View Full Version : Directing Advice

03-07-2005, 05:56 PM
I am finally going into production of my first creative film. Sunday we finally finished casting for our short film. The lead actress we found is perfect. Over the last few months I have collected a team to help make the movie. Some with experience, some with passion and a lot of time studying. And, of course, a DVX100 to help it look nice.

We have a strong script, good story board and have blocked many of the shots. Much of the design and other preparations are also finished. After a few weeks of rehearsals and reworks with the cast we plan to start shooting in April. Our sets and locations have been sorted, our planning has been well organized along with schedule, techinical considerations and clearances. The team know each other and get along well. So now we are ready to go.

I'm a first time director and much of our team are new. I have a lot of leadership experience in music production, performance and other creative projects, But this s the first creative film and my first film direction role. I would like some general advice from experienced directors about challenges you've faced and tips for how to best lead this team to realizing this film. How do you recommending pushing all of our abilities to achieve good results while also making the team feel like a team?

Thank you for your help in advance.

Jim Brennan
03-07-2005, 06:31 PM
If you have time, I'd read "Directing Actors" by Judith Weston. It will really help you get the best possible performance from your actors. Aside from that, and keeping your cast and crew fed, I'd say you've done a lot more work that most first timers do. It sounds like you have put a lot of thought and planning into this. That will pay untold dividends when you roll. Good luck.

Oh. if you have the time during your blocking and rehearsals, bring in whatever key crew are available. If your lighting/sound people are inexperienced, it might give them an opportunity to get some of the bugs out.

03-07-2005, 07:53 PM
Just keep bottled water and granola bars on set at all times. Let individuals know that you think they are doing a good job. Try to remain calm, and don't forget to breath. :)

J.R. Hudson
03-07-2005, 07:59 PM
Say "Please" and "Thank you". Lead by example. And keep them FED and remember; they are there for FREE to help YOU. Remember that.

03-07-2005, 09:41 PM
Thank you so much for the responses. We have a box full of various snacks and are having bento's brought in too. Thanks for the tips about lighting. We are learning as we go since most of it is theory from reading everything we could get our hands on. We have shot some corporate work before and have some practical experience, but some of the shots are in secluded outside places so I am a little worried.

One of the challenging scenes takes place at dawn in a remote park. We have planned to do a lot of work in post to get the right color and mood for these scenes, but the challenge will be getting them shot at a level that gives us something to work with.

Since it is outside and remote we won't have much access to good lights. We have some reflectors and some small lights on battery power to illuminate the set a little. I am wondering if we should be shooting in a little more daylight and then adjust it in post to get the dawn feeling? We have done some tests in available light with some illumination for the cast and car interior with 'ok' results. Has anyone tried exterior early dawn shots?

03-08-2005, 01:56 AM
Be cool!
give respect get back respect!
Feed your crew!
Always smile
have a sense of humor
Compliment and encourage them
and be Nice!

03-08-2005, 06:27 AM
Keep momentum going...don't let anything get bogged down. If you've been working for two hours and still haven't gotten a shot off...take one just to wake everyones minds back up.

Wear good shoes. No seriously, wear good shoes, if your feet aren't killing you at the end of the day...you didn't work hard enough.

03-08-2005, 06:28 AM
Oh. if you have the time during your blocking and rehearsals, bring in whatever key crew are available. If your lighting/sound people are inexperienced, it might give them an opportunity to get some of the bugs out.

Especially the boom operator (assuming you're booming). It makes it much easier if the boomer knows the blocking.


03-08-2005, 07:03 AM
I've worked on two films that had "dawn" scenes. Both of them were actually shot at dusk instead and the film flipped. I asked the director on the first one why he did it that way, and he said it was because the sun going down lasted longer than the sun coming up and the colors were more impressive.

As to making the team feel like a team, I worked on a low budget gorilla filmmaking project that did something I thought was wonderful and have tried to do on all projects I've worked on since (those that I had any say-so in that is). We would have a full up meeting at the end of each day for 15 or 20 minutes and voice our thoughts on the day - what went right and what went wrong and how to fix problems and improve things in general. This was the greatest "hashing out"! It probably would only work on small projects, but we us it to great success.

03-09-2005, 02:12 PM
Plan your shots so your actors are not setting around all day. Plan, plan some more, than when you get done planning, plan again. Be prepared when they arrive on set. Be calm and cool as possible, don't pull any Hollywood crap on them. The people you work with now, can ruin your reputation down the road if you treat them like a prick. Be sure to have some decent food for them. We found several restarunts that catered for us for free, just for a special thanks in the credits! Remeber these people are making your vision come to life, and are most likley working for free, so make their time worth while.

03-09-2005, 09:20 PM
If you have time, I'd read "Directing Actors" by Judith Weston. It will really help you get the best possible performance from your actors. Aside from that, and keeping your cast and crew fed, I'd say you've done a lot more work that most first timers do. It sounds like you have put a lot of thought and planning into this. That will pay untold dividends when you roll. Good luck.

