1. Always choose good collaborators. It seems so obvious, but the best collaborators are the ones who disagree with you. It means they’re passionate, they have opinions, and they’ll only ever say yes if they mean it.
2. Try to learn how to make the familiar strange, and the strange familiar. Direct Shakespeare like it’s a new play, and treat every new play as if it’s Shakespeare.
3. If you have the chance, please work with Dame Judi Dench.
4. Learn to say, “I don’t know the answer.” It could be the beginning of a very good day’s rehearsal.
5. Go to the ancient amphitheater at Epidaurus, in Greece. It makes you realize what you are a part of, and it will change the way you look at the world. If you’re an artist, you will feel central, and you will never feel peripheral again.
6. Avoid, please, all metaphors of plays or films as “pinnacles” or “peaks”; treat with absolute scorn the word “definitive”; and if anyone uses the word “masterpiece,” they don’t know what they’re doing. The pursuit of perfection is a mug’s game.
7. If you are doing a play or a film, you have to have a secret way in if you are directing it. Sometimes it’s big things. American Beauty, for me, was about my adolescence. Road to Perdition was about my childhood. Skyfall was about middle-age and mortality. Sometimes it’s small things. Maybe it’s just a simple idea. What if we do the whole thing in the nightclub, for example. But it’s not enough just to admire a script, you have to have a way in that is yours, and yours alone.
8. Confidence is essential, but ego is not.
9. Theater is the writer’s medium and the actor’s medium; the director comes a distant third. If you want a proper ego trip, direct movies.
10. Buy a good set of blinkers. Do not read reviews. It’s enough to know whether they’re good or they’re bad. When I started, artists vastly outnumbered commentators, and now, there are a thousand published public opinions for every work of art. However strong you are, confidence is essential to what you do, and confidence is a fragile thing. Protect it. As T.S. Eliot says, teach us to care, and not to care.
11. Run a theater. A play is temporary, a building is permanent. So try to create something that stays behind and will be used and loved by others.
12. You are never too old to learn something new, as I was reminded when I learned to ski with my 10-year-old son. He, of course, did it in about 10 minutes, and I spent four days slaloming up and down, looking like a complete tit. But, don’t be scared of feeling like a complete tit. It’s an essential part of the learning process.
13. There is no right and wrong, there is only interesting, and less interesting.
14. Paintings, novels, poetry, music are all superior art forms. But theater and film can steal from all of them.
15. There are no such things as “previews” on Broadway.
16. Peter Brook said, “The journey is the destination.” Do not think of product, or, god forbid, audience response. Think only of discovery and process. One of my favorite quotes from Hamlet—Polonius: “By indirections find the directions out.”
17. Learn when to shut up. I’m still working on this one.
18. When you have a cast of 20, this means you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you. Use them.
19. Please remember the Oscars are a TV show.
20. Get on with it. Robert Frost said, “Tell everything a little faster.” He wasn’t wrong.
21. The second production of a musical is always better than the first.
22. Learn to accept the blame for everything. If the script was poor, you didn’t work hard enough with the writer. If the actors failed, you failed them. If the sets, the lighting, the poster, the costumes are wrong, you gave them the thumbs-up. So build up your shoulders, they need to be broad.
23. On screen, your hero can blow away 500 bad guys, but if he smokes one fucking cigarette, you’re in deep shit.
24. Always have an alternative career planned out. Mine is a cricket commentator. You will never do this career, but it might help you get to sleep at night.
25. Never, ever, ever forget how lucky you are to do something that you love.
“There’s nothing worse than hearing somebody say, ‘Oh, you made that movie? I thought that movie sucked,’ and you have to agree with them,” Fincher said on why he’s so hands-on in making decisions.
“You are going to have to take all of the responsibility, because basically when it gets right down to it, you are going to get all of the blame, so you might as well have made all of the decisions that led to people either liking it or disliking it.”
2. Give it your best, but stay realistic
‘Do the best you can, try to live it down,’ that’s my motto. Just literally give it everything you got, and then know that it’s never going to turn out the way you want it to, and let it go, and hope that it doesn’t return. Because you want it to be better than it can ever turn out. Absolutely, 1000 percent, I believe this: whenever a director friend of mine says, ‘Man, the dailies look amazing!’ … I actually believe that anybody, who thinks that their dailies look amazing doesn’t understand the power of cinema; doesn’t understand what cinema is capable of.”
