View Full Version : 1st time director - Some thoughts

11-10-2005, 07:23 AM
Directing my first film, a few things are clear to me:

1. I really have no clue what I am doing.

2. You cannot be over-prepared.

3. Storyboards are a wonderful tool.

In my film, I have 3 actors and 2 scenes. One of them is an experienced actor and the other two are first time amateurs. My directing for the 1st two actors was basically 2 things:

What the character's goal is.
What my perception of the characterization is.

Scene 1:

For the experienced actor the directions were:

Goal: To read your book undisturbed.
Characterization: You have been at home trying to read and your wife keeps talking to you. She just won't shut up. You end up reading the same paragraph over and over. Out of frustration you leave the house and walk over to the park here to read your book unmolested.

For the other actor:

Goal: To gain the approval of the other character (the one trying to read).
Characterization: I whispered in his ear "Jeff Spicoli". He knew exactly what I meant.

Outside of a small pacing adjustment, the results of this direction were effective. The performances were good. I had 8 takes for the master, 5 takes for one of the OTS shots and one take for the other.

Scene 2:

The "Spicoli" actor is in this scene and the only direction I needed to give here was his goal which was for him to convey his enthuseasm for his new book.

The other actor - A "tough guy". His goal was to make the "Spicoli" character feel at ease since he senses some intimidation.

The "Spicoli" actor pulled the scene off just fine. The tough guy was another story. His performance felt stiff and contrived. For this, I blame myself because I do not think that my direction was effective enough to get a good performance out of him. I am re-shooting scene 2 this Sunday in an effort to improve on this.

Any suggestions from you more experienced directors here would be greatly appreciated.

OK, let's move on to storyboards. First some background:

After I wrote the script for this, I scouted for locations and I found a perfect location pretty early on in the process. For me, the film was already shot (in my mind). I knew exactly what I wanted every shot to do and how it should look.

I went to the location with the DP (my wife - 1st time DP - Day job =pro photographer). I discussed all of the shots with her and what kind of coverage I wanted etc. After these discussions I felt confident that she understood exactly what I wanted.

A few days later I am discussing the shots with her as we are building the shot list together and it is clear to me that she does not understand what I am doing.

OK, time to take a step back. Once it was clear to me that I had not communicated my ideas effectively to her, I decided to storyboard the film. However I have no traditional art skills. But what I do have is a lot of experience and skill (relatively speaking) with a 3D animation tool called Lightwave 3D (http://www.lightwave3d.com).

Using this tool I was able to take the still photos that I had taken at the location and storyboard the film. Moreover I was able to animate the entire film, all of the cuts and camera moves.

Once I had that done I was able to take it into Premiere and then just do a voice over of all of the dialog. Ostensibly, I had a complete animated version of the film. I went through this animated version, peice by peice, with my DP. There were many times where she said "OH! OK, that is what you meant.".

The result of this was that when we got onto the set with the shotlist and the stills from the storyboards in my production notebook, things went VERY fast. I never had to look at how she had anything framed or setup since all she had to do was match the storyboard.

I cannot say enough good things about using the animation tool to block out the scenes and build the film out as a communication tool.

OK, enough rambling here. Your thoughts and advice as always are appreciated.

11-10-2005, 09:42 AM
I'm going through something similar. A quick note if you have no experience directing actors, read "directing actors". you don't need to follow her intruction word for word, but it has opened my eyes to the process.

11-10-2005, 10:32 AM
I have read that as well as 'Director's intuition', Shot by shot and numerous other books on the topic. I have read all of the Stanislovsky books and a number of other books on acting.

I have also attended about a year's worth of acting classes here in LA in order to better understand the actor's 'process'. The classes have given me an amazing insight and continue to prove to me that I know nothing and that only experience as a director will provide me with the skills that I need to succeed.

11-10-2005, 11:41 AM
You are correct, you really can't be to over-prepared.