Oh. if you have the time during your blocking and rehearsals, bring in whatever key crew are available. If your lighting/sound people are inexperienced, it might give them an opportunity to get some of the bugs out.

what does Weston talk about, and what methods of directing that she says that work. I'm guessing she teaches about method acting, the Stanislavski way.

03-10-2005, 01:07 AM
Make sure you be the first one on set and the last one to leave.

03-10-2005, 11:15 AM
I think Bluespider hit the main points, but I want to reiterate:

Do not act like you are a God, and that no one but the producer or DP can talk to you. That may be how it is in Hollywood, but for low-to-no budget, no one will ever want to work for you, ever, and the word will travel fast that you are director who "sits up in Mt. Olympus," while everyone on crew is volunteering there precious time for low-to-no pay only because they love filmaking. At the Low-to-No pay stage, the director should act as a platoon leader or team captain and nothing more.

The PM should be stern, but fair;not a condescending prick. If your PM makes the whole crew want to leave, he/she is the wrong person for the job.

I write this with conviction, because this what happened at my last movie project, last august. I was DP and Editor, and the director refused to talk with anyone but the producer and his cousin(who had nothing to do with crew or anything)until shooting began, meanwhile myself and the gaffer just looked at each other, wondering what have we gotten ourselves into. At the same time, the PM was berating everyone for being late, especially the script supe, who *surprise* left the set earlier than everyone, because the PM was such a dick. Nothing sucks more as going on to a set with a negative energy that just snowballs as time goes on.

By day 2, no one crew wanted to be there, and often left the set. I'm still wondering how the shoot was done, and how the talent didn't see what was going on(or maybe they did, but just ignore everything). I stayed on set, biting my tongue, as I wanted to be a professional until business was over. And the same PM who berated everyone for being late, was 2 hours late on this day! No one crew has worked for this company ever since, and it was weird watching this at a festival, because one hand I was DP and Editor, but on the other hand, I was DP and Editor for a horribly tainted project. Funniest thing about this movie is that after the festival, a)everyone gave it a thumbs down, and b)the only positive people can put their finger on were the cinematography and editing. Take the good with the bad, I guess.

But other than these things, people always respond well to food(not that it help on this shoot). Hit up Costco cheap for bottles o' H20, snacks, and the pizza's pretty good, too.

Jim Brennan
03-10-2005, 03:21 PM
what does Weston talk about, and what methods of directing that she says that work. I'm guessing she teaches about method acting, the Stanislavski way.

The main thing the Weston book did for me was teach me how to communicate effectively with the actors. I had no idea how many mistakes I had been making (like saying "could you do that again, with more of an edge?" What the hell does that mean?) She gives you guidelines and tools to help the actor down a path of discovery about the character. As the director, you have a vision for the "result", but telling the actor what result you want doesn't really help them.

It's an unbelievable resource. Of the dozens and dozens of books I have checked out of the library in the past year, it's one of about 2 or 3 that I have actually bought. There is too much info to absorb in just one reading. I'll be referring to it for years to come. It's a must have. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

03-13-2005, 09:35 AM
I live my life by: -
by Michael Rabiger
It covers everything you need to know.
Enable your Actors by making them comfortable in what they are doing. Don't be afraid to choose your own framing/shots (some dp's/camera want to push you)
If anything sets you into a panic, break, solve the problem (walk away for a moment) and go back shooting using your problem solving skills.
Good hunting buddy.

03-13-2005, 10:36 PM
Thank You to everyone for your kind answers. Over the last few days things are starting to really move. Here are some notes on how things are going. Hopefully with your kind advice in mind.

We have a small but very excited and devoted team making this happen. We are all wearing multiple hats and, I hope arriving at a shared vision of what this film will be. We have a very open team and have involved them and encouraged input from the creative team as we prepare. The tech team are all new to film except the DP who is quite experienced. The new tech members are studying and working hard to help and I feel very confident from what we have seen that they will deliver.

With a little luck we will start shooting in April. We have a few loose ends to tie up and should be able to stay on budget (meaning the part of my bank account that I have accepted will be gone soon.) I am lucky in that I have a very open minded, patient and supportive team. We all share one key dream. We want to see this film realized and we want it to give us the confidence and believe that we can do more in the future. For now we are taking things day by day, sticking to our plan and schedule and taking good care of each other. I'll keep you posted about our progress and I am 100% sure we will be back with more questions. Please wish us luck.

Thanks again. TKOIND

Jim Brennan
03-14-2005, 07:19 AM
Good Luck. It's better to have a few dedicated and excited people than a bunch that don't really care.

03-14-2005, 09:11 AM
As an actor i can you some advice from our side of the lens. Its one thing for the director to understand what emotion he wants from an actor its quite another for theactor to get it out. Part of acting it to open yourself up and let whatever emotion out. If your serious about acting you'll make yourself vulnerable. thats great, however if you as the director do not give the actor the security to open up you will suffer for it. Im not going to be able to forget you're there, a sound guy is there, a camera guy is there and a host of others are there and then cry openly unless i feel secure in doing so.

