“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
1. A DIRECTOR MUST BE A PEOPLE PERSON • Ninety-five percent of your job is handling personnel. People who’ve never done it imagine that it’s some act, like painting a Picasso from a blank canvas, but it’s not like that. Directing is mostly about handling people’s egos, vulnerabilities and moods. It’s all about trying to bring everybody to a boil at the right moment. You’ve got to make sure everyone is in the same film. It sounds stupidly simple, like ‘Of course they’re in the same film!’ But you see films all the time where people are clearly not in the same film together.
2. HIRE TALENTED PEOPLE • Your main job as a director is to hire talented people and get the space right for them to work in. I have a lot of respect for actors when they’re performing, and I expect people to behave. I don’t want to see people reading newspapers behind the camera or whispering or anything like that.
3. LEARN TO TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS • Ideally, you make a film up as you go along. I don’t mean that you’re irresponsible and you’ve literally got no idea, but the ideal is that you’ve covered everything—every angle—so that you’re free to do it any of those ways. Even on low-budget films, you have financial responsibilities. Should you fuck it up, you can still fall back on one of those ways of doing it. You’ve got Plan A to go back to, even though you should always make it with Plan B if you can. That way keeps it fresh for the actors, and for you.
4. FILM HAPPENS IN THE MOMENT • What’s extraordinary about film is that you make it on the day, and then it’s like that forever more. On that day, the actor may have broken up with his wife the night before, so he’s inevitably going to read a scene differently. He’s going to be a different person. I come from theater, which is live and changes every night. I thought film was going to be the opposite of that, but it’s not. It changes every time you watch it: Different audiences, different places, different moods that you’re in. The thing is logically fixed, but it still changes all the time. You have to get your head around that.
5. IF YOUR LAST FILM WAS A SMASH HIT, DON’T PANIC • I had an obsession with the story of 127 Hours, which pre-dated Slumdog Millionaire. But I know—because I’m not an idiot—that the only reason [the studio] allowed us to make it was because Slumdog made buckets of money for them and they felt an obligation of sorts. Not an obligation to let me do whatever I want, but you kind of get a free go on the merry-go-round.
6. DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL STORIES ABOUT OTHER CULTURES • You can’t just hijack a culture for your story, but you can benefit from it. If you go into it with the right attitude, you can learn a lot about yourself, as well as about the potential of film in other cultures, which is something we tried to do with Slumdog Millionaire… Most films are still made in America, about Americans, and that’s fine. But things are changing and I think Slumdog was evidence of that. There will be more evidence as we go on.
7. USE YOUR POWER FOR GOOD • You have so much power as director that if you’re any good at all, you should be able to use that to the benefit of everyone. You have so much power to shape the movie the way you want it that, if you’re on form and you’ve done your prep right and you’re ready, you should be able to make a decent job of it with the other people.
8. DON’T HAVE AN EGO • Your working process—the way you treat people, your belief in people—will ultimately be reflected in the product itself. The means of production are just as important as what you produce. Not everyone believes that, but I do. I won’t stand for anyone being treated badly by anyone. I don’t like anyone shouting or abusing people or anything like that. You see people sometimes who are waiting for you to be like that, because they’ve had an experience like that in the past, but I’m not a believer in that. The texture of a film is affected very much by the honor with which you make it.
9. MAKE THE TEST SCREENING PROCESS WORK FOR YOU • Test screenings are tough. It makes you nervous, exposing the film, but they’re very important and I’ve learned a great deal from using them. Not so much from the whole process of cards and the discussions afterwards, but the live experience of sitting in an auditorium with an audience that doesn’t know much about the story you’re going to tell them—I find that so valuable. I’ve learned not so much to like it, but to value how important it is. I think you have to, really.
10. COME TO THE SET WITH A LOOK BOOK • I always have a bible of photographs, images by which I illustrate a film. I don’t mean strict storyboards, I just mean for inspiration for scenes, for images, for ideas, for characters, for costumes, even for props. These images can come from anywhere. They can come from obvious places like great photographers, or they can come from magazine advertisements—anywhere, really. I compile them into a book and I always have it with me and I show it to the actors, the crew, everybody!
11. EVEN PERFECT FORMULAS DON’T ALWAYS WORK • As a director your job is to find the pulse of the film through the actors, which is partly linked to their talent and partly to their charisma. Charisma is a bit indefinable, thank God, or else it would be prescribed in the way that you chemically make a new painkiller. In the movies—and this leads to a lot of tragedy and heartache—you can sometimes have the most perfect formula and it still doesn’t work. That’s a reality that we are all victims of sometimes and benefit from at other times. But if you follow your own instincts and make a leap of faith, then you can at least be proud of the way you did it.
12. TAKE INSPIRATION WHERE YOU FIND IT • When we were promoting Slumdog Millionaire, we were kind of side-by-side with Darren Aronofsky, who was also with Fox Searchlight and was promoting The Wrestler. I watched it and it was really interesting; Darren just decided that he was going to follow this actor around, and it was wonderful. I thought, ‘I want to make a film like that. I want to see if I can make a film like that.’ It’s a film about one actor. It’s about the monolithic nature of film sometimes, you know? It’s about a dominant performance.
13. PUSH THE PRAM • I think you should always try to push things as far as you can, really. I call it “pushing the pram.” You know, like a stroller that you push a baby around in? I think you should always push the pram to the edge of the cliff—that’s what people go to the cinema for. This could apply to a romantic comedy; you push anything as far as it will stretch. I think that’s one of your duties as a director… You’ll only ever regret not doing that, not having pushed it. If you do your job well, you’ll be amazed at how far the audience will go with you. They’ll go a long, long way—they’ve already come a long way just to see your movie!
14. ALWAYS GIVE 100 PERCENT • You should be working at your absolute maximum, all the time. Whether you’re credited with stuff in the end doesn’t really matter. Focus on pushing yourself as much as you can. I tend not to write, but I love bouncing off of writing; I love having the writers write and then me bouncing off of it. I bounce off writers the same way I bounce off actors.
15. FIND YOUR OWN “ESQUE” • A lesson I learned from A Life Less Ordinary was about changing a tone—I’m not sure you can do that. We changed the tone to a kind of Capra-esque tone, and whenever you do anything more “esque,” you’re in trouble. That would be one of my rules: No “esques.” Don’t try to Coen-esque anything or Capra-esque anything or Tarkovsky-esque anything, because you’ll just get yourself in a lot of trouble. You have to find your own “esque” and then stick to it.