Film is a collaborative process. It’s dependent on everything falling into place the way it’s supposed to – no one person, even the director, can exercise complete control over this. All they can ever do is put in their best work and keep trucking.
3. Check for different perspectives
Fincher looks at the set up of each scene with each eye individually – the left, for composition and the right for focus and technical specs.
Why? The left eye is connected to the creative side of the brain and the right is connected to the mathematical side.
4. Movies vs. Films
A movie is made for an audience and a film is made for both the audience and the filmmakers.
“I think that Fight Club is more than the sum of its parts, whereas Panic Room is the sum of its parts. I didn’t look at Panic Room and think: ‘Wow, this is gonna set the world on fire.’ These are footnote movies, guilty pleasure movies. Thrillers. Woman-trapped-in-a-house movies. They’re not particularly important.”
That said, make sure your movie actually contains a semblance of a plot. A series of scenes where characters sit around and reflect on the meaning of life might as well be a documentary.
5. Take it one day at a time
At the beginning of the filmmaking process, your project looks like a heck of a giant to tackle. In the middle it’s hard to step back and imagine what the finished product will look like.
“How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. How do you shoot a 150-day movie? You shoot it one day at a time,” said Fincher. This advice is applicable across the board in nearly all art forms. Break your projects down into smaller tasks and don’t let the gravity of any situation overwhelm you.
JJ ABRAMS on DIRECTING ACTION AND MONSTER SEQUENCES
Every scene has its own unique requirements. This is true whether it’s a comedic scene, a still scene, or a busy scene, a scene that’s all in-camera vs. one that requires visual effects and CGI. As you break down a scene with increasing resolution, the first thing to do is figure out what you want the sequence to be and how it serves the story. Once you figure out what the scene is supposed to do, your mind races trying to figure out what would be cool.
In a sequence with a creature, first and foremost you want to approach it from as visceral a place as possible. You need to figure out what the endgame of the sequence is. Once you figure that out and what you’re going to do, then the fun becomes how you are going to do it. You often begin to come up with a sequence, but what you discover is that a dozen shots that you thought were critical are actually superfluous. Part of what works is sketching it out, either yourself or with a storyboard artist.
In terms of visual effects shots, you need to really be as practical as you are inspired. Which means you need to be able to tell the crew: what we need to build, what we’re going to shoot live, what we’re going to do in-camera, which scenes are going to be entirely CG, which are going to be filmed in CG, where we’re going to create sets, where we’re going to be creating a piece of the creature physically with special effects, etc.
A monster scene is like a magic trick; you’re saying “I want to put a Testarossa on the stage, I want to cover it with a cloth, and I want to rip the cloth away, and I want there to be a ’67 VW bug.” Once you know what effect you are trying to achieve, then you start getting into the mechanics and working backwards, deconstructing the scene in your head.
At the heart of PATIENT 39 is a character whose brain injury has left him with a shattered sense of self and of the world around him. The Patient’s experience, as he tries to piece together who he is, invites the audience to contemplate their own consciousness. It is therefore important that the patient’s fragmented internal point of view is conveyed, and the sound design and music are central to this.
Film Editor Richard Wilkinson and Sound Mixer John Rogerson worked on the sound design to create a compelling soundscape. “Sound-wise, there was a delicate balance to strike between the real, hyper-real and the completely unreal,” says Sound Mixer John Rogerson. ‘The contrast between the patient’s aural POV and the ‘outside’ world needed to be recognisable to the viewer and as such needed to reflect an aural experience we have all known, for example, that of being underwater - the resultant loss of high frequency perfectly conveys the sense of the Patient having suffered significant cognitive impairment due to his injury.”
In sequences from the Patient’s Point of View, these muffled ‘underwater’ tones are then intercut with sharper textures - the voice of the Nurse, the noise of a fan. This contrast is designed to produce a heightened, almost hallucinatory feeling as the patient regains consciousness and wakes. “These movements (both sonic and visual) helped to create a sense of confusion, damage and vulnerability in the patient,” says John.
