Like any position on a film set, the job of a director has many intricate facets that need to be carefully considered before one can make any credible attempt at pursuing it professionally. Here are some of those basics in no particular order:
Try on all the hats
It may be a cliche to suggest to someone that they should “walk a mile in your shoes” before making up their minds, but this concept could not be more essential to your training as a film director. Chances are that you will already be forced to occupy many other roles before ever getting the chance at leading your own project, but this should not be seen as a necessary evil or as a price to pay to access the command chair. This is the director’s boot camp.
Take every opportunity to work the set in any role that you can fulfill, be it as a boom operator, electro, gaffer, grip, or even in the catering dept. (provided you have some basic ability), as this will enrich you as a filmmaker beyond belief. The ability you are chiefly developing here is communication and humility, the latter of which is often lacking in the directorial realm.
You will not only develop new skills but get a unique chance to observe the intricacies of every station on set, to understand them intimately and to see how the power dynamics with other roles are created and navigated.
This knowledge and experience will elevate your directorial game significantly, mainly because the next time you run your own crew, you will truly understand what the consequences are of (for instance) ignoring your sound recordist’s needs, rushing a lighting setup, or fouling up catering.
Nothing will sensitize you to the needs of the various departments and roles than having to bear their distinctive burdens yourself. And this is not only an preparatory regiment to follow; if you plan on pursuing directing as a serious career it is strongly recommended that you get out of the chair once in a while and join the grunts in the field.
Get out in front of the camera
Take acting lessons, read about acting, talk to acting teachers, become versed in the popular techniques and methods. Again the goal here is not to simply observe the process from the other river bank (or reverse angle!), but to understand what actors might be using as a frame of reference when they receive your directions.
You will likely learn how cruel the film medium can be to a classically trained thespian, used to interacting with a live audience and living in the moment. The cold, mechanical, almost abusive nature of a film set is quite alien to an actor.
As a thinking film director it is your duty to delve into that realm at some point in your career and to really understand the scope of your responsibility as a storyteller who guides actors along a scripted journey.
To be continued