Archive for the ‘Film Directing’ Category

Toning It Up

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

“To me, the single biggest challenge for a director is consistency of tone.  You create tone by a series of random answers to thousands of questions.  Sometimes the way you answer the questions can be contradictory within the movie, and that’s where tone comes in.  Is this surreal or a comedy or a thriller?  It’s a hard line to walk.” – Barry Sonnenfeld on Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye”

No matter what kind of film you’re making – feature, short, website video, TV pilot, marketing video, even product video – you’re still a film-maker.  Which means you have to do the job of the film-maker, the director.  That’s why feature films are “A Film by…” the director.  Not the writer.  Not the actor.  Not the editor.  Not the financier.  Not the composer.

The director.  That’s the film-maker, if a film is operating correctly.  But why?

Because, as Sonnenfeld noted, only one person on a shoot has the overall vision, the sense of tone which must be applied to every response you give to the thousand of questions which come your way.  The estimable Frank Capra, as I’ve noted previously, said it best.  The director’s (film-maker’s) job is to make decisions.

It’s not that you’re the only one who has a vision of the film in his or her mind.  The DP, the editor, the writer, all certainly envision the film from beginning to end.  But as the film-maker, you are the only one who is in direct contact with every department at every level of the film and from whom they expect and need answers to the continual, myriad questions which arise in any production.

In other words, those answers may or may not make sense to the production designer or the costumer.  They may not be what the writer intended.  They may not be what the actor is comfortable performing.  But as long as they make sense to you – and are uniformly grounded in a consistent, deeply held sensibility for the tone of your film – you’re the film-maker and you’re doing your job.

Decision Time

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

“You have to adapt to the situation.  But once you’ve decided, you mustn’t waste any time.    Usually your first intuition turns out to be right.”  Actor Leopold Trieste (The White Sheik) on Federico Fellini

The best summation I’ve ever heard of a director’s job came from Frank Capra.  He said that the director must make decisions.  Half of the time they’re right, half of the time they’re wrong (hopefully most of us do better than that!).  But it’s the immediate response, relayed clearly and intelligibly, which is required.  This goes for feature films, TV, website videos, and marketing videos.  It even applies in stage work, for both rehearsal and technical issues.

Make the decision.  Without hesitation.  There’s a dual purpose for this.  First and foremost, clear and instantaneous choices make you a leader.  There’s no better way to show you’re in control.  If you waffle, confidence wanes all around you, so much so that you can actually feel it.  And the other artists in the crew will swiftly begin to chart their own courses – rather than trust you, they’ll start to do things comfortable to them.  Your DP will begin to light and frame to suit him, rather than collaborate with you to deliver what’s best for your overall vision of the film.  Your actors will keep nodding at your adjustments and then proceed to do what they know works for them.  You’ll come up with an interesting but difficult idea – and instead of your crew diving in to get it done, you’ll get chafing and resistance.

The other reason for quick directorial decision-making is more ethereal.  As Obi-Wan Kenobi famously uttered, “Let the Force be with you.”  If you’ve done your work in preparation – which carries with it all of your training and experience – your decisions will be informed by a far deeper knowledge than if you hesitate and intellectualize out of fear.

Trust what you know and dive in.  It’s the only way to succeed as an artist.

The Headless Horseman Rides (for 85 minutes)

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

In Washington Irving’s famous 1820 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod Crane is chased out of town by the headless ghost of a Hessian soldier who finally throws his head across the river, hitting Ichabod and assuring he’ll never return.  Ultimately, however, it’s clear that the horseman was really his competitor for the affections of the town beauty, bopping the frightened Crane with a pumpkin… and ending up with the girl.

In other words, the Headless Horseman was a fake, who was really using his head very well.  If only that was the case with the film screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this evening – U2 3D.