This soundscape was complemented by Andy Hopkins’s original score in which looped music samples help build on the suggestion of fragmented memory. “The biggest challenge was to create a sonic backdrop which was true to the films themes yet avoided period cliches, ” says Hopkins. “The looped samples suggest insistent fragmented memories and the synths create intense amorphous emotions but the musical structure/narrative is only clear in key moments where characters are able to integrate their realities.”
I’ve only just caught up with BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (slow I know) and Peter Strickland is officially my new hero. Kudos to the guy who decided to invest a legacy in making micro-budget feature KATALIN VARGA while teaching English in Budapest. I thought Berberian was terrific and showed great ambition for big, complex ideas.
Finding, interviewing, and hiring your production designer
This article from 1994 by Ted Hope and Scott Macaulay outlines the important decision of who to hire as Production Designer on a low budget feature, and how important that person will be to realising your vision.
In the director’s skillset, the importance of hirings and how to go about it is rarely spoken about, but how many of us have had the experience of booking someone and finding ourselves disappointed…or worse?
This article suggests how important it is to bring some rigour to the process, through reviewing previous work, taking up references and asking the right questions.
"NEVER FUCK THE TALENT" - DIRECTOR MIKE NEWELL'S RULES OF FILMMAKING
Directors are solitary animals. They never see others of their kind at work, they detest intrusion and are dominant, silverback apes of uncertain tempers. Making a movie is a knife fight, and as is said right before Butch Cassidy kicks his opponent in the balls, “Rules? In a knife fight? No rules!” Nonetheless, here are some guides to navigation—some private rituals that I don’t like to be without when I work.
1. When I first read a script, book or treatment, I’ll get an immediate little jolt of excitement if the thing has something to say to me.I have to nail that idea before anything else. If you have a big, clear idea of what you want your audience to feel and think—and above all, what you want—then, even in the times of darkest chaos (which will quite certainly be upon you), you have a rock to hang on to
2. Try to know the scripts nearly by heart.I work the scenes through in advance again and again with as much detail as possible. Then, on the day we shoot, I am prepared to ditch all of that if better ideas come up. Spontaneity is the quality that only actors can bring and it’s a quality worth its weight in gold. Be prepared for the fact that no plan survives first contact with the enemy and listen really hard to the actors. Don’t impose on them. Instead, try to encourage them to be easy in their skin.
3. Everybody on the crew will have ideas about how scenes should be made; they will have ideas, angles and movements you had never imagined. One of the best camera operators I ever worked with would listen to my opinions about where the camera should be put and then march off to the complete opposite position.
4. I have a mantra that I try desperately to remember through every day’s work: Please let me not be an arse-hole today. Vain hope, but it’s good to have an ambition!
5. A lot of smoke gets blown up a director’s bottom. It’s worth not believing any of it. I try to survive without wanting to know what everybody thinks of me. Some think you’re great, some think you’re crap. The reality will lie somewhere in the middle and, anyway, it shouldn’t matter. A lot of rough things get said to you, so it’s good to have a skin thick enough to take the damage and thin enough to understand why this stuff is being said.
6. Talk quietly.
7. Have good manners.
8. If you are going to lose your temper (do try not to), it must be overwhelmingly for real. There’s nothing worse than fake anger.
9. Don’t eat the catering at lunchtime.
10. Sleep whenever you can.
11. Wear a comfortable pair of shoes.
12. The process of making a film feels like being pecked to death by pigeons. A thousand tiny bites will slowly remove your reasons for starting in the first place. You will forget why you are there. That’s when you must fall back on that initial spark of excitement (see #1) to get you through.
13. Above all, “Never fuck the talent.” (See Charlton Heston, circa 1979.)
SAM MENDES DISCUSSES REHEARSING ON 'AMERICAN BEAUTY'
I did a lot of what I would call “lateral rehearsing”. In other words I gave Annette Benning a tape of the music I thought her character would listen to. I gave Alison Jenning a book of Edvard Munch paintings and said, “your character is in there somewhere.” I gave Wes Bentley a tape of his kind of music, and also gave him a video camera and told him to go out and film things that his character would be interested in. Stuff like that. Exercises and research which are about the character they’re playing. So they can marinate in it rather than me sitting at a table and saying, “I want you to say a line like this.”