I know this sounds kind of wussy but thats the way it is. I do a fair amount of commercials and stage stuff and a director that makes me feel confortable enough that i can experiement with my choices will get the best work for me. the others will get a somewhat guarded version of that. I also encourage rehersals. That is a subject of debate but as an actor I want to know that I am giving the director what he wants. by rehersing a few times i better understand who the character is and how he fits in and therefore can better understand what the character should feel. I would also say that you shoud ltry to find the balance between staying efficient and not rushing. Its ahardbalance that i struggle with when i am directing but again you want to the performance to shine. If the actor is worried about getting it done in time then that performance will take on that stress. I hope this helps. its just my opinion and excperience and that along with $.50 will get you a can of coke.

Jim Brennan
03-14-2005, 10:42 AM
You can get a can of coke fo 50 cents?

Seriously, that's good advice. I always protect my actors. Make them feel safe (or as safe as possible, when appropriate) and you'll get a deeper performance.

03-14-2005, 10:45 AM
I guess my only question would be "how do you make your actors feel comfortable?"

Jim Brennan
03-14-2005, 02:17 PM
"I guess my only question would be "how do you make your actors feel comfortable?'"

It starts early in the process. I begin to develop rapport during auditions, I solicit feedback during rehearsals. If I feel a particular scene is difficult or emotional, I talk to them about it. I never compromise my position as the "Captain of the Ship", but I invite them to be a part of the creative process; to invest in what we are doing.

Normally I don't allow other people on the set to offer their input to actors. It's amazing to me how many people think they know how to help someone find their emotional center. I make exceptions to that if I know there is another actor on the set that is respected and has a history with whoever is having a problem.

It's also important to be unambiguous. I doubt there are many things more unsettling to an actor than not knowing what the director wants.

I also tell all of my principal actors that they are free at any time to stop. I don't get mad if they think what they are doing isn't working, even if I think it is. We take 5 and start again. I never criticize them in front of anyone. In fact I don't really criticize a t all. I encourage them to find what they need (and give them all the help that I can).

Actors act, so they recognize acting when they see it. That means they know when you are full of shit. If you are sincere about wanting what they want, which is the best possible performance they can deliver, and you develop the tools to get that from them they will recognize that. I have had actors get way out of their comfort zone for me, just because they trust me.

You don't have to be their best friend, but if you know what you want, are honest with them, stick to your word, show competence and confidence, and (perhaps most importantly) allow them to interpret the character without overt or harsh criticism, you will set yourself far apart from most of the people directing out there.

Trust is the key.

03-14-2005, 08:34 PM
you can make them feel comfortable by encouraging any choice they do. This is basic management style. when i used to own a few retail stores i woudl always ask my employees for their opinion of what they would do in a particular situation. Now most of these were young people in high school or just out. many times they did not have a basis on which to form a great opinion of what they should do but none the less i asked. Each time i would respond with encouragement such as "thats good idea, if we did that how do think X would be affected?" the reason i asked is because honestly the idea wasnt good but i wanted them to make suggestions by asking them the second question they began to see the problems themselves. they then may repond. "oh i didnt think about that, well what of we did X instead?" then ofcourse i would wind it around until they came up with the idea that i wanted? but since they were the ones that went through the mental process the idea was now their own and they could run with it. I could hyave simply sadi that idea is wrong or stupid and then told them what i wanted but what chance would i have of ever getting suggestions from them in the future?

I tell you all this because to me its the same in acting. You want to encourgae them to try different things. you have a visison but they bring to the table an ability to bring a paper full of words to life. You want your actors to feel the freedom to truly go to far. Im telling you its a one shot deal. if your actor loses trust that he can be free to go balls to the wall with his emotions then you wont get it back.

As an aside to this this whole thing, I once had a director for a play ask people during the audition to do the monologue like other people. he asked one guy who his favorite comedian was. the guy said Chris rock. the director said ok now give me that mononloque like chris rock would say it. i asked him later after i got a role why he did that. his reasoning was that if that actor was willing to look silly and would take that direction on the very first time they met then he knew they could collaborate together. I thought that was a perfectly sound reasoning. By the way they guy was doing as shakeperian monoloque as Chris Rock.

03-20-2005, 11:02 PM
Find someone in our area who teaches acting. Offer to take them out to lunch and pick their brain. You will find out a lot about how an actor prepares before they get to the set, and what they are looking for from the director once they are in front of the camera.

When you find the time you should also take some acting classes. It will not only help you learn how to work with actors but will give you some great insight into breaking down scenes and moving action in scenes.


03-21-2005, 08:27 AM
Mr Blue is correct about taking an acting class. It will give you a sense of what happens in the preperation for the role. You will also see what you feel when trying to give a performance. Then you will know what kind of direction you woudl have liked in that situation.. Great suggestion Blue