The first time I directed something I wrote, I thought I was going to be awful. I mean I thought I was going to suck. I was terrified. How am I going to do this? What will I say to the crew? How will I speak to the actors? I tossed and turned and didn’t sleep a wink.
I showed up on set and the cinematographer said, “Where do you want the camera?”
Oh, I think it’s important to mention the size of the film shoot here to put things in perspective.
Total crew: 3
Total number of actors: 1
Yup. That’s all it took to reduce me to a 4-year-old boy crying for his mother. Well, on the inside of course. If I were actually crying for my mommy on a film set, they’d have to cart me away. But I digress…
The point here is that I started off a bundle of nerves thinking that I could never be a good director. But once I stepped on set, from that “Umm….” moment forward, I was hooked. I loved it. And soon, not only were my films winning awards at festivals, I even garnered a Best Director award.
As a writer, going from the written page and your imagined world to the real world of a film set can be daunting. But it can also be exhilarating. Whether it’s bringing to life a web series you have conceived, a short film you have crafted, or tackling the adventure of directing one of your feature scripts, breathing life into something you have imagined only in your mind and seeing it realized on the big screen is one of the most fantastic experiences you may ever have in show business. Scratch that. It could be one of the most fantastic experiences you may ever have in life.
Like many things in life, particularly the formidable ones, the ones that have you saying, “I wouldn’t even know where to begin,” it’s important to give yourself some tools to start your journey.
Breaking something big into bite-sized pieces is usually the best avenue for success. The saying goes: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. In this series of articles, we’ll be delving into the world of directing (one bite at a time) from shot lists to storyboards to working with actors. Along the way, I’ll share with you some tips and tricks I’ve learned in my own journey.
It’s said that a movie is made three times: when you write it, when you shoot it, and when you edit it. As writers, we clearly appreciate the first time a movie is made. In order to gain an appreciation for the second, you must take your writer’s hat off and put your director’s hat on.
To do this, let’s consider: what exactly does a director do? If you say the director works with actors, you’d be right. If you say the director works with the cinematographer to craft shots, you’d be right. And if you said that the director works with the costume and production designers in imagining the look of the film, you’d be right again. On the other hand, if you said a director works with Einstein's general theory of relativity to further our understanding of the curvature of space and time, you’d likely be wrong. But I digress…
The point is, a director is involved in every facet of the film, from casting in pre-production to editing in post-production.
As such, the director must be knowledgeable in all of these areas. Must you be an expert in each area? Must you know more about special effects or editing than the special effects artist or the editor? No. But you must know something about each. A director can be thought of as a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
By having some knowledge in every area, you’re on your way to becoming the single most important thing that a director can be: a skilled communicator.
When Quentin Tarantino was first starting his career, he asked renowned director Terry Gilliam (known to be a master of creating visually mesmerizing and original films), how he was able to fashion films with such a specific vision. He was curious where Terry acquired his vast knowledge of all the different aspects of filmmaking. Terry replied that you don’t need to know exactly how to do everyone’s job. You just need to hire smart people and be able to communicate to them what you want. They will figure out how to make what you want happen.
That was the light-bulb moment for Quentin. He realized that he didn’t need to know how to do everyone’s job on a film set. He just needed to have the skill to be able to communicate his vision.
Over the course of this series of blogs, we’ll dive into the craft of directing and provide you with the knowledge and tools to confidently communicate your vision. We’ll do it exactly the way you would eat an elephant: one bite at a time (and we’ll keep our discussions of the general theory of relativity to a minimum, promise).