Good communication between a director and a DP are essential. Most directors do know what they want and have seen it in their head time and time again, but the ability to articulate that to someone else's, is a pretty special skill. I have worked with directors that can just tell you what they want in a way that is clearly understandable, others can't for the life of them get it across. Pre vis software should go a long way toward bridging the communications gap in a way that neither a story board nor shot list can.

When working as a DP I find that by the time I have worked with a director a number of days, it gets easier to understand what they want as you begin to understand their descriptive language and style.

Communication between a director and the actors is another area altogether. In your situation you have one experienced actor, I would suggest that allowing this person to have some input to the process might be useful. You might find that they have some insights that you can use to help communicate to the other actors.

I know that a lot of actors that find the concept of a director giving them their characters motivation kind of humorous. Method acting isn't something that is used by many theatrical (film/TV) actors, rather they find that their job is to make the viewer feel something, not for them to necessarily feel one way or another.

11-10-2005, 02:21 PM
Ok. Some of the best books for Actors...IMOP...

Uta Hagen...The gem...’Respect for Acting...or ‘A challenge for the actor’...Top notch... :thumbsup:
Stanislavski...The Standard....'An Actor prepares'...'Building a character'...'Creating a role'...again mammoth...
David Mammet....The truth?...'On Directing film'...do it or don't.

The authors above cover everything you need to know about acting and prep...and that’s just the surface..

I have always thought Lightwave is a fantastic Directors tool, especially in big setups where many attributes are at play. I think for the type of scenes your shooting; it takes too much time to get right. You’re better off doing simple storyboards and concentrating on the direction and the blocking. Also D.O.P. is an art form in-itself, your wife will have learnt from the lack of understanding between you both and will watch out in future. The D.O.P./Director relationship is a very special thing I would like to talk about elsewhere.

I think you handled your actor situation well. With better Actors you have more chance of them offering you something. Less experienced Actors require more direction as a rule of thumb, with exceptions, I love being on set and the Actor offering me closer to the mark than having to explain everything in pin-point-precision detail, don’t you end up with something slightly anal that way? Sorry James :engel017: . Sometimes too much said can have the wrong effect. I worked with a young female Actor on a very emotional piece. We had thoroughly discussed the characters motivations, background, past experiences, relationships and the script.
On the day…Action!…oh…oh no :cry: …please no…Maybe I had filled her head with too much information? Didn’t let her bring something from her own persona. I am more likely to step back and enhance why I originally cast the person in the first place, then tweak. Obviously good casting is key; my castings are more like workshops. I watch and constantly learn.


11-10-2005, 06:50 PM
I think for the type of scenes your shooting; it takes too much time to get right.

I storyboarded 16 shots in 30 minutes. Animated the entire film in 90 minutes. LW is VERY fast if you are adept with it. I cannot crank out that many story boards with pencil and paper in anywhere NEAR that amount of time.

You might be thinking of Maya where it is typical to have a texture team/modelling team/lighting team/rigging team etc. LW is MUCh faster and generally each of those duties is carried out by a single artist as opposed to a team and the workflow is VERY fast.

11-11-2005, 03:16 AM
Edit: I think for the type of scenes your shooting; would take ME too much time to get right :grin:

Use the tools you have available, you sound very adept in Lightwave. Its a fantastic bit of software for the Directors armoury. Maybe you could explain to the group the process you go through. I've always been a massive fan of the software. Let's bring Lightwave out in the open for Directors.


11-11-2005, 09:56 AM
I think part of the key is to maintain a library of scene and object files that allow you to quickly build scenes. The nice thing is that there are SO many free ones on the internet that your need to model specific items will be minimal.

Additionally, you have to remember that you are storyboarding. Not trying to make Toy Story III. For example, for my short I needed the following:

3 people.
A park bench.
A path along the bench.
A book.
Some trees.

For the people I used 1 model that was rigged for posing from another project. Above their heads I floated the text of their names to tell them apart. I scaled them on the X axis to vary their height.

