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Technical Knowledge

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    Technical Knowledge

    I am an aspiring writer/director and i am hoping to start my film making career very soon starting with 2-3 shorts then a feature and so on.

    My question is this, How much technical knowledge do i need in order to be a successful director?

    I feel like i am well equipped and ready in every other way of being a director, but i have very little knowledge when it comes to the technical aspect of film making, and have no real interest in film school.

    Will i be fine just teaming up with a great DP and handing the reins to him in that aspect and i just worry about telling the story and working with the actors? or is the director expected to have a more hands on approach in the technical aspect?

    I know there are probably many different answers to this question but i was just looking for some insight from some of you who have blazed the trail before me.

    Thanks in advance for all advice.

    What's a "successful" director? There's really two answers. You can make a living from making films, or you can make a film that is faithful to your vision.

    There's plenty of film directors who can work with actors and simply hire the best DP they can (and many DPs do like to select shots, but make sure that's clear when looking). Sometimes that can work out great especially when you find a DP with your sensibilities.

    Now, if you can't express your ideas in a technical way, then you're not always going to get what you want. Sometimes it'll be better, or worse, but either way it's not your vision. George Lucas making Star Wars is a great example someone mentioned of a strong vision and he got exactly what he wanted. Performances weren't great and the dialog weak, but it was amazingly unique. Had he not been able to talk and understand the technical requirements of other jobs, there's no way he could've integrated different departments to create such ground breaking scenes. To make people understand why driving a truck and camera across a small model would look awesome as it intercuts with Luke Skywalker looking out the window of an X-Wing.

    Plus, if there's a problem on-set and you don't like the way something looks, if you can communicate what it is that you want fixed to the DP, that helps save a lot of time.
    Last edited by Gohanto; 06-28-2008, 01:19 PM.
    I invented the "remove echo" audio filter. And only people that boom their actors closely get to use it.

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      history has show us that technical directors go on the be very very successful (kurick,fincher)
      why? because they know exactly or to some point what everyone in the set is doing, plus it plays a big role when it comes to trying to get a special shot or a special look for the director to technically know what he wants


        Thanks for your answers guys i appreciate it.

        To answer your question Gohanto, My vision of a successful director is someone who makes films they believe in and are proud of but at the same time dont make themselves go insanely in debt.

        I dont wish to get rich or famous just to make high quality films that tell good stories.

        I guess it is time for me to brush up on my lighting, cinematography and so on lol.

        Again thanks for the responses and i look forward to any more input anyone might have on the amount of technical knowledge a director needs.



          Your situation is very similar to mine starting out. I graduated from college with a degree in philosophy, summa cum laude, because I felt that the types of struggles, questions, and debates that I would find in philosophy would strengthen the stories I want to tell and the ability I'd have to tell them. I also had done a good amount of professional writing, took many writing classes in college as well, to be an effective communicator. I took about 8 cinema studies classes and ran a Website with more than 600 movie reviews, including a 19-page review / analysis of Citizen Kane.

          I felt that coming out of college, even though I didn't know anything about filmmaker technically, didn't even know what a C-stand was, that my overall skills, my tenacity, my drive to excel, my ability to communicate, my knowledge of film history, and my vision as a philosopher would help me be a solid director. The technical knowledge is a small part of being a filmmaker, and I would say one that is not essential when you're starting out. I can hire people for $100/day or $200/day who know all kinds of technical details I might not -- if it's only worth $100-200/day, obviously their knowledge isn't so greatly valuable after all.

          That being said, technical knowledge is very useful and something I think you should want to learn as you go, but that doesn't mean that right from the start you should let it deter you. I went to film school for 7.5 weeks, just enough to figure out what everyone on set does, some basic technical knowledge (we went to Mole Richardson and did a lighting setup where we plugged stuff in and all, so I got the idea with some basic electric principles and functions, etc.), and I was even a grip on a Cybill Shephard public service announcement. I picked up a lot more technical knowledge as I went, and as I worked on more projects.

          I think that the more you know, the more capable you feel. I know now that if I am shooting a project, for instance, and my grips for some reason don't know how to put together the porta-jib correctly, perhaps I hired morons (hehe), I can do it myself very quickly or explain to them how it's done piece by piece. I can put together my dolly system, flag c-stands, setup my lights, have a general idea what the DP might go for with lighting, etc. I'm not a DP, and I don't want to be, but it's good if you can communicate with people throughout the workflow. I'm not an editor either, but I've fixed computer errors relating to our editing setup just by watching what my editor does, and if he is frustrated by something, I'm a smart guy, I can figure out what might be wrong and at least help him think it through. I can communicate what I want with editing because I've edited a decent amount myself, nothing very good, but I've done it. I've also been in the editing room (which is now my condo) on enough projects and for so many hours that I know what's going on, how the workflow progresses, etc.

          I wouldn't let a lack of technical knowledge stop you, but I would just stay do your best to learn as you go. I hired a really professional, talented DP on my last music video shoot and learned a lot from him. I was fine with giving him a bit more control over the lighting setup than some directors might. I told him for the primary performance lighting, come up with some ideas, let's talk about them, and we'll roll with what we think is best. The more I work, though, I'm sure the more I'll have firmer ideas about what I want, but for now it's time to experiment.


