that's the standpoint I'm operating from now―what I'm hoping will prove true, haha. Time will only tell.