I had to model a parkbench and path - That took all of 5 minutes - very basic shapes. Since this was an outdoor scene I set 1 light to simulate the sun and 2 more to simulate reflectors that I would use on the set.

Once all of that setup was done it was just a matter of moving the camera and the actors and rendering single frames for the storyboards in the prod notebook. Since all of this is low poly / no RL textures the renders take about 2 seconds each.

Following that I set keyframes for the 3 shots that had camera moves and rendered those out as uncompressed MOV files for Premiere.

In Premiere, I loaded all of the MOV and still frames and assembled an edit and did a voice over for the dialog (3 minute film - not too tough).

I think the key is to, again, remember - It's a story board. You don't need photo-realism. This shot here took me about 3 hours to do:


You don't need that. Most of your speed in LW will come from:

Simple models that convey the basic visualization.
Keeping a library of objects/scenes to draw upon for storyboarding.

And if you are struggling with the application, go here:


On the right side - Forums. One of the best online communities for ANY topic on the net. Highly responsive, always helpful and never critical in a negative way. Kinda like DVXUser :)

Luis Caffesse
11-11-2005, 09:59 AM
Nice still.

I'd be curious to see some samples of the storyboards you're creating in Lightwave, if it's not too much trouble.

I've always hand drawn my boards, but I'd really like to get them done on the computer as it seems like it would be an easier way to modify/reorganize them.
Any samples anyone cares to show?

11-11-2005, 12:08 PM
books are great but you should try experiencing it all,try auditioning and see what you go thru then you'll know how to direct and coach actors to be the best that they can be, "to make or break your film", that is the ?

11-11-2005, 01:48 PM
Thanks for the quick response. I would also be interested in seeing some storyboard frames. Also your settings for the poly-boards. That has never crossed my mind before, genius! I just use it for key-lights. Could you mimic silver, gold, black and white responses??
I noticed on the Swordfish DVD they used a program for the Copter down-town scenes, anyone know what it was??


11-11-2005, 03:09 PM
I think I have one of my early animatics here at work that I did for a camera move - Let me see if I can dig it up.

11-11-2005, 04:15 PM
Here is an early animatic that I did to illustrate a camera move for my DP:


The trees are freebies off of the net. I modeled the path and the park bench - very simple low poly models.

Luis Caffesse
11-11-2005, 04:32 PM
Nice. Thanks for posting that.
Simple and clean, but definitely gets the point across.

I have to say that part of me still likes using the paper and pencil approach though.
While the idea of having all my storyboards done digitally seems really helpful in terms of organization and revision, there is something much too clean about them.

I've tried going the tablet route, so I could just sketch directly into the computer...but that's just not the same. Hand eye coordination with one of those things is a whole other skill.

I should dig up some storyboards so you can see the VERY simple sketches I normally work with.

11-11-2005, 06:06 PM
Here is another sotryboard frame of a kitchen set - Again, free junk off of the internet to build this in LW:


Luis Caffesse
11-12-2005, 01:45 PM
Jeez, puts my stuff to shame.....
hell that looks better than most stuff I SHOOT :)

Here's something to give you an idea of the kind of high tech boards I'm usually working off of.
It's not pretty, but it gets the job done for me.


This was for a short.

11-12-2005, 05:43 PM
Yag amazing work man. How about some simple setups us not-so-quick directors could use?...The work looks amazing, no need to shoot it! Just stick some Poser people in it.

Luis. My storyboards are close to yours, 'How to draw the Marvel way??'
Pictures on right. Script left. Margins for millions of notes.


11-12-2005, 05:52 PM
daaannngg... seriously, yagfxg33k... i'd really like to see you make a 3d film with what you've got there.

11-14-2005, 09:21 PM
Meh - I prefer live action :)

I will post some stuff using that kitchen, a gun and a young lady later in the week. Right now I am polishing my edit of my re-shoot of scene 2 for my short "The Aquarium" that I did on Sunday. I have to say I am very pleased with the results so far :)