Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 2

May 20, 2009 at 10:25 am 3 comments

On Crew:

Assemble your crew early, and do it carefully.  As a director, you should understand that you can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything by yourself.  Your primary resonsibility on the set is to the actors.  Everyone else on the crew has another boss, the actors have you. So, in order to make sure your vision comes across clearly in the movie, you have to make sure your crew knows what they’re doing since you won’t be able to micromanage every aspect of the process.  Just like with actors, passion comes first; a less-skilled cameraman that is enthusiastic about the project might be more beneficial than an experienced cameraman who may not give a damn about your vision.

On the set, the director is like the American president.  Just like with any commander-in-chief, they have a cabinet of officials to help them out.  The first person you should look to hire is an assistant director.  The AD is like your Chief of Staff, they’ll help you set your agenda for the day, manage your resources, boss around the production assistants, and keep you on schedule.  You worry about telling the story, they worry about the time it takes to tell it.  I’ve worked with one AD who took my watch from me so I wouldn’t constantly be looking at it.  To my surprise, it was very helpful, as I was more focused on talking to the actors and the other crew, while he would let me know what our time looked like.  The title “assistant director” is a bit misleading, as generally the AD doesn’t do any directing; it should be more like “director’s assistant”.

On the set of the Academy of Art short "Chop Chop Silly Billy"

On the set of the Academy of Art short "Chop Chop Silly Billy"

In order to make your movie look good visually, you’ll need a strong cinematographer.  The Director of Photography is responsible for the look of the movie, and everything visual within the frame, minus the acting, should be approved of by the DP.  To continue with the Presidential Cabinet analogy, your DP is like your Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The Chairman works closely with the other Joint Chiefs from different branches of the military; on the set, the DP is in charge of the grips, gaffers, electricians, cameramen etc., plus they work closely with the set designers, costumers, make-up artists, etc.  If the AD is spending his or her time yelling at PA’s and chasing after runners, the DP will generally be by the director’s side during filming, making sure everything the lens sees is exactly what the DP and the director wants.  Because of the responsibility given to the DP, the director must trust them completely; in a perfect world, the director should never touch a camera (save for looking through the viewfinder or something), let the cameraman handle the the movement, and the DP is their boss.

The producer is, in the current Hollywood studio system, the head honcho of the production.  They have a hand in assembling the creative team (which includes the director), managing the budget, overseeing the marketing campaign, and finally the home video release.  It is said that the producer is the main driving force behind a project, which is true in many cases, as the producer is the one that finds the project and gathers the talent needed to make it.  In Hollywood, projects are started when producers buy scripts, then finds the director needed to make it happen.  In indie and student-level film-making, the producer is like the blocker to the director’s running back.  If there’s an issue, the producer’s job is to intercept it before it becomes a problem for the director. On the set, directors have enough food on their plate, and any more would potentially have a negative impact on the director’s performance, akin to a stomach problem.  Producers must also be good in talking to people, as they are the ones who will have to deal with getting locations, permits, free stuff (like food), etc.

Shooting the Academy of Art short "It Isn't Working", Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Diane Baker co-instructing

Shooting the Academy of Art short "It Isn't Working", Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Diane Baker co-instructing

In post-production, you’re going to spend lots of time with your editor.  In general, I’d say it’s unwise to edit your own movie, as you may be too attached to certain shots or scenes that aren’t needed (a lot of student filmmakers make the mistake of writing, directing, and editing their movie.  Not that it’s always a problem, but very few are actually good at doing all three, especially writing).  As with your DP, you must make sure you let the editor know what you want, but don’t be hovering over their shoulder all the time.  You do not want to be that guy.  The art of editing motion pictures has its own set of rules, and while it benefits the project overall if the director knew those rules, it’s the job of the editor to enact them.  Let them do a cut the way they see it, then work from there.  Make sure you give them plenty of time before a final cut is due, in order to experiment and to see what works best for the story.

Of course, there’s bound to be problems.  I’ve seen more shoots deteriorate due to conflicts with other crew members than because of anything else.  You must listen to your crew, because they have a different perspective on the project than you do.  If there’s a specific shot you want, and your DP or AD is telling you it may not be wise to get it (due to time constraints, or the necessity of the shot as it relates to story), take it into consideration.  It’s similar to working with actors: try it how they want it, then try it how you want it.  If time isn’t a luxury (which it often isn’t), it’s time to make some touch decisions.  Ultimately, it’s your vision, as director, that is guiding the movie, so you have to make sure each and every crew member, no matter their position on the totem pole, understands it.  As Sun Tzu once said, “If the orders are not clear, it is the fault of the general.”

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 1 – On Actors

Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 3 – On Story and Screenwriting

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Directing: What I’ve Learned So Far, Part 1 Review: Terminator Salvation

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