SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE AS A DIRECTOR
As a director, being prepared is key. Every day you’re going to field questions about many different aspects of the picture. People will have questions about the script, makeup, wardrobe, props, questions about character choices and certainly questions about dialogue. If you’re not prepared and know every aspect of the picture, you will quickly find yourself drowning in the minutia of it all.
I am great at being prepared. I know my script well, plan out my shots and arrive at the film set prepared to answer any questions that may come my way. I might not always have the right answer, but I will certainly have one.
Should I wear the blue top or this red one?
Red, definitely go with red.
For years I thought that being prepared would make me a great director. I would know the ins and outs of the picture and could guide people to produce the results we’re looking for. I would be able to show up on set, let the actors play and we’d capture the images as expected. This isn’t the case. It’s more than that.
So there you are, you know the script inside and out, you have answers to all the questions, you show up on set ready to work and your shot list is ready to go. What more could you possibly do to improve as a director?
KNOW THE SCENE
Knowing the script is one thing, but we need to take this a little further. You need to really know the scene that’s being filmed and at a very intimate level.
Whatever scene you’re shooting, you need to really dive into it. What is the purpose of the scene, as it plays out on it’s own? What is the purpose of the scene in the grand scheme of the film? These are two VERY different ways to view a scene and you need to understand both.
An argument between two characters can be motivated by one character wanting the other character to do something that they are refusing. As the scene sits on it’s own, that's the purpose of the scene. In the grand scheme of the film, why does the character want the other to do this thing they are refusing? Why are they refusing? This is a deeper level of understanding that will help you to make the creative decisions necessary to execute on your vision.
With a deeper understanding of the scene, we need to continue down the rabbit hole. What is the tone of the scene? Again, on it’s own and in the grand scheme? The scene might be fueled with anger and drama, but could be very comedic in the overall story. Should the scene build over time or open up with fists flying? Should it play out slow and methodically or fast paced like a car chase? All good questions and all need answers to help guide your decision making.
With purpose and tone thought through, we need to put ourselves in the characters shoes, literally. What are the goals of the scene for each character? What are the motivations? How should the dialogue play out? What are the movements?
Knowing a character thoroughly will help you to direct an actor properly. If you think about it, how can you give an actor notes, on a character decision, if the actor knows the character better than you do?
Lastly, we need to remember one thing, transitions. This is a big one where you don’t want to drop the ball. How will the scene you’re working on transition? Not only to the next scene, but from the scene prior?
You need to understand how to come into the scene and a lot of the decision could be informed by what happens at the end of the scene prior. Think about the transition and how you’re going to connect these scenes. Not only in picture and sound but also tone and pace. Does the audience need a breather from the comedy or tension? Maybe you want to give them that break with the transition. Do you want to keep tension high and ride the wave? Jump right into the action and let it go.
The same applies for the transition into the next scene. How do you want to get out of this scene and into the next one. In picture, audio, tone and pace.
Knowing the scene is key to directing properly, but it’s only half the battle. Everyone still has to execute.
GETTING THE RESULTS
Honestly, I’ve always taken a bit of a back seat when it comes to an actors' freedom within a scene. I set up the scene, let them work through it, ask questions they might have and then we’re ready to go. I don’t provide feedback or notes unless absolutely necessary. I think this is a misstep on my part.
Often I have found, actors play a scene much more quickly than they need to. The pacing always seems to be off. Actors love to have dialogue but are far too eager to get the words out of their mouth. In doing so, the scene will feel scripted, exactly what we don’t want to happen. It’s important to intervene as a director and get everyone on the same page.
I’ve also noticed that tone and pacing seem to differ in everyone. The way I see a scene play out is going to be different than others who read the same scene. That’s why they say the same script will result in two different movies when produced by two different directors.
It’s important to get everyone on the same page. You just did all the work understanding a scene, preparing for the day, what's the point if you don’t share that knowledge with others?
Prior to shooting a scene, I suggest having a meeting to discuss what’s happening. Walk the team through all of the pre-work you’ve done. Get them to see the vision as you see it. Once you all have the destination in sight, it’s easier to move towards it as a team.
It all boils down to preparedness and execution. You need to be over prepared for the scene you're shooting but it’s all for not if you don’t share that information with the team. They may have a different opinion of how the scene should play out and that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s YOUR vision coming to life. Get the team to see YOUR vision.
Execution is everything. No matter what you’re prepared for in this life, if you never execute, the vision is never realized. The dream never made a reality. Progress is never made. Prepare...and then execute.
- The Failed Filmmaker