Movie direction is much more than calling “action!”
For over a decade, I have directed, produced and written six feature films, scores of music videos and a handful of short documentaries that have won awards and gained prestige within my industry. Even with such acclaim, I still sometimes grapple with what my main role is as a director on my movies.
As an indie filmmaker, I am pretty much involved with every aspect of my productions. However, over the last few years I have made a conscious effort to hone in on my responsibility as a director. As a result, it has helped me create more believable characters, and better movies overall.
Here are a few things that I would encourage you to consider before working on your next film project.
The creative in moral compass of your production.
It goes without saying, you are the creative driving force of your project. But far too many times, you can get bogged down with the technical and business aspects of the motion picture. It is important for you to keep on track. Keep the story and its purpose at the forefront of all of your conversations and dealings. With the movie idea first, you create a culture around the story that is much more exciting than – what kind of lens should I use for the shot?
When it comes to actors, they need nurturing throughout the entire process. If you are distracted by the technical details of production (i.e.: the camera system, props, wardrobe, make up, editing, money) all the time, you are neglecting the actors’ needs and intuitions. Hopefully, you can find an amazing team that will back you up, so you can free yourself to focus on the overall objective – tell an amazing story!
Workshop your actors!
The movie is truly made in pre-production. I always workshop my actors before we shoot, sometimes for several weeks. This allows you to build a relationship and dialog that is unique to the actor/director experience. An actor needs to trust their director, and by building that trust before you get to set will make a world of difference.
Plus, workshops help you make discoveries that you can pull from the subtext of a scene. Most of the greatest items in an actor’s performance is within the subtext. Actors love being directed in the subtext. Dialog is typically garbage, and without a meaningful subtext behind it, dialog will be actorish or even worse… flat.
Do your shotlist before you shoot!
It sounds like a no-brainer, but it always sunrises me to see so many filmmakers shooting their movies without a shotlist. Now to be fair, a shotlist can be tossed out or modified once you get to set- THIS HAPPENS OFTEN! You’ll have a scene blocked out and scheduled on paper only to find out it doesn’t work, or there is something better that what was in your head… That’s okay! Roll with it. But to show up without any plan is a recipe for disaster. The shotlist serves as a mental process in helping you tell the stories with a juxtaposition of images rather than “telegraphing” your scenes with expository and dialog. Without taking the time to create a shotlist, you are skipping a vital mental step in understanding how your film needs to flow and move forward. So plan ever shot out, and allow for modifications in set.
Try directing with motivations not demonstrations.
The last thing you ever want your actor to do is mimic what you are doing. You’re not an actor, in which case, leave it to the pros! When I direct, I work at trying to offer thoughts for actors such as a situation that would invoke a feeling, rather than telling the what to feel.
If I gave a scene where too lovers are meeting for the awkward first kiss, my direction may be to one of them “your mom and dad making out in front of you.” That invokes a particular feeling and image inside the actor’s mind that when they play “awkward” it’s more honest than me telling them to be awkward. The intention is more honest and raw.
In closing today, I suggest you taking more time to sit down and really examine your script and material. Take time to understand what you need to accomplish your mission. Again, the movie is made in pre-production!
Have a great weekend!
I hope you enjoyed this post. Best of luck. Happy Hunting!
Kelly Schwarze is an Emmy © Nominated filmmaker who has written directed and produced 6 feature films, dozens of music vides and commercials, and has owned successful media companies in Las Vegas.
Kelly also does one-on-one consulting for filmmakers. Click here for more details.
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