Herr Direktor, Part One

Birds

Even before the advent of Youtube mania, everyday people were granted a deeper insight into the production side of things through featurettes and documentaries, and now filmmaking (not just watching) is part of the social consciousness. This is largely positive because it means filmmaking is no longer an exclusive (mostly male) club, but a medium that can be used by almost anyone.

On the downside, the rise of the independent filmmaking phenomenon has also meant a kind of degradation in the professional expertise and many misconceptions have developed about the roles on the film set, particularly with regards to the responsibilities of the all-mighty film director.

Ever since the the celebrity rise of the director as a media personality (rather than just a background orchestrator), the role has become distorted to mean a kind of rockstar mastermind by whose will a film rises or falls. While it is accurate to say that a film’s quality is ultimately the responsibility of the director, there are a number of important factors that need to me reiterated about the job and what it truly means to sit in that chair.

This is by no means a complete list of items, and definitions will change from one production to another, but the core elements should hold true in any current example of filmmaking.

The Director is not the film

The director is the captain of the ship, and as such should command the respect of his crew, but the production is not typically his/hers to control unless the director holds a producer/executive producer stake in the production. Directors are hired on by Producers as storytellers and “actor wranglers”, they are entrusted with the execution of a grand operation in the vein of an orchestral concert master.

This metaphor is particularly apt because it encapsulates the most crucial skill necessary for a quality director; the ability to create a harmony between the many creative and technical departments within a given production, and to conduct them. Furthermore your job as a director is principally to assist the producers in bringing an idea to the screen, moulded after your own creative aesthetic.

The Director cannot function in a silo

Popular stereotypes would have us believe that directors spend a majority of their time sitting on labeled chairs with winter jackets and headphones, sipping coffee and yelling out orders for the majority of the production. In truth directing is a very mentally, emotionally and physically demanding job that requires a person to typically go 10-18 hrs straight (per day). This time is spent almost entirely in thought and problem-solving mode, to say nothing of the talking and negotiating that has to be done, all while keeping the eye firmly fixed on the “bigger picture”.

Communicating properly is not an option for the director, it is absolutely paramount. Banish any notions of running a one-man/one-woman show, delegating and deciding a film into being; this will be a disaster. The director lives and dies by the trust and dynamic that he/she builds with the crew from day one.

The assistant director is perhaps the most precious of these contacts, but any director worth their salt will testify that they simply cannot succeed without every single member of the crew, no matter how small their responsibility. Like sports coaching or running a kitchen, your success is ultimately decided by your ability to inspire trust, loyalty, and respect based on your competence as a communicator.

To be continued.

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