Monday, 8 December 2008

What is directing?

I often ask myself the question - Do people actually know what directing is?
According to critics, reviewers and film buffs, it often seems to be an all-encompassing term that rides roughshod over every other contributor to a film or TV show. As if the smallest fart has come from the directors deeply artistic mind, and his only.
Now. I am supposing at this point, you are thinking, "er... Dan, surely you have offloaded a full barrel into your lovely size-9 foot?"
Well. No.
Because I want to tell you what directing actually is.

I know for a fact that there are plenty of cinematographers I've met who secretly gnash their teeth when certain shots are praised to the hilt by film critics. Particularly, when those same shots are ones that the cinematographer has composed and lit with a cursory "yeah... nice" from the director, as he minces past the monitor on his mobile phone.

I also know for a fact that many editors have saved a film or show with their input on shots or sequences or pace ideas. They have to sit at home, crying into their gin, as the director is interviewed about their wonderful idea in a film, without so much as a mention.

Now. you could argue that a director hires all these people to do a brilliant job, and therefore it is HE/SHE who should indeed take the credit for his foresight in hiring these people.

It's true to a certain extent but having studied directors, I have seen there are many different types of director with different skills. here's a quick breakdown.

'The complete package' - He knows what lens to use. He's already storyboarded everything. He understands people. He can bring a story to life. He probably even has ideas on costumes, art, effects, music, sound design - everything.
Luc Besson is such a director.
Some creatives like this kind of all-knowing direction. Others prefer a director who lets them do as they please.

At the other end of the spectrum.

'The journeyman' (no names). His agent puts him up for the job. The producer has already hired everyone. He's hired because he can 'cover a story' with enough shots within a budget. He does what he's told. Nothing more nothing less. Hopefully, the DP, the editor, the art director, the composer etc etc will bring something special to the party to save this being the dull film it will surely be.

Yeah, Dan. great. But what does a director do?

So. you've got a script. It needs converting into shots that will add up to bring the story to life.
First thing is to make sure you TELL the story. If someone slips a coin in someone's pocket and at some point in the story that coin has to mean something, then by God, you'd better make sure you get a close-up of that coin going into the pocket.
It's not rocket science.
But with things often shot out of sequence. Time pressures. Cost issues that limit the amount of shots you have... you have to be careful to make sure you get those crucial shots.

Now here's the trick.
You've then got to put your own spin on how these shots are composed and staged. Does the coin glint when it goes into the pocket? Is the speed at which it's put into the pocket important? If the moment is important, should you get a close-up of the guy with the coin to show what he's thinking? Do you want that to be a BIG moment or a lesser, more subtle one?
It's about loads of choices.
Later on down the line, you'll need to decide if the edit holds too long on the shot, or whether you can show the barest minimum to get the point across.
Then you'll want to know if there is any music to underscore what's happening.

And then even further down the line.... You may need to decide whether the whole coin issue is relevant enough to keep in the film, when you have to make cuts for pace/length.

So what's directing?
It's storytelling with every element available to you.
Then it's making choices as to what elements to use, and how to use them.

Which is why, every single project throws up new choices and new challenges, and means you will never ever really stop learning the craft of directing.

But, directing is also about working with great people, and giving them credit where it's due.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Dan Turner said...

My first spam!

How sweet.
Sharon, you have made my day. I assure you I will be visiting autoloans and getting myself into all sorts of financial trouble, and will equally endeavor to ruin my friends lives too by passing on the link.

Bless you.