Producer Stephen Follows has done an interesting piece of research examining what makes for a successful crowd-funding campaign. If you’re interested in having a go yourself, it’s packed with tips and well worth a look:
Routine saves me. I get up very early. I go to the desk. I imagine a dark cinema. I imagine the first sound, the first picture. I get ready to watch the film. It is trance-like. I write. When I am full on writing I don’t want interesting things going on around me. I don’t want distractions. I need to focus on the page and on the movie in my head. So, an early start to the day – 5.30 or 6. Then something physical – yoga, run, swim, whatever. Coffee. Sit down. Do emails. Then turn off phone/internet/children. Write. Stop at 1pm. Walk. Take a notebook. Walking is good for for ideas. Eat something very light. Sit down. Read what you wrote the day before. Research a bit. Make notes for where you will start tomorrow (never complete anything). Stop around 6pm. Go home. Be nice. Do this 6 days a week. Research on the 7th. Keep going. Do not rewrite as you go. GET TO THE END. Then rewrite. That’s the plan anyhow. Good intentions. Hell awaits.
Some nice advice here from first time director John Krokidas of KILL YOUR DARLINGS. Apparently a new director on a movie is considered a “deadly attachment” by investors who’s involvement is a risk that must be balanced by bankable stars.
If you think you have to buy the number one bestseller, don’t. Go back in time, find a book that was written in 1940 that is great. Bernhard Schlink’s detective novels are damn good and most of them haven’t been made, somebody with a vision could do those. Easier than that is that Jane Austen is in the public domain, anybody can make ‘Emma.’ We made it but maybe you can make it again, make it better. Chekhov short stories, Tolstoy novels, they are there waiting for you. Get great material, the writing is so important.
DIRECTOR MARC FORSTER'S SEVEN GOLDEN RULES OF FILMMAKING
1. Life is about fluidity, and so is the process of storytelling. Moviemaking is about the discovery within the written word, that which cannot be found when spoken. The main focus should always be to keep looking for what is not visible, to keep striving for the image beyond the words.
2. As a filmmaker, I’m always in search of magic, but one has to accept that it has to happen organically; all you have to do is lay the groundwork. I my case, I try to be in a state of total being and awareness that might take me above the realm of mere thoughts, feelings and words – all of which I hope to capture through the lens.
3. The narrative is a guide, but don’t let the narrative become your eyes, otherwise it becomes a nightmare from which you can’t escape. It will blind your power to create an authentic vision. Ultimately, storytelling is all about trying to find your truth, your authenticity.
4. Look into your actor’s eyes and see if they remind you of things you have forgotten. Listen to everyone and at the same time, no one – they might know something you don’t. Be open to receive while still letting your vision guide you, not your ego.
5. Every time I make a film, it’s like I jump for the very first time. Try to become your story and dance with it. Enjoy the journey, as it is a privileged one.
6. There are always moments where I feel like a blind man trying to learn to walk through his space without hitting the furniture in search of the doorknob. It is impossible to practice for this moment. Inevitably I start to feel my way through, find peace with my situation and understand the opportunities given in each circumstance.
7. Always try to remember that storytelling is the most ancient form of communication. Each story had been told; there are no original stories. What there is, and what will always remain, is the energy created in the process of storytelling. The more authentic and truthful that process is, the more inspired others become.
You know directors, some of them — some of us are sweethearts, some of us are jerks, some of us are talkative, some are very quiet. None of that really matters very much — although, you know, I always think it’s nice to be decent to people, but that’s me. It’s not imperative. The big thing is taste — taste and judgement. That’s what it’s all about. It’s understanding, you know, what exists in the possibilities in the story you’re interested in telling, and how many of those details can you capture, how can you sequence them in the editing? What does that add up to?
1. You have a choice of being “in the business” or of making movies. If you’d rather do business, don’t hesitate. You’ll get richer, but you won’t have as much fun!
