Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tip #51: Directing - The art of communication

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Directing is primarily about efficient communication so that the all-important overall vision (as discussed in the previous blog) can be achieved. There are three main aspects to this:

1. Communication style

There are 5 different types of directors (other than of course those who specialise in features, TV, theatre etc) and thus five different working methods (these are basic generalisations and the examples only guides as most directors frequently reinvent themselves):
  • The Actor Director. This director works very closely with the cast, is good at developing solid characters, works well with ensembles, and leaves the technical aspects of filmmaking in the hands of his crew. These directors often come from a theatre background or were/are actors themselves (example: Mike Leigh).
  • The Story Director. This director is propelled by narrative, is a storyteller and often works very closely on the script. Some of these directors may have started as writers. (example: Chris Nolan)
  • The Auteur Director. Often described as having 'complete artistic control of the film' and also used for directors who are also writers, cinematographers and composers on their films. Their work can sometimes called 'passion-pieces'. (example: Alfred Hitchcock)
  • The Visual director. A director whose primary concern is the look of the film. Often a lot of emphasis on the technology and special effects to achieve it, with story and acting taking secondary roles (example: James Cameron)
  • Franchise director. A director who is called in to direct an already established franchise (book, cartoon, film) and often ends up having little control over the look and feel due to certain branding guidelines and audience expectations (example: Chris Columbus)
It is important for everyone including the director himself to recognise what type of director he is, as this will assist with effective communication, levels of expectation and personal areas for improvement (for the director that is!).

2. Communicating with cast/crew

Effectively communicating the overall vision to cast and crew can sometimes be no easy task and in recent times storyboarding and computer pre-visualisation tools have certainly assisted with this. However, ultimately this comes down being able to describe in precise ways what the objectives are. I once attended a discussion with director Stephen Frears who made the interesting point that the secret to directing is to surround yourself with people who are very good at what they do and then find a way of being able to effectively communicate what you want with them. He used music as an example and said that he cannot write a note of music but can express himself well enough to the composer so that they know exactly what he wants.

3. Communicating with the audience

The director must not overlook the fact that they also communicate via the camera. In many ways the camera is like another character in the film, and so the framing, lens selection and camera movement can all dramatically affect our interpretation of what is happening. For example, the use of wide shots can create distance from the characters, while extreme closeups can feel quite intimate. Subjective or objective angles can also make a character look superior or inferior.

While communication is vital, a director also needs some basic on-set tools such as blocking, the use of 'takes' and eye-lines, which will be discussed in the next blog.

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