A film director is one of the most coveted jobs in filmmaking. It is easy to direct, right?  You get to call the shots. All you do is call ‘action,’ ‘cut,’ and ‘quiet on the set.’ Now all that’s left is to shoot several movies and you will be mentioned with the likes of Spielberg, Lee, Duvernay, Tarantino, Nolan, and Cameron, right?

Not so fast there. The amount of disillusion in some new directors is mind boggling. Anyone thinking they can walk onto a set without ever taking a class, course, or reading a book, article, blog, or knowing the definition of film directing is in for a rude awakening. Think about it. What industry allows you to take a position before fulfilling educational requirements? Oddly there are a few and the film industry is one of them.

What Do Film Directors Do?

To date, the best definition I’ve heard is – “Directors are the creative leads of the film. They hold the creative vision throughout the whole process, from pre-production through to the final edit.” Directors do this and so much more.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what directors do and, depending on how large the production is, they are expected to do more.  Spike Lee has talked candidly about the many hats he had to wear while making “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986. Not only did he write, direct, and act, but he catered at times. Let’s just say, the only time you’ll focus solely on directing is when you have every other position filled with competent crew members.

Following are five things that every director MUST know and do:

Know the Script

I can’t express this enough. Directors should know what happens before each scene they are about to shoot. They should know what happens after each scene they are shooting. They should know what is happening in each scene being shot.

Actors are going to ask you. Not because they want to test you but because they are focusing on being present in the moment so they can deliver outstanding performances. They need to keep the order of events straight since most movies are shot out of sequence. Nothing looks more unprofessional than a director who has to fumble with their screenplay every time an actor asks a question about what’s next.

Know What the Story is About

This is different from knowing the script’s order. This is different from the plot or summary. This is about theme. What is the theme of the story? I went into the relevance of themes on an earlier post titled, “What is Theme?”

As I mentioned in the post, themes are the blueprint of film. They are its DNA. Having a critical understanding of the theme helps directors shape the story and performances. Every solid story has one even if you are unaware of it.

Be Prepared for EACH Scene

What happens if an actor gives a performance that doesn’t have any hutzpah? What happens if the actor gives a surface performance and the inner life is missing’?  What do you do if they overact? How can you help the actor if they give flat performances? The actor is stuck so you explain the character’s back story, hoping that will help. It does not. What do you do? Exactly. Without proper training your project can suffer if you can’t help the actor work through these artistic struggles. Directing is a craft.

So, it’s important to know:
  1. The use of ‘as if’ and imagery tools as adjustment can help the actor.
  2. Verbs are better than adjectives when discussing playable intentions.
  3. What is the emotional event and how it can used in a scene when dissecting it with the actor?
  4. What is result orientated directing and why should it be avoided?

Respect the Craft

Directing is a craft. It is a skill that can be learned and the more you practice the better you get. You can read books for knowledge and watch videos for information but doing is where it’s at. Learn the craft of acting as well. This will give some insight to the craft of acting and difficulty actors have.

Be Collaborative

Finally, filmmaking is a collaborative art form. Be open to any and all suggestions from your actors. You cast them for a reason. They have skills and talent and are yearning to be utilized. They are not marionettes simply here to play out the artistic aim of the director.

Saki Bomb

If you want to learn more about the craft of directing read: Directing Actors by Judith Weston, John Badham on Directing: Notes from the set of Saturday night fever, War Games and More

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