2. If you have nothing to say, don’t feel obliged to pretend you do.
3. If you do have something to say, you’d better stick to it. (But then don’t give too many interviews.)
4. Respect your actors. Their job is 10 times more dangerous than yours.
5. Don’t look at the monitor. Watch the faces in front of your camera! Stand right next to it! You’ll see infinitely more. You can still check your monitor after the take.
6. Your continuity girl is always right about screen directions, jumping the axis and that sort of stuff. Don’t fight her. Bring her flowers.
7. Always remember: Continuity is overrated!
8. Coverage is overrated, too!
9. If you want to shoot day for night, make sure the sun is shining.
10. Before you say “cut,” wait five more seconds.
11. Rain only shows on the screen when you backlight it.
12. Don’t shoot a western if you hate horses. (But it’s okay to not be fond of cows.)
13. Think twice before you write a scene with babies or infants.
14. Never expect dogs, cats, birds or any other animals to do what you’d like them to do. Keep your shots loose.
15. Mistakes never get fixed in post!
16. Final cut is overrated. Only fools keep insisting on always having the final word. The wise swallow their pride in order to get to the best possible cut.
17. Other people have great ideas, too.
18. The more money you have the more you can do with it, sure. But the less you can say with it.
19. Never fall in love with your temp music.
20. Never fall in love with your leading lady!
21. If you love soccer, don’t shoot your film during the World Championship. (Same goes for baseball and the World Series, etc.)
22. Don’t quote other movies unless you have to. (But why would you have to?)
23. Let other people cut your trailer!
24. It’s always good to make up for a lack of (financial) means with an increase in imagination.
25. Having a tight schedule can be difficult. But having too much time is worse.
26. Alright, so you’re shooting with a storyboard. Make sure you’re willing to override it at any given moment.
27. Less make-up is better.
28. Fewer words are always better!
29. Too much sugary stuff on the craft table (or is it Kraft?) can have a disastrous effect on your crew’s morale.
30. Film can reveal the invisible, but you must be willing to let it show.
31. The more you know about moviemaking, the tougher it gets to leave that knowledge behind. As soon as you do things “because you know how to do them,” you’re fucked.
32. Don’t tell a story that you think somebody else could tell better.
33. A “beautiful image” can very well be the worst thing that can happen to a scene.
34. If you have one actor who gets better with every take, and another who loses it after a while, make sure they can meet in the middle. Or consider recasting. (And you know whose close-ups you have to shoot first!)
35. If you shoot in a dark alley at night, don’t let your DP impose a bright blue contre-jour spotlight on you, even in the far distance. It always looks corny.
36. Some actors should never see rushes. Others should be forced to watch them.
37. Be ready to get rid of your favorite shot during editing.
38. Why would you sit in your trailer while your crew is working?
39. Don’t let them lay tracks before you’ve actually looked through your viewfinder.
40. You need a good title from the beginning. Don’t shoot the film with a working title you hate!
41. In general, it’s better not to employ couples. (But of course, there are exceptions!)
42. Don’t adapt novels.
43. If your dolly grip is grumpy or your electricians hate the shot it will all show on the film. (Also, if you’re constipated…)
44. Keep your rough cut speech, your cast and crew screening speech and your Oscar speech short.
45. Some actors actually improve their dialogue in ADR.
46. Some actors should never be forced to loop a single line. (Even Orson Welles wasn’t good at that.)
47. There are 10,000 other rules like these 50.
48. If there are golden rules, there might be platinum ones, too.
I really liked this tribute to Bruce Lee and the Director of Enter The Dragon Robert Clouse from Cinematographer Gil Hubbs, ASC. It’s incredibly simple but relevant advice:
Bruce was so good in the film and the film really commits to Bruce. When he gives a look, when he pauses before he starts a fight, well, you commit to that. You hold on that. You make that the high point of the scene, and you don’t cut away. We could have shot and edited the film in a way where we didn’t commit to that, but Bob had that commitment, and I helped him whit that. Sometimes I would hold on Bruce much longer than seemed necessary. It’s a very simple movie, but the commitments to that character and those story points was total’.
hi can you please tell me more about using subtext while directing and how can i work better with my actors so that i can give them more action which explains things through sub-text instead of being direct?
Just picked up your message, sorry for delay in replying. I’d recommend Judith Weston’s book about working with actors as a good place to start. Cheers Dan