Independent Filmmaking – I Wanna Direct!

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke…Mother Teresa arrives at the pearly gates, God calls out to her.

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“Theresa! How wonderful to see you! You have been a favorite of mine, so kind, so selfless, so close to god, I mean, to me….So tell me, now you are here and the kingdom of heaven is yours, what would you like to do first?”

To which she replies…

“Well, what I really want to do is Direct.”

This is an old, old, old joke, and it still makes me chuckle.
But it has some truth to it, especially in Hollywood.

So what is the big deal about directing?

When you are the director good or bad, it’s your name on the poster, and although the writers name is in there too, its your name that will be remembered, along with the title of the film.
It’s your movie, short or long, your creation, your interpretation of the writers work, your vision. Film is a Directors medium.

So how do you do it?

A good question, but the better one would be…

So how do you do it right?

Aaahhh, lets ask a few heroes shall we?

The directing of a picture involves coming out of your individual loneliness and taking a controlling part in putting together a small world. A picture is made. You put a frame around it and move on. And one day you die. That is all there is to it. – John Huston
One of the great things about being a director as a life choice is that it can never be mastered. Every story is its own kind of expedition, with its own set of challenges. – Ron Howard
A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant and a bastard. – Billy Wilder

Being a director of film is very different from directing TV, where you are primarily the hired help, the producer being king. In film, it’s the Director who runs the show, whether the project originated with them or not. Keeping that in mind, here are my simple rules for directing

Get a great story/script

Know the story inside and out

Know the characters inside and out

Write a shot list/storyboard so everyone else knows whats going on when you shoot

Communicate with all your department heads all of the time

Work with the actors to make sure they have everything they need to give the best performances they can.

Be willing to change dialogue, scenes, locations, characters, if it improves the film, don’t be married to anything…

Balance your visuals, too many of any one thing is too much

Remember the basics….
Wide is for establishing something, medium for groups and close ups for seeing expressions or detail, this doesn’t mean you cant be artistic, its just good to return to

Remember the music!!!

Surround yourself with great people who know much more than you do

And the number one rule for great directing….get great actors, great performances and get them on film

You might think that all of the above is logic personified, but there are many, many films out there, that have been able to raise a lot of money and get made that have several of these rules clearly missing form their agenda’s.

With very, very independent film, these rules can be the difference between starting, finishing and going broke trying.

The one thing I have learned, the hard way, is that if it’s your name on the poster, then you bloody well better be sure that you make exactly what you want. Maybe Directors have to have huge egos, and be completely narcissistic, but then if you had that kind of pressure and that kind of passion, I guess so might you.

Not that you have to be a jerk, just focused and driven and completely right about every decision you make, or at least pretend to be right, everyone looks to you and they don’t need your self doubt hanging in the wind for all to see.
The director is king, queen and emperor, but not president, no one votes you in…you are a dictatorship…and a sublime and omnipotent one.

When I get to the pearly gates, I want to have a big smile on my face, and just go fishing….but I’ll take my camera along, just in case.