            Hey Jonathan thanks for giving me another perspective...

            It does sound like im in a similar boat to where you were and i appreciate you sharing your story.

            I am leaning towards doing it the same way as you, Cut my teeth doing some shorts learn on the job aswell as cram my brain with as much as i can from books and google.

            Maybe try and get a gig as a PA or something just to try and get my feet wet before my first short.

            Again thanks for the answer Jonathan... I will be happy to hear more input on the topic.


              That's exactly what I did, I learned a ton from the first short I made, which was actually in film school but kind of not really. I mean, the assignment was this lame project that was supposed to be 3 minutes. We just ignored it and made a 12-minute short, LOL, and it was the best thing in the class, but that's not bragging because it was actually just hilarious -- only one other group even finished a project, and it was not really finished. It had major editing and sound errors, and was just totally awful. I think that short I made is a piece of garbage now, I mean if I watch it now I'm just like, wow, yay look at amateur hour! But at the time, I learned a ton from it and it was the best work I had done up to that point. I learned about ADR because we had to do some of that on the project, I learned about post work like removing a boom mic from a few shots, learned how to work with actors, how to write a short screenplay, how shooting progresses, all kinds of things. I felt really confident after that about at least being able to make SOMETHING decent, even if it wasn't yet professional grade work.

              I also kept reading a lot of books and just practicing. Honestly I got very little out of film school. Most of what I got out of it was on my own time or doing projects above and beyond what was asked, so I can't say "Oh gee film school was great for those 8 weeks, I learned so much!" No, I learned half of that just doing stuff on my own, the other half was in classrooms where for every hour I'd learn maybe 3 things I could have learned by reading a half-page of a good book, haha.

              Also film school connections can be great or they can be totally overrated. What good is a connection if they're total n00bs just like you? My classmates from that film school, who have now all graduated, aren't doing anything I care about, and haven't done anything as significant as what I've done even and I dropped out. They don't have any money, they aren't important in the industry, they're useless connections, no offense. Some of them are cool guys, I wish them the best, but they don't have anything I need. Connections have to be people who actually have value, and that is usually people who are not in your class but have been working professionals for some time. My best connections now in film are people who have been working for many years in the industry, not anyone as new as I am. Now that's not to say that if you keep in the business for 5-10 years, your former classmates aren't going to become great connections, but I see that as sort of irrelevant. You need those connections and the money now, not 5-10 years from now. Most people leave the industry way before that if they don't make a living, because people need work here, so while it's certainly nice that Joe will be a great connection in 7 years, you have to be working in the same industry for 7 years for that to happen and keep in touch with Joe the whole time. That's kind of not a very good connection, in my opinion.

              I would say just study on your own, make your own work, and learn as you go, don't worry about film school kids, I won't hire most of them anyway personally until they've been in the industry for at least a few years (recent film school graduates are total morons, completely unhirable to me as a producer, they just lack any sort of real-world understanding of the market that even a guy like me can figure out in two weeks living down here, seriously). I can tell you a lot of other producers I know feel the same way. While film school is more accepted than it ever was before, there are still a lot of people, myself included, who don't care for the snobbish attitudes that film school students seem to develop despite having done nothing significant in the industry except send their short to a few festivals and have someone tell them they're the 3rd greatest director in their class (whatever...). When they hit the real world, they realize that great film school director = PA, so that's why a few years after graduation they become good employees again because the ego gets knocked down to size AND they have these great technical skills and know-how from film school. So, you see, I'm not knocking film school, just saying much like a Pop Tart in the toaster, you have to let it cool off a bit after it pops out before you can do anything with it. ;)

              Another thing I would say, though, is never hesitate to work with people more professional than you, who you think may believe you're an idiot or don't know what you're doing, because who cares? You'll learn from them. I don't mind if the people I work with think my experience level isn't so great, because they'll learn quickly that I have high standards for my work and that's why I hired them -- to make everything the best it can be. I don't try to do more than I'm capable of doing, either. That's the problem with so many filmmakers down here, the little guys, that is. They always act like they are geniuses for being able to write, direct, produce, edit, do the music for, makeup, etc. their own films. That doesn't impress me. It's almost always the case that they are jack of all trades, master of none. I'd much rather see a guy who says, hey, I'm a cinematographer, that's what I do. I don't know how to edit that well, I'm not a good director, but I am great at shooting. Or a director who trusts other people he hires enough to let them do their work, rather than trying to do it all himself. I can edit, too, it's not that hard, but editing really well is a skill and an art, so why not let someone who is really passionate about it, and much better than me, do it? You have to learn to surrender control sometimes and keep in mind that this is a collaborative medium where the combined ideas of a team of people, filtered through a director, are going to be much better than just the ideas of one egomaniacal director, haha.


                Just buy a decent camera, Lights, Mic, editing software and some good books on all of those pieces and start shooting. That is what I did and I have over 20 videos, and a feature under my belt. My earlier work sucks major but I learned so much by getting out there and "filming". It takes years to master IMO, but if you do it, you will learn. Just my 2

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