Tips For New DirectorsThursday, November 19, 2020
If you are new to directing, things might seem overwhelming at first. There are multitudes of pieces and parts that need to come together on a movie set, and the director is the master craftsman that shapes these into what will be the final film. But, where to begin?
As a director, you'll be expected to lead the charge when it comes to making decisions that affect the film. Each department head (Director of Photography/Cinematographer, Production Designer, Location Manager, Costume designer, etc.) will lead their own team to make things happen, but it all comes together as a part of the director's vision. The director is the person that will decide how all of these individual elements come together, and the manner in which they'll be presented to the viewer.
In addition to that, you will be expected to make MANY important decisions when directing, all of which will influence the final outcome of the success of your film. But when getting started, it's helpful to concentrate on only the handful of decisions that will have the most impact on your final product. In our experience, honing in on these few decisions below will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to determining the success of any directorial project.
Choose your project with your cast and audience in mind
There are two separate elements at play here. First, the audience--you will want to have a specific audience in mind in order for your project to have the biggest impact. An audience consisting of young children will have a different perspective on a film than an audience of 25-45 year olds. You need to know who is going to be watching your film so you can cater to their particular needs. This is where good market research comes in to play--this is where you can find out the wants and needs and lifestyle of certain demographics, in an effort to better give them what they are looking for in a film.
In addition to that, you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the cast of actors that you are working with. It helps to cast actors that are going to be appealing to your audience, but you also need to make sure that they have the experience to get the job done, as well as being a good fit for the roles that they are playing.
Go straight to the source (material)
A script or screenplay is often based on an existing story--maybe a novel, an old comic series, or a series of TV news broadcasts, for example. That original story is then called the source material, and the screenplay of a film is developed around that.
Even though the screenwriter may have added his or her own voice to the story, or concentrated on certain key elements in order to make things play better on camera, it's always a good idea to review any existing source material that a screenplay was based on. This is a great way to pick up extra facts and nuances that will help inform you as an artist. Even if all of these small facts and details don't make it into the film, or the audience doesn't pick up on it, by including them, it will make the filmmaking process much truer to the original circumstances that you are trying to recreate, and add a heightened level of realism that is very difficult to attain any other way.
Determine the voice of your film
A sucessful story will have a strong narrative that is delivered in one person's voice. Think about how confusing it would be if a film's story was told through each individual character's point of view--each character only has the bits and pieces of information that they have seen or heard, and the audience would be forced to rely on how each individual character interperts that information in order to string together the chain of events that makes up a story.
A good film film will have just one voice. Whose voice that is usually the choice of the director. Sometimes it can be obvious by reading a screenplay that the events are very much told from one particular person's point of view, usually the protagonist. But it is up to the director of the film to make that decision.
Once you decide which character's voice the story will be told from, it is much easier to decide what parts of the story need to be included in the film. If we are watching a film from the protagonist's point of view (in terms of storytelling), then you should concentrate on the parts of the story that most directly involve that protagonist.
Even when other bits and pieces of information are included in the final film to help set the scene for the narrative, it is almost always one singular person's voice that makes up the storytelling components.
Choose a strong visual concept to pull the film elements together
If a film is made up of style and substance, then the substance is the actual story that's being told, and the style is HOW that story is being told. This includes all of the visual and audio elements that are included in the film.
The concept of the film is the distinctive manner in which the visual elements come in to play to help tell the story of the film. So all of the different shots, costumes, locations, set design, and any component that will help to show the viewer the story that you're trying to tell. Developing a concept is most often done by choosing a piece of art, or a certain distinctive style, that can visually personify the innate underlying emotions that serve to help tell your story.
For example, the story of a family torn apart by the actions of the mother might best be told based on the visual concept of Picasso'a famous painting "The Tragedy". One look at this work of art sums up all of the emotions that one might expect to encounter when going through some sort of familial hardship. The painting is from his famous blue period, and the shades of blue add to the melancholy feeling we get from looking at the image. The mother is standing apart from the rest of the family, and both parents are looking down, obviously upset by something that we don't see in the painting. All the while the child goes on playing and clapping his hands because he is too young to understand what has happened.
This painting could easily serve as the visual concept of a film that carried similar themes. The director could use blocking that mirrors that of the painting, where the mother character is frequently standing apart from the rest of the family. The blue tones could be represented in the costumes the characters were wearing and the location--the blue sky set against the blue from a lake. Color grading could help to render more of a blue tone in the grass and the highlights throughout the frame.
The whole point of a visual concept is to set a mood that will help to tell the story. This is just one example of how having a strong visual image can do just that.
Pick 4-5 keystone scenes that hold the film together
It's easy to get bogged down in all of the various scenes and shots that are required to tell your story. And while each frame is important, some scenes are definitely more important than others when it comes to driving the story. These are your keystone scenes.
These are the most important parts of your story that without them, the house of cards that makes up your film would come tumbling down. These 4-5 scenes HAVE to happen in order for the story to take place. If we were to break down Hitchock's "Psycho" into its keystone scenes, we might include the following:
- the scene where Marion decides to take the money and run
- the scene where she checks in to the Bates Motel
- the scene where Norman and Marion discuss putting his mother in the mad house ("we all go a little mad sometimes...")
- the famous shower scene where she gets murdered
- the final scene where the voice of Norman's mother narrates his inner monologue ("she wouldn't even harm a fly")
All of the other scenes in the film are important to telling the story, but without this handful of scenes, there would BE no story. It's important as a director to be able to identify these scenes early on, and carefully think through how best to represent them in your final film.
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